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Irish Coffee: Celtics are ‘Best of the Best’ 12.20.10 at 12:03 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

In somewhat of a footnote in his most recent Sports Illustrated column, Ian Thomsen listed the records of NBA teams against oppoenents with a .500 record or better. You’ll never guess which team ranked atop the list.

Every day, people are coming up with new ways to capture how impressive the 2010-11 Celtics have been despite injuries that are piling up faster than my Christmas shopping list.

But the fact that the Celtics are 10-2 against above-.500 teams while no other Eastern Conference club has a winning record against those same squads might tell us all we need to know about the C’s chances of returning to the NBA Finals.

Against the best, the Celtics have been the best.

Only three teams in the entire league own a winning record against plus-.500 teams: the Celtics (10-2), Spurs (8-2) and Mavericks (9-3). Three others — the Thunder, Nuggets and Jazz — have .500 records against teams with winning records.

Considering the Spurs and Mavericks have been relatively healthy this season, what the Celtics have been able to accomplish is remarkable, as Rajon Rondo, Shaquille O’Neal, Delonte WestJermaine O’Neal and Kendrick Perkins have missed a combined 81 games already.

The Celtics’ biggest competitors in the East — the Heat (5-6), Magic (3-6) and Bulls (4-8) — have all been disappointing against above-.500 teams, as have the Knicks (3-5) and Hawks (2-7). In fact, 10 teams have two wins or fewer against opponents with a .500 record or better, including the Lakers, who are 1-3 in just four games against quality opponents this season.

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Read More: Antoine Walker, Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, Nate Robinson
Big Papi talks basketball 12.19.10 at 12:09 pm ET
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David Ortiz sat down with Scoop Jackson to talk basketball for a Jim Beam promotion. Wrap your head around that. Among other things, Big Papi said, “If you can play basketball, every other sport is easy.” There are a ton of other short videos, including more on Papi in addition to Larry Izzo and Kevin Faulk on football. NBA players Ron Artest, Lamar Odom, Danny Granger, Kevin Love and Jordan Farmar also took part in the ad campaign.

Read More: Boston Celtics, David Ortiz, NBA,
Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce star in ‘True Grit’ – Celtics style 12.17.10 at 10:24 am ET
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John Wayne and Jeff Bridges have nothing on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Garnett inspired the weary and wounded Celtics with 17 points and 14 rebounds while Pierce restored order to the offense as Nate Robinson was finding his way. KG and Pierce were the two biggest reasons the Celtics ran their winning streak to 12 games in a 102-90 win over the Atlanta Hawks at TD Garden on Thursday night.

The 12-game run matches their longest since they set the franchise record of 19 back in the 2008-09 season. Glen Davis had 18 points off a shorthanded Celtics bench. How shorthanded?

The team found out just before the game they would be without Rajon Rondo for couple of weeks as GM Danny Ainge told WEEI that his sprained left ankle needed time to heal. Robinson started and – after a rocky first half – provided an emotional boost with 14 points and five assists in 41 minutes.

Shaquille O’Neal missed his fourth straight game with a strained right calf. Von Wafer came up with a sore back in the first half and was unavailable in the second half, giving the Celtics four healthy bench players. Semih Erden scored 10 points in 24 minutes, starting in place of O’Neal for the fourth straight game.

For the final 2:44 of the first quarter, Doc Rivers had Pierce on the court with Davis, Marquis Daniels, Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody.

‘€œWe were playing with Semih, two rooks, and then Von went down at halftime,” Garnett said. “So it’€™s not enough to say [gritty]. I mean, ‘€˜P’€™ said it before the game: This is going to me more mental than anything. I think everybody’€™s playing, is giving everything they have. And in order for us to win these games, we’€™re just going to have to grind it out.

“You know, until we get the guys back. We just got the news about Rondo; Shaq wasn’€™t available today. So what’€™re you going to do? You either quit, you put your clothes on and go home, but that ain’€™t the way we do things around here. We work. So that, pretty much ‘€“ gutsy is an understatement.’€

Playing on fumes for most of the first half after an emotional win in New York 24 hours earlier, the Celtics came alive late in the second quarter, going on a 10-2 run to take a 44-43 lead at halftime. They opened the second half with a 20-12 run to assume control of the game.

‘€œI don’€™t know if I’€™m surprised or not,” Rivers said of his team’s true grit. “I trust our guys. They just play well. They’€™re executing well. I thought ‘€“ second half was terrific for us. I thought the first half, it was a grind. I mean, you could just feel it, emotionally, too, probably, coming off of last night’€™s game. And then in the second half, you know, it was terrific ‘€“ we couldn’€™t get Ray [Allen] going in the first half, and so we just changed the passer and made it Paul.

While Garnett was providing his typical fire and inspiration, Pierce turned back the clock to 2006 and ran the offense as a point-forward in the second half, while Robinson found his bearings.

“I knew I was going to have to be more of a play-maker,” Pierce said. “Truthfully, I really didn’€™t think like that. I just tried to feel the game out, and you know, try to give it what it needs. I didn’€™t need to try to have a great scoring night because of the guys we had going. I mean, Ray got it going in the second half, Baby was consistent all game, and Kevin set the tone. So, I just let the chips fall where they may, and the guys, they stepped up. And so, it sort of, kind of, ended up that way. And it played out perfectly. And if that’€™s what it’€™s going to take, that’€™s what it’€™s going to take. You know, a lot of guys out. Guys are going to be asked to play multiple roles. And that’€™s what we’€™ve got to do.’€

“Paul basically became the point forward in the second half,” Rivers added. “And it really worked out for us. I don’€™t know if we stumbled on it if we kind of were forced to do it. But it was terrific. And Paul enjoyed it, which is even better. And then our defense kicked in too.’€

And the defense will always be the true grit of this Celtics show.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Jeff Bridges, John Wayne
Irish Coffee: Top 5 Pop-A-Shot performances at 8:00 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Five randomly selected people will get the chance to compete against Nate Robinson in Pop-A-Shot at Modell’s Sporting Goods in Saugus on Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. Now, I have a million legendary Pop-A-Shot stories, so I’ll spare you and give you just one:

While I was a student at Boston University, there was a guy at The Sports Depot challenging anybody and everybody to Pop-A-Shot. If he won, you had to buy him a shot. He beat a few people, and he took a few shots.

Once people caught onto the fact that he was a Pop-A-Shot Shark, he started betting everyone he could beat them left-handed. He beat a few more people, and he took a few more shots — but his game never wavered.

After a while, everybody pretty much gave up on trying to beat him, so he started giving everyone 20-point cushions. He got a few more takers, beat them and took more shots. Yet, he always put up 100 points a minute.

And he never lost.

Based on the shots consumed and point spread offered to his opponents, it was the greatest shooting display I’ve ever seen. Not to mention I saw the same guy doing the same thing a year later at the Beacon Hill Pub.

All I’m saying is, if this guy shows up in Saugus, Robinson has no chance. So, without further ado, I give you the top five Pop-A-Shot performances on YouTube …

1. THE WORLD RECORD: Jay Kletecka is right where I picture the Pop-A-Shot world record-holder to be: In his mother’s basement. I do enjoy how he calmly drains 166 straight and has no reaction when he finally misses.

 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Doc Rivers to Nate Robinson: Don’t worry, you don’t suck at 12:34 am ET
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Doc Rivers could tell early on that Nate Robinson was having trouble getting into the flow of the game as he struggled with his passes and running the Celtics offense in the first half Thursday night against Atlanta.

There was a bullet pass from Robinson to Semih Erden in the low post that didn’t quite make it there as Josh Smith stepped into the lane for the easy steal. There was a pass intended for Ray Allen that sailed out of bounds later in the first half.

How bad was it? Even when Nate was hustling his rear off to grab a loose ball headed toward the Hawks basket, he flipped to the lane – expecting Kevin Garnett to catch and slam. But instead, the pass was picked off by Mike Bibby, who fed Jordan Collins for an open three, which Collins hit to add salt to the wound.

All of that added up to seven points, only two assists and four turnovers in the first half for the man who will be filling in for Rajon Rondo over the next two weeks as Rondo heals a sprained left ankle. Rivers said he had to have a heart-to-heart with Robinson, telling him to keep his head up and remind him that he didn’t think Robinson “sucked” just because he was having trouble finding his game.

“You know what I told Nate at halftime?” Rivers began. “I said, ‘€˜Nate, just a notice for you. You’€™re the starting point guard now, and I’€™m going to give you a lot of instruction. It’€™s not criticism.’€™ You know, and Nate tends to ‘€“ he gets coaching at times, he hangs his head, and it was at a point in the second quarter I couldn’€™t even give him a play because he thought I was going to tell him, ‘€˜Nate, you suck’€™ or something.”

Robinson seemed to take Rivers’ words to heart.

“Just keep playing, play through adversity,” Robinson said. “Just turn the page. I was being a little timid in first half. Second half, he told me to just be me. I think I did that.”

Rivers knew full well that he might be dealing with a point guard that was getting overwhelmed.

“I don’€™t know what he thought I was going to say,” Rivers said. “And he was great. He even started laughing at halftime. I thought that relaxed him, and allowed him to play a little bit more. But with Rondo, you know, I’€™m so used to telling him what I need everybody ‘€“ ‘€˜Rondo, tell Paul this.’€™ I was doing that with Nate and Nate was like, ‘€˜Enough! No more. I don’€™t want’€”’€™ and he finally got what I was doing. I guess he just has to get used to that.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
Ray Allen drops some NBA knowledge at 12:14 am ET
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The mood in the Celtics locker room was light. Extremely light. A bunch of the players were eager to leave and get some food together, but Ray Allen stayed behind to answer every last one of the reporters’ questions.

He sounded like a future NBA coach, discussing everything from rivalries to winning streaks to what today’s young players are lacking. Here’s what Allen, who scored 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting, had to say after the Celtics’ 12th consecutive victory, a 102-90 win over the Hawks …

If the Knicks aren’t your rival, then who is?

(Waiting, waiting, waiting …) “I don’t really look at a Western Conference team, because we don’t play them enough. The playoff teams we’ve played are definitely rivals. In the Eastern Conference, we talked about Detroit … but they’re done. Cleveland’s now done. Orlando right now is the team that we’d have to say is our rivals.

“To me, it’s all based on playoffs. The regular season gets you warmed up for it, because you know you’re going to see them. You want to leave something for them to think about.”

How have the Big Three avoided the injury bug?

(Knocking on wood) “With me, Paul [Pierce] and Kevin [Garnett], it’s not about the prestige of the job, it’s about the game itself. It’s about playing basketball and doing whatever you need to do to stay heatlhy and take care of our bodies.

“That’s one thing between the three of us — whether we’re in the weight room or getting up shots — we’re going to do whatever we need to do to help this team.”

Are you surprised by Semih Erden’s success so far this season?

“I’m not surprised at all. He’s got great promise. He’s very talented. I think we all forget that he’s a rookie. We expect a lot from him in that position, and it’s only going to make him better in the long run. …

“I played with a lot of young big men who were just doomed, because they had nobody to offer tutelage, that had been through it and had done some good things in the league. For him to come here is probably one of the biggest blessings he could ever ask for. He probably doesn’t realize it now, but 6-7 years down the road he’s going to realize how special it was for him.”

How important are the veterans to Erden’s success?

“Whether they’re on the business side or player development, I don’t see enough past players on rosters. There’s too many young guys in the league nowadays who need the expertise on how to play this game — not just putting the ball in the whole but understanding how to be a teammate, be a professional, be that guy who knows how to take a hard foul. We don’t have those guys anymore.”

How was the offense different with Nate Robinson running the show?

“Offensively, we didn’t have a great rhythm early in the game. Even a week ago, when [Rajon] Rondo was out, it was different, because Shaq was out there and he gave us a better rhythm with Nate out there.

“[Thursday], it was different. We had to figure it out all over again with Nate and Semih out there. It took a while. About the third or fourth quarter, we established a rhythm offensively and then we locked down.”

Are you impressed by the team’s 12-game winning streak?

“Not really. If I had to guess who we beat these past 12 games, I couldn’t tell you. It’s behind me. I don’t have to worry about those teams we played.

“When you lose a game, that always haunts you. When you watch the highlights on SportsCenter, it kinda jabs you in the side knowing you lost to them the last time you played.”

Why do you think the team has had more success against the so-called “athletic” teams this season?

“A lot of that is Kevin being a little bit healthier, just having his legs underneath him. I don’t know what he’s averaging rebound-wise, but he’s bringing them down and he’s keeping those other guys off the glass. … It does make a difference when you keep those young guys off the glass.”

Even with a 21-4 record, can the Celtics still improve?

“I think we can work on everything. There’s not one thing we can’t improve on.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Ray Allen,
Fast Break: Celtics win 12th straight 12.16.10 at 10:42 pm ET
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If you were expecting a letdown by the Celtics after a thrilling last-second victory against the Knicks in New York on Wednesday night — followed by the news that Rajon Rondo would miss the next two weeks — guess again.

The Celtics had six players score in double figures — including Semih Erden — as they stretched their NBA-best winning streak to 12 games by disposing of the Hawks, 102-90, at the Garden on Thursday night.

Kevin Garnett anchored the effort with 17 points and 14 rebounds, while Ray Allen and Glen Davis tied for the team lead with 18 points apiece.

Paul Pierce (15), Nate Robinson (14) and Erden (10) also reached double figures for the Celtics, who improved their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-4.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Another KG double-double: Midway through the third quarter, Garnett had already notched his 14th double-double of the season. He entered the game tied with Amar’e Stoudemire for ninth in the NBA for double-doubles.

Garnett finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds on the night. On the other end, Garnett limited Josh Smith — who is a very, very good NBA player — to just one point and four rebounds. All in all, not a bad night for Garnett.

Pierce & Allen assist: With Rondo sitting out the first of what is expected to be at least two weeks of games, somebody had to make up for his 14 assists a night. Pierce and Allen exceeded that number.

They entered the game averaging a combined 5.8 assists between them. Against the Hawks, Pierce doled out nine dimes and Allen contributed another six. Not to mention their combined 33 points.

Semih-automatic: Say what you will about Semih Erden, but he finishes around the rim. It’s his soft hands. Thursday night’s starting center finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting — all within five feet of the basket.

His solid night even included a dunk over Smith, who is one of the top six shot blockers in the league. Still, Erden could work on his rebounding (he had zero as a 7-footer) and free-throw shooting (0-for-2).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defending the point: The Hawks’ point guards — starter Mike Bibby and backup Jeff Teague — combined for 29 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds against Nate Robinson.

Meanwhile, Avery Bradley actually looked pretty sharp defensively in just four minutes on the floor. Offensively? Bradley was absent, and Robinson finished with 14 points (on 6-of-16 shooting) and four assists.

Cleaning the glass: Somehow, with Smith and Al Horford combining for just 11 rebounds (they average 18 between them), the Celtics still got out-rebounded by the Hawks, 37-34.

Atlanta also snatched 10 offensive rebounds (an ongoing issue for the C’s). Of course, it helps to shoot better than 50 percent — which the Celtics did … once again (53%).

All-Star absentees: First, it was Kevin Durant. Then, it was John Wall. Then, it was Carmelo Anthony. And Thursday it was former Celtics guard Joe Johnson. The list of NBA stars who have been relegated to the bench with injuries when they visited the Garden this season grew by two.

Johnson and 2010 Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford both sat out against the Celtics. On the Boston side, of course, Rondo and Shaquille O’Neal were in street clothes as well.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett
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