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The other O’Neal is ready is ready for the playoffs 04.15.11 at 6:14 pm ET
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Jermaine O'Neal

It’s easy to forget now but last summer the most important addition to the Celtics wasn’t Shaquille O’Neal. That gets lost in the shuffle for obvious reasons, but that wasn’t the way it was intended when the Celtics signed Jermaine O’Neal for two years and the full mid-level exception. That was the strongest free agent card Danny Ainge had to play over the summer and he used it all on the other O’Neal, who entered training camp with the expectation that he would be the starter.

But right from the start he was affected by various injuries including a knee problem that got worse to the point where it required surgery in late January. From that point on it was out of sight out of mind for Jermaine O’Neal and there were approximately 3,000 more, ‘When is Shaq coming back?’ question for every one about J.O.

As the Celtics head into the postseason they know that they have at least one of the O’Neals and it’s not Shaq, who watched Friday’s practice from the sidelines and remains a day-to-day proposition. “I just don’t want to take a chance,” Doc Rivers said. “We’ll find out [Saturday].”

While Shaq has dominated the media’s attention, the players seem removed from the daily updates. “I really haven’t worried too much about it,” Paul Pierce said. “When he’s ready, the Big Fella will be ready, so I don’t have to worry about it. The guys that are out there have to be ready and that’s it.”

So, Jermaine O’Neal who has played just 24 games this season and logged less than 500 minutes will likely jump center on Sunday when the Celtics open their first round playoff series with the Knicks. In a way, O’Neal has defied expectations with his late-season comeback, but only because there were none when he returned from surgery in late March. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Break: Celtics end season with win 04.13.11 at 10:17 pm ET
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This wasn’t so much a game as it was an exhibition contest. With Game 1 of their first round playoff series scheduled to tip Sunday night at TD Garden, the Celtics and Knicks elected to sit most of their key players with Amar’e Stoudemire being the lone exception. Doc Rivers elected to not play Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jermaine O’Neal, Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West, leaving him just eight players.

Those eight contributed to an oddly entertaining 112-102 win over New York, giving the Celtics a season sweep of the series.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery Bradley, stand up: The rookie guard’s previous career high was just five points and it’s been his struggles offensively that have limited his ability to help the Celtics much on the court. But Bradley was the aggressor on Wednesday. Seconds after he checked into the game, he stripped Anthony Carter in the backcourt and soared in for a dunk. He finished with 20 points in what was easily his best performance of the season.

Sasha Pavlovic showed some offensive punch: There may be a spot for Pavlovic as an 11th or 12 man in the playoffs and he scored 19 points in a surprisingly efficient offensive game.

Troy Murphy showed signs of life: Murphy has done little to make a case for any kind of a meaningful postseason role, but he scored nine points in the fourth quarter and finally made his first 3-pointer as a member of the Celtics.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Knicks,
Fast Break: Celtics wilt in Miami 04.10.11 at 6:12 pm ET
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The Celtics have long prided themselves on playing their best with their backs against the wall. That they were, in fact up against that proverbial brick structure against the Heat on Sunday is directly related to their struggles the past six weeks. In reality, it never should have come down to one game in Miami to get the inside track on the second seed in the Eastern Conference, but they did it to themselves.

The Celtics didn’t lose the seed in a 100-77 loss to Miami, but the blowout was the final bit of payback for a wasted second half of the season. Miami now has a one-game lead with two left to play. Barring a stunning turn of events, the Celtics will go into the playoffs with homecourt in exactly one series in the Eastern Conference playoffs. That’s the same situation they were in last year, and we all know how that turned out, but the Celtics have once again made their path as difficult as possible.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Second unit blues: The Celtics jumped out to a first quarter lead, but by the time the starters had come back in the game in the second quarter, they were down seven. Things went downhill from there. The second unit problems were all offensive as Delonte West, Jeff Green, Glen Davis and Nenad Krstic struggled to accomplish much of anything. Davis will take his share of criticism after yet another poor shooting day, but Green and Krstic have to assert themselves offensively for the reserves to be effective.

Offensive rebounding: The Celtics have been a solid defensive rebounding team this season, but they looked like last season’s crew in the first half against the Heat, giving up 10 offensive boards. Joel Anthony feasted on the glass, grabbing four offensive boards in the first half. Miami received 15 points and 15 rebounds (eight on the offensive glass) from its centers, while Jermaine O’Neal and Krstic combined for two points and one rebound, both by Krstic.

Where was Rondo? The up-and-down point guard was mostly down after attempting just three shots in the first half (and collecting just one assist). Rondo is the one true matchup advantage the Celtics have over Miami, but not if he doesn’t press the issue. The Celtics didn’t run and Rondo rarely got the basket. That’s not a good combination, especially against a team like Miami who has superior athletes at almost every position.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The 2008 version of Kevin Garnett came to play: Right from the outset, Kevin Garnett was engaged offensively. He went into the post, slipped backdoor for layups and alley-oops and even busted out a 3-pointer, his first made 3 of the season. Garnett was essentially the only option the Celtics had for much of the first half, which was a major problem.

Paul Pierce also came to play: The Celtics made a late surge to at least make things somewhat respectable after falling behind by 20 points and Pierce led the charge. Pierce and Garnett combined for 45 points, more than half the Celtics’ total.

Fast Break: Celtics get gored in Chicago 04.07.11 at 10:38 pm ET
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If there was a statement to be made in Thursday night’s game between the Bulls and Celtics, it’s that Boston can’t expect to come in to Chicago and play its C+ game and come away with anything but a double-digit loss. The Bulls defense can make anyone look bad, but the Celtics didn’t help the cause by missing layups and failing to do anything in transition. Defensively, they were a step slow in closing out on shooters and allowed the Bulls hit over 40 percent from 3-point range, in a 97-81 loss.

And in the much-anticipated point guard battle between Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, Rose won by an early TKO. He then poured it on, going for 30 points and 8 assists to Rondo’s 7 and 6.

While still technically alive, the race for homecourt is over … and in reality it has been ever since the Celtics dropped winnable games at home against the Grizzlies and Bobcats two weeks ago. They are now tied with the Heat for second place with Sunday’s showdown looming in Miami.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Derrick Rose happened: The likely MVP put on a clinic in the first, scoring from impossible angles and running past the Celtics defense in transition. When he wasn’t scoring, Rose was breaking down the Celtics defense and allowing lanes for offensive rebounds. He completely outplayed Rondo in the first half, outscoring him 16-0.

Offensive execution: Where was it? The Bulls are the best defensive team in the league, but the Celtics played right into their hands by turning down decent looks and having to force contested jump shots late in the shot clock. Outside of a brief stretch in the third quarter, there were also no fast break points to be had.

Pick a player: Ray Allen couldn’t get on track. Paul Pierce forced the issue and had several bad turnovers. Kevin Garnett had an off-night shooting. Glen Davis was 1-for-8. Rondo missed layups, among other problems. There was no one among the Celtics main players who had anything close to a good night.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The second unit had its moments: Doc Rivers finally has the right personnel in place to have a functioning second unit and while he’s still toying with the right combinations, the offensive punch provided by Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic off the bench is a welcome sight. The Celtics posted up Green on several occasions with generally positive results and that helped erase an eight-point lead in the first half. Unfortunately for the Celtics, they couldn’t duplicate that performance in the second half.

Free throw shooting: It’s the simplest thing in the world, but the Celtics were able to stay in the game by going a perfect 10-for-10 in the first half at the line, while also getting Luol Deng in foul trouble. That was about all they had going for them offensively.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Fast Break,
Assessing the Celtics’ injuries this season 04.06.11 at 3:45 pm ET
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Delonte West's fractured wrist was one of many injuries that affected the Celtics this season. (AP)

From the moment Danny Ainge made the decision to bring back the core of last season’s Celtics team that made it to Game 7 of the NBA final and then add veteran centers Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal to the roster, the Celtics knew that health was going to be part of their story this season.

They were already beginning the season with their then-starting center Kendrick Perkins recovering from knee surgery and it didn’t take long for injuries to Jermaine O’Neal to become an issue in training camp. From there it’s been one thing after another from Delonte West missing 39 games with a fractured wrist to Marquis Daniels‘ frightening spinal cord injury and including everyone from Kevin Garnett (briefly) to Von Wafer.

And yet you can make the case that the Celtics have actually been somewhat fortunate. The only two players who have avoided injuries that led to misses games this season have been Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, which is rather remarkable when you consider their age and regular dose of 36 minutes a night. Additionally, Garnett missed just nine games with a strained calf muscle and Glen Davis has had to sit just four games because of a knee problem. Rajon Rondo missed a dozen games due to various leg and finger problem, but most teams would take a net loss of 25 games to their five most important players.

Kevin Pelton from Basketball Prospectus did some amazing leg work on injuries throughout the NBA. He found that while the Celtics had the third-most missed games due to injury with 233 (behind Milwaukee and Portland), and the second-most minutes lost in terms of rotation players, the cumulative impact of those injuries dropped from what can be called, “catastrophic” to something like, “significant.”

In other words, the Celtics have been both lucky and unlucky with their health this season. While the amount of missed games has been overwhelming both in games and practices, their big four (and Davis) have been available almost every night. All of that helps explain their very good, but not great, 54-23 record at this point.

Here’s how the injuries have broken down this season: Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Break: Complete C’s take apart Sixers 04.05.11 at 9:49 pm ET
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The Celtics and Sixers met Tuesday night in what was very likely a playoff preview. The Celtics won an entertaining game, 99-82, which allowed them to slip back into a tie with the Heat for second place in the Eastern Conference. If these two teams do meet in the playoffs, don’t expect a free-flowing game like they played in the first half.

The Celtics were finally able to put together a complete game after locking down on defense and running away with it in the fourth quarter. Good signs all around for the C’s.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo is back: Doc Rivers was asked before the game if he thought his point guard had turned the corner. Rivers answered emphatically that he thought that was the case. Rondo started slowly against the Sixers and allowed his counterpart Jrue Holliday to get off quickly with 11 points in the first quarter. But Rondo changed course and finished the first half with 12 points and nine assists. He also drove to the basket at will and finished at the rim en route to a 16-point, 13-assist performance. Holiday meanwhile finished with just those 11 points.

Jermaine O’Neal as a starter: Rivers made the decision to keep O’Neal in the starting lineup and have Nenad Krstic come off the bench. His rationale is that Krstic will assume a reserve role in the playoffs, no matter which of the O’Neals is starting. Jermaine O’Neal offers a stronger defensive presence at the beginning of games and Krstic could fit nicely with Glen Davis and Jeff Green in a rotation. O’Neal had his strongest game since his return with nine points and three rebounds, while Krstic had eight points and six rebounds. That’s a good night from the centers.

Kevin Garnett is ready: If there is one huge difference between this year’s Celtics team and last, it’s that there is no question that Garnett is healthy and ready for the playoffs. He started the game by going into the post twice and took five shots in the first four and a half minutes. Garnett has been the Celtics most consistent players since the All-Star break and that is a major difference as they head into the postseason.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defense takes a break: The Celtics allowed 50 points and 50 percent shooting in the first half. They allowed 32 in the second half. It’s been a while since they locked down like that in the second half.

Jeff Green with an up and down night: Green had only one shot through the first three quarters. In the fourth, the Celtics made a concerted effort to get him going as he played in a lineup with Delonte West, Ray Allen, Davis and Krstic. That’s a good fit for him as he can be the featured offensive player in that group and he wound up with eight points, seven rebounds and a couple of highlight-level plays.

Ray Allen still needs more shots: Allen played an invaluable role with the reserve units in the rotation, but he had only seven shots. Allen made five of them and finished with 13 points, which speaks to his efficiency. He also oddly missed two free throws on illegal defense technicals. He had made 44 of his last 45 free throws coming into the game.

Read More: 76ers, Celtics, Fast Break,
Troy Murphy is close to returning 04.04.11 at 5:19 pm ET
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Troy Murphy got through a full practice on Monday and is eying a return to the lineup on Tuesday when the Celtics play the 76ers. Murphy hasn’t played since March 24 when he injured his ankle in practice. “It feels better, a lot better,” Murphy said.  “I’m feeling good. Hopefully I feel good [Tuesday] and I’m good to go.”

As with all injured players, the Celtics will wait to see how his ankle responds in the morning following the workout, but if he can play, Celtics coach Doc Rivers plans to use him.

Time is running out for Murphy to make an impact before the playoffs. He’s seen action in just 11 games and averaged just over two points and two rebounds per game. He’s shooting just over 40 percent and is 0-for-7 on 3-pointers. Still, if he can contribute something over the last week and a half, Murphy may still have a chance to have a playoff role considering all the injuries and uncertainty up front.

Murphy, though, is undaunted. “I always feel like I have something to prove,” he said.

Read More: Troy Murphy,
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