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Fast Break: Celtics Buck trend, win two straight 02.29.12 at 9:58 pm ET
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In the lockout-shorteneded season, the NBA has seen nine triple-doubles, and Rajon Rondo now has three of them.

It had been 22 days since the Celtics last won two straight games and the same time span since they won a game by double digits. At least Rondo’s 15 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists helped erase one of those streaks and bring the Celtics back to .500 at 17-17. The C’s let a 17-point fourth-quarter lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds, but four Kevin Garnett free throws sealed the deal, 102-96.

Garnett (25 points, 10 rebounds), Chris Wilcox (7 points, 13 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (16 points, 7 rebounds) combined for 48 points and 30 rebounds to lead a rare inspired effort on the glass in the victory.

Drew Gooden (23 points, 8 rebounds) and Ersan Ilyasova (25 points, 10 rebounds) carried the Bucks (14-21).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Good Rondo: With 13 points, six assists and five turnovers midway through the third quarter, the triple-double watch binoculars for Rondo got dusted off early. The point guard seemed capable of working his way into the lane at will, and generally that produces good things for the Celtics. He finished with 15, 11 and 10, but made it look easy in the flow of the offense.

Quarter barreling: Over a six-minute period in the third quarter, the Celtics turned a 60-55 deficit into a 77-64 lead (that’s a 22-4 run for those counting at home). While Pierce struggled for much of that stretch, everyone else picked up the slack, led by nine third-quarter points from Brandon Bass.

Board to death: Despite giving up 11 offensive rebounds, the Celtics managed to grab 12 of their own on their way to a 52-49 rebounding advantage. Wilcox led the way with 13 off the bench, while Rondo, Garnett, Bass and Pierce all chipped in at least six.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Sad Truth:In the first four minutes of the third quarter, Pierce started 0-for-6 and committed two turnovers. He’s had his share of sloppy play this year, but that may have been his worst stretch of this roller coaster season. He finished the game with 10 points (5-12 FG), six rebounds, five rebounds and four turnovers.

Turkish terror: Ilyasova entered the game averaging 14.2 points and 11.0 rebounds, and he closed out February in style, totaling 10 points in the first quarter alone to keep the Bucks in the game early. His 15 second-half points helped the Bucks get back into the game late, as the C’s let a 17-point lead dwindle to two in the final 20 seconds.

Glass backwards: Same old story. While Garnett was busy jawing at various Bucks, Gooden and the Larry Sanders show combined for seven first-half offensive rebounds, totaling 22 points and 10 boards between them by halftime. Milwaukee’s 13 offensive boards marked the 10th straight game the C’s have given up double-digit o-rebounds.

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Fast Break: Nothing Cavalier about Celtics victory 02.28.12 at 9:44 pm ET
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In a battle between two teams vying for eighth in the Eastern Conference (yup, you read that right), the Celtics blew a 16-point lead but salvaged the night when Ray Allen sandwiched a fast-break layup and two free throws around a big Kevin Garnett offensive rebound in the final minute to secure an 86-83 win over the Cavaliers.

Allen (22) and Garnett (18) combined for 40 points to help the Celtics (16-17) avoid the first six-game losing streak of the new Big Three era and stretch their lead over the Cavs (13-19) to 2.5 games for the eighth seed.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Welcome back Bass: The Celtics finished 1-5 in Bass’ recent six-game absence, and it didn’t take long for the consistent big man to demonstrate his value on the court, scoring 10 points on six shots by halftime. Bass brings a combination of scoring and toughness that the C’s simply don’t have outside of Garnett. If the Celtics have any hope for success in the second half of the season, they need a healthy Bass contributing like this.

Nothing but Garnett: Garnett reportedly called a team meeting prior to the All-Star break, and even if the entire team didn’t respond in its first game since, at least KG came to play. Wincing at times, possibly still battling the hip injury that kept him out of a game before the break, Garnett totaled 18 points and eight boards while playing his usual staunch defense. In the final seconds with the C’s leading by one, Garnett willed an offensive rebound off his own miss, got fouled and made both foul shots.

Jumping the run: Perhaps the result of an aging team benefiting from the five-day NBA All-Star break, the Celtics rattled off runs of 9-0 and 13-0 in the first quarter to establish a rare double-digit lead early (28-15 after one). Rondo recorded six assists in the first 12 minutes, including one on another fast break with his new running mate Chris Wilcox. The have only led after the first quarter in 16 of their 33 games, accumulating a 12-4 record.

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Irish Coffee: Dichotomy of Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce 02.17.12 at 1:52 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo couldn’t be hotter, averaging 28.0 points, 9.7 assists and 7.3 boards in the past three games.

Paul Pierce couldn’t be colder, averaging 11.3 points, 3.8 assists and 1.3 rebounds in his past four games.

And the Celtics are 1-4 in their past five games. So goes the 2011-12 NBA season for the aging champions.

Whether it’s the result of Rondo’s wrist injury coming on the heels of Pierce’s heel injury to start the season, compounded by whatever Pierce is going through the past handful of games (Charles Barkley credited age during Thursday night’s TNT broadcast), the C’s two best players haven’t been on the same page all season. Hence the team’s 15-14 record, which only stands to get worse if the trend continues in Dallas and Oklahoma City.

Just how poorly have Rondo and Pierce meshed on the court? Besides the fact that the two have yet to both exceed 15 points in the same game this season, take a look at their overall numbers with and without each other.

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Fast Break: Not enough horsepower for C’s against Pistons 02.15.12 at 10:07 pm ET
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BOSTON — Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but only four of those came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons built a 13-point lead the Celtics couldn’t erase in a 98-88 defeat — their third loss in four games.

Rodney Stuckey (25), Greg Monroe (22) and Ben Gordon (22) all exceeded 20 points for the Detroit (9-22), with Gordon’s 12 fourth-quarter points delivering the knockout blow.

Rondo’s 35 points came on 15-of-27 field goals and came with six assists and five rebounds as the C’s drop to 15-13. While Kevin Garnett (hip) missed his first game of the season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t show up either, combining for just 20 points on 4-of-16 shooting.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Where’s the Truth: Thrown off by Bill Russell‘s presence courtside or just plain having an off night, Pierce looked as though his mind was elsewhere. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field, and while he didn’t record a turnover in 37 minutes, he seemed to juggle the ball each time he touched it and generally be a step behind in the early going.

JO vs. Monroe: Returning from a two-game absence, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal (knee) appeared overmatched at times by the younger, left-handed Greg Monroe (22 points, 11-14 FG, 9 rebounds). Of course, it didn’t help that O’Neal picked up five fouls in his first 18 minutes on the floor.

What the Stuckey? As Rondo’s point total increased, lost in the shuffle was Rodney Stuckey, who totaled 25 points (including 11-11 FT), four assists and three rebounds. He led four Pistons in double figures and helped keep Detroit in a game they had no business hanging around for three quarters, let alone pulling away in the fourth quarter.

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Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points at 12:47 pm ET
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While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.

To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.

That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.

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Irish Coffee: Bulls consider Celtics ‘dangerous team’ 02.13.12 at 11:17 am ET
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BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t had two days off between home games for more than a month — and won’t again until April — so the process of building a cohesive team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference continues for head coach Doc Rivers in Waltham on Monday and Tuesday.

“If you want quality product, you have to give time for quality product to be quality. And you have to have time for that,” said Kevin Garnett, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Bulls. “It’s not just something just because you have four guys who have been together — you’ve got a whole group of guys that’s in here, and chemistry is everything. And I’m not going to back off that. So, we have some days where we do have some practice time, and you’ll see a better, more quality product, so I’m happy for that.”

Of course, the same was said on Jan. 7 when the Celtics had a stretch of four days off between home games, and then promptly lost four straight to cap the longest losing streak of this Big Three era (5 games). Since then, though, the Celtics have won 11 of their last 15 games — including a string of nine out of 10 — capped by the 95-91 victory against the Bulls, albeit without reigning MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.

“That team is very experienced, and I think that they’re playing at a very high level,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as an assistant under Rivers during the 2007-10 glory years. “As I said before the game, even in the Lakers game I thought they played very well and could’ve won that, of course they won the nine out of 10 and I throw out the Toronto game because to me that was a scheduling game. They had back-to-back — a late start here and then the travel to Toronto — so that was a tough game for them.

“Throw that one out, they’re playing at a very high level,” added Thibs. “When you have [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo running the team, their bench has been playing very well, they’ve been getting a number of contributions from different people, so they’re going to be a dangerous team.”

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Chris Wilcox and JaJuan Johnson may not be Kareem Abdul-Jabar but they were pretty good Sunday 02.12.12 at 9:29 pm ET
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The Celtics were without Jermaine O’Neal and Brandon Bass Sunday. They were going up against a front-court of Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer that destroyed them on Jan. 13 in Boston in Chicago’s win over the Celtics.

You figured the Celtics were in for a long afternoon-into-night. You figured wrong.

Chris Wilcox got the start and scored 11 points and grabbed nine rebounds in 26 minutes while rookie JaJuan Johnson had 12 points in 33 remarkable minutes off the bench as the Celtics stunned the Bulls, 95-91. The Bulls only outscored the Celtics, 40-38, in the paint. Wilcox ran the floor, finishing four Rajon Rondo fast breaks with dunks, while Johnson had the biggest game of his rookie year out of Purdue. Those were two big reasons why.

“I think anybody can run. I mean, [Kareem Abdul-Jabbar] was running at 37, 38, and 40,” Doc Rivers joked. “So it’s not that – whatever your speed is, you’ve just got to do it every time. And I think it’s the consistency of doing it every single time. Chris was phenomenal, though, with his speed, and so was JaJuan. I mean, both of them. The one things we did know when those two were in – you know, our post defense was what it was, and I thought JuJuan overall, except for the very beginning when he first got in, they he kind of – then he kind of caught on, and got into it. After that, I thought his speed and Chris’ athleticism, both of them, had a major impact.”

As for Johnson, Rivers wants to see more.

“Yeah, but he’s got to keep doing it. You know, one game doesn’t make a star. One season doesn’t make a star. So you’ve just got to keep doing it, and he’s got to do it consistently. He will, like I keep saying, he’s a great kid and he wants to do it. He’s young and he’s still learning focus and all that. But he’s a good player.

“And be able to catch. I mean, they both have pretty good hands, okay hands, but, yeah it helps. It really helps. And you know what people miss is I thought Paul and Ray ran – and because they run, and we showed them on the film, we showed old games today on the film – that when the two guards run, Ray and Paul, and it puts them in the dilemma: do they stay out, wide, in the break and take away their threes? If they do that, if one of our bigs run, then we’re going to get it. I don’t believe two bigs on the other team is going to run every single time, is the point I keep making. Someone eventually is going to say, ‘I’m not running back.’ One of those bigs. And we’re going to get a lay-up.” Read the rest of this entry »

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