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Fast Break: Celtics sear the deer in OT 11.03.10 at 11:21 pm ET
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The Celtics got another MVP-like performance out of Rajon Rondo, and it was just enough to edge the Milwaukee Bucks (1-4) in overtime, 105-102, at the TD Garden Wednesday night. Rondo finished with 17 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds to help the C’s improve to 4-1.

Paul Pierce led all scorers with 28 points — the final six at the free throw line in the last 13 seconds — to eclipse 20,000 career points and, fittingly, put the game away. The milestone carried undeniable significance for the 13-year Celtics veteran.

“You don’t see it too often where a player accomplishes that type of feat with one team,” an emotional Pierce said after the game. “It means a lot to me. I’m not even going to downplay it. … Five years ago, I wouldn’t have even dreamed that I would have scored 20,000 points in a Celtics uniform. The team was going in a direction, I was a disgruntled player at the time. To still be here talking about this feat, it’s an incredible moment for me.”

THREE THINGS THAT WENT RIGHT

THEY FOUND THEIR FIFTH GEAR: After an Ersan Ilyasova 3-pointer put the Bucks up 80-74 with 3:29 to play, the Garden got awfully quiet. The Celtics’ closing five — Rondo, Ray Allen, Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Glen Davis — changed that, quickly.

Over the next 2:09, the C’s outscored Milwaukee, 16-4, taking a six-point lead with a minute to play and igniting the hometown crowd. In that two-minute span, Garnett and Bucks big Andrew Bogut picked up double technicals after the former dunked on the latter, leading to a shoving match.

Rather than disrupt the C’s momentum, especially in the wake of the day’s KG-Charlie Villanueva Twitter fiasco, the incident seemed to ignite their fire further. Led by another sparkplug (who else but Rondo?), the Celtics literally ran all over the Bucks to pour fast break layup after layup into the net.

The Celtics showed a gear that other teams — even the Bucks, a 2009-10 playoff team — just can’t match. And it came on the second night of a back-to-back, in the fourth quarter. Sure, it took overtime for the C’s to Sear the Dear, but Wednesday night was going Milwaukee’s way until that two-minute stretch.

ALLEN’S GOT HIS GROOVE BACK: The memory of Allen shooting just 3-of-14 in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals was burnt into the minds of many Celtics fans throughout the offseason. Critics claimed the veteran may have been entering the so-called twilight of his career.

But a shooter like Allen never loses his stroke, even at age 35, especially when it’s as sweet as Ray’s. Twice already this season — Wednesday night against the Bucks (23 points on 9-of-20 shooting) and opening night against the Heat (20 points on 7-of-13 shooting) — he has demonstrated that he can still fill it up against the league’s best.

DEFENDING THE POINT GUARD: We know what Rondo is capable of offensively, but the Celtics point guard is already making a run at a second straight All-Defensive First Team selection. He held Brandon Jennings — a legit Rookie of the Year candidate last season — to just 13 points on 5-of-13 shooting. Rondo also kept Jennings from finding open teammates, limiting him to four assists in 34 minutes.

Wednesday night’s performance came on the heels of Rondo’s defense against Detroit’s Rodney Stuckey, who was limited to 6-of-15 shooting and three assists Tuesday night.

THREE THINGS THAT WENT WRONG

WHERE’S THE BENCH? The Celtics were essentially playing with a six-man roster for the majority of the game against the Bucks, as Glen Davis (14 points, 4 rebounds) provided the team’s only real contribution from the pine.

Meanwhile, Nate Robinson, Von Wafer and Semih Erden only played 10 minutes between them. The Small 3 combined for a whopping two points, six rebounds and one assist. When Rivers played a lineup of Erden, Davis, Daniels, Wafer and Robinson, they managed to make a 25-16 lead at the end of the first quarter turn into a 32-31 lead midway through the second quarter.

DEFENDING THE CENTER: Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Bucks, Celtics centers had to defend the following guys:  Joel Anthony (Heat), Ryan Hollins (Cavaliers), Timofey Mozgov (Knicks) and an 87-year-old Ben Wallace (Pistons) — not exactly the Bill Russells of this era.

Bogut was the C’s first true test at the 5 spot. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft and an All-NBA Third Team selection last season, Bogut ate up the Celtics duo of Jermaine O’Neal and Erden to the tune of 21 points and 13 rebounds.

Bogut probably isn’t having his way like that against Shaquille O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins, and the reason for that is toughness — plain and simple.

SAME OLD, SAME OLD: There are three statistics Doc Rivers is going to point to over and over again throughout this season: turnovers, rebounds and veteran minutes. The first two will likely determine when the Celtics end up in the loss column. And the third could signal how often they end up there.

The Bucks led the turnover (11-16) and held the rebounding advantage for much of the night, until the Celtics edged them out, 43-42, in the overtime period.

Meanwhile, Allen, Pierce and Garnett combined for 120 minutes. That’s a direct result of the bench’s lack of production. If the C’s need those kind of minutes — especially in the second of back-to-back games — to pull out wins against good teams, that spells trouble in the form of fatigue down the road.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA, Paul Pierce
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (4 of 7) 10.26.10 at 11:04 am ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division with the fourth of a seven-part  series (Check out the Western Conference in Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3) …


CHICAGO BULLS
by Doug Thonus, Chicago Bulls Confidential

ON THE BULLS: The Chicago Bulls are a team with a lot of strengths, but the early injury to Carlos Boozer has hurt their odds of building up continuity this season.

Much like the Celtics, they carry considerable injury risk going forward. Luol Deng, Joakim Noah, Boozer, Derrick Rose, Taj Gibson and Ronnie Brewer all have injury risk on top of that of a normal player, while Kyle Korver, C.J. Watson and Keith Bogans are also struggling with various minor injuries in preseason.

A healthy Bulls team would have a puncher’s chance at any team in the East if they jelled well and played to their full potential. But a Bulls team that can’t get on the floor together to build continuity is closer to Atlanta and Milwaukee than to Boston, Orlando or Miami.

The big question mark will be how much of an upgrade Tom Thibodeau is from Vinny Del Negro. The Bulls’ schemes have given fans a reason to be hopeful, and if Thibodeau can get more out of the talent than Del Negro the roster might have more upside than a cursory glance would indicate.

Given the injuries and unknowns, a realistic upside for the Bulls is an Eastern Conference Finals loss to Miami, while a realistic downside is a first-round exit to one of the Big 3.

I’d place the Bulls fourth in the conference with my expectations set at a second-round exit at the hands of Miami, Boston or Orlando after a hard-fought, first-round victory against Atlanta or Milwaukee.

ON THE CELTICS: The Boston Celtics strike me as a team that should play well this season and have another excellent postseason.

There is some legitimate fear that the wheels could fall off the bus at any given point, given that the vast majority of key players are at the age where injuries increase and performance can rapidly spiral downward.

However, the team is excellently coached and has tremendous depth, continuity and experience. Their upside, if all goes well, is NBA Champion. They were a Kendrick Perkins ACL away from likely winning the chip last season, and they’re the one team that has a shot to give Miami fits in the Eastern Conference.

Their downside is as a fifth seed that gets bounced early in the playoffs if they struggle to integrate new personalities, can’t find solid rotations once Perkins is back or struggle with age and injuries.

I’d place the Celtics third in the East in the regular season, but I think they’ll top Orlando in the second round. I’d place my expectations at an Eastern Conference Finals loss to the Miami Heat in a tough series.


CLEVELAND CAVALIERS
by Andrew Schnitkey, Waiting for Next Year

ON THE CAVALIERS: The Cavaliers are indeed going through a transition phase, but transition may be the name of the game for this team.

Under new head coach Byron Scott, the team wants to get out and run in transition and use a new motion offense to try to implement a team-oriented approach. This is obviously a shock to the system after years of watching LeBron James dominate the ball himself and stand around dribbling.

The Cavaliers have looked good so far in the preseason, relying on the new youth movement with guys like J.J. Hickson, Daniel Gibson and Ramon Sessions showing a lot of improvement.

The team has heard all offseason how they are nothing now that LeBron is gone, but most of these players know nothing but winning. There is still a winning mentality on this team, and they are already playing with a chip on their shoulders as they look to prove doubters wrong.

This is a team that will be better conditioned than most teams and will not be outworked by many teams.

Having said that, there are still some major issues. A lack of true center will be a major problem for this team, as will be the potential defensive setback the team faces from losing a lockdown wing defender like LeBron.

Above all else, though, there’s no true go-to guy here. That will cost this team many games in the fourth quarter’s waning minutes.

This will be a gritty team that will play hard and make things tough, but ultimately there’s no replacing a LeBron James in one season. I predict a record of 31-51.

ON THE CELTICS: Well, obviously, I saw firsthand what Shaquille O’Neal brought to the Cavaliers last season. It wasn’t pretty, and he often complicated things as the team struggled to adapt to his presence.

In fact, the Cavaliers actually seemed to play better without Shaq when Anderson Varejao could slide to the 5 and Hickson could play the 4. So, I’m not optimistic about what Shaq has left to offer the Celtics this season.

Having said that, I still expect the Celtics to be one of the top three contenders in the East this season. The Big 3 plus Rondo is an effective core, and adding Delonte West should prove to be a nice boost to the team’s depth.

Much like last season, I expect to see the Celtics more or less coast through much of the regular season and then really turn it on in the postseason.

The Eastern Conference is stronger, but I don’t see anyone in the Atlantic threatening the C’s alpha-dog status there. I project a record of 52-30 and another division title. And I expect the Celtics to be the Heat’s toughest out in the playoffs.


DETROIT PISTONS
by Brian Packey, Detroit Bad Boys

ON THE PISTONS: After a year full of sprained ankles and utter disappointment, the Pistons have a clean slate heading into the new season.

While there isn’t a completely clean bill of health after the Jonas Jerebko injury, the Pistons are much healthier and claim to be very determined to prove their doubters wrong in 2010-11.

Unfortunately, while less injuries and DETermination should lead to more wins, it won’t be enough to put the Pistons back into the playoffs. Record: 36-46.

ON THE CELTICS: With everyone talking about the Heat this year, it might be easy to forget about the Celtics again (similar to how the Magic stole their spotlight last year with their 2009 Finals run).

But, similar to how they surprised teams in the 2010 playoffs, the Celtics are as for real as they were in 2008. The additions of both O’Neals should boost their defensive presence inside and even open things up a little on the offensive side for their own Big 3.

If they can stay relatively healthy, I’d say they’re a lock for 55 wins this season. 


INDIANA PACERS
by Jared Wade, Eight Points, Nine Seconds

ON THE PACERS: To most NBA onlookers, it will not be a remarkably different season in Indiana than the past few. But for Pacers fans, there will be at least one key difference: Hope.

With the acquisition of Darren Collison, the continued — and perhaps vast — improvement of Roy Hibbert and the expected rock-solid production of Danny Granger, the team should for the first time in a half-decade have a true foundation.

This foundation is not earth-shattering. No one will be calling them The Big 3. But it is an actual nucleus, and a lot of people smarter than me think that Paul George, the team’s first-round pick No. 10 overall), should already be included in talks of a more promising future.

Tyler Hansbrough and Josh McRoberts, to a lesser degree, are expected to show some people that they can be valuable rotation players in this league as well.

On top of all that, the team has a bevy of expiring contracts to use as trade assets if they so desire. Some $30 million will be coming off the books next summer, and since so many GMs/owners will likely be looking to clean their salary caps up before the looming CBA negotiations/probable lockout, Larry Bird should have plenty of opportunities to get some quality players back for any of Mike Dunleavy ($10.5 million), T.J. Ford ($8.5 million) or Jeff Foster ($6.7 million).

I expect the front office to flip about half of its expiring contracts (they also have the Jamaal Tinsley buyout, worth around $5.5 million, “expiring” come June) for some mid-tier players they want (think the Kevin Martin deal last year). Then they’ll let the rest expire. Come summer, that will let them fill some more holes through free agency.

No, they won’t be getting an Amar’e Stoudemire, a Chris Bosh or a Carmelo Anthony — but they’ll have a direction by the time this season ends. That will feel like something new to fans.

And if they can somehow play well enough to score a seventh or eighth seed and get into the playoffs this year, well, Pacers fans can truly consider this the beginning of a new era for a franchise that needs nothing more desperately than to begin a new era.

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics should make the Eastern Conference Finals in their sleep. Until we see just how good the Heat are, it’s tough to call anything more than that.

And if Miami is as dominant as I think they’ll be, the Celtics might just be too old, but if Eric Spoelstra‘s boys don’t jell completely, there’s no reason that Boston can’t win the whole thing.

The depth on this roster is somewhat absurd. Obviously, a lot of people aren’t expecting much out of the law firm of O’Neal & O’Neal, but they’re two big bodies that will make a difference and take a ton of defensive pressure off of Kevin Garnett and Perkins.

You certainly don’t want to rely on Jermaine O’Neal to score in the post at this point, but he still alters shots, swats weak attempts and takes charges at a high level.

The Delonte West acquisition was huge. Even with Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, the team lacked some ballhandling ability outside of Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce last year. He gives them a guy off the bench who can go off for 20, just be a spot-up shooter or even initiate the offense. Plus he guards people.

Nate has his strengths (namely energy and hustle), but he can’t do all that. That will make this team more dynamic — presuming, ya know, he keeps his head on straight.

With Ray Allen, Paul and KG all one year older, the bench is going to be key. They need consistency out of the reserves, and if Doc Rivers can figure out how to keep all these bodies happy — something I’m sure he will, like he did last year by keeping Nate ready to go even while glued to the bench — there’s no reason, other than a possibly unstoppable Heat juggernaut, that they can’t bring home Banner 18.


MILWAUKEE BUCKS
by Jeremy Schmidt, Bucksketball

ON THE BUCKS: Milwaukee — with its eager, younger players and overlooked veteran additions — likely has its sights set on the Celtics.

The two teams had a few memorable moments last year and could have had something special in the playoffs had things worked out on the last day of the season.

Milwaukee stocked up themselves this offseason, signing Drew Gooden just after adding Corey Maggette for Dan Gadzuric and Charlie Bell.

Milwaukee focused on keep their core players from last season while looking to address their main weaknesses this offseason, namely free-throw shooting and power forward size and depth.

The Bucks seemed to have succeeded on both accounts and will very likely be in the hunt for the Central Divison crown. If they capture it, they still may have a hard time surpassing the Celtics’ win total.

A top-four finish doesn’t seem out of the question for the Bucks, and at the very least a playoff spot seems certain.

ON THE CELTICS: Last year, the Celtics seemed prime to fade into the sunset of NBA teams who once were contenders. This year, they seem to have reloaded and added considerable depth to counter their considerable age.

Everyone is talking about the O’Neal’s, Shaquille and Jermaine, but let us not forget that the Celtics quietly, and wisely, picking up Delonte West this offseason.

After trotting out Nate Robinson, Eddie House and at times even Tony Allen as a backup point guard last season, the Celtics definitely needed to address their backup point guard position this past summer. West’s steady hand (I can’t believe I just wrote that and meant it) could be very useful when Rondo is out of the game.

The added bulk up front helps, too, especially if the new technical rules lead to numbers quickly adding up for KG and Perkins. The Celtics have added new blood and appear to be in as good a shape as any of the teams in the East that don’t play in Miami.

Another division title and top-four seed likely awaits the Celtics at year’s end.

Stay tuned for Part 5 of this seven-part series: the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Cleveland Cavaliers
Injuries could impact Eastern Conference standings 04.07.10 at 12:47 am ET
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Andrew Bogut’s gruesome arm injury was the first of many to hit the Eastern Conference over the last few days. Joe Johnson will miss at least two games with a sprained thumb and Chris Bosh’s status is unclear after suffering a facial fracture on Tuesday against the Cavaliers.

With just over a week left in the regular season, these injuries could impact playoff seedings, including that of the Celtics.

Aside from the Washington Wizards, whom the C’s will play on Friday, their remaining competitors are vying for postseason positions. Johnson’s injury opens the window of opportunity for the Celtics to close in on the third seed (currently held by the Hawks), but their opponents will be trying to secure their own place in the playoffs as well.

Toronto Raptors (currently 8th)
Wednesday, April 7 @ Toronto

The Raptors were dealt a devastating blow on Tuesday when Bosh suffered an unintentional elbow to the face from Antawn Jamison. According to reports, Bosh will remain in Cleveland overnight. His status is unknown.

Milwaukee Bucks (currently 5th)

Saturday, April 10 @ Milwaukee
Wednesday, April 14 @ Boston

The Bucks posed problems for the Celtics when healthy, and now this team is on a mission without Bogut. The young squad still has plenty of weapons and will challenge the Celtics even if they don’€™t have their big man in the middle.

Chicago Bulls (currently one game out of 8th)

Tuesday, April 13 @ Chicago

If there is any team with something to play for right now, it is the Bulls. They were already edging toward the eighth spot. Now the injury of Bosh has created an opportunity for them to grab it if they can win enough games down the stretch.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Milwaukee Bucks
Celtics are caught in the middle 03.15.09 at 3:28 pm ET
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The Boston Celtics knew securing homecourt would not be the only challenge in the second half of the season. They also have to fend off playoff-hungry teams that are staying alive one win at a time.

‘€œBeing the defending champ,’€ Ray Allen said prior to the All-Star Break, ‘€œTeams are in our building thinking this in an opportunity for us to beat this team. And if we can prove that we can beat this team, we can beat anybody and we’ll make it into the playoffs, and who knows from there. So we always have to be aware of what we possess.’€

On Sunday afternoon, the Bucks affirmed that concern with an 86-77 win over the Celtics in Milwaukee. (RECAP HERE) With that victory, the Bucks reclaimed hold of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. This is not the last time the Celtics will be caught in the middle of a tug-of-war for a playoff berth.

March 17: @ Chicago Bulls (30-37)
Season: Celtics 2-0
The Celtics have not faced the Bulls since they added veterans Brad Miller and John Salmons, a move that recently helped them beat the New Orleans Hornets by 18 points. The Bulls lost hold of the eighth spot with the Bucks win over the Celtics, and there is there is no better place for them to get to take it back than on their home court. They have earned 20 of their 30 victories in Chicago, tied for sixth in home wins in the Eastern Conference.

April 1: vs. Charlotte Bobcats (28-38)
Season:
Tied 1-1
In spite of their record, the Bobcats have been a thorn in the Celtics side. Last year they beat the Celtics in Boston and this season snagged an overtime win in Charlotte. Even though the Bobcats have struggled with consistency, alternating winning and losing streaks, they step up their game against the Celtics. They’ll come to Boston with less than 10 games left in the regular season, an opportunity to bolster their playoff hopes.

April 8: vs. New Jersey Nets (28-37)
Season:
Celtics 3-0
The Celtics blew out the Nets twice without Kendrick Perkins and beat them again in March without Kevin Garnett. While Devin Harris and Vince Carter are backcourt threats, the Celtics already know how to win without their bigs. The Nets seemed to lack any motivation on their first trip to Boston in January. With a postseason berth on the line, they will stand no chance of making a push if they show up with the same level of energy in April.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Milwaukee Bucks, Ray Allen,
Celtics-Bucks Game Blog Fourth Quarter 11.07.08 at 7:34 pm ET
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Once down 19-8 in the first quarter, the Celtics have fought their way back to pull away from the Bucks. Here is how they’re getting it done to close it out … Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Andrew Bogut, Boston Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Milwaukee Bucks
Take a mental picture of the Bucks at 7:15 pm ET
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Take a good look at the Milwaukee Bucks because there are very few chances to see them during the regular season. The team doesn’t come back to Boston again (the Celtics go to Milwaukee twice) and, as Andrew Bogut pointed out, they don’t get much national coverage either. The Bucks are ok with that, though.

‘€œGoing under the radar a little bit is something we’re obviously used to,’€ Bogut said. ‘€œWe never really get attention, even when we had winning seasons back in the early 2000s. Milwaukee isn’t a big city and we don’t get that much attention nationally. I think we only have one ESPN game this year. But regardless of that I think it’s better for us.”

Charlie Villanueva, who played college ball in the spotlight at UConn, doesn’t thrive on the attention either.

‘€œThat’s the way we want it. We want to be under the radar,’€ he said. ‘€œNot a lot of people are talking about the Bucks or us acquiring (Richard) Jefferson and Luke Ridnour. But that’s the way we want it. We want to be under the radar and at the end of the season we’ll see where we stand and I think we’ll be in a good position.’€

Considering the way the Bucks are keeping it close with the Celtics tonight, it wouldn’t be out of the question to see them back in Boston for the early rounds of the playoffs.

Read More: Andrew Bogut, Boston Celtics, Charlie Villanueva, Milwaukee Bucks
Celtics-Bucks Game Blog Second Quarter at 6:20 pm ET
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The Milwaukee Bucks jumped out to a surprising first quarter lead and the Celtics are battling back to claim this game which they are favored to win.

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Read More: Andrew Bogut, Big Baby, Boston Celtics, Charlie Villanueva
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