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Preview: Magic at Celtics, Game 40 01.17.11 at 1:48 pm ET
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Over the years the Celtics and Magic have had an underrated, but energetic, rivalry. The Magic knocked the Celtics out in the 2009 playoffs and the Celtics returned the favor last season. They have played on Christmas Day two years running and there have been the kind of matchups (Dwight Howard vs. Kendrick Perkins, Rashard Lewis vs. Kevin Garnett) that have marked their games with the sort of in-game strategic maneuvers that hard-core hoops fans enjoy.

That might be why this rivalry exists mainly on the court and not in the press. Doc Rivers was one of the first coaches to catch on that the 2009 Magic had turned a corner and become a legitimate challenger. The respect has worked both ways as each side has recognized the other as their most formidable conference foe.

That’s not to say there hasn’t been some sparks, but it’s been relatively peaceful between the two teams. As opposed to say, the Celtics and Lakers or Magic and Heat.

Perhaps that’s why the Celtics, and presumably Orlando, are not putting much emphasis on the outcome of Monday night game. They both know that while the result may be a significant signpost for where they are right now, there’s a ton of difference when right now is Jan. 17 and later when it really matters.

“The games don’t literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this,” River said Sunday at practice. “I don’t know about our guys, I know the other team does for sure. I like games like this because I think it’s good for us.”

That comment could have been taken as an indirect slap, but the feeling here is that Rivers intended it more for his team. The Celtics have been treading water since late December. To their credit they have done so better than last season when the injuries began to take hold.

Since beating the 76ers on Dec. 22 to run their winning streak to 14 games, the Celtics have gone 7-5. The first loss came against Orlando on Christmas in a game that was ragged to say the least. “That game down there, I don’t think any team was proud of the way they played,” Rivers said. “I thought both teams were proud of the way they competed. It just was not played very well at all.”

Both teams are fighting for position. The Celtics hope to get Garnett back tonight, which would go a long way toward solving their emerging frontcourt depth issue, while the Magic recently lost two straight after running off nine consecutive wins. It’s a big game in that regard as both teams are trying to establish some consistency through the dog days of January.

MAGIC (26-14, 8-2 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 107.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 12th)

Defensive Rating: 102.0 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 3rd)

Pace: 92.2 (Possessions per game, 18th)

Likely Starters: Jameer Nelson, Jason Richardson, Hedo Turkoglu, Brandon Bass, Dwight Howard

Injuries: Malik Allen (Ankle, out), Daniel Orton (Knee, out), Jason Williams (Foot, out)

CELTICS (30-9, 6-4, LAST 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.8 (10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.5 (2nd)

Pace: 90.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Garnett (Strained calf, probable), Shaquille O’Neal (Strained adductor, questionable), Marquis Daniels (Back, probable), Semih Erden (Groin, probable), Jermaine O’Neal (Knee, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out)  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Magic, Preview,
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.

Read More: Bobcats, Celtics, Fast Break,
Preview: Kings at Celtics, Game 38 01.12.11 at 11:13 am ET
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Doc Rivers wasn’t happy with his starters Monday night in a loss to the Rockets, so he beat them up in practice on Tuesday. Rivers wanted a live, physical full-court practice with lots of rebounding work, which is part of the reason he elected to hold Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins out of the session.

Rivers is worried that his team is getting too complacent. “We’ve won games where I didn’t think we were mentally ready to play the game, but we were mentally tough enough to fight through it and win the game,” Rivers said. “But we’ve also lost some games where we haven’t had that mental toughness.”

What concerned him most against Houston was that his team took too many shortcuts. They switched screens when they didn’t have to. They looked for the home run play when an easier one would have sufficed.

“We just got to stay on it,” Rivers said. “We are a veteran team that knows there’s another level that we can play at and we play at it at times. So we just got to stay on top of it.” The blame, he said, rested mainly with the starters.

Rivers is taking a calculated gamble that he can get his team back on track by whipping them into shape and refocusing their attention. You may recall that similar motivational tactics had no effect on last season’s Celtics. That, along with the injuries, made them an incredibly frustrating team throughout January, February and March.

This year, Rivers has said, is different. It has to be. On the same night they lost to the Rockets, the Miami Heat slipped passed the Celtics for the best record in the Eastern Conference. “I know they’re playing well, honest to gosh, I could care less,” Rivers said. “I am only concerned with our team.”

And he is concerned. Transition defense, pick and roll coverage, offensive execution, all these things must be corrected sooner rather than later and it needs to start tonight against the Kings.

KINGS (8-27, 3-7 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 102.7 (Points per 100 possessions, 24th)

Defensive Rating: 108.9 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 23rd)

Pace: 93.8 (Possessions per game, 9th)

Likely Starters: Beno Udrih, Luther Head, Francisco Garcia, Jason Thompson, DeMarcus Cousins

Injuries: Tyreke Evans (Ankle, questionable)

CELTICS (28-9, 5-5 last 10)

Offensive Rating: 108.3 (10th)

Defensive Rating: 100.4 (2nd)

Pace: 90.7 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, doubtful), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out) Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Preview, sacramento kings,
What to watch for on the Celtics homestand 01.09.11 at 12:19 am ET
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Kevin Garnett is on the way back for the Celtics. (AP Image).

Last season, while in the midst of a depressing spring swoon, the schedule gods handed the Celtics a gift: six straight games at TD Garden to help them right their sinking ship. There were two problems. First, the Celtics simply weren’t very good at the Garden last season (for whatever reason) and second, they played five playoff teams including the Thunder, Spurs and Cavaliers.

The Celtics actually did all right for themselves, splitting those six games and winning an emotional game over the Cavs on Easter Sunday that served as a rallying point when they ultimately faced them in the playoffs. But there were also some ugly setbacks, such as a 21-point loss to San Antonio and the memorable Kevin Durant gets calls like Michael Bleeping Jordan game (in the words of Kevin Garnett).

Ultimately their six-game homestand was neither defining nor damning. It simply was another signpost in the Celtics up and down 2010.

This season, however, the expectations are much different. The Celtics are rolling (or were rolling until the Bulls wiped them out Saturday night in an ugly, defensive game) and they are playing much better at the Garden where their 16-2 record is tops in the Eastern Conference and tied for first in the loss column with the Spurs, who are 19-2 at home.

The Celtics will also get the benefit of playing four teams who are under .500. They get the Rockets, Kings and Bobcats this week and the Pistons in between visits from Orlando and Utah next week and it’s a golden opportunity for the Celtics to continue to pad their record. Even with Saturday night’s loss to the Bulls, at 28-8 the Celtics still hold a one-game lead on Miami for the best conference record and are four games ahead of Chicago and Orlando in the loss column for second.

Here are five things to look for on this homestand: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Charlie Viillanueva, DeMarcus Cousins, Deron Williams
Fast Break: Bulls bury Celtics 01.08.11 at 10:42 pm ET
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The NBA schedule is sometimes a cruel beast. Take the Celtics and Bulls, put them in a vacuum and the result is usually a fantastic game. But put them on a Saturday night with both teams on the second end of back-to-backs and you get a slow, ugly contest, like the one these two teams played.

The Celtics were able to hang in until the bitter end, mostly thanks to 21 Chicago turnovers, but the combination of Derrick Rose (36 points) and Carlos Boozer (22) was too much to overcome in a 90-79 loss that snapped Boston’s four-game winning streak. (Recap.)

Credit Tom Thibodeau‘s defense, which held the Celtics to 38 percent shooting and kept them out of the paint all night. Not many teams can make the Celtics look as bad as they did Saturday night, but Thibodeau knows them as well as anyone and he has Chicago ranked second (behind the Celtics) in defensive efficiency.

The Celtics return home for a six-game homestand against only two teams with winning records: Utah and Orlando. They are also expected to get Kevin Garnett back, possibly as early as Monday.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: In case there was still any confusion about how the Celtics feel about offensive rebounds, Doc Rivers said it as plainly as he could Friday night.

“I don’t care about offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “I care about defensive rebounds.”

In that case, the first half was very discouraging as the Bulls grabbed eight offensive rebounds. It didn’t get any better in the second half as the Celtics got pounded on the boards. They gave up 11 offensive boards and lost the overall battle, 48-27.

Derrick Rose at the free throw line: Derrick Rose established a new career-high in free throw attempts and makes midway through the third quarter. He went on to make 15-of-19 as he wore the Celtics out with the pick-and-roll. The Bulls wound up only being +7 at the line, despite taking 13 more shots (35-22).

Bench production: Or the lack, thereof. Outside of Jermaine O’Neal who had six points and three rebounds, the Celtics reserves combined to shoot 1-for-7 with three rebounds and four assists. Once again, the Celtics offense without Rajon Rondo on the floor was disjointed and out of sync.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen: The two veterans basically are the Celtics offense right now with Garnett out, so it’s a good thing that they are both playing at a high level. They combined for 40 points, or more than half the Celtics’ total. Along with Rondo, they shot 20-for-43. The rest of the team? A horrific 8-for-31.

Turnovers: Yes, this is the right column. The Bulls turned it over 21 times compared to the Celtics’ eight times. The Celtics recorded 12 steals, which helped, but this was the only thing that kept the Celtics in the game.

Rajon Rondo was decent: Rondo had a solid line with 13 points, five rebounds, five steals and eight assists, but he was also responsible (along with the big men) for Rose’s big night.

Read More: Bulls, Celtics, Derrick Rose, Fast Break
Preview: Spurs at Celtics 01.05.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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With a little more than three minutes left, and his team down 11 points in New York, San Antonio Gregg Popovich pulled his starters Tuesday night, effectively signaling, no mas. This was interesting for two reasons. First, NBA teams just don’t do that, especially not in New York where the media scrutiny shines the brightest, and second, the Spurs play the Celtics tonight.

Popovich got away with it because he’s Popovich, and because even the most rah-rah fan would have to admit that pulling back on a game that could maybe go either way — but looks doubtful — in early January is not really a bad idea. Plus, it’s the freaking San Antonio Spurs, who won four championships since 1998 without a tenth of the drama normally associated with NBA teams, and who have the best record in the league. If Pop wants to make a statement, who’s going to argue with him?

After the game, Popovich called his team’s effort “pathetic,” and again, he had no arguments from his players who should be in a feisty mood for their one visit to TD Garden. This one doesn’t need any more advance hype — although it would be much better if Kevin Garnett was able to play against Tim Duncan.

The Spurs have the best record in the league (and the league’s best offense), while the Celtics sit at No. 2 with the league’s best defense. In many ways the Celtics are modeled after the Spurs, with Doc Rivers taking many lessons from his days in San Antonio with him to Boston.

This is simply as good as it gets in the NBA.

SAN ANTONIO SPURS (29-5, 8-2 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 112.4 (Points per 100 possessions, 1st)

Defensive Rating: 103.7 (Points allowed per 100 possessions, 9th)

Pace: 93.3 (Possessions per game, 10th)

Likely Starters: Tony Parker, Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, DeJuan Blair, Tim Duncan

Injuries: James Anderson (Foot, out)

CELTICS (26-7, 7-3 last 10 games)

Offensive Rating: 107.6 (11th)

Defensive Rating: 90.8 (1st)

Pace: 90.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Glen Davis, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (Calf, out), Delonte West (Wrist, out), Kendrick Perkins (Knee, out).

KEY MATCHUP: Glen Davis vs. DeJuan Blair

Big Baby meet Dajuan Bear, in which 550 pounds, give or take, of bulk do battle on the boards. Blair averages 6.6 rebounds a game in 20 minutes of action. But crunch those numbers further, adjust for pace and time spent on the court and Blair is a more effective offensive rebounder than Kevin Love. Lost in the Love-fest Monday night was the fact that Davis grabbed one solitary rebound. He’ll have to do better tonight.

THREE STORYLINES

1. Can the Celtics defense contain the Spurs?

When we think of the Spurs we don’t often think of offense, but they have the league’s best this season thanks to an insanely efficient attack that features a league-best 40 percent shooting from behind the arc. Manu Ginobli, Richard Jefferson, George Hill and Matt Bonner all have True Shooting percentage over 60 percent and that’s before anyone has to account for Duncan or Tony Parker.

2. Is this an NBA finals preview?

While all the attention in the Western Conference has focused on the Lakers and their various serial dramas, the Spurs have quietly reinvented themselves as the class of the conference. It doesn’t hurt that they have been relatively injury-free or that they have once again unearthed a gem in Gary Neal, who floated around Europe for three years before coming to the NBA. The Spurs are loaded.

3. How healthy is Rajon Rondo?

In his two games since returning from his ankle injury, Rondo has been good, but he hasn’t been Rondo. We have yet to see the explosive athletic ability that is the hallmark of his game and what truly separates him from his contemporaries at the point guard position. He’ll have his hands full with Parker tonight.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Spurs,
Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota 01.03.11 at 10:05 pm ET
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The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.

He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.

Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.

Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.

But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).

But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.

Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.

Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Glen Davis, Kevin Love
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