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Avery Bradley is ready for the playoffs 04.27.12 at 1:18 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

WALTHAM — When Chris Wilcox saw Avery Bradley on Thursday he gave him a big smile. “I told you your time would come,” Wilcox said.

Bradley’s time is now. His play in the second half of the season sparked a resurgence that helped the Celtics compile a 24-10 record after the All-Star break. With Bradley in the starting lineup, the Celtics were more than 18 points better than their opponents per 100 possessions, and they went from a good defensive team to downright scary.

It’s been quite a rise for the 21-year-old , who played only 162 minutes as a rookie and didn’t see the court at all in the postseason. “Yeah, it was frustrating but like I said I just took it as a learning experience,” Bradley said. “This year I’m going to be ready.”

Bradley quickly earned his teammates’ confidence. His ability to cut backdoor opened up new possibilities for their offense and his rapidly-improving jump shot enabled him to average more than 15 points per game in April. Bradley knocked down 48 percent of his attempts from 16-23 feet and he shot over 50 percent behind the arc in April.

“Avery’s proved more than enough,” Kevin Garnett said. “And I think he’s definitely more than ready.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Avery Bradley, Joe Johnson,
Home court is still in play, thanks to Sasha Pavlovic 04.25.12 at 12:46 am ET
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The Celtics are still alive for home court, thanks to Sasha Pavlovic. (AP)

If the Celtics do wind up hosting Game 1 of their playoff series with the Hawks, they’ll have enigmatic swingman Sasha Pavlovic to thank. With Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus, Kevin Garnett and Greg Stiemsma all sitting out of Tuesday’s game against the Heat, Pavlovic got the start in the backcourt and promptly went scoreless in six minutes of play. In the second half, he made 7-of-8 shots and scored a game-high 16 points in a 78-66 Celtics win that is best left to the dustbin of history.

“Well, someone had to win the game and we did, which was really nice,” was how Doc Rivers summed it up.

It was a game that had some meaning with home court still on the line and was also totally meaningless in that Paul Pierce was the only player of consequence on the floor and he played only 18 minutes. In that it was an appropriate conclusion to a season that has been rushed, hurried and physically taxing.

“It’s not good on your body as an athlete,” guard Keyon Dooling said. “It’s your vehicle to make your money. As a basketball player, recovery is very important. We haven’t had that luxury this year. It’s not just us, it’s everybody. It’s not a normal season.”

As Pierce put it on Monday, “All you can say is you got through it.”

Like many teams, the Celtics decided a week ago that gaining an extra home game simply wasn’t worth it. They may still get it, even after giving forgotten souls like E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson and Ryan Hollins extended looks. If they beat the Bucks on Thursday and the Mavericks beat the Hawks, then Game 1 will be in Boston. If not, they’ll be getting on a plane just like they’ve done basically every other day since December.

“We’re going to play our guys Thursday anyway, especially since they didn’t play today,” Rivers said. “I said that the other day and I thought they were going to play today, so, we’ll see.”

The playoffs promise to be just as unpredictable with health playing a dominant factor. The Hawks are waiting on Al Horford. The Celtics presumably will have Rondo, Pietrus and maybe Allen back in time for the opener.

“I think Ray will be ready,” Rivers said. “I don’t know that. I do think he will be ready, but if he’s not someone else has to be.”

If Allen can play then their rotation is basically set. It’s the five starters plus Allen, Pietrus and Stiemsma. If Pietrus or Allen is limited, Pavlovic has put himself in position to be the ninth man depending on matchups. Dooling, the consummate pro, will be ready when called upon. In other words, Tuesday’s game didn’t change anything in the Celtics world, even with home court still in the balance.

Read More: Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, sasha pavlovic,
Doc Rivers pays tribute to Pat Summitt 04.19.12 at 12:22 am ET
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The questions were over and Doc Rivers was putting the wraps on another postgame press conference when he decided he wanted to say one more thing. It was about Pat Summitt, the legendary women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee who announced earlier in the day that she was retiring after 38 years.

Summitt, who compiled a record of 1,098-208 and won eight national championships was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease before the start of the season. “I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” Summitt said in a statement.

“I want to finish with Pat Summitt,” Rivers said as his voice faltered and his eyes became red and welled with tears. “She’s a neat lady. I got to know her a little bit and I just think it’s really sad in a lot of ways. Not basketball, but everything. So, I didn’t want to get emotional. I’m an emotional person and when you see a giant like that leave the game and leave the game because of health, it’s just sad. But she is responsible for women’s basketball. She’s not just a women’s basketball coach, she’s a great coach.

“The longer I’m in this I just realize how much coaching means to all of us. You think about it today. Pat Summitt is retiring at her age and Larry Brown is taking a job at his age. It just tells you how much it’s in your blood, how much you love it. For her not to be able to do it, to me is very sad.”

Summit is staying on at Tennessee as head coach emeritus and said she will be active in the fight against Alzheimer’s through the Pat Summitt Foundation Fund.

Read More: Doc Rivers, Pat Summitt,
Poll: Should Danny Ainge have broken up the Big Three? 04.18.12 at 10:10 am ET
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Memphis guard O.J. Mayo was almost a Celtic at the trade deadline. (AP)

At the trade deadline, the Celtics were 23-19 and just beginning to show signs of a second-half surge. Heading into Wednesday’s game with the Magic, they are 36-26, on course to win the Atlantic Division and possibly play more than just a spoiler’s role in the postseason.

Team president Danny Ainge didn’t make any moves at the deadline, but it wasn’t from lack of trying. He said he had a handful of deals in the works that just couldn’t reach completion and now we know what they were, thanks to a report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski.

Per Woj, Ainge had a deal in place to send Ray Allen to Memphis for a package involving O.J. Mayo and a draft pick. Things were so far along that coach Doc Rivers even told Allen that it was done, only to have to pull back at the last minute when it fell apart.

Additionally, a deal that would have sent Paul Pierce to New Jersey for Mehmet Okur‘s expiring contract and their lottery pick also didn’t make it to the finish line. (The Nets made a similar deal involving Portland’s Gerald Wallace, leaving their pick top-3 protected).

If the deals had gone through, Ainge would have had Mayo — a 24-year-old shooting guard who has averaged 15 points in his four seasons — and multiple picks in what many consider to be a loaded draft. He also would have had essentially a blank canvas and more than $40 million in cap space to rebuild around Rajon Rondo with Pierce’s contract off the books.

One side effect of the deals that didn’t happen. Not only have the Celtics played better since the deadline, they have also seen Avery Bradley emerge as a potential cornerstone for the future. With Mayo in place, perhaps Bradley never gets a chance to get significant playing time. Since March 23, Bradley has averaged over 14 points a game and the Celtics are 11-4 with wins over Indiana, Philadelphia, Miami (twice) and Atlanta.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make, but Ainge doesn’t necessarily feel that way. He told The Big Show last week that he still would have made the deals knowing what he knows now.

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Read More: Danny Ainge, OJ Mayo, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Celtics’ age-old problem: Health vs. home court 04.18.12 at 12:49 am ET
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Paul Pierce and the Celtics are banged up. (AP)

In an ideal world, Celtics coach Doc Rivers will go into the playoffs with an eight-man rotation.

In addition to his five starters, he’ll use Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma off the bench. Sasha Pavlovic or Keyon Dooling can absorb a few minutes here or there and Ryan Hollins is the emergency big man in case of foul trouble.

That’s a mighty thin rotation, but its really all Rivers has to work with as the playoffs approach. Jermaine O’Neal is out for the season. Marquis Daniels simply hasn’t been able to regain his form following spinal surgery and the Purdue rookies have been relegated to the deep ends of the bench.

In theory, that eight-man rotation offers versatility and intriguing matchup possibilities. Rivers got a sneak peak at using Allen off the bench before his ankle injury flared up. Having Allen and Kevin Garnett on the floor to start the second quarter was a huge upgrade over some of the lineups he’s been forced to use this season.

The real key is Pietrus, who has the ability to guard multiple positions and he was sorely missed in their 118-110 loss to the Knicks on Tuesday. New York started three guards and forced the Celtics to use Brandon Bass on Carmelo Anthony at times.

Bass has proven to be a willing defender all season, often matching up with much larger players, but Anthony is a tough cover for anyone, let alone a banger like Bass. With shooters like J.R. Smith and Steve Novak bombing away from the perimeter, the makeshift second unit without Pietrus and Allen was powerless to stop the onslaught.

The Celtics won’t play the Knicks in the playoffs barring a rash of upsets, but whoever they face, the one thing that is perfectly clear is Rivers needs all eight of his top players if his team is going to make a run. There simply isn’t enough depth to withstand any more injuries.

This sets up a problem for the coach. Read the rest of this entry »

Celtics playoff race comes into focus 04.15.12 at 11:46 pm ET
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The Celtics may be seeing a lot more of Josh Smith and the Hawks soon. (AP)

With five games left to play and their dreaded back-to-back-to-back behind them, the Celtics are in decent shape as they head down the home stretch of the regular season.

They have a four-game lead on Philadelphia for first place in the Atlantic Division and their magic number to clinch is down to three. Assuming the Celtics are able to win the division, they will get the four seed and will likely play either Atlanta or Orlando in the first round of the playoffs.

Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage and all three teams have 25 losses, but as division winners the Celtics would own the tiebreaker if they finish in a tie, regardless of head-to-head matchups.

Catching Indiana for the third seed, which would have been a longshot when the weekend began, was essentially put out of reach when the C’s lost to the Raptors on Friday. The Pacers are up three in the loss column and have five of their remaining six games at home.

That leaves the Celtics on the Bulls’ side of the bracket, but that’s a problem for another day. Here’s how the Celtics, Hawks and Magic finish the season:

CELTICS (36-25)

Tuesday: At New York
Wednesday: Orlando
Friday: At Atlanta
Tue. April 24: Miami
Thur. April 26: Milwaukee

Comment: The hard part is almost over, but the C’s have big games with the Magic and Hawks this week. There’s no doubt Celtics’ coach Doc Rivers would like to be able to give his players some rest heading into the playoffs, which makes those games even more important. Of particular concern is Ray Allen (ankle) and Paul Pierce, who tweaked his foot in the fourth quarter against the Nets on Saturday.

HAWKS (35-25)

Monday: At Toronto
Wednesday: Detroit
Friday: Boston
Sunday: New York
Tue. April 24: Clippers
Thur. April 26 Dallas

Comment: The big question for Atlanta is the health of center Al Horford, who has been out since January after he underwent pectoral surgery. “The last thing we want to do is think that he’s coming back and then have him not come back,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said last week when the team was in Boston. “Our mindset is that he will not return.”

ORLANDO (35-25)

Mon: Philly
Wed: at Boston
Sat: at Utah
Sun: at Denver
Wed, April 25: Charlotte
Thur. April 26: At Memphis

Comment: The Magic have by far the toughest slate of games remaining and their finish will be even harder without Dwight Howard, who has a herniated disk in his back. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said on Sunday that the team is expecting to finish the season without their superstar center.

Fast Break: Rajon Rondo leads C’s past Bobcats 04.15.12 at 8:15 pm ET
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If you were wondering what the Celtics would look like in the post Big 3 era, Sunday’s game against the Bobcats probably wasn’t the best example. One could assume that a future without Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett would include more talented personnel, for example.

But if you were wondering how Rajon Rondo would play without the three All-Stars, Sunday’s game served as a interesting sneak peak. Rondo played the first 32 and a half minutes and scored 16 points and had 13 assists. Yes, the Celtics were playing the woeful Bobcats, but Rondo wasn’t exactly playing with Hall of Famers.

Rondo was aggressive early and set the tone by getting to the free throw line seven times. He finished with 20 points, 16 assists and six rebounds. Behind his inspired play, the Celtics enjoyed a 94-82 win and finished their back-to-back-to-back with two wins.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery Bradley, really not a surprise anymore: Since moving into the starting lineup, the second-year guard has been a revelation, but his production can no longer be considered surprising. One night after draining a career-high three 3-pointers, Bradley went for 22 points and nailed a huge 3 in transition that gave the Celtics some breathing room after Charlotte had cut their lead to four points.

Brandon Bass, quietly rolls along: The forgotten man for the Celtics had another productive night with 22 points and nine rebounds. Make no mistake, the Celtics know how important Bass has been to their strong play since the All-Star break.

Greg Stiemsma had a solid night as the starting center: The shot-blocking machine rejected three in the first five minutes and perhaps more importantly, was able to do so without fouling. As usual, Stiemsma had some foul trouble, but still had a solid night with eight points, five rebounds, six blocks and three steals.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Pierce gets an unscheduled day off: Allen was ruled out of this game earlier this weekend with a sore ankle. The plan was always to rest Garnett. But Pierce’s day off came after he rolled over his foot late in their game against New Jersey on Saturday. The Celtics have a day off before playing the Knicks, but they won’t want to take any unnecessary risks with Pierce.

Rookie problems: JaJuan Johnson picked up three fouls in 103 seconds in the first half and E’Twaun Moore didn’t play until the final minute. It’s not surprising that both players have regressed with no playing time and without any time in the D-League or in practice, but neither player looks like they’ll be able to contribute at all in the postseason.

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