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What to watch for on the Celtics homestand 01.09.11 at 12:19 am ET
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Last season, while in the midst of a depressing spring swoon, the schedule gods handed the Celtics a gift: six straight games at TD Garden to help them right their sinking ship. There were two problems. First, the Celtics simply weren’t very good at the Garden last season (for whatever reason) and second, they played five playoff teams including the Thunder, Spurs and Cavaliers.

The Celtics actually did all right for themselves, splitting those six games and winning an emotional game over the Cavs on Easter Sunday that served as a rallying point when they ultimately faced them in the playoffs. But there were also some ugly setbacks, such as a 21-point loss to San Antonio and the memorable Kevin Durant gets calls like Michael Bleeping Jordan game (in the words of Kevin Garnett).

Ultimately their six-game homestand was neither defining nor damning. It simply was another signpost in the Celtics up and down 2010.

This season, however, the expectations are much different. The Celtics are rolling (or were rolling until the Bulls wiped them out Saturday night in an ugly, defensive game) and they are playing much better at the Garden where their 16-2 record is tops in the Eastern Conference and tied for first in the loss column with the Spurs, who are 19-2 at home.

The Celtics will also get the benefit of playing four teams who are under .500. They get the Rockets, Kings and Bobcats this week and the Pistons in between visits from Orlando and Utah next week and it’s a golden opportunity for the Celtics to continue to pad their record. Even with Saturday night’s loss to the Bulls, at 28-8 the Celtics still hold a one-game lead on Miami for the best conference record and are four games ahead of Chicago and Orlando in the loss column for second.

Here are five things to look for on this homestand: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Charlie Viillanueva, DeMarcus Cousins, Deron Williams
Fast Break: Bulls bury Celtics 01.08.11 at 10:42 pm ET
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The NBA schedule is sometimes a cruel beast. Take the Celtics and Bulls, put them in a vacuum and the result is usually a fantastic game. But put them on a Saturday night with both teams on the second end of back-to-backs and you get a slow, ugly contest, like the one these two teams played.

The Celtics were able to hang in until the bitter end, mostly thanks to 21 Chicago turnovers, but the combination of Derrick Rose (36 points) and Carlos Boozer (22) was too much to overcome in a 90-79 loss that snapped Boston’s four-game winning streak. (Recap.)

Credit Tom Thibodeau‘s defense, which held the Celtics to 38 percent shooting and kept them out of the paint all night. Not many teams can make the Celtics look as bad as they did Saturday night, but Thibodeau knows them as well as anyone and he has Chicago ranked second (behind the Celtics) in defensive efficiency.

The Celtics return home for a six-game homestand against only two teams with winning records: Utah and Orlando. They are also expected to get Kevin Garnett back, possibly as early as Monday.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: In case there was still any confusion about how the Celtics feel about offensive rebounds, Doc Rivers said it as plainly as he could Friday night.

“I don’t care about offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “I care about defensive rebounds.”

In that case, the first half was very discouraging as the Bulls grabbed eight offensive rebounds. It didn’t get any better in the second half as the Celtics got pounded on the boards. They gave up 11 offensive boards and lost the overall battle, 48-27.

Derrick Rose at the free throw line: Derrick Rose established a new career-high in free throw attempts and makes midway through the third quarter. He went on to make 15-of-19 as he wore the Celtics out with the pick-and-roll. The Bulls wound up only being +7 at the line, despite taking 13 more shots (35-22).

Bench production: Or the lack, thereof. Outside of Jermaine O’Neal who had six points and three rebounds, the Celtics reserves combined to shoot 1-for-7 with three rebounds and four assists. Once again, the Celtics offense without Rajon Rondo on the floor was disjointed and out of sync.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen: The two veterans basically are the Celtics offense right now with Garnett out, so it’s a good thing that they are both playing at a high level. They combined for 40 points, or more than half the Celtics’ total. Along with Rondo, they shot 20-for-43. The rest of the team? A horrific 8-for-31.

Turnovers: Yes, this is the right column. The Bulls turned it over 21 times compared to the Celtics’ eight times. The Celtics recorded 12 steals, which helped, but this was the only thing that kept the Celtics in the game.

Rajon Rondo was decent: Rondo had a solid line with 13 points, five rebounds, five steals and eight assists, but he was also responsible (along with the big men) for Rose’s big night.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Derrick Rose, Fast Break
Injury updates on Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins and Delonte West 01.07.11 at 7:27 pm ET
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The Celtics received some good news on the injury front Friday. Doc Rivers said Kevin Garnett would be back next week, possibly as early as Monday when they play the Rockets.

Kendrick Perkins announced that he was ready to return to practice next week, and said he was three weeks away from returning to game action. That could put him in line to play against the Lakers in late January. “It feels good,” Perkins said of his surgically-repaired knee. “I haven’t had any setbacks or swelling, which is weird.”

Perkins’ timetable was news to Rivers, but the coach has been been encouraged by reports of Perkins’ play in 3-on-3 games.

Then there is Delonte West who had his cast off earlier this week. He is still facing two weeks of rehabilitation on his wrist before he can return to the court. He is still looking at a February return. In the grand scheme of things West’s return may be even more important than Perkins because the Celtics are worried about the depth at point guard behind Rajon Rondo.

“The one thing we know that doesn’€™t work, it did record-wise, but it didn’€™t work I can guarantee you that, was the combination of [West] and Rondo out at the same time,” Rivers said. “It was not a good recipe for us, even though we won games, we can’€™t live that way long.”

Read More: Delonte West, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett,
Danny Ainge on The Big Show: ‘One of best games Rondo’s ever played’ 01.06.11 at 5:06 pm ET
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Celtics president Danny Ainge joined The Big Show to talk about Wednesday’s night victory over the Spurs, the importance of Jermaine O’Neal and who among the big four is the most irreplaceable. Ainge called Rajon Rondo’s performance, “one of the best games Rondo’s ever played,” but Ainge was more impressed by his defense against Tony Parker, than his triple-double stat line.

“Not only did he control the game offensively — he had a lot of assists last night because Ray [Allen] was shooting the ball so well. His numbers can be deceiving. His defense against Tony Parker, he was fighting through the screens. I think the two games he played prior to that he was just out there. I don’t think he was playing 100 percent. I don’t think he could. He was just out there just to get us in our offense. It was helpful but he wasn’t playing the defense like he did.”

Ainge also noted Allen’s night, in which the veteran sharpshooter made 13-of-16 shots with many coming off the same play. “I don’t know who else in the league can do what Ray did last night. Just catching and shooting going away from the basket off down screens, other than guys like Reggie Miller and Dale Ellis, there really aren’t that many guys that are proficient at it.”

Here are more highlights from the interview: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo,
Von Wafer, Delonte West will have contracts guaranteed 01.05.11 at 8:23 pm ET
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The deadline for non-guaranteed NBA contracts to become guaranteed contracts is Jan. 10, but because of procedural matters, players would have had to have been waived today. The two Celtics in that position are Delonte West and Von Wafer, both of whom are on one-year minimum contracts. Guaranteeing West’s deal West was a no-brainer, but Wafer’s status was in some doubt until today.

Wafer scored a season-high 10 points on Monday, which didn’t hurt his cause but he had begun to come around in practice. “I think he earned it,” Doc Rivers said. “He earned the right to be here. Even before he was playing, he was really working on being a better player in practice.”

Wafer said he didn’t think about his situation.” I never really thought about it,” he said. “Whatever’€™s going to happen is going to happen. That’€™s when it starts affecting you is when you start thinking about it.”

Read More: Delonte West, Von Wafer,
Preview: Spurs at Celtics 01.05.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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With a little more than three minutes left, and his team down 11 points in New York, San Antonio Gregg Popovich pulled his starters Tuesday night, effectively signaling, no mas. This was interesting for two reasons. First, NBA teams just don’t do that, especially not in New York where the media scrutiny shines the brightest, and second, the Spurs play the Celtics tonight.

Popovich got away with it because he’s Popovich, and because even the most rah-rah fan would have to admit that pulling back on a game that could maybe go either way — but looks doubtful — in early January is not really a bad idea. Plus, it’s the freaking San Antonio Spurs, who won four championships since 1998 without a tenth of the drama normally associated with NBA teams, and who have the best record in the league. If Pop wants to make a statement, who’s going to argue with him?

After the game, Popovich called his team’s effort “pathetic,” and again, he had no arguments from his players who should be in a feisty mood for their one visit to TD Garden. This one doesn’t need any more advance hype — although it would be much better if Kevin Garnett was able to play against Tim Duncan.

The Spurs have the best record in the league (and the league’s best offense), while the Celtics sit at No. 2 with the league’s best defense. In many ways the Celtics are modeled after the Spurs, with Doc Rivers taking many lessons from his days in San Antonio with him to Boston.

This is simply as good as it gets in the NBA.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (29-5, 8-2 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 112.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 1st)

Defensive Rating: 103.7 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 93.3 (Possessions per game, 10th)

Likely Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan

Injuries: James Anderson (Foot, out)

CELTICS (26-7, 7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th)

Defensive Rating: 90.8 (1st)

Pace: 90.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. DeJuan Blair

Big Baby meet Dajuan Bear, in which 550 pounds, give or take, of bulk do battle on the boards. Blair averages 6.6 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of action. But crunch those numbers further, adjust for pace and time spent on the court and Blair is a more effective offensive rebounder than Kevin Love. Lost in the Love-fest Monday night was the fact that Davis grabbed one solitary rebound. He’ll have to do better tonight.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Can the Celtics defense contain the Spurs?

When we think of the Spurs we don’t often think of offense, but they have the league’s best this season thanks to an insanely efficient attack that features a league-best 40 percent shooting from behind the arc. Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Matt Bonner all have True Shooting percentage over 60 percent and that’s before anyone has to account for Duncan or Tony Parker.

2. Is this an NBA finals preview?

While all the attention in the Western Conference has focused on the Lakers and their various serial dramas, the Spurs have quietly reinvented themselves as the class of the conference. It doesn’t hurt that they have been relatively injury-free or that they have once again unearthed a gem in Gary Neal, who floated around Europe for three years before coming to the NBA. The Spurs are loaded.

3. How healthy is Rajon Rondo?

In his two games since returning from his ankle injury, Rondo has been good, but he hasn’t been Rondo. We have yet to see the explosive athletic ability that is the hallmark of his game and what truly separates him from his contemporaries at the point guard position. He’ll have his hands full with Parker tonight.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Spurs,
Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota 01.03.11 at 10:05 pm ET
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The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.

He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.

Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.

Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.

But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).

But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.

Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.

Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Glen Davis, Kevin Love
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