|Fast Break: Celtics clinch fifth straight division title||04.18.12 at 10:42 pm ET|
Captain Paul Pierce followed up his 43-point effort on Tuesday night in New York with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists on Wednesday night in Boston — including the dagger with 7.6 seconds left — to guide the Celtics to a 102-98 win over the visiting Magic and clinching a fifth consecutive Atlantic Division title in the process.
Avery Bradley (23 points) tied a career high, Brandon Bass contributed 21 points against his old team, and Kevin Garnett amassed 15 points and nine rebounds, as the Celtics (37-26) clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference — even without Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus in the lineup against Orlando.
Old friend Glen Davis totaled 27 points and seven rebounds in Dwight Howard‘s absence, but the Magic (36-26) dropped a game behind the Hawks (37-25) — 116-84 winners over the Pistons — for the fifth seed and the right to face the Celtics in the first round. With three games left on their schedule, the C’s travel to Atlanta on Friday night trailing the Hawks by a game in the loss column for home court advantage in their potential playoff matchup.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Shoot first: The Celtics shot a blistering 73.7 percent in the first quarter (14-19 FG), staking themselves to a 33-22 lead that even survived a second-quarter starting lineup of E’Twaun Moore, Keyon Dooling, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Garnett. In the first 12 minutes, Bradley, Garnett, Bass and Pierce shot a combined 13-of-16 and scored 31 points. That allowed the undermanned C’s to play with a lead for the majority of the night.
Brad-ical: As discussed in Wednesday’s Irish Coffee, Bradley entered the game averaging 14.2 points on 53 percent shooting in 15 games since joining the starting lineup on March 25. Those averages will only increase, as he scored 17 points by halftime on 8-of-10 shooting, eclipsing 15 points for the fifth consecutive game.
Captain steering: With Rondo resting a sore back and wrist, Pierce assumed the role of distributor, and played it well. He made Rondo’s streak of 23 straight games with at least 10 assists seem easy, as the Celtics captain amassed 11 dimes by halftime. He also added 13 points in the opening 24 minutes to earn a double-double and take the Celtics into the break with a 55-51. Considering it’s been a roller coaster season that started with a heel injury and recently featured a toe injury, Doc Rivers & Co. must be pleased to see Pierce — who dropped 43 points on the Knicks on Tuesday — peaking at the right time.
|Irish Coffee: The rise of Avery Bradley’s offense||at 12:02 pm ET|
By now, everyone knows of Bradley’s defensive exploits, but his shooting of late has been downright Ray Allen-esque. That’s not to say Bradley is a clone of the man he’s replaced in the starting lineup, but his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Knicks — including 5-of-6 from long distance — can’t be ignored.
In 15 games since joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the first five on March 25 (with the exception of an 87-86 loss to the Spurs), Bradley is averaging 14.2 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (86-162 FG), 56.7 percent from beyond the arc (17-30 3P) and 85.7 percent from the line (24-28 FT). He’s reached double figures in 11 of those 15 games, including the last four.
|Fast Break: Knicks Garden 3 party barrages Celtics||04.17.12 at 10:58 pm ET|
Another Atlantic Division title will have to wait. A record-setting 3-point barrage by the Knicks put the undermanned Celtics in a hole Paul Pierce couldn’t even dig them out of in a 118-110 defeat at Madison Square Garden.
Pierce (43 pionts, 11-19 FG, 4-6 3P, 17-18 FT) became the first Celtics player to eclipse 40 points since he scored 50 on Feb. 15, 2006, but Knicks reserves J.R. Smith (25 points, 7-10 3P) and Steve Novak (25 points, 8-10 3P) helped New York set an NBA record for 3-point field goals off the bench in a remarkable effort.
Carmelo Anthony‘s triple-double (35 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Tyson Chandler‘s inside presence (20 points, 7 rebounds) also contributed to a 56.8 shooting night for the Knicks.
With the bench getting outscored 55-2, the Celtics dropped to 36-26 despite quality offensive nights from Rajon Rondo (13 points, 13 assists, 6 rebounds) — who recorded 10-plus assists for the 23rd straight game — Kevin Garnett (20 points), Avery Bradley (17 points) and Brandon Bass (15 points).
The Knicks (32-29) moved a game ahead of the 76ers (31-30), who lost to the Pacers (40-22), so the C’s magic number for the division title and the Eastern Conference’s fourth seed remains at one. They also dropped a game back in the loss column behind the idle Magic (36-25) and Hawks (36-25), who would own homecourt advantage as the fifth seed should they finish with a better record.
WHAT WENT WRONG
New York 3 party: When the horn mercifully signaled halftime, the Knicks had made 14-of-21 3-pointers (66.7%) — including 11 in the second quarter — to enter the break with a 72-53 advantage after the worst defensive 24 minutes of the Celtics season. Victimized by J.R. Smith (7-9 3P) and Steve Novak (4-6 3P) helped the Knicks tie records for treys both in a half and a quarter, and the 14 triples tied the most the C’s allowed in a game all season.
Finishing touches: Led by the starting backcourt duo of Bradley and Rondo, the Celtics staked themselves to a 24-17 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the first quarter, but Anthony led a Knicks charge that resulted in a 32-26 deficit after the opening 12 minutes. Anthony finished the frame with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.
Forwards, backwards: The ailments of Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) forced Celtics coach Doc Rivers to start the second quarter with a lineup that included Marquis Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic and Keyon Dooling. That translated into the Knicks putting the finishing touches on an 18-0 run (and 23-2 overall) that began in the first quarter. And that was before New York’s 3-point onslaught really got going.
|Should the Heat be worried about the Celtics?||04.10.12 at 2:14 pm ET|
As things sit currently in the jumbled Eastern Conference, the Celtics are holding the fourth seed, which would put them in the Bulls’ bracket. They have a three-game lead on Philadelphia and New York with 10 games to play and while nothing is assured for the Celtics, it’s looking like a safe bet that they will walk away with the Atlantic Division title for the fifth straight season, thus landing the fourth seed, as opposed to the seventh.
(Note: Winning the division does not guarantee homecourt advantage in the first round. The Celtics would still have to finish with a better record than the fifth seed and they enter play on Tuesday a game and a half behind Atlanta and Orlando.)
There’s a chance that Miami, which is just one game back in the loss column, could overtake Chicago for the top spot in the conference and set up a rematch of last season’s semifinal series that the Heat won rather convincingly, 4-1. The Celtics felt then — and feel now — that if not for a couple of bad breaks like Paul Pierce‘s dubious ejection in Game 1 and Rajon Rondo‘s elbow injury in Game 3, they could have made it a much tougher series. Still, four games to one speaks for itself.
And yet, there’s a feeling that the Heat should be afraid of the Celtics in the playoffs for the simple reason of matchups. Miami has no real answer for Rondo, who was brilliant in Boston’s 91-72 victory a week and a half ago when he went for 16 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists and was a plus-28.
Additionally, Pierce is one of the few small forwards in the league who can hope to guard LeBron James for 40 minutes and match his production, if not come out ahead. Pierce went for 23-7-3 in their last meeting, while LeBron posted a 24-4-0. It was James’ first assist-free game since 2009.
The real revelation in the April 1 meeting was the play of Avery Bradley, who held Dwyane Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including a memorable block at the rim. Bradley also scored an efficient 13 points on 10 shots and presented a problem with his cuts to the basket.
|Irish Coffee: Do Celtics own NBA’s best defense?||04.09.12 at 2:03 pm ET|
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).
|Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’||at 11:59 am ET|
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.’
|Ray Allen and his ‘pissed off’ ankle make amends, appear ready for Wednesday return||04.03.12 at 2:19 pm ET|
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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