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Fast Break: Celtics capture 14th straight 12.22.10 at 10:11 pm ET
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Despite a poor shooting night, the Celtics held on for an 84-80 victory over the 76ers at the Garden on Wednesday night (recap), stretching their NBA-best winning streak to 14 games heading into a Christmas Day showdown in Orlando.

The Celtics made 10-of-12 free throws in the final four minutes — including a pair by Ray Allen with 5.6 seconds remaining — and Kevin Garnett blocked an Andre Iguadola shot with 14 seconds left to preserve an 82-80 lead, as the C’s held on to improve their Eastern Conference-leading record to 23-4. Allen scored a game-high 22 points, while Shaquille O’Neal (13 points, 9 rebounds), Garnett (12 points, 7 rebounds) and Pierce (11 points) all reached double figures.

Elton Brand totaled 16 points and 12 rebounds for Philadelphia before fouling out in the final minutes.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Relying on defense: It’s the staple of their success. Even when the Celtics aren’t shooting well, they can still play defense. They held the 76ers to 80 points on 43.1 percent shooting from the field (28-of-65), they forced 13 turnovers and everybody crashed the boards, as seven different Celtics had at least four boards.

Allen’s hot start: While most of his teammates struggled from the floor to start the game, Allen scored 11 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the first quarter, helping the Celtics establish an early 23-17 lead. In all, Allen netted his game-high 22 points on 8-of-17 shooting. He also made 5-of-6 free throws, including the game-clinching pair.

Cameo appearances: Off the bench, Von Wafer had his best performance of the season, scoring five points on a nifty up-and-under layup and big second-half 3-pointer. Avery Bradley showed a glimpse of his talent, picking Louis Williams’ pocket and converting on the other end. And Marquis Daniels totaled four points, four rebounds and five assists — including a nice alley-oop to O’Neal.

WHAT WENT WRONG

A rare poor shooting night: The Celtics aren’t used to shooting less than 50 percent from the field. In fact, they entered Wednesday night’s game against the 76ers shooting 51.2 percent as a team for the season.

However, against Philadelphia, they shot just 17-of-46 (37.0 percent) in the first half — scoring only 38 points and entering halftime with a six-point deficit at home against a team with an 11-17 record. For the game, the Celtics shot just 38.8 percent (31-of-80).

Foul trouble: Nate Robinson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett had to sit for extended periods in the second half as they all picked up their fourth fouls in the third quarter. O’Neal got into some foul trouble of his own in the first half, as he sat out the last three minutes of the half.

After all was said and done, the Celtics’ reserves played a combined 38 minutes, and given the state of their bench due to the number of injuries that have piled up, that wasn’t going to translate into positive results.

Technical difficulties: In the third quarter, Garnett and Pierce each picked up technical fouls following calls against the Celtics — adding insult to injury. Doc Rivers wasn’t too happy with the officiating either, as he had a pointed discussion with referee Scott Foster midway through the third quarter. After a minute, Foster walked away from the conversation, shrugging his shoulders and shaking his head.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo’s recovery at 12:26 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Rajon Rondo isn’t exactly Charles Barkley when it comes to talking to the media, but he’s quietly letting us in on his rehabilitation progress as he recovers from a sprained ankle — through his Twitter page

  • Dec. 16: “Another great team effort tonight. A lot of treatment. Elevating my foot now, watching the game.”
  • Dec. 18: “Ankle is feeling better. Out of the boot. Still got a ways to go. Treatment twice a day.”
  • Dec. 21: “I love my new video game. Still keeping my foot elevated.” (see accompanying photo)

Now, I know what you’re all thinking: Where can I get a full-sized H2Overdrive arcade cabinet like the one Rondo uses to elevate his foot? It makes  a great stocking stuffer for just $8,200.

It’s been exactly one week since Celtics president Danny Ainge threw out “a couple of weeks” as a timeframe for Rondo’s return. The first game after that two-week window is against the Pistons on Dec. 29, but do they really need Rondo to beat Detroit? Answer: No. They could probably start Avery Bradley and still win.

Two days later, however, the Celtics host Chris Paul and the Hornets. We all know how Rondo gears up to play the NBA’s best point guards, and some consider Paul the best in the game. You can bet Rondo will want to play in that game. The only question is whether Ainge, Doc Rivers and the training staff will let him.

CELTICS HAVE THE POWER

Ever-so-slowly, as their winning streak has stretched to an NBA-best 13 games — while the Mavericks, Heat and Knicks have snapped their streaks — the Celtics are gaining a monopoly on the national media’s NBA Power Rankings.

Here’s where the C’s rank, according to six major national media outlets:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, power rankings, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ bench struggles 12.21.10 at 12:16 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Remember when a lot of people — including me — believed the Celtics had the best bench in the NBA? Well, they don’t. At least not now.

The second unit that C’s head coach Doc Rivers had cultivated to give his veteran starters their much-needed rest throughout the 82-game NBA season was supposed to look like this: Nate Robinson, Delonte West, Marquis Daniels, Glen Davis and Shaquille O’Neal.

On paper, that lineup looks good. Very good. Unfortunately, wrists, ankles and knees aren’t made out of paper. As a result, the Celtics’ reserves rank 24th out of 30 NBA teams, according to Hoopsstats.com‘s efficiency differential.

West’s suspension and subsequent broken wrist have kept him out of all but five games. Shaq and Jermaine O’Neal have been a pain in the knee, missing a combined 28 games and vaulting a third-string guy (Semih Erden) into four starts. And Rajon Rondo‘s feet, hamstring and ankle soreness, tweaks and sprains haven’t helped, either, forcing one of the original sencond unit’s go-to scorers (Robinson) into a starting role six times.

Put those injuries to paper, and the Celtics’ bench has produced better than only one team that would be in the postseason if the playoffs started today — the Trail Blazers, who have had more injuries than King Leonidas‘ men in the movie “300.”

Here’s where the C’s reserves rank in the league statistically per game this season:

Minutes: 22nd
Points: 17th
Rebounds: 25th (22nd defensive/30th offensive)
Assists: 26th
Steals: 18th
Blocks: 18th
Turnovers: 10th
Field-goal percentage: 1st
3-point field goal percentage: 23rd
Free-throw percentage: 19th

And here’s where their opponents’ bench’s production against them ranks:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Larry Bird, NBA
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
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