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Fast break: Celtics-Suns 11.06.09 at 10:04 pm ET
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The popular notion coming into Friday night’s game with Phoenix was that the super-fast Suns would run into a brick Celtics wall, but anyone expecting the Celtics to roll over the Suns was in for a surprise. In a hard-fought entertaining game, the Suns prevailed, 110-103, handing the Celtics their first loss of the season.

The Suns were blown out on Wednesday against Orlando (their first loss of the season) and came into this one with a bit of a chip on their shoulder and a feisty attitude. Channing Frye and Kendrick Perkins picked up double technicals at the end of the first half and there were more than a few wayward elbows getting tossed around.

The Celtics had a couple of chances to steal the game late, but Rajon Rondo had his layup blocked by Amare Stoudemire and a 3-pointer by Rasheed Wallace rattled in and out. Wallace was 0-for-6 on 3-point attempts and many of those shots met a similar fate.

Player of the game: Steve Nash. The veteran All-Star may have lost a step here or there, but he is still one of the league’s top orchestrators and he drained a huge 3-pointer in the final minute that put the final nail in the Celtics coffin.

Turning point: After the Celtics had closed to within two points at the end of the third quarter, Doc Rivers stuck with his regular rotation which included the four reserves and Paul Pierce. Phoenix’s Jason Richardson proceeded to go off scoring eight quick points. Phoenix steadily built the lead to 11 points and still Rivers resisted the urge to sub his starters back in until the eight-minute mark.

In a long season that is certainly the right decision by Rivers, but it may have cost them against Phoenix.

* Rivers said before the game that the Celtics wanted to run, and run they did in a breakneck paced first quarter. The C’s got up 23 first quarter shots and made 12 of them. The only problem was that the Suns shot 61 percent on the other end. Things slowed down in the second quarter when Phoenix went to its bench, but this was easily the fastest-paced game the Celtics have played this season.

* Ray Allen picked up his fourth foul less than three minutes into the third quarter. The Suns increased their lead from four to nine with Allen off the floor, but the Celtics closed to within two, 85-83 by the end of the quarter.

* Allen had a vicious baseline dunk in the fourth quarter. It’s worth noting that both he and Pierce have been attacking the basket better than they were at the end of last season.

* Former Boston College star Jared Dudley played 30 very effective minutes for the Suns. He scored 10 points, but his primary responsibility was hounding Pierce, who shot just 5-for-15 from the floor.

* There was a funny moment midway through the third quarter. After Richardson tumbled into a photographer on a drive to the basket, Stoudemire helped him up and then went over to Bill Russell who was sitting in the front row to shake his hand. Funnier moment came after the quarter when David Ortiz came out of the crowd to help the new Lucky during his dunk routine.

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Doc Rivers on D&C, 11/5 11.05.09 at 10:34 am ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers joined Dennis & Callahan to talk about how important his bench has been, the now-infamous Rajon Rondo vs. Chris Paul tiff, how getting more sleep has helped the Celtics, and his problems with Tim Donaghy.

Does it bother you when people start talking about winning 70 games?

No, it’s unrealistic, but it’s talk and people can talk about it, obviously. But it’s not what we’re focused on, I can tell you that.

On the Minnesota game:

You could see it early on, it was just one of those nights. Nothing was going for us. It didn’t look like we had legs, which happens during the year. Rasheed Wallace, Eddie [House] and Ray [Allen] were wide open on a lot of shots and some of them weren’t even close, so you knew it was one of those nights. Sometimes it’s a good thing when you can win with that, especially down the stretch, the last two or three defensive possessions we held them from scoring, it’s a good sign for your team.

Is it difficult to keep focus?

It’s not difficult at all because we have so many things to do defensively. We have things to do to get better offensively. We have yet to put in things. We’re not getting to the third and fourth options because we just don’t know them well enough yet, so we have a ton of work to do. Read the rest of this entry »

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Danny Ainge on the Big Show 11.04.09 at 5:30 pm ET
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Danny Ainge joined the guys on the Big Show to talk about the Celtics hot start, Rajon Rondo’s new contract and what was up with the league’s investigation of the Rondo-Chris Paul tiff from Sunday. Ainge also had some interesting things to say about Allen Iverson, the 2010 free agent market and whether winning 72 games is even a concern.

Here’s the slightly-edited for clarity transcript:

On the team’s fast start:

Ainge: It’s been great, our defense has been excellent, and our shooting, we’ve been making shots every night. It’s been Paul [Pierce] plus one, or Paul plus two or three guys. I think we can even play better.

Did you expect out of the gate that the bench players would be playing significant minutes and playing the same as your first team?

The only surprise has been Glen Davis not playing and Shelden [Williams] stepping up and he had a couple of double-digit rebound games and three double-digit scoring games. So that’s been a big boost for us. As far as everybody else, I knew there would be games when Rasheed [Wallace] would be hot and Eddie [House] would be hot. Marquis [Daniels] is just a good solid, player. He can defend and pass. I guess I expected that. I also think our starters can play better than they’re playing, so that’s very encouraging. Read the rest of this entry »

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Stat geekery: KG rules 11.04.09 at 10:46 am ET
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Another day another stat geek model (stat geek is a term of endearment). This one comes courtesy of Joe Sill at Hoopnumbers, who describes himself as an analytics consultant from Chicago. Sill has a PhD in Computation and Neural Systems from Cal Tech and a BS in Applied Math from Yale, so he’s a pretty smart dude.

Sill works in the field of Adjusted +/-, which is a system that has drawn some attention due to its orginators Wayne Winston and Jeff Sagarin and their work with the Dallas Mavericks. In layman’s terms, Simple +/- ratings, which can be found in most online box scores, account for how many points a team is better or worse with an individual player on the floor. For example, Marquis Daniels was +31 against Philly Tuesday night.

Simple +/- doesn’t factor in context, which is where Adjusted +/- comes into play. (If you want to see the math, see Joe’s page explaining his concepts). Adjusted +/- is said to be “noisy,” which means you might get some odd results over a short period of time, but it’s an interesting concept and it’s getting more and more play in NBA front offices.

The takeway from Sill’s analysis over the last three years, which he calls Regularized Adjusted +/- (RAPM) is that Kevin Garnett grades out the highest of any NBA player, and by a fairly wide margin. The second-highest ranked Celtic is Rajon Rondo, followed by Paul Pierce and then Ray Allen. Interestingly, Allen graded out highest last season on the Celtics.

A good rule of thumb for advanced NBA metrics is that they are a useful way to help tell a story. John Hollinger’s PER rating, for example, is a number derived strictly from the box score and he will tell you that it doesn’t account for individual defense beyond getting numbers like steals, blocks and rebounds. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle.

As yet, no one has advanced a truly credible single number that completely explains performance, like VORP in baseball, and there’s a strong thought in the stat community that it may be impossible to find such a number in basketball analysis.

With that in mind, what Sill’s numbers might tell us is that Garnett is far and away the “most valuable” Celtic in ways that don’t necessarily show up in the box score and that Allen had something of a late-career renaissance last season. We saw that manifest itself on the floor last season, especially when Garnett was not on the floor, so the numbers make intuitive sense.

(Hat tip to basketball-reference’s layups blog for directing me to Sill’s site, Hoopnumbers)

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Fast break: Celtics-Sixers 11.03.09 at 9:26 pm ET
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The Celtics improved to 5-0 on the young season with a 105-74 win over the Sixers Tuesday night in Philadelphia. It was the Celtics first game against an Atlantic Division foe and while they struggled offensively at times they remained dominant defensively, holding Philly to 36 percent shooting and 1-for-16 from 3-point range.

The Celtics broke it open in the fourth quarter with 23-5 run, which gave Lester Hudson, JR Giddens and Brian Scalabrine ample time to work on their games. The trio scored 13 points. Philly’s leading scorer, Andre Iguodala scored 17. It was that kind of night.

Player of the game: Rasheed Wallace. Philly’s favorite son shot the Celtics into the lead with three first half 3-pointers and broke it open with three more in the second half. Wallace finished with 20 points and 6 rebounds in 24 minutes of action.

Turning point: It was late in the first quarter and the Celtics were having a miserable time of it offensively. They had scored points on just two of their first 15 possessions and weren’t running anything resembling an offense. That’s when Rajon Rondo popped a 20-foot jumper. The second unit came in soon after that and the hot shooting of Wallace, Eddie House and Marquis Daniels opened up a double-digit lead.

Rondo’s shot was a minor blip in that run, but further confirmation that he has more confidence in his jumper.

* According to the early box score, Marquis Daniels was an unadjusted +21 for the Celtics. What that means in layman’s terms is that the Celtics were 15 points better than Philly when Daniels was on the floor. Unadjusted +/- is not a very reliable indicator of performance over time, but it helps reveal Daniels’ contribution in a way that six points, three rebounds and four assists never will.

* In theory you don’t need a true point guard to run the Princeton offense that new Philly coach Eddie Jordan is employing. That’s good news for Philly because Lou Williams is a lot of things, but a true point isn’t one of them. What you do need are willing passers, good shooters and movement away from the ball. The Sixers had none of that.

* The Celtics opened the fourth quarter with a 69-54 lead. That’s a comfortable margin, but it wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the starters back on the floor at some point to finish it off. Instead, the bench pushed the lead to 33 points and the starters never had to take off their warmups again. Those kinds of unexpected gifts are invaluable over the course of the season.

* Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins were a combined 4-for-18. Everyone else was 37-for-54. Frightening.

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Fast break: Celtics-Bulls 10.30.09 at 10:31 pm ET
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The Celtics did it with defense and the bench in the first half and then they buried the Bulls under a 3-point barrage in the second half in a 118-90 win win. While the Celtics pushed the lead into the 30′s in the third quarter, this game was essentially over early. The Bulls shot just 5-for-20 in the first quarter and 29 percent in the first half.

The Celtics are now 3-0 and looking very much like the best team in the league.

Player of the game: Paul Pierce. You could make a case for Kevin Garnett (16 points, four rebounds) and Rajon Rondo (16 assists, eight rebounds) as well, but Pierce was solid throughout racking up 22 points, eight rebounds and four assists.

Turning point: At the 4-minute mark of the second quarter Garnett joined Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins on the bench with two fouls. The Celtics had a 15-13 lead at the time. Over the next 10 minutes the second unit (and Pierce) built the lead up to 14 points, 35-21, and the Bulls never got back in the game. It was a slow, methodical dissection built entirely on defense.

* The Celtics made their first six 3-pointers of the second half, including four from Pierce. The 3-point barrage was just the icing on the cake for the C’s. Even though they made just 2-of-10 from beyond the arc in the first half they still shot an even 50 percent from the floor. They said after the Charlotte game that they had not played a complete game yet. Wonder if they still feel that way.

* It’s a little unfair to say that this is how the first round of the playoffs would have gone last year if Garnett had been healthy. After all, Rasheed Wallace and Marquis Daniels are now in the mix and the Bulls are without Ben Gordon and are trying to work Luol Deng back into the lineup. Also, Derrick Rose is dealing with an ankle injury. All that said, it’s probably a safe bet that the series wouldn’t have gone seven games

* Allen moved past John Stockton for 33rd place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. Somehow seems odd to pass Stockton on any list that has to do with scoring.

* With about two minutes left in the game, Doc Rivers emptied the bench to play out the final string. Joining the five before they took the floor was Wallace who was dispensing advice to rookie Lester Hudson.

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Rondo deadline extended to Monday 10.29.09 at 9:23 pm ET
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ESPN’s Marc Stein is reporting that the NBA has extended the deadline to sign players from the 2006 draft class to a contract extension to Monday, meaning the Celtics have until then to re-sign Rajon Rondo. Per Stein, the NBA moved the deadline to be in accordance with the collective bargaining agreement.

Thebo Sefolosaha was the fourth player from the class to sign an extension, joining Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge and Andrea Bargnani. Rondo is by far the best player from that class who hasn’t worked out an extension.

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