Wake up with the Celtics  and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘¦
It’s been almost two weeks since Celtics forward Kevin Garnett  posted on his Anta blog , and he’s just as disheartened about the team’s performance in back-to-back games as he has been all season. It’s roughly the 10,000th time he’s raised the concern, and the C’s have two more back-to-backs over the next five days. The highlights:
- On the Celtics: “Frustration is definitely setting in for some of the guys, but we’ll meet and get it together.”
- On Jermaine O’Neal : I “so was pumped to have him back with us.”
- On Shaquille O’Neal : “The BIG Diesel was back! It was great to have him back and seeing him ball. He was killin it, then he pulled up! Damn, hurt again! That sucks! Keep rooting for him to get right!!!”
- On the Spurs: It “was like a playoff game. We ‘hit’ each other back and forth, and both teams took the shots. Rondo was super intense and brought it! Great TEAM effort and body feeling good. The guys got me in the right spot to make shots, so I had to knock them down. Great energy in the locker room.”
- On the Hawks: The “bad part was the back-to-back in Atlanta. We started out Ok, but then started to get out of what we do. We weren’t getting stops and taking early shots.”
- On the stretch run: “This time of year we are trying to get ready for the playoffs, but it’s tough to get rest when we have seven games in the next 10 days! We gotta finish strong, so we can get right for the playoffs.”
As coach Doc Rivers  has reiterated another 10,001 times, the Celtics won’t be playing any back-to-backs in the playoffs — where the team has pulled ahead of the Heat for the East’s No. 2 seed and within a game of the Lakers for homecourt in the NBA Finals .
SHAQUILLE O’NEAL RECEIVES DISTINGUISHED CITIZEN AWARD
On the court, Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal won’t be earning any awards this season — unless the NBA has added Most Injured Player to its list — but for his off-the-court contributions he received the Boy Scouts of America’s Distinguished Citizen Award from a local troop, according to the Weston Patch .
At the event, O’Neal also learned to tie a square knot and finished second in the Pinewood Derby race, despite claiming he got kicked out of the Boy Scouts thrice.
Asked by someone if his leg felt worse than losing the Pinewood Derby, Shaq reportedly said the answer would cost them a box of thin mints from the Girl Scouts (Rivers told WEEI Shaq could return Sunday ). He then made the same joke when somebody asked him to sign autographs. The amount of awkward laughter was not reported.
IT’S NOT ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA
Entering Tuesday night’s game against the Celtics, the Sixers had played their potential first-round opponent tough, combining for 270 points as opposed to the C’s 272. In the fourth meeting, that all went out the window, as Philadelphia fell, 99-82.
When the dust settled, we learned that the Sixers’ best player (Elton Brand) has been playing with a fractured bone in his hand and even the team’s coach (Doug Collins ) wouldn’t admit Philadelphia can hang with the Celtics. Check out the quotes from the Philly locker room after the loss, as delivered  in the Philadelphia Inquirer ‘s coverage :
Brand on broken hand: “I feel I’ve been playing Ok with it, and it’s not a big deal. It’s ironic we have Boston and then the Knicks, and this comes out. As long as somebody doesn’t bang it, it will be all right. That’s why I was wearing the pad at first, but it’s kind of annoying wearing that thing.”
Collins on Celtics: “We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they’ve played in a long time. They had 29 assists, they executed brilliantly. They had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fight to get back in, we got it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt. That’s what championship teams do. They might not play it for 48 minutes, but they’re going to lock you down for stretches. …
“They make you shoot those jump shots, they do a good job of rotating. Quietly, they’re the second- or third-best team in the league in steals. They’re very good at pick and rolls, they can swarm, their big guys get out, they challenge shots and they don’t give you anything easy.
“So we learn, we learn every night we play a team like this. I told our guys we want to keep growing every single game. That’s why coming down the stretch of these games gives us a blueprint on what we have to continue to do to find out how to beat these teams.”
JERMAINE O’NEAL’S ENCOURAGING PERFORMANCE
With all the concern over Shaq’s health — and he might not even be one of the Celtics’ five best players — it’s easy to forget that other teams have health issues, too.
The Heat’s Dwayne Wade (thigh bruise ) will likely miss Wednesday night’s game. Bulls center Joakim Noah  (sprained ankle) has missed 34 games, including all of last week. Lakers bigs Pau Gasol  and Andrew Bynum  both have knee issues . And Brand is playing with a broken hand. Which makes the performances of Jermaine O’Neal and Nenad Krstic  against the 76ers all the more encouraging.
As Rivers told Sports Illustrated , “J.O. was terrific. He was aggressive, he was attacking and his defense was phenomenal. He’s been really good since he’s been back. He just buys in; we rarely go to him, but he gets the ball in the right places because he’s in the right spots.”
JO and Krstic gave the Celtics a combined 17 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes against Philadelphia. Given the fact that those two seem fairly healthy and Shaq might be able to still contribute in the playoffs, things could be far worse for the Celtics.
A CELTICS LAYUP DRILL
As Irish Coffee went on a one-day hiatus because of a business trip, I figured I’d pass along a couple of nice reads I came across during the ridiculous 11 hours of plane rides (nothing like a layover in beautiful Newark on your way to beautfiul St. Louis!):
ESPN.com’s John Hollinger broke down potential Eastern Conference playoff matchups , and there’s plenty of juicy Celtics info in there. Here’s one tidbit:
Consider this chart  from basketballvalue.com. What you’re seeing is Boston’s plus-minus with various units on the court. At the top, notice that their most common units feature their four All-Stars with any warm-bodied big man; you’ll see that regardless of whether it’s Glen Davis , Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green , Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal or Ed O’Neill, the Celtics dramatically outscore the opposition with that group. Meanwhile, some commonly used Boston regular-season units that were trampled — like “Robinson-Wafer-Daniels-Davis-Erden”, for instance — won’t be seeing daylight this postseason.
And Sports Illustrated Zach Lowe provided some interesting insight  as to how much better Green has performed as a small forward than as a power forward. A highlight:
Green has played in 10 lineups  that have logged at least 10 minutes together in Boston. The numbers, culled from Basketball Value:
Offense: 337 points scored in 305 possessions, or 110.5 points per 100 possessions. That’s a nice number for Boston, one that would rank just below the top five for the full season. Its offense ranks 18th overall.
Defense: 326 points allowed in 300 possessions, or 108.6 points allowed per 100 possessions. And here we see it happening again: Green’s team is playing far worse, defensively, with him on the floor. The sample size is small ‘ only about 172 minutes ‘ but the fact that we’re seeing this same trend repeat itself in Boston is not encouraging. The Celtics and Bulls have taken turns atop the league’s defensive rankings all season, with both surrendering about 100 points per 100 possessions. With Green on the floor, Boston has defended at about the level of the Nets  and Rockets, who rank 20th and 21st in points allowed per possession, respectively.
The Celtics may be 14-9 since the All-Star break, but they’re also now 8-2 against their probable matchups in the first three rounds of the Eastern Conference playoffs (3-1 vs. 76ers, 3-0 vs. Heat and 2-1 vs. Bulls). That’s fairly encouraging.