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Celtics-Bulls Game Blog: First Quarter 12.19.08 at 5:34 pm ET
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We are live from the snowbound Garden for tonight’s game between the Celtics and Bulls. The C’s made some unusual travel plans in preparation for the snow with several of the players staying at a local hotel. Ray Allen, for one, arrived an hour and a half earlier than normal. But all are present and accounted for as they go in search of their 16th 17th win in a row.

This one has all the classic makings of a trap game. With an emotional game on Wednesday in Atlanta, what figures to be a smaller-than-normal crowd and the weather affecting the player’s routines, this one could be more dangerous than it first appears. Of course, the Celtics have seemed particularly immune to traps this season.

So, will it be Sweet 16 17 for the C’s? Will it be upset city for the Bulls? Will the crowd top 10,000? Those answers and more tonight… Read the rest of this entry »

MIP: Most Indispensable Player 12.15.08 at 9:38 pm ET
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Paul Pierce had been knocked down, kneed, elbowed and the recipient of more than one collision already when his knee banged into Mehmet Okur. It was his left knee, not the one he injured against the Lakers in the Finals, and it was straight, as in prone for a devastating knee injury.

Pierce was able to bend his knee a bit before Okur went crashing into him, and he avoided disaster. But it still hurt like hell, and when he went down the Garden was deathly quiet. His teammates left the bench en masse to check on Pierce and Big Baby Davis and Leon Powe had to help him get back to the locker room.

The crowd chanted M-V-P as Pierce made his way off the court, but they should have been chanting M-I-P as in, Most Indispensable Player.

“It’s a little tender,” Pierce said after his club dispatched the Jazz, 100-91. “The knee kind of buckled. It should be all right.”

That’s good news, obviously, for the Celtics, because if there’s one player on the roster they can’t afford to lose, it’s Pierce.

That’s a funny statement to make when you look at what Rajon Rondo has done this year–and he turned in another gem against Deron Williams–and when you consider that Kevin Garnett is well, Kevin Garnett. But behind Pierce on the small forward depth chart is Tony Allen, who is not, in fact, a small forward, and Brian Scalabrine, who is a perfect 10th Man, but not exactly the guy you want knocking heads with Ron Artest or LeBron James for 38 minutes a night.

It’s also funny when you look at Pierce’s shooting numbers. Simply put, Pierce has not shot the ball well this season. His field goal percentage has hovered around 40 percent, the lowest of his career, and his 3-point shooting is a tick off (35 percent) his career average of 36 percent.

But Pierce is indispensable because he has become a player who can be great even when he’s not scoring at a high level. Take the simple act of making free throws, for instance, where he is shooting 84 percent. Pierce is getting to the line at a higher rate than he did last year, which is helping him keep his scoring average at around 18 a game.

That’s important because while his shot hasn’t been falling at his normal rate, he is shooting less and turning it over less than his career averages, proof that he is not forcing the issue in an effort to get himself going. Even more than last year, Pierce has been content to take his offense as it comes and let others, particularly Ray Allen, have the scoring glory.

Even when he is on the floor with the four mainstays off the bench, Pierce hasn’t imposed his strong personality on the proceedings. Before his knee scare, Pierce had logged 43 minutes and taken just 13 shots, none of them 3-pointers. Think about that for a second and let it roll around in your head. He remains the Celtics’ best one-on-one option. The guy you want to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line–as he proved against Toronto and Atlanta back in early November. Yet he is perfectly comfortable to not be The Man.

As great as Garnett is, Pierce’s willingness to defer to others, and take the reins when necessary, are the principal reasons the Celtics have worked offensively.

Then there’s the defense.

Oct. 28 LeBron James: 9-for-21, 22 points

Nov. 4 Ron Arrest: 3-for-16, 15 points

Nov. 14 Carmelo Anthony: 8-for-19, 18 points

Dec. 12: Peja Stojakovic: 1-for-6, 2 points

Nov. 1, Dec. 3, Dec. 7 Danny Granger: 21-for-55

There are all kinds of ways to measure toughness, particularly on the defensive end. Garnett is intimidating. Kendrick Perkins is, to coin a phrase, a beast. But Pierce gives the Celtics an edge, a street-tough nastiness that doesn’t back down.

This was Utah coach Jerry Sloan, one of the toughest SOB’s the NBA has ever seen, after last night’s game:

“It looked like we were scared to play against them to start the ballgame. Looked like we wanted to play out on the perimeter and take jump shots. They’re awfully hard to get the ball inside on, because they’re an excellent defensive team and they knock you around a bit. Our guys wanted to stay outside because I think they were afraid they’d get hurt. They had us intimidated a great deal and had us out on the perimeter.”

When Jerry Sloan says that his team was intimidated you have to take note.

People might not like the comparison, but the Celtics are an awful lot like the Detroit Pistons of the late 80′s, swaggering, intimidating and defense-first. They beat you up and then they tell you about it. All that went away for the Pistons when they traded Rick Mahorn, who was legitimately scary as hell. The Celtics have more than their share of tough guys, but Pierce is the one no one outside of Quentin Richardson wants to mess with.

He has been the Captain for a long time now, but this is truly his team now. The Celtics are in his image: tough, intimidating and just a little bit dangerous.

Read More: Celtics, jazz, jerry sloan, mehmet okur
Celtics-Jazz Game Blog: Third Quarter 12.15.08 at 6:54 pm ET
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The Celtics strange run of poor second quarters continues as a double-digit lead is now a tie as we head to the second half.

The good: Kendrick Perkins with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The bad: 14 turnovers.

On we go… Read the rest of this entry »

Celtics-Jazz Game Blog: First Quarter 12.15.08 at 5:34 pm ET
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We are live at the Garden for tonight’s game between the Celtics and the Utah Jazz. Some pregame drama surrounded the C’s as traffic delayed several players arrival. At last check Rajon Rondo was the last one to to make it in, but he is here and on the court warming up. That’s good news for the C’s because Eddie House is not here. He is with his family after his aunt died, and is expected to be back on Wednesday in Atlanta.

That means Gabe Pruitt will be first off the bench behind Rondo and Tony Allen may see some time as well. Sam Cassell is also in uniform and according to Doc Rivers “might play.” Might being a particularly strong word.

Regardless, we’re ready to go. Will it be 15 in a row for the C’s? Will the Jazz repeat last year’s blowout? Will another coach get fired between now and then? Let’s find out… Read the rest of this entry »

The Main Event Fizzles (But It’s Only Round One) 12.12.08 at 9:58 pm ET
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All the talk before the Celtics-Hornets game was about the point guards. That’s not unusual when a player like Chris Paul comes to town, but what was unusual was the use of the plural. Guards. Rajon Rondo has put himself in some select company, and yes that includes CP3, even if Paul did wind up outplaying him this time around.

“This year, they’re calling it a matchup,” Doc Rivers said before tip-off. “That shows you far he’s come.”

Respect has come the hard way for Rondo, who played Paul to a standstill in two epic encounters last season, but is just now beginning to receive the league-wide accolades. Relaxing in his chair and holding court with reporters before the game–he’s one of the few Celtics who does–Rondo was nonplussed about facing Paul, dishing out the usual boilerplate about it being a team game and a team effort.

In that sense, Rondo was right because of all the reasons for the Celtics win, Rondo’s play was not high on the list. “We had to go with different lineups,” Rivers said. “You know, Rondo wasn’t Rondo and Eddie had to step in.” The kid is entitled to a mulligan, especially considering the way he’s played over the last month, but after tonight, it doesn’t get any easier.

Deron Williams and Utah come to town on Monday. On Wednesday Rondo matches up with one his mentors, Mike Bibby of Atlanta, and then on Friday it’s a return engagement with leading Rookie of the Year contender, Derrick Rose and Chicago. Not that it should, but if anyone is still waiting to put Rondo in the elite class of point guards, this week will be a referendum.

Don’t tell New Orleans coach Byron Scott that Rondo has anything left to prove. “He’s playing at a high level,” Scott said. “He doesn’t get himself into trouble. He’s got different speeds, which is important, and he finishes. There’s nothing he can’t do well, except shoot from the outside.”

It seems rather amazing that everyone in the league knows this, and Friday night notwithstanding, very few teams are able to take advantage of Rondo’s still-shaky jumper. ESPN’s David Thorpe pointed out in a story on Rondo (Insider only) that he takes more than half of his shots from inside the paint and has an Effective Field Goal percentage of 72 percent. (You can see those numbers on 82games.com).

For a player who is listed at 6-1, 171 pounds, that’s unheard of. Paul, for example, takes a little more than a third of his shots from close range. Despite Rondo’s off-night, he didn’t play that poorly, scoring 10 points to go with six rebounds, and helping limit Paul to a 5-for-16 shooting night. Again, a sign of how far he’s come when that is considered a poor performance.

Don’t expect his off night to linger. As always with Rondo, the word “confidence” is the primary adjective. It’s not cockiness, necessarily, it’s more a strong sense of self that Rondo exudes. In the pregame he was asked when it was that he began to assert himself. “Pretty much from Day One,” he said. “I had to get these guys respect. I asked Doc if that was all right and he said that it was. I respect the years those guys have in the game, but I’m the point guard. I have to be the leader.”

There has been this notion that it’s hard for Rondo to be that leader, what with strong personalities like Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the floor. Ask him about that and he just shrugs. Besides, gaining the respect of his coach is the most important thing.

Rivers has been hard on his point guard. That’s just his way. That’s how Mike Fratello was with him when he a young player trying to make his mark on a Hawks team with Dominique Wilkins, no shrinking violet. A good game by Rondo would be met with a request for more, a bad one would have Rivers shaking his head.

It wasn’t until the conference championship against the Pistons when everyone was conceding the matchup with Chauncey Billups, that Rivers began to loudly advocate for his guard. Rondo repaid that trust by completely outplaying the veteran.

“With every team, the point guard and the coach have to have a relationship,” Rivers said. “With Rajon he’s been able to go and run the sets without looking at me.”

One more Rondo story. Apparently the flight home from Washington was a little rough. “It was rocky,” he said. “KG was screaming.” How did he take the turbulence? “I was calm.” He’s the point guard. He has to be calm.

Celtics-Hornets Game Blog: Third Quarter 12.12.08 at 7:27 pm ET
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Considering how inefficiently the Celtics played in the first quarter, they are fortunate to down by just a point as we hit the second half. It’s anyone ballgame, friends… Read the rest of this entry »

Celtics-Hornets Game Blog: First Quarter 12.12.08 at 6:03 pm ET
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We are live at the Garden for tonight’s game between the Celtics and the New Orleans Hornets. As I type, James Posey is getting his championship ring and huge applause. Doc Rivers just said a few nice things and the players came out at center court to greet Pose.

Truly a nice moment.

Ok, on to tonight’s game where there are subplots galore. Who will prevail in the Rajon Rondo Chris Paul matchup. Will Hilton Armstrong be able to hold down the middle with Tyson Chandler out? Will the Celtics be able to match the 1985-86 team with their 14th straight win?

Let’s find out together, shall we… Read the rest of this entry »

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