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Talking Hoops, Episode 4 is now online 02.01.11 at 1:16 pm ET
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On the fourth edition of Talking Hoops, WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery is joined by Zach Lowe from SI.com’s Point Forward blog to talk about the Celtics big win over the Los Angeles Lakers and look ahead to the second half of the season.

In the second segment, Flannery and Michael Holley talk in depth about the enigma that is Kevin Garnett.

Read More: Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Lakers, Talking Hoops
Preview Game 48: Winning the trip 02.01.11 at 10:49 am ET
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And now for the inevitable letdown. The Celtics proved their point Sunday afternoon in Los Angles with their emphatic win over the Lakers. Tuesday night in Sacramento figures to be a whole different kind of challenge.

The Celtics have already had a successful west coast trip in many respects. They did what they had to do in splitting their first two games — their trouble in back-to-backs notwithstanding — and their win over the Lakers will resonate. Still, a loss to the Kings would be a serious downer after all the strides this team has made.

It would be unwise for the Celtics to take them lightly because the Kings are playing good basketball right now. They won at Portland and followed that up by beating the Lakers in L.A. and knocking off the Hornets at home. The Celtics rolled the Kings back in Boston, but that was without Tyreke Evans. The Kings remain a young, unpredictable squad who will get on the offensive glass and try to play up-tempo.

This is all about business for the Celtics tonight, and if they care of it, they’ll come back to Boston with momentum heading into a huge 10-day stretch that will have them play the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat.

CELTICS (36-11, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.3 (Points per 100 possessions, 11th)

Defensive Rating: 100.3 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Glen Davis (Hamstring, probable), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out).

KINGS (12-33, 4-6 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 102.9 (25th)

Defensive Rating: 107.9 (16th)

Pace: 93.6 (9th)

Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Tyreke Evans, Omri Casspi, Carl Landry, DeMarcus Cousins

Injuries: Jason Thompson (Ankle, doubtful), Francisco Garcia (Calf, questionable) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Kings, Preview,
Fast Break: Celtics write new LA story 01.30.11 at 6:15 pm ET
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It had ebbs and flows, runs and counters, and even some blood spilled by Kevin Garnett after he was gashed by Pau Gasol. The Celtics and Lakers didn’t disappoint in their first game since the 2010 finals.

You can break this game down in a number if different ways, but in the end it came down to a simple proposition: Could Kobe Bryant beat the Celtics by himself? Bryant erupted for 22 points in the first half and helped the Lakers recover from an early nine-point deficit. He dueled with Paul Pierce throughout the third quarter and into the fourth, but late in the game the Celtics were finally able to contain Bryant and the Lakers had nothing else left.

They can say that this was just another game, but the Celtics proved something in their 109-96 win Sunday afternoon. They proved that this is a different team than the one that left Staples Center without a championship. The rematch is only 11 days away at the Garden.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce destroyed Ron Artest: The captain destroyed his antagonist from last year’s finals, scoring 32 points on just 18 shots and sending Artest to the bench in the fourth quarter. There was nothing Artest could do to contain Pierce, who had both his long-range and in-between game working.

The Celtics were overwhelming in the second half, but Pierce kept them in position throughout the game in what might have been his best performance of the season.

Defensive Rebounding: This is very simple. When the Celtics clean up on the boards, the Lakers can’t win. The Celtics were strong out of the gate, allowing the Lakers just one offensive rebound in the first quarter. When the game sped up in the second, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were able to get on the glass.

The Celtics held the fort in the second half and Garnett was a huge factor with 12 defensive rebounds. For all the talk about what a difference a healthy Kendrick Perkins would have made in Game 7, the 2010-11 version of Garnett would have been even bigger.

The bench: Give Nate Robinson credit. The guard has been much-maligned in recent weeks for his propensity for taking long pull-up jumpers in transition. But, that’s what he does. The Celtics rely on him to come off the bench and provide instant offense and that’s what he gave the Celtics, scoring 11 points in 14 minutes. Glen Davis also had a strong game, outproducing Lamar Odom and making huge plays down the stretch.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rajon Rondo didn’t look right (for half): Either there’s something physically wrong with the Celtics point guard, or he’s just worn down from all the minutes he’s played this season. Either way, Rajon Rondo followed up his disastrous outing against Phoenix (more turnovers than assists) with another low-impact performance in the first half.

The Lakers defensive scheme against Rondo is well-known at this point. They drop Kobe Bryant off into the paint where he forces Rondo to shoot jumpers, while also using his length to disrupt his passing and driving lanes. Too often Rondo simply takes himself out the action.

In the second half Rondo completely changed course. He had six assists in the third quarter and became far more aggressive in the fourth when matched up against Steve Blake. Rondo had 15 of his 16 assists in the second half and played (finally) like Rondo.

Kobe did work: The Celtics generally don’t mind when a superstar opponent tries to take a game over on their own. Their feeling — whether it’s LeBron James, Dwight Howard or Bryant — is that if one player is trying to beat them, that makes them much easier to defend. But when Bryant makes 8-of-11 shots and scores 22 points as he did in the first half, that’s simply too much. Bryant managed to keep it close, but even he can’t beat the Celtics by himself.

Foul trouble: The whistles started early as both Ray Allen and Bryant had to check out in the first few minutes with two fouls. Not surprisingly, foul problems also plagued Shaquille O’Neal who got his fifth early in the third quarter. That led Kendrick Perkins to play 25 minutes, his longest outing since returning from knee surgery.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Lakers,
Fast Break: Celtics shot down in flames against Suns 01.29.11 at 1:20 am ET
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This one was simple, but oh so painful to watch. The Celtics got into Phoenix around 4 a.m. local time Friday night and started out in a not-surprising funk. By the end of the first half they had set new season lows for points in the first quarter (16), points in the first half (35) and they continued their futility throughout the second half.

Then they lost their coach after referee Steve Javie tossed Doc Rivers at the 4:33 mark of the second quarter and Glen Davis who strained his right hamstring. If that wasn’t enough, Kevin Garnett was ejected after low-blowing Channing Frye on a 3-point attempt.

The final was 88-71, which extended their run of futility in back-to-backs. Their last three have been particularly ragged with a loss 90-79 loss to Chicago that was their offensive low point before Friday and the 83-81 loss in Washington last week.

The Celtics return to action Sunday against the Lakers, who lost at home to Sacramento. Chances are good that both teams will be in a lousy mood for that one.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

WHAT WENT WRONG

Offensive stagnation: Unlike Thursday when the Celtics recovered long enough to put enough points on the boards and beat the Blazers, the C’s never got into any kind of a rhythm. That’s discouraging because the Suns are one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Back-to-back or not, there’s simply no excuse for the Celtics to shoot 34 percent in the first half, or turn it over six times in the first quarter against the Suns.

Much of the blame for the Celtics offensive woes falls on Rajon Rondo. He had a miserable night on both ends of the floor, scoring just seven points on 1-for-6 shooting and registering more turnovers (seven) than assists (six).

Glen Davis missed the second half with a hamstring injury: This could be a potentially bad blow for the Celtics because Davis is their most important bench player and the key to their frontcourt versatility. The Celtics don’t really have another backup power forward on the roster (Luke Harangody is next in line), but Davis has become much more than just Garnett’s replacement. He also plays important fourth quarter minutes at center, which makes him a matchup nightmare in his own right.

Hamstring injuries are notoriously difficult to calm down — Rondo’s lingered weeks after he was supposedly healthy. If Davis is out for any length of time, the Celtics could have a serious problem.

They got nothing from the bench: Before the Celtics pulled their starters, their bench players had scored 15 points on 6-for-20 shooting. Nate Robinson couldn’t provide a spark and Davis did little before his injury. Von Wafer got some early minutes, but the shots just weren’t there for him either.

This has been a constant theme for the Celtics this season and while Rivers hopes to cobble together a coherent second unit after Delonte West returns from his broken wrist, the bench has been a huge disappointment to this point. With the amount of talent the Celtics have they don’t need their bench to win them games very often, but there are nights when they need a change in direction and energy and the second unit has provided neither on a consistent basis.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

The Celtics fought it out (literally): Give them credit for not packing it in when they could have, but they couldn’t get the lead under 10 in the third quarter and make a serious run. They did cut the lead down to 11 after Mickael Pietrus elbowed Garnett and picked up a technical foul. That seemed to energize the Celtics for a bit, but with a chance to cut the lead to single digits Marquis Daniels was whistled for an offensive foul in transition. Their last chance evaporated after Garnett’s ejection.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Suns,
On the Celtics and clutch plays 01.28.11 at 3:02 pm ET
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Over on True Hoop, Henry Abbott wrote a post about one of his favorite topics: The perception of Kobe Bryant as a clutch player versus the reality of his numbers in ‘clutch’ situations. Abbott’s main point is that Bryant makes about one-third of his shots in the clutch, which is about average for every other player in the league.

This is one those third-rail arguments that generate lots of heat and discussions since Bryant fans will never concede on the clutch argument. They have watched him make too many big shots. On the other side, this is manna for Bryant opponents since they have likewise watched him miss contested shots with the game on the line.

The thing that truly stands about Bryant is this regard is that if the game’s on the line he’s going to take the shot. Abbott points to a five-year study done by Roland Beech at 82games.com that shows that Bryant took 56 shots in clutch situations and had just one assist. The other thing that stood about the study? Paul Pierce had the most assists in those situations with nine.

There are a number of different conclusions one can jump based just on those numbers, but let’s start with the idea that Bryant, and therefore the Lakers, are relatively easy to defend in late-game situations because everyone knows that Bryant is going to take the shot. Maybe easy isn’t the right word, since defending Bryant is no one’s idea of a good time. Let’s say instead that they are predictable.

The Celtics have their own version of Kobe in the clutch: Pierce at the elbow. Time and again the Celtics return to sets that puts the ball in Pierce’s hands near the top of the key where he attempts to work into his sweet spot at the elbow for a 15-foot jump shot. There are good reasons for this, most prominently is that Pierce is the Celtics’ best one-on-one player and the one who is best able to create his own shot.

When it works, Pierce is a cold-blooded assassin. And when it doesn’t, fans scream that it’s a predictable, low-percentage play.

Despite this tendency, the Celtics and coach Doc Rivers also have a well-deserved reputation for coming up with interesting plays out of timeouts. Just this year alone there was the gorgeous Rajon Rondo lob to Kevin Garnett that beat the 76ers and this motion set that gave Ray Allen a 3 that put the Celtics ahead of Detroit.

The point is that in late-game situations opponents can never be too sure where the Celtics are going. Sometimes they aren’t either. Most of Rivers’ plays have multiple options that rely on his players reacting to the different looks the defenses give them.

Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra noted in a radio interview that he had “great respect” for the plays Rivers draws up out of timeouts. Spoelstra said, “They always seem to come out with something. You don’t know which guy they’re going to, and they execute well.”

Take for example that Pierce game-winner against the Heat in Game 3 of last year’s playoffs. On the surface it seemed like an ordinary ISO play for Pierce, but there were other factors.

“We had two plays called just in case they fouled,” Rivers said after the game. “What we tried to get is Paul facing the basket because it’€™s very difficult to commit a foul when you’€™re facing. If you reach and grab he’€™ll throw the ball up. The whole play was for Paul, but we wanted activity.”

This, ultimately, is what you want out of late-game situations. A play with movement and options that leads to the best shot available by the player who is most willing to take it. Give Bryant this: He doesn’t shy away from the moment. That may not make him a clutch shooter, but he is completely unafraid of the situation. Perhaps, as Abbott suggests, to his detriment.

Read More: Clutch, Doc Rivers, Kobe Bryant, Paul Pierce
A small collection of Bill Walton phrases 01.28.11 at 10:46 am ET
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Celtics fans received a treat Thursday night when Bill Walton stepped in for Tommy Heinsohn alongside Mike Gorman on the Comcast SportsNet broadcast. Walton remains as goofy, weird and non-sequitur-ish as ever. Only Walton could drop a reference to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s birthday into a riff on basketball creativity, especially in a game that featured very little in the way of aesthetically pleasing basketball.

To be sure some people didn’t like Walton, whose crimes against broadcasting included: talking too much, saying weird things that made no sense, making sweeping over-the-top statements that couldn’t possibly hold up under scrutiny, and not being Tommy.

To those people we say: Lighten up. It’s Bill Walton! You were expecting something different?

The one thing that shown through the broadcast is that he loves the game and loves being around it. In April of last year, Walton told the San Diego Tribune that he had contemplated suicide because of the back pain that had nearly completely incapacitated him. Walton has been working a handful of Sacramento Kings broadcasts this year and is obviously thrilled to be back around the NBA.

If you missed him Thursday, Walton will also join Gorman for Friday night’s game in Phoenix and be on the Comcast set for Sunday’s game in Los Angeles.

This is just a small sampling of Walton’s witticism and odd one-liners, pulled from Twitter and my own notes. Some need more of a set-up than others. Please add others in the comments:

On oft-injured Portland center Greg Oden:

He should move to Hawaii, lose a ton of weight and start all over… become a yoga master

On former Pistons Bill Laimbeer, Rick Mahorn and Dennis Rodman:

They just made those decisions. That they were going to break all the rules of human decency.

After Doc Rivers argued a call:

Doc Rivers making sizable contributions to our website, ilovetherefs.org

On Ray Allen’s shooting form:

Flawless … like Yosemite Falls coming right through the rim

After pleading for Kevin Garnett to come back in the game, Walton seemed almost sad that Semih Erden was checking in instead.

Semih’s not as good as KG

After the camera caught Garnett in the middle of his pregame ritual where he bangs his head against the basket stanchion:

Kevin Garnett, working on his repetitive head injuries

On Portland center Joel Pryzbilla:

Pryzbilla does what he does best… violate the rules.

Read More: Bill Walton, Celtics broadcast,
Can the Celtics get four All-Stars? 01.27.11 at 8:57 pm ET
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The NBA announced the starters for the 2011 All-Star game Thursday and, as expected, no Celtics were among them. Derrick Rose and Dwayne Wade were selected as guards. LeBron James and Amar’e Stoudemire are the forwards and Dwight Howard is the center.

The West lines up with Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant and Yao Ming. Yao is injured and will be replaced by the league.

Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo both finished in third place at their respective positions, while Paul Pierce was fourth among Eastern forwards. Those three should be locks when the league announces the reserves on Feb. 3.

But with Ray Allen also having a deserving season, the Celtics could be in a position to have a fourth All-Star something they haven’t done since 1975 when Dave Cowens, John Havlicek, Paul Silas and Jo Jo White made the team. (They also pulled the trick in 1962 and 1953. They have had three representative a staggering 31 times).

Since Garnett and Allen came to town the Celtics have had three All-Stars each season. Allen, Garnett and Pierce went in 2008 and 2009 and Rondo joined Garnett and Pierce last season. The Celtics came close to getting four in 2009, but Rondo was denied several times that year.

First he was passed over by the coaches as a reserve for Devin Harris and Jameer Nelson. Allen was tabbed as an injury replacement for Nelson and then, after considerable lobbying by LeBron James, Cavs guard Mo Williams was selected as an injury replacement for Chris Bosh. The argument was that the Cavs had the second-best record in the league and deserved two players, which really doesn’t have anything to do with picking an All-Star team.

The politicking may be the biggest obstacle because teams like the Magic, Bulls, and Knicks will argue for a second representative, while the Hawks have as many as three potential candidates. Here’s a list of 12 possible reserve choices (seven players will be selected by the coaches):

Boston: Rondo, Allen, Pierce, Garnett

New York: Ray Felton

Chicago: Carlos Boozer

Milwaukee: Andrew Bogut

Atlanta: Al Horford, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson

Miami: Chris Bosh

Orlando: Because of trades it’s hard to make a case for anyone else on the Magic, but Jameer Nelson will get some consideration.

Looking at that list it seems there is a very good chance the Celtics will get four players in the All-Star game. NBA.com’s John Schuhmann has them on his ballot, along with Horford, Smith and Bosh. We’ll find out Feb. 3.

Read More: 2011 All-Star Game, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
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