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Box and 2: Inside Celtics, Bucks and Wizards, oh my 11.05.12 at 2:39 pm ET
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Friday: Bucks 99, Celtics 88; Saturday: Celtics 89, Wizards 86: Observations about the box scores from Games 2 & 3 of the C’s (1-2) 2012-13 NBA season.

– Called upon by Doc Rivers Friday night to protect the paint against the Bucks, when smaller lineups weren’t working, Darko Milicic played 4:30 of the first quarter. He missed his only shot — an air-balled baby left hook — and committed more turnovers (2) than he totaled rebounds (1) or blocks (0). Then, he didn’t play Saturday.

Kevin Garnett: “We’re still playing with the chemistry. We have different lineups in which Doc is playing with simultaneously, and we’re still working. No one said this was going to be an easy process.”

Translation: “The Darko Experiment is called that for a reason. Let’s just hope it doesn’t blow up in our face.”

– Over the weekend, Brandon Bass finished a minus-11 in 40:52 without Jared Sullinger on the floor. The Celtics outscored the opponent in just two of his 10 stints sans Sullinger — by one in the final 3:53 of the first quarter against the Wizards and by two Terry free throws in the final 1:35 of that game. Without Bass on the floor, Sullinger finished a plus-14 in 33:29, and the C’s outscored opponents in five of those eight stints. (In case you were wondering, the two played 14:40 together, finished a minus-9 and only outscored opponents once in six stints.)

Rivers (via the Herald): “[Sullinger] brings a different component, more importantly rebounding. He knows how to play without the ball. He’s a great passer. He blends well with our starting group.”

Translation: “Sorry Brandon, but you’re going to see a lot more Sullinger in the starting lineup.”

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Brandon Bass: ‘When my name is called, I’ll be ready’ 10.25.12 at 4:54 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers indicated he already knows whether Brandon Bass or Jared Sullinger will start against the defending NBA champion Heat on opening night, but he’s not showing his cards, and Bass doesn’t seem interested in discussing whether he’s in that five-card draw or not, either. If he even knows.

“I’m confident in my work ethic — that when my name is called, I’ll be ready,” said Bass. “You’ve got to take care of what you can take care of, and that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to continue to work hard and do what I do. That’s what got me here, and that’s how I’m going to continue to grow as a player.”

When the curtains came up on Thursday’s practice, Bass wore a green t-shirt along with the four known starters: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Courtney Lee and Rajon Rondo. (Jason Terry conceded what everyone already assumed: He’ll spare Rondo and Lee off the bench in Avery Bradley‘s absence.) Sullinger wore white.

“I think that’s all Doc,” added Bass. “Doc sees that we have a talented group and we have more pieces than we had last year, and he’s just trying to see which group works best with who and things of that nature. But, being a player, you just play, continue to work on your game and just be able to make a play when your name is called.”

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Irish Coffee: Limiting Doc Rivers’ Celtics lineup options 10.19.12 at 5:21 pm ET
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Celtics coach Doc Rivers has options. Kind of like Leonardo DiCaprio has options. It’s hard to choose from the depth and versatility of talent at his disposal, so he tries every combination at his disposal. Eventually, the cream rises to the top, and that appears to be what has happened over the C’s past two preseason games against the Nets. In other words, Rivers may have found his Gisele Bundchen, Bar Rafaeli and Blake Lively of lineups.

In the first three-plus quarters of the two games against Brooklyn — before Micah Downs, Kris Joseph, Robert Kurz or Fab Melo made obligatory fourth-quarter appearances — Rivers used 23 different lineups. Other than starters Rajon Rondo, Courtney Lee, Paul Pierce, Jared Sullinger and Kevin Garnett, no unit played longer than 8:36 together. Before making any observations, here are the combinations, playing time and plus/minus statistics.

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Irish Coffee: Grooming Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger 10.11.12 at 8:00 am ET
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Jared Sullinger isn’t easily fazed. Not even when they called him and the other Celtics rookies in front of the entire organization during a team dinner and made him sing his favorite song: Jay-Z‘s “Public Service Announcement.”

Check out my swag’ yo, peep the way I wear it
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change, but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here

Fitting. Sullinger isn’t intimidated by a team full of headstrong veterans whose system has produced one championship, two NBA finals appearances and three Eastern Conference finals showings in the past five years, and that’s because his basketball journey started almost from the day he was born.

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Jared Sullinger is not Glen Davis 10.08.12 at 2:44 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger.

There’s a tendency to equate rookie forward Jared Sullinger with former Celtic Glen Davis for reasons that have little to do with basketball. The similarities are essentially size-related. Like Davis, Sullinger is slightly undersized for the power forward position and like Davis, Sullinger will need to keep his weight in check. But that’s basically all there is to the comparison.

We have over the last few months a decent sample of Sullinger’s work and there is simply little to equate the two players on the court. Unlike Davis, for example, Sullinger is comfortable on the low block. He has a nice array of post moves and is far more polished than the average rookie. Indeed, Sullinger may have the best post moves of anyone on the Celtics’ roster since the halcyon days of Al Jefferson.

Sullinger also has a strong awareness on the court of where to be to receive passes from Rajon Rondo. This played out several times in their recent exhibition game against Milan when Sullinger made his debut in the starting lineup. Simply being a target under the basket, and having the hands to catch Rondo’s rocket passes, could make a huge difference for a team that struggled mightily to score points last season and had far too few chances at the basket.

Where they are similar is that both players need to come up with counters to height mismatches in the post. Davis relied on quickness, while Sullinger will use his body to ward off defenders to employ those polished moves. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts over the course of the season, but style-wise they couldn’t be more different.

That’s also true on the defensive end where Davis has made a career out of being able to guard bigger players. For all the abuse he took at the end of his tenure, it’s worth remembering that when he was at his best, Big Baby was an integral part of the Celtics’ rotations and often played out of position at center. It’s unclear if Sullinger can handle the same kind of responsibility. The rookie still has a lot to learn on the defensive end, and his learning curve will have to be steep if he plays major minutes this season.

But Sullinger offers yet another dimension that Davis lacks, and that’s the ability to get rebounds. He racked up 15 boards in the C’s two exhibition games in Europe, including eight on the offensive glass. Scoring and rebounding were two of the Celtics’ three biggest weaknesses last season — turnovers were the third — and Doc Rivers has to be pleased with what his rookie has shown thus far.

It’s still way too early of course to know what kind of a player Sullinger will end up becoming, but it’s seems reasonably clear already that what he is not is another Glen Davis.

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What we learned from Celtics second preseason game 10.07.12 at 2:26 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo

We may as well start the season now because Rajon Rondo is clearly ready. Rondo repeatedly torched Milano’s defense, burying his first seven shots including a 3-pointer and four free throws in the first quarter as the Celtics left Europe with a split of their exhibition schedule after a 105-75 victory.

Everyone goes under screens on Rondo and everyone knows that when he’s making jump shots there’s basically no way to guard him. It’s way too early to tell if Rondo has conquered his shooting demons — especially at the free throw line where he made all 10 of his attempts in two preseason games — but it’s worth pointing out that he shot a respectable 39 percent on his jumpers from 16-23 feet last season.

Still, the early returns are encouraging and Rondo looks like he’s ready to take his game to another level this season. Here are more takeaways from the C’s preseason victory:

JARED SULLINGER STARTED: When the Celtics acquired Brandon Bass from the Magic, they originally had him as a scoring sixth man whose outside shooting would help open up the floor and take some pressure off the starters. Bass moved into the starting lineup midway through the season and fit in well, but the addition of Sullinger could present an interesting situation for coach Doc Rivers.

Sullinger’s offensive game is way ahead of his defense, which is to be expected for a rookie, and the Celtics have often tried to cover up defensive deficiencies by pairing those players with Kevin Garnett. So great is KG’s impact defensively that the C’s feel he can compensate for at least one weaker defender. Perhaps a little more juice offensively at the start of games would help break them of their slow-start habit and it’s not as if Bass isn’t capable of playing off the bench.

Preseason caveats apply, but it’s obvious that the Celtics will not bring Sullinger along slowly. He had 9 points and 7 rebounds, including three on the offensive glass.

JASON TERRY STARTED TOO: This may be less interesting. Terry and Courtney Lee both figure to play about 30 minutes a game regardless of who’s in the starting lineup, but it’s worth noting that after Lee struggled through a rough preseason opener that Terry got the call instead. That’s the great part of Terry’s game: He can start or relieve.

Terry pumped in 11 points and was an absurd Plus-29 in 28 minutes. Lee had a much stronger outing, making four of his five shots and finishing with 11 points. Read the rest of this entry »

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What to watch for: Preseason Celtics in Turkey edition 10.05.12 at 12:43 am ET
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Jared Sullinger gets his first taste of NBA preseason action on Friday.

Preseason NBA games go something like this: Hey, basketball’s back! Then the second quarter starts and you’re reminded that it’s preseason. By the time the second half tips off, everyone’s trying to not get hurt, while rookies and free agents are looking for that one shot of glory.

The Celtics will play Fenerbache Ulker on Friday afternoon in Istanbul, and while there’s only so much that can be determined in the first exhibition, there are still a number of things worth keeping an eye on as they begin to take shape for the upcoming season.

Here are five areas to watch:

THE NEW-LOOK BACKCOURT: It will be jarring to see the Celtics lineup without Ray Allen in his customary spot, but more than appearances, the C’s guards will have an entirely different feel. Courtney Lee is likely to start with Jason Terry operating as a sixth man. Lee won’t get nearly as many touches as Allen did, and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers adjusts the offense without Allen running off so many picks.

One of the benefits of Avery Bradley‘s emergence last season was that it allowed Rivers to take Rajon Rondo off the ball defensively. That has tremendous value, not only because Bradley is such a good defender, but it also allowed Rondo the chance to conserve energy on the defensive end. Lee brings a tough defensive-mindset to the position, but can he handle the fullcourt pressure defense that Rivers prefers?

HOW WILL JEFF GREEN BE UTILIZED? This is the key question, maybe for the whole season. Green has not fared well defensively as a big forward, but if Kevin Garnett is lined up next to him that could alter the dynamic considerably. Another big question that Rivers hinted at already: Can Green and Paul Pierce function together as a forward tandem?

One of the biggest reasons that Green was not an overnight success in Boston is that he was never able to fill a consistent role. Part of that is on him for not being assertive enough and part of that is on Rivers to create one.

IS JARED SULLINGER READY? It’s been a tough camp for Chris Wilcox, who is dealing with back spasms in addition to trying to return from heart surgery. Wilcox is the only veteran backup 4 on the roster, and if he can’t go on Friday, that would seem to give the Ohio State rookie an early opportunity to make an impression.

SPEAKING OF ROOKIES: Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph and Jamar Smith are part of a battle for what could be two open roster spots. Christmas received a higher guarantee than the others, so he would appear to have a leg up heading into the camp. That can all change quickly, however.

Need is a relative term for a squad with championship aspirations and veterans at nearly every position, but the two that stand out are backup point guard (Smith) and depth on the wing (Christmas and Joseph).

ALL THAT AND DARKO TOO: The over/under on how long it takes Tommy Heinsohn to compare Darko to Bill Russell has been set at eight minutes. Tommy’s not in Istanbul, but has there even been this much intrigue for a backup center?

Heinsohn aside, for one of the first times in his career the expectations for Darko are actually reasonable and manageable. If he can give the C’s 15-20 minutes a night as a backup center, they will be thrilled. Rebounding has been a major point of emphasis for Rivers during camp, and that’s where the Celtics really need Darko to make a difference.

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