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Fast Break: Rondo, C’s pound Pistons 11.02.10 at 10:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo became the only player in NBA history to record 67 assists through four games, leading the Celtics to a 109-86, wire-to-wire victory over the winless Detroit Pistons. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce scored 22 and 21 points for the C’s (3-1), respectively, as five Boston players reached double figures.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

1. Taking care of the ball: After averaging 19 turnovers in their first three games, the Celtics committed just two turnovers in the first half and eight for the entire game.

Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett had been the C’s biggest culprits, averaging nine giveaways between them through three contests. Last night, though, neither committed a turnover in a total of 69 minutes on the floor.

2. Spread the wealth: The Celtics totaled 33 assists on 42 field goals in the victory. Rondo, of course, led the way with 17 dishes, while Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson each chipped in three dimes.

By contrast, the Pistons managed just 11 assists on 35 field goals for the game. Detroit’s starting point guard, Rodney Stuckey, had just two assists in 38 minutes on the floor.

3. They played the Pistons: Facing little to nothing in the way of defense, the Celtics shot 51 percent from the field, scoring 67 of their 109 points in the paint. KG and Pierce combined to shoot 17-of-25 from the floor (68 percent), getting open look after open look around the basket. Of course, it also helped that the Celtics made all 18 of their free throws on the night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

1. Technical difficulty: While Glen Davis played well – totaling 10 points and five rebounds in 23 minutes – he picked up a technical midway through the first quarter. Doc Rivers was noticeably upset, as the C’s are attempting to make a concerted effort not to pick up cheap techs as a result of the new rules.

2. Getting out-rebounded: Rivers has made rebounding a focus for the Celtics early in the season, and they had owned a plus-six margin entering last night’s game. However, the Pistons out-rebounded the Celtics, 38-36. No Celtics reached double digits in rebounds, as KG led the team with six.

3. Bench depth: Big contributions from Big Baby off the bench have become an expectation, and he delivered again. But other than a few bright spots from Semih Erden, the C’s got very little from the rest of their reserves – as Marquis Daniels, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Luke Harangody and Erden combined for 19 points in 61 total minutes.

The lack of contribution from the bench led to the Pistons nearly bringing a 20-point lead to single digits – forcing Rivers to bring the starters back in for the majority of the fourth quarter.

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Semih Erden is ready for his closeup 11.01.10 at 4:36 pm ET
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Semih Erden

Semih Erden

WALTHAM — Semih Erden was working in the post against Jermaine O’Neal during practice Monday. Erden started to his left, faked like he was going right and then finished back on the left side. It’s the kind of move he’s been pulling off with regularity since he joined the Celtics, but not the only one.

“He gave me a move in that open scrimmage the other day,” Shaquille O’Neal said. “Real nice move. That just tells me he has the potential to go at me whenever he wants to. With him, he’s going to have to get a rhythm out there with the guys. He’s young and he’s going to get his shot.”

Erden’s shot may be getting closer to becoming a reality because, as expected, the Celtics are about to go into a stretch of games without at least one of the O’Neals.

Shaq made the trip to Detroit and hasn’t been officially ruled out of Tuesday’s game, but after he missed practice for the second straight day with a shin injury, it’s not likely that he’ll play.

Jermaine O’Neal, on the other hand, looks like he will be able to go against the Pistons. That helps, but the Celtics need at least two big men against the Pistons large frontline and that means Erden will finally get a chance to show what he can do in a game situation.

“Yeah I’m ready,” Erden said responding to a question in English without the help of his translator. “I feel good. Every day I learn something. It’s good for me. I’m lucky.”

That tiny interaction is a major step forward for Erden who has the added pressure of not only being a rookie, but a rookie from Turkey who is being asked to assimilate the NBA game as well as a new language.

“He knows how to play,” Doc Rivers said. “He’s just trying to learn how to play our way. The language barrier is a problem, there’s no doubt about that. You just got to keep working on him. He’s going to be a good big in this league and he’s going to be a good big for a long time. What we don’t know is whether he’s a good enough big right now.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Irish Coffee: Vin Baker Comes Clean 10.29.10 at 10:37 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

 

Six years after the Boston Celtics terminated him for violating his alcohol treatment program, a near-broke Vin Baker has come to terms with how alcoholism and depression squandered a 13-year career — and an $87 million contract.

While promoting a book he’s written about his ordeal, Baker admitted in an appearance on Connecticut’s Stan Simpson Show that he began to recognize the existence of a problem before the 2002 trade that sent him from the Seattle SuperSonics to the Celtics.

“Towards the end of my Seattle career, when I was traded to Boston, I knew something was going on that I had to change,” Baker told Simpson. “At the time, I really couldn’t change it, because it’s a disease. It affects 18 million Americans. At the time, I didn’t know what was going on. I had to fix it. It was a situation where the support system around me was tough.”

Irish coffee, indeed.

One season removed from an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2001-02, the Celtics had hoped Baker could return to some semblance of the player that made four straight All-Star Games from 1995-98 and won a gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

In Boston, Baker sunk deeper into the diseases that had already derailed a promising career. In just 89 games over two seasons, he averaged only 7.7 points and 4.6 rebounds before being suspended from the team when coach Jim O’Brien smelled alcohol on his breath during a practice. Baker said he wanted to change, but couldn’t.

“I had to figure out a way to make it right,” Baker said in his appearance on the Connecticut FOX affiliate. “I couldn’t make it right. The Celtics – a great organization – they worked with me, but with my issues I didn’t take the time I needed to take to make it right.”

It’s a shame Baker’s career fell off so sharply and abruptly, considering that four-year stretch — averaging 19.7 points and 9.6 rebounds — before a 1998-99 NBA lockout that saw the New England native balloon to 300 pounds.

“When you’re doing certain things on the court, a lot of times people just trust your talents,” Baker added in the interview. “They don’t know what’s going on inside your heart and your mind, and it becomes very difficult to relay to people that, you know, I might be struggling with something. Entertainers, basketball players, NFL players – sometimes it gets to a point where they don’t understand who you are as a person. They just look at the money, the power, the fame.”

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Jeff Green, center, shoots between Chicago Bulls forwards Joakim Noah, left, and Brian Scalabrine, right, in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 27, 2010. Green had 21 points as Oklahoma City won 106-95.

You can't really stop Brian Scalabrine (right); you can only hope to contain him. (AP)

SCALABRINE ON THIBODEAU

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Brian Scalabrine revealed what made Tom Thibodeau such a valuable asset in Celtic practices over the last few seasons: The C’s assistant coach and defensive guru wasn’t afraid of anybody, including Kevin Garnett.

“He likes KG, and KG loves Thibodeau, but he stared right at Garnett and said, ‘We’re doing it this way, you have to do it better, do it harder, and do it more together or I’m going to have to make a change,’” Scalabrine told the Tribune. “If coach Thibodeau can do that to Kevin Garnett, he can do that to anybody.”

The question moving forward is — when this year’s Celtics suffer defensive lapses — can Lawrence Frank do the same to guys like KG and the O’Neal brothers? Time will tell.

By the way, if you’re wondering how Scalabrine is performing in Chicago, the answer is: Just fine, thank you very much. He’s shooting 100 percent from the field. Of course, he’s only taken one shot in 11 minutes.

Oh, and my new favorite Twitter personality to follow is @FakeScalabrine. Over the last few days, he’s given us gems like: “Shaq is picking up my slack with the missed layups,” and, “Watching Nate clank threes and just thinking, ‘Man, that could be me.’”

SI: GARNETT GOING STRONG

Speaking of Garnett, Sports Illustrated’s Kevin Mannix details just how much KG’s knee problems affected his play last year — and how far he’s come since.

One Eastern Conference scout told Mannix that he thought KG was “finished” last season after seeing Andray Blatche score 23 points on the 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year.

“Offensively, he understood what he could or couldn’t do,” Doc Rivers told Mannix of last season. “He had become a pick-and-pop player. It frustrated him that he couldn’t post more. He couldn’t get his balance. Defensively, guys were driving by him, beating him off the dribble. He couldn’t get blocked shots.”

“Watching Kevin now is like night and day from last season,” Rivers added in the interview. “In camp last year, I thought he was physically healthy, but mentally he wasn’t sure. He was scared to do things.”

One of the driving forces behind KG’s return to the old KG was Pau Gasol’s 18.6 points, 11.6 rebounds and 2.6 blocks per game in the 2010 NBA Finals.

“Gasol having that good series,” Rivers added, “really ticked Kevin off.”

RONDO’S NEW SHOE

Nike revealed a new shoe: Zoom Hyperfuse Rajon Rondo PE. What do you think?

nike-zoom-hyperfuse-rajon-rondo-pe-2

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

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Preview: Celtics-Knicks 10.28.10 at 11:27 pm ET
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celtics_knicksFor the last two seasons, the New York Knicks tried to pretend that their team didn’t exist. The goal, which was carefully articulated and plotted by Donnie Walsh, was to remove contracts, not to win games. The fans bought into this strategy and in truth, it was an easy sell. They had their fill of shortsighted quick fixes with long-term implications and two years of penance wasn’t so bad if the return turned out to be LeBron James.

There were two problems with this plan. One, Walsh and his coach Mike D’Antoni did very little to make the last two years anything more than a chore. The only development players on the roster were Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Tony Douglas and Bill Walker, which left a roster full of players who knew they were going elsewhere eventually and they reacted accordingly. The other was that there was no guarantee LeBron would want to go to New York, and when he didn’t, Walsh was forced to scramble.

On the whole, the scramble doesn’t look so bad as the Knicks were able to sign Amar’e Stoudemire and Ray Felton and acquire Anthony Randolph, Kelenna Azubuike and Ronny Turiaf for David Lee. Throw in a potential second-round steal in Landry Fields and a 7-foot Russian named Timofey Mozgov and suddenly the Knicks look like an actual team with direction and a directive to be competitive.

If the Celtics are going to have any competition in the Atlantic Division it’s going to come from the Knicks. Stoudemire is an A-list scorer and Gallinari doesn’t look to be too far behind. Felton is a solid point guard, which alone is a huge upgrade from what they were running out in previous seasons, and now there is depth.

To be sure there are still holes on New York’s roster, especially when it comes to size and rebounding and a team that plays D’Antoni’s system could always use more shooters, but the Knicks finally resemble a coherent basketball team whose goal is winning games, not shedding contracts.

NEW YORK (1-0)

Probable Starters: Felton, Fields, Gallinari, Stoudemire, Mozgov

Injuries: Randolph (ankle), Azubuike (knee surgery), Eddy Curry (hamstring)

BOSTON (1-1)

Probable Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal

Injuries: Avery Bradley (ankle), Kendrick Perkins (knee surgery)

KEY MATCHUP: Stoudemire vs. Garnett

Garnett shutdown Chris Bosh in the first game of the season to such an enormous degree that people are already questioning whether Stoudemire would have been a better frontcourt running mate for James and Dwyane Wade. In his second game, Garnett recorded 15 rebounds, which is more than he had in any game last season.

He will have his hands full with Stoudemire who is the focal point on the Knicks offense. Stoudemire had 19 points and 10 rebounds in the Knicks opening night win over Toronto, but he also turned it over nine times. This will be a solid early-season test for Garnett because Stoudemire is one of the best pick-and-roll big men in the league and he will Garnett work all game.

KEY STAT: Turnovers

The Celtics have already turned it over 39 times. That’s how a team that is shooting 47 percent for the floor and 39 percent from 3-point range has an efficiency rating in the 20′s and has scored less than 90 points in both of its games. The Celtics simply must take better care of the ball. (Related: Zach Lowe had an interesting post about the Celtics turnover problems on The Point Forward).

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

The Celtics have not yet played a complete, 48-minute game and their struggles in the fourth quarter against Cleveland brought back bad memories of regular season collapses from a year ago. This will be their third game in four nights and it will be interesting to see how Doc Rivers uses his bench in what should be fast-paced game.

There’s also the matter of establishing their homecourt advantage, something that the players have noted over the past few days. The C’s are off until Tuesday and this would be a good spot to finish their first week on a winning note at home against a team in their division.

Read More: Amare Stoudemire, Kevin Garnett, Knicks, Preview Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Paul Pierce on D&H: Shaq has helped Kevin Garnett at 1:43 pm ET
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Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce

Celtics captain Paul Pierce joined the Dale & Holley show and touched on a number of topics including what would have happened if Doc Rivers had decided to leave, how the Heat will have to adjust to playing with each other and what Shaquille O’Neal has done for Kevin Garnett.

“I love Shaquille in the locker room,” Pierce said. “The one guy he’s making better on and off the court is Kevin. You can just tell with Kevin’s attitude, he’s a lot more loose than he’s ever been. Kevin really listens to a lot of things Shaq has to say because they’ve been through their wars together and I know Kevin has a lot of respect for Shaq and what he’s done in this league, as do all of us. His presence has really helped us out as a ballclub, in the locker room and on the court.”

(To hear the whole interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page).

Here are more highlights from the interview:

What happened in Cleveland?

That’s the Cleveland Cavaliers minus LeBron James. They had a lot going. It was the home opener, a lot to prove with LeBron being gone, they played a great game. I can’t take anything away from what they did last night. They came out and gave us one, right over the head.

Did you take them lightly?

I hate to use that word lightly. I play the game the same way every night. They came to play. I don’t want to take anything away from what they did. We had our run, we had a chance to put them away, they just stuck with it. They made some big shots, the crowd got into it and they finished the game.

What’s the difference in Cleveland’s offense without LeBron?

When you got LeBron James in the lineup the offense is a little more predictable because you know he’s gong to get the ball pretty much every time down the court or 90 percent of the time. They’re really try to find an identity. They don’t really have a true go-to guy so they have to rely on out-working everybody, ball movement and sharing and playing together. They did an excellent job of that last night.

How will the Heat co-exist? What did he do with Garnett and Ray Allen?

I think they’re going to have make some sacrifices and that’s going to be the key. What’s unique about us with me, Kevin and Ray, I think we all bring something different with our games. Ray, he’s a great player without the ball. Kevin, you can play through Kevin or he’s great at setting screens and making people better, also I can play off the ball. I can be spot-up shooter.

In their case, they have LeBron and [Dwyane] Wade who constantly have the ball in their offense. Neither one of them has been asked to stand on the wing or stand in the corner and be a spot-up shooter. That’s an adjustment I think they’re going to have to make in figuring out their roles. Who’s going to be the lead dog on offense? Who’s going to be the facilitator and who’s going to play a different role, like, say, [Chris] Bosh being a guy who’s just going to rebound, play defense and screen?

It’s tough, especially for these guys because they’re in the prime of their careers and it’s going to be tough for them to swallow that knowing that they can give much more than what they’re going to give on a night-in, night-out basis for them to win. Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast break: Celtics suffer letdown against Cavaliers 10.27.10 at 9:54 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett dunks in the first half against Cleveland, but the Celtics fell short. (AP)

Kevin Garnett dunks in the first half against Cleveland, but the Celtics fell short. (AP)

It was the second night of the first back-to-back of the season and the Celtics were playing in a decidedly different atmosphere than the one they experienced in Boston on Tuesday. Still, there are no viable excuses for the Celtics, who blew a fourth-quarter lead in a 95-87 loss to the Cavaliers. (Recap.)

The Celtics played with fire throughout the game and it ultimately burned them, especially down the stretch where they were outscored, 13-3.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

Too many turnovers: The main problem with the Celtics offense remains turnovers. They had 10 in the first half and another nine in the second. The Cavs wound up with nine more shots than the Celtics, one reason why they were able to win despite shooting under 45 percent.

Jermaine O’Neal will need some time: Give Jermaine O’Neal credit for getting himself healthy enough to play after a variety of training camp injuries, but he was not effective at all in 12 lackluster minutes. O’Neal fouled out with two points — his first points of the season — along with three turnovers and two rebounds.

Fourth quarter techs: Nate Robinson and Shaquille O’Neal picked up technical fouls on the same play, which helped propel a Cavaliers run. Fourth-quarter techs are a major no-no for Doc Rivers.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

Kevin Garnett looks fresh: Garnett had his second-straight double-digit rebounding game with 15 boards. There’s a long way to go, but Garnett looks so much more athletic than he did at this time last season.

Glen Davis knows his role: The Celtics bench needs to fine-tune things, but Davis has assumed the role of sixth man. He saw action at both the center and power forward spots and scored 14 points to go with five rebounds in 33 minutes of action. He and Marquis Daniels have been the top reserves.

Managing minutes: Rivers acknowledged that he played his veterans too many minutes in the opener, and despite the second-half run by the Cavs, he kept his starters on the bench and let his team play through it. Ray Allen and Paul Pierce went from 40 minutes down to the mid-30′s and Garnett clocked in at a more reasonable 30 minutes. Managing minutes may have cost the Celtics the game, but Rivers is going to keep the long view throughout the season.

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Paul Pierce knows clutch when he sees it at 3:38 pm ET
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You know you’re clutch when Paul Pierce says you’re one of the best clutch players he’s ever played with. Kevin Garnett echoed those feelings about Ray Allen after the sharpshooter showed off his deadly shooting prowess again late in Tuesday’s season-opening 88-80 win over the Miami Heat.

Allen hit a clutch three-pointer from the left baseline with 49.8 seconds to go in the fourth quarter to seal Boston’s win over LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the highly-anticipated NBA lid-lifter at TD Garden.

“I’ve been a witness of it the last three years, and he’s one of the best players that I’ve ever played with,” Pierce said of Allen. “It’s an honor just to be able to step on the court with him night in and night out. You’ve got a guy that can take that kind of pressure off you, it’s an amazing feeling. I don’t know if you guys realize it, but Ray, he’s hit so many game winners for us and so many clutch shots for us, we have confidence to get him the ball in these situations. He delivers nine times out of ten.”

“And this guy hits big shots himself,” smiled Garnett, who added just the right amount of perspective.

But Pierce also admitted, “I like watching, too.”

Pierce did exactly that when he fed Allen off a designed play and the Celtics desperately needing a bucket to regain control after Miami drew to within three on a James lay-up with under a minute remaining.

“We drew a play out of the time out, and the only thing we said is, if it’s not there, it won’t be there because they have to rotate, and if they rotate, if we make the next pass, the ball will find the open guy,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, before giving props to Pierce for making the extra pass.

James was defending Pierce very closely and not giving him a good look so the Celtics captain found an open and willing Allen on the left baseline.

“And that was terrific,” Rivers added. “He had a shot, but it would have been contested, and he made the extra pass. We always talk about no hero ball, and to me that was a hero pass in a great way. He didn’t have to make that pass, but he made the right decision, and it was great.”

Who was supposed to be on Allen? Former Celtic Eddie House, a shooting guard who can appreciate hitting the clutch shot.

“I should have stayed with him on the baseline,” House said. “He kicked it out and got that one right in front of our bench. That’s a play I’ve already replayed in my head about 1,000 times already. But Ray just does that to you.”

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