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Fast Break: Celtics tame Cats 01.14.11 at 10:02 pm ET
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It’s mid-January in the NBA, which means everyone is either hurt, miserable or both. The Celtics had 10 players dressed and half of them were in some kind of foul trouble at various points in the game.

This was not a night for aesthetically-pleasing basketball, but the Celtics made the plays they needed to make in the fourth quarter and came away with a 99-94 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Here’s how they did it:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Shaquille O’Neal had his most important game of the season: Without Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics were down to Shaq and Semih Erden at center and Glen Davis and Luke Harangody as big forwards.

Shaq played 17 minutes in the first half, mainly because Doc Rivers had no other options and he logged a season-high 35 to go with 23 points and five rebounds. Considering everything that has happened to the Celtics this week in terms of injuries, this was a big-time performance and arguably his best of the season.

Rajon Rondo had the world on a string: There are times when Rondo can be spectacular, and other times when he is spectacularly precise. This game was the latter. Rondo read screens, angles and pick and rolls and dissected the Bobacats with precise passes and smart decisions.

Sometimes Rondo’s stats can be deceiving. His huge assist nights are usually tied to hot shooting nights on the perimeter. Not this night. He had 18 points, 13 assists and six rebounds and earned every one of them.

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, like clockwork: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shot a combined 12-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. For good measure they also made seven of eight free throws and each scored 19 points.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Foul trouble: The Celtics had 10 players available Friday night because of injuries and Avery Bradley’s assignment to the D-League. The one thing they could not afford was to have any kind of foul trouble, especially up front. Oh well. Erden picked up three fouls in three minutes in the second quarter, which meant Shaquille O’Neal had to play 17 first-half minutes.

Pierce picked up his fourth midway through the third quarter and left with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and the Celtics up by six. The Bobcats closed the gap with Pierce out of the game, but the Celtics pulled away early in the fourth quarter allowing Pierce to sit until the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Offensive rebounding: You could see this one coming a mile away. Without Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics frontline is exposed when it comes to rebounding. The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive boards and controlled the glass.

Free throws: The Celtics got to the free throw line only 25 times and most of those came late in the game when the Bobcats were trying to put them there. This isn’t that surprising since they are one of the worst teams in the league at getting to the line. It’s generally a given that their opponent will have more free throws than they will, but the Bobcats shot nine more than the Celtics, and were +8 at the line, which kept them in the game.

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Fast Break: Celtics win ugly over Bobcats 12.11.10 at 9:29 pm ET
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Take an NBA team that’s been on the road for a few days and knows it has some time off ahead of them,and  put them in an arena with all the ambiance of a library and what you get is something like the game between the Celtics and Bobcats Saturday night.

It was ugly, as evidenced by the Celtics 43 percent shooting from the floor and Paul Pierce’s unsightly 1-for-9 night. But in yet another sign that the Celtics are coming together as a team, they overcame their collective offensive woes and put the hammer down defensively in a 93-62 win.

They have now won 10 straight games and clearly established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. They also have three days off until Wednesday when they play the rejuvenated New York Knicks in what should be an interesting matchup between the classic rivals, who haven’t had much of a rivalry in recent years.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Kevin Garnett, again: Doc Rivers limited his starters minutes in the first half, keeping Allen, Pierce and Garnett to just 16 minutes of court time. This seemed like a conscious decision because even though Allen and Pierce struggled, Garnett was the best thing the Celtics had going for them.

He had nine points and eight rebounds in the first half, en route to another double-double (13 and 11) in just 23 minutes. Garnett also led the way on the glass where the Celtics owned a healthy 48-38 advantage.

Glen Davis to the rescue: This is why Davis should be considered one of the best sixth men in the NBA. It’s not his points and rebounds, although they definitely help. It’s not even his charges, although they help as well. It’s that when he comes into the game he can change the flow and he can do it playing multiple frontcourt positions.

Davis played the four, the five and even guarded Gerald Wallace successfully. With all the injuries the Celtics are having up front, his versatility is a great compliment to his production. The production wasn’t bad either as he scored 16 points to go with seven rebounds.

Defense wins: Try as they might, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going offensively. To their credit, they stayed away from launching jump shots and attacked the basket to get to the line 28 times. But what won the game for them was their defensive effort. The Bobcats aren’t a good offensive team, but the Celtics made them look dreadful.

Charlotte shot 33 percent and turned it over 21 times. They scored 16 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and then 15 in each of the third and fourth quarters. If you were looking for a 48-minute defensive effort, this was it.

WHAT WENT WRONG

No Shaq: Shaquille O’Neal missed his second straight game with a lower calf/shin injury. There’s no need to rush him back, especially with a few days between now and Wednesday’s game with the rejuvenated New York Knicks. But Shaq’s absence left the Celtics vulnerable in the middle and Nazr Mohammed made them pay, at least in the first half when he went 6-for-9.

Cold shooting: The Bobcats have two things going for them in terms of matchups — Stephen Jackson, who is one the tallest off guards in the game and Gerald Wallace, who is one of the strongest forwards. Those two combined to make life miserable for Allen and Pierce who shot a combined 2-for-11 in the first half. Allen recovered to score 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter when the Celtics pulled away, but Pierce was never able to get going.

Turnovers: The Celtics have done a solid job of limiting their turnovers lately but they crept up again Saturday with 17. The prime culprit was Rajon Rondo with six. A number of Rondo’s turnovers came on passes that were simply way too difficult. He is granted a certain creative license to make those kind of plays, but sometimes the best play is the easiest one.

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Larry Brown: Don’t panic, Boston 03.03.10 at 11:43 pm ET
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Bobcats coach Larry Brown has a simple message for Celtics fans and others proclaiming an early demise for the Green in early March. Just relax.

“They buried us two games,” Brown said after his team lost 104-80 Wednesday night. In Boston’s home opener on Oct. 28, the Celtics prevailed, 92-59.

“But I don’t buy all this stuff that they’re in trouble.  They’ve had some injuries.  They’re just starting to get healthy.  They got some new players like [Marquis] Daniels and Nate [Robinson] now, Rasheed [Wallace].  They’re gonna be fine.  They got a great coach, they got great chemistry.  They’re gonna be fine.  I think everybody has bad periods but when you put the injuries they faced, all that’s done is develop depth.”

[Click here to hear Larry Brown rave about the Celtics.]

Brown has heard the naysayers proclaim the Celtics aren’t going anywhere because they’re old, because they can’t win at home and because they’ve lost the fire of a champion. Paul Pierce came out on fire Wednesday, scoring 27 points, one point for each minute he played.

“They’re gonna be alright,” Brown continued. “They play like this, this is the way Paul Pierce plays.  Garnett was phenomenal.  But I just like all the little pieces they have because I think Danny [Ainge] has done a tremendous job putting them in a position where they can play with just about anybody.”

And Brown said no one could have beaten the Celtics they way they torched his team Wednesday.

“I don’t think anyone could have played in that environment,” Brown added. “They played great, they made shots, they executed great.  We played hard but there were too many obstacles. But they played great.  One time I think they were 10 for 12 from three.  They shot 60% in the first half.  Shared the ball.  There bench was great.  There bench was great last night.  So if we had played our best I don’t know if that would have been good enough.”

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Jackson: Pierce challenged my manhood at 11:03 pm ET
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Before Wednesday’s game, Celtics captain Paul Pierce made it a point to speak out for his team, letting them all know that nothing less than dominance at home would be acceptable the rest of the way.

During the game, that vocal spirit apparently offended Charlotte’s Stephen Jackson.

Following Wednesday night’s blowout 104-80 win by the Celtics, Jackson took issue with trash-talking by the Celtics and Pierce in particular.

“It turned disrespectful when certain things were said,” Jackson said. “You can be emotional in the game and you talk to your teammates and do all that but when you get personal and direct certain things to people as far as their manhood, that’s when the problems come up. And I guarantee you that if I wasn’t in this gym, that wouldn’t have been said to me.”

Pierce and Jackson got into a verbal battle and were each called for technical fouls with 7:31 remaining in the third quarter as Jackson was preparing to shoot free throws

[Click here to listen to Stephen Jackson speak out against the Celtics.]

.

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Fast Break: Celts rip Bobcats at 9:58 pm ET
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Now, this is what the Celtics have been looking for.

Playing the second night of a back-to-back, and at home where they have struggled incomprehensibly this season, the Celtics finally put together a complete game in a 104-80 destruction of the Charlotte Bobcats Wednesday night at TD Garden.

The Celtics shot 54 percent, while holding the Bobcats to 36 percent shooting. It was eerily reminiscent of their first meeting of the season way back in October when the Celtics won 92-59.

The starters were solid, the bench was terrific, everyone is healthy and for the first time in a long time the Celtics looked like the team we’ve grown accustomed to watching over the last two and a half seasons.

Turning Point: Coming out for the second half the Celtics had a nine-point lead, which was nice but considering the way they had played for most of the half should have been much higher. Another night of post-game laments seemed imminent. But the Celtics flipped the script, outscoring Charlotte 28-16 in the third quarter. It was the kind of third-quarter effort that has been lacking since December.

Player of the Game: Paul Pierce scored 27 points in just 27 minutes of action. He made nine of 13 shots and was 4-for-6 from 3-point range. That’s impressive in and of itself, but what made Pierce’s performance even more remarkable is that the 27 points was the most he has scored in a game since scoring 35 against the Hawks on Jan. 29.

* Things got testy midway through the quarter when Stephen Jackson and Pierce received double technical fouls. A few minutes later Tyrus Thomas picked one up as well.

* Ray Allen scored only three points and took just two shots in 17 minutes. He had early foul trouble and never got on track, but the Celtics didn’t need him on this night.

* The Celtics led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter before the Bobcats cut the lead down to four.

* Nate Robinson electrified the crowd with a buzzer-beater 3-pointer at the end of the first quarter. He made his first four shots, all 3-pointers and finished with 16 points.

* Kendrick Perkins returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with the flu and scored five points early.

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Third quarter: Celtics-Bobcats at 9:23 pm ET
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Looking to put some distance between themselves and the Bobcats, the Celtics finally put together a complete third quarter turning a nine-point halftime lead into an 82-61 advantage.

Paul Pierce continued his hot shooting and scored 13 of his 27 points in the quarter. It’s the most points for Pierce since he scored 35 against the Hawks in late January. Kevin Garnett is the only starter in double-figures with 12 points. Somewhat surprisingly, Ray Allen has scored only three points and taken just two shots.

Things got testy midway through the quarter when Stephen Jackson and Paul Pierce received double technical fouls. A few minutes later Tyrus Thomas picked one up as well.

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First quarter: Celtics-Bobcats at 8:10 pm ET
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The Celtics came into this game with an obvious objective: Begin repairing their image at home. Through 27 games at the Garden, the Celtics have a 16-11 record. The only NBA team in playoff contention with a worse mark is the Miami Heat.

Poor starts have been to blame for the Celtics struggles at home and the starters got it half right against the Bobcats, clicking offensively but allowing the Bobcats to get what they wanted on the other end. Fortunately, the second unit flipped the script and led the Celtics to a 31-21 lead.

Nate Robinson made a pair of 3-pointers, including a buzzer-beater at the end of the quarter.

Kendrick Perkins returned to the lineup after missing the previous game with the flu and scored five points early. Ray Allen picked up two fouls and played only six minutes.

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