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Kevin Garnett’s daily dose of veteran wisdom 10.12.12 at 1:57 pm ET
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WALTHAM — For whatever reason Kevin Garnett has been unusually chatty with the press so far in training camp. He’s always willing to impart a bit of knowledge and he’s rarely better than when he works himself up into one of his Uncle KG routines about life in the league.

Here’s a Garnett quote from Friday about Rasheed Wallace coming back to the NBA:

“I’m a big fan of veterans. More importantly, the league being full of young guys probably needed a little more just to teach some of the young guys on work ethic, being consistent with your work ethic, and loving this game and giving 100 percent and not just bull[bleeping] and going through half-assen, entitlement, respecting, earning what you get and really, really setting yourself for the future. Not just riding off potential but actually becoming something. That’s why I’ve always been a big fan of veterans and I’ve always voiced that. Y’all know that.”

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Could the Celtics use multiple starting lineups? 10.10.12 at 3:23 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett is key for Doc Rivers plan to use multiple starting lineups. (AP)

WALTHAM — Much of the talk this preseason has been about the Celtics’ flexibility and versatility and coach Doc Rivers is already experimenting. Rookie Jared Sullinger was in the starting lineup for their final exhibition game in Milan and he played well, scoring 25 points to go with 15 rebounds in their two games.

When the curtain rose on practice on Wednesday, Sullinger was back out there with the starting lineup that also included Rajon Rondo, Jason Terry, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. So, Doc, how much should we read into that?

“I’m going to try it for a couple of games and I’ll throw Brandon [Bass] in. I’ll throw Darko [Milicic] in a couple of times,” Rivers said. “You can read into it whatever you want, but there’s been no decisions made on anything yet.”

This opens up a host of intriguing possibilities. Rivers said he could use Darko at center so Garnett, “doesn’t have a wrestling match with the bigs the entire season. There’s a lot of thoughts. We may go to a transitional starting lineup, have three different starting lineups. We’ve put a lot of thought into it, we’ll just figure it out. ”

That makes sense against a number of Eastern Conference teams including the Pacers (Roy Hibbert), Sixers (Andrew Bynum), and Nets (Brook Lopez), to name three. Sullinger’s emergence may tell a different story, however. He was praised by Rivers, Garnett and Rondo for his on-court intelligence and it goes without saying that rookies don’t receive those kind of kudos.

“He doesn’t think like a rookie. He thinks like a veteran,” Rivers said. “He plays at a great pace. He’s one of our best rebounders. He can pass the ball. He does a lot of things that help our team so we just want to keep moving guys around.”

Or as Rondo put it, “He’s probably the smartest rookie we’ve had since I’ve been here. He’s very intelligent. High basketball IQ and he’s very unselfish. He doesn’t need a play called for him. He’s been getting his points off the dirty work.”

Of course, this could also present a dilemma. Bass has done nothing to lose his starting job and in fact, he helped save their season when he moved from a productive bench role to the starting lineup at midseason. But Bass, along with Terry and to a lesser extent Courtney Lee, have all handled starting and reserve roles throughout their career. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jared Sullinger is not Glen Davis 10.08.12 at 2:44 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger.

There’s a tendency to equate rookie forward Jared Sullinger with former Celtic Glen Davis for reasons that have little to do with basketball. The similarities are essentially size-related. Like Davis, Sullinger is slightly undersized for the power forward position and like Davis, Sullinger will need to keep his weight in check. But that’s basically all there is to the comparison.

We have over the last few months a decent sample of Sullinger’s work and there is simply little to equate the two players on the court. Unlike Davis, for example, Sullinger is comfortable on the low block. He has a nice array of post moves and is far more polished than the average rookie. Indeed, Sullinger may have the best post moves of anyone on the Celtics’ roster since the halcyon days of Al Jefferson.

Sullinger also has a strong awareness on the court of where to be to receive passes from Rajon Rondo. This played out several times in their recent exhibition game against Milan when Sullinger made his debut in the starting lineup. Simply being a target under the basket, and having the hands to catch Rondo’s rocket passes, could make a huge difference for a team that struggled mightily to score points last season and had far too few chances at the basket.

Where they are similar is that both players need to come up with counters to height mismatches in the post. Davis relied on quickness, while Sullinger will use his body to ward off defenders to employ those polished moves. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts over the course of the season, but style-wise they couldn’t be more different.

That’s also true on the defensive end where Davis has made a career out of being able to guard bigger players. For all the abuse he took at the end of his tenure, it’s worth remembering that when he was at his best, Big Baby was an integral part of the Celtics’ rotations and often played out of position at center. It’s unclear if Sullinger can handle the same kind of responsibility. The rookie still has a lot to learn on the defensive end, and his learning curve will have to be steep if he plays major minutes this season.

But Sullinger offers yet another dimension that Davis lacks, and that’s the ability to get rebounds. He racked up 15 boards in the C’s two exhibition games in Europe, including eight on the offensive glass. Scoring and rebounding were two of the Celtics’ three biggest weaknesses last season — turnovers were the third — and Doc Rivers has to be pleased with what his rookie has shown thus far.

It’s still way too early of course to know what kind of a player Sullinger will end up becoming, but it’s seems reasonably clear already that what he is not is another Glen Davis.

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What we learned from Celtics second preseason game 10.07.12 at 2:26 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo

We may as well start the season now because Rajon Rondo is clearly ready. Rondo repeatedly torched Milano’s defense, burying his first seven shots including a 3-pointer and four free throws in the first quarter as the Celtics left Europe with a split of their exhibition schedule after a 105-75 victory.

Everyone goes under screens on Rondo and everyone knows that when he’s making jump shots there’s basically no way to guard him. It’s way too early to tell if Rondo has conquered his shooting demons — especially at the free throw line where he made all 10 of his attempts in two preseason games — but it’s worth pointing out that he shot a respectable 39 percent on his jumpers from 16-23 feet last season.

Still, the early returns are encouraging and Rondo looks like he’s ready to take his game to another level this season. Here are more takeaways from the C’s preseason victory:

JARED SULLINGER STARTED: When the Celtics acquired Brandon Bass from the Magic, they originally had him as a scoring sixth man whose outside shooting would help open up the floor and take some pressure off the starters. Bass moved into the starting lineup midway through the season and fit in well, but the addition of Sullinger could present an interesting situation for coach Doc Rivers.

Sullinger’s offensive game is way ahead of his defense, which is to be expected for a rookie, and the Celtics have often tried to cover up defensive deficiencies by pairing those players with Kevin Garnett. So great is KG’s impact defensively that the C’s feel he can compensate for at least one weaker defender. Perhaps a little more juice offensively at the start of games would help break them of their slow-start habit and it’s not as if Bass isn’t capable of playing off the bench.

Preseason caveats apply, but it’s obvious that the Celtics will not bring Sullinger along slowly. He had 9 points and 7 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

JASON TERRY STARTED TOO: This may be less interesting. Terry and Courtney Lee both figure to play about 30 minutes a game regardless of who’s in the starting lineup, but it’s worth noting that after Lee struggled through a rough preseason opener that Terry got the call instead. That’s the great part of Terry’s game: He can start or relieve.

Terry pumped in 11 points and was an absurd Plus-29 in 28 minutes. Lee had a much stronger outing, making four of his five shots and finishing with 11 points. Read the rest of this entry »

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What we learned from Celtics first preseason game 10.05.12 at 4:39 pm ET
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The good news for the Celtics in their 97-91 loss against Fenerbahce Ulker in Istanbul is that Rajon Rondo looked like he was already in midseason form. Rondo knocked down all six of his free throw attempts and handed out nine assists to go with 13 points.

The bad news is that the C’s defense was shredded at times on the pick and roll and generally looked a step slow. FBU shot 51 percent in the first half against the Celtics’ regulars and scored 55 points, led by former Xavier star Romain Sato who scored 16 of his game-high 24 points. Turnovers (25, including five by Rondo) and rebounding were also concerns.

The result wasn’t nearly as important as the process, however, and here are a few early insights into the 2012-13 Celtics:

The 5-5-5 plan is still in operation: Kevin Garnett got off to a quick start, burying a couple of jumpers, and then was subbed for Darko Milicic at around the 6-minute mark. He returned late in the first quarter and was back on the bench after about four minutes of gametime. Don’t expect that to change much, if ever, this season. Doc Rivers has said repeatedly that he wished he had come up with this substitution plan earlier and keeping KG fresh for the postseason remains the Number One concern.

Jeff Green looked really good: Green got his first action since the 2011 playoffs when he checked in for Brandon Bass midway through the first quarter. Rivers wants to utilize Green and Pierce together and while the duo may have some defensive matchup issues to work through, the Celtics were notably faster when they were in the game.

Green converted a nifty feed from Rondo into a three-point play and then hammered home a follow-up dunk on a Terry miss. That’s the kind of athleticism and scoring punch that were sorely lacking last season. Just getting back on the court was an important step for Green, who scored 16 points in 26 minutes, but if he can provide that kind of spark it will make the Celtics a much more dynamic squad.

Courtney Lee started, for one half: No surprises in the opening lineup with Lee in there with the starters and Jason Terry coming off the bench. When Rondo was out of the game, Terry generally operated as the point guard but Rivers wants to utilize a  point guard heavy look when Rondo is off the court.

Lee had a rough night, registering a minus-17 in the first half, while picking up five fouls and missing open jumpers. Terry, on the other hand, showed his shot-creating ability right from the outset, scoring 12 points and was in the starting lineup to start the second half. Don’t read too much into the starter end of things. Until Avery Bradley comes back, this is a three-guard rotation in the best possible sense.

Jared Sullinger is in the rotation (and may not be coming out): With Chris Wilcox out with back spasms, the Ohio State rookie was the fourth player off the bench in the first half. As he showed in summer league, Sullinger has a knack for scoring and rebounding as evidenced by his 16 points and 8 rebounds.

Defensively, he needs a little work. Taller FBU players scored with relative ease over the top, an indication that he needs to do his work before the ball gets into the post. A few more sessions in KG’s Finishing School for Aspiring Big Men will no doubt help, but like most rookies, the finer points of NBA post defense are an issue.

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What to watch for: Preseason Celtics in Turkey edition 10.05.12 at 12:43 am ET
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Jared Sullinger gets his first taste of NBA preseason action on Friday.

Preseason NBA games go something like this: Hey, basketball’s back! Then the second quarter starts and you’re reminded that it’s preseason. By the time the second half tips off, everyone’s trying to not get hurt, while rookies and free agents are looking for that one shot of glory.

The Celtics will play Fenerbache Ulker on Friday afternoon in Istanbul, and while there’s only so much that can be determined in the first exhibition, there are still a number of things worth keeping an eye on as they begin to take shape for the upcoming season.

Here are five areas to watch:

THE NEW-LOOK BACKCOURT: It will be jarring to see the Celtics lineup without Ray Allen in his customary spot, but more than appearances, the C’s guards will have an entirely different feel. Courtney Lee is likely to start with Jason Terry operating as a sixth man. Lee won’t get nearly as many touches as Allen did, and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers adjusts the offense without Allen running off so many picks.

One of the benefits of Avery Bradley‘s emergence last season was that it allowed Rivers to take Rajon Rondo off the ball defensively. That has tremendous value, not only because Bradley is such a good defender, but it also allowed Rondo the chance to conserve energy on the defensive end. Lee brings a tough defensive-mindset to the position, but can he handle the fullcourt pressure defense that Rivers prefers?

HOW WILL JEFF GREEN BE UTILIZED? This is the key question, maybe for the whole season. Green has not fared well defensively as a big forward, but if Kevin Garnett is lined up next to him that could alter the dynamic considerably. Another big question that Rivers hinted at already: Can Green and Paul Pierce function together as a forward tandem?

One of the biggest reasons that Green was not an overnight success in Boston is that he was never able to fill a consistent role. Part of that is on him for not being assertive enough and part of that is on Rivers to create one.

IS JARED SULLINGER READY? It’s been a tough camp for Chris Wilcox, who is dealing with back spasms in addition to trying to return from heart surgery. Wilcox is the only veteran backup 4 on the roster, and if he can’t go on Friday, that would seem to give the Ohio State rookie an early opportunity to make an impression.

SPEAKING OF ROOKIES: Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith are part of a battle for what could be two open roster spots. Christmas received a higher guarantee than the others, so he would appear to have a leg up heading into the camp. That can all change quickly, however.

Need is a relative term for a squad with championship aspirations and veterans at nearly every position, but the two that stand out are backup point guard (Smith) and depth on the wing (Christmas and Joseph).

ALL THAT AND DARKO TOO: The over/under on how long it takes Tommy Heinsohn to compare Darko to Bill Russell has been set at eight minutes. Tommy’s not in Istanbul, but has there even been this much intrigue for a backup center?

Heinsohn aside, for one of the first times in his career the expectations for Darko are actually reasonable and manageable. If he can give the C’s 15-20 minutes a night as a backup center, they will be thrilled. Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis for Rivers during camp, and that’s where the Celtics really need Darko to make a difference.

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The politics of flopping 10.03.12 at 4:07 pm ET
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Block, charge or flop? The NBA will be making the call this year. (AP)

Everyone hates it when players flop. It’s a passive-aggressive form of defense that penalizes spectacular offense and turns every drive to the hoop into a referendum on how much the officials hate your favorite team. It’s a measure of the vitriol associated with the flop that within minutes of the NBA’s announcement that they were taking steps to penalize floppers, my timeline was filled with people complaining about either the Celtics or the Heat.

First, the basics of the new policy from a statement issued by the league:

“‘Flopping’ will be defined as any physical act that appears to have been intended to cause the referees to call a foul on another player. The primary factor in determining whether a player committed a flop is whether his physical reaction to contact with another player is inconsistent with what would reasonably be expected given the force or direction of the contact.”

Sounds simple enough. We all know a flop when we see one, right? Here’s what isn’t a flop, according to the NBA:

“Physical acts that constitute legitimate basketball plays (such as moving to a spot in order to draw an offensive foul) and minor physical reactions to contact will not be treated as flops.”

There are some seriously suggestive adjectives at work here including, namely “legitimate” and “minor.” It’s important to note that the NBA is not doing more to eliminate taking a charge as an acceptable defensive strategy. Really what it comes down to is acting, and there are few more subjective arts than theater.

It should also be noted that the block/charge call is the hardest for officials to call correctly. The NBA refs are on no one’s holiday card list, but if you think they screw it up more than they should, watch a college game and try not to go crazy with the inconsistent application of the rule.

The league will determine whether a play crossed the line by a video review after the game, so there won’t be any stoppages during games and refs won’t be reviewing their own calls. This is clearly a deterrent policy, as opposed to an out and out rule change. The fines are as follows:

Violation 1: Warning
Violation 2: $5,000 fine
Violation 3: $10,000 fine
Violation 4: $15,000 fine
Violation 5: $30,000 fine

More than five violations could result in even stiffer penalties including an increased fine and/or a suspension that is, “reasonable under the circumstances.” That last part opens up a fun-house mirror of subjectivity that could create its own problems.

Still, the idea is reasonably clear. Flopping is bad. Fans hate it, players hate it, refs absolutely hate it, and while the fine isn’t a financial backbreaker, the stigma associated with being known as a serial flopper could be even more of a deterrent than whatever “reasonable” punishment awaits after that fifth violation.

Will the new rules eliminate flopping? Of course not. Players sell contact because it works and the art of the sell has long been a part of the game. It is, however, a tacit acknowledgement by the league that it’s become a problem and even a cosmetic change is welcome.

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