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Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ bench struggles 12.21.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

 

Remember when a lot of people — including me — believed the Celtics had the best bench in the NBA? Well, they don’t. At least not now.

The second unit that C’s head coach Doc Rivers had cultivated to give his veteran starters their much-needed rest throughout the 82-game NBA season was supposed to look like this: Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

On paper, that lineup looks good. Very good. Unfortunately, wrists, ankles and knees aren’t made out of paper. As a result, the Celtics’ reserves rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams, according to Hoopsstats.com‘s efficiency differential.

West’s suspension and subsequent broken wrist have kept him out of all but five games. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have been a pain in the knee, missing a combined 28 games and vaulting a third-string guy (Semih Erden) into four starts. And Rajon Rondo‘s feet, hamstring and ankle soreness, tweaks and sprains haven’t helped, either, forcing one of the original sencond unit’s go-to scorers (Robinson) into a starting role six times.

Put those injuries to paper, and the Celtics’ bench has produced better than only one team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today — the Trail Blazers, who have had more injuries than King Leonidas‘ men in the movie “300.”

Here’s where the C’s reserves rank in the league statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 22nd
Points: 17th
Rebounds: 25th (22nd defensive/30th offensive)
Assists: 26th
Steals: 18th
Blocks: 18th
Turnovers: 10th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 23rd
Free-throw percentage: 19th

And here’s where their opponents’ bench’s production against them ranks:

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Doc Rivers to Nate Robinson: Don’t worry, you don’t suck 12.17.10 at 12:34 am ET
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Doc Rivers could tell early on that Nate Robinson was having trouble getting into the flow of the game as he struggled with his passes and running the Celtics offense in the first half Thursday night against Atlanta.

There was a bullet pass from Robinson to Semih Erden in the low post that didn’t quite make it there as Josh Smith stepped into the lane for the easy steal. There was a pass intended for Ray Allen that sailed out of bounds later in the first half.

How bad was it? Even when Nate was hustling his rear off to grab a loose ball headed toward the Hawks basket, he flipped to the lane – expecting Kevin Garnett to catch and slam. But instead, the pass was picked off by Mike Bibby, who fed Jordan Collins for an open three, which Collins hit to add salt to the wound.

All of that added up to seven points, only two assists and four turnovers in the first half for the man who will be filling in for Rajon Rondo over the next two weeks as Rondo heals a sprained left ankle. Rivers said he had to have a heart-to-heart with Robinson, telling him to keep his head up and remind him that he didn’t think Robinson “sucked” just because he was having trouble finding his game.

“You know what I told Nate at halftime?” Rivers began. “I said, ‘Nate, just a notice for you. You’re the starting point guard now, and I’m going to give you a lot of instruction. It’s not criticism.’ You know, and Nate tends to – he gets coaching at times, he hangs his head, and it was at a point in the second quarter I couldn’t even give him a play because he thought I was going to tell him, ‘Nate, you suck’ or something.”

Robinson seemed to take Rivers’ words to heart.

“Just keep playing, play through adversity,” Robinson said. “Just turn the page. I was being a little timid in first half. Second half, he told me to just be me. I think I did that.”

Rivers knew full well that he might be dealing with a point guard that was getting overwhelmed.

“I don’t know what he thought I was going to say,” Rivers said. “And he was great. He even started laughing at halftime. I thought that relaxed him, and allowed him to play a little bit more. But with Rondo, you know, I’m so used to telling him what I need everybody – ‘Rondo, tell Paul this.’ I was doing that with Nate and Nate was like, ‘Enough! No more. I don’t want—’ and he finally got what I was doing. I guess he just has to get used to that.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Good news: Shaquille O’Neal and his ‘calf juices’ are improving 12.14.10 at 11:48 am ET
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WALTHAM — You’ve heard of getting your juices going to get into a game. Well, Shaquille O’Neal put a whole new twist on that approach Tuesday when asked to describe how’s he feeling after missing the last two games.

O’Neal said before Tuesday’s practice that his sore right calf is “getting better” and is optimistic that he will be ready for Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden against Amare Stoudemire and the New York Knicks. He worked out on the side and in the weight room but did not practice with the team.

“I’m doing better,” O’Neal said. “My calf juices are getting back up there. I’ll be alright.”

Doc Rivers said that he would see how O’Neal comes through Tuesday’s practice before making a determination on whether to play him Wednesday night against a revitalized Knicks team that has won eight straight and stands just four games behind the 19-4 Celtics in the Atlantic Division.

Semih Erden has filled in for O’Neal the last two games in the starting lineup.

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Paul Pierce isn’t ready to buy in Boston-New York rivalry in NBA – yet at 11:29 am ET
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WALTHAM — Paul Pierce has a home in the Boston area and attends sporting events in the off-season. So he knows full well of the rivalries between teams like the Yankees and Red Sox and the Patriots and Jets.

But ask him about the Celtics and Knicks? Well, as the song goes, that’s quite the different story.

Both teams may be on extended winning streaks and both teams may have rich basketball traditions but Celtics captain Pierce said Tuesday that doesn’t mean the Celtics and Knicks have revived the old rivalry between the two cities.

“It’s a rivalry? You [media] let me in on all the new stuff,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know we had a rivalry going.”

The Celtics enter Wednesday night’s game at Madison Square Garden on a 10-game winning streak while the Knicks have won their last eight to stand just four games behind Boston in the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference.

“We have bigger goals than winning streaks,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know we had a rivalry going. If that’s what you all want, if it’s going sell more tix, get more viewers, I guess so. You [media] all make up the rivalry, we don’t, to be honest. At the end of the day, we’re playing for championships, not certain opponents.”

Big man Glen Davis will be one of the Celtics trying to contain the reinvigorated Knicks front court, led by Amare Stoudemire.

“I’m not worried about that, New York and Boston,” Davis said of any rivalry with the 16-9 Knicks. “That’s just the way it is. I’m worried about winning the game and worried about June, what’s going to happen in June. That’s what I’m worried about. I’m not even going to get into that. New York’s a great team. They’ve been playing well and trying to be where we’re at. It’s going to be a big game for them.”

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The Three-Pointer: One Celtics play says so much 12.10.10 at 12:29 am ET
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Boston Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers, right, shouts a play as assistant coach Lawrence Frank, left, looks on in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center in Newark , N.J. , Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. The Celtics defeated the Nets 100-75.

Doc Rivers drew up the game-winning play, and the Celtics executed it. (AP)

It was just one play, lasting 5.2 seconds, yet it said so much about the 2010-11 Celtics.

Not many coaches have the smarts (or the cojones) to draw up a game-winning alley-oop with 6.6 seconds left. But the Celtics have Doc Rivers — one of the best coaches in the business at designing plays following a timeout — and he had the script that resulted in a 102-101 Celtics win over the 76ers in his back pocket all along.

“We worked on the whole timing of it last week,” Rivers told reporters. “We tried to run it earlier in the year, and we had bad timing, so it’s just funny how things worked out. It’s a low-clock play, the ball is in the best passer’s hands, and you have shooters on the floor. … It worked.”

Not many point guards can throw a perfect blind lob over a taller defender in the final moments of a game. But the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, who picked up his 14th assist of the night with 1.4 seconds left when he dropped a pretty pass over the heads of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday that led to the basket that resulted in his team’s ninth consecutive victory.

Not many post players have the length and athleticism to get from the top of the key to the rim in a blink of an eye. But the Celtics have a healthy Kevin Garnett, who rolled to the basket, caught the lob pass and converted it all in one fluid motion to improve the C’s Eastern Conference-best record to 18-4.

“Last year, Kevin would’ve missed the lob,” Rivers added. “Actually, we wouldn’t have thrown it. We can do it now.”

And not many teams have three deadly shooters who opponents absolutely have to respect in the waning seconds of a one-point game. But the Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson, who all hovered around the 3-point line — drawing Andre Iguadola, Jodie Meeks and Louis Williams from the basket and allowing Rivers’ design to play out on the floor.

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Irish Coffee: Bill Russell on the NBA, Celtics & more 12.07.10 at 10:35 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …


(Part 2 of the interview between Bill Russell & Kevin Garnett can be seen here.)

It’s not every day you get the sage advice of Bill Russell, so when it happens, don’t miss it. The Celtics legend needs no introduction, so let’s get to his latest interview, with SLAM Magazine …

RUSSELL on winning: “I think I know a lot about the subject. My college team has the second-longest winning streak in history. My Olympic team still holds the record for greatest margin of victory. And the Celtics were perhaps the best team in the history of American sports. We won eight straight titles and nine of 10 in the decade of the ’60s. To do that against the best basketball players on the planet is remarkable.”

RUSSELL on offense: “To me, I was a better offensive player than a defensive player. By the end of my first year, I always put the offense in motion, and after a year or two almost all the plays went through me. In fact, [John] Havlicek said after I left, he missed me more on offense than on defense.”

RUSSELL on Wilt Chamberlain: “Wilt was an enormously talented man and I wasn’t going to do things that would inspire him to play harder, even if that meant giving him an easy basket here and there. You have to understand, this was a great, great player. And you had to keep things in perspective. He was a guy you couldn’t dominate physically or mentally. You can’t play somebody else’s game and have a chance to win. We had a style when he arrived, and the idea was to maintain that style, because it was successful.

“Wilt’s numbers speak for themselves: 100 points in a game, 27 rebounds averaged in a season! But after he did all these things, Wilt kept on not winning, and people never understood that, so they started criticizing him. But I never did. I thought he was great. Basically, I saw it as he had an agenda and I had an agenda. And we both fulfilled our agendas.”

RUSSELL on racism: “Fans all over the country were racist and obnoxious, some places more and some less, but I never permitted that to have an adverse effect on my playing, and within the Celtics that did not exist.”

RUSSELL on player/coaching:Red [Auerbach] offered me the job first and I said I wasn’t interested. So he asked if I had any recommendations and said that he would not hire anyone who I didn’t approve of 100 percent, because I had meant too much to the franchise. I had some ideas, but we couldn’t work out a deal. Frank Ramsey, who was my first choice, couldn’t leave home. Bob Cousy couldn’t get out of his contract at Boston College and so on. Red came up with one last name, and I just wasn’t going to play for that person, so I decided that I would, in fact, do it.”

RUSSELL on the dynasty: “Last year’s championship is only important in how other teams fear you; you still have to go out and beat everyone again. People say there were better teams than the Celtics, but we set the standard. A given team might come up for a year, but only we could sustain it.”

RUSSELL on mentoring: “When a new big man came into the league, I wanted to make sure they knew I was around, and to establish that there were boundaries that should not be crossed. But I also wanted every player in the league playing as well as possible, because I wanted the league to be totally elite. It always made me feel good to hear people say, “The greatest athletes in the world play in the NBA.’”

RUSSELL on Bob Cousy: “Not only was he a great player, but the things he did were completely in sync with what I did. He would transition from defense to offense as his guy went to the basket, because he knew I’d take care of him. I knew which way he’d force him, and I’d be there waiting while also cutting off his passing lanes. Meanwhile, Bob was heading downcourt, so we’d take control of the offense while the other team still had the ball. Nobody had done that before, because they didn’t have the ingredients, namely a great rebounder and defender to grab the ball and turn it around, and a fast, in-control guard to throw to.”

RUSSELL on his legacy: “Maybe it’s egotism, but I have never seen another player who even approached the way I played the game in terms of depth. I’ve never seen anyone do the number of things I do well.”

So, yeah, I could pretty much sit and listen to Bill Russell talk about how he folds laundry and be completely enthralled. In fact, I might go buy his “Russell Rules” and “Red and Me” audio books on iTunes right now. Paul Flannery was absolutely right: Give Bill Russell a damn statue!

Boston Celtics' Delonte West drives on New Jersey Nets forward Travis Outlaw during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston on Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2010. West fell to the floor and was injured on the play.

Delonte West's recovery from wrist surgery is way ahead of schedule. (AP)

SQUASHING THE INJURY BUG

The Celtics aren’t setting any timetables for the returns of Rajon Rondo, Jermaine O’Neal, Delonte West and Kendrick Perkins from injuries that range from minor to major. Here’s a quick rundown of the latest updates on all four guys …

Rondo (day-to-day via The Boston Globe): Doc Rivers said he might consider sitting Rondo for a stretch of games if needed.

“We get a two-day break after [Sunday's Nets game], and that’s one of the things that went into this [thinking]. We’re just going to try to get through it.”

Jermaine O’Neal (pre-Christmas return via NECN.com): Considering he hasn’t played in a game since Nov. 8, being off his game [during Monday's practice] was a given. But just being able to run up the floor, and feel little to no pain afterwards, was yet another indication that he is moving past the left knee injury that has sidelined him for the last 12 games.

“Hopefully in the next week-in-a-half to two weeks, I’ll be playing no problem,” he said.

West (1-2 months away via CSNNE.com): Following surgery on Nov. 30, the outlook for his return has picked up considerably. West said the wrist is healing up so well, there won’t be any need for it to be placed in a hard cast.

“Just stimulate it with treatments, and I’ll be back to working out within the next two weeks,” said West, who added that he’ll have it in a soft cast when he resumes working out.

Perkins (eyeing late February via the Boston Herald): “It can be real,” Perk said of playing sometime late next month, “but I think if I play it smart I’ll wait to come back until after All-Star break. That’ll give me more time. I think, what’s one more month, right?”

SHAQ-A-CLAUS BRINGS HIS ELVES

According to the Inside Track, all of the Celtics showed up at Children’s Hospital Boston and Boston Medical Center on Monday to deliver some Christmas cheer.

They split up, Shaquille O’Neal and Ray Allen tooke one group to Children’s — with O’Neal leading a Shaq Fu-style version of “Frosty the Snowman” among other carols.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett took another group with Santa to the Top of the Hub, where they spent some time with the Boston Medical Center’s pediatric hematology program.

Santa hats off to those guys. They’re not just winning on the court.

DOC RIVERS LOSES A MENTOR

Doc Rivers‘ college basketball coach, Hank Raymonds, 86, died of cancer on Monday morning. Raymonds coached Marquette from 1977-83, mentoring Rivers throughout his life — starting from his time as a player at Marquette from ’80-83 and continuing through last year’s Celtics run.

Rivers expressed his grief with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Here are some nuggets:

“I use Hank’s lines all the time. The line I always use that he used on me a lot is, ‘I’m never going to coach you for who you are today. I’m going to coach you for who you should be someday, and what you should be someday.’ I use that on my players, I use that on my kids, and I think it’s a great thing. To me, that sums Hank up as much as anything.”

“Hank called me every time we would have a bad turnover game or a bad rebounding game. Then when I went to see him [over the summer] the first thing he said was, ‘Oh my gosh, the rebounding — the Lakers killed you guys on the glass.’ I loved to hear it. It’s funny. It’s not what you want to hear, but the one guy who can tell you that is Hank.”

“Hank has had a profound impact. And the thing about Hank is he never let go. It’s not like when I left he stopped. … I look at him, he’s a basketball treasure that really not enough people know about. I’m glad I do. I always laugh and say, ‘He’s my little secret.’ And I’m fine by that.”

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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Irish Coffee: Big Baby buoys bench 12.02.10 at 1:29 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

 

BOSTON — In the aftermath of Wednesday night’s 99-95 victory against the Blazers, Celtics forward Glen Davis sat, seemingly exhausted, at his locker.

Following what may have been his most complete and efficiently productive game in a Celtics uniform, Davis had earned the rest. He had just recorded 16 points (7-of-9 FG; 2-2 FT) and seven rebounds in 29 minutes, including a stretch of eight straight points and three consecutive 20-foot jumpers over  a three-minute span in the third quarter that singlehandedly kep the Celtics within striking distance of the Blazers.

“I took the shots that were given to me,” said Davis. “That’s what it’s about.”

Taking that notion further, what it’s really all about is making those shots, and Davis has done that at a remarkable rate this season, shooting 50 percent from the floor — the highest clip of his four-year career. The benefit of that is two-fold: 1) obviously, points on the board, and 2) opening up opportunities for his teammates.

“If I can spread the floor, I can help out Kevin [Garnett],” said Davis. “Teams won’t double-team him. They’ve got to guard me.”

Boston Celtics' Glen Davis falls into the crowd during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors, Sunday, Nov. 21, 2010, in Toronto. The Raptors defeated the Celtics 102-101.

Glen Davis has captured the trust of pretty much everyone in Boston, including the fans. (AP)

In this space, before the season started, I presented an argument for Davis as a potential NBA Sixth Man of the Year winner: “Given any injury to Shaquille or Jermaine O’Neal, Davis would be the first to gobble up those minutes. Is there any reason he couldn’t average 14 points and six rebounds in 25 minutes a game?”

Through 18 games this season, he’s averaging career highs of 11.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in 29.4 minutes per game — but it’s his efficiency and versatility that have vaulted him into the NBA’s Sixth Man discussion.

Assume the role of a go-to scorer as a power forward for the one of the best benches in the league? Sure. Perform the “little things” — like taking charges — as the center alongside Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett down the stretch of close games? Done. Drag smaller defenders into the post? Easy (especially with his frame). Pull bigger defenders away from the basket? Not a problem.

So, what does being in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year conversation mean to Davis?

“Nothing, until you win it,” he said. “You can talk all you out. You can say, ‘He’s top two, he’s top whatever.’ It doesn’t really count until you’re No. 1 at the end of the season, when you’re having a press conference, congratulating your team and thanking all the people who helped you get that award. I’d be excited to get it. Just to be considered is not enough for me.”

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers told Dennis & Callahan on WEEI on Thursday morning that he was in Danny Ainge‘s ear, urging him to select Davis with the 35th pick in the 2007 NBA Draft. Rivers knew Big Baby’s potential, because he’d seen Davis succeed against his sons and the nation’s top talent on the AAU circuit.

“But we didn’t know he was going to be this good,” Rivers admitted.

After struggling with some maturity issues over his first few seasons in the league, Davis has earned the trust of not only Rivers but all of his teammates as well.

“Most definitely,” said Davis. “I’ve been here for four years now, and that’s Doc’s system. You’ve got to trust his players. He’s looking at me as a player that he trusts.”

DOC RIVERS: COACH OF THE MONTH

The NBA named Rivers the Eastern Conference Coach of the Month prior to the Celtics’ victory against the Blazers. It didn’t mean much to Doc, but Garnett elaborated:

“I love him,’’ Garnett told The Boston Globe. “I told Danny that the day y’all get rid of Doc is the day I sort of tip my hat and thank the Boston area and the Boston fans. I love Doc, he’s a credit to our success and the building of the players, because he’s always motivating and he’s always pushing you, finding ways to get you rekindled.’’

IN SUPPORT OF BILL RUSSELL

In case you missed it, our own Paul Flannery detailed why the Celtics should build a statue outside of the Garden in Bill Russell‘s honor. In a fantastic Boston Magazine piece, he builds an argument that’s pretty hard to disagree with. Here’s a nugget:

In Boston, we now have statues of three sports figures – Bobby Orr, Red Auerbach, and Ted Williams – sprinkled throughout the city. (Williams, oddly, also has a tunnel named after him.) That’s quite a list, actually. But there’s one glaring omission: the one sports star – no disrespect here to Teddy Ballgame or Tom Brady – who left a bigger mark on this city than any other. I’m talking about a guy who won 11 championships in 13 seasons. Whose name has become synonymous with victory, hard work, and shared sacrifice. I’m talking about Bill Russell.

This is a disappointing oversight – absurd, really, given Russell’s accomplishments – but a correctable one. What we need is a Bill Russell statue outside the Garden, where the greatest Celtic of them all will stand watch over the franchise he helped build.

KOBE BRYANT: ‘WE’RE SLOW’

Wednesday night’s loss to the Rockets marked the first four-game losing streak for the Lakers since they acquired Pau Gasol. So, what’s the reason for the skid? ESPN.com presented that question to Kobe Bryant:

The general assessment of the team by its players remained that the team had a lot of work to do on both offense and defense, leading to a chicken-or-the-egg type of situation about which is more damning when it’s lousy.

“We’re slow. We’re slow. We’re slow. We’re slow on rotations,” Bryant said, picking on the defense and maybe subconsciously mentioning the word once for every consecutive loss.

THE LEBRON JAMES SAGA

You may not have heard, but a guy named LeBron James who plays for a team called the Miami Heat is returning to his hometown to take on a team by the name of the Cavaliers. The Cleveland Plain Dealer consulted everyone from players to fans to therapists to clergy in order to determine what the reaction should be. Here’s Cavs point guard Mo Williams’ take:

“This game is not just for us. It’s for 20,000 fans and for the millions watching and pulling for us. We’ve got people that ain’t even Cavs fans pulling for us. We’ve got a lot behind us.”

Lost in all the discussion of LeBron’s return to Cleveland is this: Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has launced a probe into alleged tampering by the Heat in their pursuit of James, according to Yahoo! Sports:

Prior to the start of free agency on July 1, no Miami Heat representative – including star Dwyane Wade  was allowed to discuss with James the specific circumstances around Wade, Toronto’s Chris Bosh and James joining together with the Heat.

One focus of the law firm’s probe includes an alleged Pat Riley-James meeting in Miami in November 2009, and a meeting of James’ inner circle with Wade in Chicago in June 2010, sources said.

Riley, James, Wade and Bosh have denied there was a predetermined collusion in the historic free-agent binge, although the players have admitted to discussing the possibility of playing together as far back as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

If Gilbert’s accusations turn out to be truths, the Heat could lose draft picks. As if there weren’t enough drama surrounding Thursday night’s Cavs-Heat game.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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