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Fast Break: Rondo, Garnett help Celtics survive 76ers 05.12.12 at 10:32 pm ET
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If it’s possible, the Celtics didn’t even play all that well, yet Rajon Rondo recorded his eighth career playoff triple-double (21st overall) and Kevin Garnett submitted his best back-to-back postseason performance since the 2008 NBA title run, as they escaped Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 92-91 win over the 76ers.

Rondo finished with 13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds (oh, and 7 turnovers) while Garnett totaled 29 points and 11 rebounds two nights after amassing 28 points and 14 boards to eliminate the Hawks in the first round.

Leading 92-91 with 3.4 seconds remaining, Doc Rivers took a gamble coming out of a timeout, calling Rondo’s number. The C’s point guard ran to the backcourt and escaped a rushing defender to dribble out the clock.

Paul Pierce had a dreadful shooting night (3-11 FG), but managed 14 points thanks to eight free throws. The C’s trailed by double digits in all four quarter, but outscored the Sixers 25-14 over the final 10:52 of the fourth quarter.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Still not old: Last May, two nights after Garnett totaled 28 points and 18 rebounds in the C’s lone win of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Heat, he managed just seven points (1-10 FG) in an overtime loss. The Celtics had to wonder how Garnett would respond two nights after his epic 28-point, 14-rebound Game 6 against the Hawks. This time, he picked up where he left off, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in the first half alone.

Allen’s ankle: After Thursday’s Game 6 against the Hawks, Allen admitted the bone spurs in his ankle had returned to the pain level that caused him to miss Games 1 and 2 of the first round. A game-time decision prior to Game 1 of the 76ers series, Allen declared himself ready for action despite an abbreviated pregame routine. Not that it mattered, as he got his shooting in during the game. His two 3-pointers early in the second quarter kept the Celtics within striking distance of the surging Sixers. Playing 14:28 of the first half, Allen entered the break with a plus-12 rating despite the C’s trailing by five at the half, 47-42.

Small ball: Outside of starting 7-foot center Spencer Hawes, the next biggest guy in the Sixers playoff rotation is Elton Brand at 6-foot-9. Often, Doug Collins has no other choice but to run small lineups, and that’s generally a good thing for a young, athletic team that likes to get out and run. For the final 3:25 of the first half, Doc Rivers countered by subbing Allen in for Greg Stiemsma, leaving a lineup of Allen, Garnett, Pierce, Rondo and Bradley on the parquet. Together, they finished the second quarter on a 10-2 run to get back into it.

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Irish Coffee: Josh Smith ‘jealous’ of Celtics, Boston fans 05.11.12 at 10:06 am ET
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Don’t be surprised if Josh Smith is a member of the 2013-14 Boston Celtics.

Following the Hawks’ 83-80 loss in Game 6 — suffering their second first-round exit in Boston since 2008 — their should-be All-Star forward said everything short of swearing his allegiance to high school teammate Rajon Rondo.

“That’s a great basketball team over there in the Celtics,” said Smith, who finished Game 6 with 18 points (7-18 FG), nine rebounds and four assists. “They’ve done some special things since they acquired the Big Three. Since then, they’ve been doing some special things in the postseason. We can definitely learn a lot from that ball club.

“It definitely hurts not being able to get out of the first round,” he added. “Being able to get out of the first round in three consecutive years, falling short this year, I felt like we had the best opportunity to make it to the Eastern Conference finals this year moreso than other years. That’s obviously disappointing.”

If you can’t beat ‘em, as they say, join ‘em. That notion was palpable in Smith’s postgame (and post-series) press conference. The Rondo connection is an obvious one, although Smith’s admiration for the Celtics and their fans goes far beyond his senior year at Oak Hill Academy with the C’s three-time All-Star point guard.

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Kevin Garnett on Hawks owner: ‘Just because you have a bunch of money doesn’t mean you can open your mouth’ at 1:16 am ET
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On Wednesday, Hawks owner Michael Gearon Jr. called Celtics center Kevin Garnett the “dirtiest guy in the league” during a charity luncheon in Atlanta, according to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“We are playing this old physical team,” said Gearon Jr. “They are old. I know what happens when you play basketball, old guys foul. Garnett is the dirtiest guy in the league.”

How did Garnett respond? Only by producing 28 points (10-of-19 FG, 8-10 FT), 14 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in Game 6, including a turnaround teardrop in the lane that gave the Celtics the lead for good with 30 seconds left and effectively put the first-round series to bed.

“First off, I want to say thank you to the owner for giving me some extra gas tonight,” Garnett said in a postgame press conference for the ages. “My only advice to him is next time he opens his mouth, actually know what he’s talking about — X’s and O’s versus checkbooks and bottom lines.”

Zing. Oh, but Garnett wasn’t done.

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Fast Break: Kevin Garnett just plain dirty in Celtics win 05.10.12 at 10:45 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett must not like business trips to Atlanta all that much. The Celtics center submitted a virtuoso performance that seemed fresh out of a 2008 time machine — including the go-ahead turnaround with 30 seconds left — carrying the Celtics to a 83-80 victory against the visiting Hawks and putting a bow on their Eastern Conference quarterfinals series in six games.

Garnett finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks, becoming the first player in a Celtics uniform to register that kind of line in the playoffs since Kevin McHale totaled 27 points, 15 boards and six blocks in 1986. Rajon Rondo (14 points, 8 assists) and Paul Pierce (18 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds) were the only other C’s in double figures.

Trailing 79-78 with less than a minute remaining, Garnett dropped a turnaround in the lane that gave the Celtics the lead for good after they squandered a nine-point advantage in the fourth quarter. Following a stop on the other end, Ray Allen made just 1-of-2 free throws with nine seconds on the clock, but Al Horford countered with 1-of-2 of his own with three seconds remaining. A pair of Pierce freebies put the finishing touches on the victory.

Thanks to a pair of missed Omer Asik free throws and two successful Andre Iguadola attempts at the charity stripe in the final seconds, the 76ers eked out a 79-78 victory against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls to win the series in six games. The win means the C’s host the Eastern Conference semifinals, including Game 1 Saturday.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ticket post: Garnett attempted just 12 field goals in Game 5, and half of them came from at least 18 feet. The Celtics made a concerted effort to get Garnett the ball in the post early, and he owned the paint from the start (on both ends). In Game 6, he took 10 shots — by halftime. All five of Garnett’s first-half field goals came within 12 feet of the basket, and he entered the break with 13 points, seven rebounds and three steals, as the C’s established a 47-41 lead through two quarters.

Backcourt boost: With little life in the building — and little for Celtics fans to cheer — four minutes into the second quarter, Rondo reentered the game for Keyon Dooling. The Hawks led 31-25. Over the next four minutes and change, the Celtics fired off a 16-0 run to establish a 41-31 advantage. Rondo had four points and three assists in that stretch and guarded 6-foot-9 Marvin Williams on the other end (or the vicinity thereof, wreaking havoc as a roaming defender). Meanwhile, Avery Bradley locked down a scoreless Jeff Teague in the first half.

No sprain, no gain: When Pierce’s first 3-point attempt fell flat off the front of the rim, it had to be from the lack of lift as a result of his sprained MCL, right? Not so much. The captain made four of his next five field goals, totaling 12 points in 16 first-half minutes and erasing any concern over how his knee would respond.

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Ray Allen’s return another step forward for Celtics 05.08.12 at 8:24 am ET
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Paul Pierce was in the Zone — with a capital ‘Z’ as Kevin Garnett put it — and the Celtics were pulling away in the second quarter of their 101-79 victory Sunday night in Game 4 of their first-round series with the Hawks. The atmosphere plummeted from jovial to somber, though, when Pierce went down clutching his sprained knee. The Garden was hushed.

The stress of Pierce’s uncertain health was temporarily alleviated and the Garden was instantaneously in a frenzy once again when moments later, as he has done so many times, Ray Allen came off a screen and buried a 3-pointer. It didn’t matter that this was only Allen’s second game back from an ankle injury that kept him out of the lineup nearly all of April. Both the Celtics and their fans understand what Allen provides: Relief and security due to his unmatched preparation.

“You see what he puts into his craft,” Garnett said. “You see why he is who he is, and the reputation he has earned. I use the word earned, not given. You expect great things out of him, and that’s what he gives you.”

The reputation Allen earned had to be altered. The 36 year-old is renowned for his arduous training regimen, but coming off an injury he has stressed body maintenance over basketball form. Allen said he has cut his routine down to 40 percent of its usual length, which indicates his understanding of how imperative it is to get rest. His willingness to adjust his militant habits is paying dividends.

“I’m really managing my off days really well,” Allen said. “You have a tendency when you get back off of an injury to kind of let it slide a bit, and I haven’t been. And it’s important to me to rest up, just staying off it.”

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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett, Cake Boss of the Celtics 05.07.12 at 10:27 am ET
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In the preseason, tortillas were Kevin Garnett‘s preferred metaphor for cooking up the main course that was to be the 2011-12 regular-season Celtics. In case you missed it, here was his recipe on Media Day in December.

“Timing is everything, and chemistry isn’t something that you just don’t throw in the frying pan and mix it up with another something, and throw something on top of that, and then fry it up, put it in a tortilla, put it in the microwave, heat it up and give it to you, and expect it to taste good. For those who can cook, y’all know what I’m talking about. If y’all don’t know what I’m talking about and can’t cook, then this doesn’t concern you.”

Now, it’s time for dessert, and Garnett is baking the cake that is to be the 2012 postseason Celtics.

“I always like to use baking a cake as an example,” said Garnett. “Nothing’s going to come out of the first two minutes. You have to sit there and wait on it, for y’all who know how to bake. Some of y’all don’t know how to bake, but don’t worry about it. Ask your mothers and fathers or something — someone who knows how to bake. But it’s very similar to that. You have to give it time for it to turn into what it’s going to be. Time tells everything when the results come, and I’m just glad we’re in a nice rhythm right now.”

Regardless of the recipe, Garnett’s point is clear: This Celtics team, the one that destroyed the Hawks by 22 points in Game 4, isn’t the NBA’s version of a Hot Pocket, quickly made and easily consumed. What you saw Sunday night has been marinating for months, ripe for the pressure cooker that is professional playoff basketball.

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Game 4: Celtics need to make better use of Kevin Garnett 05.05.12 at 8:21 pm ET
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Doc Rivers wants better shots for Kevin Garnett in Game 4. (AP)

On the one hand, Kevin Garnett has attempted 50 shots in the first three games of the Celtics’ first round playoff series with the Hawks. That’s right around the number of attempts they want out of him. On the other, he’s made only 44 percent of those shots and coach Doc Rivers is concerned that he’s not getting enough open space.

Game 3 was a “little better,” in Rivers’ opinion. Garnett shot 50 percent (9-for-18) and took more than half of those shots from within 15 feet. His follow-up slam at the end of overtime put an exclamation point on the Celtics’ 90-84 victory, as well as his 20-point, 13-rebound performance.

Still, Rivers wants more.

“We have to do a better job as far as Kevin goes,” he said. “I thought early in the game it was lot of jump shots, and we don’t mind that because he’s a great shooter. But we’ve also got to get him down low. It felt like the only way we can get him in the right spot is through an ATO [after timeout], and we have to be able to do that through the flow.”

Garnett’s usually reliable jumper has been shaky. He’s made only 11-of-33 from his beloved 18-20 foot range. That’s a steep decline from the 48 percent he shot in the regular season. Garnett has had only six attempts at the rim and half of those came in Game 3, so Rivers is right. It was a little better.

The biggest problem the Celtics have had in this series is scoring points. Yes, Joe Johnson forced the overtime by sinking a low percentage contested 3, but that’s what Johnson does and it’s part of what makes playing the Hawks a scary proposition. They’re going to make some of them eventually, no matter how good your defense plays.

The real reason the Celtics went to overtime was because they were stuck on 80 for the final four minutes of the game. In those final four minutes, Rondo missed two shots. Pierce missed two shots and committed an offensive foul. It wasn’t until the 40-second mark when Garnett got a look and it was tough 18-footer.

Part of the issue may have been fatigue. Rivers acknowledged after the game that he stuck with Garnett thinking the Celtics could deliver the knockout blow. Instead, they became trapped in yet another grind-it-out slugfest with the Hawks.

“I got stuck with Kevin, honestly,” Rivers said. “Sometimes, honestly, as a coach you take a gamble. You think we can get this, put it away and get guys out. And it backfired.”

Garnett has played 122 minutes in this series, a far cry from the carefully cultivated 5-5-5 plan that routinely resulted in 30-minute nights.

“The way my body feels right now I feel like I went 40-40-40,” said Garnett, which is accurate because he has.

Defensively, he is giving them everything they need. Without Josh Smith, the Hawks used smaller lineups and the only real way the Celtics can matchup is by taking Brandon Bass off the floor and leaving Garnett to patrol the paint. (It was also not helpful that Avery Bradley injured his shoulder late in the third quarter and wasn’t able to return).

Garnett has been excellent on the defensive glass, grabbing 27 percent of the available defensive boards. They have only allowed 17 offensive rebounds and their .784 defensive rebounding percentage ranks third in the league during the postseason. All the Celtics have been making an effort on the defensive boards, but it’s Garnett who sets the tone, especially when he’s the only big on the floor.

“He was terrific,” Rivers said. “Kevin had to do all the talking. He was basically the linebacker on the floor. All by himself and that’s hard. That’s a hard job to do.”

As always with Garnett, there’s the constant tension of doing what he does so well and then giving a little bit more. The Celtics have survived three games of this tight series without a vintage scoring performance, even with a 20 and 13 game on 9-for-18 shooting. Read the rest of this entry »

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