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Irish Coffee: How will this strange Celtics trip end? 03.20.12 at 4:32 pm ET
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The NBA lockout ended. Rajon Rondo nearly got traded for Chris Paul during a frenzied training camp. Paul Pierce has played his way into shape, Kevin Garnett has enjoyed a vintage Kevin Garnett season and Ray Allen is shooting better than ever because he’s wearing bigger shoes.

And that’s not all. Jermaine O’Neal played all of 25 games. Heart problems ended both Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox‘s seasons. Mickael Pietrus came on board, guaranteeing an NBA title. The Celtics lost five straight games — twice. They’ve also had two separate 10-game stretches where they’ve won nine and eight games.

Now, with one third left of this long, strange trip that has been the Celtics regular season, they sit in the Eastern Conference’s seventh playoff spot. Trailing the Bulls (38-10) and Heat (33-11) by a respective 12.5 and 9.5 games with 21 games left, the Celtics (24-21) can forget about catching either for the No. 1 or 2 seed.

Catching the Magic (29-18), owners of a four-game lead on the C’s for the No. 3 seed, isn’t inconceivable, but more likely the Celtics will vie with the 76ers (26-20), Pacers (25-18) and Hawks (26-20) for the No. 4 seed. All are within 1.5 games of each other. The Knicks (21-24) and Bucks (20-24) are battling for the final playoff spot.

Three division winners and the conference’s next best team are seeded 1-4 based on records, so the Atlantic Division-leading Sixers are slotted fourth, even though the Pacers own a better record. The remaining teams are ranked 5-8 based on record, but division winners are not guaranteed a home series. So, should a lower seed own the better record, they’d still play four road contests in a seven-game series — negating the seeding advantage.

For example, should the Celtics win the division but have a worse record than the Pacers, they’d still be playing the first two games of their playoff series on the road. With all that said, let’s see who has the best shot of getting those three and four seeds based on how the strength of their remaining schedules.

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Fast Break: Kevin Garnett’s heroics slay Warriors 03.15.12 at 1:04 am ET
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Unable to get a defensive stop down the stretch, tied 93-93 with the Warriors after old friend Nate Robinson tied the game on yet another drive to an open basket, the Celtics turned to Kevin Garnett, who sunk a 20-footer with 5.1 seconds remaining to help the C’s survive 105-103 and improve to 2-1 on the West Coast road trip.

Garnett finished with 24 points (12 in the fourth quarter), seven rebounds and five assists, as the Celtics (23-19) moved within 1.5 games of the 76ers in the Atlantic Division. Brandon Bass added 22 points and nine rebounds, Mickael Pietrus scored 15 points off the bench and Rajon Rondo dished out 14 assists.

Robinson totaled 20 points and 11 assists, Klay Thompson scored a career-high 26 points and David Lee had 22 points and eight rebounds for the Warriors in the losing effort.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Hanging tough: Playing their third game in four nights, 3,000 miles from home, the Celtics started slow (shooting just 8-of-21 from the floor in the first quarter), and watching Robinson get to the rim with regularity didn’t help matters. Still, the Celtics managed to stay within 25-21 after the first quarter — setting the tone for a tight game the remainder of the night.

The French quota: Just 3-of-18 from long distance in the month of March, Pietrus connected on his first four 3-pointers of the night and finished 5-of-6 from downtown, giving the Celtics some much needed offense (and minutes) off the bench. Whispers suggested his knee may be the reason for the recent struggles, but it didn’t seem to bother him in Oakland.

Full Stiem ahead: Without a trade deadline deal, the Celtics will rely more and more on Greg Stiemsma, and the former D-League Defensive Player of the Year responded with eight points and eight rebounds. He’s still got plenty of work to do, especially on the defensive end, but he’s already given the C’s more than they could’ve expected when they invited him to training camp in December.

Sharing is caring: Facing the younger, more athletic Warriors, the Celtics had to rely on ball movement and execution to keep up with them. Check and check. The C’s assisted on 32 of their 40 field goals, making the extra pass time and time again to get buckets down the stretch — with the exception of a possession that resulted in the classic Paul Pierce fadeaway elbow jumper with 36.7 seconds left.

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Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s dreams of Celtics future 03.12.12 at 12:10 pm ET
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We’re three days from the NBA trade deadline, and still no serious sign of a blockbuster deal involving the Celtics. Then again, the same could’ve been said last season, when Danny Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round draft pick.

All that remains from that deal is the top-10 protected No. 1 pick, which currently slots into the low-to-mid 20s. That’s still not a bad haul for a center who is currently averaging 4.4 points (45.1 FG%) and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes, but considering the negative hype surrounding that trade it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ainge gets cold feet on dealing any of the Old Three or Rajon Rondo.

Do I believe Ainge would ever let public perception stop him from making a deal that improves the Celtics moving forward? Not really, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it made him think twice about pulling the trigger on a deal that only marginally improves his team.

Over the next three days, teams will likely call about Rondo, which is probably the case in the latest Pau Gasol rumor in the Los Angeles Times after the Lakers beat the Celtics 97-94 (Rondo: 24 points, 10 assists; Gasol: 13 points, 13 rebounds). The same speculation was floated a couple weeks ago by HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus.

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Ray Allen comes through in the clutch again, this time using a ‘Top Gun’ move 03.07.12 at 12:31 am ET
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It’s a move that’s vintage Ray Allen.

He catches a pass from Brandon Bass with just under 40 seconds remaining and the Celtics trailing by a point. Allen sees Courtney Lee charging at him in desperation to get a hand in his face.

“When Lee jumped at me, I knew I was going to fake him and let him fly by me,” Allen said. “It’s like one of my favorite moves, Top Gun, I put on the brakes and let him fly by.”

He lets Lee fly by, just like in his favorite movie. And as was the case with Tom Cruise’s character in “Top Gun”, Allen made Lee pay by nailing a wide-open 3-pointer with 35.4 seconds remaining to put the Celtics on top, 84-82, capping a furious 14-2 run by Boston. The game would wind up going to overtime, with the Celtics willing themselves to a 97-92 overtime win over the Rockets at TD Garden.

The game didn’t begin so smoothly for Allen and the Celtics. Allen’s jumper was flat, as he missed his first three shots, all threes, and the Celtics fell behind 28-21 after a quarter.

“I had a couple early in the game that didn’t go in for me and I was watching how they were guarding me, so as the fourth quarter came along everytime I got the ball I knew they were trying to run me off the three so I just said this three was going to be on my terms,” Allen said.

Allen finished with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting, including 3-of-8 from long range, in 41 grueling minutes.

If there’s anyone on the Celtics who can speak to the virtues of taking care of the body in the grind of a season, it’s No. 20. It’s certainly paying off this week, as Allen played his second straight game over 40 minutes in three days, with the prospects of playing the young and up-tempo Sixers on the road in Philly in less than 24 hours.

“The in-between days were you really have to take care of your body and make sure that you focus on rest,” he said. “Even in the games you have to learn how to be efficient out there. Sometimes you have to run harder just to push that bad wind out of you and sometimes you have to just be efficient, and get to your spot and allow your body to recover out there.

“So it changes, you just have to listen to your body. Sometimes your body is telling you you can’t go more. When that happens you have to make sure you pass the ball. Still make a sharp cut, but our legs are so important when you get to the shot. So if I’m short on the shot I know it’s my legs. So I always make sure I pay attention to that. I think as a team we have to make sure we play more together in these stretches because it is going to require us to be a team unit when we play those games.”

With the Celtics dying on the vine with 5:33 left, and down 10, it was Allen who drew upon his freakish good conditioning to bring his team back from certain defeat. he scored in every way possible, lay-up, mid-range jumpers and, of course, his trademark – the 3-pointer. He accounted for half of Boston’s 14 points in the run that got the Celtics back in the game.

“There’s so many facets of the game, you have to score in transition, you have to score in the paint,” Allen said. “In fast breaks, you have to score off easy buckets, you have to score free throws, you have to score 3-pointers. There’s so many different things so you have to be prepared for everything. I always feel like if I can be in better condition than my guy then that’s going to be four-to-six points a game I will be able to get.”

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Cedric Maxwell: Celtics placed $10 bounties in NBA 03.06.12 at 12:37 pm ET
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During a discussion about the recent report that coaches for the New Orleans Saints were offering rewards between $1,000 and $1,500 for injuring opposing players, former Celtics star Cedric Maxwell claimed the NFL isn’t the only league that’s doled out bounties.

“We did it in the NBA,” Maxwell told Steve Burton on Sunday night. “We had a guy, Len Elmore, who used to love to take charges. He’s an analyst right now for CBS. You might want to hear this Len. We had a bounty on you. If you stepped on his chest, you got paid.”

Admittedly, the stakes were much different from the allegations against the Saints. The current C’s radio analyst said he got $10 from a pool gathered by the players each time he put an imprint of his size 15 shoe on Elmore’s chest, but there was neither an intent nor reward for inflicting injury.

“Every time he tried to take a charge and you stepped on him, you got paid,” added Maxwell. “What are they going to do, come back and fine me now?”

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Rajon Rondo makes his point and joins Wilt Chamberlain and Magic Johnson in rare air 03.04.12 at 7:41 pm ET
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It’s almost as if Rajon Rondo wanted to make one final grand gesture to Danny Ainge that he’d be making a big mistake by trading him.

Rondo went out Sunday and posted the most impressive triple double in the NBA since Wilt Chamberlain in 1968, scoring 18 points, dishing out 20 assists and hauling down 17 rebounds in Boston’s 115-111 overtime win over the Knicks at TD Garden.

Chamberlain was the last player in the NBA to match all of those numbers when he had 22 points, 25 rebounds and 21 assists in a 131-121 Philly win over the Pistons on Feb. 2, 1968. Why is that comparison so significant?

Many NBA historians recall that as the best statistical game in league history, the only double triple-double ever recorded. Rondo was just two points and three rebounds shy of joining Chamberlain as the second ever with 20 in three different categories.

All the while the numbers were piling up, Rondo said he had no idea.

“No, I didn’t, honestly,” Rondo said. “Just tried to make some great play calling and just worked out that my numbers showed up like they did.”

One thing Rondo has been more than aware of lately are the trade rumors involving his name that don’t show any indication of quieting. If anything, Sunday’s game might just perk up the eyes and ears of a GM or two.

“[Rondo] was more than above average,” Kevin Garnett said afterward. “Trade talks are a really, really big motivator for him.”

Another hall of fame name was thrown around after the game Rondo had. Magic Johnson was the last NBA player with at least 17 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists in a game before Sunday. Johnson had 24 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists on April 18, 1989.

“I’m just playing,” Rondo said. “The biggest thing is we got the win. You know, [Paul Pierce] made that shot to send us into overtime, and that was big for us. You know, if you get those type of numbers and you lose, it’s kind of irrelevant.”

Of all the great numbers he had, the 47 minutes and 47 seconds of playing time might have been the most impressive of all.

“I’m tired now. I wasn’t tired during the game. I had no time and no room to get tired.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Paul Pierce consoles Rajon Rondo: ‘I was part of trade rumors… four or five straight years’ 03.03.12 at 9:35 am ET
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Paul Pierce didn’t want his teammate Rajon Rondo feeling singled out or disconnected from the team.

As captain, Pierce felt the time was right before Friday night’s game against the Nets to deliver a message about the persistent trade rumors involving Boston’s mercurial point guard.

“Well it’s nothing we haven’t been through before,” Pierce said after dropping 27 on the Nets in Boston’s 107-94 win that once again put the Celtics above .500 at 18-17. “Rondo’s been through it, I’ve been though it a number of times. The thing is you have to do your job, you can’t let that affect you. I kind of mentioned it to Rondo today, you know I was part of trade rumors for probably four or five straight years. I just didn’t let it affect me on how I approached each and every game. You know whatever happens, happens, it’s business. Sometimes you don’t have control of it.”

Rondo ignored the noise and went out in the first half and showed that as long as he’s in Boston, he will be the game-changer that Celtics fans have grown accustomed to. Like in the second quarter, when Rondo told everyone to get up-tempo on D and pressure the ball coming up the court.

The result: Five turnovers in a 14-0 Celtics run that – for all intents and purposes – put the game out of reach. Rondo finished with 14 points, 13 assists and five steals, with all five coming in the first half fury.

“He said before the game, ‘Let’s be aggressive. Defensively, let’s be active.’ And we followed his lead,” Kevin Garnett said of Rondo.

Rondo had help as Mickael Pietrus was a defensive force, implementing Rondo’s plan to perfection and getting nasty on whoever was trying to take the ball up the court.

“Well you know Pietrus has started some games for us before and he’s been spectacular,” Pierce said. “He is able to come off the bench or start and give us great minutes for his defensive and shooting ability.

“I think it definitely goes to another level, because he’s our energy guy that we use off the bench . You know when he’s out there to start the game he gets us off to a great start, he’s such a great rebounder for his size, and he can spread the floor with his point shooting. It was a real big lift to have him out there. We knew we were missing Ray tonight but we knew Pietrus could fill in.”

Now, the Celtics and their newfound pressure D will be tested by Jeremy Lin and the Knicks on Sunday, with Boston riding a three-game win streak.

“I think we are moving the ball a lot better and hopefully hitting our stride right here at home,” Pierce said. “We are playing better basketball. We have a huge West coast trip coming up for us in the next couple weeks, so it’s important for us to get as many wins as we can under our belt before we hit the road.”

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