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Fast Break: Lucky 13 for Celtics 12.19.10 at 3:28 pm ET
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After beating the Pacers 99-88 Sunday afternoon at TD Garden, the Celtics have now won 13 straight games. They didn’t play particularly well or efficient and it wasn’t aesthetically pleasing, but in order to keep that streak going, they’re going to have to do the kinds of things they did Sunday.

Yes, they gave up way too many offensive rebounds and the bench is woefully thin behind Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels, but the Celtics have figured out a formula for winning regular season games. Get a lead with the starters and then turn it on defensively in the fourth quarter.

Three different players scored 18 points, including Davis off the bench and Ray Allen added 17. They were balanced and they made the plays when they had to make them.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce gave the game what it needed: That’s the phrase the Celtics captain likes to use to describe his contributions and in recording a triple-double he pretty much gave the Celtics everything they needed. Pierce didn’t do much scoring (18 points on just eight shots), but he was a distributor (12 assists) and helped Kevin Garnett work the glass with 10 rebounds.

Pierce is playing some of the most responsible basketball of his career. That shouldn’t be viewed as faint praise. Garnett and Rondo have secured the headlines, and rightfully so, but Pierce remains the Celtics on-court leader.

Shaquille O’Neal returned: Foul trouble limited Shaq’s time on the court, but after finishing Thursday’s game with just nine players, the Celtics welcomed the return of any player, let alone the big fella. Shaq wasted little time making his presence felt with 11 points in five minutes including an obscene posterization of Jeff Foster on an alley-oop.

Shaq played 22 minutes, which is right in line with the amount he had been playing and the Celtics needed it as Semih Erden was limited with a groin injury.

Nate Robinson had a Nate Robinson game: With Rajon Rondo out for the foreseeable future, it falls on Robinson to handle major minutes at the point. Robinson is not going to be Rondo. Not now, not ever. They are completely different players with different skill sets, but the one thing Robinson can do is provide instant offense and he was able to score 18 points.

Robinson also provided athletic, hustling plays all over the court and for that the Celtics will indulge him the occasional pull-up 3-pointer on the break.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defensive rebounding: The Pacers shredded the Celtics on the boards in the first quarter, racking up six offensive rebounds. The Celtics were able to tighten up in the second, but the Pacers got up 50 shots in the first half, which allowed them to stay in the game despite shooting just 40 percent.

The problems returned in the third quarter. As is usually the case, the Celtics problems on the glass started before the shot attempt …

Dribble penetration: This is where the Celtics really miss Rondo, or at least the healthy version of Rondo. Darren Collison and T.J. Ford were both able to breakdown the Celtics defense, which not only allowed the to combine for 31 points and 24 shot attempts, but also caused the Celtics help defense to leave rebounding gaps on the boards.

The bench is thin: Davis and Daniels have been fantastic. Erden has given the Celtics a boost. But right now, with all the injuries, the Celtics need to get something out of either Avery Bradley or Von Wafer. It hasn’t happened yet.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Pacers,
Fast Break: Celtics win ugly over Bobcats 12.11.10 at 9:29 pm ET
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Take an NBA team that’s been on the road for a few days and knows it has some time off ahead of them,and  put them in an arena with all the ambiance of a library and what you get is something like the game between the Celtics and Bobcats Saturday night.

It was ugly, as evidenced by the Celtics 43 percent shooting from the floor and Paul Pierce’s unsightly 1-for-9 night. But in yet another sign that the Celtics are coming together as a team, they overcame their collective offensive woes and put the hammer down defensively in a 93-62 win.

They have now won 10 straight games and clearly established themselves as the class of the Eastern Conference. They also have three days off until Wednesday when they play the rejuvenated New York Knicks in what should be an interesting matchup between the classic rivals, who haven’t had much of a rivalry in recent years.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Kevin Garnett, again: Doc Rivers limited his starters minutes in the first half, keeping Allen, Pierce and Garnett to just 16 minutes of court time. This seemed like a conscious decision because even though Allen and Pierce struggled, Garnett was the best thing the Celtics had going for them.

He had nine points and eight rebounds in the first half, en route to another double-double (13 and 11) in just 23 minutes. Garnett also led the way on the glass where the Celtics owned a healthy 48-38 advantage.

Glen Davis to the rescue: This is why Davis should be considered one of the best sixth men in the NBA. It’s not his points and rebounds, although they definitely help. It’s not even his charges, although they help as well. It’s that when he comes into the game he can change the flow and he can do it playing multiple frontcourt positions.

Davis played the four, the five and even guarded Gerald Wallace successfully. With all the injuries the Celtics are having up front, his versatility is a great compliment to his production. The production wasn’t bad either as he scored 16 points to go with seven rebounds.

Defense wins: Try as they might, the Celtics couldn’t get anything going offensively. To their credit, they stayed away from launching jump shots and attacked the basket to get to the line 28 times. But what won the game for them was their defensive effort. The Bobcats aren’t a good offensive team, but the Celtics made them look dreadful.

Charlotte shot 33 percent and turned it over 21 times. They scored 16 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second and then 15 in each of the third and fourth quarters. If you were looking for a 48-minute defensive effort, this was it.

WHAT WENT WRONG

No Shaq: Shaquille O’Neal missed his second straight game with a lower calf/shin injury. There’s no need to rush him back, especially with a few days between now and Wednesday’s game with the rejuvenated New York Knicks. But Shaq’s absence left the Celtics vulnerable in the middle and Nazr Mohammed made them pay, at least in the first half when he went 6-for-9.

Cold shooting: The Bobcats have two things going for them in terms of matchups — Stephen Jackson, who is one the tallest off guards in the game and Gerald Wallace, who is one of the strongest forwards. Those two combined to make life miserable for Allen and Pierce who shot a combined 2-for-11 in the first half. Allen recovered to score 10 of his 16 points in the third quarter when the Celtics pulled away, but Pierce was never able to get going.

Turnovers: The Celtics have done a solid job of limiting their turnovers lately but they crept up again Saturday with 17. The prime culprit was Rajon Rondo with six. A number of Rondo’s turnovers came on passes that were simply way too difficult. He is granted a certain creative license to make those kind of plays, but sometimes the best play is the easiest one.

Read More: Bobcats, Celtics, Fast Break,
Fast Break: Celtics crush New Jersey 12.05.10 at 3:26 pm ET
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The Celtics have a well-worn reputation for playing sub-par basketball on weekend afternoon. With a younger team one might worry about nocturnal activities, but the veteran Celtics are simply creatures of habit. They just don’t like having their routines messed with.

They turned that bit of conventional wisdom on its head with a thorough dismantling of the Nets in New Jersey, 100-75 as five players scored in double figures and the Celtics held New Jersey to just 38 percent shooting.

The Celtics have now won seven straight games and have the top record in the Eastern Conference at 16-4. These wins will look a lot more important in March when that race really starts to take shape.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

Bench production: At the beginning of the second quarter, Doc Rivers trotted out this unfamiliar lineup: Avery Bradley, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal. This was Rivers’ original vision of a second unit with Shaq anchoring the paint.

As it turned out it was Davis who took control from the middle, working rookie Derrick Favors on the block. Davis finished the first half with 12 points and five rebounds, Daniels added eight points and the Celtics outscored New Jersey, 30-12 in the second quarter to take command of the game.

Davis finished with 16 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes and was +27 in raw plus/minus.

Strong start for Nate: With Rajon Rondo out to rest his sore hamstring (see below), Nate Robinson got the start and got the Celtics off to a fast start with eight points in the first five minutes. Rather than try to be Rondo, Robinson did what he did best — which also included launching 3′s early in the shot clock and on the fast break.

That’s all part of the package for Robinson and it’s worth noting that Rivers encourages him to play that way. But Robinson didn’t just look for his shot. He also dished out six assists to go with six rebounds in what might have been his best game of the season.

Board work: The Celtics dominated the glass, outrebounding the Nets 49-36. Kevin Garnett led the way with 14 rebounds in just 26 minutes of work. He now has 11 double-digit rebounding games, equal the amount he had all of last season.

TWO THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

Rajon Rondo misses another game: Apparently, the hamstring is still an issue for Rondo. He was a late scratch on Sunday and has now missed four of the Celtics 20 games. The only remedy for a hamstring injury is rest and the Celtics have a few days off before playing Denver Wednesday at TD Garden.

The good news is that they have found ways to win games without Rondo in the lineup (they have now three of those four). The bad news is that it looks like Rondo will be dealing with something for most of the season. There is no question about Rondo’s pain tolerance, but it will be pushed in ways it never has been before.

Injuries (again): Jermaine O’Neal told reporters in New Jersey that he will begin workouts next week and then hopes to practice with the team the following week. If, and it still seems like a big if, they can have O’Neal back by the new year it would be a huge boost for the Celtics.

Their depth is painfully thin right now and one more frontcourt injury could have a disastrous effect on what has been a fantastic start to the season. Shaq missed the second half with a sore right calf. The Celtics didn’t need him Sunday, but they are walking a very thin line up front.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Nets,
Fast Break: Celtics turn the lights out in Georgia 11.22.10 at 9:21 pm ET
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One day after dropping words like “bored,” the Celtics added another word to their lexicon: angry.

Right from the opening tip on Monday, the Celtics seemed determined to not just beat the Hawks, but crush them and in the process atone for their last two games. It was basically over after the Celtics opened up a 16-3 lead, but it would get much worse for the Hawks.

After 12 minutes the Celtics led 39-13 in what will be a candidate for the most perfectly-played quarter of the season. The Celtics 72 percent (18-for-25) and outrebounded the Hawks, 16-3.

Nate Robinson had more assists in the first quarter (five) than the Hawks had baskets (four). The Celtics didn’t let up, another problem area the last few games, and cruised to a 99-76 victory.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rebounding: After a strong start to this season on the glass, the Celtics have tailed off a bit in the rebounding department. The Thunder feasted on the offensive glass and the Raptors came up with the kind of long, loose-ball rebounds that drive coaches crazy. The Celtics tightened all that up against the Hawks, outrebouding them 16-3 in the first quarter and 26-10 (with one offensive rebound) in the first half.

Physical mismatches: Al Horford is a good player, an All-Star last season and maybe again this season, but he has no chance guarding Shaquille O’Neal. Shaq used his size and also showed some good quickness in dominating this matchup. At the other end of the floor, Robinson ran circles around Mike Bibby, who is basically a stationary jump shooter these days. The one matchup where the Hawks should have been competitive: Kevin Garnett destroyed the younger Josh Smith, holding him without a field goal and just three rebounds.

Robinson continues to impress: Rajon Rondo missed his second straight game with a strained left hamstring, and for the second straight day, Robinson filled in admirably. He recorded his first double-double as a member of the Celtics with 16 points and 10 assists. Regardless of how long Rondo is out, this has been a great opportunity for Robinson to get his game back on track.

Since not much can go wrong in a 23-point win, here’s one more bonus thing that went right for the Celtics

No let-ups: Not that it was much in doubt, but the Hawks did “win” the second quarter, 29-25. The Celtics left no doubt in the third quarter, holding Atlanta to 4-for-21 shooting and beating them with defense. This was the kind of thorough, 48-minute performance that Doc Rivers has been waiting for.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Hawks,
Fast Break: Down and out in Toronto 11.21.10 at 3:49 pm ET
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There were bad signs all around for the Celtics when they went to Toronto to play the Raptors. First, it was an afternoon game and the C’s have had well-documented issues playing in the daylight hours. Second, and most importantly, Rajon Rondo was held out of the game (and is questionable for Monday’s game with the Hawks) because of a strained left hamstring.

Nate Robinson played well in his absence, but the Celtics struggled to find any kind of consistency on offense and that’s Rondo’s department. The Celtics actually had a lead late in the game, but Ray Allen lost control of the ball and Amir Johnson made two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to secure the 102-101 victory for the Raptors.

The Celtics had won eight straight against Toronto and were 11-1 against them since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Interior defense: Where did it go? The Celtics are one of the best teams in the league at defending the paint, but without a big-time shot blocker they are dependent on stopping dribble penetration and playing their usual strong help-side defense. Glen Davis ability to take charges is a huge benefit as well. None of that was on display against the Raptors.

Foul trouble: Shaquille O’Neal picked up his third foul after only eight minutes. Davis had three before halftime and Semih Erden picked up four first-half fouls. In the third quarter, Paul Pierce and Garnett also picked up their fourth fouls. The Raptors went on an 11-1 run against the Celtics makeshift lineup.

Andrea Bargnani happened: The former No. 1 pick has had a much-maligned career with the Raptors, but he showed up big against the Celtics. Always a threat from long range, Bargnani put the ball on the floor and attacked the Celtics defense. He not only scored 29 points, he also got to the free throw line 13 times and put the entire Celtics frontcourt in foul trouble.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Nate Robinson: With Rondo out, Doc Rivers elected to start Robinson instead of Delonte West at the point. Robinson has struggled at times this season, but he was reborn playing with the starters. Robinson started hot and stayed that way. He scored 16 points in the first quarter and did an effective job of pushing the pace. The Celtics play differently with Robinson in the lineup, but he did the job.

KG in the post: The Celtics want Garnett to be more aggressive with his offense, which is nothing new. He’s one of the best perimeter shooting big men in the game and while that is a great skill, he sometimes settles for the 20-footer too much. Against the Raptors, who have no inside presence, Garnett went to the post-up game and was successful in the second quarter. They did it again in the fourth quarter when the Celtics were making their run.

Defense in the fourth: The Celtics played almost no defense in the first half, allowing the Raptors to shoot 55 percent and drive to the basket at will. They began to tighten up in the third quarter and then really put the hammer down in the fourth. They did the same thing Friday night, which is not a great omen. They consistency has just not been there.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Raptors,
Fast Break: Celtics beat the Heat 11.11.10 at 11:15 pm ET
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This was a game the Celtics were supposed to lose. Charles Barkley suggested on the TNT pregame show that the Heat would win in a blowout and, honestly, the Chuckster’s call made a lot of sense. This was a statement game for the Heat after losing to Utah and absorbing 48 hours of unrelenting criticism. This was the game that Chris Bosh either stood up for himself or became further emasculated.

The Celtics? Regular season games don’t mean anything to them. They’re too old, experienced and savvy for that kind of noise.

Um, no.

The Celtics didn’t just beat the Heat Thursday night, 112-107, they embarrassed them. While Ray Allen was knocking down 3′s at a staggering rate, Pat Riley could be seen jotting down notes in red ink like a professor grading papers. When Rajon Rondo drove to the basket, Bosh sat and watched while Rondo threw down a monster slam.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Veteran’s presence: In the first half, Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett shot a combined 16-for-21 for the Celtics. Their Miami counterparts — LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Bosh — were 9-for-22. Wade was an unsightly 0-for-6. The Celtics veterans came to play and while they didn’t win all of their individual matchups (James was spectacular) they got the better of two of them handily and Pierce gave James all he wanted.

Ray-Ray for the 3: There are so many things the Celtics did right in this game, that’s it’s hard to focus on a few specific things, but if Allen is making 7-of-9 3-pointers, they are practically impossible to beat.

Ball movement: And how did Allen get so open, so often? Passing. The Celtics are the most unselfish team in the league in ways that go way beyond Rondo’s assists. They simply trust each other and that was a huge difference in this game.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Center concerns: Jermaine O’Neal told reporters in Miami that he was going to seek a second opinion on his injured left knee. That’s not good news at all for the Celtics, because despite O’Neal’s slow start, the Celtics need big bodies until Kendrick Perkins returns. Shaquille O’Neal played just 19 minutes and that’s the most the Celtics can expect from him right now. They may need another big and they may need one soon.

Free throw shooting: Here’s your fun NBA conspiracy fact of the night. The Celtics took 25 free throws. LeBron had 22 all by himself. The good news is the Celtics played through the discrepancy. The bad news is they made just 68 percent from the line.

Rather than try to come up with a third thing, let’s all enjoy the Rondo dunk over Bosh, courtesy of the incomparable Jose3030

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Heat,
Fast Break: Celtics silence Thunder 11.07.10 at 10:25 pm ET
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After beating Oklahoma City, 92-83 Sunday night, the Celtics have now won five straight games and six of their first seven, but they have not played a better 24 minutes of basketball than they did in the first half. There’s a decent chance the Celtics won’t play a better 24 minutes all season.

Of course NBA games last longer than 24 minutes and the Thunder made their inevitable run late in the third quarter and into the early stages of the fourth, cutting the Celtics lead to six. But this time it was the bench that saved the day as Glen Davis knocked down a couple of shots.

Ray Allen scored 19 points. Paul Pierce had 17 and Rajon Rondo had a tidy 10 points and 10 assists. The bench outscored OKC’s, 33-12. Add it all up and it equals the Celtics best win of the season.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Turnovers, or more specifically, the lack of turnovers: It’s really a simple equation for the Celtics. When they don’t turn the ball over they are almost impossible to stop because they shoot such a high percentage and almost everyone on the roster is a shooting threat.

The Celtics turned it over only four times in the first and that helped them build a 58-37 lead. They turned it over four times in the third quarter and that’s when OKC made its run. It’s really that simple for the Celtics right now.

The bench: Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels have been constants for the Celtics this season, but they received contributions from everyone in the rotation Sunday. Nate Robinson had nine points including a buzzer-beater 3 to the end the first half and Semih Erden also gave the Celtics quality minutes. They were even better in the second half as they helped stave off a big OKC run.

Ray Allen has his shot back: Did it ever actually leave? A handful of off shooting nights is no reason to panic when it comes to Allen and he showed again Sunday night why he is one of the best in the business.  Allen knocked down 8-of-16 shots and scored 19 points. He also made big shots. He was on the floor with the reserves in the fourth quarter when the Celtics made their last move, proving once again how valuable he is.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The third quarter: It was unlikely the Celtics would be able to keep up their first-half play for 48 minutes, but they started the second half like they were going to try, opening a 71-51 lead. But the Thunder came right back led by Westbrook and Kevin Durant, who scored 14 of his 34 points.

Second half runs are inevitable after a visiting team opens up a big second-half lead, particularly when the opponent is as good as Oklahoma City. What was encouraging for the Celtics was that they held it off and rebuild the lead.

That was really the only thing that didn’t go right. When you beat Oklahoma City by nine points in their building to start a four-game road trip, there’s not much to apologize for.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Kevin Durant, Thunder
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