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Irish Coffee: 10 things we learned from Celtics-Heat 04.25.12 at 2:44 pm ET
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It wasn’t pretty. In fact, it was downright ugly. The end of the NBA’s lockout-shortened season is upon us, forcing TNT to broadcast marquee matchups like Ryan Hollins vs. Dexter Pittman and Sasha Pavlovic vs. Mike Miller rather than Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh and Paul Pierce vs. LeBron James. But that doesn’t mean there was nothing to learn from Tuesday night’s game between the Celtics and Heat at the Garden. Here are 10 things.

10. Thanks to Pavlovic’s heroics, the Celtics still have a shot at home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Two things must happen Thursday: 1) Celtics defeat the Bucks, and 2) Hawks lose to the Mavericks.

“Our seeding is important as well,” said Celtics reserve guard Keyon Dooling, who scored seven points in the win over the Heat. “So, if we have to get that win, we’re coming in here trying to tear their head off.”

The hunch within the C’s organization is that if Atlanta hosts Game 1, it’ll be played on Saturday night; however, if it’s in Boston, the series will likely start Sunday. Of course, all that assumes the Bruins beat the Capitals in Game 7 and host Game 1 of the NHL Eastern Conference semifinals on Saturday.

9. After their loss, while casually dressed Heat stars Dwayne Wade and James poked fun at second-year center Dexter Pittman‘s feet and socks, teammate Chris Bosh sat in the corner of the locker room, donning a suit and reading Malcolm Gladwell‘s “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” A different bird, I guess.

8. Heat swingman Shane Battier‘s take on a game that featured 39 turnovers: “In my 11 years, that’s the worst game I’ve ever witnessed. I’ve already taken a shower. You guys should all take a shower to get the stink of this game off you. It’s not fun for anybody … but, hey, it’s the NBA, you’ve got to take the good with the bad.”

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to lockout basketball. It’s FAN-tastic!

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Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo 04.17.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.

But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?

In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.

To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).

And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).

All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?

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Fast Break: Kevin Garnett, Celtics tame Heat again 04.10.12 at 9:48 pm ET
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On 60.6 percent shooting, led by Kevin Garnett (24 points, 9 rebounds), the Celtics defeated the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seeded Heat 115-107 for the second time in nine days, taking a 2-1 series lead with one matchup left between the possible playoff opponents in the penultimate game of the season.

The Celtics (33-24) won their third straight and eighth of their last 10 games, moving within two games of the idle Pacers for third in the Eastern Conference. Paul Pierce (26 points) and Rajon Rondo (18 points, 15 assists) helped the C’s set a new season high for points scored.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Opening statement: When the first quarter came to a close, the top six Celtics rotation players all had between 4-6 points, handing the Heat a 33-22 deficit. The C’s shot 61.1 percent (11-18 FG) offensively, holding Miami to 42.9 percent (9-21 FG) defensively. Perhaps the biggest surprise, though, was Boston’s 13-5 rebounding advantage after the first 12 minutes.

Three party: Taking advantage of a Heat defense that entered the game ranked 28th in 3-point defense, the Celtics converted 7-of-10 treys in the first half (9-14 for the game), establishing a 65-57 lead at the break on 61.5 percent shooting as a team. Pierce and Sasha Pavlovic led the effort, each converting a pair of 3-pointers.

Two-guard duo: As for the Avery Bradley/Ray Allen shooting guard combination, the pair combined for 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting, including 10 points in a first quarter that saw both the defensive-first Bradley lineup and the offensively boosted Allen group. Not only that, but they frustrated Dwyane Wade to the tune of 20 points on 21 shots — lowlighted by a fourth-quarter technical foul after he fell for a Rondo fake 20 feet from the basket.

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Fast Break: Rajon Rondo’s triple-double beats Heat 04.01.12 at 6:02 pm ET
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Nobody else in the NBA has more than one triple-double this season. Rajon Rondo now has five.

Dominating the first and third quarters of Sunday afternoon’s nationally televised game against the Heat (37-14), Rondo recorded 16 points, 14 assists and 11 rebounds in a 91-72 dismantling of the Eastern Conference’s current No. 2 seed.

The Celtics (30-22) move a full game up on the 76ers for the Atlantic Division lead and within two games of the third-seeded Magic, who were scheduled to play the Nuggets without Dwight Howard (back spasms) later Sunday afternoon.

All five starters reached double figures, including Bass (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Bradley (13 points), while Pierce and LeBron James canceled each other out with 23 points apiece, as the C’s led by as many as 29 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

A nation awaits: Rondo amassed seven points and three rebounds in the game’s first 3:43, sparking a 9-4 Celtics run (he assisted Kevin Garnett on the only other field goal) to start the game and forcing a Heat timeout less than four minutes into the game. Apparently, Rondo remembered Sunday’s game was nationally televised (like 14 of his 18 career triple-doubles). He finished the first quarter with 10 points, four assists and four rebounds, giving the C’s a 29-19 advantage. The third quarter was more of the same, as Rondo totaled six points and eight assists in that frame to stake the Celtics to an 80-56 lead.

No Wade out: With Ray Allen (ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (concussion) still out of the Celtics lineup, all eyes were on Avery Bradley as he drew the defensive assignment on Wade. Further earning his reputation already as one of the game’s great defenders, Bradley held Wade to 6-for-17 shooting, including this ridiculous second-quarter block. Conversely, Bradley’s knack for cutting to the basket offensively paid dividends against the gambling Wade.

All glass Bass: Considering the stage, this might have been the best Bass performance of the season. He registered his fourth double-double of the year, giving the Celtics the advantage on the defensive glass (44-32) and getting to the line offensively. He made all 10 of his free throw attempts, totaling his 16 points on five official field goal attempts. Rarely do the Celtics get to the line as frequently as the Heat, but on Sunday they owned a 22-17 advantage in free throws.

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Irish Coffee: What’s up with Celtics’ Avery Bradley? 01.04.12 at 12:19 pm ET
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Before the Celtics season started, I made the case for a breakout Avery Bradley performance.

So far, I couldn’t be more wrong.

Of the 385 players who have appeared in an NBA game this season, Bradley ranks in the bottom 25 in both offensive rating (367th) and defensive rating (361st). In 42 minutes on the floor during the C’s first six games, he has five rebounds, two points (1-9 FG), one assist, one turnover, zero steals and zero blocks.

In terms of HoopData.com’s advanced statistics, it doesn’t get any better for the Celtics reserve. In addition to ranking dead last among the 146 NBA guards who have played at least five minutes a night in PER (-5.5) and efficiency rating (-0.2), he ranks second to last in scoring (0.3) and true shooting percentage (11.1%).

A few more of Bradley’s advanced stats among those 146 guards to drive the point home:

  • 143rd in estimated wins added (-0.3)
  • 144th in value added (-10.0)
  • 139th in win score (-0.83)
  • 138th in Usage Rate (11.22)
  • 130th in Assist Rate (9.09)

The only positive I could find: He’s held opponents to 3-of-16 shooting (18.8%). No wonder he may have dropped behind E’Twaun Moore on the depth chart. Yet, he and the C’s brass remains confident (via Boston Herald). Read the rest of this entry »

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Inside the matchup: Celtics vs. Heat 12.27.11 at 12:10 am ET
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Are the Celtics and Rajon Rondo looking up to the Heat? (AP)

For most of the 2010-11 season, the Celtics were confident in their ability to beat Miami. They beat them on opening night in Boston and did it again in Miami less than three weeks later. The Celtics won again in February with just six healthy rotation players.

Everything changed in April when the Celtics were blasted on South Beach, losing 100-77, and the dynamic was completely reversed during the playoffs when the Heat won in five games.

With their first meeting this season on Tuesday, it’s the Celtics that are trying to prove that they can handle the Heat, who have won five of the last six meetings.

It won’t be easy because they’re not likely to have Paul Pierce, who is resting a bone bruise in his right heel and new addition Mickael Pietrus isn’t expected in the lineup until they return home on Friday. That leaves the underwhelming combination of Sasha Pavlovic and Marquis Daniels to handle LeBron James, fresh off a 37-point Christmas Day showing against the Mavericks that equaled the 37 Carmelo Anthony dropped on the Celtics.

The Celtics have always had great respect for accomplishment and hierarchy — that’s the reason they gave the Magic more respect than LeBron’s Cavs — and coach Doc Rivers has been reinforcing the notion that these Celtics haven’t won anything in a long time.

They did get a reprieve of sorts with word that Kevin Garnett escaped both a fine and a suspension after his one-arm shove of Bill Walker after time expired on Sunday. The Celtics didn’t lose three straight games at any point last season but with a back-to-back looming the next night in New Orleans that could suddenly become a stark possibility.

Here’s a closer look at the matchup:

What’s new with Miami: Shane Battier was the Heat’s big free agent acquisition, but a more important addition is one who never left: Udonis Haslem.

The veteran forward played in just 13 regular season games before tearing ligaments in his left foot. Haslem saw less than three minutes of action in the Celtics’ series, but returned to form later in the playoffs and grabbed 14 rebounds in 32 minutes in their opener against Dallas.

Haslem is part of a three-man frontcourt rotation with Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony that’s on the smaller side. Not coincidentally, the Celtics have adjusted their frontcourt with Brandon Bass and Chris Wilcox, who should be able to provide a much more balanced matchup with Miami.

The other important addition is rookie point guard Norris Cole, who split duties with Mario Chalmers in the opener. That’s a major upgrade in terms of youth and athleticism from Mike Bibby, who had major problems with Rajon Rondo last season.

Can Avery Bradley offer defensive support? The Celtics clearly missed defensive stopper Tony Allen in last year’s playoffs and Dwyane Wade took full advantage, scoring 151 points in their five games. Bradley remains a liability on offense, but if he can give the Celtics 5-10 minutes of defense on Wade, that would help take some pressure off Ray Allen. The Celtics need something from Bradley because the alternatives are Rondo and/or Keyon Dooling.

Key matchup: Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh

Garnett had a brilliant performance in Game 3, the only game the Celtics won, but was otherwise either outplayed or neutralized by Bosh throughout the series. Jermaine O’Neal is not a great matchup on Bosh and Wilcox is in the early stages of gaining Rivers’ trust. It’s up to Garnett who played 37 minutes in the opener, which is not part of the master minutes plan.

The Rondo factor: In 41 minutes against the Knicks, Rondo made 11-of-19 shots and scored 31 points. Much notice was paid to his outside shot where he sank three of five from 16-23 feet and his free throws where he made nine of 12 attempts. More importantly, he converted on 8-of-10 attempts at the rim and seven of his 13 assists were for inside shots.

Against the Knicks, the Celtics made a staggering 84 percent of their shots inside — 21-of-25 — and that was against Tyson Chandler, one of the league’s top interior defenders. Miami doesn’t have a shot-blocker like Chandler protecting the basket and it will be on Rondo to stay aggressive. He’s their best weapon against Miami.

CELTICS LIKELY STARTERS: Rondo, Allen, Daniels, Garnett, O’Neal

Rotation: Dooling, Bradley, Pavlovic, Bass, Wilcox

HEAT LIKELY STARTERS: Chalmers, Wade, James, Bosh, Anthony

Rotation: Cole, James Jones, Battier, Haslem, Juwan Howard

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Fast Break: LeBron James, Heat bury the Celtics 05.11.11 at 9:49 pm ET
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A pair of 3-pointers, a fast break dunk off a steal and a driving layup by LeBron James in the final 2:10 capped a 16-0 run that gave the Heat a 97-87 victory Wednesday night and ended the Celtics season after five games in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Nenad Krstic scored the C’s final points of the season, with 4:28 remaining, giving the Celtics an 87-81 lead. But James broke an 87-87 tie with 2:10 remaining, and then buried a go-ahead trey with 40 seconds left after Jeff Green mishandled a poor Paul Pierce pass. After a timeout, Delonte West turned the ball over and James put the game — and the C’s season — away with a dunk and a layup seconds later.

James finished with 33 points, and Dwyane Wade had 34 for the Heat. Ray Allen led the Celtics with 18 points.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Paul Pierce’s early foul trouble: With the Celtics leading by three and James cruising for a breakaway dunk, Pierce committed a truly ill-advised foul just 5:40 into the game. Not only that, but it was Pierce’s second personal, forcing coach Doc Rivers to give him an early hook before bringing him back for the second quarter. Pierce then picked up his third foul late in the second quarter and missed the final 1:44 of the half. He never got into a rhythm and couldn’t provide any physicality on the defensive end.

Dwyane Wade’s monster first half: While the rest of his teammates made just 6-of-24 first-half shots (25 percent), Wade buried 9-of-12 from the field and 5-of-9 from the free-throw line for 23 points before the break. While the Celtics shot 52.9 percent for the opening 24 minutes, the Heat trailed by only two points (49-47) at the half — thanks to Wade and the Heat’s 23-14 advantage in free-throw attempts. Wade had 15 foul shots in all, and overall, the Heat totaled free throws 38 to the Celtics’ 20.

Rondo’s health: At one point in the fourth quarter, both Rondo and Jermaine O’Neal were receiving back treatment on the sidelines. And how could you forget Rondo was already dealing with a dislocated left elbow that left him at 50-50 prior to the game? He did not play in the fourth quarter, finishing with six points and three assists, despite a valiant effort. O’Neal also missed the final quarter, totaling just three points and two boards.

Careless turnovers: Garnett and Pierce combined for seven turnovers, and the Celtics committed 17 in all — the majority of them seemingly unforced. Down 3-1 and on the road, the C’s couldn’t afford to give the Heat that many extra opportunities.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Getting KG involved early: The Heat crowd may have arrived late, as usual, but Garnett showed up right from the opening tip. He attacked the paint and scored nine of the Celtics’ first 13 points, finishing the first quarter with 12 points, five rebounds and two steals to help the C’s grab a 24-16 before the Heat and their fans even knew what hit them. Considering Garnett’s Game 3 success (28 points, 18 rebounds) and Game 4 failure (7 points on 1-of-10 shooting), the Celtics needed Garnett to set the tone. Unfortunately, he scored three points the rest of the way.

Ray Allen gets open looks: After struggling to find space and making only 11-of-30 shots in Games 2-4, Allen got free from Wade and made 6-of-12 from the field in Game 5, including 5-of-10 shooting on some pretty wide open looks from beyond the arc (not to mention a huge four-point play). His 11 first-half points helped pick up some of the slack left by Pierce’s relative absence.

Nenad Krstic and the bench (yup, you read that right): At the end of the third quarter, Krstic buried a long baseline jumper that put the Celtics up 73-71 heading into the final 12 minutes of play. Krstic finished with eight points as the Celtics’ bench outscored the Heat’s 33-12. Krstic, Jeff Green (9 points), Delonte West (10 points) and even Glen Davis (6 points) each scored at least six points on the night.

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