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Celtics at a loss to explain slow starts 01.07.12 at 2:07 pm ET
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Paul Pierce and the Celtics struggled with their shooting Friday night against the Pacers. (AP)

Rajon Rondo pushed the ball forward trying to lead a Celtics fast break as time was running out in the first half of Friday night’s game against the Pacers. Indiana thwarted any easy opportunities for the Boston point guard by getting back on defense. Rondo pulled the ball out to just beyond midcourt to receive instruction from coach Doc Rivers. Less than 10 seconds remained, though, and the Celtics found themselves out of sorts offensively. Rondo was trapped by two Indiana defenders and was forced to pass the ball to Kevin Garnett, who launched a wild, off-balance jumper to end the half.

The TD Garden crowd serenaded the Celtics with boos while they left the court with their heads hung low. The possession exemplified Boston’s dreadful 25-point first-half output. The anemic offensive display tied a franchise record set in 1995 and repeated in 1999.

“It sucks to be on the wrong side of history,” Ray Allen said. “Especially with the firepower we have, you never think we could score so few points. We can always look back and remember this game.”

Allen, who missed Wednesday’s game against the Nets due to flu-like symptoms, remarkably was the game’s high scorer at halftime with eight points. As a team, Boston shot 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) from the field in the first half. Nine of those 34 attempts came from Paul Pierce, who struggled mightily, only hitting one attempt.

Boston’s captain finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting, to go along with a team-high five turnovers (three of which came in the first half). Even though Pierce didn’t convert his opportunities, he was satisfied with the looks he got at the basket. ”I took a lot of good shots tonight,” Pierce said. “They just didn’t fall, but I feel good about [the shot selection].”

Rondo made no excuses for his team’s performance Friday night, but he noted that Pierce’s shooting struggles were something he doesn’t think the 13-year veteran will replicate going forward. Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal said a rare break in the schedule will give the Celtics an opportunity to sharpen their offensive execution in practice, something the compacted season has made difficult with limited off days.

Perhaps more alarming for Boston is that this is the second consecutive game the team has struggled to produce offense in the first half. Wednesday against New Jersey, the Celtics scored a paltry 34 points through 24 minutes. The Nets were playing without two starters (Deron Williams and Kris Humphries), and were only able to counter Boston with a woeful 35-point effort themselves. The Celtics found their groove offensively and would go on to enjoy 55-point second half, cruising to an 89-70 victory.

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Doc Rivers: Pacers stole C’s ‘airspace’ and ‘all we did was whine and retaliate’ at 11:40 am ET
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The Celtics – coaches and players – were visibly upset many times during Friday’s hideous loss to the Pacers at TD Garden. Rajon Rondo picked up a technical after he was called for a cheap foul on one end and then didn’t get the call when he was hammered under the basket on a reverse layup.

Jermaine O’Neal picked up a couple of fouls on plays that appeared to be clean blocks on replay.

So, when Doc Rivers stepped to the microphone in postgame, many assumed he’d go off. He did. But not on the refs.

“I think he was trying to draw fouls, honestly, and I thought he did or didn’t,” Rivers said of Rondo’s drives to the basket. “I actually liked, in that way, they were letting you play. That usually benefits us. Tonight it didn’t.”

But that was just the beginning. What really bothered Rivers the most was the fact the Pacers went on the road to Boston and beat the Celtics at their own game.

“I just thought offensively, we were horrible,” Rivers began. “The ball stuck the entire night. I used a timeout early, I used a timeout in the third quarter. But I give Indiana a lot of the credit. I thought they were up into our airspace, they fought us all night, they knocked us off the block. I thought they were the instigators the entire night and all we did was whine and retaliated, for the most part.

“I think it was their effort. I thought their intensity – I just thought they were into us. They were in our airspace, you know? We always talk about owning the airspace of ours, and then owning the opponents’ airspace. That’s who we are. And they were us, for the entire game. Even in the stretch we were playing well I thought it was late shot clock baskets by us. So I just thought they did it better than us. And that falls on me first. I told our guys that. But then it falls on them as well.”

By the end of the third quarter, the Celtics were utterly lost, symbolized by their botched play that ended in a desperate Kevin Garnett 3-point attempt from the right wing at the buzzer, a shot partially blocked by Tyler Hansbrough.

“Early pick-and-roll,” Rivers said of planned play call gone awry. “That was just frustration at the summit. I thought they were responsible for a lot of it. I thought they were the tougher team, physically, and the tougher team, mentally.”

KG and Hansbrough went face-to-face in the fourth quarter but the man they called “Psycho-T” at North Carolina wouldn’t back down. And neither would the Pacers, leading Rivers to point out the following:

“I mean, listen, we’re a 4-4 basketball team,” Rivers began. “That’s what we are. You are what your record is. Make no mistake about that. One of the guys said, ‘Hey, that’s alright; we’re better than that.’ And I said, ‘No we’re not. You’re what your record says you are. And you always have the ability to do something about that. But right now, Indiana’s a 5-2 team – I think that’s their record – and we’re a 4-4 team. And make no mistake: that’s who we are. That’s not who we want to be, and that’s not who we’re going to be hopefully, but right now that’s who we are.”

The Celtics are 4-0 against the Pistons, Wizards (twice) and Nets, teams that are a combined 4-18. They are 0-4 against the Knicks, Heat, Hornets and Pacers, teams that are a combined 17-12.

“Well, we’re 0-fer against quality opponents,” Rivers said. “But again, it’s eight games into the year, so I’m not going to overdo that.”

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Paul Pierce shows his ‘human’ side as Celtics and Pacers set offense back ’50 years’ at 10:54 am ET
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Paul Pierce was a mere symptom of the cause Friday night at TD Garden.

Yes, he made just three of the 17 shots he attempted from the field. Yes, he finished with just 10 points in 37 minutes of play. Yes, he attempted six 3-pointers, making just one.

But the Pacers and Celtics combined to make just 58 of their combined 145 shots from the field. That’s 87 misses. That’s a lot. Just asked the coach on the losing end of an 87-74 Indiana survival.

“Both teams set offense back about 50 years today,” Doc Rivers said. “It was awful to watch. I thought defensively, we were pretty good until the third quarter.”

That’s probably because as the Celtics were desperate to get out from under their 25-point first half, they opened things up and sped up the game, losing sight of their defensive principles just to put points on the board and get into a rhythm.

As for Pierce, “He was human, you know?” Rivers explained. “I thought he tried to do too much off the [dribble], especially early. And then I thought he got frustrated a little bit. That’s going to happen. But that’s where somebody else we needed to pick up, and nobody could. Without Ray [Ray Allen] shooting today, we would’ve shot 20 percent.”

Allen finished 7-for-11 in his first game back from the flu. The rest of the team was a collective 19-for-55, which is bad enough for 35 percent.

“We were able to score but we didn’t get stops,” said Pierce. “We played them to dead even, both teams scored thirty points. When they have the lead, you’re just running on a treadmill. We’ve just got to go back to work, watch the tape and see some of the things we did wrong. There’s no need to put our heads down, it’s early in the season, and we just need to clean up a few things.

“Ray’s doing what he does, he knocks down shots so we get him open but unfortunately myself and some other guys didn’t step up enough offensively for us to win.”

Perhaps Pierce and the Celtics can rediscover their offensive mojo in the next five days, as the team has several practices planned.

“It will give us a chance to get some good practice time in,” Pierce said. “I haven’t had any practice this year so it’ll be good for me to get back in and refreshed with some of the things we’re doing. Add to our playbook which we haven’t been able to do because of our lack of practice plus it’ll be a good rest for us. We’re playing every other day, so get our feet back up under us and regroup and get back on next week.”

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With four days off, Celtics talking about practice at 1:11 am ET
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Celtics veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are looking forward to practice after the loss to the Pacers. (AP)

The Celtics just played their eighth game in 13 days, emerging with a 4-4 record, capped by their worst offensive performance of the season, and all Ray Allen can think about is the next one.

“I just always like playing,” said Allen, whose 23 points on 11 shots were the lone bright spot in an 87-74 loss to the Pacers. “It’s great to be able to practice, go over plays, talk about certain things and kind of reinstitute defensive philosophies and execution on offense, but you learn full tilt in game situations.”

Allen won’t get that chance until the C’s host the Maverick Wednesday. In the meantime, we talking about practice.

“I know you guys are going to write a blog about how terrible we are offensively, but we just haven’t practiced,” said center Jermaine O’Neal. “There’s just no way you can run the guys when you’re playing every other day, because it’s going to effect us on game days. Now, we get a day off to rest our bodies and we’re back out working.

“We get a couple days to really bang bodies, to really run our sets,” added O’Neal. “We’ve been coming in and doing dummy drills and stuff like that so guys can get contact, but there’s nothing like competing — competing in practice, getting used to screens, holding guys off to get rebounds, rotations and all of that. Basically, we’ve had to talk our way through it. Sometimes you can get away with it, and sometimes you can’t. Tonight, we didn’t.”

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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett’s guide to being a Celtic 01.05.12 at 11:30 am ET
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I don’t know much about Kevin Garnett, but I do know this: If you haven’t earned his respect, your name won’t cross his lips. “You’re a nobody.” As Celtics rookie JaJuan Johnson said during the first week of training camp, he wasn’t sure if KG even knew his name. The future Hall of Famer only referred to him as “New” or “Rook.”

Conversely, if Garnett mentions you by name, you’re doing something right. In recent days, young Celtics Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley in particular have earned postgame praise from the 16-year veteran.

“I think what you’re seeing is opportunity for the young guys, starting with Greg, and now Avery’s getting a chance to play and taking advantage of it,” Garnett said after totaling 14 points and 12 boards in the C’s 89-70 trimming of the Nets. “I don’t root for young guys a lot, especially when they’re hard-headed and don’t like to listen. We’ve got a good group of guys here, and that includes our young guys. They’re a young group, full of enthusiasm, full of hope and promise and a lot of potential, but they’re good guys, and they work really, really hard.”

It’s no secret hard work goes a long way in Garnett’s book, and we all know KG is going to talk. All they have to do is listen to that team pitch he, his fellow Celtics veterans and coach Doc Rivers are selling, buy in and apply it.

“There are no I’s. There are no You’s. It’s a We. It’s an Our. It’s a They. It’s an Us,” said Garnett. “The first thing you have to have in here is that you have to understand what you’re coming into, understand that being a Celtic is bigger than anybody in this locker room. You’re carrying on tradition. You have to have a work ethic. You have to care about the next guy beside you. If you can’t and if you don’t, then you’re not here. It’s the culture here.”

It’s that simple? Read the rest of this entry »

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Doc Rivers not pulling punches: We need to start fast 12.24.11 at 1:01 pm ET
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The Celtics tipoff their 66th season Sunday in New York, and never has it been more important to start fast.

Each team will have 66 games to get to the postseason. There is much less margin for error to find your rhythm, just ask Doc Rivers.

“I think you have to start fast and I think you have to stay fast,” Rivers said Friday, 48 hours before the season opener at Madison Square Garden. “Now, the calming down part, if we’re playing unbelievable, I’m going to calm them down. If we’re playing poorly, either way I’m going to leave that up to you guys.”

Rivers asked the media to keep everyone on a even keel, because he’ll be busy with other matters, like managing his team through a compressed schedule.

“If that does happen, I’m going to ask you guys, can you calm them down because I’m not going to notice,” Rivers said. “I really don’t notice when people are excited or not because I’m into the team, so you guys can watch that for me and report back.”

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Jermaine O’Neal: Now, ‘I feel like I know what I’m doing’ at 12:30 am ET
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No one was more disappointed about the way last season ended in Miami than Jermaine O’Neal. He had just begun to find his legs in the playoffs, playing significant minutes and becoming a force after injuries to his left knee and left wrist caused him to miss 58 regular season games.

But now he’s healthy and ready to go. He says he hasn’t felt this good since finishing the 2009-10 season in Miami, when he played and started 70 games.

“I felt strong, I felt knowledgable about the system,” O’Neal said. “Now I feel comfortable with the guys and the guys felt comfortable with me. I think the coaching staff feel comfortable with me. Last year, no one knew what to expect since I wasn’t out there.”

Doc Rivers called him the “MVP of training camp” and believes the C’s will be getting the real O’Neal this season. O’Neal doesn’t want to disappoint.

“I think all of us want to do the job Doc expects us to do,” O’Neal said Friday. “I feel like we have enough size, enough mobility to play the style of game we want to play.”

O’Neal, if healthy, could be a huge difference-maker this season for the Celtics. He has average 14 points and just over seven rebounds a game and is considered one of the best defensive centers in the league when healthy.

“You talk about our size, there’s not many teams that have legitimately three or four seven-footers,” O’Neal said. “We have 6-10, 6-11, three or four of those guys who can really do a lot of different things. I think a lot of guys are just mentally focused on doing their jobs. If we do our jobs, we’ll be fine.”

O’Neal could never get on track last season, battling injuries and splitting practice time with Shaquille O’Neal and Glen Davis as the Celtics desperately searched for an answer in the low post. Read the rest of this entry »

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