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Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce’s legacy 11.04.10 at 1:40 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Shaquille O’Neal watched in the locker room as Paul Pierce passed, clinging to the ball commemorating his 20,000th career point and smiling, ear-to-ear.

O’Neal turned to Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill and said, “Didn’t I score my 20,000th career point on you?”

No, it wasn’t quite 26 years ago when Hill hung up his shoes that Shaq reached 20,000, but it was eight seasons ago — signaling just how far Pierce has to go in order to reach Shaq & Co. in the top-five scorers of all-time.

Still, what Pierce achieved Wednesday night againt the Bucks doesn’t happen too often in the NBA, although it may not seem that way, considering three of the 35 other players in the history of the league to accomplish the feat were just a few feet away from him in the locker room.

“He’s been one of the best players in the league for a very long time,” Jermaine O’Neal said after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s hard to be that good for a long time for multiple reasons: aging, injuries, change in regimes — sometimes that has an effect on your game. But he’s been very consistent at what he does, and he’s very deserving of it.”

Of the 36 NBA players to reach the 20,000-point plateau, only 18 of them scored their first 20,000 for a single team (that includes Pierce). Of those 18, only 16 scored their first 20 grand in the same city. And of those 16, only nine began and ended their careers with the same team. Obviously, Pierce has the opportunity to be the 10th.

“It makes me think about what I went through in my career — just how tough it is to play with one team,” Allen said. “At some points, it gets rocky, because you hit those low points where a team’s not winning.

“Franchises are cyclical in sports. In those lean years he was able to stick it out here, and people still stuck behind him and the team, so that’s commendable. It doesn’t happen a lot these days in sports.”

Pierce’s career in Boston hasn’t been without its ups and downs. In 2005, he was reportedly offered to the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 3 pick and Nick Van Exel, and the Blazers instead traded the pick to Utah (the Jazz turned that selection into Deron Williams).

“Things change, management changes, sometimes the view changes,” added Jermaine O’Neal. “Once that happens, players tend to move around. It’s a special thing to do it for one team and once city for 13 long years. You’ve got to tip your hat off to him as a peer, as a teammate, and someone that’s watched him. I’ve been a fan of him for a long time.”

None of Pierce’s Celtic teammates and fellow 20,000-point scorers — Garnett, Allen or Shaq — scored their first 20 grand for the same team.

FOUR PLAYERS, 80,000 POINTS

Among the Celtics’ four 20,000-point scorers, only Shaq scored his first 20,000 in fewer games (727) than Pierce (889). It took Allen (962) and Garnett (979) almost another season’s worth of scoring to reach the mark.

Our own Mike Petraglia captured Pierce’s reaction to reaching the plateau, so let’s take a look at how the other three felt when they reached 20 grand …

There’s a funny story (depending on how you look at it) surrounding Shaq’s 20,000th point. He scored it as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 20, 2008, in 107-99 victory against the Kings in Sacramento.

However, as a result of Shaq’s criticism of then-King Mike Bibby‘s selection to the Team USA roster over Allen Iverson, a friend of Bibby’s defaced the commemorative ball shortly after the game, inscribing “Shaq is an a**hole” on it.

The defamation clearly angered Shaq, as did the lack of acknowledgement from the Lakers organization on the achievement.

“I’ll just have to get another ball at 30,000,” O’Neal told The Los Angeles Times in 2003.

Shaq currently stands at 28,281 points — fifth all-time. Meanwhile, Garnett has 22,345 at 22nd all-time. KG scored his 20,000th point as a member of the Celtics on March 8, 2008, in a 119-89 blowout of the Memphis Grizzlies — oddly enough, on an assist from Pierce.

“I wasn’t aware coming in,” Garnett told The Boston Globe in 2008. “It’s a great accomplishment for me. I’m more grateful to every coach, point guard, staff member, everybody whose put me in a position to be successful and I just say thank you.

“It’s a bit more meaningful as a Celtic when it happened. It seems like things are lining up for something more beautiful, like a championship.”

A year and a half later, also as a Celtic, on December 10, 2009, Allen scored his 20,000th career point — fittingly, on a 3-pointer in a 104-102 victory against the Washington Wizards. Since then, he’s climbed to No. 28 all-time.

“It’s interesting how basketball’s such a team sport, but it’s governed by so many individual statistics,” Allen told The Globe. “I’m just grateful I’ve had great teammates, I’ve had great coaches, and I’ve had pretty good organizations, and that’s helped me be where I am today.”

In another  strange coincidence that will forever tie the Celtics’ Big Three together, Allen scored his 18,000th point on the night Garnett reached 20,000, and Pierce scored his 19,000th point on the night Allen reached 20,000. Welcome to The Twilight Zone.

PIERCE: GREATEST CELTICS SCORER EVER?

Larry Bird (21,791; No. 25 all-time) and John Havlicek (26,395; No. 11 all-time) are each one of the nine NBA players to score more than 20,000 points, beginning and ending their careers with the same team. Of the two, only Bird got to 20 grand in fewer games (809) than Pierce.

Pierce will in all likelihood pass Bird in the 2011-12 season, but will he ever catch Havlicek?

Since he is signed through the 2013-14 season, Pierce would have to average 19.8 points while playing every single game throughout the course of his contract in order to tie Havlicek. That’s definitely unrealistic.

However, should he play an additional two seasons for the Celtics after his current deal, averaging 16 points and 67 games per year (including this one), he’ll surpass Havlicek to become the greatest scorer in Celtics history.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Paul Pierce
Fast Break: Celtics sear the deer in OT 11.03.10 at 11:21 pm ET
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The Celtics got another MVP-like performance out of Rajon Rondo, and it was just enough to edge the Milwaukee Bucks (1-4) in overtime, 105-102, at the TD Garden Wednesday night. Rondo finished with 17 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds to help the C’s improve to 4-1.

Paul Pierce led all scorers with 28 points — the final six at the free throw line in the last 13 seconds — to eclipse 20,000 career points and, fittingly, put the game away. The milestone carried undeniable significance for the 13-year Celtics veteran.

“You don’t see it too often where a player accomplishes that type of feat with one team,” an emotional Pierce said after the game. “It means a lot to me. I’m not even going to downplay it. … Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed that I would have scored 20,000 points in a Celtics uniform. The team was going in a direction, I was a disgruntled player at the time. To still be here talking about this feat, it’s an incredible moment for me.”

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

THEY FOUND THEIR FIFTH GEAR: After an Ersan Ilyasova 3-pointer put the Bucks up 80-74 with 3:29 to play, the Garden got awfully quiet. The Celtics’ closing five — Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis — changed that, quickly.

Over the next 2:09, the C’s outscored Milwaukee, 16-4, taking a six-point lead with a minute to play and igniting the hometown crowd. In that two-minute span, Garnett and Bucks big Andrew Bogut picked up double technicals after the former dunked on the latter, leading to a shoving match.

Rather than disrupt the C’s momentum, especially in the wake of the day’s KG-Charlie Villanueva Twitter fiasco, the incident seemed to ignite their fire further. Led by another sparkplug (who else but Rondo?), the Celtics literally ran all over the Bucks to pour fast break layup after layup into the net.

The Celtics showed a gear that other teams — even the Bucks, a 2009-10 playoff team — just can’t match. And it came on the second night of a back-to-back, in the fourth quarter. Sure, it took overtime for the C’s to Sear the Dear, but Wednesday night was going Milwaukee’s way until that two-minute stretch.

ALLEN’S GOT HIS GROOVE BACK: The memory of Allen shooting just 3-of-14 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was burnt into the minds of many Celtics fans throughout the offseason. Critics claimed the veteran may have been entering the so-called twilight of his career.

But a shooter like Allen never loses his stroke, even at age 35, especially when it’s as sweet as Ray’s. Twice already this season — Wednesday night against the Bucks (23 points on 9-of-20 shooting) and opening night against the Heat (20 points on 7-of-13 shooting) — he has demonstrated that he can still fill it up against the league’s best.

DEFENDING THE POINT GUARD: We know what Rondo is capable of offensively, but the Celtics point guard is already making a run at a second straight All-Defensive First Team selection. He held Brandon Jennings — a legit Rookie of the Year candidate last season — to just 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Rondo also kept Jennings from finding open teammates, limiting him to four assists in 34 minutes.

Wednesday night’s performance came on the heels of Rondo’s defense against Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, who was limited to 6-of-15 shooting and three assists Tuesday night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

WHERE’S THE BENCH? The Celtics were essentially playing with a six-man roster for the majority of the game against the Bucks, as Glen Davis (14 points, 4 rebounds) provided the team’s only real contribution from the pine.

Meanwhile, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer and Semih Erden only played 10 minutes between them. The Small 3 combined for a whopping two points, six rebounds and one assist. When Rivers played a lineup of Erden, Davis, Daniels, Wafer and Robinson, they managed to make a 25-16 lead at the end of the first quarter turn into a 32-31 lead midway through the second quarter.

DEFENDING THE CENTER: Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Bucks, Celtics centers had to defend the following guys:  Joel Anthony (Heat), Ryan Hollins (Cavaliers), Timofey Mozgov (Knicks) and an 87-year-old Ben Wallace (Pistons) — not exactly the Bill Russells of this era.

Bogut was the C’s first true test at the 5 spot. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft and an All-NBA Third Team selection last season, Bogut ate up the Celtics duo of Jermaine O’Neal and Erden to the tune of 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Bogut probably isn’t having his way like that against Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins, and the reason for that is toughness — plain and simple.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD: There are three statistics Doc Rivers is going to point to over and over again throughout this season: turnovers, rebounds and veteran minutes. The first two will likely determine when the Celtics end up in the loss column. And the third could signal how often they end up there.

The Bucks led the turnover (11-16) and held the rebounding advantage for much of the night, until the Celtics edged them out, 43-42, in the overtime period.

Meanwhile, Allen, Pierce and Garnett combined for 120 minutes. That’s a direct result of the bench’s lack of production. If the C’s need those kind of minutes — especially in the second of back-to-back games — to pull out wins against good teams, that spells trouble in the form of fatigue down the road.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, Paul Pierce
Kevin Garnett: ‘I would never be insensitive’ 11.03.10 at 4:48 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett just released the following statement in reaction to Charlie Villanueva‘s accusations on Twitter following Tuesday night’s Celtics-Pistons game:

I am aware there was a major miscommunication regarding something I said on the court last night. My comment to Charlie Villanueva was in fact ‘€˜You are cancerous to your team and our league.’€™ I would never be insensitive to the brave struggle that cancer patients endure. I have lost loved ones to this deadly disease and have a family member currently undergoing treatment. I would never say anything that distasteful. The game of life is far bigger than the game of basketball.

Garnett’s version of the story is far more tame than Villanueva’s claim on Twitter that KG called him “a cancer patient.”

Side note: If KG’s take is accurate, I’ve got to say … that’s some pretty good trash talk. And shame on Villanueva for not only taking to Twitter — but misconstruing Garnett’s message. It’ll be interesting to hear Villanueva’s reaction to KG’s reaction.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Detroit Pistons, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: Did Kevin Garnett go too far? 11.03.10 at 11:04 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

First, the evidence, which is circumstantial so far, considering it comes from Charlie Villanueva‘s Twitter account. Still, here are the pointed comments the Detroit Pistons wingman made about Kevin Garnett between 2 and 3 a.m. this morning …

  • “KG talks alot of crap, he’s prob never been in a fight, I would love to get in a ring with him, I will expose him”
  • KG called me a cancer patient, I’m pissed because, u know how many people died from cancer, and he’s tossing it like it’s a joke.”
  • “I wouldn’t even trip about that, but a cancer patient, I know way 2 many people who passed away from it, and I have a special place 4 those.”

Villanueva suffers from alopecia universalis, a skin disease that results in hair loss on the scalp. He won the 2006 Community Assist Award for his work as a spokesman for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation.

If Villanueva’s accusations are proven to be true, man, he’s sure gone too far this time.

In his time with the Celtics, he’s had some notable taunting episodes with Jose Calderon and Jerryd Bayless — among countless others. He’s been suspended for striking Andrew Bogut and Quentin Richardson.

But this would be the worst of them all.

Talk about a low blow. There may not be a person alive who hasn’t been touched by cancer, and that includes Garnett. I’m not saying he was badmouthing cancer. He’s done his share of charity work — including when he made a dream come true for one 17-year-old kid who was suffering from the disease. Still, it would be a bad choice of words. A terrible choice of words.

Sure, this stuff might be said on a nightly basis in the NBA, but does that make it right?

Whether he likes or not, by wearing Celtics green, Garnett represents the city of Boston — the same city where the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute was founded.

If KG indeed made a comment about Villanueva being a cancer patient, an apology — at the very least — is in order. A charitable donation to Dana-Farber wouldn’t hurt, either.

GUARDING RAJON RONDO

On the heels of Rajon Rondo‘s historic four-game start in this NBA season (no other player has amassed 67 assists in their first four games), many experts are wondering just how the heck you’re supposed to guard the Celtics point guard.

HoopSpeak’s Beckley Mason suggested setting up a trap against Rondo, denying him the ball to force the offense through his teammates, dare him to score 40 points, or, at the very least, guard him close …

In his phenomenal 24 assist game, Rondo only had one assist on a pure dribble drive. Three were on cuts or catch-and-slashes, five were on fast breaks, five came from just handling the ball and finding an open shooter coming off a screen and 11 were out of the pick and pop or roll. So how smart of a strategy is applying no pressure to Rondo when he’€™s more than happy to hook up his skilled teammates?

After discussing the issue with NBA Analyst David Thorpe, TrueHoop’s Henry Abbott agreed wholeheartedly — guard Rondo, closely, or allow him to do “whatever he wants.” Here’s how Thorpe told Abbott he would guard the C’s record-setter …

 

I’d get in his face. You can go with size, or you can go with speed. But either way I’d try to hunt like lions do. One lioness goes out there and chases the prey right into the trap, where the other lions are waiting. I wouldn’t need my one defender to keep him on the perimeter – that’s impossible – but you can at least push him to places on the floor where things might be tougher for him.

For instance, almost every team knows almost every other team’s play calls. So you know which direction he wants to go as he crosses midcourt. I’d look at the data and see, of the different way he approaches the hoop, which areas of the floor, or approaches to the rim, give him the most trouble. Then I’d steer him there, with my best help defenders and shot-blockers ready to meet him.

Then I’d mix it up. Keep him from getting comfortable. Out of timeouts, you might try someone else on him. If he brings the ball up the left side of the floor, maybe have the defense ready to force him to a different spot. Keep him from getting comfortable. It might not work, but sagging off him all night, that’s clearly not working. At least you give yourself a shot. Maybe you can force a few more turnovers, and inspire a few more tough shots. That can turn a game.

There are a few problems with these theories: 1) You actually have to have someone on your team quick enough to guard Rondo up close; 2) If you’re throwing multiple defenders at him, that leaves guys open (and Rondo will find them); 3) You can deny Rondo the ball all you want, but the Celtics are going to find a way to get it into his hands; and 4) How do you dare him to score 40 points, other than to sag off of him defensively?

In other Rondo news, last night he became just the 16th player since 1986 to record at least 17 assists without a turnover. Celtics coach Doc Rivers actually did it in 2002 with the Hawks. John Stockton actually achieved that feat three separate times against the C’s.

RICK CRAZY LIKE A FOX

After getting booted from “Dancing with the Stars” last night, former Celtic and Laker Rick Fox said dancing on the show was harder than Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Of course, he never played a Game 7 in the NBA Finals, but still …

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Dancing with the Stars, Kevin Garnett
The Three-Pointer: Backup Bigs Boost C’s 11.02.10 at 10:43 pm ET
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With Kendrick Perkins sidelined until at least January with a knee injury and Shaquille O’Neal sitting with his own knee issues, all eyes were on Jermaine O’Neal and Semih Erden.

And they responded.

Getting his first start of the season, Jermaine O’Neal totaled 12 points in 21 minutes during last night’s 109-86 win over the Detroit Pistons, despite dealing with a few nagging injuries that kept him out of Friday night’s game against the New York Knicks.

From the start, J.O. set an early tone with aggressive defense — blocking two first-quarter shots while also picking up a pair of fouls that kept him from completely getting into a rhythm.

As a result, O’Neal started slow offensively, but kept finding open spots. Eventually, his knack to find the right place was rewarded by Rajon Rondo at the right times — leading to a 5-of-8 shooting night.

In O’Neal’s absence, Erden also blocked a pair of Pistons attempts, picked up three rebounds and ran the floor for a wide-open dunk. The latter was a shining example of the energy the Turk played with throughout his 15 minutes on the floor.

Most importantly, Erden looked as though he belonged on an NBA floor.

The first-half play of Erden could be the best sign for the Celtics future, as he showed that the potential to spell both O’Neals — who, as we know, will need their share of spelling. That leaves Glen Davis to continue giving Kevin Garnett his rest, limiting minutes for all three veteran big men over the course of the 82-game season.

Of course, any excitement over the play of J.O. and Semih last night can be tempered by the fact that they played the Pistons, who by the looks of things should be one of the worst five teams in the league.

It’s important to note, too, that both bigs faded as the game went on. Erden did all of his damage in the first half, and O’Neal grabbed only two rebounds in his time on the floor. It’s no coincidence that Shaq’s absence led to the Celtics getting out-rebounded for the first time all season.

But it was a start — literally, a start in place of Perkins and Shaq. And any time the C’s can win without those two, it’s a good sign. After all, that’s what they’re here for.

WHAT IS RONDO’S CEILING?

In the last 28 seasons, only nine players have led the NBA in assists: John Stockton (9 seasons), Jason Kidd (5 seasons), Steve Nash (4 seasons), Magic Johnson (4 seasons), Chris Paul (2 seasons) Isaiah Thomas (once), Mark Jackson (once), Rod Strickland (once) and Andre Miller (once).

Of those nine players, only Stockton managed to average 12 assists or more. Through the first four games, Rondo has totaled 67 assists, and nobody in the history of the league has done that. He totaled 17 assists last night, and his average only moved from 16.5 to 16.8 per game.

Currently, only one other player in the NBA is averaging more than 10 assists, and that’s Kidd at 11.7. There’s no doubt that Rondo’s departure from the USA team and all the talk about who’s the best point guard in the league -Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Derrick Rose – lit a fire under the Celtics point guard.

And did anybody else notice Rondo’s pull-up, knock-down, 17-foot jumper in the first half? If he ever gets that going, there’s no telling how good he’ll be this season. I’m talking MVP consideration. Even without the scoring — just 10.8 points per game — he’s already the story of this NBA season (unless you count the off-the-court hype of the Miami Heat).

WANTED: DELONTE WEST

The Celtics got little to nothing from their backup guards behind Rondo and Ray Allen. The starting duo combined for 25 points and 20 assists. Von Wafer and Nate Robinson? They combined for a whopping four points in 27 minutes between them.

Marquis Daniels has really been the lone bright spot at guard from the bench. He totaled nine points and four rebounds, but Doc has used him mainly at the 3 in smaller lineups this season.

Simply based on their play, we should’ve known better than to think Danny Ainge might cut Delonte West after his reported scuffle with Wafer late last week. I’m sure Doc is counting the games until West can return to the lineup. He’s now served four games of the 10-game suspension.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Jermaine O'Neal, Rajon Rondo
Fast Break: Rondo, C’s pound Pistons 11.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo became the only player in NBA history to record 67 assists through four games, leading the Celtics to a 109-86, wire-to-wire victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scored 22 and 21 points for the C’s (3-1), respectively, as five Boston players reached double figures.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. Taking care of the ball: After averaging 19 turnovers in their first three games, the Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half and eight for the entire game.

Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had been the C’s biggest culprits, averaging nine giveaways between them through three contests. Last night, though, neither committed a turnover in a total of 69 minutes on the floor.

2. Spread the wealth: The Celtics totaled 33 assists on 42 field goals in the victory. Rondo, of course, led the way with 17 dishes, while Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each chipped in three dimes.

By contrast, the Pistons managed just 11 assists on 35 field goals for the game. Detroit’s starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, had just two assists in 38 minutes on the floor.

3. They played the Pistons: Facing little to nothing in the way of defense, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field, scoring 67 of their 109 points in the paint. KG and Pierce combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the floor (68 percent), getting open look after open look around the basket. Of course, it also helped that the Celtics made all 18 of their free throws on the night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. Technical difficulty: While Glen Davis played well – totaling 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes – he picked up a technical midway through the first quarter. Doc Rivers was noticeably upset, as the C’s are attempting to make a concerted effort not to pick up cheap techs as a result of the new rules.

2. Getting out-rebounded: Rivers has made rebounding a focus for the Celtics early in the season, and they had owned a plus-six margin entering last night’s game. However, the Pistons out-rebounded the Celtics, 38-36. No Celtics reached double digits in rebounds, as KG led the team with six.

3. Bench depth: Big contributions from Big Baby off the bench have become an expectation, and he delivered again. But other than a few bright spots from Semih Erden, the C’s got very little from the rest of their reserves – as Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Erden combined for 19 points in 61 total minutes.

The lack of contribution from the bench led to the Pistons nearly bringing a 20-point lead to single digits – forcing Rivers to bring the starters back in for the majority of the fourth quarter.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Kevin Garnett, NBA
Irish Coffee: Celtics lack killer instinct 11.02.10 at 11:05 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

We know they love Halloween, but does this Celtics team have a killer instinct?

I raised this concern when the C’s let a pair of double-digit leads vaporize at both second-half quarters in the opening-night win over the Miami Heat.

And Dime Magazine’s Austin Burton raised it again just three games into the 2010-11 NBA season — suggesting Boston has played to its competition through the first three games.

 The Celtics did it last season, when they were just average down the stretch before bouncing back to find their rhythm in the playoffs and get with a few possessions of winning another NBA championship. But for a veteran team – led by Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal and the playoff-experienced Rajon Rondo -- that has been through the wars and knows the importance of staying focused and consistent, it’s a red flag.

The Celtics had the killer instinct in 2007-08, when they won 66 regular-season games and the NBA title. A whopping 21 of those victories came by margins of 20 points or more.

They simply didn’t let many games slip away, as they did in Game 2 against Cleveland — dissolving a double-digit lead in the second half against one of the worst teams in the league.

The 2007-08 C’s started 20-2, winning by an average of 16 points and losing only to a pair of teams that reached the second round of the playoffs that season (the Orlando Magic and the LeBron James-led Cavaliers).

Meanwhile, this year’s edition of the Celtics has led all three of its games by double digits late in the third quarter, only to be playing meaningful minutes down to the buzzer.

Against the Heat, an 83-70 lead with four minutes to play dwindled to an 83-80 advantage in the final minute. Against the Cavs, the C’s turned a 66-55 third-quarter advantage into a 95-87 loss. And against the Knicks, Boston owned a 101-90 lead with two minutes left, only to be clinging to a 103-101 advantage in the final minute.

To further the issue, Burton points to tonight’s game as a potential defining moment for this season’s Celtics, especially considering they haven’t played since Friday night.

The Celtics will get another test of their focus on Tuesday, when they visit the Pistons on the road. A fierce playoff rival for the C’€™s as recently as 2008, Detroit was in the Lottery last year and aren’€™t expected to do much this year. Ben Gordon‘€™s and Co. are 0-3 right now, but two of those losses were down-to-the-wire games against playoff teams in Oklahoma City and Chicago. If the Celtics overlook Detroit – perhaps eyeing an upcoming stretch that has them home for the Bucks and Bulls before playing at OKC, Dallas and Miami – Gordon and Rodney Stuckey and the Pistons’€™ talented scorers will hand Doc Rivers another unexpected L.

Losses piling up are certainly a concern, but as the Celtics showed last year: For this team, what happens in the regular season stays in the regular season. The more concerning number — other than a potentially lower playoff seed — could be the mounting meaningful minutes.

The more games the Celtics are able to demonstrate a killer instinct — turning second-half, double-digit leads into certifiable blowouts down the stretch — the fewer minutes Rivers has to trot out his aged starters.

“I love sitting on the bench in the fourth quarter when you’ve got a blowout,” Ray Allen said in the preseason. “That means everybody as a team gets the opportunity to play. Everybody works hard throughout the week, so when you know guys get a chance to play that’s when you know you’ve got it.”

Which only stresses the killer instinct question: Do this season’s Celtics have IT?

MAGIC DON’T MATCH UP

What the Celtics do have — according to Orlando Sentinel‘s George Diaz — is a considerable matchup advantage against the Magic. In fact, the columnist essentially threw in the towel against the C’s and Heat just a few games into the season. Here’s a glimpse:

The Magic don’t have any players who can break down a defense by going one-on-one, unless Vince Carter steps into a Hot Tub Time Machine and it’s 1997 all over again.

Without one, they won’t have a prayer of beating the Celtics or the Heat in a playoff series.

It may sound like one man’s opinion, but it’s not. Even Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy owned up to that discrepancy after getting blown out by the Heat on Friday.

“Against a good defensive team we have trouble a little bit,” Van Gundy told the Sentinel. “We don’t have — and this isn’t to put down anybody in our locker room — but we don’t have the great one-on-one players. We don’t have Dwyane Wade and James and Pierce and Kobe Bryant.”

That’s got to be fairly eye-opening for any Orlando fan. I had my doubts about the Magic from the start, relaying recently a conversation I overheard at the Garden:

“How come you don’t believe in the Magic?” one guy said to another.

To which the other guy replied, “They still have Vince Carter, don’t they?”

Read the rest of this entry »

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