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NBA Power Rankings, 2/17 02.17.11 at 6:24 pm ET
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1. San Antonio (46-9): According to the New York Post, citing a waitress at Tao on 58th Street in New York City, Tony Parker “celebrated Valentine’s Day, a win over the Nets — and his divorce — by canoodling with a brunette.” When this is the biggest news about the Spurs for the week, it’s pretty clear they’re still the NBA’s No. 1 (regular-season) team and (somehow) still underrated.

2. Dallas (39-16): The Mavericks are 37-9 with Dirk Nowitzki in the lineup — and 18-7 against teams above .500. That’s pretty good. Not surprisingly, owner Mark Cuban told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram his team has all the pieces in place for a title run. While they’re certainly playing better than the Lakers — and even the Celtics — right now, I’m still not buying them as contenders.

3. Boston (40-14): With Glen Davis as the sole healthy member of their projected second unit — and even he suffered a bruised noggin — the Celtics finished 2-2 against the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat in the span of nine days. The win over the Heat was truly significant; no matter who earns the East’s No. 1 seed the C’s cemented themselves as the clear favorites in the conference.

4. Miami (41-15): Sure, the Heat are 38-10 (.792 winning percentage) with Lebron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh all in the lineup. Still, even with all three of those guys on the floor, they’re only 11-8 (.579) against teams above the .500 mark. Oh, and they’re 0-4 against the two other teams vying for Eastern Conference supremacy. I’d say that’s a concern.

5. Chicago (37-16): Under Tom Thibodeau‘s tutelage, the Bulls have gone from 11th place in points allowed per 100 possessions last season to second place this year — without defensive stalwart Joakim Noah at center since Dec. 15. The booby prize for finishing second in the East is not only a Game 7 on the road in the conference finals but also a semifinals matchup with Chicago.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Irish Coffee: Kobe Bryant’s Ray Allen praise wasn’t easy at 12:11 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

For the first half of this month, Boston was the hub of the NBA universe, as the Eastern Conference-leading Celtics welcomed four other championship contenders to the TD Garden – the Mavericks, Magic, Lakers and Heat — in a span of nine days. Sports Illustrated writer Ian Thomsen followed the C’s every step of the way for a cover story in the magazine’s issue that hits stores this week.

From each game, Thomsen uncovered some pretty juicy anecdotes. Here are the highlights …

Mavericks 101, Celtics 97

  • Paul Pierce didn’t know Mavericks guard J.J. Barea spent his college days in Boston: “I’m an NBA player, I’m a Celtic! I came from Kansas! What would I be doing watching Northeastern play?”
  • Mavericks center Tyson Chandler idolized Kevin Garnett“What I try to do for my team is what he’s done his entire career. I respect what he’s accomplished, so I’m just trying to mirror that.”
  • Like many players, Barea thinks Garnett isn’t always nice: “He likes to pick on little guys, I think.”

Celtics 91, Magic 80

  • Magic swingman Quentin Richardson joined the anti-Garnett club: “Garnett is a great player, he’ll be a Hall of Famer, and his résumé speaks for itself. But at the same time you may not have a lot of respect for some of the things he’ll do. He picks fights with [the Raptors' 6'3" Jose] Calderon or with Barea. Come on, man, that’s not showing that you’re big or bad. You’re trying to fight point guards.”
  • And Celtics coach Doc Rivers once again came to Garnett’s defense: “This guy should be the model. He is as pure a team player as I’ve ever been around. Does he say things the wrong way at times? Clearly Kevin has used the ‘F’ word as a noun, adjective and verb, and it’s mean-spirited if you’re not on his team. With his teammates he talks the same way, but it’s all about help, it’s all about team. The players who don’t like him are usually the players who aren’t winning, and maybe they should be more like him instead of talking about him.”
  • Pierce didn’t enjoy 25-year-old Magic center Dwight Howard‘s imitation of Garnett’s chest-thumping pregame regimen: “I don’t know if they’ve won a game when he’s mocked anybody. I think he’s got to stop it. I saw LeBron [James] go for 51 [in a Feb. 3 win at Orlando] when he mocked him.”
  • When Celtics 26-year-old center Kendrick Perkins baited Howard into a technical foul, that showed maturity on Perkins’ part, according to Rivers: “First time in his life — he fouled Dwight, holds him and holds him, Dwight hits him with an elbow, hits him with another one, and Perk just stands there. At halftime I said to the team, ‘That is toughness. Toughness is somebody hitting you in the freaking face, and you’re looking at him and laughing and walking away. That’s a tough mother.’”
  • Magic coach Stan Van Gundy doesn’t believe his team can contend with the Celtics: “Not even in the same ballpark as these guys. We can be, but we’re not right now.”

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Read More: Anthony Parker, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Quentin RIchardson
Sasha Vujacic: Celtics ‘trying to act up’ 02.16.11 at 11:53 pm ET
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You’ll be shocked to hear this, but things got chippy in a Celtics game — again.

Nets forward Kris Humprhies got into a jawing match with Celtics forward Kevin Garnett in the first half, while New Jersey guard Sasha Vujacic and C’s center Kendrick Perkins exchanged words in the second half. On the court, the C’s got the last word in a 94-80 victory. Off the court? Vujacic explained the chippiness.

“I think we started a little bit too soft in the game,” said Vujacic. “They’€™re a team that plays very well, and they’€™re trying to act up most of the time, so that’€™s how they are and how they play. We just can’€™t back down from that. We’€™ve got to deliver the first punch and not let them get us on our heels.”

Asked about the Celtics’ trash talk, Nets point guard Devin Harris added, ‘€œNothing surprises me.’€

Surprisingly, Vujacic wasn’t overly critical of the Celtics’ style of play; in fact, he credited their experience and ability to play together as a team.

‘€œWe played in their home, so everything’€™s going to be on their side,” added Vujacic. “But let’€™s face it, they’€™re one of the teams that are chasing the championship, and they are one of the favorites. They know each other. They know where everybody’€™s going to be.’€

Vujacic and Nets teammate Jordan Farmar both played on another contender to finish last season, as the former was traded from the Lakers to New Jersey for Joe Smith in mid-December and the latter signed with the Nets in the offseason. Told that the Lakers (38-19) lost to the last-place Cavaliers (10-46) on Wednesday night, both guys did a double take.

‘€œCleveland beat the Lakers?” asked Vujacic. “You’€™re kidding, right? I guess miracles do happen.’€

Added Farmar, ‘€œThey’€™re going to be pissed. That’€™s three straight.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Los Angeles Lakers, New Jersey Nets
Fast Break: Paul Pierce, Celtics take down Nets at 10:10 pm ET
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In a game that was a lot closer than the final score indicated, the Celtics survived a scare from the Nets in their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday, capturing a 94-80 home victory. The win helped the C’s (40-14) keep first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of the Heat (41-15).

Paul Pierce finished with a game-high 31 points, and Kevin Garnett recorded his 17th double-double of the season (14 points, 10 rebounds). Brook Lopez led the Nets (17-40) with 18 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

At least they got the win: The Celtics didn’t play well against the Nets by any stretch of the imagination, but they earned home win No. 25 in just their 29th game at the Garden this season. The C’s were 24-17 all of last year at home, and games like they played on Wednesday night usually ended up in the loss column. If you’ll recall, the C’s lost to an even worse Nets team by eight on Feb. 27, 2010.

Paul Pierce started off on the right foot: Before most fans finished their first beer, the Celtics started on an 8-0 run and stretched that lead to 25-10. Through the first 9:50, Pierce played the Nets to a standstill at 10 points apiece — squashing any doubts about his lingering foot problem. He finished with 31 points on 10-of-18 shooting, attacking the basket with no signs of an injury.

Praise be to Gody: In desperate need of contributions from big bodies off the bench, Luke Harangody gave the Celtics just what Doc Rivers ordered. The rookie out of Notre Dame scored eight points in just eight minutes off the bench in the first half. While he didn’t score for the remainder of the night, the gave the C’s 15 productive minutes.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Falling asleep at the wheel: After the start the Celtics enjoyed, there’s just no way it should’ve been a tie game at halftime. But it was, 46-46, thanks to Rivers’ understandable reliance on the bench for 35 combined minutes. The offensive efficiency that the Celtics have demonstrated for much of this season just wasn’t there for a long stretch from late in the first quarter until the break. Rajon Rondo‘s presence almost assures the C’s of leading their opponents (especially the Nets) in assists, but New Jersey won that battle, 19-18. That’s what Rivers often refers to as “hero ball,” and it gets them in trouble against the better teams in the league.

No immediate halftime adjustment: As well as the Celtics played in the opening few minutes of the game, they played equally as bad to start the second half, allowing the Nets to go on an 8-0 run of their own and take a 54-46 lead before many fans had taken their seats again. That translated into more taxing minutes for the C’s as they played from behind well into the third quarter.

Nothing but three Nets: Really, only a few guys gave the Celtics problems on Wednesday night: Lopez as well as guards Devin Harris and Anthony Morrow. The three combined for 48 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists. And Lopez’s ability to score in the post forced Rivers and assistant coach Lawrence Frank to furiously figure out a way to stop him in the third quarter. As a result, New Jersey also won the battle in the paint, 34-28.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, New Jersey Nets
Irish Coffee: President Obama wants Bill Russell statue in Boston at 11:58 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

(NOTE: Between the 16:30 and 18:30 marks, President Obama speaks about Bill Russell; at the 35-minute mark, Russell receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom)

In a brilliant article in Boston Magazine, WEEI.com’s Paul Flannery stated the case for a statue in Bill Russell‘s honor in the streets of Boston. On Tuesday, President Barack Obama hopped on Flannery’s bandwagon. The following is a transcript of President Obama’s remarks as he awarded Russell the Presidential Medal of Freedom:

When Bill Russell was in junior high, he was cut from his basketball team. He got better after that. He led the University of San Francisco to two championships. In 13 seasons with the Boston Celtics, he won 11 championships — a record unmatched in any sport. Won two while also serving as the team’€™s coach. And so happens, he also was the first African-American ever to hold such a position as a coach in a major league sports team of any sort. More than any athlete of his era, Bill Russell came to define the word “winner.”

And yet, whenever someone looks up at all 6 feet, 9 inches of Bill Russell — I just did; I always feel small next to him — and asks, “Are you a basketball player?” — surprisingly, he gets this more than you think, this question — he says, “No.” He says, “That’€™s what I do, that’€™s not what I am. I’m not a basketball player. I am a man who plays basketball.”

Bill Russell, the man, is someone who stood up for the rights and dignity of all men. He marched with King; he stood by Ali. When a restaurant refused to serve the black Celtics, he refused to play in the scheduled game. He endured insults and vandalism, but he kept on focusing on making the teammates who he loved better players, and made possible the success of so many who would follow. And I hope that one day, in the streets of Boston, children will look up at a statue built not only to Bill Russell the player, but Bill Russell the man.

In honor of Russell receiving the highest civilian award given in the United States, The Boston Globe discussed Russell’s impact on and off the basketball court with Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino as well as Celtics legends Tommy Heinsohn and Bob Cousy, who spanned nine of Russell’s 13 seasons and nine of his 11 title runs:

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Read More: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, Delonte West, President Barack Obama
Irish Coffee: Why Celtics should earn No. 1 seed 02.14.11 at 1:21 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Rest up, Celtics, because it doesn’t get any easier than this. The C’s are midway through their most relaxing regular-season stretch of the New Big Three Era in terms of travel.

And never have they needed it more. Seven members of the team’s 15-man roster are battling known injuries as the All-Star break looms, and that doesn’t include Glen Davis‘ bruised noggin, Kevin Garnett‘s rehabbed knee or Rajon Rondo‘s feet.

The good news: The Celtics are in the midst of a 15-day stretch between road games. They played in Charlotte on Feb. 7 and travel to Oakland on Feb. 22. In between, they’ll have played just three home games, all three days apart. Sure, there’s an All-Star Game in between (in Los Angeles) but that’s hardly heavy lifting for Garnett, Rondo, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce (depending on Pierce’s MRI results), especially since Doc Rivers is manning their minutes.

In the previous three seasons, the Celtics’ longest stretch between road games around the All-Star break was seven days. And in the last two seasons, the NBA has sandwiched a pair of road games for the C’s around the All-Star Game — hardly the mini vacation players desire.

The bad news: Since 2007, the Celtics have had three stretches of 15 days or more between road games. This current span is one. The other two have come at an even more ideal time — days before season’s end. Two years ago, the C’ss played five straight home games from March 27 to April 12. Last season, they had six consecutive home contests from March 22 to April 6.

This season, they’ll have no such luck. Starting with a four-game West Coast road trip after the All-Star Game, the Celtics play 17 of their final 28 games on the road, including 10-of-16 to close out the season. However, only 10 of those 28 games come against teams above .500.

With a half-game lead for first place, the Celtics are battling the Heat — and perhaps the Bulls — for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. In all likelihood, nobody will catch the Spurs (45-9) for the league’s best overall record, so we’ll only include the Lakers out West as we take a look at how many of these teams’ post-All-Star break games are against teams above .500:

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Read More: Bill Russell, Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett
Glen Davis, Von Wafer give Celtics just enough reserve in the tank at 10:18 am ET
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Simply put, without a great performance from Glen Davis and Von Wafer, the Celtics lose to the Heat Sunday and are in the midst of a three-game losing streak.

Instead, Davis had 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting – with one very embarrassing miss – and Wafer was 4-for-5 and had his most important game as a Celtic with 10 points, including a pair of huge 3′s in an 85-82 win over the Heat.

Forget the fact that the Celtics leap-frogged the Heat back into first in the Eastern Conference. Sunday was significant if for no other reason than the Celtics had every reason – and excuse – to lose this game.

Paul Pierceas we found out after the game – was really banged up and it showed as he missed all 10 shots from the field. Rajon Rondo turned in another all-world performance in 43 minutes of action but Doc Rivers couldn’t really rely on Nate Robinson who played just five minutes. And Avery Bradley played the final nine seconds of the first quarter.

That left it up to Davis and Wafer.

With the Celtics up 71-61, Wafer nailed a 3-ball for the Celtics’ final points of the third. He also gave the C’s their first three points of the fourth on another jumper from long range.

Davis’ big moment came even later. With 6.3 seconds remaining, Davis was fouled by LeBron James, who had just missed 1-of-2 free throws that could’ve tied the game. Instead, Davis had a chance to put the C’s up three, where a 3-pointer wouldn’t beat them.

He drained both, even with some talking going on in front of him from the Heat.

‘€œYou want to be in those positions,” Davis said. “That’€™s why you practice so hard, that’€™s why you get in the condition.

‘€œWe’€™re just trying to play the game like it’€™s supposed to be played. You know these are two of the best teams in the NBA. We got a lot of things to accomplish, getting over injuries, just trying to get better every day. We have 31 games left, we need to go out there and try to play 31 perfect games until the post-season starts.”

The more serious Wafer said there was an important message behind Sunday’s win.

‘€œIt says that we shouldn’€™t have lost the last two games,” Wafer said of the losses to the Bobcats and Lakers. “It’€™s kind of frustrating, but it’€™s already done so we just have to move on and work with what we got.’€

Rivers was just happy his team found a way with the team missing Daniels, both O’Neals, Delonte West, Robinson and a banged-up captain in Pierce.

“The bench won the game in the first half,” Rivers said of his team’s seven-point deficit in the first quarter. “They got us back into it. You know, it was amazing watching the two units play; the first unit was kind of dragging, obviously, and I thought all of them except for Rondo ‘€“ and then the second unit comes in and we don’€™t change anything; they just ‘€“ everything was quicker, harder, more desperate. And they made things happen.

“I thought in a role-reversal they showed the first unit how we were going to have to win this game. And then I thought our first unit took it from there. But Von and Baby were absolutely huge for us and terrific.’€

No discussion of Sunday’s game and Davis would be complete without mentioning what happened with 10:30 left in the second quarter. Davis, who played remarkable defense all day, stole the ball from Dwyane Wade and his reward was an open court to go to the basket for an easy two – except for the fact that he left the floor on the wrong foot and missed the lay-up/dunk in front of gasping crowd. Whoops.

‘€œThat was just what it was,” Davis smiling in very good humor. “I missed it, I went up the wrong way too. I can’€™t wait to see it on ESPN Not Top 10 that was a classic one. I was laughing. I’€™m glad it happened cause it kind of got me going in the game’€

And may have just helped the Celtics register the most significant win of the season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Glen Davis, LeBron James
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