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Fast Break: The Truth sets Celtics free 01.22.12 at 3:37 pm ET
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The Celtics have been waiting for Paul Pierce to arrive, and the captain delivered on Sunday afternoon in a 100-94 road win over the Wizards. Pierce scored 34 points to go with seven rebounds and 10 assists and looked like the Pierce of old, as opposed to an old version of Paul Pierce.

While Pierce helped lead the Celtics’ best offensive performance in weeks, the team’s defense was routinely burned in transition by the younger, faster Wizards and a double-digit third quarter lead quickly evaporated. The Celtics were able to hold on down the stretch thanks to Pierce and solid games from Brandon Bass — 13 points and nine rebounds — and Kevin Garnett, who scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half.

They were once again without Rajon Rondo, who missed his second straight game with a sprained right wrist. They also lost Ray Allen to a sprained left ankle early in the second quarter. He went back to the locker room and did not return.

The Celtics had lost six of seven games heading into Sunday and are now 6-8. Half of their wins have come against Washington, but they’ll take them any way they can get them right now. They’re back in action on Monday at the Garden against the Magic as Glen Davis makes his return to Boston.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

– Pierce had his breakout game for the Celtics, doing a little bit of everything. His effect on his teammates was evident by his 10 assists. When the Wizards doubled him off pick and rolls he found Bass for a jumper. He also got Garnett going in the second half with solid pick-and-pop action.

– The Celtics had assists on 13 of 16 makes in the first half and had much better ball movement and spacing than in recent games. That went away in the second half as they relied on Pierce to generate their offense, but it was a positive step.

Mickael Pietrus had to play big minutes after Allen jammed his left ankle and the veteran swingman played well. He knocked down two 3-pointers, but he also went to the post and drew a foul and put the ball on the floor to create a jump shot. Pietrus also committed two bad fouls in the fourth quarter, but he played well in his first game with major minutes.

– Bass also had a solid game, scoring 13 points to go with nine rebounds. He looked much more comfortable in the Celtics’ sets and had a strong finish going through JaVale McGee.

WHAT WENT WRONG

– Allen began the game making three of his first four shots as the Celtics made a concerted effort to get him off screens. But Allen jammed his left ankle early in the second quarter when he ran around a screen set by the Wizards’ Jan Vesely. There was no contact on the play. Allen went back to the locker room and did not return.

E’Twaun Moore has had his moments thus far in his rookie season, but so far that hasn’t translated into production. He’s made only one of his last 15 shots. Marquis Daniels has also struggled and beyond Bass and Pietrus, the Celtics bench has yielded few results.

Avery Bradley remains a work in progress. He took several wild shots and careened into three Wizards on the fast break and got called for a charge. Bradley had six rebounds and seven assists, but he also was 1-for-8 from the floor and 1-for-4 from the free throw line with six turnovers. Wizards guard John Wall had his way with him on the defensive end, scoring 27 points to go with 10 rebounds and seven assists.

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Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start 01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET
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In the first quarter of Friday night’s loss against the Suns, Avery Bradley picked off a pass at midcourt and converted an easy layup. In the fourth quarter, Bradley lunged after a loose ball underneath Boston’s basket, saving a possession that led to a score.

That’s his job: Provide energy and defense.

Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling gave Bradley an opportunity to make his first start in the NBA. The experience was valuable.

“It builds my confidence a lot,” said Bradley.  ”Every game I play I know what Doc [Rivers] and my teammates expect from me — to bring that energy every time I step on the floor.”

He was tasked with defending two-time league MVP Steve Nash. Bradley felt his best chance to combat the 37-year-old was to antagonize him with aggressive defense.

“I tried to get him tired,” Bradley said. “[I] picked him up full court to let him know I was going to bother him the whole game.”

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Paul Pierce: ‘Of course’ I still want to retire a Celtic at 12:59 am ET
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This isn’t the first time Celtics captain Paul Pierce‘s name has emerged in trade discussion. Prior to the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, rumors consistently swirled that team president Danny Ainge would deal his star and enter full-blown rebuild mode. Flash forward five years, same story.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been down that road,” said Pierce, addressing the issue for the first time after the Celtics suffered their sixth loss in seven games, 79-71 at home to the Suns, “but I don’t think about it actually.”

In the midst of a 5-9 start and the first real signs that this might truly be the end of another Big Three era in Boston, Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this week that several contending teams made inquiries about Pierce’s potential availability before the March 15 trade deadline. Then CBSSports.com reported Friday that Ainge may be willing to wait 10 or more games before deciding to deal one of his three stars.

“It’s just obvious,” Ainge told WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday. “Of course if we get the opportunity to make a trade that will help our team, we’ll do it. I guess I was stating obvious answers and it became like a really big story. We’ve all known there’s a window for this group, so we’re constantly evaluating that and been evaluating it for the last couple of years. I don’t have anything on the books. I don’t have have anything imminent. There’s nothing out there that I’m actively doing. I’m being patient with this group of guys.”

As Pierce said, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s seen teammates from Antoine Walker to Kendrick Perkins come and go. “I understand,” he said. “What the Celtics have done for me in my career, I’m more than happy. They’ve kept me this long, and I’ve been able to play in a lot of good situations. You’ve got to understand the business.”

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Irish Coffee: Celtics weekly report card, part deux 01.20.12 at 2:11 pm ET
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Forgive me Father Red, for it’s been two weeks since my last report card. As I’ve mentioned before, with 66 games crammed into 17 weeks, each seven-day stretch of this NBA season takes on the importance of an NFL week. As NFL writers are won’t to do, we’ll continue our (bi)weekly series of Celtics report cards. Since last marking period, when the Celtics had just won four straight, Doc Rivers and Co. have endured a five-game losing streak snapped Wednesday night against the mighty Raptors. That being said, let’s get to the grades.

MICKAEL PIETRUS: A
Last Grade: N/A

The Celtics desperately needed scoring and defense off the bench, and Pietrus has filled both roles better than cream fills a Hostess cupcake. Since debuting against the Mavericks, he’s averaged 8.2 points on 41 percent from beyond the arc in addition to snagging four steals against zero turnovers. In his last two games, he’s scored 26 points (7-13 3P), culminating in his first Celtics win and his rendition of LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.”

KEVIN GARNETT: B+
Last Grade: A-

Rivers wanted Garnett to take more shots, and KG listened, attempting 19 field goals in consecutive games. It worked one night (21 points at Pacers) and failed another (12 points vs. Thunder), which seems to be a running theme for Garnett 2.0, who just doesn’t have the same lift as the Timberwolves prototype. In all other aspects of his game, he’s lived up to his self-proclaimed “X-factor” role: “Whatever you need me to do, I’m gonna do.”

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Fast Break: Celtics snap losing streak, beat Raptors 01.18.12 at 9:56 pm ET
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The Celtics have been desperate for a strong start and they finally got one on Wednesday against Toronto, opening up a 21-7 lead and making nine of their first 16 shots. They rode that early lead through some rough patches in the second quarter and earned a much-needed 96-73 win over Toronto, snapping a five-game losing streak.

It wasn’t all good for the Celtics as Rajon Rondo was put on the ground by Linas Kleiza with a hard foul late in the third quarter. Rondo landed awkwardly on his right wrist and didn’t return to the game. Kleiza was originally assessed a Flagrant-2 foul on the play, but it was downgraded to a Flagrant-1 after a review.

The Celtics opened up a 29-14 lead in the first quarter and while they eventually cooled down, the Raptors didn’t have nearly enough offense to make up the ground with leading scorer Andrea Bargnani out of the lineup with a strained left calf. However the win came, the Celtics will take it. They’re back in action on Friday against the Suns.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo didn’t get his first assist until the 6:01 mark of the third quarter, but it was hard to argue with his floor game. Rondo went to the basket repeatedly and made seven of his first eight shots. He also went to the free throw line seven times in the first half and made five.

Kevin Garnett came out aggressive with six points in the first four minutes and 10 points by halftime. Garnett finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and while he’s still having trouble finishing inside, this continued a run of stronger games for Garnett.

Paul Pierce only scored eight points but he had seven assists and four rebounds. With Rondo looking to score, Pierce played the role of facilitator and did it well.

– The Celtics hit the defensive glass and didn’t turn the ball over. A very good combination.

Mickael Pietrus and Brandon Bass formed an effective two-man bench, combing for all 19 points for the reserves prior to fourth quarter garbage time. Pietrus finished with 12 points, all on 3-pointers and Bass had 13 and nine rebounds.

WHAT WENT WRONG Read the rest of this entry »

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Irish Coffee: Four Paul Pierce Celtics trade scenarios at 3:48 pm ET
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By now, you’ve probably heard Yahoo! Sports columnist Adrian Wojnarowski’s report that “several contending teams” have contacted the Celtics to gauge Paul Pierce‘s availability on the trade market.

    As Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen become free agents this summer, money will peel away from the salary cap. Between then and now, the bigger question promises to be: Does ownership and general manager Danny Ainge go for the complete rebuild and trade Pierce before the March 15 deadline? Several contending teams have inquired about Pierce’s availability. As one Eastern Conference official said, there are “lots of calls asking if [Boston] will blow it up.”

Based upon 42 comments Tuesday on WEEI.com about this item, fans fall into two camps: 1) Those who can’t handle The Truth being traded; and 2) Those who’d send the captain’s ship sailing for the right package in return.

Ainge falls into the latter camp, if only because he’s said time and again over the past year that nobody is off limits in his attempt to keep the Celtics relevant in this post-Big Three era. His sole goal is to avoid watching Pierce, Garnett and Allen grow old and gray in green as Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish did in the 1990s.

Heck, Ainge explored trades involving Pierce prior to Garnett and Allen’s arrival, when the captain was in the midst of his prime, so why would he be afraid to pull the trigger on the right deal involving a now 34-year-old Pierce with a $32 million price tag over the next two seasons? Just because teams are calling doesn’t mean Ainge has to listen, but here are four deals that might keep him on the phone. Read the rest of this entry »

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Celtics encouraged despite losing five straight 01.17.12 at 10:13 am ET
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Monday night’s loss to the upstart Thunder marked the first time in the Big Three era that the team has lost five straight games, and it’s also the second time in the young season that Boston has lost three games in the span of four days. Even though the natural inclination is to panic, collectively the Celtics feel the team is improving.

“I really like the effort we had tonight,” said Paul Pierce. “I was the telling the guys if we compete like that night in and night out — we’ll get closer to where we want to be.”

Certainly it’s easy to point to Boston’s 4-8 record and feel underwhelmed at any notion of optimism, but the Celtics are starting to click individually. Now, the team needs to find some semblance of consistency.

“We’re still chasing putting four quarters of good basketball together,” said Kevin Garnett, who finished with 12 points and 12 rebounds against the Thunder. “I know y’all are probably tired of hearing this, and I’m sure if y’all rewind your tapes, I’m in a different outfit saying the same thing, but we’re going to continue to work and we’re going to continue to get this thing better. I really believe that, and you’ve got to believe that.”

Ray Allen and Brandon Bass helped carry Boston earlier this season. Bass, in particular, was a pleasant surprise. Through the first seven games of the season he averaged 14 points off the bench. However, during this five-game losing streak, Bass has seen his production cut in half, only averaging 7.4 points per game.

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