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Irish Coffee: Who means most to Celtics’ success? 01.03.11 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 …

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Fast Break: Rondo’s return helps rally Celtics past Raptors 01.02.11 at 8:31 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo returned to the Celtics lineup after missing seven games with a severely sprained ankle, and while he wasn’t in top form, he had a definite impact on the Celtics, who snapped out of their recent funk with a 93-79 victory over Toronto on Sunday night. (Recap.)

The Celtics outscored Toronto 50-37 in the second half and shot 54 percent. Their double-digit win was even more impressive when you consider they also allowed 19 offensive rebounds. There’s no rest for the Celtics, who play the Timberwolves in Boston Monday night, but this was a much-needed win after two weeks of struggles.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rajon Rondo returned: The Celtics led 13-8 after six minutes and Rondo was feeling so good he even busted out his fake behind-the-back layup move. Then he picked up his second foul and went to the bench. So long, early lead. Rondo played nine more minutes in the second quarter and went the whole way in the third as the Celtics opened up a nine-point lead.

Rondo wasn’t great — four points, eight assists, five turnovers in 33 minutes — but you could see the difference in how the Celtics got into sets quicker and the passing was much crisper. In the third quarter, the Celtics made 12-of-17 shots and had assists on 10 of them. That’s the kind of impact Rondo has on a game.

Paul Pierce made amends: Pierce had a bad game against the Hornets on Friday afternoon. It happens. Pierce took the extra step of taking the blame for the loss, which wasn’t necessary, but was in line with his role as team leader. You know what speaks more loudly? Taking over the next game. In the first half, when the Celtics were struggling for offense, Pierce scored 20 of their 42 points. That’s leadership.

Center depth: Shaquille O’Neal got in foul trouble again, which is like saying the sun rose in the east. The good thing for Doc Rivers was that he had options. Rivers kept Shaq in the game after he picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and the big guy was able to convert a layup. He could afford to take the risk because he knew he had Jermaine O’Neal waiting behind him and Semih Erden, if necessary.

The O’Neals combined for 13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocked shots, which is exactly the kind of production they need from the position.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Glen Davis continues to struggle: It’s not that Davis hasn’t been able to do a decent Kevin Garnett impersonation. He hasn’t even been able to be Big Baby the last game and a half. Davis seems to be fighting himself as he adjusts to his new role as a starter, but after starting the game by missing eight of nine shots, Davis came alive in the third quarter.

He finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists in what might have been the best bad game anyone on the Celtics has played this season.

Transition defense: This has become the new watchword for Rivers, and the Celtics are struggling a bit in terms of getting back on defense. They gave up 27 fast-break points against Toronto, who is one of the fastest teams in the league in terms of pace. The Celtics play a number of young teams over the next few weeks and you can believe they will want to get out and run, rather than try to go toe-to-toe with the bruising Celtics.

Defensive rebounding: Attention, Celtics big men: Kevin Love is waiting for you on Monday. You might want to tighten up on the boards.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Glen Davis, Kevin Love
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.

‘€œRegardless 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
Fast Break: Pistons pound Celtics 12.29.10 at 10:09 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett left the game with a lower right leg injury late in the first quarter, but even before that the Celtics were in trouble during a 104-92 loss to the Pistons on the road on the second night of a back-to-back. Paul Pierce scored a game-high 33 points on 11-of-16 shooting, but only one other Celtic (Ray Allen) reached double figures. The Celtics drop to 24-6, despite Pierce’s effort to fuel a failed fourth-quarter comeback.

Meanwhile, despite the absence of their leading scorer (Rodney Stuckey), six Pistons scored in double digits: Tracy McGrady (21), Tayshaun Prince (18), Charlie Villanueva (14), Austin Daye (12), Ben Gordon (12) and Chris Wilcox (10).

WHAT WENT WRONG

Kevin Garnett goes down: Late in the first quarter, Garnett went up for a wide-open dunk, held on to the rim for an extra second as he grimaced in pain and limped up the floor on his left leg. Moments later, Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte worked on the same right leg that kept Garnett from finishing the 2008-09 season and hobbled him last year. Then, the official word: Garnett was out for the remainder of the game with a “lower right leg injury.”

Later, the Celtics stressed it was not a knee or ankle issue, but indeed a lower right leg injury. Garnett underwent X-rays, which showed no fractures, and he’ll have an MRI on Thursday. He walked to the locker and training rooms on his own accord.

Is it New Year’s Day? As Tommy Heinsohn said on the television broadcast, “They’re playing like they’re hungover.” The Celtics looked sluggish, even before the injury to Garnett. In the first quarter alone, they committed eight turnovers and allowed the Pistons to shoot 11-of-20 (55 percent).

In all, the C’s committed 21 turnovers, leading to 23 Pistons points. Detroit also shot 39-of-69 from the field (56 percent) and 10-of-14 from 3-point range (71 percent) for the game.  The Celtics even made McGrady appear like the McGrady of old, as he totaled 21 points, eight assists and four rebounds.

Sharing the wealth: In their first matchup of the season, with Rajon Rondo in the starting lineup, the Celtics recorded 20 more assists than the Pistons (33-13) in a 109-86 victory.

This time around? The Pistons actually recorded eight more assists than the C’s (26-18), as Nate Robinson (one assist) got the start in place of the injured Rondo. In fact, the Celtics totaled more turnovers than assists.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Paul Pierce does it all: With Garnett out for the remainder of the game, all eyes turned to Pierce for leadership on both ends of the floor. He responded — even though his teammates did not. Pierce scored 33 points to go with eight assists, five rebounds and five steals. Allen was the only other Celtic to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Jermaine O’Neal contributes: In 23 minutes off the bench, Jermaine O’Neal — who had shown little to nothing since returning on Christmas Day — recorded six rebounds and seven points, making his only two shots from the field. He even drew an important fourth-quarter charge on defense.

While it wasn’t much, O’Neal produced more in this outing than he had in the two previous games combined. If Garnett misses significant time this season, a giant magnifying glass will be focused on O’Neal’s impact.

Free-throw shooting: The Celtics didn’t get to the free-throw line much, but when they did they made them count — making 18-of-19 (94 percent). Pierce, Allen and O’Neal were a combined 14-for-14 from the charity stripe.

In fact, the C’s shot pretty well from everywhere on the floor, making 34-of-66 shots from the field (51 percent) and 6-of-15 3-pointers (40 percent).

Read More: 1994 NCAA Tournament, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Kevin Garnett
Irish Coffee: The Paul Pierce Tribute 12.28.10 at 10:23 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Paul Pierce just tweeted a link to this hip-hop song by Damani, called “(The Truth) Paul Pierce Tribute.” I gotta say, it’s pretty good. I especially like this line: “Back to the basket, face up tragic, mix between Bird and Magic, got to have it.”

SHAQ FINE WITH HEFTY FINE

Celtics center Shaquille O’Neal got hit with a $35,000 fine by the NBA for the comments that he made to the officials — which we covered here yesterday. Here’s what Shaq had to say to the Boston Herald:

‘€œHere’€™s my quote: Over my 18-year career, I’€™ve probably paid $90 million in federal tax, $20 million in FICA and $1 million in [NBA commissioner] David Stern tax.’€

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Damani, Nate Robinson, NBA
Danny Ainge on Big Show: ‘I like this team much better’ 12.23.10 at 5:11 pm ET
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Celtics president Danny Ainge joined The Big Show for his weekly Thursday appearance and noted that he doesn’t think this season’s Celtics team will have the same kind of letdown as last season’s squad.

“I think this just a better team,” Ainge said. “I like this team much better. I like the depth better. I feel more more confident in this team and what we’re capable of doing. Last year we came very close. I feel like us at all positions. We’re playing now without Delonte [West] and Rajon [Rondo], which makes it very difficult, and we’re still finding ways to win.”

The key for Ainge is that injuries haven’t affected Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett as they did last season.

“I think last year’s regular season, we didn’t play with a lot of resolve, but we also had more injuries to more key players,” Ainge said. “Paul and KG weren’t near the same and both of those guys are having great years.”

To hear the whole interview, go to The Big Show audio on demand page.

Here are more highlights from the interview:  Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Big Show, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett, Miami Heat
Even in winning, Paul Pierce admits the refs got the better of him 12.22.10 at 11:34 pm ET
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Paul Pierce started off the night by missing his first seven shots from the field, including a pair of three-point attempts. But that’s not what caused him to admittedly lose his cool in the third quarter, when he was hit with a technical foul by referee Tony Brothers with 6:07 left in the third quarter. Pierce was called for his fourth personal foul, causing him to wave his hand in disgust at Brothers.

“We got frustrated,” admitted Pierce, who finished with 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting and four rebounds in 34 minutes. “I got a technical. I know I was frustrated tonight. Just in a game where you’re trying to get rhythm and the game is off-balance and calls are being called each and every way. It’s hard to get into a rhythm so I was definitely frustrated.”

How frustrated? Maybe the most he’s been since he was teamed with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the 2007-08 season. But there was a huge sense of relief, as Pierce raised his arms at midcourt when the final seconds ticked off of Boston’s 14th straight win.

“Nothing was really going our way,” Pierce said. “Nothing was really going my way. This is one of the more frustrating games I’ve had in a long time. It was just – I don’t know – it was just something about this game, for us to pull it out the way we did, I’m very relieved.

“I felt like this was one of our better wins because we didn’t let the frustration get to us all the way. We found a way, we pulled back and this is one of the many ways we’re finding out about our team and tonight we found out even more about our team.”

Doc Rivers agreed with Pierce in one regard. Wednesday night symbolized just how bizarre and unique this winning streak is. The Celtics are not playing their best basketball by any stretch but still winning, making this the oddest extended winning streak he’s seen. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett, NBA
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