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Game Preview: A Tall Task

01.19.09 at 11:02 am ET
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On Monday night the Boston Celtics (33-9) will take on the Phoenix Suns (23-15) at the TD BankNorth Garden. They enter the game 4-0 without starting center Kendrick Perkins and have found success with a smaller lineup. The Celtics may have handled Chris Bosh and Brook Lopez, but at 7’€™1, 325 pounds, Shaquille O’€™Neal is another species of player altogether.

Kevin Garnett will be given the task of handling O’€™Neal without Perkins in the lineup. Once Garnett heads to the bench, though, it will be up to Leon Powe, Glen Davis, and Brian Scalabrine to man the front court, which also faces a towering Amare Stoudemire. Despite the size disadvantage, they are learning how to handle these tall tasks.

‘€œ[The key is] doing what we know is best for our team,’€ said Davis. ‘€œWe can’t go out there and do our own thing. We have to stick to our strategy and what we do best. And when we do that best and go out there and play defense, it’s hard to beat us. So we just stick to what we know and we’re good.’€

If the Celtics know one thing, it’€™s defense. They have held their opponents to an average of 92 points over the last four games and outscored them by an average of 16. It is a fundamental they will have to live by against the offense-driven Suns (104.8 ppg).

‘€œWe’ve got to go out there and play defense as soon as they cross half court, even before,’€ said Powe. ‘€œPut pressure on the ball, deny passes, we’ve just got to be active ‘€“ all of us ‘€“ as a group. When we do that, good things happen. We can’t just rely on one person to take care of all the defensive work.’€

Scalabrine takes a realistic approach to his role as the Celtics fill-in starting center. He can’€™t change his game overnight so he sticks to what he knows.

‘€œNothing different,’€ he said of his gameplan. ‘€œI’m not going to block his shot so I’m just going to fight him for position.’€

Davis (6’€™9) and Powe (6’€™8) have adjusted their game to use their size in their favor. O’€™Neal may be bigger, but he certainly isn’€™t faster.

‘€œI just try to use my body to my advantage,’€ said Davis. ‘€œThat’s basically it, use my quickness, just use that to get my game and my advantage at the top.’€

Powe has his own techniques for outplaying his opponents ‘€“ draw the foul. This season he is one of the NBA’s leading reserves in free throw attempts and ranks second on the Celtics behind Paul Pierce.

‘€œI get to the line a lot anyways so I try to take away their shot blocking a little bit by getting into their body a little bit or making my moves a little bit quicker, that’s what the coaching staff told me,’€ said Powe. ‘€œI’ve been doing this all my life so either I get into the body or I make my moves quicker and it works out for me. I use a couple fakes KG taught me and other than that, play basketball.’€

Perkins is not expected to return until Wednesday against the Miami Heat. In the meantime, he has liked what he has seen so far from his teammates.

‘€œI just think you’ve got to be physical,’€ he said. ‘€œBe extra physical as far as just like they’ve got to make sure they take their legs, just keep a body on them at all times. [Davis and Powe] are both pretty physical players so I don’t really think height really plays a difference as long they be physical, beat them early, and use their body, I think they’ll be alright.’€

Tip-off is just after 8pm EST. Stay with WEEI’€™s Celtics Game Day Blog for all the latest from the Garden.

The Scalabrine Streak

01.17.09 at 3:58 pm ET
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After a 20-point win over the New Jersey Nets on Saturday (RECAP HERE), the Boston Celtics are 5-0 with Brian Scalabrine in their starting lineup. It is an improbable stat for a player who often times was one of the last off the bench.

1-0: November 18, 2008
Celtics 110, Knicks 101

Scalabrine gets his first start of the season with Kevin Garnett serving a one-game suspension. He hits key trey late in the fourth to secure a dwindling Celtics lead. Scalabrine finishes the night with eight points and three rebounds.

2-0: January 11, 2009
Celtics 94, Raptors 88

In his first start at the center position in place of Kendrick Perkins, Scalabrine proves he’€™s no pushover when he holds his own in an altercation with Joey Graham. He scores seven points and the Celtics are a team-high +15 with him on the court.

3-0: January 12, 2009
Celtics 115, Raptors 109

Scalabrine scores eight of his 11 points in the third quarter to combat a threatening Raptors run. He knocks down a field goal and pair of threes in just nine minutes in front of a Garden crowd who can’€™t get enough of the fan favorite.

4-0: January 14, 2009
Celtics 118, Nets 86

Before the game Scalabrine says he can’€™t focus on the match up with 7’€™ Brook Lopez. Instead he focuses on the team and adds nine points and four rebounds in 27 minutes for the Celtics.

5-0: January 17, 2009
Celtics 105, Nets 85

Scalabrine continues to spread the offense and helps the Celtics get out to an 18-2 lead. Not only is Scalabrine effective at the basket (11 points, 4 rebounds), he makes James Posey-esque hustle plays to add a spark to the starting lineup.

Perkins is questionable for Monday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, which would put Scalabrine’s undefeated record on the line against Shaquille O’Neal. Even though Scalabrine was wide-eyed when he said Perkins is best suited to handle O’Neal, the feisty red-head is never one to back down from a challenge.

Celtics to serve 150 home-cooked meals

01.16.09 at 11:01 am ET
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This Sunday members of the Boston Celtics will serve home-cooked meals to 150 homeless men and women at the Boston Rescue Mission. Kendrick Perkins, Patrick O’Bryant, Gabe Pruitt, and Bill Walker will distribute meals prepared by members of the Celtics staff as part of the Celtics Shamrock Foundation and Martin Luther King Day. For more information on the Celtics Shamrock Foundation’s community outreach, visit

Read More: Bill Walker, Boston Celtics, Gabe Pruitt, Kendrick Perkins

Lucky on Conan tonight

01.15.09 at 10:48 am ET
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Lucky the Leprechaun is taking his act to late night TV. The Boston Celtics mascot will make an appearance on Late Night with Conan O’Brien tonight. The show airs at 12:35am EST on NBC. Guests also include Bob Costas, Fred Armisen, and Robert Schimmel. Tune in to see if Conan gets in on Lucky’s high flying antics.

Sounds of the game… Celtics 118, Nets 86

01.15.09 at 10:37 am ET
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When the Celtics were in the midst of a slump that had them losing seven of nine, captain Paul Pierce said they needed to get their swagger back, especially on defense.

Well they can thank the Toronto Raptors and New Jersey Nets for helping them to regain some of the confidence that was on display when they opened the season 27-2.

Pierce hit all five of his three-pointers in the third quarter as the Celtics romped to their thrid straight win. This looked more like the romps that were common place in the first two months of the season. The defense forced 20 turnovers and even without Kendrick Perkins, the Green dominated the glass. And on the offensive side, Rajon Rondo, when he wasn’t throwing in half-hooks, dished out 12 assists helping the Celtics ease to their 32nd win, by 32 points.

Doc Rivers said the team’s rhythm isn’t back but it’s getting there.

Paul Pierce feels the team’s confidence is coming back slowly but surely.

Pierce on his five three-pointers in the third quarter.

Rajon Rondo said the team is playing better after their 2-7 dip.

Rondo said he can sense the team is starting to play better together.

Eddie House said the Celtics are getting back to where they were early in season.

Bill Walker said his improved defense will keep him up with the Celtics.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank said the Celtics just kicked the Nets good.

Next up for the Celtics, after a day off on Thursday and practice on Friday, a rematch with the Nets in New Jersey on Saturday afternoon.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, eddie house, Lawrence Frank

Giddens learns to wait

01.14.09 at 11:13 pm ET
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Just mention the possibility of playing and J.R. Giddens gets weak in the knees. The Boston Celtics rookie is trying to be patient, but it isn’t always easy when his dream is dangling right in front of him. Giddens can see the big picture, though, and knows waiting is part of his game for now.

‘€œAs a competitor, it’s always going to be hard because you want to play,’€ Giddens said before Wednesday’s game against the New Jersey Nets. ‘€œBut as a realist, all I can do is just be slightly frustrated and just keep working.”

Patience is one of the most important things Giddens has focused on over the past three months with the NBDL’s Utah Flash. Being energetic is part of his personality. Now the challenge is controlling it on the court.

‘€œI was just talking to someone about that last night, about one of the hardest things of being on that court when you’re playing at that level is trying to calm yourself down,’€ he said. ‘€œYou’re so amped and you see veterans out there that are so calm, composed, and relaxed. But when you’re out there and you’re so excited and you feel like you’re going a million miles an hour. You’ve got to calm your motor down a little bit. I think going down to the D-League and getting the chance to get some games under my belt, I was able to get a more relaxed feeling out there on the court, just kind of maturing my game a little bit.’€

Celtics rookie Bill Walker played with Giddens in Utah and saw changes in his demeanor.

‘€œI think he’€™s slowed down a lot,’€ Walker said. ‘€œHe’€™s an extremely quick player, but he used to have a hop in his step before he would take off. But now he’€™s slowed down and he is taking advantage of every possession he gets.’€

Being more focused has allowed Giddens to zone in on what he calls his deficiencies. He hit the free throw line to improve his shot, shifted his attention from offense to defense, and strived to become ‘€œa more balanced team player.’€ Knowing how to take two steps back has helped in his shift from the leader boards in Utah to the bench in Boston.

‘€œI feel like when you’re down there and you’ve got to do everything and then you come up here, I should be able to be more effective in my minutes,’€ he said. ‘€œLess energy offensively, being more active defensively, so I just apply my work ethic around whatever role I’m needed to perform, which is probably going to be defender, rebounder, and just help on defense. Hopefully it’ll make my transition easier to the NBA instead of having a lot thrown on me. I get to come in, get a feel for it, get to see and be around great players, and just try to add that to my game.’€

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers does not put players on the court until they have earned their minutes in practice, so it may be awhile before Giddens is on the parquet. It’s tempting to be so close, but ultimately he knows it is the best decision. He is still nursing a sprained wrist which he injured twice back in the D-League.

‘€œIf somebody needed me to play right now I’d be able to play,’€ he said. ‘€œBut I think probably a little rest wouldn’t hurt.’€

The competitor in Giddens wants to play. The realist knows he will when the time is right.

“Time is going to come,” he said. “Just in the meantime, do everything I can to make myself better.’€

Read More: Bill Walker, Boston Celtics, J.R. Giddens, Utah Flash

Rondo or Harris?

01.14.09 at 10:52 pm ET
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Now that Jason Kidd is in Dallas and Chauncey Billups is in Denver, the Eastern Conference is set to anoint a new king of the point guards. The two leading contenders for the throne were on the floor last night at the Garden: Rajon Rondo and Devin Harris.

The debate, at least this season, comes down to what you want in your point guard. Harris has the dazzling numbers–23 points per game and 7 assists–that Rondo can’t match. But Rondo has the wins, 32 after last night’s victory over New Jersey, (click here for the recap) while Harris and the Nets are sitting on a 19-20 record.

Neither of those sets of figures are entirely fair. Harris has the big scoring average thanks to a team that has him and Vince Carter as the primary scoring options and an offense that plays to his strengths. Rondo has the wins in large part to who he has around him. Both players are having breakout seasons and both deserve to be on the All-Star team, which may not happen since neither will be voted in as a starter.

Choosing between the two comes down to a question of semantics. If you prefer overwhelming numbers on a talent-challenged team that is overachieving in large part because of those overwhelming numbers than Harris is your man. If you prefer your point guard to do a little bit of everything for a team that doesn’t have a real need for scoring, then Rondo is your guy.

Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus had a solid breakdown on the situation (he also included Orlando’s Jameer Nelson in the discussion) and he ultimately came down on the side of Harris, but not by much.

Pelton wrote:

Choosing between Harris and Rondo is more challenging. Using very different skill sets, they’ve nonetheless managed to be nearly identical in terms of per-minute performance and value. One could say that both players are perfectly suited for their team’s needs, Harris offering the shot creation the Nets so desperately need and Rondo leading his superstar-filled team with his ability to distribute the ball while playing a key role in the league’s best defense.

Ultimately, I’d give the slight edge to Harris.

I agree with Pelton’s reasoning, if not his conclusion. Harris thrives in the Nets offense, which has been compared to the dribble-drive offense that the University of Memphis popularized last season with Derrick Rose at the point. It’s not quite that in practice. It’s more of a hybrid which makes great use the old tried and true pick-and-roll. Still, the ball is in Harris’ hands quite a bit and ultimately the Nets fortunes rise and fall with his decision making.

Rondo doesn’t quite have those kind of responsibilities, but he is obviously very important to the Celtics offense. When Rondo is clicking, as he was in the second half against the Nets, the Celtics are essentially unstoppable. He makes defenses react to his ability to get into the paint, and despite his outside shooting difficulties, Rondo’s shooting percentage in the lane wouldn’t be out of place for an accomplished four-man.

Interestingly, Pelton’s numbers showed Harris to be a more impactful defensive player for the Nets than Rondo is for the Celtics, but I think that has more to do with the Celtics defensive dominance, which can obscure individual accomplishment, and the Nets defensive shortcomings, which can make a decent defender look better than he really is.

Last night Harris clearly had the edge in the first half when he scored 13 points, and got to the free throw line seven times. Rondo picked up two quick fouls and was hesitant to pick up a third. Harris’ biggest strength is his ability to vary the speeds at which he attacks the basket and that’s an uncomfortable place to be for a defender watching his fouls.

Rondo has a lot of respect for Harris. “He’s having an All-Star year,” Rondo said. “He’s playing exceptionally well.” Rondo knew that he would have his hands full with Harris once he got the ball, so his plan was to try to keep him from it once he passed halfcourt.

Freed from foul trouble in the third quarter, Rondo was able to show all his skills and he responded with a six-point, four-rebound, six-assist line, while holding Harris to four points and one assist. Not surprisingly the Celtics blew open a 10-point game and turned it into a rout. Paul Pierce was a perfect five-for-five from 3-point range with three of them coming on assists from Rondo.

That’s the kind of impact Rondo can create.

In a weird twist, this was the first meeting between the Celtics and Nets, but they won’t have to wait long for a rematch. The two teams play again Saturday afternoon in Jersey and Rondo and Harris can continue the debate. It’s really all in the eye of the beholder and in the eyes of this one it’s Rondo, but it’s close.

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