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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett frustrated but confident 04.06.11 at 1:10 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

It’s been almost two weeks since Celtics forward Kevin Garnett posted on his Anta blog, and he’s just as disheartened about the team’s performance in back-to-back games as he has been all season. It’s roughly the 10,000th time he’s raised the concern, and the C’s have two more back-to-backs over the next five days. The highlights:

  • On the Celtics: “Frustration is definitely setting in for some of the guys, but we’ll meet and get it together.”
  • On Jermaine O’Neal: I “so was pumped to have him back with us.”
  • On Shaquille O’Neal: “The BIG Diesel was back! It was great to have him back and seeing him ball. He was killin it, then he pulled up! Damn, hurt again! That sucks! Keep rooting for him to get right!!!”
  • On the Spurs: It “was like a playoff game. We ‘hit’ each other back and forth, and both teams took the shots. Rondo was super intense and brought it! Great TEAM effort and body feeling good. The guys got me in the right spot to make shots, so I had to knock them down. Great energy in the locker room.”
  • On the Hawks: The “bad part was the back-to-back in Atlanta. We started out Ok, but then started to get out of what we do. We weren’t getting stops and taking early shots.”
  • On the stretch run: “This time of year we are trying to get ready for the playoffs, but it’s tough to get rest when we have seven games in the next 10 days! We gotta finish strong, so we can get right for the playoffs.”

As coach Doc Rivers has reiterated another 10,001 times, the Celtics won’t be playing any back-to-backs in the playoffs — where the team has pulled ahead of the Heat for the East’s No. 2 seed and within a game of the Lakers for homecourt in the NBA Finals.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: Celtics rotating rotations 04.04.11 at 11:48 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Unlike the last three years, when Celtics head coach Doc Rivers has had his rotation locked into place heading into the playoffs — whether Kevin Garnett was healthy (2008, 2010) or not (2009) — this postseasonseason will be a guessing game, at least for the first round.

As he said postgame — and Paul Flannery detailed when he nailed his Three-Pointer column — Rivers knows exactly what he wants it to be, and what he’s always wanted it to be this season.

“We’re not getting that set. That’s going to be just tough. What we have to do is get everyone on the same page, rhythm-wise. As far as rotations, I know it. It’s set. But we just got to get it together. We’ll be ready. If everyone’s healthy, I can tell you, I know it. I just haven’t seen it.”

On paper, it’s written. On the court? Rivers doesn’t know what it’s actually going to be. Therein lies the problem. The Celtics will be relying on the unkown — on chemistry, rhythm, whatever you want to call it — more during this playoff run than any other over the past three seasons.

It’s not the first half of the rotation that’s a problem. The Big Four were always going to be relied on for 30-40 minutes a game in the playoffs, and that hasn’t changed. It’s the uncertainty at center, Jeff Green‘s role and the expectations for Delonte West that cause problems.

The fact remains that Rivers is relying on a rotation that’s never actually been put into action on the court. Here’s what the Celtics coach told the Chicago Sun-Times:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jermaine O'Neal, nenad krstic
With Shaq hurt again, having Jermaine O’Neal back is a good start for the Celtics at 8:59 am ET
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Just like the rest of the season for the Celtics’ bigs, Sunday didn’t exactly turn out the way Doc Rivers and company planned.

Jermaine O’Neal got the clearance to start his first game since early November and Rivers thought, with Shaquille O’Neal coming back for the first time since early February, he would finally have some depth at the position that’s been – pardon the terrible pun – the team’s Achilles.

J-O played nearly seven of the 12 first-quarter minutes and was getting his feet wet in his third game back from a left knee scope. He finished with five points and six rebounds in 18 minutes. But it wasn’t until the shootaround Sunday evening that he felt confident enough to let Rivers know he was comfortable starting the game.

“Felt good, felt good to be back, it’s just going to be about progression, [Sunday] was probably the first day felt sore coming to the game,” O’Neal said. “Didn’t even know I was going to start until the shoot around, but we got into the weight room, did some legs stuff. But that’s just part of the process. [Monday], I’ll get a practice in, get acquainted with the new system. They’ve changed some plays some I’m kind of learning on the fly and asking Rondo at the same time during the game, where I’m supposed to be.”

That general soreness and stiffness was not a concern to O’Neal since it had nothing to do with his left knee.

“I’ve never been concerned about the knee being sore and having set backs,” O’Neal said. “It’s more about the body being sore with the banging and stuff like that. But I’ve passed all the tests that I’m supposed pass so I’m pretty excited about that.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jermaine O'Neal, NBA
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics kick Spurs 03.31.11 at 10:38 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo recorded 22 points and 14 assists (to go along with zero turnovers), leading the Celtics in an inspired 107-97 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also eclipsed 20 points and Glen Davis netted 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (52-22). While Jermaine O’Neal returned after nearly three months to score five points in 11 minutes, Celtics starting center Nenad Krstic left the game with a “right knee injury” and did not return.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan reached the 20-point mark as the Spurs (57-18) dropped their fifth straight.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pierce and Rondo asserting themselves: Pierce scored 12 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics competitive despite allowing 33 first-quarter points, and Rondo sparked a 14-3 run to close the third quarter as the C’s established a 77-70 lead entering the fourth quarter. In all, Pierce and Rondo took 36 shots, making 19 of them. Rondo was so good, even his jump shots were falling, causing the Spurs coaching staff to toss their hands up in disgust.

Buckling down on defense: After the Spurs made 12-of-24 shots and scored 33 points in the first quarter, the Celtics held them to 15-of-44 shooting and 37 points over the next two quarters. Entering the game as the league’s sixth-leading scoring team, the Spurs controlled the (quick) pace in the early going, but the Celtics put a stop to that in the second quarter.

The return of Jermaine O’Neal: In limited action, O’Neal played with surprising energy and range of movement, considering he hadn’t seen the court since Jan. 10. He knocked down his only two shots, including an impressive turnaround over Matt Bonner in the first quarter. Should Krstic’s injury be severe, the Celtics will be relying more heavily on O’Neal than they ever expected, and Thursday night’s performance was a positive sign.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Celtics’ bigs problem gets bigger: Just as Jermaine O’Neal got back into the fold, and as Shaquille O’Neal gets closer and closer to his return, Krstic’s leg bent the wrong way in the second quarter. He left the game clutching his right knee. Krstic did not return, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, “We don’t know for sure, but it does not look good.” In 2006, Krstic tore his left ACL.

Defending the paint: The Celtics gave up 26 points in the paint in the first half and 50 total. Spurs point guard Tony Parker got to the rim at will early, leading all scorers with 14 points in the opening 24 minutes. His ability to penetrate opened things up for the Spurs inside. Of course, Garnett’s two quick first-quarter fouls left the Celtics without their best interior defender in that span for more minutes than they would have liked.

Second-chance opportunities: The Celtics shot 48 percent in the first half, and the Spurs made just 40 percent of their attempts, yet the two teams were tied at the half. The C’s allowed eight offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the first half alone.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: Jermaine O’Neal’s Celtics impact at 12:02 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

On Feb. 1, when the Celtics began a two-month-plus stretch without either of the O’Neal “brothers,” if you had to put your life savings on which one would return first, how many people would’ve put money on Jermaine O’Neal?

Not many, me included. I know I would’ve put my $47 on Shaquille O’Neal. And, as Dale Arnold might say, if you gave Doc Rivers Sodium Pentothal, he’d probably admit that he would’ve rather had Shaq back first. But that’s not the case.

Jermaine O’Neal is returning to the Celtics lineup for the first time since Jan. 10, when his knee swelled to the point of no return. In 17 games this season, he had averaged 5.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 18.1 minutes.

So, what, exactly, can we expect from Jermaine O’Neal? If we can agree that all the Celtics need to replace Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes are guys who can defend bigs, rebound the basketball and knock down open shots created by the Big Four, then J.O. can give you plenty. Not as much as Shaq, but it’s something, right?

Let’s start with defense. Here are the points per possession (PPP) and field-goal percentages allowed by Perkins, Shaq, J.O. and Nenad Krstic on man-to-man defense in their limited time as Celtics this season:

  • Kendrick Perkins (7 games): 0.81 PPP on 41.0 percent shooting
  • Shaquille O’Neal (36 games): 0.77 PPP on 37.6 percent shooting
  • Jermaine O’Neal (17 games): 0.76 PPP on 35.2 percent shooting
  • Nenad Krstic (17 games): 0.90 PPP on 44.2 percent shooting

In a limited sample size, Jermaine O’Neal actually gave the Celtics the best defense of all four guys. Even if he can give them 15 minutes a night, that might limit Krstic’s ineffectiveness on the defensive end. When Shaquille O’Neal returns, the C’s should finally have the defensive depth at center that can fill the void left by Perkins.

Now, let’s look at rebounding. Here are the rebounding rates — or the percentage of missed shots corraled by a player in his time on the floor — for those same bigs:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins
Irish Coffee: What Jared Sullinger’s decision means to the Celtics’ future 03.28.11 at 11:44 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Over the weekend, when Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger vowed to return to Columbus for his sophomore season, the thought struck me: Because of the uncertainty surrounding the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement, could many college underclassmen be targeting 2012 rather than this year’s NBA draft?

It sure looks that way, and that benefits the Celtics — considering they own their 2012 pick and the selection that came with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic for Kendrick Perkins.

That pick from the Thunder is a little complicated. It’s top-10 protected and falls in the less favorable spot between the Clippers and Timberwolves. Basically, if either the Clips or Wolves capture any pick from 11-30, the lower one belongs to the Celtics. If both teams get top-10 picks, the pick gets pushed to the next season — until 2016, when it’s unprotected.

Considering the Clippers own the eighth-worst record this season and should improve based on a young roster that includes Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, there’s a legitimate chance the Celtics could own two picks in a draft that will be much better than anticipated.

Of the 40 college underclassmen projected as potential first-round picks, only three have declared to enter the 2011 NBA draft — and none of them is a lottery projection. Of course, the remaining 37 players have until April 24 to declare.

Still, two w0uld-be lottery guys (Sullinger and Texas freshman forward Tristan Thompson) are going back to school. According to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, 23 of those 37 — and six potential lottery picks, including North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes, Arizona’s Derrick Williams and Kentucky’s Brandon Knight – are “50-50″ with less than a month to decide. The remaining 12 still reportedly have “one foot in the door.”

So, if half of those 50-50 guys – along with Sullinger and Thompson — wait until 2012, that could push as many as 15 more potential first-round picks to a draft that might also include Celtics coach Doc Rivers‘ son Austin Rivers. With possibly two picks in that draft, the C’s should be able to add some serious young talent for cheap dollars in 2012.

With a lockout looming, at least Celtics fans have something to look forward to.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, Jermaine O'Neal, Kevin Garnett
Chris Mannix on D&C: Celtics don’t know what they have for playoffs at 9:51 am ET
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Sports Illustrated NBA writer Chris Mannix appeared on the Dennis & Callahan show Monday morning to talk about the Celtics and their recent struggles. To hear the interview, visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Mannix said he thinks there is something to the theory that the Celtics are disinterested in getting the one-seed and seem to think they’ll be able to just turn it on in the playoffs like they did last year.

“I think there’s a lot of truth to that,” Mannix said. “I think we saw at the end of last year that the Celtics had the same kind of laissez-faire attitude about the end of the regular season. The difference last year, though, was the core of that team was still in tact and they kind of knew what they could do if they turned the jets on and played well in the postseason. This year, they’re banking on something that no one, including themselves, is sure is even there. You’re talking about bringing back [Shaquille O’Neal] and Jermaine [O’Neal].

“Imagine before the season if we thought getting into late March, early April, ‘If only Shaq and Jermaine can come back, we’ll be OK for the postseason.’ To me, that’s a horrible attitude to have, if that’s what this team is thinking, that one of those guys can come back and be a difference-maker. Once Shaq comes back, he’ll only play for about two months, and who knows what kind of physical shape he’s in at this stage. And Jermaine has given you nothing all season long, so there’s no reason to believe he’s going to add anything to the equation.”

Mannix said not getting the top seed could be a death knell for the Celtics. “I honestly think that not getting the No. 1 seed for Boston this year could be disastrous and could be the reason that they don’t come out of the Eastern Conference for two reasons,” he said.

“Number one, the difference between playing the 8 seed and the 7 seed this year is like playing the 16 seed in the NCAA tournament vs. a 2 or 3 seed. Whoever winds up in that 8 spot, be it Indiana, Milwaukee, Charlotte, I think they’re going to be a relative pushover in the first round. Maybe they take a team to five games. Most likely they get swept in four.

“That 7 seed, whether it’s New York or Philadelphia, those aren’t going to be easy games,” Mannix continued. “They’re going to be kind of knock-down, drag-out games. They might push you to six, maybe even seven games. I think that’s something Boston really has to start to consider going into the postseason.”

The hosts added that not only have the Celtics fallen behind the Bulls, but they’re also on the verge of getting passed by the Heat and dropping to third. “Yeah, and that’s going to kill them, too,” Mannix said. “You get into those second-round series that are inevitably going to go six games, probably seven games. You lose that homecourt advantage and that hurts, even against a team like Miami, whom, by the way, Boston hasn’t beaten yet with this new group. Same thing with Chicago.”

Speaking of that new group, Mannix said the Kendrick Perkins trade has everything to do with this slump. “I 100 percent attribute it to the trade,” Mannix said. “I said as soon as this deal went down that it was the worst trade they could’ve possibly made. And I say that knowing exactly why it was made. … This was a one-sided trade, I thought. That’s taking nothing away from the obvious skill of Jeff Green. But Jeff Green, as much as you needed a backup swingman for this roster, you needed a powerful big up front more.

“You need a guy that brings the intensity every single night,” Mannix continued. “You just mentioned that lackadaisical attitude. I think some of that would’ve been eliminated with Perkins in the lineup because he never takes plays off. The guy is aggressive all the time. With him in the lineup bringing that intensity, I think a lot of it would’ve rubbed off on some of his teammates. So I think they lost a physical presence and I think they lost a mental intense presence.”

Read More: Chris Mannix, Jeff Green, Jermaine O'Neal, Kendrick Perkins
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