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Feeling like the playoffs already

01.12.09 at 9:49 pm ET
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It was a familiar scene. The Dropkick Murphy’s ‘€œI’m Shipping Up to Boston’€ blared in the background. Fans jumped around in their seats and screamed when prompted by Kevin Garnett on the JumboTron.  Paul Pierce had an unwavering look of determination on his face. Ray Allen drained a three and the Boston Celtics bench could hardly contain themselves. It’s only January, but on Monday night it felt a lot like June in the Garden.

‘€œIt reminded me a lot of the playoffs, the intensity,’€ said Glen Davis. ‘€œWe had to get us a win, try to get us a streak going again. We just found a way to win tonight and the crowd was there for us and gave us some good energy.’€

Similar to a postseason schedule, the Celtics took on the Raptors for the second time in as many days. Sunday’s game had been intense, with technical fouls and a close finish. Monday’s 115-109 overtime triumph over Toronto did not have any less energy.

‘€œThey showed great fan support, like they’ve been doing all year and my entire career here,’€ said Rajon Rondo. ‘€œThat’s how it is basically every game when we’re at the Garden, especially when in close game situations. We need them to step up and make noise and they definitely do a great job of it.’€

Up three points with seconds left in regulation, the Celtics watched the Raptors drain a trey to send the game into overtime. The starters had already been exhausted through the first four quarters. Pierce, who recently aggravated his knee, had played nearly 45 minutes. Allen, Garnett and Rondo were all approaching 40. Nonetheless, there was no let-up in the Garden.

‘€œActually, I felt pretty good,’€ said Pierce. ‘€œCould have played another quarter I think. I’m feeling pretty good.’€

It took nine ties and six lead changes for the Celtics to put the Raptors away by six points in OT (RECAP HERE). Even though the game ran relatively late by NBA standards, the fans weren’t packing up. Neither were the Celtics.

‘€œThey gave us a lot of energy, just to play even harder,’€ said Leon Powe. ‘€œEven when you didn’t think you had any more left, you push yourself even harder just to get the win and get a stop for the fans and for ourselves. It was just fun to be out there. I know everybody had fun, with the fans yelling and the coaches yelling, everybody on the bench standing up. It was like a playoff atmosphere again.’€

Just as in the playoffs, every game counts this season. The Eastern Conference is not promised to the Celtics and they have competition at the top of the standings for homecourt advantage. Whether they are playing the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Memphis Grizzlies, no game can be taken lightly.

‘€œOur fans are not dummies. I know they are looking at the top three rankings right now with Cleveland and Orlando and us, and they know every game is important,’€ said Kendrick Perkins. ‘€œSo I’m expecting that from every home game from here on out. Every game is important and we’ve got to expect the same thing from the fans.’€

It was only January but it felt like June. And the Celtics are expecting the same intensity come the playoffs.

‘€œThey got pretty loud tonight and they’re just getting warmed up,’€ said Ray Allen. ‘€œThey’re getting warmed up.’€

True Grit

01.12.09 at 9:43 pm ET
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There were about eight minutes left in the third quarter and the Celtics were down 10 when Paul Pierce knocked down a 3-pointer. OK, here it comes. The Celtics will make a stand. The Raptors answered. Pierce scored again. Toronto hit a 3.

It’s not going to happen. A split will have to suffice. That’s the price for playing everybody 40 minutes the day before. That’s the way it works in the NBA when the games pile on top of each other and the injuries mount and the practice time gets short. Or maybe it was just getting started.

Then Ray Allen pulled out a sweet reverse layup from his memory bank and Pierce made a couple of more shots. Brian Scalabrine hit a couple of corner 3’s. The Toronto lead was six, then it was four. Pierce was in that groove that he gets into sometimes when the game just slows down to a crawl and he has everybody on a string. Maybe he can pull it off? Maybe?

A couple of weeks ago Doc Rivers was talking about the stretch of games between Christmas and the All-Star break. He called it the dog days of the NBA season. The coach marveled at how well his team handled the stretch last season when their focus never wavered and they never conceded a thing. People worried back then that they were pushing too hard, sacrificing too much to win meaningless games no one would remember when the playoffs started.

Wouldn’t it be nice if this team showed that kind of toughness?

Pierce kept coming and coming. Much later Kevin Garnett would break into song when asked to describe Pierce’s night.

“Dun dun-dun-duh, dun dun dun. Dun du-du-dun! Dun du-dun.” The Superman theme for those not able to follow the transcription.

“Y’all need to start playing the Superman theme music when he’s going like that,” Garnett said. “This is Clark Kent right here, ladies and gentlemen. He was 13-for-26 tonight with 39 points, nine rebounds and four assists. Superman.” And 49 minutes. On a bruised knee.

The bench, that much maligned bench, started the fourth quarter with energy and resourcefulness. Eddie House made a couple of shots, Leon Powe and Big Baby Davis banged bodies around and Gabe Pruitt just played. The Garden was rocking and the tidal wave was about to hit. This is how they do it. This is how the Celtics win games. But the Raptors wouldn’t go away.

On and on it went, with Garnett playing Chris Bosh like he was making the first start of his career, not the 1,000th. The long stretch of games, the back-to-backs, the lack of rest, none of it mattered now. Not to Garnett. Not to any of them.

“Yesterday I told you guys that Bosh is to me if not the best, then one of the best power forwards in the game today,” Garnett said. “I told them I didn’t want any help or use any kind of energy on defense. When it came to Bosh, I didn’t want it.

“You see Paul going like he’s going, you let him take care of the buckets and I’ll try to take care of the defense.”

Garnett bodied up Bosh and made him uncomfortable. He reached deep into his bag of veteran tricks, mixing up his defenses like a hoops version of Bill Belichick. Anthony Parker got free on a switch and Garnett doubled back and stuffed him like he was back at Farragut.

The Celtics took command in the fourth quarter and it was over. Cue Gino, drive home safely.

And then it wasn’t. Pierce made one mistake when he missed the front end of two foul shots and the Raptors got one last chance to tie it when Andrea Bargnani hit a 3-pointer after a scramble for a loose ball. Overtime.

Pierce hit a couple of more shots to start the extra session. “Actually I feel pretty good,” he said after working for 49 minutes and 24 seconds. “Could have played another quarter, I think.”

Thankfully he didn’t have to. The Celtics ground out the clock, and the win, after 53 grueling minutes. It was the most satisfying win they’ve had since when exactly? Last June?

Maybe it will catch up with them on Wednesday against New Jersey. Maybe it will be the game everybody looks back on after the season and say, “That was the start of the turnaround.” Maybe it will be meaningless, just another of the 82.

It’s impossible to say on January 12th what last night at the Garden will mean, really. The Celtics pride themselves on the old tried and true one game at a time mantra, and so we’re left with this: For one game, the Celtics were back.

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Overtime

01.12.09 at 7:58 pm ET
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OT WRAP: In one of the most hard-fought regular season NBA games you will ever see the Celtics completed a back-to-back sweep of the Toronto Raptors. It took overtime, it took 50 minutes and 39 points out of Paul Pierce, but the Celtics got it done.

The recap is here. Much more to follow.

— No idea how this one is going to turn out. No one’s really in foul trouble as we start the extra session. Garnett just got his fourth, and as I type, so did Bargnani.

— Good move by the C’s to get away from the post Paul up on the elbow offense that they’ve been running for the last five minutes. They need some motion. And there it is.

— The Celtics landed the first big punch of the OT. When there were about 5 minutes left I thought win or lose this was one the Celtics could build on. I still think that, sort of, but I also think that if they lost it would be a killer. (Wonder what the rookies think about the atmosphere in here tonight, by the way).

— The Celtics bench thinks Ukic is warding off Rondo with his arm.

— That was the first triple team of the night. In other words, somebody screwed up for the Raptors (I think it was Kapono) and Leon got a layup.

— Huge possession here. One stop and it’s just about over.

— It is just about over.

— Like what I’ve seen out of Ukic tonight. The kid is a player.

— It is not quite over.

— It is over.

Smoltz: “This is a great place”

01.12.09 at 7:34 pm ET
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A day before being introduced as one of the Boston Red Sox newest pitchers, John Smoltz received his first standing ovation in Beantown. The TD BankNorth Garden rocked as Smoltz was announced during the Boston Celtics-Toronto Raptors game.

“Somebody told me they’ve got great sports teams here,” Smoltz told “Obviously I’m being funny but it’s a great opportunity for me. I’m looking forward to it because this is, this is a great place. The fans are unbelievable.”

Smoltz, who later told an excited crowd he will be in the Red Sox starting rotation, is eagerly anticipating Wednesday. After spending the first 20 years of his career with the Atlanta Braves, it will be his first introductory press conference.

“I’ve never done it before so I’m sure I won’t say all the right things,” he admitted. “But I’m going to be excited to be here.”

If the reaction of the Garden crowd is any indication of how Smoltz will be received in Boston, his first game at Fenway Park is something for him to look forward to.

“They just love this city and they love their teams,” he said. “It’s kind of hard to not enjoy that.”

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Fourth Quarter

01.12.09 at 7:24 pm ET
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Hey look, who’s back. Jess is tracking a story down right now I’ll be your guide through the fourth.

FOURTH QUARTER WRAP: A long rebound. That’s all the separated the Celtics from a huge win in regulation. Give the Raptors credit though. They could have packed it in and they took every shot the Celtics had and had one last big Joe Frazier-esque hook left in them.

So we go to overtime.

–This is the bench has played in about a month. Great energy. Great execution.

— What is about the Raptors that inspires these great games? Great matchups, sure, but these have been some of the best games of the season.

— Gotta love Gabe Pruitt’s fearlessness so far.

— Whew. OK, we needed to catch our breath there. Win or lose, this has been an inspiring performance by the Celtics. Shorthanded, tired, you know all the stuff that’s going on with this team. It’s not just that the shots have started falling, the defensive effort has been turned up about 10 notches, or 11 if you’re a fan of Nigel Tufnel.

— David Jones is not making any fans with his calls tonight, but I have to say I think he’s been right on the money. There are a few refs in this league who would not have made those calls against the home team, especially with a crowd as amped up as this one.

— KG has an extra hop in his step. Not sure if it was clear on the TV how in Bosh’s face he was.

– We have 5 minutes and 16 seconds left and for the life of me I have no idea how this one is going to turn out. The Raptors have to go to Bosh down the stretch. The Celtics have been riding Pierce and he’s got that in the flow no one can guard me thing going on. Just a tremendous game tonight.

— KG is doing work on Bosh. That’s why he is the best defensive player in the league.

— Suddenly the Raptors look very very tired.

— Tough call on Leon. Thought he got there. It’s worth mentioning that Joey Graham has been a pain in Pierce’s neck since he took the assignment.

— You may not see a better defensive play than the one Garnett just laid down on Graham. Amazing.

— Big shot by Will Solomon. The Raptors are hanging in there.

— For the first time in the fourth quarter the seas parted and Pierce had a clear lane to the hoop. You just can’t handle the Truth.

— I’m not sure this game can handle overtime. Who gets the shot for the Raps? Kapono? Bargnani?

— OK so the answer was Anthony Parker and Bargnani. Unreal.

— Can’t argue with that call. Great inbound play drawn up by Doc. Overtime it is.

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Third Quarter

01.12.09 at 6:56 pm ET
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The Celtics have some work to do in the second half. Toronto’s deep bench played very well in the second quarter, shooting 7-for-12 and scoring 25 points, while keeping the starters on the bench for the most part. Toronto, which is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league also owned 23-16 edge.

The start of the second half will be critical for the C’s. There were some encouraging numbers. Boston turned the ball over just three times, which allowed the Celtics to get up 41 shots. That’s a pretty high volume of shots for them. Let’s see what they have left.

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: I’m officially running out of superlatives to describe Paul Pierce. The Captain scored 14 points in the third quarter and made about five or six huge defensive plays. I don’t know what winning this game means in the long run but in the short run it’s pretty obvious that it means an awful lot to Pierce.

I was about to write them off at about the 6-minute mark and Pierce completely turned the thing around. Brian Scalabrine was also huge with eight points and a couple of 3-pointers. This is going to be a fun fourth quarter.

Third Quarter Observations

— Two big 3’s by Scalabrine have brought the Celtics back. That was exactly the kind of energy boost they needed. But on the other end Jamario Moon knocked one down. Paul Pierce is cheating very heavily toward Chris Bosh in the middle which left Moon wide open.

— Everything but the finish right now for the C’s. They had three or four quality looks, but the shots just aren’t going down.

— Love it when I type something about shots not falling and Pierce sinks a 3-pointer. The Raptors are shooting 56 percent by the way.

— When Will Solomon is bombing three’s it might be a sign that tonight is not your night.

— A big problem the Celtics are having tonight is that they are a pattern team offensively and since Toronto saw the patterns just 24 hours ago they are easier to snuff out. The KG alley-oop play is an example.

— Got to give them credit though. They are playing really hard.

— There are times to get technical fouls. Up eight on the road with momentum on your side is not one of them, Chris Bosh. That was a four-point swing. Amazing.

— Pierce is absolutely amazing tonight. Howe does he have an extra gear after getting kneed and playing 40+ minutes the day before? The guy is an absolute freak of nature.

— Buzzkill thy name is Kris Humphries.

— Scal used the old Red on Roundball pump fake there.

John Smoltz got a huge ovation when he was introduced to the crowd after the quarter, by the way.

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Second Quarter

01.12.09 at 6:11 pm ET
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At the half … Raptors 54, Celtics 45

For Paul’s first quarter recap, click here.

– Doc’s going with Pierce and the bench to start the second quarter. Interesting that Pierce, who was questionable for tonight’s game (knee), is still on the court and showing no hesitation driving hard to the hoop. The Celtics have been looking for an offensive spark in the second unit. Will it be Leon Powe and Big Baby to get it done down low or will Eddie House and Gabe Pruitt get hot from long range?

– Joey Graham is in with Scal on the bench. At least that altercation is avoided for now.

– Leon Powe vs. Chris Bosh. This could be a problem. Bosh’s arms are about 10 feet long (ok not quite) and he’s flailing them all over the place at Powe. The challenge for Powe will be stopping him without getting into foul trouble. The Celtics are shorthanded at the five spot and can’t afford to lose anyone tonight.

– Who’s that guy on the Raptors? That point guard is Roko Ukic and he was drafted by Toronto back in ’05. He had been developing his game in Europe (Croatia, Spain, and Italy) before coming to the NBA to back up Jose Calderon this season.

– Andrea Bargnani’s shot chart will be interesting. So far he has hit a long-range jumper, driven to the hoop, and tapped in an offensive rebound. It is a versatility that is often heard but not always seen.

– Down 45-37, the starters are back on the court. Pruitt was scoreless and House only had three points, so the offense will have to come from somewhere else.

– Will Solomon is standing attentively at the Raptors bench. Over on the Celtics bench, Big Baby is sitting with his head in his hands. The Celtics are down 12.

– Huge dunk and some full court press from KG. He also threw in a few extra words for Kris Humphries.

Ray Allen capped off the first half with a putback of his own missed layin. At the half … Raptors 54, Celtics 45.

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