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Three reasons the Celtics should be wary 05.03.12 at 12:06 am ET
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The Celtics need Kevin Garnett to get going in Game 3. (AP)

Here’s how fast things can change in the playoffs. With seven minutes left in the third quarter of Tuesday’s Game 2, the Celtics were down 11 points on the road and in danger of going down 2-0 in their first round series with the Hawks. Rajon Rondo was at the team hotel serving his suspension. Ray Allen was at the end of the bench in a suit, trying to console his replacement Mickael Pietrus, who had been benched.

They had not made a single 3-pointer in the series and Paul Pierce was in the midst of a 2-for-11 stretch after a hot start. Then Keyon Dooling finally broke through from behind the arc, Pierce went supernova and the defense grounded the Hawks into fine powder.

Now, the Celtics are coming back to Boston with a split and facing a Hawks team that may be without forward Josh Smith, who strained his left patella ligament and is listed as “doubtful” for Friday’s Game 3. They have two days to rest between games, a nice scheduling gift from the league, and if they take care of business at the Garden where they posted the third-best home record in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics could be in full command of this series by the end of the weekend.

Oh, and the top-seeded Bulls were blown out by Philadelphia in their first game without Derrick Rose.

But that’s getting way ahead of things.

The Celtics and Hawks have played five games this season, including the playoffs, and all five have been tight, tense affairs with the Hawks scoring 421 points to Boston’s 419. If Smith is out for an extended period of time, that changes the equation dramatically, but it’s not as if the C’s don’t have injury concerns of their own. From the beginning, this promised to be a close series and the two games have lived up to that promise.

Here’s three reasons why it’s far from over: Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett
Donny Marshall on M&M: ‘Would not surprise me’ if Rajon Rondo suspended two games 04.30.12 at 2:24 pm ET
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After what could be aptly called an interesting Game 1 loss for the Celtics Sunday night, CSNNE analyst Donny Marshall joined Mut & Merloni to discuss all things surrounding the Celtics’ 83-74 loss to the Hawks.

Understandably, no topic was given more weight than the ejection of Rajon Rondo for making contact with official Marc Davis and, specifically, the potential fallout for Rondo’s actions. Marshall said that Rondo will definitely be suspended, and while it should only be for one game, it may end up being for two.

“Any contact you make with an official, it means you’re going to be suspended a game,” Marshall said. “And I’ll take it one step further — I wouldn’t be surprised if the NBA says, ‘You know what? We’re going to suspend you two games.’

David Stern is not one of those guys who gives you the benefit of the doubt. It would not surprise me if it were two games. I hope it’s just one, it should only be one, but in the past David Stern has come down.”

While Rondo’s actions certainly could be detrimental to the Celtics’ success going forward, Marshall said that Rondo’s teammates would be best served to be supportive of him.

“You know as a teammate, especially at that level, you don’t overreact to what your teammates do,” Marshall said. “You step back and say, ‘Look, what would I have done? Would I have reacted that way?’ Guys have emotions and you can’t judge your teammates based off one emotional mistake.

“Rondo has given so much to that team and done such a great job of leading that team sometimes when they’ve been down guys. You can’t overreact because the last thing you want is for that incident to blow into something bigger and now it become a personal thing in that locker room.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, David Stern, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways at 1:35 am ET
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Kevin Garnett had a tough first half against the Hawks. (AP)

ATLANTA — Well before Rajon Rondo lost his cool, the damage had been done to the Celtics in their playoff opener against the Hawks. It started in the first quarter when Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead before six minutes had gone off the clock. It continued in the next 42 minutes, when they couldn’t make shots and every offensive possession carried with it an eerie reminder of the first half of the season.

“I don’t know if we kind of eased into the game,” Paul Pierce said. “It’s hard to tell. We establish ourselves early defensively. We definitely didn’t do that. They got every loose ball. They got every 3-point shot. They got everything they wanted in the first, and then it was like in a boxing match. You sit there and you’ve got your guard up, then you take your guard down, you take a punch and you’re like, Ok, we’re in a fight. We’ve got to realize we’re in a fight from the jump.”

The Celtics realized that too late, and after an 83-74 loss they now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground without homecourt advantage to sustain them. Over the final three quarters, the Celtics actually outscored Atlanta, 56-52, playing the kind of grimy, sludge-ball everyone expected in this series.

“This is a long series,” Pierce said. “You have to win four games and we just have to learn from our mistakes. Learn from the first quarter, learn from what we did better in the second and third quarters, and we’ve got to learn to keep our composure.”

It will be much harder if Rondo is suspended (click here for more on that story), but the blueprint is there. Assuming they can shoot better than 39 percent, there’s no reason they can’t get back into the series. Still, there’s a lot to work on between now and Tuesday’s Game 2.

Among the areas that need improvement:

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett
Video chronicles Rajon Rondo’s tip-off trickery 04.27.12 at 4:23 pm ET
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Even for something as routine and commonplace as the opening tip of a basketball game, Rajon Rondo finds his way to add his own sense of flair and style to it.

It’s likely something that anyone who closely follows the Celtics has noticed, but someone took it upon themselves to make a video compilation complete with every instance in which Rondo managed to do something interesting with the ball after receiving the tip-off.

Included in the video are highlights such as Rondo getting the ball on a hike from Kevin Garnett multiple times, as well as a few instances in which Rondo makes a soccer play and heads the ball forward after getting it.

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo,
Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith: The non-center matchup at 3:20 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett will be in the center of attention, no matter who he guards. (AP)

WALTHAM — Kevin Garnett hates being a center. He’s said it since he moved to the position after the All-Star break and he said it again on Thursday night after the Celtics beat the Bucks.

“I hate the five spot,” Garnett said, as if on autopilot. “You put me anywhere on the floor I’m going to play it to the best of my ability. It’s not a preference of mine but it’s something my team needs so I don’t think about it.”

In some ways it’s semantics. Garnett plays the four on occasion when Doc Rivers goes to his bench and he’s guarded both fours and fives since the switch. He’s taking more shots on the offensive end, increasing that number in the second half of the season, but he’s still firing away most from the perimeter with the occasional post-up thrown in for good measure. (Garnett’s passing in the low post remains an underrated strength).

Josh Smith isn’t really a center, either. He played most of his minutes at the four alongside Al Horford and Zaza Pachulia, who are both injured. Like Garnett, he took a more active role in his team’s offense this season, upping his shot attempts by three per game and his usage rate up to 28 percent. Smith is a monster scoring inside and in transition and a streaky, at best, jump shooter, prone to ill-advised long jumpers and 3-pointers.

“He’s going to take the jumper and when he makes it, it’s tough,” Doc Rivers said. “When Josh is shooting the ball [well] throughout the series, it’s going to be a hard series. There’s no doubt about that. He’s going to shoot the ball. We’ve got to respect that shot. What makes him unique is he’s a four or a five that can take you off the dribble.”

There are two ways the Celtics could play Smith. They could use Brandon Bass, a rugged power forward with strength and athleticism. Or they could use Garnett, who is their best defender and a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Matchups are going to a be a constant storyline in this series. Ordinarily, a team without a true center is a good thing for the Celtics, but they are wary of the Hawks’ big-small lineup, which features over-sized guards like Joe Johnson and Tracy McGrady, wing shooters like Marvin Williams at forward and Smith at center.

“You’ll see [Garnett] on everybody,” Rivers said. “They move Josh to the five and they go with Marvin at the four and Tracy at the three and Joe at the two. That’s a tough lineup. They do it and they do it against us more than any other team for a reason, obviously. It creates matchups and we’re going to have to deal with that.”

The Celtics will try to counter with their regular lineup and force the Hawks into matchups that are favorable to their strengths. According to Rivers, it worked half the time in their two earlier meetings. (For all intents and purposes, the most recent game was a wash tactically due to so many missing players).

Offensively, the Celtics need Garnett to provide some punch. His minutes will still be carefully monitored, but they’re expecting 15-20 shots per night.

“Kevin’s a big key in every series,” Rivers said. “He has to be aggressive. In the series that we’ve won over the years he’s been very aggressive and a go-to scorer. He has to be that for us in this series.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that Garnett will live on the block.

“They’re a great trapping team,” Rivers said. “You’ve got to be careful. If you think you’re just going to post him and win, I think you’d be kidding yourself. If you look at their stats, against post teams they’ve done extremely well. Teams focus on that so much they lose the game. So, we can’t do overdo that. That’s an area that we want to attack through our regular motion. If you get caught trying to do that every time they’ll beat you.”

One of the Celtics’ main concerns is transition defense, and especially 3-pointers on the break. The Hawks had eight players who took more than 100 3-pointers this season and they shot 37 percent, the fifth-best mark in the league. No one defends the 3-point line better than the Celtics and a key will be keeping the floor spaced and getting players back, a tougher task when you’re locked up under the basket.

No matter where he plays and who he guards, Garnett will be key factor and it would be fascinating to watch him return to his roots against a dynamic player like Smith.

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett,
Sean Grande’s NBA awards ballot at 1:56 pm ET
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LeBron James is an easy choice for MVP. (AP)

I’m not sure when exactly it happened.

Media, communication, society, it all changes pretty fast these days. But at some point, probably somewhere between MySpace and Facebook, the concept of anonymity started to become a problem. It was manageable then, the occasional encoded e-mail address and what not. But with Twitter, it’s now an epidemic.

And of course the problem isn’t anonymity, it’s a wonderful thing if you’re fortunate enough to have it. The problem, is that it comes with a certain amount of entitlement. That lack of awareness, fake-tough bravery that usually comes after too much to drink, or for those of us new parents, not nearly enough sleep.

People say the nastiest, vicious, twisted things when armed with a keyboard and the invisibility cloak of the Internet. They are, more often than not, the same people that would smile, shake your hand or ask for an autograph if they saw you in person. It’s a disturbing, ugly trend. I mean, sure it is. But it’s an absurdly small price to pay for the freedom of speech we’re blessed to have and the extraordinary age of technology in which we exist.

There are 100 million people on Twitter. If a few dozen backwards teenagers, bred in ignorance, tweet something offensive after Joel Ward scores the overtime goal for the Capitals, it’s not a story unless we make it one.

Morons have existed from the beginning of time. So has classlessness, ignorance and hate. And they always will. Progress isn’t eliminating them; that’s a noble idea but it can’t be done. Progress is recognizing it, isolating it and going on with life in the real world while the increasing minority of people fueled by race and hate grows extinct.

It’s how we got rid of disco, Members Only jackets and lava lamps. Just give it time.

Anyway, the point is that as big a fan of anonymity as I am … I don’t think postseason award ballots should be anonymous. Never have. I’ve been voting for NBA MVP and the other awards for 14 years now. It’s a privilege, not a right. And I think with that privilege comes a certain amount of accountability. I’ve always made my ballot public and I think everyone should. If you’re “expert” enough to get a vote, you should be able to defend your choices, that’s all.

That said, I’ll be submitting my ballots to the league shortly, and here’s what they’ll look like.

ALL-NBA

I always begin here. By picking the top 15 guys in the league, it starts my process in picking the five for my MVP ballot.

And the strangest thing about the all-NBA team this year? In fact, the strangest thing maybe about this truly strange NBA season? The center spot. For years now, it’s actually been a struggle to find three centers worthy of All-Star consideration. You’d convince yourself that Tim Duncan was playing center even if he wasn’t, or that Nene was really underrated. It was a struggle. This year, if you call Duncan a center, there were legitimately seven guys competing for the third spot.

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Read More: James Harden, Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant
Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’ at 1:12 pm ET
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He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.

“We’ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.”

Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.

“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”

The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers
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