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Trade deadline: C’s may benefit from Warriors move 03.14.12 at 12:56 pm ET
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SAN FRANCISCO — The Celtics may or may not make a deal before Thursday’s trade deadline, but they have already benefited from the process. While they were en route to the Bay Area, the Warriors pulled off a five-player trade that cost them Monta Ellis, Kwame Brown and Ekpe Udoh to Mliwaukee for Andrew Bogut and Stephen Jackson.

The move subtracts Golden State’s leading scorer in Ellis and a plus-minus monster in Udoh. It didn’t stop the Warriors from hammering the Kings by 26 points on Tuesday night but with Ellis gone and Steph Curry out with a sprained ankle, they started old friend Nate Robinson and rookie Klay Thompson in the backcourt. Golden State also started David Lee and Andris Biedrinis, but without Udoh their frontcourt depth is even thinner than the Celtics.

Bogut is out with a sprained ankle, but when healthy he could become the kind of interior defensive presence the Warriors have sought for years. As SI’s Zach Lowe points out, they made a run at Tyson Chandler and DeAndre Jordan this past offseason before settling on Brown. Jackson is a complete wild card in more ways that one, but regardless, neither player should be on the floor for Golden State on Wednesday. (In a nice twist, the Bucks visit Golden State on Friday).

The move impacts the Celtics in another way as they will be in Milwaukee on Thursday. The Bucks have moved into a tie with the Knicks for the 8th playoff spot in the East and it will be interesting to see how the Brandon Jennings-Ellis backcourt meshes.

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A turnaround win for Celtics? 03.14.12 at 4:23 am ET
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LOS ANGELES – The Celtics were surprised. Who were these guys in Clippers uniforms throwing elbows and getting in their face? Didn’t they know that the one thing they were afraid of was a track meet? But hey, if that’s how they wanted to play, the guys in green were more than happy to oblige.

“They came out and played out of their character a little bit,” Kevin Garnett said. “Tough and rough and whatever and whatever. We watched film a lot on these guys and that was totally uncharacteristic of how they play. They’re not known for bar-style. They’re more finesse and dunks and all that. We knew what it was. We’ve been in these types of games countless times and kept our composure for the most part.”

It was, as Paul Pierce said later, “Our kind of game.”

Monday night was a gut-check for the Celtics. After losing a game they felt like they should have won against their hated rivals, they knew they had to salvage a Staples Center split. But with a depleted frontline and facing their worst kind of game – a back-to-back on the road – against their least favorite kind of team – athletic and fast – the Celtics found themselves in a 95-84 victory.

“We’ve played two terrific games here,” Doc Rivers said. “We played a game Friday night, get on a plane Saturday and play a 1 p.m. game and then another game the next night and play well in both games. That says a lot about the character of the team right now.

“It would have been a total difference if we lost this game. We would have been looking at ourselves saying, ‘Man we’re right there and we can’t close them out.’ That last six minutes, that was huge for us. We needed this game.”

The script played out just as it had on Sunday. The Celtics trailed early, rallied in the second half and then began to falter later. But unlike Sunday, they made the plays defensively and executed down the stretch.

Brandon Bass spent the night in foul trouble, forcing Rivers to play Garnett more than he wanted. With no depth up front, they drafted Mickael Pietrus to play forward alongside Pierce, which left the swingman guarding Blake Griffin a handful of times. They were outrebounded 18-4 in the second quarter and 45-31 overall.

“Listen, we’re small. That’s just who we are right now,” Rivers said. “We just got to be a grind it out basketball team. All are games are going to be tough. There are going to be no easy games for a while. They’re all going to be difficult. We’re going to get outsized every night and somehow until we get another big body we’ll just have to figure it out.”

All of that made the final score extremely satisfying for a team that has been searching for its identity since December.

“We have to do it on a more consistent basis,” Pierce said. “Not just sometimes or in short bursts. This is how we got to be. This is our identity, especially on the road.”

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The mean Greg Stiemsma makes an appearance 03.13.12 at 1:42 pm ET
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LOS ANGELES — You wouldn’t think that Blake Griffin and Greg Stiemsma would have a history. After all, Griffin is the former No. 1 overall pick, a Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a national name. Prior to this season, Stiemsma was essentially a nameless vagabond, floating through the European circuit with occasional appearances in the D-League.

But back in 2009 at the Las Vegas summer league, Stiemsma made an impression when he blocked Griffin twice. Perhaps that was on Griffin’s mind on Monday night when the Celtics took on the Clippers in a game that was described as physical and chippy. Things had already become heated when Stiemsma checked in late in the first quarter.

Then Griffin got a dunk and made sure to put the ball in Stiemsma’s chest. The center flipped it back and both players received double technicals. A few possessions later, Stiemsma came over from the weakside and responded with a blocked shot. Griffin retaliated with a breathtaking lob dunk, one of the few seen Monday night in lob city. But Stiemsma didn’t back down, burying a 20-footer the next time down the court.

“Maybe for him,” Stiemsma said when asked about their summer league past. “I didn’t have any hard feeling coming in. Right out of the gate it kind of started right when I got in. Whatever it was, I can leave things on the floor. Whatever it is, I’m not worried about it.

Griffin scored 24 points and had nine rebounds. Stiemsma had two points and two boards, but he gave the Celtics 20 minutes and a big presence in a game where Brandon Bass spent the night in foul trouble.

“That was the mean Stiemsma today,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It was great to see that. He got the blocked shot. We’re going to have to work on his trash talk a little bit. But it was good to see. We needed that.”

“You can’t play mad all the time, but you’re not going to back down from anybody either,” Stiemsma said. “I don’t care what position or situation they’re in. If I come in and play physical and take a shot to the mouth, a couple of shots to the head if it helps us win, I’ll do it.”

With Chris Wilcox (heart issues) and Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) away from the team, Stiemsma is the only backup big man on the roster. He’s been dealing with a foot injury of his own and he once again left the arena in a walking boot. Rivers acknowledged before the game that Stiemsma is playing hurt, but there’s no other choice right now.

“I get fired up when I have a couple of bumps and bruises in the morning,” he said.

His teammates have taken note of the 26-year-old’s toughness, both mentally and physically.

“You’ve got to have some kind of toughness to make this team,” Kevin Garnett said. “Not only that, but to make this team and sustain it. He’s not a pushover. He’s quiet but he’s not a pushover by any means.”

For Stiemsma, tough play is nothing new. He’s endured far worse during a nomadic career that has taken him around the world and put him in truly hostile environments. He once played a game in an empty arena in Turkey after security cleared the building following unrest in the stands.

“This was almost a European style feel where a few shots were thrown here and there,” Stiemsma said. “That’s where the game went tonight. We pushed through it. We got back to what we do well and came out with a win.”

He did have one concern after it was over, however after picking up his first technical foul. “I’m hoping someone will chip in with the fine,” he said.

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Score one for Rajon Rondo against Chris Paul 03.13.12 at 4:37 am ET
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Rajon Rondo

LOS ANGELES — The Celtics tried to trade Rajon Rondo for Chris Paul back in December and the two have had a contentious history in the past. How would Rondo handle the matchup? Quite well as it turned out.

“Just wanted to get the win,” Rondo said.

He was in control of the matchup from the beginning, scoring 12 points on just eight shots — along with a perfect 4-for-4 at the free throw line — while handing out 10 assists in the Celtics 94-85 win. But it was his defense that caught his coach’s eye.

“Defensively he was sensational,” Doc Rivers said. “He was absolutely wonderful.”

At one point Rondo dropped Paul on a switch, but Rivers called timeout and reinforced the gameplan. “No, no,” the coach said. “We’re not switching you off of Chris Paul. Ever.”

Paul made just one of his six shots through the first three quarters and while he picked up his game in the fourth, his 3-for-12 shooting night told the story. Not that Rondo took any of the credit.

“It was a team effort,” he said simply.

But you’re the first line of defense.

“Yeah, but it was a team effort,” Rondo countered. “He wasn’t just going one on one on those pick and rolls. That involves two people, so, team effort.”

Before the game, Rivers was asked how he thought his point guard would approach the matchup. “I know how I would,” Rivers joked. “But I can’t tell you how Rondo would.”

Afterward, Rivers finished the answer. “He approached it just like we thought he would. He was more concerned with winning the game.”

Rondo didn’t have much to say about Paul, but he did question one aspect of a game that saw five technical fouls.

“It wasn’t really physical,” he said. “The flopping surprised me. They seemed pretty tough but there was a lot of flopping out there tonight. That was shocking, I couldn’t believe the refs kept going for it. But it’s part of it.”

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Sizing up the D-League prospects 03.12.12 at 2:11 pm ET
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LOS ANGELES — The Celtics need help. Specifically, they need tall people. The problem with that, of course, is that there just aren’t that many of them to go around and there are even fewer of them available. But with Jermaine O’Neal injured and away from the team and Chris Wilcox awaiting further tests on a possible heart condition, the Celtics need to find someone, somewhere to help fill the void in the middle.

They have four players on the roster who qualify as big: Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, Greg Stiemsma and JaJuan Johnson. (Stiemsma was wearing a walking boot after playing 13 minutes on Sunday. He said it’s precautionary, but that’s not a good sign for a team that can’t afford any more injuries).

Coach Doc Rivers made it clear on Sunday that the team is looking for help, but they are hampered by two realities. First, they are at the maximum 15 players on the roster and if they decide to add someone, then a veteran has to be waived. Second, they are reluctant to do anything to damage their future rebuilding plans.

“You don’t want to do anything silly,” Rivers said. “We’re building for this year and the future so we’re not going to do anything that’s going to hurt either one of those. Obviously we’re looking to grab a big from somewhere, hopefully not by giving away a player, by doing it another route.”

The most obvious place to look is the D-League, but while the development league is full of guards and wings it has a noticeable shortage of qualified big men.

“Usually there’s not a lot of bigs floating around the D-League,” Rivers said. “We’re going to look everywhere. Wherever we can.”

Here’s a snapshot of some of the better prospects, with a hat tip to Scott Schroeder at Ridiculous Upside.

CENTERS

Mikki Moore: The most qualified by far, but he didn’t mess at all with Rivers in a brief run at the end of the 2009 season. There is a better chance of seeing Shaquille O’Neal back with the Celtics than Moore.

Keith Benson: A second round pick by the Hawks, the 6-foot-11 Benson is averaging 14.3 points and 7.7. rebounds for the Sioux Falls Sky Force.

Brian Butch: Stiemsma’s one-time teammate at Wisconson, Butch is averaging 18.2 points and 11.1 rebounds for the Bakersfield Jam. He has good range, making 42 percent of his 3-pointers.

Dan Gadzuric: The nine-year NBA vet has been off the radar for most of the season, but he made his debut with Texas on Sunday and scored 12 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Earl Barron: Currently playing in the Philippines, Barron has appeared in 112 games over six NBA seasons.

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Filling the void left by Chris Wilcox 03.11.12 at 9:11 pm ET
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The Celtics will need to replace Chris Wilcox, who is undergoing tests related to a heart condition. (AP)

LOS ANGELES — What are the odds, Doc Rivers wanted to know, of losing two players because of a heart condition?

“It’s not a great place. It’s scary. It really is. The chances of having one of these in a year is pretty minute,” Rivers said before the Celtics took on the Lakers on Sunday. “The chances of having two is like, impossible. There’s a chance that may happen. We just have to wait and see.”

Already reeling from the loss of Jeff Green to heart surgery – a loss that had a deep and a lasting impact on everything from the roster to the rotation – the Celtics are preparing to be without Chris Wilcox, as well. Going back to his days with the Pistons, Wilcox has been tested regularly and something came up last week that forced more tests and evaluation.

“I’d rather find it than not,” said Rivers who was understandably vague about the exact nature of Wilcox’s condition. “At the end of the day we’re lucky and that’s what I told our team: That we’re very lucky that this happened and not unlucky. I think that’s the way you have to look at it and that’s how we’re looking at it.”

There is no timetable for Wilcox, although Rivers said they probably wouldn’t know definitively for at least week. He was able to see the team before they headed out on the trip.

“He seemed like he was in good spirits,” Brandon Bass said. “I wish the best for him. I’m praying for him. He’s a country boy, he’s tough. He’ll be all right.”

On the court, Wilcox’s absence leaves a huge hole in the middle for the Celtics. They had recently decided to go with a nine-man rotation and Wilcox was the first big man off the bench, backing up both the center and the power forward spots. His per-game averages of 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds don’t nearly explain his importance, not to mention his occasional flashes of open-court brilliance.

“I can’t say much about it but obviously team-wise it’s a hell of a blow for us,” Rivers said.

Without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics are down to two veteran bigs: Bass and Kevin Garnett. Bass missed time with a knee injury, but has played well since he returned and Garnett’s minutes are closely-guarded. They need help just to get through the regular-season grind, but with the trade deadline looming, this doesn’t necessarily change the team’s approach. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Lakers hold on to beat Celtics in another classic 03.11.12 at 6:11 pm ET
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It took a half for the Celtics and Lakers game to truly start, but when it finally did we were treated to yet another classic in the tradition of these two teams. In what might have been the final meeting between the Celtics and Lakers as we know them, the Lakers held on for a 97-94 win.

The second half was one to savor as they traded baskets and leads. The Celtics were up by five points with 2:41 left, but that was when Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum went to work. Bryant made two shots and got off a pass to Bynum at the rim for twisting layup.

The Celtics had a chance to take the lead, but Brandon Bass missed an open jump shot and Bynum muscled home a shot on the other end. On the final possession, a Lakers switch disrupted the final play and left Paul Pierce to miss a long, forced 3. Rajon Rondo got the back tap, but his 3-pointer was short.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Who set the alarm clock? After six minutes, the Lakers had a slim 11-9 lead. Six minutes later, they were up 24-14 and the numbers were hideous. The Celtics shot 6-for-24 in the first quarter, a number that looked even worse when you consider that Kevin Garnett was 3-for-3. (That’s 3-for-21 for the rest of the team if you didn’t feel like doing the math). The only thing that kept the Celtics in the game early were eight first quarter turnovers.

You call that World Peace? Things got hot in the third quarter when Metta World Peace and Pierce tangled under the basket. Garnett intervened, shoves were exchanged and the intensity level finally reached Celtics-Laker levels. The mild skirmish also woke up Peace who scored 11 third quarter points.

Not a happy homecoming: Pierce missed nine of his first 10 shots and never really got into a flow. The Celtics were able to overcome as all five starters scored in double figures, but World Peace gave Pierce all he could handle on the defensive end.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Second quarter reversal: Everything the Celtics did wrong in the first quarter they did right in the second. They worked their offense through Paul Pierce on the post, which led to some easy baskets and opened the floor. Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley provided a lift off the bench and the C’s hit the defensive glass, holding the Lakers to just one offensive rebound.

Rondo took advantage of the don’t guard Rondo defense: Like the rest of his teammates, Rondo started slowly making just two of his first even shots. He picked it up a bit in the second and continued through the second half making six of his next seven shots. Rondo finished with 24 points and 10 assists, and had one of his best games against the Lakers.

Brandon Bass steps up: Tasked with guarding Gasol for most of the afternoon, Bass held the 7-footer in check, allowing just 13 points on 11 shots. He dropped 15 on the other end and shot 7-for-12. His missed jumper aside, Bass has a strong game.

Greg Stiemsma too: The Celtics received some troubling news when they found out that forward Chris Wilcox is out indefinitely while he undergoes heart tests. Wilcox’s absence gave Stiemsma an opportunity to play and he made the most of it, recording blocks on both Gasol and Bynum. The Celtics still need another big man, but the 26-year-old rookie was able to hold the fort against the biggest frontline in the league.

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