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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 »

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Fast Break: Celtics capture 14th straight 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.

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The Three-Pointer: One Celtics play says so much 12.10.10 at 12:29 am ET
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Boston Celtics' head coach Doc Rivers, right, shouts a play as assistant coach Lawrence Frank, left, looks on in the fourth quarter during an NBA basketball game against the New Jersey Nets at the Prudential Center in Newark , N.J. , Sunday, Dec. 5, 2010. The Celtics defeated the Nets 100-75.

Doc Rivers drew up the game-winning play, and the Celtics executed it. (AP)

It was just one play, lasting 5.2 seconds, yet it said so much about the 2010-11 Celtics.

Not many coaches have the smarts (or the cojones) to draw up a game-winning alley-oop with 6.6 seconds left. But the Celtics have Doc Rivers — one of the best coaches in the business at designing plays following a timeout — and he had the script that resulted in a 102-101 Celtics win over the 76ers in his back pocket all along.

“We worked on the whole timing of it last week,” Rivers told reporters. “We tried to run it earlier in the year, and we had bad timing, so it’s just funny how things worked out. It’s a low-clock play, the ball is in the best passer’s hands, and you have shooters on the floor. … It worked.”

Not many point guards can throw a perfect blind lob over a taller defender in the final moments of a game. But the Celtics have Rajon Rondo, who picked up his 14th assist of the night with 1.4 seconds left when he dropped a pretty pass over the heads of Thaddeus Young and Jrue Holiday that led to the basket that resulted in his team’s ninth consecutive victory.

Not many post players have the length and athleticism to get from the top of the key to the rim in a blink of an eye. But the Celtics have a healthy Kevin Garnett, who rolled to the basket, caught the lob pass and converted it all in one fluid motion to improve the C’s Eastern Conference-best record to 18-4.

“Last year, Kevin would’ve missed the lob,” Rivers added. “Actually, we wouldn’t have thrown it. We can do it now.”

And not many teams have three deadly shooters who opponents absolutely have to respect in the waning seconds of a one-point game. But the Celtics have Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Nate Robinson, who all hovered around the 3-point line — drawing Andre Iguadola, Jodie Meeks and Louis Williams from the basket and allowing Rivers’ design to play out on the floor.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Fast Break: Celtics, Kevin Garnett sink Sixers 12.09.10 at 11:04 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo found Kevin Garnett for an alley-oop layup with 1.4 seconds remaining, as the Celtics stole their ninth consecutive victory — a 102-101 win over the 76ers in Philadelphia.

Ray Allen (game-high 23 points) and Glen Davis (16 points, 7 rebounds) also hit shots that put the Celtics up one in the final 1:04, but the Sixers regained the lead each time — until Garnett sealed the deal.

Rondo finished with 19 points and 14 assists.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Rondo’s offense: He might have been hobbled by a sore hamstring and sore feet, but even at 85 percent Rondo is better than anybody the 76ers have to defend him. And he took advantage of that, assuming the bulk of the C’s offensive load.

Rondo put up a double-double … through the first three quarters. When all was said and done, he finished with 19 points and 14 assists, including the game-clinching lob pass to Garnett with 1.4 seconds left.

3-Point shooting: As if the Celtics’ 56 percent shooting clip wasn’t impressive enough, their 3-point percentage was even better at 58 percent (7-of-12).

Nate Robinson hit three of the six 3′s he took. Ray Allen drained 2-of-3, including a clutch trey that put the C’s up 98-97 with 1:04 remaining. Even Von Wafer and Rondo knocked down a 3 apiece.

Energy off the bench: In 11 first-half minutes off the bench, Robinson scored nine points on 3-of-5 shooting. While the rest of the team looked somewhat disinterested and more than a step slow, he provided the necessary boost to keep the veteran Celtics in the ballgame on the second night of a back-to-back.

As usual, Glen Davis picked up where Robinson left off, totaling 16 points and seven rebounds by the end of the night — including a jump shot with 27 seconds remaining that put the Celtics up 100-99.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Crash the boards: The 76ers outrebounded the Celtics, 39-33, and 15 of those 33 Philadelphia boards came on the offensive glass. The C’s showed little interest in boxing out in the opening 24 minutes, as Elton Brand, Thaddeus Young and Spencer Hawes combined for 14 first-half boards. That’s how the C’s entered the locker room with just a one-point lead, despite shooting 58 percent.

Transition defense: The Celtics showed just as much interest early in getting back on defense as they did in boxing out, allowing the 76ers to pile up 16 fast-break points in the first half. The pace slowed in the second half, as Philadelphia finished the game with 22 fast-break points.

The athleticism of Jrue Holiday (12 points, 6 assists) and Andre Iguadola (14 points, 11 assists), in particular, caused the C’s problems.

Under the weather: Paul Pierce wasn’t feeling well before the game, and it showed throughout. He shot just 3-of-8 from the field and appeared a step slow on the defensive end. Somehow, though, Pierce still managed to play 40 minutes and post a near double-double (10 points, 8 rebounds).

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The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (6 of 7) 10.26.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division (sans the C’s) with the sixth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5) …

New Jersey Nets
NEW JERSEY NETS
by Mark Ginocchio, Nets Are Scorching

New Jersey Nets' Brook Lopez (11) posts up as New York Knicks' Ronny Turiaf defends during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in New York.

The Nets might have an All-Star on their hands with Brook Lopez. (AP)

ON THE NETS: I think the Nets are going to surprise some people this year and be a lot better than last year.

Not Oklahoma City Thunder good, but maybe eighth seed in the East good, which could still be below .500.

I think Brook Lopez is going to go a long way in establishing himself as an All-Star, and while I’m advocating being patient with Derrick Favors, I see him being used to lure a superstar over to New Jersey this season (Carmelo Anthony?).

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are clearly the class of the Atlantic Division this season, and they’re once again one of the favorites to be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

With their age, I can see them hitting some ruts during the regular season, and of course all of their core guys have to be healthy for the playoff run, but the Celtics are one of the few teams out there that I think are capable of defensively shutting down Superfriends in Miami.

With that in mind, I’ll be rooting for them if/when their paths cross.

New York Knicks
NEW YORK KNICKS
by Tommy Dee, The Knicks Blog

New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire speaks with the media during the Knicks' Media Day at their training facility Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, in New York.

The addition of Amar'e Stoudemire has Knicks fans thinking playoffs. (AP)

ON THE KNICKS: The Knicks will be improved, assuming Amar’e Stoudemire stays healthy.

They need the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chander and Anthony Randolph to make strides on both sides of the ball to get the most out of Mike D’Antoni‘s transition offense quarterbacked by Raymond Felton.

Of course, the Carmelo Anthony situation will continue to loom, and this is a pressure-packed season for the coach, seeing that his system has taken a tremendous hit with fans over the last two years.

They still have roster flexibility, and I expect them to land Anthony, but in the meantime they have to consistently win free-throw attempt battles and out-rebound their opponents. Those are two constants for playoff teams.

If they do that — and knock down their open jumpers — they’ll be a playoff team. If they don’t, it could be another lost season in the Big Apple.

ON THE CELTICS: I actually love what the Celtics did this offseason. To this day, I think they beat the Lakers if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t get hurt.

But they’ve loaded up the front line with size, and age, with both Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, which is key because of the status of Perkins’ health — and it makes them deeper up front against the likes of Miami and Orlando.

The Celts owned the Magic last postseason because they chose to guard Dwight Howard 1-on-1 in the post, and it proved effective as he couldn’t kick out to open shooters. Perhaps more importantly, with the Big 3 in Miami, I believe the Heat are vulnerable up front. That’s the way to attack them.

If Rajon Rondo continues off his impressive playoff performance and the Celtics maintain health, then they should be right there in the end once again.

Off the floor, I love the addition of Lawrence Frank, one of the most prepared minds in the game today.

Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
by Brian Ward, Depressed Fan

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, right, seated next to Sixers President and General Manager Ed Stefanski,  makes remarks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, May 24, 2010. Collins is back as an NBA coach after seven seasons as an analyst with TNT. Collins is excited to take over the 76ers, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 draft.

It might be asking to much for Doug Collins to lead the Sixers to the playoffs in his first season. (AP)

ON THE 76ERS: The Sixers had an up-and-down summer. New general manager Rod Thorn and head coach Doug Collins are both clear upgrades.

Sending Willie Green and Jason Smith out of town was a case of addition by subtraction.

Evan Turner is taking his lumps right now, but while he may not be scoring as much as we’d hoped, he’s producing in other areas and contributing while figuring out the difference between the Big Ten and the NBA.

I’d be feeling much better about the Sixers’ prospects if it wasn’t for the Samuel Dalembert trade. Ed Stefanski pulled the trigger on a deal that basically gutted the Sixers interior defense and defensive rebounding without a thought to who would fill that void.

To make matters worse, he took back the second year on Andres Nocioni‘s contract in the deal, which submarined the Sixers’ cap space for next summer. It was a horrible trade from every angle.

If the Dalembert trade hadn’t been made, I’d feel pretty confident in predicting a 10-15 game turnaround for this team and probably a trip to the playoffs in Colllins’ first season at the helm.

As things stand, however, the Sixers’ talented perimeter players won’t be able to cover for their feeble stable of bigs, and it’s a stretch to think they’ll win 35 games. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d say 30-52.

ON THE CELTICS: From the outside, looking in, the Celtics don’t look as strong as they did last season.

Their core is a year older, and the addition of Shaq is going to open some major holes in their defense.

That being said, they have a cakewalk through the Atlantic, and they’ll probably finish somewhere between the No. 2 and 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, depending on health.

If Kendrick Perkins comes back healthy in time for the playoffs, they could make a return trip to the Finals, but I think that’s a bit of a long shot.

Toronto Raptors
TORONTO RAPTORS
by Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic

Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, of Italy, speaks to reporters after the team's basketball training camp finished for the day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday Oct. 2, 2010.

Andrea Bargnani is hoping the Raptors aren't as some media outlets are predicting. (AP)

ON THE RAPTORS: 26 wins.

The Raptors aren’t as bad as ESPN is making them out to be. They could be on par or better than teams like Philadelphia, Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and New York, so there will be wins to be had.

The defensive effort has been solid in training camp, and if the Raptors can get consistent offensive production out of Andrea Bargnani and the Italian improves his defensive awareness, they have enough players who can play and carry the load.

Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa can complement the youth of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but the question will be whether the Raptors can rely on their defense to keep them in games when their star-starved offense goes into a funk.

Last year, they were dead last in defensive rating. If they can become a middle-of-the-pack team, it could be a decent rebuilding year, but I don’t see the playoffs on the horizon.

ON THE CELTICS: The health of the two O’Neals and Kevin Garnett will dictate how the Celtics will fare.

The Raptors saw first-hand how volatile things can be with Jermaine O’Neal if he’s injured, and if you have to rely on Shaq giving you cover at center, then the Celtics could be in trouble in the postseason, much like they were when Perkins went down in the Finals.

From what I’ve seen of Rajon Rondo, he looks to have improved his outside game to the point where he can make a sagging defense pay.

With Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all good mid-range shooters and passers, it will make the Celtics hard to stop, and we know the defense will be there.

Barring injury, I’d pick the Celtics to win 57 games but lose to the Bulls in the postseason (yes, I think the Bulls will be good) as Tom Thibodeau comes back to haunt you.

If injuries hit early, there will be a firesale.

Stay tuned for the final portion of this seven-part series: the Boston Celtics.

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Celtics’ preseason schedule 08.13.10 at 11:33 am ET
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Wednesday, October 6 – Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena

Thursday, October 7 – New Jersey, 7:00 p.m. at Prudential Center

Sunday, October 10 – Toronto, 6:00 p.m. at TD Garden

Tuesday, October 12 – Philadelphia, 7:00 p.m. at Wachovia Center

Wednesday, October 13 – New York, 7:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden

Friday, October 15 - Toronto, 7:00 p.m. at Air Canada Centre

Saturday, October 16 – New York, 7:30 p.m. at XL Center

Wednesday, October 20 – New Jersey, 7:30 p.m. at TD Garden

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A look back: Bol at the Boston Garden 06.19.10 at 6:41 pm ET
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On Saturday, 7-foot-7 former center Manute Bol died at the age of 47. Bol played in the NBA from 1985 to 1995 for the Washington Bullets, Golden State Warriors, Philadelphia 76ers, and Miami Heat. He faced the Celtics 26 times during his career, averaging 2.7 points and 4.6 rebounds against the C’s.

See Bol in action at the Boston Garden back in 1988:

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