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Rajon Rondo: ‘I just tried to go out there and be great’ 04.01.12 at 11:23 pm ET
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More and more, Rajon Rondo looks like a hit man carrying out his mission.

And more and more, he is looking really comfortable taking his orders from Doc Rivers.

Sunday, he scored 10 points in the first six minutes, making all four field goals he attempted, grabbing four rebounds and four assists. As a matter of fact, the Celtics led Miami, 21-10, midway through and Rondo had accounted for all 21 points. He scored 10, assisted on seven and fed Brandon Bass twice on plays that results in four free throws.

“Coach ordered it, I was just trying to get it done,” Rondo said, sounding just like a hit man.

Did Rondo and the C’s make a statement?

“Statement or not, we did what we’re supposed to do tonight, which is get a win on our home court,” Rondo said. “We’re playing pretty good as of late. Avery Bradley is playing tremendous. He’s changing the game right now with his defensive energy, and the way he’s playing offensively as well.”

After his fifth triple-double of the season and 18th career, Rondo spoke like a point guard who feels confident he can lead his team deep in the NBA playoffs, even against the powerhouses like the Heat and Bulls.

“I think when we have at least four or five guys healthy, we follow the game plan,” Rondo said after his 16-point, 14-assist and 11-rebound performance in Boston’s 91-72 spanking of Miami Sunday at the Garden. “But when I’m healthy, I think we can probably beat anybody.”

Last year, Rondo suffered a grotesque dislocation of his left elbow in Game 3 against the Heat. The Celtics won that game but lost the Eastern semifinals four games to one.

Rondo said he does not pay particular attention to the national spotlight, despite the fact that 14 of his career 18 triple-doubles have come on national TV.

“I think my teammates put a spotlight on me more than the media or the televised games,” Rondo said. “Four or five guys came up to me today and told me to be aggressive and show what a great point guard is. So I just tried to go out there and just be great.”

“Yeah, we’re just going to tell him we’re playing on ABC every day,” Rivers joked. “One of the things going in the game today: we told Rondo that we needed him to be a scorer. Not necessarily a playmaker; a scorer. And I thought he set the tone at the beginning of the game by doing that, and I thought that loosened it up for everybody else to get into the game. He was terrific.

“I thought everyone played well. I thought [Kevin Garnett] defensively was unbelievable tonight. And it’s good. That’s where we’re making our hay right now. We’re still struggling on the glass, even though today we held our own by the end they had 15 offensive rebounds. But they had them because they were missing a lot of shots; they had more offensive rebound opportunities.”

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Kevin Garnett: ‘I have nothing positive to say’ about Minnesota Timberwolves 03.30.12 at 2:36 pm ET
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On Friday night, the Celtics are shooting for their fourth straight victory and a sixth win in their last seven games when they travel to Minneapolis, the city Kevin Garnett called home for his first 12 NBA seasons.

Loyalty means everything to Garnett, and as we learned following Wednesday’s defeat of the Jazz, that devotion moved to Boston from Minnesota when the Timberwolves sent him to the Celtics in 2007 for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, their 2009 first-round draft pick and Minnesota’s 2009 first-round pick that they had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak deal.

“It’s always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say, so I’ll just let it be that,” said Garnett. “I think Kevin Love is playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”

To say Love is playing at a high level might be an understatement, as he’s averaging 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over his last four games and playing himself into the MVP discussion. There’s been plenty of comparisons between Garnett vs. Love, but recently Garnett has guarded opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see if the two actually square off head-to-head in Friday night’s matchup.

Speaking of Garnett at the five position, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, he could be the perfect fill-in for the Celtics at center for the next two or three years. That would allow the Celtics to remain competitive with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and whoever else while maintaining some flexibility for the next round of superstar free agents in two or three years, when the C’s could make a run at someone like — you guessed it — Love.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m in a rhythm of finding guys’ 03.29.12 at 11:17 am ET
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Take care of the rock.

It’s the simplest of principles in basketball yet sometimes the most challenging.

No one knows this more than Rajon Rondo.

His 14 assists Wednesday gave him double-digit assist totals for 11 straight games, the first player with such a string since Steve Nash went on his remarkable run in 2009. But in those 11 games, he’s committed six turnovers three times and four turnovers twice. Doc Rivers challenged him after the All-Star break to cut down on the turnovers and see what happens.

“Well it’s been down since All-Star break and we’ve had a couple of them, but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year and since we’ve made those our turnovers have been way down.

“The only big we throw it to is [Kevin Garnett], above the elbow, basically its that simple,” Rivers added. “Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only ball handler above the circle.”

And the change from Rondo?

“He’s probably talking about me,” Rondo said. “When I take care of the ball, we take care of the ball as a team so I try to go in with that focus. It starts with the point guard. I have the ball in my hands a lot of the time on the floor. So, if I can take care of the ball, we tend to follow.”

The turnover ratio can explain so much. It can explain why a team that has trouble taking care of the ball possession after possession allows its opponent to get easy buckets in transition.

In the college game, we’ve seen what the University of Kentucky has done turning teams over with its pressure defense. Close games become blowouts in the blink of an eye.

In the NBA this season, we’ve seen a Philadelphia team overachieve and lead its division for most of the season because they are hardly turning the ball over at all. They are on pace to commit fewer than 11 turnovers a game, breaking the previous record of the 2006 Detroit Pistons.

And now we’re seeing the benefit of taking care of the ball from Rondo and the Celtics.

The Celtics have been beaten on the glass by an average of 10 rebounds per game over a stretch in which they’ve gone 4-2. Why? Because they’re committing fewer and fewer turnovers. Take Wednesday night for example.

The rebounding tote board read 43-25 at one point in favor of Utah. But the Celtics committed just six turnovers three quarters while Utah had committed 13, leading to 18 Celtics points. The final numbers were 49-38 and 12-15, respectively.

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Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’ at 9:56 am ET
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Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.

Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.

The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.

But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.

“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”

Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.

“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.

“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”

And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.

“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”

“Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.”

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Celtics take care of business 03.26.12 at 10:05 am ET
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When analyzing the Celtics’ schedule in the lockout-shortened season, their eight-game road trip in the middle of March stood out like like an Avery Bradley 19-point first half. The stretch took on new meaning and appeared even more daunting as it drew nearer. The veteran squad had struggled all season long with a combination of ill-timed injuries, rumors of possible trades and overall inconsistent play.

On paper the end results weren’t flawless, or even impressive — the Celtics finished 4-4 — but sans a woeful second half against a bad Kings team, the performances were proof the Celtics could still make noise come playoff time. Doc Rivers wanted his team to maintain the intensity upon returning home Sunday night against an inferior Wizards team.

“We told them we are not at home,” Rivers said. “We are on the road still. The road trip ends after the next game is the way we look at it.”

Empirical evidence suggests the Celtics could perform up to their potential in a dominating performance, like they did against the Blazers just before the road tip, or drop a game they should win like they did losing both games of a home-and-home series against a lottery-bound Pistons team in February. Fortunately for the C’s, the former occurred as they shot 65 percent and built a 19-point lead at halftime they would never surrender.

“This is definitely game we’re supposed to win,” Paul Pierce said. ”The Washington Wizards are in a rebuilding phase, trading away a lot their players. It’s just nice to get a win.”

Pierce is not being arrogant or presumptuous in his statement; he is being truthful (no pun intended). The Celtics should post victories against teams out of contention like the Wizards. However, even though the road trip is over, in the final 18 games only four are against teams with no playoff aspirations. Additionally, Boston faces the Heat three times, has matchups against the Knicks and Bucks — each of whom are battling the Celtics for the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference — and has a trip to conference-leading Chicago.

“There are a lot of expectations,” Greg Stiemsma said. ”We step on the floor and expect to win every night, and we’ve got big plans the rest of the year.”

If any plans are to come to fruition, games like Monday’s in Charlotte no longer can be chalked up to an off night due to back-to-back games. Schedule losses don’t happen to championship-caliber teams in April while gearing up for the playoffs.

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Should the Celtics draft Austin Rivers? 03.23.12 at 2:55 pm ET
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Should the Celtics draft Austin Rivers to play for his father? (AP)

Austin Rivers, the talented son of Celtics coach Doc Rivers, will reportedly declare for the draft after just one season at Duke, per Jeff Goodman of CBSSports. Austin Rivers began the year as the one of the nation’s top recruits but concerns over his lack of ideal scoring guard size — he’s 6-foot-4 — and playing style — high usage rate, undersized shooting guard — sent him from the preseason lottery to the middle of the first round in most draft projections.

Rivers averaged 15.5 points, and shot 43 percent from the floor and 36 percent from 3-point range with 3.4 rebound and 2.1 assists. He also had more turnovers than assists, which indicates that he’s probably more of a scoring guard than a point guard, but he’s still just 19 years old and has the time to develop and figure it out.

Rivers is also undeniably talented. Even if you barely watched him play, you no doubt saw his fluid game-winner that beat North Carolina. Here’s part of the scouting report from Draft Express, who has him ranked 18th at the moment:

“It was Rivers’ athleticism and scoring instincts that made him the catalyst for the Blue Devils offense and defined his role as freshman. According to Synergy Sports Technology, Rivers’s total number of pick and rolls and isolations used this season (356 over 34 games) ranks in the top-5 in the NCAA. Perhaps the only player on Duke’s roster dynamic enough to consistently distort defenses with his dribble penetration and generate his own shot in a pinch, Rivers may not have been his team’s primary ball-handler, but he was the creative force behind his team’s offense all year long, for better or worse.”

It’s worth reading the whole report because he improved steadily in the second half of Duke’s season and again, he’s just 19 years old. (Prediction: Rivers will rise back to the late-lottery).

The Celtics have two first round draft picks in 2012: Their own, plus the one from the Clippers that was acquired from Oklahoma City in the Kendrick Perkins trade. The pick is top-10 protected, but the Clippers seems well on their way to the playoffs, even if they implode along the way.

Those picks are in the 17-18 range for the Celtics and 20-21 for the Clippers, which is exactly where Rivers is slotted to fall at the moment. Even if he was available, it would be surprising if Danny Ainge selected the coach’s son.

First, there’s the simple matter of a coach who is demanding on rookies — a notion the coach says is overplayed — who would also happen to be the rookie’s father. Second, they already have a guard who needs the ball in his hands in Rajon Rondo, a legitimate All-Star point guard, who also happens to have a complicated relationship with the coach.

Coach Rivers has been cagey with his answers about the question. This is what he told Dennis & Callahan in January:

“I would love the opportunity, I guess. It would be uncomfortable. I just think that would be a strange thing to do. Having that said that, I wouldn’t mind. He can score, and I think that would be great for us.”

Doc Rivers has clearly enjoyed watching his son play, often rushing to ACC games during off-days in the Celtics’ schedule. It would be a fascinating story, no doubt, and as coach Rivers said, an argument could be made either way. Still, the educated guess here is that the Celtics will avoid what could be a potentially awkward arrangement.

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Kevin Garnett and Celtics respond to Doc Rivers and his bitter ‘beer face’ 03.10.12 at 10:49 am ET
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Everyone associated with the Celtics – from players and coaches to support staff – was embarrassed by Wednesday’s 32-point loss to the Sixers Wednesday night.

“That didn’t sit well with anybody,” Kevin Garnett said after Friday’s 104-86 redemption at the hands of the Blazers. “Tough schedule. Philly, they kicked our ass, plain and simple. This was about getting on the right track, taking care of home, and more importantly, creating that momentum going on this long road trip.”

That’s why no one was particularly surprised to see Doc Rivers with a special edge Friday morning during the team’s shootaround.

“Doc comes in, and you can tell how he’s looking, like he’s had no sleep and his hair standing on top of his head and he has the beer face,” Garnett said. “What happened in Philly wasn’t us but it happens and we accept it.

“[Friday] was a defensive mindset all the way through. A team we’re going to see only once, it was important for us to start the game with a force. Paul kept saying in the huddle, before we went out [to start the game] that it was important that we get this game to start the road trip. I’ve always said for the momentum, you’ve got to get games like this. This is kind of like playing on the road because we are going to be away from home for a while so this game was very important.”

As for this eight-game haul, a haul that began early Saturday morning with a cross-country flight, and will include a walk-through when the team lands in LA, Garnett said it’s important not to be overwhelmed.

“One game at a time,” he began. “When you look at it, it’s actually kind of quite scary, just because of the lack of rest, the back-to-backs, the travel. But when you take it a game at a time… it’s still what it is, actually.

“I was going to dress that up like it was something else. Nah, it’s all messed up, it’s all messed up. It is. I want to use another word but I won’t. It’s difficult but we’re going to take it a game at a time. This is the longest I can remember.”

Certainly the longest in his head coach’s career as Rivers said he can never remember a trip like the one the Celtics are about to embark on.

“In my career, I’ve been in the league for 26 years,” Rivers said, when asked if it’s the longest one in several years. “It’s a long road trip but I do think there’s rest in it. The first two games are tough because of the long flight, you play and then you play the next day. But then after that, there’s days off in between. I think the other one is the last, the Denver game before we go back East, that’s a hard game. Whenever you play Denver on a back-to-back, that’s a hard game because there’s no oxygen.”

The Celtics hope they aren’t grasping for too much air by the time they return home on March 25 to battle the Wizards.

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