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Celtics encouraged despite losing five straight 01.17.12 at 10:13 am ET
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Monday night’s loss to the upstart Thunder marked the first time in the Big Three era that the team has lost five straight games, and it’s also the second time in the young season that Boston has lost three games in the span of four days. Even though the natural inclination is to panic, collectively the Celtics feel the team is improving.

“I really like the effort we had tonight,” said Paul Pierce. “I was the telling the guys if we compete like that night in and night out — we’ll get closer to where we want to be.”

Certainly it’s easy to point to Boston’s 4-8 record and feel underwhelmed at any notion of optimism, but the Celtics are starting to click individually. Now, the team needs to find some semblance of consistency.

“We’re still chasing putting four quarters of good basketball together,” said Kevin Garnett, who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Thunder. “I know y’all are probably tired of hearing this, and I’m sure if y’all rewind your tapes, I’m in a different outfit saying the same thing, but we’re going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to get this thing better. I really believe that, and you’ve got to believe that.”

Ray Allen and Brandon Bass helped carry Boston earlier this season. Bass, in particular, was a pleasant surprise. Through the first seven games of the season he averaged 14 points off the bench. However, during this five-game losing streak, Bass has seen his production cut in half, only averaging 7.4 points per game.

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Second half rally leaves Celtics empty 01.14.12 at 10:30 am ET
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A week after the Celtics could only muster a franchise record-low 25 points in the first half, and only two days after Ray Allen said he hated the way his team looked, Boston responded by producing paltry 13 points in the first quarter.

Remarkably, this was the lowest point total in the first quarter of this woeful three-game stretch of offense for the Celtics. In the first frame of the last three games, Boston is averaging just 14 points of offense. In a related note, the Celtics are on a three-game losing streak after Friday night’s home defeat to the Bulls, 88-79.

“The bottom line is we can’t dig ourselves into these holes in the first quarter,” said Paul Pierce. “It’s seems repetitive. Starters have to do a better job of getting off to better starts.”

The Celtics shot 13-of-39 (33.3 percent) from the field in the first half. Even with the lack of offensive efficiency, Ray Allen was happy with the shot selection. “It’s hard to say it was a lack of energy,” Allen said. “We had great shots, we just didn’t make them.”

Doc Rivers is still shuffling his rotation. On Friday, Rivers started Brandon Bass over Jermaine O’Neal, and he also didn’t have Keyon Dooling at his disposal because of a minor knee injury.

“Right now we have a lot of new guys,” Pietrus said. “We have to learn how the big three and [Rajon] Rondo play. For all of us it’s a new system. There are no excuses, but it’s a learning experience for all of us.”

More than anything, Friday night’s game was a lesson on why teams cannot afford to fall behind by large margins. The Celtics found themselves down by 19 points at halftime, then tightened up defensively holding Chicago to only 15 points in the third quarter, while the Celtics scored 26. Boston continued to put pressure on the Bulls, chopping the lead to just one point with plenty of time left in the fourth quarter.

“What happens when you put yourself in that far of a hole, and when you go on a run, is once [the other team] composes themselves, they can stave off the run,” Allen said.

The composure came in the form of superstar, Derrick Rose. After Pierce missed a jump shot that would have gave the Celtics their first lead of the game, Rose scored Chicago’s next seven points to increase their lead back to eight. The Bulls never looked back.

“We had to scratch and claw our way back and exert so much energy,” said Pierce. “Guys get tired and can’t get over the hump.”

Pierce, in particular, has struggled since rejoining the team from a right heel injury. The team captain is shooting a combined 8-of-34 from the field during the three-game losing streak. “It’s going to take about seven to 10 games for me just to get in basketball shape,” Pierce said. “I have to play better for us to win ball games, and I realize that.”

The encouraging signs of life in displayed in Boston’s valiant comeback attempt didn’t produce results. And for a veteran team with championship experience, results are the only thing that matters. “We don’t really believe in moral victories,” said Pierce. “You either win or lose in here.”

Delonte West finds a new home in Dallas 01.12.12 at 10:44 am ET
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When thinking of Delonte West, three things come to mind.

  1. The viral video of him on YouTube rapping at a fast food restaurant.
  2. His employment at a furniture store during the NBA lockout.
  3. And, most importantly, his gritty style of play on the basketball court.

“The old saying is after the game they should know your name,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “I guarantee when you’re done playing Delonte West, you’re going to know Delonte West. That’s big for a team. He’s an instigator.”

Rivers should know. He coached West for four seasons when the 28 year-old was playing for the Celtics. West spent his first three years in the NBA in Boston. His next three years were spent in Seattle and then Cleveland. West re-signed with the Celtics before last season.

Unfortunately, in his second stint as a Celtic, West never was able to stay on the court. He spent the first 10 games of the season serving a disciplinary suspension for pleading guilty to weapons charges related to a Sept. 2009 arrest. Shortly after returning, West suffered a wrist injury which hampered him for the better part of the season. He was limited, appearing in only 24 games.

“It was tough,” West said before his Mavericks played the Celtics. “I really didn’t get a chance to put my best foot forward. I found my way a little bit in the playoffs, but it was too late.”

Despite the injury-riddled season last year, West said the Lakers, Mavericks, and Celtics were all in pursuit of him during the frantic free-agent period.  Ultimately, West signed with the defending champion Mavericks. He said the decision to sign with Dallas did not come easy, as he imagined finishing his career in Boston.

West has been an important contributor in Dallas’ title defense this year. He has started all but one of the Mavericks 11 games in place of injured Jason Kidd. “[West] set the tone in recent games with his competitiveness,” said Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle.Particularly on the defensive end, he’s been solid all the way through.”

West played a season-high 34 minutes Wednesday night in his homecoming to Boston. His line wasn’t impressive: 12 points on 5-of-14 shooting and, of course, one bloody nose.

The Saint Joseph’s University product joked several times that he wanted to play basketball for another 20 years, and that maybe he would end up back in Boston before his career ended. Regardless, West will always remember his time as a Celtic fondly.

“I’ve got to chance to shake hands, share personal jokes, had lectures with some of the Celtic legends,” he said. “I got the chance to have a conversation with Red Auerbach. Those memories you never replicate. There are so many positives and great things that I can take from the basketball experience I had playing in Boston.”

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Celtics at a loss to explain slow starts 01.07.12 at 2:07 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo pushed the ball forward trying to lead a Celtics fast break as time was running out in the first half of Friday night’s game against the Pacers. Indiana thwarted any easy opportunities for the Boston point guard by getting back on defense. Rondo pulled the ball out to just beyond midcourt to receive instruction from coach Doc Rivers. Less than 10 seconds remained, though, and the Celtics found themselves out of sorts offensively. Rondo was trapped by two Indiana defenders and was forced to pass the ball to Kevin Garnett, who launched a wild, off-balance jumper to end the half.

The TD Garden crowd serenaded the Celtics with boos while they left the court with their heads hung low. The possession exemplified Boston’s dreadful 25-point first-half output. The anemic offensive display tied a franchise record set in 1995 and repeated in 1999.

“It sucks to be on the wrong side of history,” Ray Allen said. “Especially with the firepower we have, you never think we could score so few points. We can always look back and remember this game.”

Allen, who missed Wednesday’s game against the Nets due to flu-like symptoms, remarkably was the game’s high scorer at halftime with eight points. As a team, Boston shot 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) from the field in the first half. Nine of those 34 attempts came from Paul Pierce, who struggled mightily, only hitting one attempt.

Boston’s captain finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting, to go along with a team-high five turnovers (three of which came in the first half). Even though Pierce didn’t convert his opportunities, he was satisfied with the looks he got at the basket. “I took a lot of good shots tonight,” Pierce said. “They just didn’t fall, but I feel good about [the shot selection].”

Rondo made no excuses for his team’s performance Friday night, but he noted that Pierce’s shooting struggles were something he doesn’t think the 13-year veteran will replicate going forward. Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal said a rare break in the schedule will give the Celtics an opportunity to sharpen their offensive execution in practice, something the compacted season has made difficult with limited off days.

Perhaps more alarming for Boston is that this is the second consecutive game the team has struggled to produce offense in the first half. Wednesday against New Jersey, the Celtics scored a paltry 34 points through 24 minutes. The Nets were playing without two starters (Deron Williams and Kris Humphries), and were only able to counter Boston with a woeful 35-point effort themselves. The Celtics found their groove offensively and would go on to enjoy 55-point second half, cruising to an 89-70 victory.

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Read More: Doc Rivers, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen
Ray Allen continues his torrid shooting 01.03.12 at 2:45 am ET
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Less than two minutes into Monday night’s game against the Wizards, Ray Allen stepped to the free throw line after Washington’s head coach Flip Saunders was ejected for arguing with referees.

Allen, a career 89 percent free throw shooter, drew iron on one of his attempts. Four minutes later, Allen became visibly frustrated when he missed another free throw, following a technical foul on Wizards guard John Wall.

But, when Boston needed it most, they turned to Allen, who scored a game high 27 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter of the Celtics‘ 100-92 win.

Allen – who said he had a head cold – was particularly effective from long range, hitting six of his seven 3-point attempts. Allen has been always dependable scorer. However, fans have grown accustomed to witnessing extraordinary shooting clinics like the one Allen put on Monday night. Including the playoffs, Monday night marked the 13th time Allen has hit six or more three pointers since becoming a Celtic.

Many of his open looks came in transition, something Allen attributes to his teammates. “My guys got me open tonight,” Allen said. “If you look at any shots down the stretch – Kevin [Garnett] made a tough pass, [Rajon] Rondo made a tough pass, and Paul [Pierce] made a tough pass.”

The deadly shooter is justified in giving credit to his teammates, but executing is on the go is something Allen prepares for. “[Transition shots] are not a surprise to me,” Allen said. “In practice after spot shooting, I go do sprints from half court to the corners. So fatigue never sets in, because I’m used to it.”

That’s no accident.

“Marathon man,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “He was great. He just kept going. I would never want to guard that guy. He just never stops moving.”

Allen’s preparation and diet has become folklore in the Celtics locker room. Seemingly every teammate learns from Allen’s approach.

“I’ve never seen anybody take care of his game like Ray does,” said Keyon Dooling. “Ray takes care of his game, his body, his mind, and they are all interconnected. The way he talks about basketball is something I’ve never really seen before. I always try to pick his brain.”

Last season, Allen shot a career-high 44.4 percent from 3-point territory. In six games this season the 36 year-old is shooting an incredible 61 percent from behind the arc.

Invariably, all Allen will think about are the two misses from the first quarter. “It drives me wild,” he said. “But if everything was perfect, what would I work on?”

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Jermaine O’Neal’s breakthrough performance 12.31.11 at 3:12 am ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers has called Jermaine O’Neal the MVP of training camp, but once the season began O’Neal struggled to make an impact. On Friday night against Detroit, however, everyone saw what Rivers noticed during the shortened preseason. O’Neal made himself a presence both on offense and defense, putting together his best performance as a Celtic with 19 points, the most he’s score in a Boston uniform, and seven rebounds.

“He was huge [tonight],” said guard, Ray Allen. “He showed his length, his presence, [and] he rotated over to make guys miss around the basket. Then he made his shots. He played a great game for us.”

O’Neal was active from the opening tip. In the first quarter he had four field goal attempts. O’Neal had been averaging four attempts a game this season. By halftime his aggressive play earned him four trips to the foul line. He had accumulated just three free throw attempts all season. In the third quarter O’Neal helped put the game out of reach, scoring seven points (on 3-for-3 shooting), with four rebounds and two blocked shots.

O’Neal also stayed out of foul trouble which has plagued him in the young season. This enabled the 15-year veteran to get into the ebb and flow of the game. “I’ve always been a rhythm player,” O’Neal said. “Looking at the first couple of games, I was in-and-out so fast.”

Allen felt it was important for O’Neal to see some continuity in terms of playing time, especially early in the season. “You almost need to get tired and fight through it,” Allen said. “[O’Neal] had an opportunity to fight through it and get comfortable out there. He seemed like he had his legs underneath him.”

O’Neal had been averaging 4.3 fouls per game, which he said made him tentative on the court. And although he did pick up five fouls against the Pistons, O’Neal was able to play 28 minutes as opposed to the 20 he had averaged throughout the first three games.

Even with his season starting poorly, O’Neal said he never lost confidence in his ability to bounce back. “The way the season is built, you have to stay positive,” O’Neal said. “You’re going to get an opportunity to try and comeback in another night or two nights.”

The 33-year-old veteran said he felt this was his best offensive performance as a Celtic, but doesn’t feel that this is his primary role. Instead O’Neal listed grabbing rebounds, protecting the rim, and setting screens as the contributions he is being asked to provide.

“Scoring is going to come and go,” he said.  “Obviously I don’t want to be judged off how many points I score. That’s not my role on this team. People have asked me why I’ve accepted other roles, but that’s what you do on championship teams. You accept your role, you own it.”

O’Neal may not be the perennial All-Star player he once was, but he played like one on Friday.

Starting five: Thoughts on the Celtics’ struggles through season’s first five days 12.29.11 at 10:13 pm ET
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Last Friday, before leaving for their Christmas day showdown against the Knicks, Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked that the media would have to calm fans down if his team started the season slowly. Unfortunately for Rivers, Boston’s first three games have left the team winless, with the very panic that Rivers seemed to anticipate ensuing.

Perhaps the most glaring issue through three games is Boston’s proclivity to fall behind early in contests. The Celtics have trailed by sizable margins at the half in each of their three games, the smallest deficit being nine.

Although Boston displayed strong fortitude against both Miami and New York — finding itself within striking distance in the last two minutes of each game after falling behind by double-digits — they know playing catchup is not a winning recipe.

“All the teams were the aggressors initially,” back-up guard Keyon Dooling told reporters Wednesday night, following the team’s loss to New Orleans. “We were on our heels trying to bounce back. We can’t be that type of team. We have to be a hit-first team if we want to be successful.”

Boston showed some of Dooling’s “hit-first” mentality against the Hornets, jumping out to a 9-2 advantage. However, playing in the second game of a back-to-back caught up to the Celtics, as New Orleans finished the first quarter on a 22-9 run. “We played tired,” Rivers told reporters. “We looked tired. It happens.”

Another alarming trend is overall team defense. In the previous four years of the new “Big Three” era, Boston has allowed an average of 92.6 points per game. Meanwhile, this season the Celtics are allowing 106 points per game. Looking even closer, the Celtics gave up 60 or more points in the first half only four times last season. This season Boston allowed 62 points in the first half against New York, and followed that performance by giving up 69 points through 24 minutes two days later in Miami. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Brandon Bass, Glen Davis, Greg Stiemsma, Jermaine O'Neal
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