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Irish Coffee: Celtics failing first quarter 03.24.11 at 2:30 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

The Celtics are 4-5 since March 9, and in seven of those games they’ve trailed at the end of the first quarter. As Celtics Hub pointed out in a nice breakdown, the C’s have averaged 18.8 points in the first quarter during that stretch – 5.4 fewer than their season average of 24.2.

Playing from behind is never a good thing. After all, the Celtics are 34-8 after winning the first quarter and 16-12 after losing it. That’s absolutely significant. So, what’s the problem?

Considering the Big Four plays the large majority of the first-quarter minutes, this is on them. Are Rajon Rondo‘s struggles at fault? Should Paul Pierce and Ray Allen — the team’s top two scorers — be getting more touches in the first 12 minutes? Yes, yes and yes.

If I had 10,000 hours to dedicate to this particular blog, I’d calculate the average first-quarter field-goal attempts, points and assists for Rondo, Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnett. But I don’t. So, the most recent quarter-by-quarter breakdown by 82games.com — from the 2008-09 season — will have to do. And that’s not a bad year to pick, considering the Big Four had one season under their belt together and were coming off an NBA title run.

The Big Four averaged 20.9 points on 16.5 field-goal attempts and 5.2 assists as a group in the first quarter during that 2008-09 season, according to 82games.com. Over the last nine games, they’ve produced 12.4 points on 12.9 field-goal attempts and 4.3 assists in the opening 12 minutes. Something’s not clicking. That’s 8.5 fewer points, and considering the Celtics have lost their last five games by an average of 7.2 points — there’s your difference.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Mike Krzyzewski, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Paul Pierce on getting touches late: ‘I’m not going to make that an issue’ at 10:51 am ET
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Sometimes Paul Pierce can display a misleading, almost nervous, smile after a befuddling loss.

Wednesday night was such a case.

Pierce was asked whether he would like to get his hands on the ball more down the stretch, especially when the Celtics were trailing by three and his team needed a big basket. Pierce did get the ball but with 4.2 seconds left, leaving the C’s captain to fire a desperate trey that fell short.

In the 30 seconds before that, Rajon Rondo (a runner) and Glen Davis (an ill-advised three-pointer) missed shots that would’ve tied or given the Celtics the lead against the Grizz.

“We ran some stuff,” Pierce said. “We had the turnover right there down the stretch. For the most part I liked the looks we got. We got Big Baby with a nice shot. Less than 30 seconds we get Rondo right in the paint, going up for a shot that he takes all the time and makes. I’ll take that for a game winner. It just didn’t go our way today.”

Yes, Pierce would like to have touched the ball a little more but he said he didn’t want the team forcing the ball to him.

“Probably a little bit more, but I play within the framework of the offense,” Pierce said. “I’m not going to make that an issue. We’ve been winning the way we play all year long and the last four years. I’m not going to make that an issue.”

Doc Rivers had a different take.

“We’ve got to score more points,” Rivers said. “I thought in the second half we went through that one stretch where we didn’t even start our offense until like seven seconds on the clock. Milking the clock; I thought the ball just was bounced and didn’t move. Whenever we do that. You know, listen, I think as a whole, our team, we’ve got to get back to understanding – you know Paul is pretty good. And he’s got to get more touches in games. And I think we go back and forth on movement and we want that, but we’ve also got to get Paul involved. That’s on me; I’ve got to get Paul involved more.”

Pierce and the Celtics were also cautioned by their coaches before the game that the Grizzlies were one of the best offensive teams they’ll see in the paint this season. Despite all the pleading and prodding during film sessions, the Grizzlies came out and doubled the C’s 52-26 in the paint.

“I am surprised because the whole emphasis of today was they are one of the best, if not the best in the league at points in the paint,” Pierce said. “The emphasis was to pack the paint, they aren’t a great three point shooting team so there is no excuse for all that. We should have done a better job in there, make them kick it out and make them knock down a couple of jumpers.

“I thought overall, for the most part we played pretty good defense. We held them to what, 90 points. Especially Zach Randolph, he has been playing out of his mind. A lot of these guys have been playing well. I thought it was a pretty strong defensive game.”

The Celtics also committed 20 turnovers on their home court, which they haven’t exactly been defending that well, especially against teams from the West.

Are the C’s tired? Sure, but as they themselves admitted, who isn’t at this time of the season?

“The light is at the end of the tunnel, only a few more games left,” Pierce said. “It should be a better sense of urgency I believe around here. Especially finishing off the season on a good note and trying to get that home court advantage in the East.”

Read More: Big Baby, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Glen Davis
Fast Break: Grizzlies attack Celtics 03.23.11 at 10:06 pm ET
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Leon Powe and Tony Allen combined for 21 points and seven rebounds against their old team, and the Celtics fell a full game behind the Bulls in the race for the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed after a 90-87 loss to the Grizzlies (40-32) Wednesday night at the Garden.

Rajon Rondo missed 10 of his 12 shots from the field — including what would have been the go-ahead runner with 19 seconds left – but managed 11 assists and 11 rebounds for the Celtics (50-20). The C’s had two more chances to tie the game trailing 90-87 with 13 seconds remaining, but the first attempt ended up in a Glen Davis missed a 3-pointer. Memphis’ Marc Gasol missed both free throws on the other end, and Paul Pierce (game-high 22 points) had a chance for a triple — but that fell short, too.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Slow shooting start: The Celtics shot just 5-of-15 (0-for-2 from 3-point range) from the field in the first quarter, and the Big Four were to blame, making only 2-of-11 attempts. In fact, Tony Allen had more points in the opening 12 minutes as Pierce and Ray Allen combined. Of course, anybody with two points could’ve made that claim. As a result, the Celtics trailed 20-15 and found themselves once again playing from behind in the early going.

Leon Powe: Prior to the game, Doc Rivers said the Celtics had interest in Powe as a buyout option, but hesitated based on the condition of his knee. Well, the knee appeared just fine against the C’s, as Powe (at one point) led all scorers on Wednesday. He finished with 13 points.

The Grizzlies other bigs — Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph — also combined for 24 points and 19 rebounds. O’Neal brothers, where art thou?

Taking care of the ball: The Celtics committed 20 turnovers — leading to 16 Grizzlies’ points – and the biggest culprit was their center, Nenad Krstic. After a 2-for-2 start from the field, it wasn’t a good night for Krstic overall. The C’s big man committed four of those turnovers, missed his final four shots and committed more fouls (5) than he grabbed rebounds (2).

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo attacking the basket: With the Celtics falling behind by 10 early in the second quarter, Rondo sliced to the basket, took on a defender and wrapped a layup underneath him. The C’s closed out the half on a 21-10 run that included a nice give-and-go between Rondo and Delonte West, a nifty Rondo pick that resulted in an and-one for Glen Davis, and a heads-up play in which Rondo fired a ball off a Grizzly to prevent a turnover.

At the break, Rondo had already accumulated six points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, prompting some early triple-double whispers throughout the Garden.

Free-throw shooting: Entering the game, the Celtics ranked in the middle of the pack (16th) in terms of team free-throw percentage (76.4), but they’ve picked it up of late, shooting a combined 63-of-78 (80.8 percent) in their last three victories. Wednesday night was no different, as the Celtics made 22-of-23 free-throw attempts (95.7 percent) in defeat.

3-point shooting … until the final seconds: After starting 0-for-2 from beyond the arc, the Celtics made seven of their next 11 longballs. Two back-to-back treys from Allen in the second quarter helped the Celtics draw within two points. And a Pierce triple late in the fourth quarter brought the C’s within one at 86-85 with three minutes remaining in the game. But the Celtics missed those two game-tying attempts in the final 13 seconds.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Memphis Grizzlies, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Doc Rivers on Paul Pierce: ‘He’s the sneakiest athlete in the league’ 03.17.11 at 2:52 pm ET
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Paul Pierce

This has been an ongoing, and underrated, part of the Celtics season, but Paul Pierce has been finishing at the rim at a 72.4 percent clip. To put that in perspective, that percentage ranks fourth among NBA small forwards and is a slight tick ahead of LeBron James, who admittedly gets there more often.

For most of the season Pierce has quietly gone about his business, but in recent weeks he has been executing highlight-film poster dunks on players ranging from Kris Humphries to Carlos Delfino to the entire Clipper frontline and extending into Wednesday night’s dunk on Roy Hibbert. (Reds Army has the video highlights).

While Pierce doesn’t fit the mold of a high-flyer, this doesn’t come as a surprise to Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

“I told you this years ago when I first got here. I used to get so pissed when we played the Celtics because I used to think this non-athletic guy keeps beating us,” Rivers said. “Then when you coach him you realize he’s a super athlete. He just plays at a pace [where] he doesn’t show it. He’s the sneakiest athlete in the league.”

Read More: Paul Pierce,
Celtics don’t see a big point to setting a new team record 03.14.11 at 7:41 am ET
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When Keyon Dooling missed a pair of free throws with 22 seconds left, the Celtics had themselves a brand new franchise record for fewest points allowed in a game.

No team in the shot clock era had ever scored a few as the 56 points the Bucks managed Sunday night in an 87-56 Celtics’ win.

But the Celtics weren’t exactly popping champagne corks afterward.

Asked if he were aware of the new record his team just set, Paul Pierce quipped, “No, I didn’t have my NBA record book on the bench with me tonight so I didn’t realize.”

To Pierce and the rest of the Celtics, Sunday night was more about getting back to 48 minutes of quality defensive basketball and not suffering breakdowns and let downs in communication following losses to the Clippers and Sixers.

“It was definitely encouraging just to put together a four-quarter game of defense,” Pierce said. “I definitely thought we did that tonight. Especially when we are integrating a lot of new players, coming back home after coming off of two losses, it was just to get back comfortable in our building and play the type of defense that we like to play.”

Doc Rivers looked at it a different way. He saw the schedule and took into consideration the hour lost due to daylight savings time and the travel the Bucks went through to get to Boston to play a 6 p.m. game less than 24 hours after beating the Sixers at home.

“No, honestly, did we set a record? I didn’t know that,” Rivers said. “I really thought this was one of those schedule losses for Milwaukee. I just thought this was very similar to the game we had against Phoenix where you play a game and you lose an hour going backwards and then they lost another hour with the time change, and then we started the game at 6:00.

“So, I just thought – you looked at the schedule – I was concerned early in the game because we were up 10 and we were blowing layups; we were missing a lot of shots. You could see they were tired. So, we took advantage of that and that was great, but a lot of it had to do with their schedule.”

So, to be honest about it, Rivers said it’s great to win a game by 31 but he’s not about to draw any long-range conclusions about the quality of his team or how well his team got the message of toughening up in the fourth quarter.

“Our defense was good, but we don’t know how good our defense was tonight, even though – I would say our effort was phenomenal. And that’s all we talked about, we’re trying to sustain effort loner defensively and get back to doing that. Now that we’re starting to get – we have one body back. Hopefully Delonte (West) is back, not tomorrow but the game after that. So you know, it’s what we need to do.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Irish Coffee: Celtics a slam dunk 03.10.11 at 12:38 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Between Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, the Clippers own four of the top 10 throwdowns on NBA.com’s Dunk Ladder. Not to mention the fact that DeAndre Jordan had more than twice as many dunks (7) during the Clips’ 108-103 victory against the Celtics on Wednesday night as Rajon Rondo has had all season (3).

So, I figured now is as good a time as any to check out the dunk statistics for the Celtics, especially in comparison to their performance during the 2007-08 season. Thanks to CBS Sports’ Dunk-O-Meter and Roto Evil’s Slam Dunk Stats, we can do that.

If an aging NBA veteran has almost twice as many dunks through 62 games this season than he did during a year in which he captured the NBA Finals MVP, that seems to say a lot about the kind of lift and athleticism that’s still in his legs, right?

Of course, I’m talking about Paul Pierce, who according to CBS Sports has slammed 28 dunks already this season — including the highlight-reel one last night that can be seen in the video that accompanies this blog (thanks to @MrTripleDouble10). By comparison, Pierce recorded just 16 dunks in the 2007-08 regular season.

Count Ray Allen in the same category, as his 11 dunks so far this year are two more than he produced during the entire season three years ago. Glen Davis has already more than doubled his dunking output (11 in 2010-11, compared to 5 in 2007-08), but that can be credited to his increased role as the Sixth Man on this year’s squad.

If we can draw conclusions about how much more lift or aggressiveness Pierce has this year compared to three seasons ago based on his increased number of dunks, is the same true for those going in reverse? That means you, Kevin Garnett.

The naked eye test suggests Garnett has been more active and aggressive around the basket than he’s ever been in a Celtics uniform, but could it be that we’re simply remembering the guy who’s been hobbled by knee problems the last two years?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, nenad krstic, Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce speaks for starters: ‘No excuse to way we started out’ at 12:50 am ET
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It would seem after his bench was outscored, 26-12, in a 108-103 loss to the Clippers Wednesday night at TD Garden, Doc Rivers would have laid blame for the defeat at the hands of his reserves.

But Rivers also realizes that the Celtics dressed just five players Wednesday who were with the team before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, and one of those five was Avery Bradley.

It’s a lot to ask any second unit to make up a 15-to-20 deficit in a game, let alone one that was making its debut. So, the way Rivers saw it, this loss really was at the feet of his “Big 4″ – namely Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

“I was concerned because in the first quarter, our four starters put us in a hole and then you needed to sub, and you knew nothing good was going to happen,” Rivers said, as his team fell behind by as much as 15 in the first quarter and 23 early in the third.

“It actually [wasn't bad]. They held their ground,” Rivers said of his reserves, led by Carlos Arroyo and new starting center Nenad Krstic. “The problem was it was a 20-point ground [deficit] they were holding and that’s very difficult.

“We sub anyway. We sit guys down regardless of score. Obviously, we were down 20 and we’re subbing. It’s not something you want to do but you have to.”

Pierce couldn’t argue.

“It’s tough when you get out to bad starts and a lot of that has to do with the starters. How we come out at the beginning of the games, we’ve got to come out with a better focus,” Pierce said. “Once you get a team confidence like the Clippers then they feed off that for the rest of the game and were able to get the win.”

Pierce did point to the defensive struggles of the second unit but only as far as they had to pick up the pieces from the starters not playing defense, either.

“I think some of it is the second unit, but a lot of that was at the start of the game with the first five so no excuses on that point,” Pierce said. “They came out and shot 70 percent and a lot of that was against the guys that know what we are doing night in and night out.

“You give some leeway to the newer guys, but there is no excuse to the way we started out giving them the big lead and then having to fight all the way to get back into the game.”

The reserves did a very respectable job on Blake Griffin, who had just 12 points in 37 minutes. Down 23, the Celtics slowly started to chip away, outscoring the Clippers, 24-16 in the third to cut the lead to 10.

Then the starters finally did their thing. Allen drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing on a bullet pass from Rondo with 7:36 left to draw the Celtics within six, 86-80. Garnett’s jumper with just under six minutes left capped a 15-2 run to draw the Celtics within three.

But Mo Williams drained three free throws with 5:23 left to restore the lead to six. Jeff Green drilled a trey with 47.4 seconds left to get within four, 104-100. Allen’s three with 10.5 seconds left turned out to be too little, too late.

The Celtics will try to regroup and start a new winning streak on Friday against the upstart 76ers in Philadelphia. The Sixers are making a late-season push to finish in the middle of the playoff pack in the Eastern Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All-Star break.

Friday would be a great time for a new start for the “Big 4.”

Read More: blake griffin, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Los Angeles Clippers
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