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Fast Break: Celtics capture 14th straight 12.22.10 at 10:11 pm ET
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Despite a poor shooting night, the Celtics held on for an 84-80 victory over the 76ers at the Garden on Wednesday night (recap), stretching their NBA-best winning streak to 14 games heading into a Christmas Day showdown in Orlando.

The Celtics made 10-of-12 free throws in the final four minutes – including a pair by Ray Allen with 5.6 seconds remaining – and Kevin Garnett blocked an Andre Iguadola shot with 14 seconds left to preserve an 82-80 lead, as the C’s held on to improve their Eastern Conference-leading record to 23-4. Allen scored a game-high 22 points, while Shaquille O’Neal (13 points, 9 rebounds), Garnett (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Pierce (11 points) all reached double figures.

Elton Brand totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds for Philadelphia before fouling out in the final minutes.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Relying on defense: It’s the staple of their success. Even when the Celtics aren’t shooting well, they can still play defense. They held the 76ers to 80 points on 43.1 percent shooting from the field (28-of-65), they forced 13 turnovers and everybody crashed the boards, as seven different Celtics had at least four boards.

Allen’s hot start: While most of his teammates struggled from the floor to start the game, Allen scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Celtics establish an early 23-17 lead. In all, Allen netted his game-high 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. He also made 5-of-6 free throws, including the game-clinching pair.

Cameo appearances: Off the bench, Von Wafer had his best performance of the season, scoring five points on a nifty up-and-under layup and big second-half 3-pointer. Avery Bradley showed a glimpse of his talent, picking Louis Williams’ pocket and converting on the other end. And Marquis Daniels totaled four points, four rebounds and five assists — including a nice alley-oop to O’Neal.

WHAT WENT WRONG

A rare poor shooting night: The Celtics aren’t used to shooting less than 50 percent from the field. In fact, they entered Wednesday night’s game against the 76ers shooting 51.2 percent as a team for the season.

However, against Philadelphia, they shot just 17-of-46 (37.0 percent) in the first half — scoring only 38 points and entering halftime with a six-point deficit at home against a team with an 11-17 record. For the game, the Celtics shot just 38.8 percent (31-of-80).

Foul trouble: Nate Robinson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had to sit for extended periods in the second half as they all picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter. O’Neal got into some foul trouble of his own in the first half, as he sat out the last three minutes of the half.

After all was said and done, the Celtics’ reserves played a combined 38 minutes, and given the state of their bench due to the number of injuries that have piled up, that wasn’t going to translate into positive results.

Technical difficulties: In the third quarter, Garnett and Pierce each picked up technical fouls following calls against the Celtics — adding insult to injury. Doc Rivers wasn’t too happy with the officiating either, as he had a pointed discussion with referee Scott Foster midway through the third quarter. After a minute, Foster walked away from the conversation, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo’s recovery 12.22.10 at 12:26 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Rajon Rondo isn’t exactly Charles Barkley when it comes to talking to the media, but he’s quietly letting us in on his rehabilitation progress as he recovers from a sprained ankle — through his Twitter page

  • Dec. 16: “Another great team effort tonight. A lot of treatment. Elevating my foot now, watching the game.”
  • Dec. 18: “Ankle is feeling better. Out of the boot. Still got a ways to go. Treatment twice a day.”
  • Dec. 21: “I love my new video game. Still keeping my foot elevated.” (see accompanying photo)

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: Where can I get a full-sized H2Overdrive arcade cabinet like the one Rondo uses to elevate his foot? It makes  a great stocking stuffer for just $8,200.

It’s been exactly one week since Celtics president Danny Ainge threw out “a couple of weeks” as a timeframe for Rondo’s return. The first game after that two-week window is against the Pistons on Dec. 29, but do they really need Rondo to beat Detroit? Answer: No. They could probably start Avery Bradley and still win.

Two days later, however, the Celtics host Chris Paul and the Hornets. We all know how Rondo gears up to play the NBA’s best point guards, and some consider Paul the best in the game. You can bet Rondo will want to play in that game. The only question is whether Ainge, Doc Rivers and the training staff will let him.

CELTICS HAVE THE POWER

Ever-so-slowly, as their winning streak has stretched to an NBA-best 13 games — while the Mavericks, Heat and Knicks have snapped their streaks — the Celtics are gaining a monopoly on the national media’s NBA Power Rankings.

Here’s where the C’s rank, according to six major national media outlets:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, power rankings, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ bench struggles 12.21.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Remember when a lot of people — including me — believed the Celtics had the best bench in the NBA? Well, they don’t. At least not now.

The second unit that C’s head coach Doc Rivers had cultivated to give his veteran starters their much-needed rest throughout the 82-game NBA season was supposed to look like this: Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

On paper, that lineup looks good. Very good. Unfortunately, wrists, ankles and knees aren’t made out of paper. As a result, the Celtics’ reserves rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams, according to Hoopsstats.com‘s efficiency differential.

West’s suspension and subsequent broken wrist have kept him out of all but five games. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have been a pain in the knee, missing a combined 28 games and vaulting a third-string guy (Semih Erden) into four starts. And Rajon Rondo‘s feet, hamstring and ankle soreness, tweaks and sprains haven’t helped, either, forcing one of the original sencond unit’s go-to scorers (Robinson) into a starting role six times.

Put those injuries to paper, and the Celtics’ bench has produced better than only one team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today — the Trail Blazers, who have had more injuries than King Leonidas‘ men in the movie “300.”

Here’s where the C’s reserves rank in the league statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 22nd
Points: 17th
Rebounds: 25th (22nd defensive/30th offensive)
Assists: 26th
Steals: 18th
Blocks: 18th
Turnovers: 10th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 23rd
Free-throw percentage: 19th

And here’s where their opponents’ bench’s production against them ranks:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Larry Bird, NBA
Irish Coffee: Celtics are ‘Best of the Best’ 12.20.10 at 12:03 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In somewhat of a footnote in his most recent Sports Illustrated column, Ian Thomsen listed the records of NBA teams against oppoenents with a .500 record or better. You’ll never guess which team ranked atop the list.

Every day, people are coming up with new ways to capture how impressive the 2010-11 Celtics have been despite injuries that are piling up faster than my Christmas shopping list.

But the fact that the Celtics are 10-2 against above-.500 teams while no other Eastern Conference club has a winning record against those same squads might tell us all we need to know about the C’s chances of returning to the NBA Finals.

Against the best, the Celtics have been the best.

Only three teams in the entire league own a winning record against plus-.500 teams: the Celtics (10-2), Spurs (8-2) and Mavericks (9-3). Three others — the Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz — have .500 records against teams with winning records.

Considering the Spurs and Mavericks have been relatively healthy this season, what the Celtics have been able to accomplish is remarkable, as Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte WestJermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins have missed a combined 81 games already.

The Celtics’ biggest competitors in the East — the Heat (5-6), Magic (3-6) and Bulls (4-8) — have all been disappointing against above-.500 teams, as have the Knicks (3-5) and Hawks (2-7). In fact, 10 teams have two wins or fewer against opponents with a .500 record or better, including the Lakers, who are 1-3 in just four games against quality opponents this season.

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Read More: Antoine Walker, Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, Nate Robinson
Irish Coffee: Top 5 Pop-A-Shot performances 12.17.10 at 8:00 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Five randomly selected people will get the chance to compete against Nate Robinson in Pop-A-Shot at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Saugus on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. Now, I have a million legendary Pop-A-Shot stories, so I’ll spare you and give you just one:

While I was a student at Boston University, there was a guy at The Sports Depot challenging anybody and everybody to Pop-A-Shot. If he won, you had to buy him a shot. He beat a few people, and he took a few shots.

Once people caught onto the fact that he was a Pop-A-Shot Shark, he started betting everyone he could beat them left-handed. He beat a few more people, and he took a few more shots — but his game never wavered.

After a while, everybody pretty much gave up on trying to beat him, so he started giving everyone 20-point cushions. He got a few more takers, beat them and took more shots. Yet, he always put up 100 points a minute.

And he never lost.

Based on the shots consumed and point spread offered to his opponents, it was the greatest shooting display I’ve ever seen. Not to mention I saw the same guy doing the same thing a year later at the Beacon Hill Pub.

All I’m saying is, if this guy shows up in Saugus, Robinson has no chance. So, without further ado, I give you the top five Pop-A-Shot performances on YouTube …

1. THE WORLD RECORD: Jay Kletecka is right where I picture the Pop-A-Shot world record-holder to be: In his mother’s basement. I do enjoy how he calmly drains 166 straight and has no reaction when he finally misses.

 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Ray Allen drops some NBA knowledge 12.17.10 at 12:14 am ET
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The mood in the Celtics locker room was light. Extremely light. A bunch of the players were eager to leave and get some food together, but Ray Allen stayed behind to answer every last one of the reporters’ questions.

He sounded like a future NBA coach, discussing everything from rivalries to winning streaks to what today’s young players are lacking. Here’s what Allen, who scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, had to say after the Celtics’ 12th consecutive victory, a 102-90 win over the Hawks …

If the Knicks aren’t your rival, then who is?

(Waiting, waiting, waiting …) “I don’t really look at a Western Conference team, because we don’t play them enough. The playoff teams we’ve played are definitely rivals. In the Eastern Conference, we talked about Detroit … but they’re done. Cleveland’s now done. Orlando right now is the team that we’d have to say is our rivals.

“To me, it’s all based on playoffs. The regular season gets you warmed up for it, because you know you’re going to see them. You want to leave something for them to think about.”

How have the Big Three avoided the injury bug?

(Knocking on wood) “With me, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin [Garnett], it’s not about the prestige of the job, it’s about the game itself. It’s about playing basketball and doing whatever you need to do to stay heatlhy and take care of our bodies.

“That’s one thing between the three of us — whether we’re in the weight room or getting up shots — we’re going to do whatever we need to do to help this team.”

Are you surprised by Semih Erden’s success so far this season?

“I’m not surprised at all. He’s got great promise. He’s very talented. I think we all forget that he’s a rookie. We expect a lot from him in that position, and it’s only going to make him better in the long run. …

“I played with a lot of young big men who were just doomed, because they had nobody to offer tutelage, that had been through it and had done some good things in the league. For him to come here is probably one of the biggest blessings he could ever ask for. He probably doesn’t realize it now, but 6-7 years down the road he’s going to realize how special it was for him.”

How important are the veterans to Erden’s success?

“Whether they’re on the business side or player development, I don’t see enough past players on rosters. There’s too many young guys in the league nowadays who need the expertise on how to play this game — not just putting the ball in the whole but understanding how to be a teammate, be a professional, be that guy who knows how to take a hard foul. We don’t have those guys anymore.”

How was the offense different with Nate Robinson running the show?

“Offensively, we didn’t have a great rhythm early in the game. Even a week ago, when [Rajon] Rondo was out, it was different, because Shaq was out there and he gave us a better rhythm with Nate out there.

“[Thursday], it was different. We had to figure it out all over again with Nate and Semih out there. It took a while. About the third or fourth quarter, we established a rhythm offensively and then we locked down.”

Are you impressed by the team’s 12-game winning streak?

“Not really. If I had to guess who we beat these past 12 games, I couldn’t tell you. It’s behind me. I don’t have to worry about those teams we played.

“When you lose a game, that always haunts you. When you watch the highlights on SportsCenter, it kinda jabs you in the side knowing you lost to them the last time you played.”

Why do you think the team has had more success against the so-called “athletic” teams this season?

“A lot of that is Kevin being a little bit healthier, just having his legs underneath him. I don’t know what he’s averaging rebound-wise, but he’s bringing them down and he’s keeping those other guys off the glass. … It does make a difference when you keep those young guys off the glass.”

Even with a 21-4 record, can the Celtics still improve?

“I think we can work on everything. There’s not one thing we can’t improve on.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Ray Allen,
Fast Break: Celtics win 12th straight 12.16.10 at 10:42 pm ET
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If you were expecting a letdown by the Celtics after a thrilling last-second victory against the Knicks in New York on Wednesday night — followed by the news that Rajon Rondo would miss the next two weeks — guess again.

The Celtics had six players score in double figures — including Semih Erden — as they stretched their NBA-best winning streak to 12 games by disposing of the Hawks, 102-90, at the Garden on Thursday night.

Kevin Garnett anchored the effort with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Ray Allen and Glen Davis tied for the team lead with 18 points apiece.

Paul Pierce (15), Nate Robinson (14) and Erden (10) also reached double figures for the Celtics, who improved their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-4.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Another KG double-double: Midway through the third quarter, Garnett had already notched his 14th double-double of the season. He entered the game tied with Amar’e Stoudemire for ninth in the NBA for double-doubles.

Garnett finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds on the night. On the other end, Garnett limited Josh Smith — who is a very, very good NBA player — to just one point and four rebounds. All in all, not a bad night for Garnett.

Pierce & Allen assist: With Rondo sitting out the first of what is expected to be at least two weeks of games, somebody had to make up for his 14 assists a night. Pierce and Allen exceeded that number.

They entered the game averaging a combined 5.8 assists between them. Against the Hawks, Pierce doled out nine dimes and Allen contributed another six. Not to mention their combined 33 points.

Semih-automatic: Say what you will about Semih Erden, but he finishes around the rim. It’s his soft hands. Thursday night’s starting center finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting — all within five feet of the basket.

His solid night even included a dunk over Smith, who is one of the top six shot blockers in the league. Still, Erden could work on his rebounding (he had zero as a 7-footer) and free-throw shooting (0-for-2).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defending the point: The Hawks’ point guards — starter Mike Bibby and backup Jeff Teague — combined for 29 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against Nate Robinson.

Meanwhile, Avery Bradley actually looked pretty sharp defensively in just four minutes on the floor. Offensively? Bradley was absent, and Robinson finished with 14 points (on 6-of-16 shooting) and four assists.

Cleaning the glass: Somehow, with Smith and Al Horford combining for just 11 rebounds (they average 18 between them), the Celtics still got out-rebounded by the Hawks, 37-34.

Atlanta also snatched 10 offensive rebounds (an ongoing issue for the C’s). Of course, it helps to shoot better than 50 percent — which the Celtics did … once again (53%).

All-Star absentees: First, it was Kevin Durant. Then, it was John Wall. Then, it was Carmelo Anthony. And Thursday it was former Celtics guard Joe Johnson. The list of NBA stars who have been relegated to the bench with injuries when they visited the Garden this season grew by two.

Johnson and 2010 Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford both sat out against the Celtics. On the Boston side, of course, Rondo and Shaquille O’Neal were in street clothes as well.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett
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