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Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title 04.18.12 at 10:42 pm ET
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Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.

Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.

Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.

Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.

Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Orlando Magic, Paul Pierce
Irish Coffee: The rise of Avery Bradley’s offense 04.18.12 at 12:02 pm ET
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Lost in the rubble of a 3-point barrage that left a 118-110 loss to the Knicks in its dust lay another stellar offensive performance from newest Celtics starter Avery Bradley.

By now, everyone knows of Bradley’s defensive exploits, but his shooting of late has been downright Ray Allen-esque. That’s not to say Bradley is a clone of the man he’s replaced in the starting lineup, but his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Knicks — including 5-of-6 from long distance — can’t be ignored.

In 15 games since joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the first five on March 25 (with the exception of an 87-86 loss to the Spurs), Bradley is averaging 14.2 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (86-162 FG), 56.7 percent from beyond the arc (17-30 3P) and 85.7 percent from the line (24-28 FT). He’s reached double figures in 11 of those 15 games, including the last four.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, NBA, O.J. Mayo
Fast Break: Knicks Garden 3 party barrages Celtics 04.17.12 at 10:58 pm ET
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Another Atlantic Division title will have to wait. A record-setting 3-point barrage by the Knicks put the undermanned Celtics in a hole Paul Pierce couldn’t even dig them out of in a 118-110 defeat at Madison Square Garden.

Pierce (43 pionts, 11-19 FG, 4-6 3P, 17-18 FT) became the first Celtics player to eclipse 40 points since he scored 50 on Feb. 15, 2006, but Knicks reserves J.R. Smith (25 points, 7-10 3P) and Steve Novak (25 points, 8-10 3P) helped New York set an NBA record for 3-point field goals off the bench in a remarkable effort.

Carmelo Anthony‘s triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Tyson Chandler‘s inside presence (20 points, 7 rebounds) also contributed to a 56.8 shooting night for the Knicks.

With the bench getting outscored 55-2, the Celtics dropped to 36-26 despite quality offensive nights from Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) — who recorded 10-plus assists for the 23rd straight game — Kevin Garnett (20 points), Avery Bradley (17 points) and Brandon Bass (15 points).

The Knicks (32-29) moved a game ahead of the 76ers (31-30), who lost to the Pacers (40-22), so the C’s magic number for the division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed remains at one. They also dropped a game back in the loss column behind the idle Magic (36-25) and Hawks (36-25), who would own homecourt advantage as the fifth seed should they finish with a better record.

WHAT WENT WRONG

New York 3 party: When the horn mercifully signaled halftime, the Knicks had made 14-of-21 3-pointers (66.7%) — including 11 in the second quarter — to enter the break with a 72-53 advantage after the worst defensive 24 minutes of the Celtics season. Victimized by J.R. Smith (7-9 3P) and Steve Novak (4-6 3P) helped the Knicks tie records for treys both in a half and a quarter, and the 14 triples tied the most the C’s allowed in a game all season.

Finishing touches: Led by the starting backcourt duo of Bradley and Rondo, the Celtics staked themselves to a 24-17 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter, but Anthony led a Knicks charge that resulted in a 32-26 deficit after the opening 12 minutes. Anthony finished the frame with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.

Forwards, backwards: The ailments of Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) forced Celtics coach Doc Rivers to start the second quarter with a lineup that included Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling. That translated into the Knicks putting the finishing touches on an 18-0 run (and 23-2 overall) that began in the first quarter. And that was before New York’s 3-point onslaught really got going.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith
Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo 04.17.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.

But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?

In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.

To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).

And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).

All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant
Fast Break: Kevin Garnett, Celtics tame Heat again 04.10.12 at 9:48 pm ET
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On 60.6 percent shooting, led by Kevin Garnett (24 points, 9 rebounds), the Celtics defeated the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seeded Heat 115-107 for the second time in nine days, taking a 2-1 series lead with one matchup left between the possible playoff opponents in the penultimate game of the season.

The Celtics (33-24) won their third straight and eighth of their last 10 games, moving within two games of the idle Pacers for third in the Eastern Conference. Paul Pierce (26 points) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 15 assists) helped the C’s set a new season high for points scored.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Opening statement: When the first quarter came to a close, the top six Celtics rotation players all had between 4-6 points, handing the Heat a 33-22 deficit. The C’s shot 61.1 percent (11-18 FG) offensively, holding Miami to 42.9 percent (9-21 FG) defensively. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was Boston’s 13-5 rebounding advantage after the first 12 minutes.

Three party: Taking advantage of a Heat defense that entered the game ranked 28th in 3-point defense, the Celtics converted 7-of-10 treys in the first half (9-14 for the game), establishing a 65-57 lead at the break on 61.5 percent shooting as a team. Pierce and Sasha Pavlovic led the effort, each converting a pair of 3-pointers.

Two-guard duo: As for the Avery Bradley/Ray Allen shooting guard combination, the pair combined for 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 10 points in a first quarter that saw both the defensive-first Bradley lineup and the offensively boosted Allen group. Not only that, but they frustrated Dwyane Wade to the tune of 20 points on 21 shots — lowlighted by a fourth-quarter technical foul after he fell for a Rondo fake 20 feet from the basket.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense? 04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET
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Over their last five games, the Celtics have held the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and 76ers — all likely playoff-bound teams — to just 80.6 points per game. That ridiculous stretch included the lowest scoring output of the Miami Thrice era and Indiana’s worst offensive game this season (both 72 points).

The point? A case can be made, rather easily, that the C’s now own the NBA’s best defense.

This recent run vaulted the Celtics to No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.3). Their 89.3 points allowed per game still ranks third behind the only other teams that give up fewer than 90 points a night — the Sixers (88.5) and Bulls (88.9) — but that’s dropped to an NBA best 83.4 points surrendered over the past 10 games.

In fact, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics have allowed 80 points or fewer in six of their last 12 games (including four of their last six), holding opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in eight of those 12 contests.

For the season, the Celtics have held opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage (41.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.8%), both still tops in the NBA and even better over the past 10 games (38.7 FG%, 25.2 3P%). They make an offense’s life miserable everywhere on the court, ranking top-10 everywhere from at the rim (3rd) to 3-9 feet (8th) to 10-15 feet (1st) to 16-23 feet (7th) to 3-point range (1st).

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’ 04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET
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Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?

On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.

“I’€™m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’€™s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’€™ve just got too many winners. They’€™ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’€™s, I always said I’€™m not going to turn my back on those guys.”

Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.

“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
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