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Can Celtics finish? 11.18.09 at 8:45 pm ET
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In their two losses to Atlanta and Indiana, the Celtics have been jumping out to quick leads but unable to put away teams in the fourth quarter.

That’s a trait they perfected in 2008. And in three blowout wins against Utah, Charlotte and Philadelphia, it wasn’t even an issue as they built leads of over 20 points in each case, turning the final 12 minutes in each case into prime time for the bench.

But against Atlanta, they were outscored 25-16 in the fourth and lost 97-86. In Indianapolis the next night, they were outscored, 61-43, by the younger, fresher Pacers, losing 113-104. The Celtics have led in the fourth quarter in each of their three losses entering Wednesday.

“I’m concerned about bad finishes than slow starts, honestly,” Rivers said before Wednesday’s contest. “I think all three of the games, we’ve had a lead in the fourth quarter. I said it [Tuesday], I don’t think we’re a 48-minute team yet.”

On Wednesday, the Celtics took a 49-48 lead to the locker room, somewhat deflated by the waving off of Kevin Garnett’s 3/4-court heave that hit nothing but net.

But the real question remains – Can the Celtics finish?

Stay tuned now and for the rest of the season.

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KG: ‘Rondo and I have a connection’ 11.12.09 at 4:10 pm ET
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WALTHAM  –  Kevin Garnett had a polite warning following Thursday’s practice for all of those who think he might have lost a step and is not as dangerous on his patented alley-oop play with Rajon Rondo.

Just try us.

“Rondo and I have a connection where I don’t think you can really play that play because if you go back it’s a pick and roll and if you go up too far, it’s an oop,” Garnett said of the highlight below that happened with three minutes remaining in the third quarter of Wednesday night’s blowout win over the Jazz.

Paul Millsap was the Utah player caught in defensive no-man’s land, as he pinched up. Garnett gave a shake as if he were cutting in front and went behind.

“Then if the guy on the bottom [post] wants to stick his nose in there, he ends up like that guy last night,” Garnett said. “It’s not even a play. It’s more of a read in playing basketball than anything.”

That guy, by the way, would be Kyrylo Fesenko, the player who came from the weak side and appeared to foul Garnett on the play, but none was called.

“It was a foul,” Garnett said. “You don’t have to say it. I’ll say it for you.”

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Celtics generous in win over Jazz 11.11.09 at 11:00 pm ET
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There is a reason why the Celtics entered Wednesday’s game leading the league in assists. It isn’t only because of Rajon Rondo — point guards Steve Nash, Chris Paul, and Deron Williams are all ahead of him in dimes per game. It’s because the Celtics as a team look to pass, and that ball movement and selflessness were determining factors in their win over the Jazz.

“Doc [Rivers] and Coach [Armond] Hill were just saying move the ball,” Rondo said after the Celtics 105-86 victory. “It started in practice. We kept getting each other involved and we made plays for each other.”

The Celtics dished out 30 assists to the Jazz 18. Rondo accounted for 11, which totals more than Jazz starting guard Deron Williams and Ronnie Brewer combined.

They looked for not just one or two extra passes on Wednesday. One of the most significant possessions of the game involved four in the third quarter — Rondo to Ray Allen, Allen to Kendrick Perkins, Perkins behind the back to Kevin Garnett, Garnett back to Rondo for the lay in.

That sequence was memorable to many, but Rondo is so accustomed to sharing the ball that it was just another trip down the floor for him.

“I don’t even remember the play,” he said. “I think it was like five passes maybe, but I don’t remember how I got there.”

If the Celtics continue to see each other on the court like they did against the Jazz, they will remember how they ended up in the win column throughout the season.

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Grousbeck: Green days for C’s 11.06.09 at 1:05 am ET
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Are the Green concerned about their greenbacks?

That financial question was raised in a recent article on Yahoo! Sports, which suggested co-owner Wyc Grousbeck’s consideration of suspending injured Glen Davis had less to do with discipline and more to do with money.

Just months after signing a two-year deal worth over $6 million, Davis broke his thumb fighting a childhood friend and will be sidelined for at least six weeks. Reports then surfaced that the team was looking to take back some of the salary. Days after the Davis episode subsided, the Celtics committed $55 million to Rajon Rondo over the next five years.

Coupling the money owed to an injured Davis with their recent spending spree on Rondo, is Grousbeck concerned about the team’s finances? Quite the opposite. In fact, the Celtics are on a record-setting pace for revenue as they feature a reloaded team contending for another trophy.

“On the contrary, we are on course to set a new record for revenues thanks to our fantastic fan support and support from our sponsors and broadcast partners,” Grousbeck told WEEI.com via email. “We appreciate everything they have done to support the team.”

Rondo’s new deal is a major financial obligation for a team who already has over $32 million tied up with starters Rondo, Kevin Garnett, and Kendrick Perkins next season alone. Next summer they will face Paul Pierce‘s $21.5 million player option and will also have to address Ray Allen‘s unrestricted free agency.

That’s just the starting lineup. The Celtics will also face the question of building their bench as role players including Marquis DanielsEddie HouseBrian ScalabrineTony Allen, and Shelden Williams have expiring contracts.

The new-look Celts have been nothing short of a hit sensation. They are off to a 6-0 start two years removed from their 17th title and one year removed from reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals with an undermanned/overachieving team.

And regardless of their upcoming financial commitments, Grousbeck remains confident the organization is prepared to continue its pursuit for another championship.

Said Grousbeck, “I thank the fans and sponsors and will do everything I can to keep a winning team on the floor.”

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Fast Break: Celtics – Timberwolves 11.04.09 at 10:42 pm ET
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Celtics 76ers BasketballPlaying in front of a sea of No. 5 jerseys, the Timberwolves were determined to prove themselves against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics. But in the end it was Garnett himself who forced a jumball to secure a 92-90 win for the Celtics, in Minnesota.

Player of the game: Rajon Rondo was outplayed by rookie Jonny Flynn in the first half, scoring just two points. Then he turned it on in the third quarter. Rondo posted 14 points in the third to bring the Celtics back into the game. He didn’t just put the ball in the hoop – he baffled the Timberwolves defense, fought to get open, and burned his opponents with quick-thinking plays at the basket. Rondo finished the night with 18 points, 6 assists, and 4 rebounds, and 3 steals.

Turning point of the game: With over 10 lead changes in this game, the deciding play came with 3.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Up 92-90, the Celtics were fighting to fend off the Timberwolves game-winning/tying attempt. Garnett forced the jumpball against a driving Corey Brewer and eventually iced the victory for the Celtics.

* Big men dominated the first quarter. Al Jefferson led all scorers with 13 points (6-10 FG) while Kendrick Perkins led the Celtics with a perfect 4-for-4 from the field (8 points).

* Rasheed Wallace added another T to his resume when he got whistled for a technical from the Celtics bench during the second quarter. It was reminiscent of Sam Cassell getting ejected from the sidelines last season without ever actually playing in the game.

* The Celtics were outrebounded 21-16 in the first half. Pierce was the only starter without a board in the first two quarters. Ryan Gomes, on the other hand, had five for the Timberwolves at the three-spot.

* Even though Rondo had the hot hand coming out of halftime, Doc Rivers played up the Celtics strengths and subbed in House at the end of the quarter. The strategy paid off as a well-defended Pierce kicked the ball off to House for the game-tying three as time expired in the quarter. The Celtics carried that momentum into the fourth.

* Kevin Garnett recorded a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. It was his first since opening night against the Cavaliers (13 points, 10 rebounds).

* Timberwolves big man Oleksiy Pecherov made a name for himself with 24 points (9-14 FG) to lead all scorers.

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Stat geekery: KG rules at 10:46 am ET
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Another day another stat geek model (stat geek is a term of endearment). This one comes courtesy of Joe Sill at Hoopnumbers, who describes himself as an analytics consultant from Chicago. Sill has a PhD in Computation and Neural Systems from Cal Tech and a BS in Applied Math from Yale, so he’s a pretty smart dude.

Sill works in the field of Adjusted +/-, which is a system that has drawn some attention due to its orginators Wayne Winston and Jeff Sagarin and their work with the Dallas Mavericks. In layman’s terms, Simple +/- ratings, which can be found in most online box scores, account for how many points a team is better or worse with an individual player on the floor. For example, Marquis Daniels was +31 against Philly Tuesday night.

Simple +/- doesn’t factor in context, which is where Adjusted +/- comes into play. (If you want to see the math, see Joe’s page explaining his concepts). Adjusted +/- is said to be “noisy,” which means you might get some odd results over a short period of time, but it’s an interesting concept and it’s getting more and more play in NBA front offices.

The takeway from Sill’s analysis over the last three years, which he calls Regularized Adjusted +/- (RAPM) is that Kevin Garnett grades out the highest of any NBA player, and by a fairly wide margin. The second-highest ranked Celtic is Rajon Rondo, followed by Paul Pierce and then Ray Allen. Interestingly, Allen graded out highest last season on the Celtics.

A good rule of thumb for advanced NBA metrics is that they are a useful way to help tell a story. John Hollinger’s PER rating, for example, is a number derived strictly from the box score and he will tell you that it doesn’t account for individual defense beyond getting numbers like steals, blocks and rebounds. It’s a piece of the puzzle, but not the whole puzzle.

As yet, no one has advanced a truly credible single number that completely explains performance, like VORP in baseball, and there’s a strong thought in the stat community that it may be impossible to find such a number in basketball analysis.

With that in mind, what Sill’s numbers might tell us is that Garnett is far and away the “most valuable” Celtic in ways that don’t necessarily show up in the box score and that Allen had something of a late-career renaissance last season. We saw that manifest itself on the floor last season, especially when Garnett was not on the floor, so the numbers make intuitive sense.

(Hat tip to basketball-reference’s layups blog for directing me to Sill’s site, Hoopnumbers)

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Garnett safe at second 10.29.09 at 12:50 am ET
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Kevin Garnett has already expressed fatigue with the number of questions about his right knee, but any time there’s a hard fall or a slip he’s going to be asked about it. He had such a play midway through the third quarter against the Bobcats when he dove for a loose ball and came up gingerly.

After the play concluded, Doc Rivers replaced Garnett who didn’t return to the court. That may have had as much to do with the score as anything else. The Celtics were up big at the time and things were beginning to get chippy with Kendrick Perkins, Tyson Chandler and Gerald Wallace all picking up technicals.

“My first intention was to get back and run,” Garnett said. “Then I saw Paul [Pierce] and [Rajon] Rondo in the break and I was like, ‘Know what? They got that.’ Let me just sit back here, rub this hip and that was it. It wasn’t nothing. Doc said it looked really bad, but it wasn’t nothing. I slid into second base. The ump said I was safe. I’m good with that.”

Garnett was smiling by the time he got to the bench.

“It was enough because of the lead, and it was just time for him to come out anyway at that point,” Rivers said. “But obviously every time he goes to the floor you just want him to get back up, and he did. He’s fine, but it does scare you because it was an awkward fall. The rarity is that you see a big [man] diving with a 25-point lead at the time. And that’s who he is, and that’s who you want him to continue to be.”

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