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Sounds of the game… Celtics 90, Clippers 77 03.23.09 at 11:29 pm ET
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It’s the most basic lesson Celtics head coach Doc Rivers preaches, with some serious nudging from assistant Tom Thibodeau.

Think defense first and everything else will follow.

Rivers didn’t think his team was in that mindset in the first half on Monday night against the lowly Clippers, especially when the Clip Joint went on a 19-5 run early in the second quarter to wipe out a 13-point lead and take a lead against the sluggish Celts.

“We didn’t get any stops and we didn’t score the basketball,” Eddie House said. “They went on a 19-5 run I think from the start of the 2nd to 4 minutes left so that’s a recipe for disaster if you don’t get stops and don’t score. Second half we concentrated on getting stops and our offense slowed up our defense.”

Thanks to Kevin Garnett, the Celtics picked up their defensive intensity. And as our colleague Paul Flannery writes, the offense did, indeed, follow.

But with Orlando lurking in the land of Magic on Wednesday and second-place in the East on the line, Rivers knows his team, especially the second unit, can’t afford to come into a game like they did Monday night.

“Honestly, I thought in the first half they came out thinking all about offense and it was a one pass, shot unit,” Rivers said. “In the second half they thought about defense and they got stops.  And then we moved the ball and got open shots.  And it’s amazing when you play the right way together how things work out.  And then when you have the right mindset when you walk on the floor.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Walker happy to take a seat 03.23.09 at 11:23 pm ET
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The return of Kevin Garnett means less playing time for Bill Walker. That’s bad for the Boston Celtics rookie, right? Think again.

“I’m actually happy Ticket’s back,” he said before Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers (RECAP HERE). “He gives our team that swagger again. We’re more aggressive on defense. You can just tell it’s a different team when he’s on the court.”

After bouncing between the bench and the NBA Development League, Walker received a rare window of opportunity for meaningful minutes on the Celtics. He had played a total of just 54 minutes all season before Garnett strained his knee on February 19. With the Celtics bench already hampered by injuries, Walker averaged 8.5 minutes per game in Garnett’s absence.

“I learned that it’s more physical than it looks on TV out there,” he said. “You’ve got to learn to rest your body and take care of your little aches because those games come back so quick. You’ve got to take care of the little things.”

While Walker’s numbers did not skyrocket – his game-high was only eight points – his perspective on the game did.

“You can always get better, especially on defense,” he said. “There are so many things that go with our defense that I don’t know everything. So watching tape and watching myself like, ‘Oh I’m a second late’ or, ‘I’m a step late.’”

Walker is constantly learning, whether it is on the court or on the bench, so he does not mind taking it all in from the sidelines. He pay close attention to the players around him — “What do they do that’s effective?” he asks himself – and tries to incorporate their strengths into his own game. He doesn’t have to look much further than his own team to pick up some pointers.

“Offensively you can take from just about anybody out there. (Rajon) Rondo, how he gets to the basket. Paul (Pierce), his footwork. Ray (Allen’s) shooting. Ticket’s post work. There’s a lot of stuff to watch out there,” Walker said. “I watch Ray on defense. Ray’s got some great defense. People don’t really realize it but Ray’s always in the right position. Hands are where they’re supposed to be. He’s just a smart player.”

The Celtics basketball IQ has already rubbed off on Walker. He’ll take the opportunity to watch the Big Three play any day.

“I think it’s very, very valuable because everybody is not playing on a team with three sure-fire Hall of Famers,” he said. “It’s not like these guys are stuck up. They teach me things every day.”

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That loving feeling 03.23.09 at 11:12 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo made eye contact with Kevin Garnett. Kevin Garnett gave it back. The alley-oop was coming. And it was good. When Garnett came back down to terra firma he had a huge grin on his face. It’s been a long time. A real long time, and it was the emphatic exclamation on Garnett’s long-awaited return to the Garden floor.

February 8 was the date of Garnett’s last game in home whites and he made the most of his allotted 18 minutes against the Clippers. (Click here for a recap). In all he was a perfect 5-for-5 with 12 points and two rebounds, but his game meant a lot more than a dozen points and a couple of boards.

“The reason I don’t sit on the bench is I might jump out there in street clothes and start hooping,” Garnett said. “One of the hard things for me is sitting down. It was very difficult to sit out, but when I’m out there I try bring as much havoc as I can.”

The alley-oop may have sealed it, but the full KG Experience was on display in the minutes leading up to the dunk. In a sleepy atmosphere against a team with nothing to lose, the Celtics had put themselves in a precarious position. Trailing 55-54, Garnett went into the post against Zach Randolph and demanded the ball as if Randolph was Anderson Varejao and this was Game 7 against the Cavs. He did his patented drop-step in the lane and popped home a short jumper.

Then came the alley-oop. Then another defensive stop and another basket. This was the tidal wave of a run that the Celtics used to put together so effortlessly. Doc Rivers had to call a timeout to stop things and get Garnett out of the game as his minutes were all used up, but a funny thing happened after that. The Celtics kept rolling and soon the rout was on.

“Everything we do offensively and defensively,” Paul Pierce said. “You can see the last couple of games. We’re passing the ball, we’re defending at a high level. The communication’s there. We have such great chemistry with out starting five. With him out there, we’re like one.”

Garnett’s impact, especially on the defensive end, has been well-documented. The same is true for the intangible and tangible benefit of having him on the floor calling out screens, holding everyone accountable, being half-insane. This is all true, but the hidden value of Kevin Garnett on a basketball floor is what happens when he is simply on the court.

“Teams respect him even if he doesn’t shoot the ball,” Ray Allen said. “Rondo has bigger gaps (to drive). His man doesn’t help as much. Glen (Davis) has been knocking down that shot. He’s been playing well. As a young player in this league you have to do that over and over again to get teams to give you that respect. Kevin obviously has that respect and when he’s out there people automatically from the word go are going to play him. You can see the effect with myself and Paul.”

The key to the Celtics offense is not Pierce’s individual brilliance, Allen’s shooting or Rondo’s ability to break down defenses. The key is the spacing, ball movement and, most importantly, the trust to pass and be in the right spots.

“He’s unselfish to a fault, as well all know, at times,” Rivers said. “You sometimes wants him to shoot the ball but he’s always looking to pass. It’s amazing how hard guys cut when he gets the ball in the post because they might get the ball back.”

The Celtics are being careful with Garnett. They waited almost a month before bringing him back and they are not going to blow him out for a game in March against the Clippers. They won’t even do it Wednesday when they go to Orlando for a game that may well determine how many rounds of homecourt advantage they wind up with in the playoffs. They won’t do it because he is way too important to mess around with at the end of the regular season.

At the end of their time with the press following the game, Garnett and Pierce engaged in a little back-and-forth as they tend to do from time to time. It’s been a long time since the mood was that playful in these things as Pierce has had to carry the burden on the floor and off it as well.

“You watched me when you were at Kansas,” Garnett teased Pierce. “Paul Pierce wanted to come out of high school. Don’t let him fool you.”

“The only reason I didn’t,” Pierce countered. “Was because I didn’t know you could do that.”

It was a small thing and not really all that important in the grand scheme of things, but it was like the old days again.

********

File this one away for future reference. Doc likes the combination of Stephon Marbury, Eddie House and Ray Allen, which he used to open the fourth quarter. It goes against his better instincts to have a lineup that small play together, but Rivers said the numbers show that it is an effective combination.

Here’s another reason why he likes the trio. It’s an effective way to give Paul Pierce a breather. Perhaps Allen can be the long sought-after backup three man.

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Notes and numbers: Third quarter 03.23.09 at 9:30 pm ET
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An alley-oop from Rajon Rondo to Kevin Garnett got the Celtics – and the crowd – back in this game in the third quarter. Celtics 70 … Clippers 60.

- KG watch: 9 minutes, 4 points, 1 rebound
- Leading scorer: Baron Davis (10 points)
- Leading rebounder: Kendrick Perkins (8 rebounds)
- Leading ball handler: Rajon Rondo and Baron Davis (3 assists)
- Points in the paint: Celtics 16 – Clippers 10
- Fast break points: Celtics 6 – Clippers 0

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Flipping a switch 03.23.09 at 9:17 pm ET
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Remember when the Celtics used to go on these tidal-wave like runs and just blow people out of the building? Those were good times. It’s happening again, and in the first time in a long time.

Trailing 55-54 against the Clips, they went on a 12-0 run that extended through a timeout and saw great defense, solid rebounding, unselfish passing and big-time shot making. Just like the old days! It will be interesting to see if the Clippers are interested in responding.

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Rebounds, can’t win without ‘em 03.23.09 at 8:58 pm ET
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Sometimes the stat sheet tells you everything you need to know. This is one of those times. The Celtics are the best rebounding team in the league by Rebound Rate. The Clippers are 28th. But in the first half, the Clips owned the glass with a 24-14 edge in that department. More tellingly, the Celtics got exactly zero offensive rebounds.

Now you may be asking yourself how does a team with Marcus Camby, Zach Randolph and Chris Kaman rank 28th in rebounding, but that’s a question for Kevin Arnovitz.

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Notes and numbers: Second quarter 03.23.09 at 8:41 pm ET
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At halftime … Celtics 44, Clippers 42

How the Celtics got outscored 24 – 13 in the second quarter:

- KG: 0 minutes

- Rajon Rondo: 0 points

- Points in the paint: Clippers 12 – Celtics 0

- Second chance points: Clippers 5 – Celtics 0

- Rebounds: Clippers 14 – Celtics 6

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