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Celtics’ ‘legit chance of beating’ Heat, Jeff Green as NBA’s ‘most underrated player’ and other Charles Barkleyisms 10.24.12 at 10:28 am ET
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Charles Barkley (AP)

Round Mound of Sound Charles Barkley joined fellow NBA on TNT studio analysts Reggie Miller and Shaquille O’Neal on a conference call Tuesday afternoon relayed by both the Orlando Sentinel and South Florida Sun-Sentinel, and all three agreed the Celtics have “a legit chance of beating” the Heat this season.

  • Barkley: “LeBron [James] covers up a lot of weaknesses because he’s so physically amazing, but Boston to me has a legit chance of beating them.”
  • Miller: “I love what Boston has done. They are 1-2 in the Eastern Conference. … This is a team that is primed. I would not be surprised to see those two teams in the conference finals again.”
  • O’Neal: “Miami is the team to beat. However, if Boston is healthy … they have a shot.”

Given that both teams met in an Eastern Conference finals that lasted seven games before Miami ultimately captured the NBA championship last season and the Celtics made significant upgrades to their roster, none of these remarks are all that surprising. But this one from Barkley is somewhat startling.

“I think the most underrated player in the NBA is Jeff Green,” said Barkley, who also proclaimed himself “a big Jeff Green fan” last season. “I know he didn’t play last year. I loved him in Oklahoma City. When he got to Boston, he went late into the year, so he really never got comfortable. I think he is going to be fantastic.”

Barkley also made some classic Barkley statements about the C’s Atlantic Division rivals.

“The Celtics got an older Kevin Garnett and a Paul Pierce,” he said. “They brought in all these younger guys to bring in energy and take the load off of Garnett and Paul Pierce, and the Knicks brought in a bunch of old geezers. Listen, I’m a big Marcus Camby fan and Jason Kidd is one of my favorite players, but they’re not going to be able to keep up in a seven-game series with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or playing against the Celtics in a seven-game series. Not even the 76ers — and I love what the 76ers have done — or the Brooklyn Nets. Those old guys are not gonna be able to compete with those young guys when those games come every other day.”

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Irish Coffee: C’s chemistry at a 9 or 10 but not ’08 level 10.23.12 at 6:57 pm ET
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After the Celtics started an unofficial training camp almost a month early, Rajon Rondo organized a players-only trip to Los Angeles and everyone drew parallels between the C’s Euro trip prior to the 2008 NBA championship run and their exhibition expedition to Turkey and Milan this preseason, we’re quick to assume this unit can form a bond on the court as quickly as that one did. After all, both groups returned only six players from the previous year.

On a scale from 1 to 10, Jeff Green called this team’s current chemistry a nine. In typical Rondo fashion, he placed it at a 10. And Kevin Garnett said, “Chemistry is very, very high, man.” But Paul Pierce disagrees.

“We’re still building chemistry,” he said. “Chemistry sometimes doesn’t happen overnight like in ’08, so we’re still trying to build that. When you look at the number of new players we’ve got, we’re still trying to implement them.”

Let’s get one thing straight: This group isn’t anything like the one five years ago. That 2007-08 team started 29-3. Twenty nine and freaking three. For a variety of reasons, don’t expect this team to replicate that feat.

“As far as being ready, we’re going to continue to get better as the year goes on,” added Pierce. “We’re not where we want to be, but that’s going to come as we play more games, as the year goes along, until we reach our peak.”

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Kevin Garnett: ‘Jeff [Green]‘s a lot more aggressive’ 10.22.12 at 12:06 am ET
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Following the final Celtics preseason game, C’s coach Doc Rivers called Jeff Green the most impressive player in their eight games against European and NBA competition, and Kevin Garnett offered some insight into why.

Green sat at his locker across the room, unbeknownst to Garnett as he explained the difference between this Green and the one who came to Boston for the final 26 games of the 2010-11 season.

“Jeff’s a lot more aggressive than I can remember, man,” said Garnett. “I can remember when he first got here. Maybe he was just understanding his role or whatever — at times he was tentative.”

A laugh came from across the room. Garnett looked up, saw Green and yelled: “What’s up J?”

“But now I think he has a different appreciation,” Garnett continued. “He’s playing like it, man. He’s playing like he knows he’s going to be here. He understands his role, he’s aggressive and we’re going to need that from him. I told him he’s got an old school game like James Worthy. To see him back, to see him refreshed, doing the things he loves to do, it’s good to see him back, so I’m happy for him.”

And Green shouted back: “Appreciate it.”

It wasn’t the first time Green heard the Worthy comparison. Throughout the preseason, Celtics broadcasters Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine made the same analogy — one Green wasn’t comfortable making himself, offering his respect to the Lakers Hall of Famer via Twitter.

He’s not Worthy, but Green earned Garnett’s praise. His knees wrapped in ice and his post-surgery heart healthy after playing more minutes than any other member of the C’s this preseason, Green averaged 13.9 points (49.4 FG%, 40.0 3P%, 67.7 FT%), 4.9 rebounds and almost four free throws in 30 minutes a night through eight games.

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Fast Break: 76ers sink Celtics in final preseason game 10.21.12 at 10:02 pm ET
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Dorell Wright (20 points) and Nick Young (15 points) led the 76ers in scoring, and no member of the Celtics scored more than 12 points. It was that kind of night at the Garden in the C’s eighth and final preseason game — an 88-79 loss to Philadelphia.

The Celtics finished 3-5 during the preseason (2-4 against NBA teams), but more importantly emerged from those eight games with a healthy Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett entering their final week of training camp before facing the Heat on opening night.

Rondo (12 points, 10 assists) and Jeff Green (12 points, 10 rebounds) each notched a double-double, but the rest of the Celtics shot a combined 17-of-44 (38.6%). Here’s what else went wrong (and a few things that went right, too).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Captain lost at sea: With all the attention that Rondo, Garnett and even Ray Allen garnered this past offseason, Pierce has been somewhat of a forgotten star entering this year — as much as the franchise fixture can be. Still, over his previous three games, he shot 58 percent and scored 63 points on 36 shots. Last night? Not so much. Pierce finished his night 3-for-12 from the field and missed all three of his 3-point attempts.

Sloppy second: Despite sticking to an eight-man rotation that included the usual suspects (except for Jason Terry), the Celtics got completely outplayed by an undermanned Sixers squad in the second quarter. Pierce, Green and Courtney Lee shot a combined 3-for-13, and the C’s shot 33.3 percent as a group. Suddenly, a 22-21 Celtics lead transformed into a 51-41 halftime hole from which they couldn’t escape.

Turnovers: For all that’s changed from last Celtics season to this one, one aspect certainly hasn’t. The turnover bug continues to plague these C’s, as they racked up 21 turnovers that led to 19 76ers points. Pierce was the biggest culprit, committing five, but multiple giveaways by Green and Brandon Bass didn’t help, either.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pointed in the right direction: After the summer of Rondo, when he declared himself the game’s best point guard, the C’s floor general has emboldened the belief that he’ll enjoy a career year — no small feat for a 26-year-old with four All-Defensive bids and three All-Star nods in addition to an All-NBA selection, an assist crown, a steals title and an NBA championship. Once again, he looked sharp, collecting 12 points, 10 assists and four rebounds against just one turnover.

Two’s a crowd: With a wealth of options at his disposal — including Terry, Lee and eventually both Avery Bradley and Leandro Barbosa — Celtics coach Doc Rivers continued to try just about anything and everything, opting for Green as his starting shooting guard. As he’s done in just about every role he’s been asked to play this preseason, Green produced at the 2, totaling four points, five rebounds, two steals and a pair of blocks in the opening quarter. The logjam at the off-guard spot isn’t such a bad problem for a coach to have.

Lee from 3: Shooting just 4-for-17 from 3-point range in his first seven preseason games, Lee had yet to knock down multiple triples in a single game. This from a career 39 percent 3-point shooter. In his final attempt before the regular season begins on Oct. 30, Lee connected on 2-of-3 long-balls. He also reached double-digit scoring (10 points) for the fifth time in eight games.

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Irish Coffee: Limiting Doc Rivers’ Celtics lineup options 10.19.12 at 5:21 pm ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers has options. Kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio has options. It’s hard to choose from the depth and versatility of talent at his disposal, so he tries every combination at his disposal. Eventually, the cream rises to the top, and that appears to be what has happened over the C’s past two preseason games against the Nets. In other words, Rivers may have found his Gisele Bundchen, Bar Rafaeli and Blake Lively of lineups.

In the first three-plus quarters of the two games against Brooklyn — before Micah Downs, Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz or Fab Melo made obligatory fourth-quarter appearances — Rivers used 23 different lineups. Other than starters Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett, no unit played longer than 8:36 together. Before making any observations, here are the combinations, playing time and plus/minus statistics.

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Irish Coffee: Jason Terry, Courtney Lee still searching for magic potion in Celtics’ backcourt chemistry experiment 10.17.12 at 12:08 pm ET
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If you look at their production during the preseason, newest Celtics guards Courtney Lee and Jason Terry appear headed in different directions in terms of adjusting to their new team, but both are confident they’ll end up in the same place when the NBA season starts on Oct. 30 — meshing their strengths into an established system.

“We’re not worried about that,” said Terry. “Right now, we’re just trying to execute what [Celtics coach] Doc [Rivers] lays out there for us, and we know that part of our game will come here shortly. We’ve got three games in a short amount of time to get right and get ready and prepare.”

After struggling in the C’s 97-91 loss to Istanbul’s Fenerbahce Ulker to start the preseason, Lee’s comfort level has steadily progressed, culminating in his most extended minutes (33) and most complete performance (13 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds, 1 block) during a 97-96 loss to the Nets on Tuesday night. It marked his third start in five preseason games and his third double-digit scoring output in the four games since the opener.

“I was trying too hard to fit in,” Lee said of his early struggles. Obviously, a collision with Fab Melo‘s shoulder that left him with a deep right thigh contusion and kept him out of the C’s unofficial practices from Sept. 6 to the start of training camp didn’t help. “I wasn’t myself. I wasn’t being aggressive at all.

“Doc came to me and said that hurts the team. He needs me to play my game, be aggressive and make the right plays. The more practice we get and the more games we play, I’m getting more and more comfortable with that.”

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Fast Break: Paul Pierce ends this Celtics-Nets debate 10.16.12 at 10:00 pm ET
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Even Celtics coach Doc Rivers couldn’t watch a full preseason game against a Nets team that didn’t send any of its starting five out for the opening tip. Conveniently, the second half of the C’s 97-96 loss coincided with the start of the presidential debate, and that’s when Rivers — an ardent support of President Barack Obama, a fellow former Chicagoan — excused himself, “allowing his assistant coaches to handle the bench duties.”

At least Paul Pierce stayed for the second half, capping a 29-point night on 10-of-17 shooting (6-8 3P) in 27 efficient minutes. Jeff Green (14 points) and Courtney Lee (13 points) also stuck around until the end of the C’s bench eventually coughed up a double-digit lead in the final minutes. Here’s what else Rivers missed.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Sharp Pierce: After entering training camp out of shape and suffering a foot injury that lingered long past the three games he missed to start the 2011-12 NBA season, Pierce seems prepared to begin this season in much better shape, showing no ill effects of the knee injury that hobbled during the playoffs. The Celtics captain connected on four of his first seven shots against the Nets, scoring 10 of the C’s 14 points in the opening seven minutes.

Green party: After struggling for the first time all preseason against the 76ers, Green turned in another aggressive performance, recapturing his leadership role on the second unit. After falling hard to the floor early in the second quarter, he shook off the trainer and even drew a charge on the other end. If there were any lingering questions about Green’s hesitance after returning from heart surgery, he answered them in that stretch.

On guard: Lee’s outside shot wasn’t dropping (1-4 3P), but the C’s starting shooting guard once again demonstrated the athleticism and defensive ability that made him so coveted. Also, his chemistry with backcourt mate Rajon Rondo is clearly developing, as Lee found open spots on the perimeter and Rondo naturally found him with a few nice crosscourt passes. Eventually, the career 39 percent 3-point shooter’s stroke will connect.

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