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Fast Break: Back to back blues continue 01.14.12 at 9:33 pm ET
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It wasn’t like anyone expected the Celtics to fly out of Indiana on the second night of a back-to-back with a victory, if you needed any more evidence that they have a long way to go, it was provided in a 97-83 loss. It’s also worth noting that the Pacers were also on the second end of a back-to-back.

The starters got off to a much better offensive start, but it was the second unit that couldn’t keep the momentum going and they had nothing left in the second half. Defensively, they let the Pacers control the paint (they allowed 20 offensive rebounds) and they couldn’t keep them off the free throw line.

The one bright spot was Kevin Garnett who had a bounceback game with 21 points and six rebounds and was much more aggressive offensively. Paul Pierce also scored 21 points by getting to the free throw line and knocking down a couple of 3-pointers.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The bench didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. Brandon Bass and Mickael Pietrus combined to shoot 3-for-10 in the first half and that was the only offense they received from the second unit. Avery Bradley was replaced by rookie E’Twaun Moore after badly bricking a jumpshot.

Paul George is an impossible cover for Ray Allen. At 6-foot-8, there’s little that Allen can do with him and the Pacers smartly took advantage of that as George went to the free throw line six times in the first half. Pietrus came in and did a solid job defensively.

Danny Granger is the latest small forward to have a big game on Pierce. He went for 12 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the first half and finished with 21.

Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen combined to shoot 6-for-17 and finished with just 13 points. Rondo did have nine assists and Allen contributed six rebounds, but Darren Collison and George put up 34 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT Read the rest of this entry »

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Brandon Bass and Jermaine O’Neal will split starting role 01.14.12 at 1:22 am ET
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The Celtics made a late-minute switch before their game against the Bulls on Friday with Brandon Bass inserted into the starting lineup ahead of Jermaine O’Neal. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he’s been thinking about the switch since training camp and he’ll probably use that starting lineup 70 percent of the time.

“It was a lineup that I wanted to get to because I thought it gave us more versatility and I thought our rotations were easier when you bring in Jermaine in for Kevin [Garnett], you stay big,” Rivers said. “What I’m trying to do is always have Jermaine or Kevin, just size on the floor.”

It’s not a change in minutes. Bass will still play 25-30 and O’Neal will work about 20-25 minutes. The starting assignment will be based on matchups and against the Bulls who start two big forwards in Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah it made sense to counter with the Celtics’ top big forwards. O’Neal may start on Saturday against the Pacers who have a traditional center in Roy Hibbert.

Rivers also said that he was working though his rotations for Garnett. His five minutes on, five minutes off plan sounds good in theory, but Garnett is a rhythm player and the coach admitted it was tough to take him off the floor when he starts to find it.

“I still like it,” Rivers said. “I don’t love it but I think it’s something that we have to do.”

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Fast Break: Celtics get gored by Bulls 01.13.12 at 10:32 pm ET
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Midway through the third quarter of what looked like another unsettling loss, the Celtics suddenly came to life. They played their defense, rotating to open players, helping the helper and in a moment that almost defied description, Jermaine O’Neal dunked from outside the paint to bring them within eight points.

The Celtics eventually cut a Bulls lead that had been 20 points to a single digit after Mickael Pietrus banged home a deep 3-pointer, bringing the sellout crowd at the Garden to its feet. But the Celtics didn’t have enough left to finish it off. Derrick Rose, however, did. The reigning MVP scored 12 of his 25 points in the final quarter as the Bulls won 88-79.

Paul Pierce played 35 minutes, Kevin Garnett logged 34, Ray Allen played 41 and Rajon Rondo played 39. There’s no rest for the aged as the Celtics travel to Indiana to play the Pacers Saturday night. Considering how much they put into trying to come back in this game, they’re probably fortunate to be up against the Pats-Broncos playoff game. It could get ugly.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Celtics once again got off a slow start, getting outscored 18-6 to start the game and 26-13 by the end of the first quarter. Doc Rivers tried starting Brandon Bass in place of O’Neal in an effort to matchup with the Bulls frontline of Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah, but it did little to change their first quarter woes.

– The Celtics shot 5-for-20 in the first quarter and it extended into the second when they missed their first six shots. The Celtics shot 33 percent in the first half and trailed by 19 points.

Kevin Garnett was held scoreless in the first half and had just two rebounds and three fouls. The Celtics were once again killed on the boards, giving up 24 second-chance points. The Bulls are a terrible matchup for the Celtics because of their length and athleticism up front, but the margin was overwhelming.

Luol Deng destroyed Paul Pierce. Deng had 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Pierce shot 3-for-12 and had only one rebound. It’s going to take time for Pierce to get into game shape and without practice, he’ll have to work it out in games.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Rondo showed up to play. He was responsible for 15 of their first 17 points, via either assist or scoring. Rondo finished with 14 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds but when he wasn’t in the game, the Celtics offense went from cluttered to catatonic. He played over 40 minutes and had an ice-wrap on his back in the rare times when he was on the bench.

Chris Wilcox had his first positive contributions in limited action. He followed a Rondo miss with a transition dunk and then slammed one home on the wing.

Avery Bradley played eight minutes and contributed his usual strong on-the-ball defense. He ran the second team in Keyon Dooling’s absence without incident, which is a small step in the right direction.

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As the Celtics rotation turns 01.12.12 at 5:11 pm ET
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Greg Stiemsma and Chris Wilcox are in competition for minutes. (AP)

WALTHAM — On Wednesday night, Celtics coach Doc Rivers looked out on the floor and saw Keyon Dooling, Avery Bradley, Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass and thought, this is what he’s been looking for. Energy, fullcourt defense, tempo, pace … all those buzzwords were finally on display.

“Without the second unit [Wednesday] night we’re losing that game by 25 points,” Rivers said. “The second unit got us back in the game with their energy defensively. That’s how I envisioned them when we started this and that was the first night where you could literally see the difference, and probably because Pietrus was part of it.”

Rivers said after the Celtics’ 90-85 loss to Dallas that his new swingman brought a “joy” to the court in his debut. An upbeat, gregarious character, Pietrus quickly endeared himself to his coach, his teammates and the Garden crowd with 18 inspired minutes.

He was playing so well that Rivers left him in the game deep into the fourth quarter before bringing back Paul Pierce at about the 6-minute mark, who had his second straight poor game. Pierce has not talked with reporters since Tuesday when he held court for several minutes after practice, but Rivers said Pierce was fine with the decision.

The second unit didn’t overwhelm anyone with their statistics. They scored 27 points, 19 of them from Bass and Dooling, and had 10 rebounds and four assists. They began coming into the game down 17-9 after the starters got off to a woeful start offensively and by the time they had rotated back out halfway through the second quarter they had cut two points off the lead. Again, not overwhelming, but successful.

Rivers has pinned his team’s 4-5 record on the starters. What he wants from his bench are energy, defense and the ability to shake things up when things start poorly. He’s still searching for the right combination of players, which is understandable.

The Celtics acquired nine players via trade, draft and free agency and all of them come off the bench. Bradley played only 162 minutes last season, so he is also new to the rotation. That’s a lot of moving parts and Rivers has already worked through several variations of a reserve unit.

Here’s how they stand at the moment: Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Celtics get Nowitzki’d 01.11.12 at 10:43 pm ET
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The names were familiar, but the games were hardly recognizable. Both the Celtics and Mavericks came into Wednesday’s game at TD Garden with .500 records and they played like it. There were missed shots, botched dunks and careless turnovers.

Paul Pierce was 2-for-5. Vince Carter was 1-for-8 and Kevin Garnett missed seven of his 11 shots. There was a glimmer of old-time glory late in the game with Pierce drained a 3-pointer to tie the game and Dirk Nowitzki answered on the other end with an amazing take to the basket that went past Garnett and through Brandon Bass. That was the difference in a 90-85 Mavericks’ victory.

Before the game, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said this is on the starters, but with the exception of Rajon Rondo it was another lackluster effort. The Big 3 was 5-for-16 for just 19 points through the first three quarters and the Celtics scored just 15 points in the first quarter and 17 in the third.

The Celtics showed a lot of energy coming back, but they had no legs down the stretch as epitomized on one play when Jason Terry drove through the lane and no one even moved to stop him.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– The Celtics scored just 15 points in the first quarter, continuing a terrible trend of slow starts. They made just 5-of-18 shots and looked passive on offense and lifeless on defense. They did the same thing in the third quarter, scoring just 17 points and allowing the Mavs to open up a 13-point lead at one point.

– Pierce followed up his 3-for-17 performance against Indiana with a 2-for-5 effort that was even less inspiring than it sounds. After missing his only shot in six minutes of the third quarter, Pierce sat until the 6-minute mark of the fourth quarter. He made one huge shot with 25 seconds left that tied the game, but doesn’t excuse another bad performance.

– The Mavs had 17 second-chance points. The Celtics had none.

– The Celtics picked up two fourth quarter technical fouls — one on Rondo while he was on the bench and another on Rivers. They have a no fourth quarter tech policy and it cost them.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Rondo was phenomenal for most of the game, taking on the scoring responsibilities and playing the kind of reckless floor game that was demanded. Rondo took 16 shots and got to the free throw line 12 times, making eight and finishing with 24 points. All that and he still had seven assists. The only quibble with his game were fast-break turnovers.

Keyon Dooling and Brandon Bass provided a huge lift with their energy and it certainly didn’t hurt when they started making shots in the second half. Dooling scored nine points on 4-for-5 shooting in just 13 minutes and Bass was all over the floor, both offensively and defensively.

Avery Bradley had one awful turnover and a bricked 3-pointer that may have been the worst wide-open look in NBA history, but his defense was once again strong and he helped turn the momentum in the second quarter. The Celtics don’t need points from Bradley. They need that fullcourt pressure defense and that’s what he gave them.

Mickael Pietrus had a solid debut, playing the kind of strong defense the Celtics expect and knocking down his first 3-pointer. Marquis Daniels was available, but he has already lost his minutes to Pietrus, who played deep into the fourth quarter.

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What did Delonte West mean to the Celtics? ‘Toughness’ 01.10.12 at 5:16 pm ET
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Delonte West

WALTHAM — The question had not even been finished before Rajon Rondo answered it. “Toughness,” Rondo said referring to what Delonte West brought to the Celtics last season.

“He’s one of those guys that’s going to fight regardless,” Rondo said on Monday. “He’s going to compete regardless of who’s in front of him. Whether it’s a point guard or a three he’s going to go out there and play hard every possession. You’re going to miss a guy like that on your team.”

An unrestricted free agent in the offseason, many thought West would return but he ultimately signed with the Mavericks after the Celtics elected not to bring him back following a second tour that saw him only able to play in 24 regular season games. West missed 10 games with an NBA-mandated suspension and then he fractured his wrist just five games into his comeback.

When he did play, West provided support behind both Rondo and Ray Allen and was one of the few reserves to find a place in Doc Rivers‘ postseason rotation. It wasn’t his best season, but the Celtics offered support and a second chance when few teams were willing to provide either.

He was under house arrest for the majority of the season relating to a 2009 arrest that required him to wear an ankle bracelet when he wasn’t playing and precluded him from attending team functions and even early practices. West also has bipolar disorder and he opened up about it to Slam’s Tzvi Twesrky in an exceptional profile that ran this past fall.

“Sadness is a normal human emotion,” West told the writer. “And there’s a mechanism that kicks in and lets you know it’s time to stop being sad. With bipolar, that mechanism is out, so you don’t even know when you’re sad.”

The Celtics have nine new players with them this season and signed or traded for six veteran free agents including three wing players — Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Mickael Pietrus, who is scheduled to make his debut on Wednesday. They also signed Keyon Dooling, who is playing a similar role to West and drafted E’Twaun Moore who is competing for playing time with Avery Bradley at the guard position.

“It was a big surprise because I thought he would be one of the main guys to come back,” Paul Pierce said. “I thought he did well in the time he played and in the playoffs. It was a bit of a surprise but I’m happy that he’s found some [comfort] in Dallas. He’s in the starting lineup right now and I wish him the best.”

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NBA Power Rankings, 1/10 01.10.12 at 10:16 am ET
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We’re two weeks into the season and it’s time for a shake-up in the Power Rankings. Not at the top where the Heat, Thunder and Bulls have established themselves as the respective teams to beat. Just below them, however, there’s a change coming where the Blazers, Nuggets and Sixers are staking their claims. The Celtics? They are what their record is and right now they’re a .500 team with all of their wins coming against the worst teams in the league. That’s why you’ll find them in the middle of the pack.

Miami Heat1. Miami (8-1): The Heat have been without Dwyane Wade for a week and they keep rolling along. They even managed to avenge their only loss of the season to Atlanta without Wade and LeBron James. OK, that game was a trainwreck, but still. They’re on the west coast this week for games against Golden State, Denver and the Clippers. Remember when a game against the Clippers in Los Angeles was an easy win? Now it’s the game of the week.

Oklahoma City Thunder2. Oklahoma City (8-2): The Thunder completed the first three-game sweep of back-to-back-to-backs and ended it with a resounding win over the Spurs. Losing Eric Maynor to a torn ACL is a tough blow, but former Boston College star Reggie Jackson gets his chance to run with the best second-unit in the league.

Chicago Bulls3. Chicago (7-2): The Bulls dropped the back-end of a back-to-back to the Hawks, who have already scored wins against Miami and Chicago. But the more emphatic victory was a double-digit smackdown of the Magic in Orlando. Why doesn’t Dwight Howard want to go to Chicago, again?

Portland Trail Blazers4. Portland (6-2): Yes, Portland. The Blazers are like a team reborn with point guard Ray Felton pushing the pace and forward Gerald Wallace crashing into anything that moves. They beat the Thunder and the Lakers last week and are playing at the third-fastest pace in the league. What in the name of Clyde Drexler is going on in the Northwest? The bandwagon is filling up fast.

Philadelphia 76ers5. Philadelphia (6-2): Did you know the Sixers have the highest margin of victory of any team in the league? Yes, they’ve beaten up on the dregs, but 35-point wins tend to get your attention, as do decisive wins over teams like the Pacers. They’re at home for 16 of the next 20 games and could get on a serious roll.

Denver Nuggets6. Denver (6-4): Anyone have Al Harrington as their player most likely to have a breakout season at age 31? Didn’t think so, but Harrington has been lighting it up the tune of 16 points and 6 rebounds in only 25 minutes a night while shooting 57 percent. Crazy. Not as crazy is Ty Lawson who has been phenomenal. This is a good, deep team. Read the rest of this entry »

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