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Fast Break: Celtics play taps on the Jazz 01.21.11 at 9:58 pm ET
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The Celtics played nine home games over the last three weeks and after their 110-86 beatdown of the Utah Jazz Friday night, they won eight and lost one. They played some memorable games during that stretch, including wins over San Antonio and Orlando, as well as some ugly grind-it-out affairs.

They capped it off with a double-digit win over one of the best teams in the Western Conference, which puts an exclamation point on this recent stretch that also saw them return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings. Life is good for the Celtics right now.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ball movement: The Celtics were out of rhythm Wednesday in their win over Detroit and execution was a point of emphasis for them at practice on Thursday. It was clear right from the start that it wouldn’t be a problem on this night. The Celtics had assists on all five of their early baskets and kept it up, finishing with 31 assists on 37 made shots.

Rajon Rondo had 12 assists, but everyone was involved. One late-game sequence saw the ball hop from Marquis Daniels to Nate Robinson to Von Wafer before finally ending with a dish to Semih Erden for a jam.

The return of the sixth man: Glen Davis opened up Thursday about the pressure he put on himself while he was a member of the starting lineup. It seems that being one of the best sixth men in the game is a role that’s growing on him. Davis was at his absolute best Friday, scoring 15 points on 5-for-9 shooting with seven rebounds. He scored inside and out and outworked the Utah bigs for loose balls. This is his role and he’s one of the best in the league at it.

Semih-tough: It’s been an up and down season for Erden, but he shows flashes of becoming more than just a solid role player in this league someday. Erden played 30 minutes and had a season-high 14 points on 5-for-5 shooting and seven rebounds. The Celtics needed him to play minutes after Shaquille O’Neal left the game early in the first quarter and he delivered a great performance.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Shaq Maintenance: The big fella left the game midway through the first quarter and didn’t return. The team announced in the second half that he has a sore right leg. Shaq has been dealing with a number of leg injuries throughout the season, but he has gutted it out and given the Celtics minutes. It’s too early to tell if it’s anything more than that, but the unexpected blowout allowed for some opportunistic rest.

Foul trouble for Deron Williams: The All-Star guard picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter and then got his third early in the second. Williams had an all-around awful night, depriving us of an opportunity to see him and Rondo go head-to-head. Williams played on 23 minutes and had five points on 1-for-4 shooting.

FAST BREAK RULE: When you beat a Jerry Sloan-coached team by 20 or more points there are only so many things that can go “wrong.”

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Fast Break: Celtics tame Cats 01.14.11 at 10:02 pm ET
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It’s mid-January in the NBA, which means everyone is either hurt, miserable or both. The Celtics had 10 players dressed and half of them were in some kind of foul trouble at various points in the game.

This was not a night for aesthetically-pleasing basketball, but the Celtics made the plays they needed to make in the fourth quarter and came away with a 99-94 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats.

Here’s how they did it:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Shaquille O’Neal had his most important game of the season: Without Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics were down to Shaq and Semih Erden at center and Glen Davis and Luke Harangody as big forwards.

Shaq played 17 minutes in the first half, mainly because Doc Rivers had no other options and he logged a season-high 35 to go with 23 points and five rebounds. Considering everything that has happened to the Celtics this week in terms of injuries, this was a big-time performance and arguably his best of the season.

Rajon Rondo had the world on a string: There are times when Rondo can be spectacular, and other times when he is spectacularly precise. This game was the latter. Rondo read screens, angles and pick and rolls and dissected the Bobacats with precise passes and smart decisions.

Sometimes Rondo’s stats can be deceiving. His huge assist nights are usually tied to hot shooting nights on the perimeter. Not this night. He had 18 points, 13 assists and six rebounds and earned every one of them.

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, like clockwork: Paul Pierce and Ray Allen shot a combined 12-for-20 from the floor, including 7-for-12 from 3-point range. For good measure they also made seven of eight free throws and each scored 19 points.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Foul trouble: The Celtics had 10 players available Friday night because of injuries and Avery Bradley’s assignment to the D-League. The one thing they could not afford was to have any kind of foul trouble, especially up front. Oh well. Erden picked up three fouls in three minutes in the second quarter, which meant Shaquille O’Neal had to play 17 first-half minutes.

Pierce picked up his fourth midway through the third quarter and left with 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting and the Celtics up by six. The Bobcats closed the gap with Pierce out of the game, but the Celtics pulled away early in the fourth quarter allowing Pierce to sit until the 4-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Offensive rebounding: You could see this one coming a mile away. Without Garnett or Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics frontline is exposed when it comes to rebounding. The Bobcats racked up 13 offensive boards and controlled the glass.

Free throws: The Celtics got to the free throw line only 25 times and most of those came late in the game when the Bobcats were trying to put them there. This isn’t that surprising since they are one of the worst teams in the league at getting to the line. It’s generally a given that their opponent will have more free throws than they will, but the Bobcats shot nine more than the Celtics, and were +8 at the line, which kept them in the game.

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Fast Break: Bulls bury Celtics 01.08.11 at 10:42 pm ET
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The NBA schedule is sometimes a cruel beast. Take the Celtics and Bulls, put them in a vacuum and the result is usually a fantastic game. But put them on a Saturday night with both teams on the second end of back-to-backs and you get a slow, ugly contest, like the one these two teams played.

The Celtics were able to hang in until the bitter end, mostly thanks to 21 Chicago turnovers, but the combination of Derrick Rose (36 points) and Carlos Boozer (22) was too much to overcome in a 90-79 loss that snapped Boston’s four-game winning streak. (Recap.)

Credit Tom Thibodeau‘s defense, which held the Celtics to 38 percent shooting and kept them out of the paint all night. Not many teams can make the Celtics look as bad as they did Saturday night, but Thibodeau knows them as well as anyone and he has Chicago ranked second (behind the Celtics) in defensive efficiency.

The Celtics return home for a six-game homestand against only two teams with winning records: Utah and Orlando. They are also expected to get Kevin Garnett back, possibly as early as Monday.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: In case there was still any confusion about how the Celtics feel about offensive rebounds, Doc Rivers said it as plainly as he could Friday night.

“I don’t care about offensive rebounds,” the coach said. “I care about defensive rebounds.”

In that case, the first half was very discouraging as the Bulls grabbed eight offensive rebounds. It didn’t get any better in the second half as the Celtics got pounded on the boards. They gave up 11 offensive boards and lost the overall battle, 48-27.

Derrick Rose at the free throw line: Derrick Rose established a new career-high in free throw attempts and makes midway through the third quarter. He went on to make 15-of-19 as he wore the Celtics out with the pick-and-roll. The Bulls wound up only being +7 at the line, despite taking 13 more shots (35-22).

Bench production: Or the lack, thereof. Outside of Jermaine O’Neal who had six points and three rebounds, the Celtics reserves combined to shoot 1-for-7 with three rebounds and four assists. Once again, the Celtics offense without Rajon Rondo on the floor was disjointed and out of sync.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce and Ray Allen: The two veterans basically are the Celtics offense right now with Garnett out, so it’s a good thing that they are both playing at a high level. They combined for 40 points, or more than half the Celtics’ total. Along with Rondo, they shot 20-for-43. The rest of the team? A horrific 8-for-31.

Turnovers: Yes, this is the right column. The Bulls turned it over 21 times compared to the Celtics’ eight times. The Celtics recorded 12 steals, which helped, but this was the only thing that kept the Celtics in the game.

Rajon Rondo was decent: Rondo had a solid line with 13 points, five rebounds, five steals and eight assists, but he was also responsible (along with the big men) for Rose’s big night.

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Fast Break: Celtics outlast Minnesota 01.03.11 at 10:05 pm ET
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The Celtics won’t get any style points for their 96-93 win over the Minnesota (recap), but no one will care about that in April. And after not closing out a similar game against New Orleans in their last home game, it was a win they were happy to get.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce came alive: After a dreadful start, Paul Pierce made his first shot with two minutes left in the first half. The second half was a completely different story as he made 5-of-8 shots and scored 15 points in the third quarter. Pierce made only one shot in the fourth quarter, but it was a huge 3-pointer.

He finished with 23 points, six rebounds, three assists and a very smart foul in the final seconds that prevented Michael Beasley from getting a good look at a 3-pointer.

Von Wafer: Wafer had his best stretch of minutes this season in the second quarter when he scored four points and emerged as the Celtics’ best rebounder (this was not a difficult honor to achieve on Monday). Still, Wafer showed some of the ability that has kept him employed by the Celtics this season. His timing couldn’t have been better because the deadline to guarantee contracts for the season is approaching next week.

Rajon Rondo is finding his groove: It seems clear that Rondo isn’t 100 percent back to being Rondo. Before the game Doc Rivers suggested that Rondo’s ankle would probably bother him all year. What remains to be seen is if he can recapture his explosiveness. He only took four shots and rarely drove to the basket.

But even in a reduced role, Rondo is still a great facilitator (he had 16 assists) and adept at finding, and exploiting mismatches. He worked Shaquille O’Neal against Kostas Koufos every time the opportunity presented itself.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rebounding: This was predictable. Kevin Love is the best rebounding forward in the league and the Celtics were without Kevin Garnett, who is the second best. But, the Celtics got killed on both the offensive and defensive glass and Love had more rebounds (15) in the first half than the Celtics had as a team (14).

But the Celtics also got killed on the defensive glass for the second night in a row, which is not something they can afford to have happen. Even without Garnett.

Glen Davis tried to do too much, again: Love destroyed Davis on the boards, and Davis didn’t do himself any favors by getting into foul trouble and launching too many jump shots. It has been a rough transition into the starting lineup for Davis, who had a not-as-good-as-it-looked line of 17 points on 7-for-15 shooting. One rebound in 30 minutes told a much different story.

Bench woes: In 29 minutes of court time, Nate Robinson and Luke Harangody took eight shots between them. They missed all of them. Neither player registered an assist, either. Thankfully for the Celtics, Wafer supplied some offense and a whole lot of energy off the bench. Robinson did make two clutch free throws in the final seconds to put the Celtics up by three for the game’s final margin.

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Fast Break: Rondo’s return helps rally Celtics past Raptors 01.02.11 at 8:31 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics lineup after missing seven games with a severely sprained ankle, and while he wasn’t in top form, he had a definite impact on the Celtics, who snapped out of their recent funk with a 93-79 victory over Toronto on Sunday night. (Recap.)

The Celtics outscored Toronto 50-37 in the second half and shot 54 percent. Their double-digit win was even more impressive when you consider they also allowed 19 offensive rebounds. There’s no rest for the Celtics, who play the Timberwolves in Boston Monday night, but this was a much-needed win after two weeks of struggles.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo returned: The Celtics led 13-8 after six minutes and Rondo was feeling so good he even busted out his fake behind-the-back layup move. Then he picked up his second foul and went to the bench. So long, early lead. Rondo played nine more minutes in the second quarter and went the whole way in the third as the Celtics opened up a nine-point lead.

Rondo wasn’t great — four points, eight assists, five turnovers in 33 minutes — but you could see the difference in how the Celtics got into sets quicker and the passing was much crisper. In the third quarter, the Celtics made 12-of-17 shots and had assists on 10 of them. That’s the kind of impact Rondo has on a game.

Paul Pierce made amends: Pierce had a bad game against the Hornets on Friday afternoon. It happens. Pierce took the extra step of taking the blame for the loss, which wasn’t necessary, but was in line with his role as team leader. You know what speaks more loudly? Taking over the next game. In the first half, when the Celtics were struggling for offense, Pierce scored 20 of their 42 points. That’s leadership.

Center depth: Shaquille O’Neal got in foul trouble again, which is like saying the sun rose in the east. The good thing for Doc Rivers was that he had options. Rivers kept Shaq in the game after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and the big guy was able to convert a layup. He could afford to take the risk because he knew he had Jermaine O’Neal waiting behind him and Semih Erden, if necessary.

The O’Neals combined for 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, which is exactly the kind of production they need from the position.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Glen Davis continues to struggle: It’s not that Davis hasn’t been able to do a decent Kevin Garnett impersonation. He hasn’t even been able to be Big Baby the last game and a half. Davis seems to be fighting himself as he adjusts to his new role as a starter, but after starting the game by missing eight of nine shots, Davis came alive in the third quarter.

He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in what might have been the best bad game anyone on the Celtics has played this season.

Transition defense: This has become the new watchword for Rivers, and the Celtics are struggling a bit in terms of getting back on defense. They gave up 27 fast-break points against Toronto, who is one of the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace. The Celtics play a number of young teams over the next few weeks and you can believe they will want to get out and run, rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the bruising Celtics.

Defensive rebounding: Attention, Celtics big men: Kevin Love is waiting for you on Monday. You might want to tighten up on the boards.

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Fast Break: Celtics pace themselves against Indiana 12.28.10 at 9:31 pm ET
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For the first 18 minutes of Tuesday night’s game with the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics played like a team that has been away from home for a week during the holidays. They were slow to rotate, hesitant to pass to the open man and generally looked like they’d rather be anywhere but Conesco Fieldhouse.

Then Paul Pierce started hitting jumpers and the Celtics got back in the game. They started the second half in much the same way, but rallied behind Marquis Daniels who took control after Nate Robinson banged heads with Mike Dunleavy and had to go back to the locker room.

The Celtics emerged with a 95-83 win in a game where they played well for maybe two quarters. Here’s how they did it:

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Marquis Daniels had a very Marquis Daniels-like game: The notion that a player’s contributions don’t show up in the box score is more often than not, ridiculous. Almost every thing an NBA player does in a game is recorded, tracked and committed to the stat sheet, so if a player has no stats it’s not usually because what he does is so sublime, it’s because he didn’t actually do anything.

Daniels is one of those rare players who can have a positive impact without accumulating stats. He handled the ball when it was necessary, but not so much that he would racked up a bunch of assists. He scored, but never forced. He found mismatches and exploited them. In short, Daniels did all the things the Celtics need him to do, and his stats were solid: 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and only two turnovers.

Paul Pierce arrived just in time: Pierce picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the game, which sent him to the bench and took the rest of the Celtics offense with him. Without Pierce in the game, the Celtics 40 percent in the first quarter and trailed 26-19. By the time he heated up in the second quarter, the Celtics were down by 10 points, but he shot them back in the game.

Ray Allen did the rest: As Pierce tailed off in the second half, Ray Allen picked up the slack, scoring 12 of his 17 points in the final two quarters. The Celtics once again had great balance with four players in double figures and five players posting 10 or more shots.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Rajon Rondo didn’t play: The new timeline for Rondo’s return to the court is now Friday when the Celtics return home to play the Hornets on New Years Eve. (Coincidentally or not, that’s also just in time for a matchup with Chris Paul). The Celtics aren’t going to rush Rondo back, but his return can’t come soon enough.

Their offense, which once featured so much flow and ball movement, has devolved into a one-pass and shoot stagnant system. The Celtics are talented enough to get by like this for a while, but they are becoming very predictable and predictably easy to stop.

Foul trouble for Shaq again: Shaquille O’Neal didn’t get into foul trouble early this time, but he made up for lost time with a flurry of violations that had him setting on the bench with five fouls less than six minutes into the second half. Shaq was fined $35,000 for his comments after the Magic game, and like it or not, he’s becoming a target of the refs for his hard fouls.He lasted 16 minutes before fouling out for the second straight game.

Free throw shooting: The Celtics shot 15-for-22 and for a change, they can’t blame Shaq (or Rondo) for that sub-par number. Shaq made five of his six shots, which left the rest of the team 10-for-16 and that’s not good enough.

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Fast Break: The end of the streak 12.25.10 at 5:29 pm ET
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The end of the Celtics 14-game winning streak came inauspiciously. For 45 minutes, they had controlled their matchup with the Orlando Magic, and then in the final three minutes and 20 seconds, everything fell apart in an 86-78 loss. The Celtics were outscored 15-1 over that span as the absence of Rajon Rondo finally caught up to them.

Nate Robinson shot 2-for-15, Ray Allen shot 3-for-13, and Paul Pierce once again had to direct the offense instead of working into the flow. The Celtics have felt for weeks that they weren’t playing their best basketball, but still they found ways to win. It was only a matter of time until that run ended, but it was still something of a shock that it fell apart so quickly in game they seemingly had in their back pocket.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The limits of Nate Robinson as a point guard: It’s been said again and again that Robinson is not a true point guard, and he’s not. The Celtics have tried to figure out a way to play with Robinson in place of Rondo that allows him to be him, and also allows them to continue to function as a pass-first, unselfish unit.

But in order for that to work, Robinson has to make shots. The Magic laid off Robinson and let him fire away from the perimeter. He was 0-for-5 in the first half and 1-for-10 before he knocked down a wide-open 3-pointer. When Robinson did go to the bench, the Celtics went with Avery Bradley, which was more about defense than running the team.

The Celtics not only don’t have a point guard right now, they don’t have a backup either. That is took this long to catch up to them is a testament to all the other things they’ve done well, but it was only a matter of time.

J.J. Redick is Ray Allen’s Kyrptonite: Once again Allen had a dreadful time shooting the ball against Orlando, and once again Redick was with him every step of the way. It’s been like this since the 2009 playoffs and it’s well past time to give the former Duke sharpshooter his due. He’s become much more than just a jumpshooter, unfortunately for Allen.

Jermaine O’Neal will need some time: O’Neal’s return came at the perfect time with Semih Erden feeling ill, but it was clear watching him play that he’s going to need a few games (at least) to get his conditioning back. There’s no sugar-coating this: Jermaine O’Neal has been a huge disappointment so far this season.

However, there is ample time for him to save his career and salvage his reputation in Boston. If the Celtics are going to do what they want to do this season, they will need him and in order to get there he’s just going to have to burn minutes.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Even without Kendrick Perkins, the Celtics still had the right gameplan for Dwight Howard: Without Perk, the Celtics went on the offense to defend Howard. They did this by pounding the ball in to Shaquille O’Neal early in the game in the hopes of getting Howard in foul trouble. It worked as Howard picked up his second late in the first quarter and was in foul trouble again early in the third quarter.

Howard continued to be his own worst enemy, getting called for a 10-second violation on a free throw attempt and compounding that by getting a technical foul. He didn’t score his first basket until a minute into the fourth quarter. The Magic’s trades were all about helping Howard, but if he is going to ascend to true MVP-level, he still has to learn to help himself against teams like the Celtics.

Defense, defense, defense: The Magic shot less than 40 percent and Howard never got going. This loss was all about the offense. The defense was once again, dominant.

Paul Pierce as point forward: For one half anyway, Pierce was the best point guard on the floor, scoring 16 points and dishing out four assists as the Celtics took control. The Celtics are asking a lot from Pierce, and this time they may have asked too much because he wasn’t able to build on his first-half performance.

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