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Why this was no ordinary division championship for the Celtics 04.19.12 at 10:19 am ET
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The Celtics have won the Atlantic Division in all five years of the new “Big 3″.

And it’s a well known fact that they don’t commemorate division titles with banners up above.

But when the Celtics clinched the division Wednesday with a 102-98 win over the Magic, there was reason to step back and take a bow.

It was how they got there that was impressive, especially to their coach Doc Rivers. He acknowledged the significance of the turnaround by the team, which played without the injured Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Mickael Pietrus.

“Yeah, it does, I mean [something],” Rivers said. “It’s funny we were kidding in the locker room because I really – I usually, honestly, don’t say much about it – I don’t know if I’ve ever congratulated the team for winning one,” But I did tell them, I said, ‘Guys, I know it’s not a big deal to us – and it isn’t because we’re not in this to win divisions – but, we were two games under .500 at All-Star break and the fact that you did it and did it this early I think is very impressive.’ And it was.”

Captain Paul Pierce led the Celtics Wednesday with 29 points and a career-high 14 assists. Pierce reminded everyone afterward of what the final goal is for the team, a team that was two games under .500 at the All-Star break.

“I’m not about to go pop champagne bottles or anything like that,” Pierce said. “I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. It’s a good accomplishment I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess it’s just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.”

But Kevin Garnett took the chance to take a swipe at the naysayers who wrote the team off, giving them no chance of winning another division, let alone championship.

“You guys called us old, over,” Garnett said. “I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers [predictions]. It’s a pity. Obviously you don’t know what drives us. We thank y’all for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under. One of the hardest things I’ve always said in this league is to create chemistry.”

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Irish Coffee: The rise of Avery Bradley’s offense 04.18.12 at 12:02 pm ET
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Lost in the rubble of a 3-point barrage that left a 118-110 loss to the Knicks in its dust lay another stellar offensive performance from newest Celtics starter Avery Bradley.

By now, everyone knows of Bradley’s defensive exploits, but his shooting of late has been downright Ray Allen-esque. That’s not to say Bradley is a clone of the man he’s replaced in the starting lineup, but his 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting against the Knicks — including 5-of-6 from long distance — can’t be ignored.

In 15 games since joining Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the first five on March 25 (with the exception of an 87-86 loss to the Spurs), Bradley is averaging 14.2 points while shooting 53.1 percent from the field (86-162 FG), 56.7 percent from beyond the arc (17-30 3P) and 85.7 percent from the line (24-28 FT). He’s reached double figures in 11 of those 15 games, including the last four.

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After a major scare, Brandon Bass is ‘more and more comfortable’ and it shows 04.12.12 at 11:28 am ET
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The irony of the situation was just too much for Brandon Bass to fully appreciate.

With just over a minute left in overtime Wednesday night, he had just tried to box out the Hawks for a rebound on one of the best rebounding nights of the season for the Celtics.

Bass went up under the basket and landed awkwardly, laying on the ground as the Celtics came rushing over to see how he was. Doc Rivers rolled his eyes to the heavens, pleading for good fortune. He and Bass got it as it was only a temporary injury to his right knee, and not the same knee that forced him to miss two weeks in February.

“I just hyperextended my knee but I’m alright,” Bass said after an 88-86 overtime win over the Hawks. “I was blocking out and I guess I tried to jump. I don’t know what I did to be honest with you.

“I felt like a little kid. I was just scared. I didn’t know what had happened. It was hurting so bad but I think it was because I was so tensed up. Once I breathed and relaxed, everything started calming down.”

Bass could appreciate his teammates like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo giving him grief while he was on the ground, trying to keep him loose and relaxed.

“They said a bunch of things. Some said I was tired. Some said I was acting and had gone Hollywood. But man, I was scared and it was hurting, too. I wasn’t going to let the team down.”

Rivers was scared, too, as he had flashbacks to his own career-changing knee injury.

“Well I thought he was hurt,” Rivers said. “I’ve had that injury,” Rivers said of the dreaded ACL. “I don’t even like saying the word. And where he was grabbing. I didn’t think it was going to be a good thing, so that was great.

“The guys were laughing that he was exhausted and he needed some rest. I’m not sure what it was, actually. I’m not sure.”

Bass didn’t even miss a beat – or a play for that matter. He stayed in the game and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds in 42 massive minutes for the Celtics, who outrebounded the younger, more rested Hawks, 56-39.

“We needed a night like that to build on,” Bass said. “We had been struggling on the boards, and that’s an area we want to improve on, and we have been improving on and I just want to keep it going.”

Bass was a big reason the Celtics, playing 24 hours after an emotional battle in Miami, were able to overcome Atlanta in overtime.

“Doc just came in and laid it out and let us know, ‘No excuses tonight.’ It’s a back-to-back and everybody’s tired. He just told us to go out and fight and do what we do every night, and that’s grind,” Bass said.

Grinding is something that the Celtics loved about Bass when they traded Glen Davis to Orlando and got him in return over the summer. After 58 games this season, the Celtics are reaping the benefits of the man who has helped fill the void left by the injury to Jermaine O’Neal.

“I would say I’m getting comfortable,” Bass said. “Being with the guys, they talk to talk to me. Rondo’s out there to shoot the ball, telling me to be ready. Doc is calling plays and I feel like it’s for me. Every game I’m feeling better and more comfortable in the system. I just want to keep it going and build on it.”

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Rajon Rondo: ‘We kept fighting despite regardless of the other stuff out there’ at 1:09 am ET
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In many ways, it was the ugliest of the 19 triple-doubles in the career of Rajon Rondo.

But no Celtics fan alive cares that he made just three of his 16 field goal attempts. They’ll live with that when you’re talking about a point guard on a record-setting pace few have ever seen in NBA history. Wednesday, he had 10 points, 10 rebounds and 20 assists to lead the Celtics over the Hawks, 88-86 in overtime at delirious TD Garden.

“Putting the ball in the hole, pretty simple,” was Rondo’s answer when asked how one goes about getting 20 assists in a game, referring to his teammates. “They were concentrating a little bit more today. I don’t know you got to ask them. I think a lot of them were uncontested shots, we got out, we got stops. We did a great job rebounding and that hasn’t been what we do best but tonight we did an excellent ball rebounding the ball.”

The 13 missed shots weren’t the only ugly part of the game. The Celtics again could not take care of the ball in the first half, committing 12 of their 23 turnovers in 53 minutes of play.

And there were the questionable calls. The two on Greg Steimsma and the one on Kevin Garnett that sent both to the bench for the night with six fouls. And there was the offensive foul on Paul Pierce with 5.3 seconds remaining that gave Atlanta one last shot. But still and all, Rondo and the Celtics found a way to win.

It’s just how it is, you win some you lose some,” Rondo said. “We kept fighting regardless of the other stuff out there, we stuck together and we followed through and got the win.”

There were no reported outbursts tonight at halftime or bets with assistant coach Ty Lue. Everyone was just too tired to expend the energy. And who can blame them. But still, they knew they had to cut down on the turnovers.

“It starts with me, if I take care of the ball I think we do as a team because I think I dominate the ball a lot, more than anybody, so I try to be more conscious when I am turning the ball over in the first half, but overall I think we got to slow down as a team and try to execute our assists and not try to force anything,” Rondo said.

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Doc Rivers: ‘Guys are locked in’ 04.09.12 at 11:59 am ET
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Doc Rivers has preached it over and over.

The shots aren’t always going to fall but the defense will always be there.

Such was the case on Saturday night when they shot just 42 percent in Indianapolis.

But they held the Pacers to 35 percent in an 86-72 win. Sunday night, they followed that up by holding the Sixers to 38 percent in a 103-79 romp that put them on the brink of their fifth straight Atlantic Division title.

How appropriate since defense has been the backbone of everything in the Doc Rivers “Big 3″ plus Rajon Rondo era.

Sunday, the Celtics held the Sixers to 6-of-22 shooting the second quarter to take command of the game.

“The defense is really good; guys are locked in,” Rivers said after Sunday’s game that improved the Celtics to 32-24 on the season. “Your offense will fail you, you know that guys; I don’t care how well you play, your offense is going to fail you sometimes. But if you come with the right mindset your defense never should. And it’ll always give you a chance to win a game.”

Even two weeks ago it would’ve seemed far fetched that Avery Bradley would succeed Ray Allen as the starting off guard next to Rajon Rondo in the backcourt. But combine his newfound ability to cut the basket with his shutdown defense and he’s become too valuable not to start. He has seen success defensively from both sides now.

“Its very important for the bench to come in and bring the intensity,” Bradley said. “That’s something that Doc always, we take pride in as a team so we want to come in and bring the intensity and play hard on the defensive end and that’s what we did in the second quarter.

“It was very important for us to win this game. We want to come out and play hard and ya know coming in the second half we wanted to come out in the third quarter and we wanted to bring our intensity up even higher. That’s what Doc told us, he told us to come in the third quarter and play hard and we were making shots and we just continued to make the lead even higher.”

Part of defense is rebounding and with Paul Pierce staying home and crashing the boards, like his six first-quarter rebounds Wednesday against the Spurs, the Celtics are not giving up as many second and third-chance points. Even Sasha Pavlovic has bought in. He had four rebounds in the first half Sunday, including three in seven minutes in the second quarter.

“Well it’s a combination of things,” Pierce said. “We got to take care of the ball definitely, but we got to rebound the ball and I thought we did a better job competing on the rebounds, especially at the guard level myself, Avery, Sasha, Rondo getting in there rebounding the ball. So its going to be important for us as we wind down the season and in playoffs, that’s what our one true weakness is and if we can address that down the stretch we will be a tough team to beat.”

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Rajon Rondo proves again: ‘It starts with me’ at 11:08 am ET
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Rajon Rondo has put up numbers this season that are pretty unreal.

At halftime Sunday night, his numbers were again staggering, but for a far different reason – five turnovers to go with six assists – and still the Celtics were cruising by 14 over the fading 76ers.

In his streak of 17 games of double-digit assist totals, Rondo has also prided himself on taking care of the ball. The first half Sunday night made Rondo really, really upset.

“He was really upset at halftime because he had the five turnovers,” Doc Rivers said. “I think he had a bet – not real money – with [assistant coach Ty Lue] that he’d have zero turnovers in the second half.”

Well, Rondo played the odds well because Rondo had the perfect second half, including nine third-quarter dimes without a turnover, and played 12 minutes in the second half without a miscue. He played so well that he got the entire fourth quarter off as the Celtics rolled, 103-79.

He finished with 15 assists but it was the zero turnovers in the second half that meant the most to Rondo after the game.

“The second half I just tried to keep it simple,” Rondo said. “We ran particular play the entire third quarter and it was good for myself and the team. It’s a good win for us. Guys got some rest for Miami.”

So how did the Celtics double their lead from 14 to 28 in the first nine minutes of the third?

“It starts with me,” Rondo said. “I had five [turnovers] in the first half. I played 12 minutes in the third and I didn’t have any turnovers and I think that’s why we were able to open up the lead on Philly and blow this game out.”

Rivers was certainly on board with Rondo’s approach, as he watched his point guard simply things.

“Keeping it simple,” Rivers said. “As simple as Rondo can.”

That doesn’t mean Rondo won’t pull of the spectacular – like when he hit a turnaround, fadeaway baseline jumper as the shot clock was expiring midway through the third.

But Rivers realizes, turnovers or not, put the ball in Rondo’s hands when he’s pushing the ball up the court and good things almost always happen.

“Guys do a great job, they know when Rondo is pushing the ball up,” Rivers said. “We’ve changed a little bit. Early in the year, we were always running toward Rondo to set a pick for him. Now we’re running away from Rondo and setting a pick on everybody else. And it’s been a good move by us and [the picks] are getting guys open.”

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Paul Pierce: With LeBron James and Heat on Tuesday, ‘it doesn’t get any easier’ 04.08.12 at 10:22 pm ET
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The Celtics have earned a day in the sun on Monday in South Florida after they all but locked up their fifth straight Atlantic Division title on Sunday with a 103-79 shutdown of the fading 76ers at TD Garden.

They’ll need that rest.

LeBron James and the Heat most certainly feel they have debt to pay after the Celtics handed them their worst loss of the season on April 1 in Boston.

“Oh yeah, I’ve looked at this since the schedule came out,” Paul Pierce admitted. “It doesn’t get any easier of course. You go to Miami, you come home and play Atlanta, then you got three in a row. Its tough, every team in the league has to deal with it, unfortunately we got to deal with it at the end of the season when teams seem to be winding down, getting tired legs. But maybe its good for us, cause it seems like we are playing our best basketball right now in this crucial stretch.”

Then the Celtics return home to play the suddenly resurgent Hawks, whom they could face in the first round – and would if the playoffs started today. Then they have Thursday off before playing three straight on the road, albeit against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats.

It appears that the message of Doc Rivers was heeded very well in the last two games as the Celtics have allowed 72 and 79 points in wins over the Pacers and the Sixers. Doc might have been ticked off but Pierce said after Sunday’s game, he wasn’t the only one.

“He was frustrated but we all were frustrated, of course we were frustrated from losing a game that we all feel like was a very winnable game,” Pierce said. “As veterans we know how to respond, we know how to take our game up another level, you felt the frustration from the coach but we felt it ourselves. Even if Doc didn’t express it, I think we would have came out and play the way we played the last couple nights.”

The Celtics are now 32-24 and lead the Knicks and Sixers by three games with 10 left on the schedule. The division ensures no worse than a No. 4 seed and home court in the first round. But obviously, the Celtics have their sights set much higher.

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