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Sasha Vujacic: Celtics ‘trying to act up’ 02.16.11 at 11:53 pm ET
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You’ll be shocked to hear this, but things got chippy in a Celtics game — again.

Nets forward Kris Humprhies got into a jawing match with Celtics forward Kevin Garnett in the first half, while New Jersey guard Sasha Vujacic and C’s center Kendrick Perkins exchanged words in the second half. On the court, the C’s got the last word in a 94-80 victory. Off the court? Vujacic explained the chippiness.

“I think we started a little bit too soft in the game,” said Vujacic. “They’re a team that plays very well, and they’re trying to act up most of the time, so that’s how they are and how they play. We just can’t back down from that. We’ve got to deliver the first punch and not let them get us on our heels.”

Asked about the Celtics’ trash talk, Nets point guard Devin Harris added, “Nothing surprises me.”

Surprisingly, Vujacic wasn’t overly critical of the Celtics’ style of play; in fact, he credited their experience and ability to play together as a team.

“We played in their home, so everything’s going to be on their side,” added Vujacic. “But let’s face it, they’re one of the teams that are chasing the championship, and they are one of the favorites. They know each other. They know where everybody’s going to be.”

Vujacic and Nets teammate Jordan Farmar both played on another contender to finish last season, as the former was traded from the Lakers to New Jersey for Joe Smith in mid-December and the latter signed with the Nets in the offseason. Told that the Lakers (38-19) lost to the last-place Cavaliers (10-46) on Wednesday night, both guys did a double take.

“Cleveland beat the Lakers?” asked Vujacic. ”You’re kidding, right? I guess miracles do happen.”

Added Farmar, “They’re going to be pissed. That’s three straight.”

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Fast Break: Paul Pierce, Celtics take down Nets 02.16.11 at 10:10 pm ET
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In a game that was a lot closer than the final score indicated, the Celtics survived a scare from the Nets in their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday, capturing a 94-80 home victory. The win helped the C’s (40-14) keep first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Heat (41-15).

Paul Pierce finished with a game-high 31 points, and Kevin Garnett recorded his 17th double-double of the season (14 points, 10 rebounds). Brook Lopez led the Nets (17-40) with 18 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

At least they got the win: The Celtics didn’t play well against the Nets by any stretch of the imagination, but they earned home win No. 25 in just their 29th game at the Garden this season. The C’s were 24-17 all of last year at home, and games like they played on Wednesday night usually ended up in the loss column. If you’ll recall, the C’s lost to an even worse Nets team by eight on Feb. 27, 2010.

Paul Pierce started off on the right foot: Before most fans finished their first beer, the Celtics started on an 8-0 run and stretched that lead to 25-10. Through the first 9:50, Pierce played the Nets to a standstill at 10 points apiece — squashing any doubts about his lingering foot problem. He finished with 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting, attacking the basket with no signs of an injury.

Praise be to Gody: In desperate need of contributions from big bodies off the bench, Luke Harangody gave the Celtics just what Doc Rivers ordered. The rookie out of Notre Dame scored eight points in just eight minutes off the bench in the first half. While he didn’t score for the remainder of the night, the gave the C’s 15 productive minutes.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Falling asleep at the wheel: After the start the Celtics enjoyed, there’s just no way it should’ve been a tie game at halftime. But it was, 46-46, thanks to Rivers’ understandable reliance on the bench for 35 combined minutes. The offensive efficiency that the Celtics have demonstrated for much of this season just wasn’t there for a long stretch from late in the first quarter until the break. Rajon Rondo‘s presence almost assures the C’s of leading their opponents (especially the Nets) in assists, but New Jersey won that battle, 19-18. That’s what Rivers often refers to as “hero ball,” and it gets them in trouble against the better teams in the league.

No immediate halftime adjustment: As well as the Celtics played in the opening few minutes of the game, they played equally as bad to start the second half, allowing the Nets to go on an 8-0 run of their own and take a 54-46 lead before many fans had taken their seats again. That translated into more taxing minutes for the C’s as they played from behind well into the third quarter.

Nothing but three Nets: Really, only a few guys gave the Celtics problems on Wednesday night: Lopez as well as guards Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow. The three combined for 48 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. And Lopez’s ability to score in the post forced Rivers and assistant coach Lawrence Frank to furiously figure out a way to stop him in the third quarter. As a result, New Jersey also won the battle in the paint, 34-28.

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Irish Coffee: President Obama wants Bill Russell statue in Boston 02.16.11 at 11:58 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …


(NOTE: Between the 16:30 and 18:30 marks, President Obama speaks about Bill Russell; at the 35-minute mark, Russell receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom)

In a brilliant article in Boston Magazine, WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery stated the case for a statue in Bill Russell‘s honor in the streets of Boston. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama hopped on Flannery’s bandwagon. The following is a transcript of President Obama’s remarks as he awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

When Bill Russell was in junior high, he was cut from his basketball team. He got better after that. He led the University of San Francisco to two championships. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, he won 11 championships — a record unmatched in any sport. Won two while also serving as the team’s coach. And so happens, he also was the first African-American ever to hold such a position as a coach in a major league sports team of any sort. More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word “winner.”

And yet, whenever someone looks up at all 6 feet, 9 inches of Bill Russell — I just did; I always feel small next to him — and asks, “Are you a basketball player?” — surprisingly, he gets this more than you think, this question — he says, “No.” He says, “That’s what I do, that’s not what I am. I’m not a basketball player. I am a man who plays basketball.”

Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow. And I hope that one day, in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.

In honor of Russell receiving the highest civilian award given in the United States, The Boston Globe discussed Russell’s impact on and off the basketball court with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino as well as Celtics legends Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy, who spanned nine of Russell’s 13 seasons and nine of his 11 title runs:

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Irish Coffee: Top 5 trick basketball shot videos 02.15.11 at 1:47 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

It’s an off day before the Celtics’ final game prior to the All-Star break, so what better time to unleash the top-five trick basketball shot videos of all-time. Without further ado …

5. Sick Basketball Shots

 

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Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should earn No. 1 seed 02.14.11 at 1:21 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Rest up, Celtics, because it doesn’t get any easier than this. The C’s are midway through their most relaxing regular-season stretch of the New Big Three Era in terms of travel.

And never have they needed it more. Seven members of the team’s 15-man roster are battling known injuries as the All-Star break looms, and that doesn’t include Glen Davis‘ bruised noggin, Kevin Garnett‘s rehabbed knee or Rajon Rondo‘s feet.

The good news: The Celtics are in the midst of a 15-day stretch between road games. They played in Charlotte on Feb. 7 and travel to Oakland on Feb. 22. In between, they’ll have played just three home games, all three days apart. Sure, there’s an All-Star Game in between (in Los Angeles) but that’s hardly heavy lifting for Garnett, Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (depending on Pierce’s MRI results), especially since Doc Rivers is manning their minutes.

In the previous three seasons, the Celtics’ longest stretch between road games around the All-Star break was seven days. And in the last two seasons, the NBA has sandwiched a pair of road games for the C’s around the All-Star Game — hardly the mini vacation players desire.

The bad news: Since 2007, the Celtics have had three stretches of 15 days or more between road games. This current span is one. The other two have come at an even more ideal time — days before season’s end. Two years ago, the C’ss played five straight home games from March 27 to April 12. Last season, they had six consecutive home contests from March 22 to April 6.

This season, they’ll have no such luck. Starting with a four-game West Coast road trip after the All-Star Game, the Celtics play 17 of their final 28 games on the road, including 10-of-16 to close out the season. However, only 10 of those 28 games come against teams above .500.

With a half-game lead for first place, the Celtics are battling the Heat — and perhaps the Bulls — for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, nobody will catch the Spurs (45-9) for the league’s best overall record, so we’ll only include the Lakers out West as we take a look at how many of these teams’ post-All-Star break games are against teams above .500:

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Chris Bosh: ‘I really hate losing to’ the Celtics 02.13.11 at 8:36 pm ET
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Chris Bosh tripled his scoring output from his Heat’s 88-80 opening-night loss to the Celtics, and it still didn’t matter. The C’s held Miami to 82 points in a three-point victory on Sunday that gave the East leaders a 3-0 season advantage over the conference’s second-place team.

“We’ll just have to wait to beat the Celtics in another month or so,” said Bosh. “I really hate losing to these guys, man. We’re just going to have to wait a little bit longer. Things like this are going to make us better. Coming into an environment like this, against tough teams like this, battling for first place, it’s going to add to our experience and add to our trust. We’re just going to have to keep going and learn from it.”

The two teams don’t actually face each other until April 10 — three days before the end of the regular season — but the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed could already be determined by then. As it stands now, the Celtics (39-14) own a half-game lead on the Heat (39-15).

“We’re in each other’s way of winning an NBA championship with other teams in the Eastern Conference like Chicago and Orlando and a few other teams,” said Lebron James. “This is a team that everybody is trying to catch. They’re the defending Eastern Conference champions.”

Despite the fact that the Heat only committed two more turnovers than the Celtics (15-13) and led 43-39 at the half, Miami attributed much of the loss to their 12 first-half turnovers.

“The margin for error against a great team like that is very small. … We dug ourselves a hole, and we just couldn’t get out of it,” said Bosh. “Like I said, against a good team like that, you can’t really do that.”

“You can tell I’m upset,” added James. “I just want to win. We all want to win. We know for the most part it was our mistakes. Give a lot of credit to Boston, of course, but we had a lot of unforced turnovers. We were shooting 56 percent from the floor in the first half, but we had 12 turnovers. We’ve got to at least give ourselves a chance to get the ball up on the rim. In the third quarter, they caught fire, and you can’t get behind a team like that.”

The Celtics outscored the Heat 35-18 in the third quarter. Interestingly enough, Rajon Rondo opted to play defense on James in that same quarter. But don’t look for James to credit Rondo, as the former shoved the latter twice for listening in on a Heat huddle.

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Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double cools Heat 02.13.11 at 3:46 pm ET
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The first half felt like a preseason exhibition, and the second half played like a postseason battle. In the end, the Celtics defeated the Heat, 85-82, recapturing first place in the Eastern Conference by a half-game on Sunday afternoon in the TD Garden.

With 12.5 seconds to go and Lebron James on the line with a chance to tie the game with a pair of free throws, the Heat forward made just 1-of-2. Moments later, Glen Davis nailed a pair on the other end, and Mike Miller missed a game-tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer, as the Heat (39-15) lost to the Celtics (39-14) for the third time in three tries this year.

Rajon Rondo‘s third triple-double of the season (11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists steered the Celtics, despite Paul Pierce‘s worst offensive performance (1 point) since March 9 of his rooke season. The C’s survived 62 combined points from the Heat’s Big Three of Chris Bosh (24), Lebron James (22) and Dwyane Wade (16).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Heat get chippy: When things got sloppy midway through the third quarter, it ignited the Celtics — and their crowd. First, Zydrunas Ilgauskas knocked Rondo to the ground on a legal screen, and then Kevin Garnett returned the favor on Miller. That’s when Wade decided to shove Garnett.

As the referees discussed the severity of Wade’s foul (a flagrant-1), Rondo listened in on the Heat’s non-timeout huddle. That’s when James decided to shove Rondo — twice. Those events came during a stretch in which the Celtics expanded a two-point lead to a 13-point advantage.

Don’t get Rajon Rondo angry: Rondo was playing well before Ilgauskas decked him. Afterwards? He was on a mission. The Celtics point guard produced his first triple-double since totaling 22 assists, 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Spurs on Jan. 5. Not to mention the fact he had just one turnover. As a result, Garnett, Davis, Ray Allen, Kendrick Perkins and Von Wafer all reached double figures as well.

Bench boost: Despite leaping 9.5 feet instead of 10 while missing a fast-break dunk attempt, and then belly-bumping Chris Bosh on the rebound, Glen Davis performed admirably off the bench. He totaled 16 points and four rebounds in 30 minutes. Over the previous eight days, in the Celtics’ three losses, he shot 5-of-18 and averaged six points. That was a far cry from the guy who cemented himself as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate earlier this season.

And despite looking lost at times, Von Wafer made two big second-half 3′s to total 10 points.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Paul Pierce feeling the Heat:: After missing practice with an illness earlier in the week, Pierce still appeared sluggish on Sunday against the Heat. He missed all 10 of his shots — including five 3-pointers. Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, James, made 10-of-21 buckets and outscored him 22-1 for the game.

Easy like Sunday morning: Even the crowd didn’t seem entirely into the game in the first quarter. The Celtics took three more shots than the Heat in the opening 12 minutes, yet they trailed 20-15. That’s because the C’s shot just 6-of-20 (30 percent) while defensively allowing the Heat to connect on 9-of-17 field goals (52.9 percent) in that same span.

Riding the starters: Considering the Celtics’ depth was as shallow as a kiddie pool, and they still defeated the next-best team in the East, the C’s couldn’t have asked for much more. It’s a stretch in the “what went wrong” department, but Doc Rivers was forced to play Rondo and Allen 40-plus minutes, Perkins 30-plus minutes for the fifth straight game and a (less than 100 percent) Pierce 35-plus minutes. Since the C’s play just once (Wednesday) in the next nine days, that shouldn’t cause much concern.

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