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Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Fourth Quarter 01.12.09 at 7:24 pm ET
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Hey look, who’s back. Jess is tracking a story down right now I’ll be your guide through the fourth.

FOURTH QUARTER WRAP: A long rebound. That’s all the separated the Celtics from a huge win in regulation. Give the Raptors credit though. They could have packed it in and they took every shot the Celtics had and had one last big Joe Frazier-esque hook left in them.

So we go to overtime.

–This is the bench has played in about a month. Great energy. Great execution.

– What is about the Raptors that inspires these great games? Great matchups, sure, but these have been some of the best games of the season.

– Gotta love Gabe Pruitt’s fearlessness so far.

– Whew. OK, we needed to catch our breath there. Win or lose, this has been an inspiring performance by the Celtics. Shorthanded, tired, you know all the stuff that’s going on with this team. It’s not just that the shots have started falling, the defensive effort has been turned up about 10 notches, or 11 if you’re a fan of Nigel Tufnel.

– David Jones is not making any fans with his calls tonight, but I have to say I think he’s been right on the money. There are a few refs in this league who would not have made those calls against the home team, especially with a crowd as amped up as this one.

– KG has an extra hop in his step. Not sure if it was clear on the TV how in Bosh’s face he was.

- We have 5 minutes and 16 seconds left and for the life of me I have no idea how this one is going to turn out. The Raptors have to go to Bosh down the stretch. The Celtics have been riding Pierce and he’s got that in the flow no one can guard me thing going on. Just a tremendous game tonight.

– KG is doing work on Bosh. That’s why he is the best defensive player in the league.

– Suddenly the Raptors look very very tired.

– Tough call on Leon. Thought he got there. It’s worth mentioning that Joey Graham has been a pain in Pierce’s neck since he took the assignment.

– You may not see a better defensive play than the one Garnett just laid down on Graham. Amazing.

– Big shot by Will Solomon. The Raptors are hanging in there.

– For the first time in the fourth quarter the seas parted and Pierce had a clear lane to the hoop. You just can’t handle the Truth.

– I’m not sure this game can handle overtime. Who gets the shot for the Raps? Kapono? Bargnani?

– OK so the answer was Anthony Parker and Bargnani. Unreal.

– Can’t argue with that call. Great inbound play drawn up by Doc. Overtime it is.

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: Third Quarter 01.12.09 at 6:56 pm ET
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The Celtics have some work to do in the second half. Toronto’s deep bench played very well in the second quarter, shooting 7-for-12 and scoring 25 points, while keeping the starters on the bench for the most part. Toronto, which is one of the worst rebounding teams in the league also owned 23-16 edge.

The start of the second half will be critical for the C’s. There were some encouraging numbers. Boston turned the ball over just three times, which allowed the Celtics to get up 41 shots. That’s a pretty high volume of shots for them. Let’s see what they have left.

THIRD QUARTER WRAP: I’m officially running out of superlatives to describe Paul Pierce. The Captain scored 14 points in the third quarter and made about five or six huge defensive plays. I don’t know what winning this game means in the long run but in the short run it’s pretty obvious that it means an awful lot to Pierce.

I was about to write them off at about the 6-minute mark and Pierce completely turned the thing around. Brian Scalabrine was also huge with eight points and a couple of 3-pointers. This is going to be a fun fourth quarter.

Third Quarter Observations

– Two big 3′s by Scalabrine have brought the Celtics back. That was exactly the kind of energy boost they needed. But on the other end Jamario Moon knocked one down. Paul Pierce is cheating very heavily toward Chris Bosh in the middle which left Moon wide open.

– Everything but the finish right now for the C’s. They had three or four quality looks, but the shots just aren’t going down.

– Love it when I type something about shots not falling and Pierce sinks a 3-pointer. The Raptors are shooting 56 percent by the way.

– When Will Solomon is bombing three’s it might be a sign that tonight is not your night.

– A big problem the Celtics are having tonight is that they are a pattern team offensively and since Toronto saw the patterns just 24 hours ago they are easier to snuff out. The KG alley-oop play is an example.

– Got to give them credit though. They are playing really hard.

– There are times to get technical fouls. Up eight on the road with momentum on your side is not one of them, Chris Bosh. That was a four-point swing. Amazing.

– Pierce is absolutely amazing tonight. Howe does he have an extra gear after getting kneed and playing 40+ minutes the day before? The guy is an absolute freak of nature.

– Buzzkill thy name is Kris Humphries.

– Scal used the old Red on Roundball pump fake there.

John Smoltz got a huge ovation when he was introduced to the crowd after the quarter, by the way.

Celtics-Raptors Game Blog: First Quarter 01.12.09 at 5:39 pm ET
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Greetings from the Garden where the Celtics host the Toronto Raptors on the back-end of their home and home series. The home and home is a curious thing, is it not? A friend of mine who knows nothing about basketball wondered if the two teams flew back together from Toronto after the game yesterday. You laugh, but think about it. Doesn’t that make sense? Why waste the gas when you get two teams on one plane, right?

At any rate, they are here, you are there and Kendrick Perkins and Tony Allen are on the bench in street clothes. For how long? Doc, and remember it’s just a nickname, speculated they could be out all week, if not longer. What does it mean? A few things.

1. Brian Scalabrine starts again tonight, but don’t be surprised to see Leon Powe in there against teams with bigger centers.

2. Patrick O’Bryant could get meaningful minutes. Could.

3. Sam Cassell will not, however. “He’s kind of like a carton of milk,” Doc said. “He’s got an expiration date.” In other words, Doc doesn’t want to break Sam-I-Am out of the fridge just yet, lest he curdles by April.

4. Bill Walker is in uniform, but when asked if Walker and JR Giddens could play, Doc kind of shrugged, so don’t bet on it.

Jose Calderon is not playing tonight either, by the way. Will Solomon goes in his place.

So, away we go…

FIRST QUARTER WRAP: After one, it’s about what you would expect. Both teams are struggling from the outside and the pace is kind of sluggish. Paul Pierce is off to a strong start, but Kevin Garnett is having trouble getting his jumper going and Ray Allen has yet to attempt a shot. The Celtics got Toronto in the penalty at the 4:32 mark but failed to capitalize.

The Raps came back from a 12-5 deficit and take a 23-19 lead into the second, where Jess has you covered.

First Quarter Observations

– Doc thought it was probably 50-50 that Paul Pierce could play tonight. But there was no doubt when got to the arena. “Paul is tough,” Rivers said. “He scuffed it off. ‘Of course I’ll play.’ That’s just Paul.” And he has the first five points of the game for the C’s.

– Chris Bosh is just deadly with that 20-foot jumper. I’m curious to see how he and Kevin Garnett match up tonight. I really thought KG got the better of it (second item down), considering the amount each player means to his team offensively. The Celtics can win when Garnett shoots 3-for-16. It’s much tougher for the Raptors to win when Bosh struggles, especially with Calderon out.

– Great start for the Celtics up 12-5. Energy is going to be a huge thing tonight, and the more the Celtics bring at the outset the better off they’ll be in the long run. So far, so good.

– Interesting trade note to pass along. That three-way deal between the Bobcats, Mavs and what used to be the Sonics? Looks like it’s off. That’s what ESPN’s Marc Stein is reporting. Any move with the former Sonics is worth monitoring because that’s where Joe Smith is for the time being. That deal would have cost the team that’s not in Seattle Earl Watson and got it back Jerry Stackhouse, which wouldn’t have affected Smith very much

– Every player in the Toronto starting lineup has a foul now and the Raps are in the penalty at the 4:32 mark.

– The shots aren’t going down but the ball movement is crisp. Translation: Tired legs.

– The Raps are forcing Andrea Barganini in the post, probably because he’s matched up with Brian Scalabrine, but he is 1-for-6 from the floor tonight. Jess reported on the Facebook campaign to put Scal on the All-Star team, how about one for the All-Defensive team?

Celtics-Raptors: Statement Game 01.11.09 at 2:26 pm ET
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Two weeks ago, Doc Rivers wouldn’t have rushed the starters back on to the floor after a 20-point lead became fourteen following a couple of quick baskets. As early as last week, Rivers wouldn’t have left Kevin Garnett out on the floor for 39 minutes. But a lot has changed in the last 15 days or so for the Celtics, and so Doc took a page from the KC Jones circa 1987 playbook and employed the last option he had left: Ride the starters until they dropped.

The Celtics had to win Sunday’s game against the Raptors. (Go here for a recap). It didn’t matter that they’ll play again tomorrow night or that the Celtics were on their fourth game in the last seven days. When they got up by 20 points after three quarters, a win became even more imperative. There was no way they could drag themselves back to Boston after getting hammered by the Cavs on Friday and then blowing a 20-point fourth quarter lead.

So Doc called on Garnett, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine a mere two and a half minutes into the fourth quarter. He brought Rajon Rondo back a few minutes later and he left Paul Pierce in for the entire second half. Doc watched the final quarter with his arms folded like a man being fitted for a straitjacket. Really, what else could he do?

Kendrick Perkins didn’t play because his achy shoulder acted up again after getting whacked by Ben Wallace. Brian Scalabrine fouled out after 25 energetic minutes. Big Baby Davis was active, but set an unofficial record for most misses within two feet, and Doc must have been unhappy with Leon Powe’s defense, because he barely had time to break a sweat.

Doc has been reluctant to use the KC option, and for good reason. The Celtics best players aren’t pups anymore, and after Sunday’s game they have now played 147 times in 14 and a half months. But a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do, so we had this:

Rajon Rondo: 38 minutes

Ray Allen: 43 minutes

Paul PIerce: 41 minutes

Kevin Garnett: 39 minutes.

The Celtics had to make a stand Sunday. For 36 minutes they were aggressive and nasty defensively and, if not entirely pretty, then at least efficient on offense. If the final 12, just surviving was enough.

A few more observations on a snowy Sunday afternoon:

1. People have been shoveling dirt on the career of Walter Ray Allen for so long, you think they would have learned by now. Please, the next time he goes in a shooting slump could everyone just take a deep breath and exhale?

Allen bailed the Celtics out all afternoon, and it wasn’t like he was getting wide open looks either. The other day in mentioning that Allen had passed the 900-game mark for his career, I noted that his improved field goal shooting was directly related to a huge jump in his two-point field goal percentage. In fact, Allen is down from 39 percent last year to 36 percent in 3-point shooting.

Credit him with making an adjustment in his game. He has worked the pump-fake, two dribble pull-up jumper into his arsenal with obvious benefits. But a 36-percent 3-point shooter is still a darned good shooter. Allen went 8-for-10 from distance and made two huge three’s in the fourth quarter. Whatever ails the Celtics, Allen’s occasional slumps are about ninth on the list.

2. Kevin Garnett was 3-for-16 from the floor and he was awesome. Garnett stayed outside for most of the game, drawing Chris Bosh out with him and leaving the middle wide open for Rajon Rondo to drive at will. Consequentially he took a ton of 20 footers.

That he only made one shot from outside the paint is far less important than the defense he played on Bosh, who has been killing people lately. Bosh was 5-for-14 and so obviously flustered by KG that he spent most of the Raptors hell-bent fourth quarter run on the bench. In 39 minutes, Garnett made one noticeable mistake when he bodied up on Bosh and got beat, but that was about it.

KG’s crazy-man persona sometimes obscures the fact that he is an excellent defensive technician. Witness the way he overplayed Bosh and gave him the baseline with his right hand. Bosh is about as comfortable going to his right as Big Baby is around the basket. It was a phenomenal display by Garnett.

3. Rajon Rondo has to shoot. Has to. Everyone wants him to make open jump shots, but that’s not as important as simply finishing in the lane once in a while. It wasn’t until he took the hand-off from Pierce and went baseline and dunked at the end of the second quarter when it finally dawned on Rondo that he could score. Fourteen points are great, 12 shots are even better.

4. If Big Baby Davis could have made a layup, the Celtics would have won by 20, but it’s hard to fault the guy after he gave them 30 minutes, 11 rebounds and tons of energy. OK, it’s not that hard.

Like Kendrick Perkins, Baby has one major mechanical flaw in his game. In Perk’s case it’s his insistence on putting the ball down on the floor. For Baby it’s when he worries more about drawing contact than making the basket. Because he is a physically, let’s just say, odd player, Baby rarely gets the benefit of the doubt from the officials when he goes to the basket. If he concentrated more on the finish than the contact, the calls would go his way.

Still, an inspired effort by Davis defensively.

5. Loved the decision by Doc to start Brian Scalabrine. As soon as Andrea Bargnani saw Scal opposite him instead of Perkins he wanted to play a post-up game. Thing is, Bargnani has been playing some of the best ball of his career lately by hanging out at the 3-point line. It took him until late in the game to get back to that.

Scal did more than mess with Bargnani. He also made his shots, spaced the floor, played solid defense and got in the face of Raptor tough guy Joey Graham.

There is a thought that the Celtics are frontrunners, classic bullies who talk the talk when they’re up 20, but fall apart when things get tough. Charlotte rookie DJ Augustin said as much last week. Graham, who looks like he is chiseled out of marble, tried to punk Scal, who looks like he is chiseled out of fluff, and Scal not only didn’t back down, he got right back in his face. It’s time the Celtics got ornery again.

Five more…

6. Graham is what the Celtics hope Tony Allen can be.

7. Don’t sleep on the Raptors in the second half. Bosh is a legit star and if Jose Calderon can get himself healthy that’s a great 1-2 punch. Now, do they make a move with Jermaine O’Neal, and, are they any takers?

8. Paul Pierce’s jumper that made it 90-83 was the biggest shot of the game and KG was the guy who set it up with a Zaza Pachulia-esque screen.

9. Been meaning to get to this. The problem with the Stephon Marbury thing is that it doesn’t look like the Knicks are in any hurry to do him any favors, and really, why should they?

The reason there’s so much focus on Marbury is that the Celtics are really hamstrung from a roster standpoint. They don’t have any big expiring contracts, and while their young guys might have some value they don’t make enough to have any trade value.

If the Celtics are going to make a move it’s looking more and more like it will have to be a street free agent, which is why no one has given up on the idea of wooing PJ Brown back to the fold. Joe Smith would of course make a lot of sense, but OKC GM Sam Presti is no dummy and he’s not going to cut him just so a contender can be happy.

10. So, free BIll Walker?

900 Games for Ray Allen 01.09.09 at 9:57 am ET
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If there’s one thing the Celtics never have to worry about it’s the availability of Walter Ray Allen. It’s almost taken as an article of faith that when the ball goes up, Allen will be there. For the first five years of his career Allen never missed a game, and since coming to the Celtics the 33-year-old Allen has been logging 36 minutes consistently every night, which is remarkable when one considers that the primary objection to the Allen trade was his health.

Allen played in the 900th game of his career the other night against Houston and it’s a testament to his career that such an accomplishment happened with very little fanfare. (Kobe Bryant is the only other player from the 1996 draft class to appear in 900 games to date, and Allen ranks 10th on the list of active players for games played).

Allen’s career is a study in consistency, which is easily explained by his tremendous conditioning and his legendary pre-game shooting routine. There is no wasted motion with Ray. He is the smoothest robotic player in the game, and that’s meant as a compliment of the highest order.

A lot has been made about Allen’s revitalized play this year. He’s shooting 48 percent from the field (up from 44 percent last year) and just seems to be more integrated offensively with the Celtics system. There is an interesting quirk in Allen’s numbers, however.

While it’s true that his FG shooting is up, his 3-point shooting has actually gone down (from 39 to 36 percent), which brings up something Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus mentioned to me about a month ago. That is that Allen’s shooting on 2-point shots has gone up dramatically (from .486 in 2007-08 to .579 this season). Pelton feels that sort of trend is usually not sustainable, so it’s something to keep an eye on as 2009 develops.

Still, by any measure Allen is enjoying a very successful year. He has the highest adjusted +/- rating on the team, according to 82games.com (which in layman’s terms means the Celtics are more effective with him on the court than off it than any other player) and the highest Offensive Rating, as well. Allen also remains the best starter option when Doc Rivers subs in the second unit, which is both a blessing and a curse, since Doc would love to manage Allen’s minutes in the second half of the season.

Beyond the bench’s issues, of which there are many, keeping Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett healthy and somewhat rested remains Rivers’ primary challenge for the rest of the season.

Read More: Ray Allen,
Celtics are Beaten, But Unbowed 01.07.09 at 9:15 pm ET
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There were about seven and a half minutes left when Kevin Garnett began his slow walk to the scorer’s table. Everything Garnett does when he’s off the court is deliberate. It’s a veteran’s move to save whatever reserves of energy he has left, and Garnett knows every trick in the book. But this walk seemed slower for some reason. Maybe it was the sleeve wrapped around his right calf, or maybe it was just the effect of another grueling night in what seems like an endless parade of games.

All around him bodies were hitting the floor. Ron Artest and Ray Allen were in the process of untangling themselves under the basket after yet another high-speed collision. Every loose ball was a fight to the finish. and every shot was being contested. If you’re a fan of the NBA, this is why you watch games in January.

As Garnett made his way on to the court there was a feeling that the moment was there. This was when the Celtics blocked out all the things that have been plaguing them for the last two weeks–all the back-to-backs, all the travel, all the little breakdowns–and made a stand.

A few minutes later, Artest committed his sixth foul after locking Paul Pierce in an abdominal stretch. Artest glared at Pierce, who never so much as turned around. With a wave of his hand, Pierce motioned his nemesis to the bench. It was straight-up cold blooded.

There were more moments. A Pierce jumper from the top of the key tied it. Garnett blocked a shot by the quicksilver guard, Aaron Brooks, and outfought three Rockets for the ball. This was it, only it didn’t happen. (Go here for a recap).

A journeyman shooter named Von Wafer knocked down a 3-pointer in front of the Celtics bench with everyone in green hollering in his ear. Yao Ming got a rebound because he’s 7-foot-6 and then dropped in a layup, because as Doc Rivers sighed after the game, “He’s long. Real long.”

It was the Celtics third loss in a row and their sixth in their last eight games, and they knew it before it was over. “You could see it in their eyes in the huddle with about 40 seconds left,” Rivers said. “(Shoot). We’re going to lose this game. It wasn’t (a lack of) confidence. It bothered them.”

The Celtics play Cleveland on Friday and you wouldn’t find a soul on press row who would take them, or the points, in that one. They’re tired. The bench is struggling. The defense isn’t right. The offense has gotten bogged down. They’re exposed?

The Celtics were having none of it afterward. “I told the guys we need to get our defensive swagger back,” Pierce said. “It’s been broken these last 10 or 12 days. We know what we’re capable of. It’s just going back to basics and getting the job done. The confidence is still there. It’s a long season and that’s what we try to tell each other. We bend but don’t break. That’s what it’s all about.”

This is the reality of the situation. The Celtics have never gone through a stretch like this in the Paul-Ray-Kevin era. Yes, they had some issues in the playoffs, and no, the regular season isn’t nearly as important. But, and there is a but, the Celtics have not gone through a stretch like this before, and the rest of the league is licking their chops at a chance to knock the champs down a peg or two.

The issues didn’t start with the losing. There was a feeling at the end of the 19-game winning streak that things weren’t quite right. Rivers voiced his concerns then but they were drowned out by the record-setting run.

“Now you believe me,” Rivers said before tip-off. “I don’t know if it’s inevitable or not. It doesn’t change who we are or who we think we are. It doesn’t affect us a staff and what we have to work on. These are the dog days. From Christmas to the All-Star break. Last year we really focused though it. We did a hell of a job.”

Now, they head into Cleveland into what will surely be as hostile an environment as they will see until the playoffs in April. It will make Atlanta look like Romper Room and they need of a win. You could see the glint in Pierce’s eye when he was asked about Friday’s showdown.

“This is the team we put out of the playoffs,” he said. “This is the best home team in all of basketball. We’re going to get their best punch. We have to be ready for their best shot. The way they have been playing at home has been unbelievable, but the way we are playing, this is a great way to get back on track.”

Celtics-Rockets Game Blog: Third Quarter 01.07.09 at 6:54 pm ET
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This is the Bizarro-world game. The Celtics shot 12-for-18 in the first quarter and the Rockets shot 12-for-18 in the second. A big reason was the small lineup employed by Rick Adelman. Aaron Brooks, in particular, ran circles around the Celtics defense. The good news for Boston? Only five turnovers in the first half.

This is a big half for the Celtics, maybe their biggest of the season to date. Read the rest of this entry »

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