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Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense? 04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET
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Over their last five games, the Celtics have held the Heat, Spurs, Bulls, Pacers and 76ers — all likely playoff-bound teams — to just 80.6 points per game. That ridiculous stretch included the lowest scoring output of the Miami Thrice era and Indiana’s worst offensive game this season (both 72 points).

The point? A case can be made, rather easily, that the C’s now own the NBA’s best defense.

This recent run vaulted the Celtics to No. 1 in points allowed per 100 possessions (95.3). Their 89.3 points allowed per game still ranks third behind the only other teams that give up fewer than 90 points a night — the Sixers (88.5) and Bulls (88.9) — but that’s dropped to an NBA best 83.4 points surrendered over the past 10 games.

In fact, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, the Celtics have allowed 80 points or fewer in six of their last 12 games (including four of their last six), holding opponents to 40 percent shooting or worse in eight of those 12 contests.

For the season, the Celtics have held opponents to the league’s lowest field goal percentage (41.8%) and 3-point percentage (29.8%), both still tops in the NBA and even better over the past 10 games (38.7 FG%, 25.2 3P%). They make an offense’s life miserable everywhere on the court, ranking top-10 everywhere from at the rim (3rd) to 3-9 feet (8th) to 10-15 feet (1st) to 16-23 feet (7th) to 3-point range (1st).

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Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’ at 11:59 am ET
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Doc Rivers has preached it over and over.

The shots aren’t always going to fall but the defense will always be there.

Such was the case on Saturday night when they shot just 42 percent in Indianapolis.

But they held the Pacers to 35 percent in an 86-72 win. Sunday night, they followed that up by holding the Sixers to 38 percent in a 103-79 romp that put them on the brink of their fifth straight Atlantic Division title.

How appropriate since defense has been the backbone of everything in the Doc Rivers “Big 3″ plus Rajon Rondo era.

Sunday, the Celtics held the Sixers to 6-of-22 shooting the second quarter to take command of the game.

“The defense is really good; guys are locked in,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game that improved the Celtics to 32-24 on the season. “Your offense will fail you, you know that guys; I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mindset your defense never should. And it’ll always give you a chance to win a game.”

Even two weeks ago it would’ve seemed far fetched that Avery Bradley would succeed Ray Allen as the starting off guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. But combine his newfound ability to cut the basket with his shutdown defense and he’s become too valuable not to start. He has seen success defensively from both sides now.

“Its very important for the bench to come in and bring the intensity,” Bradley said. “That’s something that Doc always, we take pride in as a team so we want to come in and bring the intensity and play hard on the defensive end and that’s what we did in the second quarter.

“It was very important for us to win this game. We want to come out and play hard and ya know coming in the second half we wanted to come out in the third quarter and we wanted to bring our intensity up even higher. That’s what Doc told us, he told us to come in the third quarter and play hard and we were making shots and we just continued to make the lead even higher.”

Part of defense is rebounding and with Paul Pierce staying home and crashing the boards, like his six first-quarter rebounds Wednesday against the Spurs, the Celtics are not giving up as many second and third-chance points. Even Sasha Pavlovic has bought in. He had four rebounds in the first half Sunday, including three in seven minutes in the second quarter.

“Well it’s a combination of things,” Pierce said. “We got to take care of the ball definitely, but we got to rebound the ball and I thought we did a better job competing on the rebounds, especially at the guard level myself, Avery, Sasha, Rondo getting in there rebounding the ball. So its going to be important for us as we wind down the season and in playoffs, that’s what our one true weakness is and if we can address that down the stretch we will be a tough team to beat.”

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Ray Allen and his ‘pissed off’ ankle make amends, appear ready for Wednesday return 04.03.12 at 2:19 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Ray Allen has always been one with his precisely tuned body.

So, when it speaks up, he listens.

Take the last two weeks for example. He tried playing several games on his sore left ankle – injured on March 12 in Los Angeles. But the pain in the ankle got worse and worse, to the point where he had to shut it down completely, starting March 23 in Philadelphia.

“I never liked taking shots or taking medicine. I tried to do everything as natually as I can. Sometimes your body needs a kick in the right direction. Physically, the time off was good. My ankle was kind of pissed off. I kind of gave it a little help and time off was good but getting that joint lubricated [was] more than it was otherwise.”

Doc Rivers confirmed that if Allen is cleared to play on Wednesday, he will start and not come off the bench. The team is 5-1 in the six games without Allen and 5-0 with Avery Bradley taking Allen’s spot at starting shooting guard.

Allen practiced with the Celtics for the entire session on Tuesday, and barring a late setback, is expected to start Wednesday night against the Spurs at TD Garden.

Allen has missed the last six games with an injured left ankle, suffered when he turned it late in the game against the Clippers on March 12 in Los Angeles. Allen said he had a cortisone shot on Sunday to help manage the discomfort and see if he could practice on Tuesday, which he did.

“I felt good to be out on the floor,” Allen said. “My legs felt great today. I had a shot in the ankle on game day the other day and had all day [Monday] for it to manuver through my body and coming into today, I felt like I had two new wheels.”

Allen said he is encouraged to the point where he believes he’ll be ready to start on Wednesday night.

“Oh yeah, going through shootaround and kind of favoring it, holding it, feeling different feelings and wincing, I didn’t feel that at all today,” Allen said.

Other notes from Tuesday’s practice in Waltham: Mickael Pietrus visited teammates at Celtics practice on Tuesday but had to leave because of the noise of the bouncing balls. Rivers said Pietrus, who suffered a concussion in Philadelphia on March 23, still has not been cleared for preliminary baseline tests on his head injury. … Rivers indicated that Tuesday would likely be the last practice of the regular season, due to the compressed schedule the rest of the way, which including a series of three road games in three nights between April 13-15, when they play the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.

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Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’ 04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET
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Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?

On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.

“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”

Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.

“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”

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Celtics notebook: The lure of passing 03.31.12 at 9:23 am ET
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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics have created a culture of passing. (AP)When Ryan Hollins arrived in Boston, he had something he wanted to tell coach Doc Rivers.

“I appreciate the way you guys play,” Hollins said. “It’s unselfish, no one cares about the points and you guys play to win. You don’t see that in the NBA. If Kevin [Garnett] has five points and 13 rebounds and we win, he’s excited. If [Rajon] Rondo has zero points and 15 assists, he’s excited. You don’t see that. I really appreciate that about the team.”

Hollins has already benefited from the passing culture. He and Rondo have hooked up for three alley-oops in the last two games and his eyes lit up when asked about playing with the point guard.

“I love playing with Rondo,” Hollins said. “The type of player I am, I’m going to complement Rondo and he’s going to complement me. If I can be at the rim, it opens up all the other shooters. The coaching staff is on me to dive and run in transition. It opens everything up.”

Hollins has played just 28 minutes in five games with the Celtics, but his testimonial lies at the heart of what has helped make the Celtics successful again. Their offensive problems have been well documented but here are the gritty numbers:

They rank 26th in points per 100 possessions, just ahead of New Orleans and just behind Toronto, 28th in free throw attempts and dead last in offensive rebounding. They’re ninth in 3-point shooting percentage, but just 23rd in attempts. While they have been making an effort to push the pace since the All-Star break, they do the majority of their scoring in the halfcourt via jump shots.

While Paul Pierce is still capable as a shot-creator and Rondo can open up space, the Celtics rely on passing and ball movement for open shots. More than 67 percent of their made baskets come off assists — the highest rate in the league — and while Rondo racks up assists, the commitment is team-wide. Pierce averages five assists per game and Garnett’s passing from the high and low post remains a unique facet of his game.

It’s a trait that’s not only contagious, it’s passed along to the new players.

“Great passer,” Avery Bradley said of Garnett. “He teaches Brandon [Bass]. When we’re watching film, passes that he makes. That just shows what kind of teammate Kevin is, because somebody could be like, nah I don’t want to tell him to help him get better, but Kevin is constantly trying to help everybody get better.”

Wait, no-pass Bass? Yes, no-pass Bass too. The shoot-first forward has a higher assist rate than at any other time in his career. (The Celtics are more than happy with Bass’ play, by the way. They want him to take his shots and he turns it over far less than the other starters, which shows a player who understands his game and his role.)

One of the primary appeals for the Celtics in free agency is the culture they’ve developed over the last five seasons that celebrates winning over individual numbers. That may not be enough to lure the top free agents, but it will surely attract some players.

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Irish Coffee: Doc Rivers molds Celtics bench … again 03.29.12 at 2:23 pm ET
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This version of the Celtics bench is somewhere between Version 3.0 and 893.7. I know because I’ve written each time Doc Rivers molds a different group into form, only to have that unit dismantled by injuries.

At the start of training camp, most expected Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to fill out the 2011-12 Celtics nine-man rotation. Along the way, injuries to Dooling (knee, hip), Green (heart), Wilcox (heart) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee, wrist) forced Bass into the starting lineup and left a rookie (Greg Stiemsma), a sophomore (Avery Bradley) and a guy who cleared waivers (Mickael Pietrus) to fill out the reserve unit.

Sprinkle in a way-past-his-prime Sasha Pavlovic, a guy coming off spinal surgery (Marquis Daniels), two more rookies (JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) and a little bit of Ryan Hollins, and you’d expect a big old bowl of poop soup that might lead Padma Lakshmi to ask Danny Ainge to kindly, “Please pack your knives and go.”

Somehow, someway, Rivers & Co. are making it work … again. Of course, it helps the veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and — save for a pair of ankle sprains — Ray Allen has remained intact. Those guys can make a lot of players look better, but they also set an example that leads them to play better.

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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.

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