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Fast Break: Celtics-Raptors 01.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET
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In truth, no one really knew what to expect when the Celtics took on the Raptors Saturday night featuring a starting lineup that included Tony Allen (playing point guard, no less) and J.R. Giddens. Add in Rasheed Wallace in place of Kevin Garnett and a bench that had six healthy players, including Bill Walker and Lester Hudson, and well, what right did anyone have to expect the Celtics to beat the resurgent Raptors?

They did, 103-96, and they’ll take it of course after a tumultuous week in which they lost three straight games and Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Garnett to injury. Any win right now is huge.

The Celtics now have four days to try and get something that resembles a healthy team in place for a road trip that will have them go to Miami, Atlanta and then Toronto. At this point, no one really knows who among the trio will be healthy enough to play against the Heat, although Pierce and Rondo would be the best guess. Garnett is likely to be out longer.

But for one night, the Celtics were able to steal a victory that was all the more satisfying against a division rival with their makeshift lineup.

Player of the Game: Rasheed Wallace. The Celtics began the game by feeding Wallace in the post and Wallace promptly banked in a jumper over Chris Bosh. It was a sign of things to come for Wallace who used his inside and outside game to play maybe his best game in a Celtic uniform. Wallace finished with 16 points, six rebounds and four assists, and he and Kendrick Perkins took turns making Bosh work for his offense.

Turning Point: After a competitive, but ragged, first quarter, the Celtics bench helped push the lead into double-digits in the second. Led primarily by Glen Davis, who had his best game since returning from injury, Eddie House and rookie Lester Hudson the Celtics reserves shot 7-for-13 in the quarter.

* Giddens got his first career start, but Hudson was the best of the so-called Celtics “kids.” Fresh off a stint in the D-League, Hudson looked calm and confident running the team. Bill Walker did not play.

* Wallace and Hedo Turkoglu picked up double technicals in the second quarter. It was the 11th technical of the season called on Wallace, putting him five away from an automatic suspension.

* Tony Allen had the dunk of the night, blowing by Bosh and jamming it home against an unguarded basket. Toronto’s defensive shortcomings have to be seen to be believed. Later in the fourth quarter, Wallace spun around Andrea Bargnani and easily beat him baseline with no help coming for a huge dunk.

* The Celtics had six players score in double figures led by Ray Allen who scored 23 of the quietest points he’s scored in his career. Tony Allen also had his best game of the season with 14 points, five rebounds and seven assists.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Raptors,
No rush for KG return at 7:56 pm ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers hinted on Saturday night that Kevin Garnett could be out at least another 10 days with soreness in his right knee, adding that he would probably miss the next five games.

“At least you know it’s going to be a lot longer than that, but you don’t know how quickly he can come back from that.”

Entering Saturday’s game, the Celtics were 2-3 in the five games without Garnett in the lineup.

Read More: Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA,
Pierce details ‘extreme’ infection at 6:51 pm ET
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For the first time since having two surgeries to clean out a nasty infection in his right knee around Christmas, Paul Pierce spoke before Saturday’s game and said he plans to be with the team on its upcoming road trip and is hopeful to return to practice as soon as Monday.

Pierce, who was wearing a white circulatory wrap on his right knee, said the infection and subsequent pain came upon him quickly following the team’s home-court win over Indiana on Dec. 22.

[Pierce explains what he had to go through and how scary the infection was.]

“It was a situation I got home and I was sort of sitting back and relaxing and then sort of felt a slight pain in my knee and then over a 10-to-15 minute period, it just got worse and worse,” Pierce said. “It went from just kind of hurting to sore to bad to extreme in like a 15-minute period, which was crazy.

“I called Eddie Lacerte about 1:30 in the morning and he knows I never call him unless it’s really bad. So, he came over to the house and checked it out. We went to the hospital that morning, doctor checked it out and we did the surgery. An infection somehow got into my leg.”

Pierce said after his first surgery on Dec. 23 his white blood cell count skyrocketed to 40,000 indicating an infection. The doctors then went in on Christmas Day to clean it out again and isolated the infection. He said he doesn’t have a particular game in mind for a return.

Read More: Celtics, Paul Pierce, right knee,
Fast Break: Celtics-Suns 12.30.09 at 11:28 pm ET
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The losing streak is now three games, and while there were extenuating circumstances, this was the worst of the three. Yes the injuries are piling up and yes, the trip was long and tiring, but the Celtics had less pop than day-old champagne and provided decidedly less buzz. The Celtics clearly have bigger issues than one game, and in truth it wasn’t much of a surprise that the Phoenix Suns were able to blow them off the court Wednesday night, 116-98.

The big news came before tip-off as Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis (again) joined Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels on the injured list, and it looks like it will be a little while before Garnett returns. The Celtics are saying that Garnett suffered a hyper-extended knee when he got kicked against the Warriors, which they are saying is different than the thigh bruise that kept him out last week and different than the knee injury that kept him out of the playoffs.

With more than a week between now and a Jan. 6 game at Miami and only one more game in between against the Raptors on Saturday, this seems like an ideal time to give Garnett some rest. That’s how the Celtics are playing it, but there will certainly be questions about Garnett’s injuries, which coincidentally or not, have all affected the same leg.

Despite all that the Celtics did come out with the best of intentions. They went into the post repeatedly in the first quarter in an effort to play from the inside out and they took the ball hard to the basket and lived at the free throw line for most of the second quarter. Those good intentions couldn’t mask a lack of players, energy or hustle, however.

Player of the Game: Amar’e Stoudemire. The Suns forward dominated the Celtics in the first quarter, making nine of 10 shots and scoring at will. He was far too quick for Kendrick Perkins, which is just one place the Celtics missed Garnett. If not for persistent foul trouble, Stoudemire might have gone for 40 points. Instead he settled for 26 and seven rebounds.

Turning Point: Unlike most Phoenix runs, the Suns decisive move didn’t happen quickly. But it did happen early. Lasting 1o possessions and carrying on through a timeout, they turned a 12-8 deficit into a 26-14 lead. From that point on, the Celtics were in deep trouble.

* Those waiting for the kids, i.e. Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Lester Hudson to get some run will have to continue the vigil. If ever there was a night for them to play it was Wednesday. Instead all three were idle until the fourth quarter when the game was well in Phoenix’s grasp.

* This could have been a night for Rasheed Wallace to pick up some of the slack, but he struggled against the quicker Suns. He failed to take advantage of what should have been a mismatch against Channing Frye and played just 29 minutes. Wallace was 3-for-11 and 0-for-4 from 3-point range.

* Rajon Rondo played despite his sore hamstring and seemed to lack his usual burst to the hoop. Even playing the defensively-challenged Steve Nash, Rondo rarely took it to the rim and was content to settle himself about 20 feet from the basket most of the night. In 31 minutes Rondo scored 13 points and recorded eight assists, which were solid enough numbers but it was clear that Rondo wasn’t at his best.

* Perkins picked up his 10th technical foul, which ties him with Wallace for most in the NBA. He would be subject to a one-game suspension if his count reaches 16 techs.

* The Celtics were able to stay in the game for a time with a small-ball lineup of Rondo, Eddie House, Ray Allen and Brian Scalabrine along with Wallace and Perkins. But every time they inched closer the Suns shot them right back out of the game.

* Shelden Williams had 14 points and five rebounds, which was his most productive outing in weeks.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Suns,
Here come the Cavs at 1:50 pm ET
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A small detail from Tuesday night’s NBA games. The Cleveland Cavaliers slipped past the Celtics by a half game for the best record in the Eastern Conference. At 23-7 the Celts are still up a game in the loss column (Cleveland’s 25-8) and hold a few percentage points if you want to get technical about it.

This isn’t about that. This is about how the Cavs are hitting their stride. Earlier in the season, when Cleveland was losing three of its first six, there were questions about how well Shaquille O’Neal was really going to fit alongside LeBron James, and if Delonte West could get his life back together, let alone his game.

Safe to say they’ve figured it out. The Cavs have won 10 of their last 11 with a road loss to the Mavs serving as the spoiler and it’s not just that they’ve been winning. They’ve been destroying teams. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cavaliers, Celtics, LeBron James,
Preview: Celtics-Suns at 10:59 am ET
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It’s funny what a couple of losses can do to a team. Just last weekend everyone was hailing the Celtics resiliency and toughness after they found a way to beat the Magic in Orlando. Now, they’re careless and sloppy and not quite as dominant as everyone thought. Or maybe, they just miss Paul Pierce, especially late in games.

The C’s play the Suns Wednesday night and it’s a matchup that should have been circled back when the schedule came out because it’s two good teams who play an entertaining, but completely different, brand of basketball. If the Celtics lose, which they might, it would be three straight defeats and the ship will be sinking. Or something.

Do they need to tighten up? Absolutely. Do they need to play better? Sure. Are they headed for an inevitable playoff fall after a couple of lackluster games on the road in late December? Um, no. For one night, forget about the playoffs. Forget about wherever this team is eventually heading and just enjoy the hoops.

CELTICS (23-7, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: +8.7 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Paul Pierce (knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist), Glen Davis (ankle)

SUNS (20-12, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 109.8

Points Allowed: 106.0

Differential: +3.8 (Ninth)

Offensive Efficiency: 114.6 (First)

Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (27th)

Pace: 95.8 (Fourth)

Likely Starters: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Nash vs. Rondo

Nash won a couple of MVP’s earlier this decade that in retrospect most feel he probably shouldn’t have won. That’s not a knock on Nash who has been one of the game’s great guards of this or any other era, just the reality of suspect MVP voting. What’s interesting, however, is that Nash may be having an even better season than his MVP years. He ranks first in every assist category in the league, and in free throw shooting. He is the top-ranked guard in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage and owns the best Offensive Efficiency Rating in the NBA. He’s the key to everything the Suns do and represents yet another test for Rondo.

Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics turn the ball over a lot. They average a little more than 15 per game, which puts them in the lower half of the NBA. It’s even worse when you factor in pace where they rank near the very bottom of the league. More than a quarter of their possessions end in turnovers, which puts their 26-turnover performance in a 100-possession game against the Warriors in a little better perspective. That said, turnovers have always been an issue for the Celtics in this era. They had been doing a better job managing them this season, but even a little slippage in this area turns an issue into a full-blown problem.

Suns in a Paragraph: In the past 10 games the Suns have defeated the Lakers, Spurs and Magic and lost to the Blazers, Nuggets and Cavs. They remain a very good team in a hyper-competitive conference that is good enough to beat anyone, but probably not good enough to get to the Finals. That’s a shame for anyone who loves watching well-executed fast-break basketball. Until they break through, their style will always be suspect, but when the Suns did try to play a more conventional game they were not only boring, they were mediocre. For a league that prides itself on its creativity, the NBA can be surprisingly conservative.

What to watch For: Phoenix has four players that have already launched at least 100 3-pointers this season: Nash, Richardson, Frye and former Boston College star, Jared Dudley. Each of them shoot a high percentage, and as a team the Suns are shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, Phoenix owns the best offensive efficiency rating in basketball. The Celtics are the top rated defense in terms of efficiency, so something has to give.

In their first meeting, Phoenix was able to spread the floor with high pick and rolls and with Nash running it there are no good options for defending it. The pressure will be on Rondo to fight through screens and provide pressure on the ball and the Celtics bigs to not leave Frye open for pick and pop jumpers.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Suns,
Fast Break: Celtics-Warriors 12.29.09 at 1:18 am ET
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Playing the Warriors can sometimes be as much an exercise in restraint as anything else. There are so many open shots and available fast break opportunities that it can be incredibly enticing to settle for the first good thing that presents itself. The Celtics, who play such a tightly controlled form of basketball, were easy marks most of the night, especially after dominating the first quarter.

In retrospect, the first 12 minutes may have been the Celtics’ undoing in a 103-99 loss. (Recap.) Playing one of their best quarters of the season, the Celtics destroyed Golden State and took a 35-22 lead. But while those easy looks remained there all night, the Celtics never settled down and played their game, with 24 turnovers one of the results.

Instead, they played way too fast and way too much like the Warriors wanted them to play at right around 100 possessions. The Celtics average a tick over 91.This is the second time they have succumbed to the temptations of playing run and gun. The Phoenix Suns performed a similar helter-skelter number on the Celtics earlier in the season, although that game was played at a pedestrian pace compared to Monday night’s sprint.

Player of the Game: Rajon Rondo. It’s getting repetitive, but Rondo is the engine and the catalyst that makes the Celtics offense go. The Warriors went with various modifications of the “leave Rondo alone in the halfcourt” defense. Taking a page from the Knicks playbook (via Jared Jeffries), they sometimes utilized 6-foot-10 Anthony Randolph playing way off Rondo and inviting him to shoot. Most of the time, Monta Ellis just sagged off him and hung back in the paint. The result was a 30-point, 15-assist effort for Rondo, who will continue to see gimmick defenses the rest of the season. Better that he sees them now.

Turning Point: In the second quarter, C.J. Watson had six steals and seemed to live in the Celtics passing lanes. He, along with Ronny Turiaf, completely changed the momentum and helped the Warriors get back in the game.

* This was a night when the Celtics dearly missed Paul Pierce. As much as Rondo controls the offense, Pierce acts as the calming influence. Halfcourt calm was in short supply against Golden State.

* In a game that featured a lot of physical play, and some uneven whistles, Glen Davis got hammered going up for a shot and appeared to be in pain when he came off the floor in the fourth quarter. The initial diagnosis was a sprained ankle and he did not return. His comeback was put on an accelerated timetable for this trip and it remains to be seen if he was actually physically ready to return to the court.

* Doc Rivers played a limited rotation and Ray Allen logged 44 minutes. That’s entirely too many, but with the Warriors’ small lineups, it did make sense. Allen’s increased minutes are yet another function of Pierce’s injury.

* Give the Warriors credit for executing correctly in the final seconds. With a three-point lead and five seconds remaining, Golden State intentionally fouled Allen rather then let him attempt a 3-pointer. It remains a mystery why more teams don’t do that automatically.

Read More: Celtics, cj watson, Fast Break, Rajon Rondo
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