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Celtics notebook: The lure of passing 03.31.12 at 9:23 am ET
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Rajon Rondo and the Celtics have created a culture of passing. (AP)When Ryan Hollins arrived in Boston, he had something he wanted to tell coach Doc Rivers.

“I appreciate the way you guys play,” Hollins said. “It’s unselfish, no one cares about the points and you guys play to win. You don’t see that in the NBA. If Kevin [Garnett] has five points and 13 rebounds and we win, he’s excited. If [Rajon] Rondo has zero points and 15 assists, he’s excited. You don’t see that. I really appreciate that about the team.”

Hollins has already benefited from the passing culture. He and Rondo have hooked up for three alley-oops in the last two games and his eyes lit up when asked about playing with the point guard.

“I love playing with Rondo,” Hollins said. “The type of player I am, I’m going to complement Rondo and he’s going to complement me. If I can be at the rim, it opens up all the other shooters. The coaching staff is on me to dive and run in transition. It opens everything up.”

Hollins has played just 28 minutes in five games with the Celtics, but his testimonial lies at the heart of what has helped make the Celtics successful again. Their offensive problems have been well documented but here are the gritty numbers:

They rank 26th in points per 100 possessions, just ahead of New Orleans and just behind Toronto, 28th in free throw attempts and dead last in offensive rebounding. They’re ninth in 3-point shooting percentage, but just 23rd in attempts. While they have been making an effort to push the pace since the All-Star break, they do the majority of their scoring in the halfcourt via jump shots.

While Paul Pierce is still capable as a shot-creator and Rondo can open up space, the Celtics rely on passing and ball movement for open shots. More than 67 percent of their made baskets come off assists — the highest rate in the league — and while Rondo racks up assists, the commitment is team-wide. Pierce averages five assists per game and Garnett’s passing from the high and low post remains a unique facet of his game.

It’s a trait that’s not only contagious, it’s passed along to the new players.

“Great passer,” Avery Bradley said of Garnett. “He teaches Brandon [Bass]. When we’re watching film, passes that he makes. That just shows what kind of teammate Kevin is, because somebody could be like, nah I don’t want to tell him to help him get better, but Kevin is constantly trying to help everybody get better.”

Wait, no-pass Bass? Yes, no-pass Bass too. The shoot-first forward has a higher assist rate than at any other time in his career. (The Celtics are more than happy with Bass’ play, by the way. They want him to take his shots and he turns it over far less than the other starters, which shows a player who understands his game and his role.)

One of the primary appeals for the Celtics in free agency is the culture they’ve developed over the last five seasons that celebrates winning over individual numbers. That may not be enough to lure the top free agents, but it will surely attract some players.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Brandon Bass, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo
Kevin Garnett: ‘I have nothing positive to say’ about Minnesota Timberwolves 03.30.12 at 2:36 pm ET
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On Friday night, the Celtics are shooting for their fourth straight victory and a sixth win in their last seven games when they travel to Minneapolis, the city Kevin Garnett called home for his first 12 NBA seasons.

Loyalty means everything to Garnett, and as we learned following Wednesday’s defeat of the Jazz, that devotion moved to Boston from Minnesota when the Timberwolves sent him to the Celtics in 2007 for Al Jefferson, Ryan Gomes, Sebastian Telfair, Gerald Green, Theo Ratliff, cash considerations, their 2009 first-round draft pick and Minnesota’s 2009 first-round pick that they had traded to Boston in the Ricky Davis-Wally Szczerbiak deal.

“It’s always special to come back to true fans and sort of your foundation, but as far as that franchise, I have nothing positive to say, so I’ll just let it be that,” said Garnett. “I think Kevin Love is playing at a high level. I think he’s rejuvenated the city as far as basketball goes. Other than that, nothing else.”

To say Love is playing at a high level might be an understatement, as he’s averaging 37.3 points and 16.3 rebounds over his last four games and playing himself into the MVP discussion. There’s been plenty of comparisons between Garnett vs. Love, but recently Garnett has guarded opposing centers, so it will be interesting to see if the two actually square off head-to-head in Friday night’s matchup.

Speaking of Garnett at the five position, as colleague Paul Flannery noted, he could be the perfect fill-in for the Celtics at center for the next two or three years. That would allow the Celtics to remain competitive with Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce and whoever else while maintaining some flexibility for the next round of superstar free agents in two or three years, when the C’s could make a run at someone like — you guessed it — Love.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Kevin Love
Irish Coffee: Doc Rivers molds Celtics bench … again 03.29.12 at 2:23 pm ET
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This version of the Celtics bench is somewhere between Version 3.0 and 893.7. I know because I’ve written each time Doc Rivers molds a different group into form, only to have that unit dismantled by injuries.

At the start of training camp, most expected Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling, Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to fill out the 2011-12 Celtics nine-man rotation. Along the way, injuries to Dooling (knee, hip), Green (heart), Wilcox (heart) and Jermaine O’Neal (knee, wrist) forced Bass into the starting lineup and left a rookie (Greg Stiemsma), a sophomore (Avery Bradley) and a guy who cleared waivers (Mickael Pietrus) to fill out the reserve unit.

Sprinkle in a way-past-his-prime Sasha Pavlovic, a guy coming off spinal surgery (Marquis Daniels), two more rookies (JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore) and a little bit of Ryan Hollins, and you’d expect a big old bowl of poop soup that might lead Padma Lakshmi to ask Danny Ainge to kindly, “Please pack your knives and go.”

Somehow, someway, Rivers & Co. are making it work … again. Of course, it helps the veteran core of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and — save for a pair of ankle sprains — Ray Allen has remained intact. Those guys can make a lot of players look better, but they also set an example that leads them to play better.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Greg Stiemsma, Kevin Garnett
Rajon Rondo: ‘I’m in a rhythm of finding guys’ at 11:17 am ET
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Take care of the rock.

It’s the simplest of principles in basketball yet sometimes the most challenging.

No one knows this more than Rajon Rondo.

His 14 assists Wednesday gave him double-digit assist totals for 11 straight games, the first player with such a string since Steve Nash went on his remarkable run in 2009. But in those 11 games, he’s committed six turnovers three times and four turnovers twice. Doc Rivers challenged him after the All-Star break to cut down on the turnovers and see what happens.

“Well it’s been down since All-Star break and we’ve had a couple of them, but overall our numbers are down and that’s huge,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We made some changes, which I probably should have made earlier in the year and since we’ve made those our turnovers have been way down.

“The only big we throw it to is [Kevin Garnett], above the elbow, basically its that simple,” Rivers added. “Before we were running all the elbow offense, but it was any big and we realized that maybe Kevin should be the only ball handler above the circle.”

And the change from Rondo?

“He’s probably talking about me,” Rondo said. “When I take care of the ball, we take care of the ball as a team so I try to go in with that focus. It starts with the point guard. I have the ball in my hands a lot of the time on the floor. So, if I can take care of the ball, we tend to follow.”

The turnover ratio can explain so much. It can explain why a team that has trouble taking care of the ball possession after possession allows its opponent to get easy buckets in transition.

In the college game, we’ve seen what the University of Kentucky has done turning teams over with its pressure defense. Close games become blowouts in the blink of an eye.

In the NBA this season, we’ve seen a Philadelphia team overachieve and lead its division for most of the season because they are hardly turning the ball over at all. They are on pace to commit fewer than 11 turnovers a game, breaking the previous record of the 2006 Detroit Pistons.

And now we’re seeing the benefit of taking care of the ball from Rondo and the Celtics.

The Celtics have been beaten on the glass by an average of 10 rebounds per game over a stretch in which they’ve gone 4-2. Why? Because they’re committing fewer and fewer turnovers. Take Wednesday night for example.

The rebounding tote board read 43-25 at one point in favor of Utah. But the Celtics committed just six turnovers three quarters while Utah had committed 13, leading to 18 Celtics points. The final numbers were 49-38 and 12-15, respectively.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo
Keyon Dooling: ‘This team is made for the playoffs’ at 9:56 am ET
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Winning can do lots for a team. Most of all – for the Celtics – it’s brought back their swagger.

Never was that more evident than when Keyon Dooling spoke to reporters Wednesday night after his 3-pointer keyed a 7-0 run that broke a 66-66 tie midway through the fourth quarter and helped the Celtics manage a 94-82 win over the Jazz at the Garden.

The win again put them in a flatfooted tie with the Sixers atop the Atlantic Division at 28-22.

But more than that, it gave evidence to the theory held by many inside the Celtics locker room that once they get to the playoffs, they’ll be prepared for success.

“You just stay the course,” Dooling said. “We have a team that is really about us, what we do, building habits and building for the playoffs. This team is made for the playoffs, it’s built for grind-it-out games, and that’s usually how playoff games are. We’re building our habits and guys are executing their roles and starting to get back.”

Dooling is finally healthy after a mid-season bout with a nagging hip injury.

“Just the opportunity is there,” Dooling said. “Coming back from injury, you don’t feel great and you have to earn the trust of the coach and Doc is really starting to trust me and I’m starting to feel what he wants from me when I’m on the court and I’m just trying to find my niche. Each team you’re on, you have to find your niche, get your role, you try to execute it so now I’m just trying to build my role on this team.

“One night it might be diving on the floor, one night it might be making open shots. Every night it’s contributing, keeping guys’ energy up, helping guys from an execution standpoint, just being who I am every day.”

And who he was on Wednesday was a big-time shot maker. His three just over a minute into the fourth snapped a 66-66 tie and gave the Celtics the lead for good. He drilled another jumper two minutes later to put the Celtics up, 75-70.

“Anytime when a team is making a run on you, you’re looking for that slump-buster,” Dooling said. “They tightened the screws defensively, and they packed the paint on [Kevin Garnett]. Me and Sasha were able to get a couple of wide-open looks and we were able to knock them down.”

“Keyon, he’s just coming on,” Doc Rivers added. “We don’t want to forget how much he’s been injured and now he’s starting to come on. You can see it a little bit and its nice to see him make shots.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, Keyon Dooling
Kevin Garnett: ‘I hear y’all calling me old’ at 2:11 am ET
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Perhaps it was the presence of Al Jefferson, the kid who he has enjoyed trash talking ever since the Celtics swapped them for each other five years ago. Whatever the reason, Kevin Garnett assumed Yoda’s persona.

“His Jedi mind tricks worked tonight,” said Celtics guard Keyon Dooling after the Celtics tuned out the Jazz.

Wednesday night, Big Al was just another patron at the Mos Eisley Cantina, at least to the masterful Garnett, who considered Jefferson an afterthought in a mind that’s clearly had plenty weighing on it this season. Rarely do we get a glimpse into KG’s consciousness, so when we do it’s best to savor it completely. Here goes.

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Read More: Al Jefferson, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Keyon Dooling
Fast Break: Celtics’ third straight win earns first-place tie 03.28.12 at 9:54 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo became the first player since 2009 to register double-digit assists in 11 straight games (obviously, Steve Nash was the last to accomplish that feat), as his 14 dimes on Wednesday night helped the Celtics (28-22) defeat the Jazz 94-82 and move into another tie with the idle 76ers for first place in the Atlantic Division.

Kevin Garnett submitted his 16th double-double of the season, amassing 23 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Paul Pierce (20 points, 6 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (19 points, 4 rebounds) also turned in big nights.

Meanwhile, despite 18 points, 12 rebounds and three assists from old friend Al Jefferson, the Jazz (27-24) dropped into a tie with the Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

High-flying Hollins: He may not be much of a rebounder for a 7-footer, but the 27-year-old Ryan Hollins can run the floor with Rondo, and anyone who can do that will be rewarded. On consecutive plays 30 seconds apart in the waning minutes of the first half, Hollins threw down two alley-oop dunks sandwiched around a Jazz timeout.

Seconds, please: The second quarter was vintage Celtics, who outscored the Jazz 28-14 going into the break. As a team, they shot 11-for-20 (55%) from the field. Pierce scored six points in the frame while Garnett and Bradley each netted five apiece. As good as they were on offense, they might have been better on the defensive end.

Rondo tornado: Where there is vintage Celtics, there is vintage Rondo. His four points, three assists and two rebounds in the first in the first eight minutes cued the triple-double watch early. While he didn’t shoot as much as the Celtics might have liked, he kept the engine running smoothly for most of the night.

Dooling bravos: It’s been a rough season for Keyon Dooling, battling injuries and losing his role to Avery Bradley, but the veteran guard submitted his best performance of the season. He scored seven points, including a huge fourth-quarter trey that gave the Celtics the lead back after the Jazz tied it, 66-66.

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Read More: Al Jefferson, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo
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