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Preview: Celtics-Knicks 10.28.10 at 11:27 pm ET
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For 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
Paul Pierce on D&H: Shaq has helped Kevin Garnett at 1:43 pm ET
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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 »

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Shaquille O'Neal,
Fast break: Celtics suffer letdown against Cavaliers 10.27.10 at 9:54 pm ET
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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.

Read More: Cavaliers, Fast Break, Glen Davis, Jermaine O'Neal
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.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, eddie house, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
Ray Allen, C’s knew what was coming at 2:21 am ET
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The Heat played right into the hands of the Celtics all night long ‘€” and right into the teeth of their defense.

LeBron James finished with a game-high 31 points, but he, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to make only 17-of-48 shots.

And Ray Allen, who defended Wade much of the night and held him to 4-of-16 shooting, explained exactly how the Celtics were able to defend Miami in an 88-80 win in the season-opener at TD Garden.

The Celtics knew coming in that with James and Wade, the Heat were going to run isolation plays all night to try and get their two scoring stars going.

“We had a great swarm,” Allen said. “Everybody was in position. We talked on defense. We knew every play they were running so when they ran it, [Rajon] Rondo was right there, there was no gap. There was nowhere for LeBron to go and then we were coming back out for the shooters. There was one stretch where we were letting those corner 3s [be taken] and we have to do a better job of letting them have those shots.”

Then there was this from Glen Davis, who along with Shaquille O’Neal was making life miserable in the paint for the Heat all night.

“We had seen every thing they run. and they run a lot of iso,” Davis said of isolation plays for James and Wade. “And the one thing about iso is you can guard that by throwing two or three guys at them.”

Miami, which made just 11-of-41 shots in the first half, finished the game shooting a measly 36.5 percent, connecting on 27-of-74 attempts. The two players primarily responsible for guarding James were Paul Pierce and Marquis Daniels. Allen was on Wade and Garnett drew Bosh.

“I thought we’re a defensive team that can score the basketball,” Kevin Garnett said. “Paul has his hands full, I have my hands full, Ray Allen had his hands full. Those three are going to be a force to be reckoned with. With know that. Very talented guys, but it’s not one, two, three individuals that make a team. It definitely sets the foundation.

“But for the most part every time we touch the floor it’s about getting better. I thought tonight we did just that. We’ve got a lot of room to improve, but it’s the first night, a lot of expectations on tonight. But for the most part I thought we were solid enough to win, and we want to be better at home. What a way to start the year, with a win at home.”

The Celtics will try to continue their “swarm” when they play their first road game of the year on Wednesday night in Cleveland, serving as the opposition in the Cavaliers‘ first game without LeBron James.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
Bill Simmons on D&C: Heat ‘not ready’ to win Eastern Conference 10.26.10 at 4:17 pm ET
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Bill Simmons joined the Dennis & Callahan show Tuesday morning to discuss the Celtics‘ heavily hyped season-opener against the Heat. Simmons talked about LeBron James and his new crew in Miami and how the Big Three in South Beach will fare this season.

He also talked about the Celtics’ chances for success in the 2010-11 season. Simmons said that Paul Pierce is the player the team could least afford to lose.

“Pierce is the guys who can guard the other small forward, the guy who can take over a little bit at the end of the game. I even think they could survive a Rondo injury. … Pierce is the guy who they’d really feel it.”

Below are some highlights from the interview. To listen to the full audio visit the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Do you buy into the corporate lie that the Celtics are telling, that the regular season really means more to them this year than it did last year, because hell, had they won five or six more games in the regular season, the seventh game [of the NBA finals] would have been in Boston last year?  Isn’t this an aging veteran team that just needs to get to the playoffs healthy?

That’s a good question, John Dennis. I don’t believe them. I do think the one difference between last year’s team and this year’s team is they have a bench. And when you have a bench, you can win games that maybe ‘€” last year’s team, the starters, they didn’t show up, the team was not going to win. And I think you’ll see when Delonte [West] comes back ‘€” I’ve got to say I was shocked by how good Delonte looked in the preseason. I thought out of everything I watched, that was the one thing I didn’t expect.

He just was bad last year. Obviously, it started out with him riding on a motorcycle with guns, and he got suspended and missed preseason and just was never what he was in 2008, when he was the second-best player on a team that almost bear the Celtics. I think that he is back to where he was, from what I saw. And when you see him and Nate [Robinson] come off the bench, I actually think that’s a backcourt that can swing a game for six, seven minutes. Then you throw in Big Baby [Glen Davis], who’s in fantastic shape. I’m not crazy about Jermaine O’Neal, obviously, but if he’s your 10th man, that’s not a terrible thing.

I just think the difference with last year vs. this year is Paul Pierce can go 5-for-19 in Detroit or Philly or wherever and they can still win the game because they have other guys.

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Bill Simmons, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James, Paul Pierce
Celtics practice what Doc preaches 10.23.10 at 4:08 pm ET
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The Celtics went through a hard practice at Waltham Saturday. This was a different sort of workout than the one they endured Friday, which stretched out past three hours. As the curtain lifted, they were going through a scrimmage, complete with refs and all the intensity you would expect from a regular season game.

“It was the best practice we’€™ve had in a while,” Doc Rivers said. “It was good to see. Following yesterday’€™s fiasco of a practice, I thought today was phenomenal.”

But what really stood out was the sight of Kendrick Perkins, whiteboard in hand, drawing up a play for the second team (usually referred to as the White Team for their jerseys, as opposed to the starters, who wear green). The play was for Von Wafer to come off a back pick, but it didn’t go according to plan.

“We needed a 3 at the time,” coach Perk explained. “We were down six. So I went with a Doc play. We didn’€™t execute it right.”

This whole exercise was by design. It’s something Rivers learned from Mike Fratello when he played for him in Atlanta. “I saw  something during the game,” Rivers said. “We came into the huddle and I said we’€™ve got to run this. We did it and we won the game, but that was the last time he let me do it.”

Rivers has tried this out with his players at various times — Gabe Pruitt called up a game-winner a few years back — and the benefits work both ways.

“You see a lot when you’€™re hurt and on the sidelines,” Perkins said. “You put yourself in the coach’€™s shoes and see what they’€™re going through. I’€™m just trying to install it in my head so when I get in there I won’€™t make the same mistakes.”

“You learn a lot,” Rivers said. “You see what they’€™re thinking. You see who they think should take the shots. Who they think can make plays. What they learn is they get frustrated when guys don’€™t execute. That’€™s how I feel the whole game. It’€™s good learning tool for everybody.”

Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen usually take the honors for the Green Team, Rivers said, while Perkins, Glen Davis and Delonte West often take charge of the White Team. So who calls the best plays?

“Ray,” Rivers said. “Because it’€™s always for him. Rondo and Ray are pretty darn good.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dwyane Wade, Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett, LeBron James
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