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Celtics vs. Spurs: Speaking with the enemy 01.05.11 at 2:09 pm ET
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The following is an e-mail exchange between myself and Spurs blog Pounding the Rock’s Dale Dye in anticipation of Wednesday’s game between the East-leading Celtics and West-leading Spurs …

Date: Monday, Jan. 3, 6:29 p.m.
Subject: Spurs/Celts Exchange
From: Dale Dye, aka jollyrogerwilco
To: Ben Rohrbach

Kevin Garnett's absence tames the anticipation for Wednesday's Celtics-Spurs showdown. (AP)

Looks like it’s time for the beast in the East to host the best in the West, and I couldn’t be more excited. For some reason, this matchup makes me think about college football. I live in Austin, and like to follow the Longhorns. I didn’t graduate from UT, but I took some classes there after I graduated, so I feel like I’m a nearly  legit fan. Anyway, a few years ago the season began with USC and UT ranked 1 and 2, and they stayed like that all the way through to the championship game.

Perhaps I remember that better because the Horns went on to win one of the most exciting BCS games ever, or maybe my memory is just that good. Either way, I feel much the same following the Spurs this year as I did enjoying the Longhorns success that year. SBNation keeps their Power Rankings split by conference, for good reason, and they’ve had our favorite teams on top of each side of the bracket for a while now.

I suppose this is the place where I would usually start in on the difference between the pace and approach of the teams, how the Spurs have been winning with offense and the Boston defense has been spectacular, while maybe throwing in a stat or two about point differential, etc. But with Kevin Garnett out (like the Spurs game last week against Dallas sans Dirk Nowitzki, and Tuesday’s against New York without Danilo Gallinari) it’s not quite the matchup I was anticipating. He’s just a huge part of what Boston does on both sides of the floor (whether he’s scoring a lot or no) that it’s not at all like playing the Celtics, if he’s not on the court.

So, since I don’t want to make this entire bit about the injury, I’m going to punt this to you at this point, to let you put his absence in context so we can set it aside and move on. Just what is Boston capable of with KG in plain clothes? I don’t mean for the rest of the season, but just for the purposes of this discussion.

Let’s take the official word from the Celts’ front office at face value and assume he’ll be back before the month is out. Which brings the focus onto the rest of the team, now that Rajon Rondo is back on the court. I know that since adding Ray Allen and Garnett, Boston hasn’t had a terrific record in games without Garnett — but what do you expect to see from this year’s bunch over the next few games, and Wednesday’s specifically?

Date: Tuesday, Jan. 4, 10:12 a.m.
Subject: Spurs/Celts Exchange
From: Ben Rohrbach
To: J.R. Wilco

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Manu Ginobili, NBA
Irish Coffee: Late Night with Shaquille O’Neal at 10:24 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Shaquille O’Neal entered the “Late Show with David Letterman” set wearing a hooded sportcoat, so it was pretty much a success right off the bat. After explaining how he got a cut on his head — banging his dome on a doorway while answering Letterman’s call — he touched on the following subjects:

  • On whether Boston fans love him now: “They do.”
  • On choosing Boston over New York: “I could’ve played in New York for more dough. … I thought we had a better shot at a championship.”
  • On whether he’s ever feared a player: “Never.”
  • On who he’d start a team with: “Historically, I’d probably go with Bill Russell.”
  • On nobody liking the Lakers: “I don’t.”
  • On LeBron James: “He’s a young guy. He’s a fabulous player. … I wish him well. Not too much luck, but I wish him well.”
  • On Pat Riley: [sips water]
  • On Phil Jackson: [claps] “Great guy.”
  • On whether anyone could win 11 titles with his Bulls and Lakers: “I would say yes.”
  • On Kobe Bryant: “Fabulous player. Probably the best player in the league right now.”
  • On Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: “I spent eight years in L.A. and probably only talked to him twice. He’s one of the greatest centers ever.”
  • On Steve Nash: “Great player. Great assist player. Love playing with him.”
  • On Kevin Garnett: “The funniest guy in Boston. He is.”
  • On Charles Barkley: “Probably one of the greatest power forwards to play. He’s a funny guy. He’s going to say what’s on his mind.”

PREVIEWING CELTICS AND SPURS

ESPN.com’s Peter May pieced together an all-encompassing preview of Wednesday night’s matchup between the Celtics and Spurs. Highlights:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, David Letterman, NBA, San Antonio Spurs
Irish Coffee: It’s a shame about Clifford Ray 01.04.11 at 12:03 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Either Peter Vecsey doesn’t like the Celtics, or the Celtics didn’t like former assistant coach Clifford Ray, because Vecsey detailed a pretty bizarre set of circumstances he claims led to Ray’s departure.

Here’s the nuts and bolts of the New York Post story:

Two weeks before the season began, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, who kept assistant Clifford Ray on hold the whole summer, informed him his services would no longer be needed.

An agreement eventually was signed by Ray, who was pressured by team president Danny Ainge to sign by a certain date (without getting lawyers involved) or forget it. Ray, the 1974-75 champion Warriors’ starting center, received $100,000 to go away quietly, enough to keep him and his family (including a 13-year-old son) going for a year or so.

Additionally, the Celtics approved medical attention for Ray, specifically for an MRSA infection he contracted in his foot several years ago while working (hence, the boot he wore so long) in Boston’s contaminated practice facility; Paul Pierce and Delonte West also got sick.

Had Ray not been in Minnesota last summer and gone, at the urging of his girlfriend, to the Mayo Clinic, doctors told him he was within days of having his foot amputated.

Rivers told Boston reporters he had no room in back of the bench for Ray because newly hired first assistant Lawrence Frank‘s deal allowed him to enlist a friend.

True enough. But the real reason Ray wasn’t invited back is because Rivers didn’t think he was healthy enough to get out on the floor and coach. Like the infection was Ray’s fault. Like Rivers didn’t know Ray was ailing for years. Like he couldn’t have reached that conclusion last June so that Ray would’ve had ample time to find work elsewhere.

Pierce and West both missed games in 2006 with infections in their finger and toe, respectively. Pierce also missed two weeks last season with an infection in his knee. Whether or not any of those incidents are related to what Vescey described as a “contaminated practice facility” is unclear.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Clifford Ray, Doc Rivers, Kendrick Perkins
Paul Pierce ‘forgot’ Rajon Rondo was back playing at 9:45 am ET
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Rajon Rondo can be the quiet type in the locker room but when he’s on the court everyone knows he’s out there by his leadership and presence — at least almost everyone.

Doc Rivers pulled Paul Pierce aside at halftime during Monday night’s survival test against Kevin Love and the Minnesota Timberwolves and reminded him that he didn’t need to run the offense and distribute when Rondo was on the court.

All good intentions aside, getting others involved wasn’t working out that well for Pierce and the Celtics. He had just five points and had handed out just one assist as the C’s trailed, 47-43.

“Doc at the half wanted me to be a little more aggressive,” Pierce said. “I was out there trying to make plays and I forgot that we had Rondo out there doing that so I can go back to my customary role of scoring the ball. That’s what I tried to do in the second half.”

As any coach would, Rivers wanted Pierce to do what he does best.

“I thought Paul in the first half tried way too hard to get everybody else involved,” Rivers said of his captain, who leads the team at 19.0 points per game. “And I told him that at halftime. I said, ‘Paul, you no longer have to be the play maker. We need you to be the aggressive scorer.’ And even he, right after the game he walked up to me and it was the first thing he said was, ‘Ah, gosh, I was, I was way too passive.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, I just thought you were trying to set everybody else up,’” Rivers continued. “Consciously, you know, twice he had shots and he passed it to Nate [Robinson]. Nate’s struggling with his shot right now, but I still want Paul to shoot the ball if he’s open. And I just thought he did a little too much of that tonight.”

Pierce heard Rivers loud and clear after the intermission, remembered that Rondo was indeed in his second game back, and lit up the T’Wolves for 18 second-half points as the Celtics rallied for a 96-93 win.

Once Pierce did allow Rondo to run the show, Pierce and the rest of the team reaped the rewards.

“We got Ray [Allen] open, I thought that was the key,” Pierce said. “Rondo really pushed the ball. Got some really good looks. Defense buckled down so we were able to make a run and get back into the game. Rondo with a big shot and some big passes [to] [Shaquille O'Neal] and that’s what he’s capable of doing and that’s why I’m glad to have him back.”

Observers might have wondered if his sprained right ankle from Sunday night in Toronto might have been affecting his play in the first half.

“A little bit. I was a little stiff, slow,” Pierce admitted. “But, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Just going to get treatment throughout the week. I don’t see any problems coming up.”

That’s good news for Wednesday as the NBA-best San Antonio Spurs come calling at the Garden. In that matchup, thanks to the second half of Monday’s contest, no one will need to remind Pierce about Rondo when No. 9 is on the court.

Read More: Doc Rivers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Nate Robinson, NBA
Delonte West gets some really good news about his right wrist 01.03.11 at 11:16 pm ET
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When Delonte West fell after a made lay-up against New Jersey on Nov. 24 at TD Garden, he and the Celtics feared the worst about his right wrist. It was a nasty fracture that appeared to – at the least – end his regular season.

But that perspective changed on Monday.

Calling it a big step, West had the hard cast protecting his healing right wrist removed on Monday, the first step of what he hopes could be a return on or shortly after the All-Star break. It was replaced with a brace to allow him some ability to start moving it for light rehab.

“It’s feels stiff but it’s not painful,” West said. “I got great news from doctors. They said maybe three weeks [then] rehabilitation. I’ve already started out conditioning, ball-handling. I’m left-handed anyway. Fortunately, I’m left handed anyway so I able to get shots on my left hand. It’s just a matter of time before I gain game strength in this one.

“Today is Day 1. I got a lot accomplished,” he said of Monday’s milestone in recovery.

As for watching the likes of Nate Robinson, Von Wafer, Marquis Daniels and even rookie Avery Bradley being forced to pick up the slack as Rajon Rondo‘s back-up, West admitted it’s been rough.

“I can’t wait to get back out there,” West said. “It’s killing me sitting back here and rooting from the sidelines but we all have a position to play and right now mine is getting healthy and getting ready to contribute.”

The initial timetable called for West to return in time for the playoffs but West said he’s hopeful for a return after the All-Star break.

“Honestly, I have no idea,” West admitted before sounding a hopeful but realistic tone. “I’m praying and I’m trying my best to get back before then. But the trainers and the coaching staff, they’re really trying not to rush me but I think I’m really rushing myself right now.”

As for his biggest test, that will come after his rehabilitation, which is still three weeks away.

“I guess it would be lifting but first I have to regain movement but picking up weights and catching a basketball,” West said. “I think right now the biggest fear is falling and having to extend [the wrist]. Today is Day 1, the cast is off. It’s a good day and it’s all uphill from here.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels
Irish Coffee: Who means most to Celtics’ success? at 11:42 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Add Paul Pierce‘s sprained ankle to the ever-growing list of injuries that have plagued the Celtics through their first 32 games this season.

Following Sunday’s 93-79 victory in Toronto against the Raptors, Doc Rivers told reporters, “We have a game [Monday] night, so he’ll be OK.” But it was another “not again” moment that reminded Celtics fans of the team’s fragility.

It also reminded me of this article from the Los Angeles Times, which made the following statement:

Rajon Rondo, their lone indispensable player, has an ankle injury and has been out three times but keeps returning before he’s 100 percent.

Is Rondo really their only indispensable player? Could they legitimately reach their goal of an 18th NBA title without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or – for that matter – any of the starters who are undefeated as a unit in the playoffs?

That’s when I decided to look at the Celtics’ record with and without each player in the lineup during The New Big Three era. Here’s how it shakes out with and without each guy (winning percentages in parentheses):

  • Paul Pierce … With: 195-69 (.739); Without: 8-6 (.571)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .168
  • Rajon Rondo … With: 191-68 (.738); Without: 12-7 (.632)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .106
  • Kevin Garnett … With: 169-58 (.745); Without: 34-17 (.667)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .078
  • Ray Allen … With: 192-72 (.727); Without: 11-3 (.786)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.059
  • Kendrick Perkins … With: 167-65 (.720); Without: 36-10 (.783)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.063

Based on these numbers, Pierce has been the most valuable player on the team over the last three-plus regular seasons. Not Rondo. It’s also interesting to note the Celtics’ success without Allen or Perkins in the lineup.

One thing is certainly clear: Pierce, Rondo and Garnett are all indispensable. Well, at least that L.A. Times piece gave us one interesting note:

From the last four openers to Christmas Eve, Boston has gone an astounding 94-14 … a 71-win pace. Not even the Bill Russell teams that won 11 titles in 13 seasons ever did as well in that time frame.

The Celtics’ best four-year opener-to-Christmas Eve run in the Russell era was 94-26 from 1959-1962. Even posting win totals of 72-69-62 in Michael Jordan‘s last three seasons, the Bulls were 64-14 before Christmas.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, after the last three Christmases, they went 84-54 when injuries hit … as they have once more.

Just for fun, let’s look at the same numbers for each of the top-10 rotation players for this year’s team. How have the 2010-11 Celtics performed in their absences, taking into account the relatively small sample size?

  • Kevin Garnett … With: 24-6 (.800); Without: 1-1 (.500)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .300
  • Rajon Rondo … With: 18-3 (.857); Without: 7-4 (.636)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .221
  • Shaquille O’Neal … With: 17-6 (.739); Without: 8-1 (.889)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.150
  • Delonte West … With: 3-2 (.600); Without: 22-5 (.815)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.215
  • Jermaine O’Neal … With: 7-5 (.583); Without: 18-2 (.900)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.317

The order of these players’ importance to the Celtics is certainly not surprising, but one thing is: How little an impact Jermaine O’Neal has had on this team. The Celtics have been a significantly better team when he doesn’t see the floor.

PAUL PIERCE THE COMEDIAN

On his Twitter page, Pierce made no mention of how his ankle was feeling on Monday morning, but he did offer this: “Excuse me I need to get thru please” — accompanied by the following video …

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Paul Pierce pulls no punches: ‘I really didn’t come to play’ 12.31.10 at 7:55 pm ET
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Paul Pierce did what a captain usually does after an emotional loss, one without two stars in the lineup.

After scoring just 12 points and grabbing seven rebounds in 36 minutes of an 83-81 loss to the Hornets Friday, Pierce was not about to make excuses for a team that was missing Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. As a matter of fact, he put most of the blame squarely on his own shoulders.

“Maybe Paul Pierce has to do a better job in stepping up his game,” Pierce said in third person. “I really didn’t come to play to today, evident when you look up, six turnovers, but we only lose by two. The responsibility is on the guys out on the floor.

“Regardless of the injuries, I’ve [said before] injuries are going to happen. Regardless of the injuries, we’ve still got to show up to play. There’s no moral victories…and the guys that we put out there have got to be ready. We’re on the home court with guys who know how to play the game…a game that we feel like we should win.”

The Celtics used an 18-0 run in the fourth quarter to open an 73-66 lead with under seven minutes remaining, only to see the Hornets outscore them, 17-8, down the stretch.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Paul Pierce
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