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Fast Break: C’s bob and weave to victory 03.26.12 at 9:46 pm ET
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No Ray Allen or Mickael Pietrus? No problem for the Celtics. Riding the coattails of Paul Pierce (36 points on 10-of-20 shooting, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Garnett (24 points on 10-of-20 shooting), the Celtics won their second game in 48 hours in Charlotte on Monday night, 102-95.

The Celtics are now tied with the 76ers in first place in the Atlantic Division (Philly owns the tiebreaker) and are 12-5 since the All-Star break. They could get Allen back on Wednesday night when they return to the Garden to face the Jazz.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Backing up the Truth: Sunday night Pierce said the Celtics should beat teams like the Wizards, who are in rebuilding mode. The seven-win Bobcats fall under the same umbrella as the Wizards, and Pierce helped make sure Monday’s “gimme game” did not turn into an ignominious loss. His line in the first half filled up the stat sheet: 17 points, five rebounds, two assists, two steals and even two blocks.

In the second half Pierce continued to lead the way, scoring 10 points in the third quarter to give the Celtics some breathing room after the Bobcats crept back into the game. The captain was stellar, cutting to the basket and engaging in an aggressive style of play to help set the tone. He earned 18 trips to the foul line (converting 15 attempts).

Avery Ascent: This is the second stint this season in which Avery Bradley has played with the starting unit (earlier this season he started eight games while Rajon Rondo recovered from a wrist injury). In both instances the 21 year-old has risen to the occasion and flashed great potential.

Anyone watching the Celtics this season knows Bradley plays tenacious defense, but what has been a positive sign for Bradley has been his offensive growth. He was productive again Monday night, scoring 11 points on 5-of-10 shooting.

Board to death: For the first time in a long time, the Celtics weren’t annihilated in the rebounding department. No, no, no. In fact, Boston grabbed eight offensive boards, and held an overall 37-33 advantage on the glass.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Reluctant Rondo: Going into Monday night’s game, Rondo had been extremely passive. The last three games Rondo has only taken 19 shots and scored 20 points. Always the enigma, the cerebral point guard has 42 assists over that same stretch, so it’s difficult to fault his performances.

The trend continued against the Bobcats as Rondo had 13 assists (nine in the first half), but only had seven points on 1-of-7 shooting. Against non-lottery bound teams the Celtics will need Rondo to assert himself more in the scoring department.

Nine lives: The Celtics were great in the first quarter. Against an inferior team on the road, Boston jumped out to an 18-point lead at the end of the first 12 minutes. Dreams of an early blowout vanished after a dismal effort in the second frame. Boston executed poorly offensively and even worse on defense, as they were outscored 35-19 in the second quarter.

The Bobcats managed to hang around late, cutting the lead down to four with just under two minutes left, despite the Celtics holding a double-digit lead early in the fourth quarter. The Celtics were able to stave off the run, but things were still more difficult and uncomfortable than they needed to be.

Help wanted!: It’s tough to jump on the Celtics bench for its lack of scoring. With Bradley starting in place of Allen, and Pietrus still unavailable, one figured the starters would have to carry the load (again). Unforeseen, however, was the Bobcats bench keeping Charlotte in contention. In the first half Byron Mullens, Derrick Brown and DeSagana Diop — you’re probably muttering to yourself “Who? Who?? Who?!?!” — combined for 30 points on 12-of-21 shooting and were vital to their second-quarter comeback.

Celtics take care of business 03.26.12 at 10:05 am ET
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When analyzing the Celtics‘ schedule in the lockout-shortened season, their eight-game road trip in the middle of March stood out like like an Avery Bradley 19-point first half. The stretch took on new meaning and appeared even more daunting as it drew nearer. The veteran squad had struggled all season long with a combination of ill-timed injuries, rumors of possible trades and overall inconsistent play.

On paper the end results weren’t flawless, or even impressive — the Celtics finished 4-4 — but sans a woeful second half against a bad Kings team, the performances were proof the Celtics could still make noise come playoff time. Doc Rivers wanted his team to maintain the intensity upon returning home Sunday night against an inferior Wizards team.

“We told them we are not at home,” Rivers said. “We are on the road still. The road trip ends after the next game is the way we look at it.”

Empirical evidence suggests the Celtics could perform up to their potential in a dominating performance, like they did against the Blazers just before the road tip, or drop a game they should win like they did losing both games of a home-and-home series against a lottery-bound Pistons team in February. Fortunately for the C’s, the former occurred as they shot 65 percent and built a 19-point lead at halftime they would never surrender.

“This is definitely game we’re supposed to win,” Paul Pierce said. “The Washington Wizards are in a rebuilding phase, trading away a lot their players. It’s just nice to get a win.”

Pierce is not being arrogant or presumptuous in his statement; he is being truthful (no pun intended). The Celtics should post victories against teams out of contention like the Wizards. However, even though the road trip is over, in the final 18 games only four are against teams with no playoff aspirations. Additionally, Boston faces the Heat three times, has matchups against the Knicks and Bucks — each of whom are battling the Celtics for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — and has a trip to conference-leading Chicago.

“There are a lot of expectations,” Greg Stiemsma said. “We step on the floor and expect to win every night, and we’ve got big plans the rest of the year.”

If any plans are to come to fruition, games like Monday’s in Charlotte no longer can be chalked up to an off night due to back-to-back games. Schedule losses don’t happen to championship-caliber teams in April while gearing up for the playoffs.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Doc Rivers,
Fast Break: C’s beat up in Philly 03.23.12 at 10:40 pm ET
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The Atlantic division lead was within grasp Friday night in Philadelphia. With a win the Celtics would usurp the 76ers for first place in the standings. Through 18 minutes, it appeared the C’s were well on their way to that goal as they took a 10 point lead.

Then Mickael Pietrus suffered a jarring injury when he drove to the middle of the paint and awkwardly hit the floor after being fouled. It appeared Pietrus landed on the small of his back. He was taken out on a stretcher and to the nearest hospital.

Boston displayed strong fortitude and gave an admirable effort. But coming into the second night of a back-to-back and with Ray Allen was already unavailable due to an ankle injury, the Celtics simply did not have enough firepower to keep up with the 76ers, falling 99-86.

The 76ers had six players score in double figures. After being held quiet in the first half, Elton Brand (20 points, 10-of-15 shooting) and Lou Williams (19 points) exploded to help lead Philly to victory. For the Celtics, Paul Pierce (20 points, 7-of-11 shooting) and Kevin Garnett (20 points) helped shoulder the scoring load early and Rajon Rondo had a spectacular game setting teammates up with 17 assists, but was held to only six points on a night where they needed him to take more than just five shots that he attempted.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Starting on the right foot: Earlier this month when the Celtics visited the city of brotherly love they were blown out of the gym. With the lead in the Atlantic division hanging in the balance, the C’s came out swinging. Pierce had 11 points in the first six minutes of the game. Bass and Garnett each chipped in eight points in a first quarter that saw Boston shoot 65 percent.

Midway through the second quarter, admist a 76ers’ run, Pietrus violently hit the floor, rendering his night over. Given the nature of the injury, it would be difficult to fault the Celtics for struggling, but the veteran squad regained their composure after being aided by a Doug Collins technical foul, taking a 49-43 lead into halftime. A key to all of this was the Celtics’ efficiency. They did a great job limiting the 76ers opportunities in transition, and only committed five first half turnovers.

Core Performance: With Allen unavailable because of an ankle injury and Pietrus injured in the second quarter, the Celtics needed the rest of their starters to pick up the slack. And they did. Bass, Garnett, and Pierce accounted for 37 of Boston’s 49 first half points, and Rondo distributed the ball extremely well.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The Usual Suspects: The Celtics did well in the first half to impose their will and style of play, but they allowed nine offensive rebounds in the first 24 minutes, and 14 total in the game. On the other end, Boston only corralled three offensive boards.

The 46-35 overall rebounding disadvantage accentuates a season-long issue for Boston. The six-point halftime advantage was largely due to holding the 76ers to just 35 percent shooting from the field. But the margin could have been higher for the C’s had they not relented so many offensive boards and second chances.

Another consistent issue for Boston has been both manufacturing and preventing fast break points. Friday night was no different, as the 76ers held an 18-3 advantage

Third Quarter Meltdown: For the second Friday night game in a row, the C’s were dreadful in the third quarter after competing well in the first half. Last week against the Kings, the Celtics only trailed by one at halftime, but then gave up 41 third quarter points. Friday night, Boston actually led by six at halftime, but gave up 37 points, and only scored 17. Brand, in particular, was dominant, scoring 14 points in the quarter.

Injury Bug: Perhaps the weirdest aspect of these fluke injuries to Boston is that they occur as the player begins to flourish in his role. By all accounts, Jeff Green came into camp early and was excited to contribute. His heart condition found in the preseason dismissed those ambitions before he even participated in practice. Chris Wilcox was having a productive season coming off the bench and proving to be a valuable acquisition late in training camp after struggling with minor injuries initially. But just before this eight-game road trip, his season was ended when team doctors discovered he had a heart condition as well.

Finally, Pietrus’ injury tonight came just minutes after a highlight reel dunk. The affable swingman has been a stalwart for Doc Riversbench and a positive influence in the locker room. In addition to Pietrus going down, Avery Bradley, who has also played well of late, hobbled off the court just before halftime and did not return to the lineup. If either Pietrus or Bradley is ruled out for an elongated period of time, one wonders if it will be the final straw which breaks the Celtics’ back.

Fast Break: C’s heat up late for win in Hot-lanta 03.19.12 at 10:13 pm ET
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The Celtics grinded, grinded, and grinded so more en route to a gutsy 79-76 win against the Hawks on Monday night. Ray Allen heated up in the second half and scored 19 points total on 5-of-9 shooting (4-of-6 from 3-point territory), and Rajon Rondo dished out 13 assists. For the Hawks, Joe Johnson scored 25 points points on 9-17 shooting (4-of-5 from 3-point land).

The win improves to Celtics to 24-21 (8-13 on the road) and just two games behind the 76ers for the lead in the Atlantic Division.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Against the Odds: Paul Pierce picked up his fourth personal foul midway through the third quarter. Shortly after, in typical Atlanta fashion, Jeff Teague picked up a technical foul following a thunderous fast break jam. The dunk gave the Hawks an eight-point lead, which was the largest of the game for either team.

When Brandon Bass picked up his fourth foul just a few minutes later, the Celtics looked on their way to a third straight loss. But the Celtics were able to slowly build momentum the rest of the quarter and pull within one going into the fourth quarter, after a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Allen.

Venture the Vice: The Hawks have long considered to be an up-and-coming contender. Monday was a perfect example of why the Celtics are savvy veterans, while the Hawks are still very, very green.

There was the aforementioned misplaced Teague celebration. There was Josh Smith’s curious shot-selection: shooting 2-of-17 after starting the game 3-of-3 from the field. Perhaps most discouraging for Atlanta was that there was no one that stepped up to stop the bleeding as the Celtics went on a 23-7 run to open the fourth quarter, while taking a commanding 15-point lead.

Johnson did heat up late and led the Hawks on an 11-0 run to pull within four points with just over a minute left, but Smith missed an ill-advised three pointer which would have reduced the margin to just one. After trading free-throws, Teague missed a wide-open 3-pointer with 10 seconds left which would have tied the game.

Back On Board: The Celtics rebounding issues have been well-documented. The injuries to the front-court leave them lacking size on their roster. In the 10 games the Celtics have played in March going into Monday night’s contest, they have been out-rebounded by 120 boards.

Boston temporarily-rendered the issue on Monday, only getting out-rebounded 45-40.

Anemic, Yes.  Relatively Speaking, Not Really: The first half of Monday night’s game featured terrible, terrible basketball. Both teams were a combined 28-of-78 shooting (35 percent). And this wasn’t a case of “nothing coming easy” in a match-up of two playoff-bound teams. Neither team was attacking to the basket — as evidenced by the combined eight free throw attempts between each team. Instead, both squads elected to take mid-range jump shots.

The bright side is the Celtics managed to stick around, on the road, despite the putrid performance. The largest lead held by either team was four, and Boston’s 11 first-half turnovers only led to eight points for the Hawks. Doc Rivers and his coaching half certainly won’t be proud of the first 24 minutes, but there is something to be said for hanging tough and staying within reach.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Benched: Greg Stiemsma continued provide Boston with up-and-down play off the bench. He is a liability on offense, but had another productive day defensively — registering four blocks. The rest of the bench no-showed again. Mickael Pietrus, Keyon Dooling, and Avery Bradley combined for 9 points on 3-10 shooting. The Celtics reliance on their starters — which has been an issue for much of the new Big Three era — is concerning, particularly in games where foul trouble is a problem.

The Truth Hurts: Pierce picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, a third in the second frame, and just a few minutes into the second-half, Pierce was tagged with a fourth foul. Consequently, the Celtics’ captain only played 17 minutes going into the fourth quarter.

In his sporadic playing time, The Truth’s impact was not only minimal, but detrimental. He was 2-of-10 shooting with only two rebounds and four turnovers.

Fast Break: Celtics Sac’d by upstart Kings 03.17.12 at 12:29 am ET
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Through three games of their West Coast road trip, the Celtics gave admirable efforts (even in Sunday’s tough loss to the Lakers). Friday night, Boston couldn’t keep it going. Despite Tyreke Evans being out of the lineup for the Kings because of a sprained left ankle injury, the Celtics were blown out, 120-95.

The 120 points Boston relented was a season-high. For the Kings, Marcus Thorton picked up the void left by Evans, scoring 36 points (13-of-24 shooting) and Jason Thompson scored 21 points (9-of-11 shooting) and grabbed 15 rebounds. Ray Allen scored 26 points for Boston (9-of-16 shooting, 5-of-10 from 3-point territory).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Waiving the White Flag: Thursday, during an appearance on “The Big Show,” Doc Rivers said if his team was able to get a cushion in games that he would try to give his starters some rest. Midway through the fourth quarter Friday night, the opposite occurred and the Celtics found themselves out of range for a comeback. That being the case, Rivers was wise to take advantage of the situation and sit his starters in the final five-plus minutes, especially with a match-up looming against the Nuggets in 24 hours.

Block Party: Because of injuries to the front court, Doc Rivers is forced to give significant minutes to Greg Stiemsma. The Celtics’ brass is searching for another body to fill the void, but until then, Stiemsma is the first big man off the bench.

Over the course of the year, the 26 year-old rookie has flashed a keen ability to block shots, even registering six blocks in his first appearance against the Hornets in the beginning of the season. Friday night was no different. Stiemsma had three first-half blocks (as a team Boston had five total) and altered many other close range attempts by the Kings.

Forcing the issue: The Celtics were careless with the basketball, shot poorly and had long stretches where they just weren’t scoring at all. In short, there wasn’t much to like about their performance.

Still, one encouraging sign was their willingness to drive to the basket. Early on Boston was able to hang around by getting to the line. At one point in the first half, the Celtics had 16 free throw attempts, while Sacramento only went to the line seven times. This disparity, obviously, did not outweigh the Celtics’ other shortcomings in a blowout loss.

As the game progressed, the free throw margin decreased, but the attacking mentality is something the Celtics need to maintain during their road-heavy schedule the rest of the way.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rondo’d: Rajon Rondo relishes match-ups against other top-tier point guards. While it’s unlikely Evans’ absence impacted his lukewarm night, Rondo struggled mightily. He scored only four points (2-of-9 shooting), had four turnovers and registered a plus/minus of -20.

Four Minutes To Forget: It’s tough to imagine what was said in the Celtics’ locker room at halftime. The veteran squad had an uneven first-half performance, letting a young Sacramento team stick around. With that said, the Celtics only found themselves trailing by one at halftime, 52-51.

In the first four minutes of the third quarter, however, the Celtics scored precisely one point, which reflected none of their own initiative, instead coming on a DeMarcus Cousins technical foul (surprise, surprise!). During that stretch the Kings scored 17 points en route to outscoring Boston 41-23 in the quarter. This put the Celtics into a hole they would never climb out of.

Where Caring Doesn’t Happen: Sure, the Kings shot well from the field at 53.5 percent. A huge part of that efficiency can be explained by the Celtics’ carelessness with the basketball, which created opportunities for easy buckets. The Celtics had 17 turnovers and, to their credit, the Kings had 12 steals.

Dead Legs: The Kings are a young team with fresh legs and thrive in transition. The Celtics are a group of cerebral veterans, better suited to the half-court. The Kings, largely due to the Boston’s carelessness, were able to impose their style Friday night. At one point, the Kings held a 16-0 advantage on fast break points. By the end of the game, the difference was 32-17.

Fast Break: Celtics hang tough against Clippers 03.13.12 at 1:37 am ET
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The Celtics‘ 94-85 come-from-behind victory against the upstart Clippers on Monday night certainly gives the team a sense of confidence going into the last month of the season. Boston improved its road record to 6-11, which is an encouraging sign since the schedule puts the C’s away from the confines of the Garden for the majority of their remaining games.

Rajon Rondo registered a double-double (12 points and 10 assists) while Paul Pierce scored 25 points on 6-of-8 shooting. Kevin Garnett had an efficient night — 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting and two blocks. For the Clippers, Blake Griffin scored 24 points and grabbed nine rebounds.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Resilient Vets: Well, sort of. The devil’s advocate would call it inconsistency. Either way, the Celtics had an auspicious start Monday night, leading the Clippers, 25-21, after the first quarter. Following a dismal second quarter, however, Boston trailed by nine at halftime, 48-39.

The Celtics came out and went on an inspired 15-2 run to open the second half. Boston’s defense was fantastic, holding the Clippers to a season-low 13 points in the third quarter.

The fourth quarter was just as volatile as the rest of the game. The Celtics opened up a 10-point lead, 71-61. The Clippers answered, going on a 17-7 run and the game was tied at 78 apiece in the waning moments. The Celtics finally closed the game out by going on a 16-7 run to secure the victory.

The Power of Balance: For the second straight game the all five of Boston’s starters scored in double-digits. Particularly encouraging was Brandon Bass‘ performance: 10 points (5-of-6 shooting) and nine rebounds (three offensive). His confidence was not shaken after missing a critical jump shot which would have given the Celtics a late lead in the final minute against the Lakers on Sunday. Bass did foul out of the game with just over four minutes left, when the Clippers made a frantic run to re-take the lead.

Finding a happy medium: The Celtics’ season has been so up and down. When they win, they tend to go on elongated winning streaks. But, when the Celtics lose, the opposite happens. Part of this is the due to the compacted schedule, and part of this is because of injuries and lack of practice time.

It appears, at least in the last four games, the Celtics are bucking the trend. After a blowout loss against the 76ers last Wednesday night, Boston recovered by dismantling the Blazers in impressive fashion. Sunday’s battle against the Lakers saw the Celtics on the losing side despite an admirable effort. On the same court, the very next night, Boston responded yet again, staving off a solid Clipper team.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Second Quarter Lulls: The second frame has been a constant issue all year for the Celtics. Boston had only eight points through 8 1/2 minutes in the second quarter. 8 points?! Meanwhile, the Clippers grabbed firm control of the game, while closing out the half on an 18-6 run.

Rebounds: It was assumed the Celtics would get crushed in the interior against the Lakers Sunday — which they did — and it certainly was plausible that the athletic ability of DeAndre Jordan and Griffin would also present Boston with issues. With Chris Wilcox out indefinitely the Celtics — who were already the worst rebounding team in the league — are thin up front.

On the other hand, of the 11 Clipper first-half offensive rebounds, many came on 50/50 balls or even balls within the grasps of multiple Celtics. In particular was a play in which Reggie Evans out-hustled three Boston players and scored on a put-back.

Enjoying the Blake Show: Griffin had a tense match-up with Greg Stiemsma. At one point, both players were given dual-technical fouls after jawing at one another. In the second quarter meltdown, Griffin was fantastic. He put a nice touch on a left-handed baby hook over the outstretched arms of Garnett. In the next sequence down the court, Mo Williams found Griffin for a highlight-reel reverse alley-opp jam that will undoubtedly be on SportsCenter’s Top-10 plays and all over YouTube.  Griffin had 15 points at halftime. Check out the episode of “The Blake Show” below…

Peaches and, well, not much: The bench struggled again Monday night. Mickael Pietrus, Avery Bradley, and Stiemsma only had eight points between them. Bradley was effective in his time in the first half, but was non-existent the rest of the way. Stiemsma did his best to hold his own on the interior, but struggled for periods in his match-up against Griffin. Finally Pietrus — who the Celtics desperately need to produce — continued his cold shooting-streak, he is now 4-of-23 shooting in his last seven games, after going 1-for-4 from the field Monday night.

Paul Pierce looks back after 1,000th game as a Celtic 03.10.12 at 10:26 am ET
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Paul Pierce played in his 1,000th game for the Celtics in Friday night’s 104-86 victory over the Blazers. Only Robert Parish (1,106 games) and John Havlicek (1,270 games) have played more games for the franchise than Pierce. Earlier this season, Pierce passed legend Kevin McHale on the all-time list for games played as a Celtic.

“When you think about your first game ever here at the Garden and your just excited to get your career started,” Pierce said. “Now so many years have past and I’ve reached a thousand games. You think, wow, it’s a combination of being here a long time and I’m getting older.”

In February, Pierce reached new heights in Celtic lure,  passing Larry Bird for second place on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. Overall, however, this season has been a roller-coaster ride for Pierce, like most of the Celtics. After missing the first three games because of a right-heel injury, Pierce struggled to find his game. This led to speculation that Pierce was involved in trade talks.

The captain regained form when the Celtics needed him most though. Pierce led the Celtics during a critical stretch, when Rajon Rondo was out of the lineup because of a wrist injury, earning Eastern conference Player of the Week honors in early February, and also a trip to his 10th All-Star selection.

For Pierce the milestones seem to resonate in the right way. He wants to retire a Celtic, wants to be mentioned among the all-time greats, but his main goals are rings, not statistics.

“I think the fans will really appreciate another championship more than me passing Hondo,’€ Pierce said the night he passed Bird. ‘€œSo, you know, that’s my ultimate goal.”

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