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Fast Break: Deer in the Celtics headlights 03.22.12 at 10:22 pm ET
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Based on ESPN.com writer/mathematician John Hollinger’s latest NBA playoff odds, the Celtics (25-21) are the odd team out in the Eastern Conference playoff race — behind the Knicks (23-24) and Bucks (21-25), winners of five and six straight, respectively. Of course, that projection jibes with the most recent Irish Coffee breakdown.

Regardless, Thursday night’s matchup between the seventh-seeded Celtics and ninth-place Bucks was the biggest thing to hit Milwaukee since the filming of “Bridesmaids.” But only the Celtics showed up, cruising 100-91.

Paul Pierce (25 points, 9 rebounds) led the charge. Rajon Rondo (10 points, 14 assists) Kevin Garnett (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (12 points, 10 rebounds) all recorded double-doubles. And Greg Stiemsma (6 points, 5 blocks, 4 rebounds, 4 steals, 3 assists) filled up the stat sheet during his first NBA game in his home state.

The Celtics travel to Philadelphia on Friday night, trailing the 76ers by just 0.5 games for the Atlantic Division lead (and the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference). But first, let’s get to the Fast Break.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pushing for the cushion: The Celtics shot 58 percent from the field, including 4-of-5 from 3-point range, in the first quarter, taking an early 35-29 lead. Pierce scored 11 points in the frame, and Rondo added six. Whenever those two get involved early, good things happen for the C’s. At least for the first 12 minutes, they showed they could match Milwaukee’s newfound fast-paced offensive style of play. Obviously, it helps when the opposing team doesn’t play defense.

Oui, Oui, Oui: It’s no revelation at this point, but Mickael Pietrus‘ ability to make 3-pointers coming cold off the bench is remarkable. He knocked down a trio of triples in the first half, walking the walk after talking the talk. On top of his long-range shooting, a couple tough Pietrus (13 points) takes to the hoop in the fourth quarter helped the Celtics stretch their lead to double digits.

The Bucks stop here: On a nightly basis during this road trip, it seems Doc Rivers has said something to the tune of, “We’ve got to grind out games.” It didn’t appear Thursday night’s game would play out that way, as the two teams combined for 114 first-half points, but Stiemsma and Avery Bradley led an inspired defensive effort in the second half that turned the style-of-play tide in the Celtics favor.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Turkish terror: For the second straight meeting, Bucks 6-foot-10 power forward Ersan Ilyasova burned the Celtics, totaling 12 points and eight rebounds by halftime (he had 25 and 10 against the Celtics last month). Ilysasova (12 points, 14 rebounds) entered the game averaging 12.3 points and 8.6 rebounds in 27.0 minutes a night. For the record, he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season (cc: Danny Ainge).

Oh, shoot: It wasn’t Ray Allen‘s night. He finished just 1-of-8 from the field, including 1-of-5 from 3-point range. And it’s not like he wasn’t getting good looks. Even wide open attempts weren’t falling for Allen. Luckily, the C’s held Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings (12-of-32 combined field goals) relatively in check.

Paint by numbers: Despite matching the Bucks on the glass for much of the night, Milwaukee owned a decided advantage in points in the paint (50-36). And that was on a night that Drew Gooden played awful basketball. The Celtics can get themselves in trouble when they settle for jumpers while the other team gets to the bucket, but even that didn’t seem to matter in Beertown.

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The mean Greg Stiemsma makes an appearance 03.13.12 at 1:42 pm ET
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LOS ANGELES — You wouldn’t think that Blake Griffin and Greg Stiemsma would have a history. After all, Griffin is the former No. 1 overall pick, a Rookie of the Year, a two-time All-Star and a national name. Prior to this season, Stiemsma was essentially a nameless vagabond, floating through the European circuit with occasional appearances in the D-League.

But back in 2009 at the Las Vegas summer league, Stiemsma made an impression when he blocked Griffin twice. Perhaps that was on Griffin’s mind on Monday night when the Celtics took on the Clippers in a game that was described as physical and chippy. Things had already become heated when Stiemsma checked in late in the first quarter.

Then Griffin got a dunk and made sure to put the ball in Stiemsma’s chest. The center flipped it back and both players received double technicals. A few possessions later, Stiemsma came over from the weakside and responded with a blocked shot. Griffin retaliated with a breathtaking lob dunk, one of the few seen Monday night in lob city. But Stiemsma didn’t back down, burying a 20-footer the next time down the court.

“Maybe for him,” Stiemsma said when asked about their summer league past. “I didn’t have any hard feeling coming in. Right out of the gate it kind of started right when I got in. Whatever it was, I can leave things on the floor. Whatever it is, I’m not worried about it.

Griffin scored 24 points and had nine rebounds. Stiemsma had two points and two boards, but he gave the Celtics 20 minutes and a big presence in a game where Brandon Bass spent the night in foul trouble.

“That was the mean Stiemsma today,” coach Doc Rivers said. “It was great to see that. He got the blocked shot. We’re going to have to work on his trash talk a little bit. But it was good to see. We needed that.”

“You can’t play mad all the time, but you’re not going to back down from anybody either,” Stiemsma said. “I don’t care what position or situation they’re in. If I come in and play physical and take a shot to the mouth, a couple of shots to the head if it helps us win, I’ll do it.”

With Chris Wilcox (heart issues) and Jermaine O’Neal (wrist) away from the team, Stiemsma is the only backup big man on the roster. He’s been dealing with a foot injury of his own and he once again left the arena in a walking boot. Rivers acknowledged before the game that Stiemsma is playing hurt, but there’s no other choice right now.

“I get fired up when I have a couple of bumps and bruises in the morning,” he said.

His teammates have taken note of the 26-year-old’s toughness, both mentally and physically.

“You’ve got to have some kind of toughness to make this team,” Kevin Garnett said. “Not only that, but to make this team and sustain it. He’s not a pushover. He’s quiet but he’s not a pushover by any means.”

For Stiemsma, tough play is nothing new. He’s endured far worse during a nomadic career that has taken him around the world and put him in truly hostile environments. He once played a game in an empty arena in Turkey after security cleared the building following unrest in the stands.

“This was almost a European style feel where a few shots were thrown here and there,” Stiemsma said. “That’s where the game went tonight. We pushed through it. We got back to what we do well and came out with a win.”

He did have one concern after it was over, however after picking up his first technical foul. “I’m hoping someone will chip in with the fine,” he said.

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Filling the void left by Chris Wilcox 03.11.12 at 9:11 pm ET
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The Celtics will need to replace Chris Wilcox, who is undergoing tests related to a heart condition. (AP)

LOS ANGELES — What are the odds, Doc Rivers wanted to know, of losing two players because of a heart condition?

“It’s not a great place. It’s scary. It really is. The chances of having one of these in a year is pretty minute,” Rivers said before the Celtics took on the Lakers on Sunday. “The chances of having two is like, impossible. There’s a chance that may happen. We just have to wait and see.”

Already reeling from the loss of Jeff Green to heart surgery – a loss that had a deep and a lasting impact on everything from the roster to the rotation – the Celtics are preparing to be without Chris Wilcox, as well. Going back to his days with the Pistons, Wilcox has been tested regularly and something came up last week that forced more tests and evaluation.

“I’d rather find it than not,” said Rivers who was understandably vague about the exact nature of Wilcox’s condition. “At the end of the day we’re lucky and that’s what I told our team: That we’re very lucky that this happened and not unlucky. I think that’s the way you have to look at it and that’s how we’re looking at it.”

There is no timetable for Wilcox, although Rivers said they probably wouldn’t know definitively for at least week. He was able to see the team before they headed out on the trip.

“He seemed like he was in good spirits,” Brandon Bass said. “I wish the best for him. I’m praying for him. He’s a country boy, he’s tough. He’ll be all right.”

On the court, Wilcox’s absence leaves a huge hole in the middle for the Celtics. They had recently decided to go with a nine-man rotation and Wilcox was the first big man off the bench, backing up both the center and the power forward spots. His per-game averages of 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds don’t nearly explain his importance, not to mention his occasional flashes of open-court brilliance.

“I can’t say much about it but obviously team-wise it’s a hell of a blow for us,” Rivers said.

Without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal, the Celtics are down to two veteran bigs: Bass and Kevin Garnett. Bass missed time with a knee injury, but has played well since he returned and Garnett’s minutes are closely-guarded. They need help just to get through the regular-season grind, but with the trade deadline looming, this doesn’t necessarily change the team’s approach. Read the rest of this entry »

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Greg Stiemsma: ‘I’d love to pick Bill Russell’s brain’ 02.16.12 at 1:50 pm ET
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BOSTON — Celtics rookie Greg Stiemsma won three Wisconsin high school Division 4 state championships in four seasons. Celtics legend Bill Russell won 11 NBA titles in 13 seasons. Needless to say, they’re worlds apart.

However, for one night at least, those worlds collided, as the two sat courtside to start Wednesday night’s Celtics loss to the Pistons — Stiemsma on the C’s bench and Russell next to team owner Stephen Pagliuca.

Of course, the the Development League project and the greatest winner in sports are forever linked after Celtics announcer and former Russell teammate Tommy Heinsohn compared Stiemsma to Russell earlier this season.

“His timing and how he goes about blocking shots does remind me of Russell,’’ said Heinsohn. “He makes guys commit, he’s quick to his leap, and he gets his hand up there right when the ball is leaving the shooter’s hand.’’

While Stiemsma has 22 blocks in 176 minutes this season for an average of 4.5 blocks per 36 minutes, Russell is considered the game’s greatest shot blocker, so even the Celtics rookie laughed off the comparison.

“I mean, I heard it. Like I said before, that’s pretty far out of my realm. I would never imagine that,” he said, adding, “It was an honor to get that reference. And then, for it to come full circle, for him to be in the arena, it’s all part of the experience, all part of this journey that’s brought me here, so I’m trying to enjoy it as much as I can.”

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Irish Coffee: Celtics weekly report card 01.06.12 at 12:12 pm ET
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Given that NBA teams cram 66 games into just over four months, each of this season’s 17 weeks becomes like an NFL week. As NFL writers are wont to do, we’ll start a new series of Celtics report cards each Friday. After an 0-3 start capped by a loss to a woeful Hornets team, the C’s have won four straight — albeit against three D-League NBA clubs with a combined 3-16 record. That being said, let’s get to the grades.

BRANDON BASS: A+

If you thought Glen Davis was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season, get a load of Bass so far this year. In 28 minutes a night, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 6.6 boards, shooting 61.5 percent from 10-15 feet and 66.0 percent from 16-23 feet. His consistency in a new system has been remarkable. In just a few short weeks, Bass has helped create that valuable spacing for which Doc Rivers strives and already assumed the second crunch-time big role alongside Kevin Garnett.

RAY ALLEN: A

You can’t blame the man for missing a game because of the flu. In six games, he’s averaging a team-leading 20.0 points on sizzling 61.1 percent 3-point shooting. His 51.5 percent shooting from inside the arc isn’t too shabby, either, but three missed free throws is very un-Shuttlesworth-like (picking nits). Could this be the season Allen finally achieves his Holy Trinity of Shooting (50 FG%-40 3P%-90 FT%)? Allen gets paid to shoot the rock and run opposing two guards ragged. Mission accomplished.

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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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The legend – and significance – of Greg Stiemsma just continues to grow 01.03.12 at 10:33 am ET
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Doc Rivers wanted to make sure Greg Stiemsma had the confidence to assume the role of playing and starting for the Celtics. He wanted to hear it from the man himself and then the Celtics coach wanted the rookie – who’s been around the world playing basketball – to let his teammates know he was ready.

“We had the silly – he’ll recall it, but we had the silly day where he wouldn’t shoot and I made him stand in front of the whole team and say, ‘My name is Greg Stiemsma; I’m a shooter.’ And we kept making him repeat it. Everybody started. About two weeks ago, everybody was laughing. He said, ‘I can shoot. I’m a shooter.’ And he is. And it was good,” Rivers said after Monday’s 100-92 win over the Wizards.

It worked. Stiemsma, filling in as starting center for Jermaine O’Neal, scored 13 points and hauled down seven rebounds in 21 minutes. He added two blocks – including one that got Wizards coach Flip Saunders ejected just over a minute into the game – two assists, three fouls on 5-of-7 shooting. Not bad for a guy who had to be convinced by his coach that he was good enough to be taking shots in the NBA.

“Stiemsma was terrific,” Rivers said. “He was absolutely wonderful. And I was so happy when he just took the shot. My favorite play of the whole game was he missed a shot and they threw it right back to him and he shot it again. I mean, that’s terrific. That was – I thought the whole bench was excited over that because it’s what we’ve been saying.”

After playing at the University of Wisconsin, Stiemsma went overseas to play in South Korea and Turkey. He came home to play in the D-League. He got a look from the Timberwolves and Cavaliers but couldn’t stick on an NBA roster. Monday night, he finally got his first NBA start.

And after hearing the crowd cheer for him every time he touched the ball in preseason and on Friday night, he was ready to take the big stage Monday.

“I’m trying to bring some energy every time,” he said. “I take my shot when it’s there and not force anything. I just want to take care of the ball.”

Kevin Garnett has been huge in helping Stiemsma, as our Paul Flannery points out. Stiemsma has been doing everything he can to contribute, since he figures to become more and more important as the Celtics manage the hamstring of Jermaine O’Neal through the course of an accelerated schedule.

“I’ve just try to be his sponge and just learn as much as I can from him,” Steimsma said. “He doesn’t make mistakes too often so he’s in the right spot every time. So if I can just mimic him, it’s going to help my game.

“With every opportunity I’ve had I feel like I’ve tried to step up to the plate and come out and perform well and tonight was another opportunity. I was happy to get the opportunity and to play well on top of that.”

And now, thanks to Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, he will do so with a lot more confidence.

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