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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
Chris Bosh: ‘I really hate losing to’ the Celtics 02.13.11 at 8:36 pm ET
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Chris Bosh tripled his scoring output from his Heat’s 88-80 opening-night loss to the Celtics, and it still didn’t matter. The C’s held Miami to 82 points in a three-point victory on Sunday that gave the East leaders a 3-0 season advantage over the conference’s second-place team.

“We’€™ll just have to wait to beat the Celtics in another month or so,” said Bosh. “I really hate losing to these guys, man. We’€™re just going to have to wait a little bit longer. Things like this are going to make us better. Coming into an environment like this, against tough teams like this, battling for first place, it’€™s going to add to our experience and add to our trust. We’€™re just going to have to keep going and learn from it.’€

The two teams don’t actually face each other until April 10 — three days before the end of the regular season — but the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed could already be determined by then. As it stands now, the Celtics (39-14) own a half-game lead on the Heat (39-15).

“We’re in each other’€™s way of winning an NBA championship with other teams in the Eastern Conference like Chicago and Orlando and a few other teams,” said Lebron James. “This is a team that everybody is trying to catch. They’re the defending Eastern Conference champions.”

Despite the fact that the Heat only committed two more turnovers than the Celtics (15-13) and led 43-39 at the half, Miami attributed much of the loss to their 12 first-half turnovers.

“The margin for error against a great team like that is very small. ‘€¦ We dug ourselves a hole, and we just couldn’€™t get out of it,” said Bosh. “Like I said, against a good team like that, you can’€™t really do that.”

“You can tell I’€™m upset,” added James. “I just want to win. We all want to win. We know for the most part it was our mistakes. Give a lot of credit to Boston, of course, but we had a lot of unforced turnovers. We were shooting 56 percent from the floor in the first half, but we had 12 turnovers. We’€™ve got to at least give ourselves a chance to get the ball up on the rim. In the third quarter, they caught fire, and you can’€™t get behind a team like that.”

The Celtics outscored the Heat 35-18 in the third quarter. Interestingly enough, Rajon Rondo opted to play defense on James in that same quarter. But don’t look for James to credit Rondo, as the former shoved the latter twice for listening in on a Heat huddle.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chris Bosh, LeBron James, Miami Heat
Rajon Rondo gets inside the heads of the Heat at 7:24 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo may be a guard but he certainly is getting accustomed to being in the center of the action.

The Celtics trailed, 43-39, at halftime and looked tired, even to coach Doc Rivers. Rondo knew something had to change and fast if the C’s were to avoid a third straight loss.

“D-West talked to me coming out of halftime and couple of guys told me to try and up the tempo and the only way I could do that was by pressuring the ball,” Rondo said.

Even if it meant picking up LeBron James at midcourt. And he did. And the Celtics responded with a 20-3 run that gave them the lead they never relinquished.

“I was just trying to cut the head of the horse, just wanted to change the tempo of the game,” Rondo added.

Rondo had a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists and Kevin Garnett added 19 points as the Celtics won for the third time in as many tries against King LeBron and the Heat, 85-82, Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.

So Doc, whose brilliant idea was it?

“It was Rondo’€™s idea,” Rivers said. “Really what it was, was that we just ‘€“ I told him to pressure the ball, and he took that whoever brought it up. I didn’€™t mean that. He took it that way and then I stayed with it. He actually during a time-out thought we were going to switch back, and when I didn’€™t say anything he was surprised. Because I liked it.

“Sometimes you go off the book and today was clearly that. That match-up made no sense, honestly. And it hurt us a couple times. The only thing I saw honestly is that it gave us life. Because he was trying so hard and working so hard, I just sort of force everybody else to join in. And even [Assistant Coach] Lawrence [Frank] was like ‘€˜We can’€™t do this!’€™ And I said, ‘€˜You’€™re right, but we’€™re just going to keep doing it.’€™ And it was good for us.’€

The Celtics, who scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter, reclaimed first in the Eastern Conference by a half-game over the Heat, improving to 39-14 while the Heat fell to 39-15. With a chance to tie the game, James missed the front end of a pair of free throws with 12.5 seconds remaining and Mike Miller missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer just before the buzzer.

The Celtics had six players in double figures but captain Paul Pierce was not one of them. He missed all 10 shots and finished with just one point in 39 minutes. The Celtics shot just 30 percent in the opening quarter and 37 percent in the first half, and trailed 43-39 at the half. But Boston outscored Miami, 20-3, to open the third quarter and take command of the game.

The third quarter also featured some playoff-brand physical play and frustration from the the Heat. After Zydrunas Ilguaskas set a devastating screen on Rondo, who immediately got up. Moments later, Garnett got retribution with a clean pick on Mike Miller. But Dwyane Wade took exception and threw an elbow at Garnett. Wade was whistled for a flagrant foul and the two teams had to be separated.

The Celtics are off until Wednesday when they host the Nets in the final game before the All-Star break.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Delonte West, Doc Rivers, Miami Heat
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