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Irish Coffee: Greg Stiemsma’s March to NBA legitimacy 03.26.12 at 1:55 pm ET
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As Austin Powers reminded us, the idiom of a steamroller as an overwhelming, irresistible force isn’t exactly an apt one. Rather, the plodding machine goes about its business, transforming a bumpy road into a smooth, consistent surface. And so goes the NBA life of Greg “The Stiemroller” Stiemsma.

Since amassing 13 points and seven rebounds during his first career start just six games into his rookie season, Stiemsma became somewhat of a cult hero in Boston — Brian Scalabrine 2.0, if you will — particularly after Tommy Heinsohn compared his shot-blocking prowess to the legendary Bill Russell.

Except, the “Scal-a-bri-ne” chants that so often enveloped the Garden came in the final moments of blowout victories by a championship-contending team, a Gino-esque symbol that signaled another opponent throwing in the proverbial white flag. The opposite is true for this group of Celtics, whose lack of depth in the frontcourt requires a nightly contribution from the 7-foot Stiemsma if they hope to accomplish anything in the playoffs.

“I don’t think there’s been one real moment that it kind of all clicked in, but this whole season has been about opportunities,” said Stiemsma. “Early on, even in the preseason and the training camp, I had certain opportunities, and I got to play well in those opportunities. So, I think early on it helped me establish just in my own head that, ‘All right, I can play at this level and proved that.’

“So, even if I have a bad game or have a bad possession, whatever it is, I can just get over it and not worry about the big picture of ‘Maybe I’m not cut out for this level,’” he added. “I think I’ve proved that I am.”

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Kevin Garnett: ‘I don’t make a lot of friends’ at 12:40 am ET
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What we knew: Ryan Hollins came highly recommended to Celtics president Danny Ainge from none other than Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce after the three of them played together in the Los Angeles area over the summer.

What we didn’t know: Hollins and Garnett became fast friends.

“I don’t make a lot of friends, but I can say I made one in him,” said KG. “I like the way the kid approaches the game. He wants to be more than good. You see it in his face. You see it in his work ethic. I’m a big fan of his, so I’m glad he’s here. Like any of the other guys, whatever he wants to know, I’m here for him. So, I’m happy he’s a C.”

It might take a while before Hollins becomes “more than good,” considering the 7-footer has totaled three points and one rebound in his two appearances for the Celtics — understandably appearing lost in the team’s sets on both ends of the floor.

One encouraging sign: After running into Keyon Dooling on a botched pick and roll, Hollins approached head coach Doc Rivers, asking what he did wrong on the play.

Hollins plays with an encouraging energy, attempting to mimic Garnett’s approach.

“I told him to be careful about my intensity,” said KG. “It’ll get him kicked out of the league.”

After all, Hollins earned a technical foul 20 seconds into his Celtics debut against the 76ers on Friday night (along with a fine, according to KG) and a personal foul 10 seconds into Sunday night’s 88-76 loss to the Wizards.

“You might want to be careful with that, you know?” added Garnett. “This intensity comes with a sense of meditation and a sense of under control, but I love his intensity. The kid plays really, really hard.”

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Randy Wittman aside, Avery Bradley had a pretty awesome game for the Celtics 03.25.12 at 10:52 pm ET
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When your entire team is outscored by a back-up point guard in the first quarter of a regulation NBA game, you’d think you’d be a little more tactful and respectful.

This was the response of Washington coach Randy Wittman when asked about the play of Avery Bradley in Sunday’s 88-76 Celtics win over the Wizards.

“I could have scored those lay-ups,” Wittman said. “I am being serious. We didn’t have anybody guarding him. When I was a player if you gave me four lay-ups o start the game. I’d have a pretty good groove on to make some jump shots. He ought to send us a postcard of thank-yous or something for allowing him to score. I’m sure he thought it was lay-up lines before the game.”

But Wittman was more frustrated at his own team’s incompetence than he was really cutting on Avery Bradley‘s 15 first quarter points on Sunday night.

To Wittman’s point, Bradley hit an 18-foot jumper and then two layups before a 3-points, another three layups. He started the game 7-for-7 en route to a career-high 23 points.

“My main focus is to play hard on the defensive end,” Bradley said. “I was fortunate enough that my teammates could find me in transition.

“I think that it’s just a confidence thing. I’m feeling more confident out there. My teammates make me feel more confident, more comfortable, so then I am knocking down more shots.”

Doc Rivers said he was glad Bradley finally proved what he’d been saying all season – that Bradley can shoot.

“Like I said it’s all about confidence,” Bradley said. “Sometimes I will go into the game being hesitant about shooting. Now if I go into the game if I’m open, I’m open. I’ve been shooting and I’ve been making.

“I just have to keep improving. Doc tells me things I need to improve on, not only him but my teammates, and I’m just hoping to learn whatever I need to get better.”

Now, with Ray Allen out again on Monday, he’ll be asked to do it again on Monday night in Charlotte. But he’ll have to do so nursing the sprained left ankle suffered Friday in Philadelphia.

“It was a little sore, it’s sore now, but I’m just going to get treatment,” Bradley said.

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A tired Paul Pierce explains why Celtics can be a ‘tough team to beat’ in playoffs at 10:06 pm ET
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As Paul Pierce was holding court after Boston’s 88-76 dispatching of the hapless Wizards Sunday night, the San Antonio Spurs were doing the same to Philadelphia in the Lone Star state.

As a result, the Celtics find themselves just a half-game out of first in the Atlantic Division again, with a chance to make further hay when they take on the 7-39 Bobcats Monday night in Charlotte.

If the Celtics can take care of business, they could actually find themselves in the No. 4 seed in the East despite the mounting injuries to Ray Allen (ankle), Mickael Pietrus (concussion), Avery Bradley (ankle) and Greg Steimsma (both feet).

But for one night – against the 11-win Wizards – the Celtics looked re-energized if not refreshed after dropping their contest in Philly on Friday night.

“I was actually kind of tired to start the game,” said Paul Pierce, whose 21 points finished just behind Bradley’s game-high 23 points. “You know usually that first game is a rough one but you just try to get your body back adjusted to the time zone, to our home court. When you haven’t played on this court in two weeks it feels like an away game. But our crowd did a good job of keeping us in it, and we got off to a great start. That was the key, especially coming off such a big trip when you have a lot of let downs and lulls, but we responded well.”

As for Bradley, Pierce was grateful for the pick-me-up in the first half since he had just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting in the first half.

“It was great,” Pierce said. “He carried us in the first half. All the great teams and all the champions always have that player who can step up outside the stars and that’s what makes the team, even a better team. And each night we got to have guys, and tonight was Avery. And if that’s something we can have consistently throughout the rest of the year, no matter who it is we are going to be a tough team to beat come playoff time.”

Pierce wasn’t making excuses for beating an 11-win Washington team.

“This is definitely a game we were suppose to win,” Pierce said. “The Washington Wizards are in a rebuilding phase, they traded away a lot of their players, but its just nice to get a win, especially coming off a tough loss and losing Mickael Pietrus.”

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Fast Break: Celtics call curtains on Wizards of loss at 8:19 pm ET
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Who needs Ray Allen when the Celtics have Avery Bradley?

Starting in place of the injured Allen (ankle), Bradley emerged as the unlikely offensive hero in a lopsided 88-76 victory against the lowly Wizards (11-37), tallying a career-high 23 points to help the C’s (26-22) climb back to within a game of the 76ers (27-21) for first place in the Atlantic Division (depending on how Philadelphia fared against the Spurs later Sunday night).

Held scoreless for the first quarter, Paul Pierce added 21 points and eight rebounds.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Avery Shuttlesworth: Bradley outscored the Wizards 15-12 all by himself in the first quarter. The same Avery Bradley who had only reached double digits six times all year and entered the game shooting 47 percent from the field. He set a season-high in scoring, and did it by totaling 13 points just 5:15 into the game. By first quarter’s end, Bradley had totaled 15 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting.

Stieming up: Like Bradley, Greg Stiemsma also started perfect from the floor (4-for-4), totaling 10 points and seven boards by halftime — seemingly on his way to his first career double-double (although he recorded neither a point nor a board after the break). Raise your hand if you had Bradley and Stiemsma as the leading scorers for the Celtics at halftime of a game they led 53-34 through the first 24 minutes.

Stoppable: Whether it was good defense or bad offense — or more likely a combination of the two — the Wizards started an atrocious 3-for-25 from the field, as the Celtics built a 33-12 advantage only 3:20 into the second quarter. The team’s leading scorer, John Wall, missed his first five shots and didn’t score until the final minute of the first half. In fact, Washington didn’t match Bradley’s 15 first-quarter points for the game’s first 16 minutes.

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Why Celtics fans should pay close attention to Cincy’s Yancy Gates 03.22.12 at 10:51 am ET
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Size, power and quickness. Toughness, fearlessness and the ability to rebound.

All of those are qualities the Celtics could use. It’s a commodity they’ve been desperately seeking since Chris Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal were lost for the season.

The Celtics won’t be in the lottery this season so scouts like Ryan McDonough will be searching long and hard in the college and amateur ranks for someone who might fall through the cracks and be available in the NBA Draft this June.

Meet Cincinnati’s Yancy Gates.

At 6-9, 260 pounds, he’s certainly powerful. He can rebound, currently ranked ninth all-time on Cincinnati’s all-time rebound list with 911. He is one of only six players in the school’s illustrious history with at least 1,400 points and 900 rebounds.

He’s a senior who’s been through the wars.

Oh yeah, about that last line. Arguably the ugliest moment in Cincinnati’s basketball history came on Dec. 10 at the Cintas Center against the archrival Xavier Musketeers.

With just 9.4 seconds remaining in a 23-point loss, Gates was in the middle of college basketball’s ugliest chapter of the season. He threw a right cross that landed flush on the left eye brow of Xavier big man Kenny Frease. It opened a gash and dropped him to the ground. Frease was then stomped on by Cheikh Mbodj and blood started flowing from above Frease’s eye.

To his credit, he served a six-game suspension handed down by the school and expressed remorse. It was a complete loss of self-control and judgment. But in saying that, he has showed something else in the following three months – competitive fire.

While inconsistent at times, Gates has been the backbone of the interior game for the Bearcats, rebounding and playing defense, as coach Mick Cronin directed the team not to rely on his offense but the other things he brings to the table, like nine rebounds a game in the Big East, still considered the toughest in college basketball.

“Defense and rebounding,” Cronin said Wednesday. “We lost Ibrahima Thomas and Yancy really had to change his basketball personality from an offensive player to an all-around player. He needed to be our defensive anchor this year because we’re small in the other areas. It took him time. When he came back [from suspension] he realized here’s what I have to do to help this team win – I have to be an anchor on defense.

“These guys are scoring, they’re running around, hitting shots, beating their man off the dribble. ‘I have to finish plays around the rim, fit in and give these guys an anchor inside.’ And he’s done that. Maybe I should’ve been using him more in that capacity. So, sometimes as a coach, you stumble on to some things.”

With his presence in the middle, he led the team to road wins over Pittsburgh, Georgetown and Connecticut and home wins over Louisville and Marquette. Then, in the Big East, the Bearcats did it again to Georgetown and sent No. 2 Syracuse packing before their offense was a no-show against Louisville in the Big East championship.

Fast-forward to the tournament, they handled Texas and eliminated No. 10 Florida State, the team that beat North Carolina in the ACC title game.

This is a Bearcats team tournament-tested, and ready to take on Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes. This is a great chance for NBA scouts to see how Gates does against a big-man who projects as a potential lottery pick. And the Celtics will be watching Gates very closely. You can count on it.

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Celtics’ big man search: Boris Diaw 03.21.12 at 10:09 am ET
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As the Celtics search to replace Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox, relieve Kevin Garnett and aid an ailing Greg Stiemsma (sprained right foot), add Bobcats power forward Boris Diaw to a list of available free agent big man targets that already includes Ronny Turiaf, J.J. Hickson and Ryan Hollins.

The Bobcats and the 6-foot-8, 235-pound (yeah, right) Diaw have reached a buyout agreement on what remains of his $9 million salary this season, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Diaw played a franchise record 258 straight games since being traded from the Suns in 2008 before a conflict with coach Paul Silas led to his benching in seven of their nine games since March 6, the report said.

Naturally, the disconnect resulted from the coach’s perception of Diaw as, in a word, lazy. After all, the NBA’s 2005-06 Most Improved Player entered the league weighing 203 pounds and has since watched his waistline grow considerably in recent years.

Still, he’s averaged 7.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists in 27.5 minutes a night this season. Playing in all 82 games a a season ago, the eight-year veteran produced 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.1 assists.

Diaw ranks last in rebounding rate among power forwards who play 25 minutes a night, according to Hoop Data, but the hope from the Celtics would be that an engaged Diaw could add defense and playmaking.

At least two respected reporters in the field — ESPN’s John Hollinger and Sports Illustrated’s Zach Lowe — suggested the Celtics as a likely destination for Diaw on Twitter.

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