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Backcourt steps up 02.22.09 at 6:57 pm ET
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Shaquille O’Neal was supposed to be a problem for the Boston Celtics. He was supposed to push around their little big men and have the Celtics counting down the days until Kevin Garnett returned from his knee injury. But it was one of the smallest guys on the court who caused the biggest problems. Led by Rajon Rondo, the Celtics backcourt dominated the Phoenix Suns. (RECAP HERE)

No jumper? Rondo scored a career-high 32 points against the Suns. (ESPN.com)

No jumper? Rondo scored a career-high 32 points against the Suns. (ESPN.com)

Rajon Rondo
32 points, 10 assists, 6 rebounds, 13-18 FG, 1-1 3PG, 5-9 FT, 3 STL

On his 23rd birthday, Rondo made 35-year-old Steve Nash look about ten years older. The Suns had no way of stopping Rondo, not even O’Neal’s presence made a difference — Rondo scored however and from wherever he pleased. The absence of Garnett creates more opportunities for him to take his jumpshot, and judging by his shot chart, there is little need to question whether or not he has developed one.

Ray Allen
31 points, 4 rebounds, 10-15 FG, 4-8 3PG, 7-8 FT

It’s no secret that Allen can’t be left alone on the arc. On Sunday he couldn’t be left alone, period. Allen spread the Suns defense with a balanced attack of long and mid-range shots. Allen was on his mark, hitting 10 field goals and scoring 30 points for the first time since January 11 against the Toronto Raptors. He also set a new franchise record with 72 consecutive free throws made, passing Larry Bird’s previous mark of 71.

Paul Pierce
26 points, 6 rebounds, 8-17 FG, 10-10 FT

The Celtics couldn’t score 128 points without Pierce making an impact. Pierce struggled in the first half (1-8 FG), so when his shot didn’t fall he got to the line (6-6 FT). Then he turned it on in the second half to score 18 points in 22 minutes. The captain played a team-high 44 minutes and by the end of the game had gone to the line 10 times. The Celtics improved to 12-3 when Pierce attempts at least 10 free throws.

The Celtics will travel to Denver to take on the Nuggets on Monday night.

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Report: KG out 2-3 weeks 02.21.09 at 1:48 am ET
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According to Marc Spears of the Boston Globe, Boston Celtics president Danny Ainge has said Kevin Garnett will miss 2-3 weeks with a posterior muscle strain of the right knee. Garnett left the court hobbling during Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz. Ainge told the Globe, “Rest and ice for KG.”

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O’Bryant wasn’t ready 02.20.09 at 3:12 pm ET
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It turns out Patrick O’Bryant wasn’t ready to play. Not for the Boston Celtics, at least.

“I feel like I’m pretty ready,” he said prior to the All-Star Break. “I never feel like I’m not ready, I don’t want to get down on myself. But I feel like I’m ready. In Doc’s eyes I might not be, so I’ve just got to take his advice and keep pushing forward.”

The Celtics echoed head coach Doc Rivers’ opinion when they traded O’Bryant to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday as part of a three-team deal with the Sacramento Kings.

In spite of being a big man on a team in need of length, O’Bryant averaged just 4.2 minutes in 26 games this season (less playing time than everyone on the Celtics except for Sam Cassell and J.R. Giddens). Last summer an informed source questioned if O’Bryant would be able to shake his two-guard mentality in a seven-foot frame. His defensive abilities continued to be a cause for concern.

“He’s been stressing Celtics D,” O’Bryant said of Rivers. “It’s different than any other team’s expectations. They’re a championship team and you’ve got to be able to play at a championship level.”

O’Bryant was looking forward to growing as a shot blocker and rebounder in the second half of the season. He was eager to back up Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins off the bench. Now he can try to do the same for Chris Bosh.

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Stoudemire out against Celtics at 1:14 pm ET
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When the Boston Celtics face the Phoenix Suns on Sunday, Kevin Garnett will not be the only big man out of the game. Suns power forward Amar’e Stoudemire underwent successful eye surgery today and could miss eight weeks, according to multiple reports. Stoudemire suffered a partially detached retina in Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers. ESPN has reported Garnett will return to Boston today for an MRI after straining his right knee during Thursday’s loss to the Utah Jazz.

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Big Al tears ACL 02.09.09 at 2:54 pm ET
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Former Boston Celtic/Minnesota Timberwolves big man Al Jefferson is out indefinitely after tearing his ACL during Sunday’s game against the New Orleans Hornets, according to multiple reports. An MRI revealed the extent of the injury on Monday. Jefferson, who received a standing ovation at the Garden earlier this month, was having a breakthrough season. He was averaging 23.1 points and 11.0 rebounds through 50 games. No date for surgery has been set. Jefferson was the centerpiece for the Kevin Garnett trade in 2007.

In a statement on Timberwolves.com, head coach Kevin McHale said, “This is an unfortunate situation for Al and we wish him a quick recovery. Al has been playing at an all-star level all season and has been our go-to-guy on the court. Knowing Al, he will work hard in his rehab efforts to get back on the court as soon as possible.”

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Sounds of the game… Lakers 110, Celtics 109 OT 02.06.09 at 6:49 am ET
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Forget the NBA Finals of last June. Thursday night’s regular season game between the Celtics and Lakers at TD Banknorth Garden went a long way to restoring one of the sport’s great all-time rivalries.

And just listening to Doc Rivers’ verbal tirade to the referees in the hallway proves how much this one hurt for the Green.

Rivers COULD NOT believe a hand check was not called on the Lakers as they tried to throw Ray Allen’s timing off at the end of overtime with Allen having the ball and a chance to win the game just like he did 48 hours earlier in Philadelphia.

“That was a hand check!” Rivers exclaimed in the hallway as the Celtics filed to their locker room, past the officials’ room on the right.

Then there was the sparring between Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo, as Bryant, who was held to 26 points on 10-of-29 shooting, waved his finger in Rondo’s face in the third quarter. That was followed minutes later by Lamar Odom and Kevin Garnett going toe-to-toe before calmer heads prevailed. And lest we forget the rivalry between the two coaches.

Phil Jackson was peeved when Doc Rivers was given a sports-drink shower on the court in the closing minutes of Game 6 of The Finals last June. Jackson said after the game that he didn’t think Garnett looked like he was ready to return from the flu. Oh really Phil?

This game meant a lot to both teams.

It meant the end of Boston’s 12-game winning streak, meaning the Lakers have ended their 19-game AND 12-game runs this season. It meant that Los Angeles has swept the season series and holds the tie-breaker should the two teams end up deadlocked at the end of the season.

For the Lakers, it meant beating  a team that seven months earlier humiliated them on the same court by 39 points in the most embarrassing loss in franchise history. They remembered the Gatorade shower that Rivers received from Pierce and Co. as Boston claimed its 17th title.

And it showed that these Lakers, even without big man Andrew Bynum, COULD play defense when it mattered and they won’t be pushed around anymore.

Here’s how both teams articulated it.

Paul Pierce said it was just one game and hopefully they’ll meet again.

Eddie House thought the Lakers celebrated like they just won the title. Yo LA, this was game 51, regular season, that is.

House thought the Lakers were allowed to be more physical than the Celtics.

Ray Allen was more disappointed that Kevin Garnett was called for a cheap foul that gave him five late, just before fouling out in the fourth.

Doc Rivers felt that was a hand check on Allen at the end.

Rivers was worried early in the second half about how the game was getting away from the officials.

Rivers thought it was a chippy game.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson thought it was a great game for the NBA.

Jackson didn’t think Garnett was ready to play after missing the last two games with the flu.

Kobe Bryant thought it WAS a statement game for his Lakers.

Pau Gasol wished the Lakers had played like this last year in The Finals.

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Sobe Kobe… 02.05.09 at 1:43 pm ET
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The Boston Celtics are not in awe of Kobe Bryant.

That simple message was delivered at Thursday morning’s shoot-around here in Waltham, mere hours before they take on the reigning NBA MVP and his Lakers on the parquet of the TD Banknorth Garden.

That, and we’re not changing what we do just for Kobe.

“We just play him,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers announced. “We don’t have any Kobe rules or anything like that. We play our defense every night. We literally don’t change our style. Rarely, we may change them for a possession here or there, but you just try to keep him in front of you and wish for the best of luck because he’s tough. If it were easy to defend him, he wouldn’t be Kobe.”

Yes, Pau Gasol is starting to emerge as a scoring force alongside Kobe as they pick up the slack for their injured big man Andrew Bynum.

“They’re a good basketball team,” Rivers said. “They’re no different. Obviously, they miss Bynum’s length but they’re going to get through the regular season and get him back for the playoffs and they’ll be fine. Kobe has clearly picked it up the last couple of games but so has Gasol. Gasol has had 31 points the last couple of games himself.”

Yes, Kobe has gone off for a combined 97 points against the 21-27 Knicks and the 19-32 Raptors this week.

“We didn’t play in any of those games that we know of,” Rivers keenly observed. “We can’t do anything about that. That’s the way we always look at that. Let’s hope he doesn’t score 97 tonight. That would be very important for us trying to win this game, I can tell you that.”

Ask Rajon Rondo and the Celtics point guard is quick (and right) to point out that the Knicks have just as much to do with the 61 Kobe scored on Monday at MSG as anything else.

“He’s a great player,” Rondo said. “Sixty-one doesn’t happen all the time in the league but a lot of great scorers go off at times. That was transistion game he played against the Knicks. LeBron had 52 last night. That’s just the style (the Knicks) play.”

And yes, the Los Angeles Lakers come to town tonight with a Western Conference-best 39-9 mark, winners of four straight, playing on the same court they suffered their most humiliating loss in franchise history, that 39-point quit job last June in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

“I’m sure they’ve seen it enough,” Rivers said. “I’m sure no one’s run that on TV at all. Well, they should be. Why wouldn’t they be? They’ll be up for the game. We’ll be up for the game.”

Therein lies the key difference between the Celtics and the Lakers. The Lakers are all about superstars, albeit great scoring superstars, but individuals nonetheless. The Celtics, during their second double-digit winning streak of the season, have built their dominance around defense.

Yes, the Celtics are weakened a little by the flu bug that has run through Kevin Garnett and the rest of the team.

“He felt strong,” Rivers said of Garnett at this morning’s shootaround in Waltham. “He’s fine. We’ll find out tonight. It’s easy to feel strong in a shoot-around but when you’re running up and down the floor when you haven’t done it, that’s a different story. I think there are six guys on Z-Paks, probably all due to Kevin, who knows.”

Z-Paks, for those who didn’t go to medical or pharmaceutical school, are antibiotics given to help those fighting off viruses.

The Celtics will want to be at full strength as they try to ward off Kobe and the Lakers.

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