Wake up with the Celtics  and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
With the O’Neal brothers both sitting out with leg injuries, the Celtics turned to Semih Erden for the first start of his NBA career. Here’s how Paul Pierce  summed up  the Turkish national team center’s starting debut (to The Boston Globe):
“He understands a lot of things, but then some things he doesn’t get. So Kevin [Garnett] has got to constantly communicate with him, and he’ll get it. What he’s giving us right now is great because of the bodies we have out there.”
It’s not exactly what Doc Rivers  & Co. were looking for, but let’s be honest: They had to think Jermaine and Shaquille O’Neal  would be injured at the same time at some point this season, right? Anyhow, here’s a recap of Erden’s debut …
9:59: As Jrue Holiday is shooting a pair of foul shots, Doc Rivers calls Erden over to the sideline to talk strategy. No interpreter necessary. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Rivers got his doctorate in Turkish studies.
6:48: Erden picks up his second foul. Tommy Heinsohn complains. Shocking on both accounts. The 7-foot Erden returns to a familiar spot: the Celtics bench.
4:12: Sitting on the bench together, Erden and Shaquille O’Neal discuss fine Turkish cuisine. Naturally, Shaq starts craving sugar beets and tarhana soup.
10:14: Still on the bench, Erden hums the lyrics to “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” by They Might Be Giants : “Istanbul was Constantinople, now it’s Istanbul, not Constantinople — been a long time gone, Constantinople. Why did Constantinople get the works? That’s nobody’s business but the Turks.”
9:30: Picking up his third foul in 21 seconds, Glen Davis  joins Erden on the bench. While watching a KG-Rondo-Nate-Marquis-Wafer lineup, Erden teaches Big Baby how to say, “Why can’t we stop fouling people?” Everyone enjoys Baby saying, “Neden biz kerlenme daha duramayiz?”
11:18: After sitting on the bench for almost 19 minutes, Erden re-enters the game, replacing Garnett. The C’s 2010 second-round selection proceeds to run up and down the floor a couple times.
11:47: Wafer enters for Erden, probably just to give the big fella a breather. Those 29 seconds had to be taxing.
10:52: Erden throws down another dunk. In the first minute of each half, Erden is unstoppable. Maybe Rivers could tell him that — because we don’t use the metric system — we have to play 18 halves a game, one for every minute he’ll play.
7:14: Elton Brand grabs yet another offensive board over Erden. In his defense, Erden argues that Hedo Turkoglu  and Mehmet Okur were too busy shooting 3’s to teach him that boxing out actually helps you grab rebounds.
3:59: Erden is whistled for illegal defense. Allen tells him, “Don’t worry, it’s not actually illegal. They can’t take away your work visa for climbing on another man’s back. Well, at least not on the basketball court.”
0:00: Erden plays the entire quarter and returns to the bench singing his stat line to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas”: “Eight points a scoring, seven feet and growing, Sixers I’m a playing, five starting guys, four called fouls, three rebounds, two turnovers and a blocked shot of Spencer Hawes!”
12:00: Rivers informs Erden that — because he’s a minus-6 for the night on the floor and it’s a close game — the big man will sit for the entire fourth quarter. Shockingly, Erden’s facial expression never changes.
9:54: For a brief period, Erden loses interest in the game and begins reciting the Presidents of the Republic of Turkey: “Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Mustafa Ismet Inonu, Mahmut Celal Bayar, Cemal Gursel, Cevdet Sunay, Fahri Koruturk, Kenan Evren, Turgut Ozal, Suleyman Demirel, Ahmet Necdet Sezar and Abdullah Gul.”
1:04: Allen drains a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 98-97 lead. Meanwhile, back on the bench, Erden explains to Lawrence Frank  that the reason the team is shooting so well from the field this season (51.2 FG%, 38.7 3-point FG%) is his ability to draw a double-team in the post. Frank moves over a few seats.
0:06: Erden gets boxed out once again — this time by Wafer, as they tried to look over Doc’s shoulder during a timeout as he draws up the game-winning play.
Often times, to me, Erden has looked lost on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor at times this season. I asked a colleague what he thought, and he made a great point: The C’s were lucky to find a 7-foot guy in the second round who can eat up minutes with the injuries to the O’Neal brothers and Kendrick Perkins .
Sure, Erden might struggle to pick up the intricacies of a title-contending team’s offensive and defensive sets, but wouldn’t any rookie? If you accept him for what he is — a second-round rookie center — Erden’s been a welcome addition.
Still, any longterm injury to Shaq would spell trouble for the Celtics. I’m not expecting much out of Jermaine O’Neal  over the next couple months — if at all — so a double dose of Erden could mean a lot of one-point games against teams with .318 winning percentages.
Just take a look at their respective plus/minus statistics for the season: With Shaq on the floor, the C’s are plus-146; with Erden, they’re minus-67. That’s a 213-point swing in 22 games (9.7 points per game).
IS SHAQUILLE O’NEAL AN ALL-STAR
In the past two days, two publications you may have heard of before — ESPN and The New York Times — have debated whether Shaq is worthy of an All-Star spot.
First, ESPN.com’s Tom Haberstroh provided a convincing statistical argument  in O’Neal’s favor. Here’s the crux of his side of the debate:
“Blasphemy? Well, consider the facts. Despite the stellar efforts of Rajon Rondo , Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett , who could well earn All-Star bids on their own, it is Shaq who boasts the team’s highest player efficiency rating (21.2). In fact, when it comes to centers in the East, only Al Horford and Dwight Howard  have been more productive on a per-minute basis. With an absurdly high 68.4 field goal percentage, we haven’t seen someone this money from the floor since the days of Wilt Chamberlain .
“However, individual accomplishments mean little if they get lost in translation on the team level. But after looking at plus/minus numbers, we can see that’s certainly not the case with Boston’s 15-time All-Star. The Celtics are scoring 120.2 points per 100 possessions with Shaq on the floor this season. How good is that? That’s the highest rate for any player in the league, according to basketballvalue.com .”
Then, in an article entitled, “What makes an NBA All-Star?”, Rob Mahoney debates  whether or not star power or stat power should qualify a player for the game:
“O’Neal’s huge name, minor role, and impressive statistical resume have the potential to make him an unlikely hero for the league’s overlooked collection of quasi-stars. Shaq could be the bridge between two worlds. Maybe he’s exactly the kind of larger-than-life role player that could open the door for less obvious stars to make All-Star teams in the future, even if he isn’t able to cross that threshold himself. O’Neal’s current standing has the power to influence the All-Star paradigm, but only if we let it.”
HEAT MIRRORING THE CELTICS
The Heat’s six-game winning streak is the third-longest in the league (behind the Celtics at 9 and Mavericks at 11), so what’s changed since starting the season 9-8? Well, according to Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra  is lifting some offensive sets from the Celtics’ and Lakers’ playbooks.
“The Heat are using what I’ve nicknamed the ‘rugby scrum’ play, a staple in Boston’s offense and now Chicago’s as well. The two big men on the floor run out to the top of the key as a tag team and set a monster double screen for a ball-handler — and in Miami’s case, it has been Wade handling the ball almost every time they run this action. The play has been a devastating weapon in Boston, and it works especially well when both big men are capable pick-and-pop shooters. Hurry back, Udonis Haslem .”
REACTIONS FROM DENVER & PHILADELPHIA
The praise from opposing teams continues to pile in, as the Celtics continue to pile up victories. After back-to-back victories in two nights, add the Nuggets and 76ers to the list of teams that are impressed with how well the C’s have jelled:
“Everything happened so fast,” Sixers head coach Doug Collins  told  the Philadelphia Inquirer of the C’s final play. “Garnett is rolling to the basket and they put four shooters out there. Obviously, we would have liked to have somebody make a jump shot, but it just happened so quickly. That’s the difference between a championship team and a team that’s cutting its teeth.”
“When you get down like that, you pretty much have to play perfect,” Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups  told  The Denver Post. “Every shot has kind of got to go in, and this is not an easy team to play against like that. This is a great defensive team, and offensively, they’re just a machine. A machine. They make the extra pass all the time. They play the game the right way.”
(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach  on Twitter.)