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Preview: Celtics vs. Pistons 01.20.10 at 10:27 am ET
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Kevin Garnett is close to coming back for the Celtics. He practiced Tuesday and might play Friday against the Blazers, although that seems a little optimistic considering how cautious everyone has been with his various leg injuries.

The question for Garnett and the Celtics is: Which KG will we see on the floor? The one at the beginning of the season was tentative and out of rhythm offensively. The KG we saw before the injury was one of the best shooting big men in the NBA and a strong rebounder. Even when he’s not at his best, Garnett remains an excellent passer and a terrific help-side defender, and the Celtics have been struggling with stagnant offense and sub-par defensive rotations.

It’s too much to ask Garnett for him to pick up right where we he left off, but he needs to be that player again at least by the All-Star break if the Celtics are going to have any time to get everything in place for the playoffs. Marquis Daniels is also tentatively scheduled to be back by that point and that would be the first time this season the Celtics would have their nine-man rotation fully upright and operational.

CELTICS (27-12, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.2

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +6.4 (Second)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.7 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.7 (Third)

Pace: 91.7 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist)

PISTONS (14-26, 3-7 last 10)

Points Per Game: 92.2

Points Allowed: 97.1

Differential: -4.9 (27th)

Offensive Efficiency: 103.6 (24th)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.9 (21st)

Pace: 88.5 (29th)

Likely Starters: Rodney Stuckey, Rip Hamilton, Jonas Jerebko, Chris Wilcox, Ben Wallace

Injuries: Will Bynum (ankle), Ben Gordon (questionable, strained groin), Tayshaun Prince (questionable, knee) Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics-Mavericks 01.18.10 at 10:30 am ET
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Doc Rivers has a well-deserved reputation as a player’s coach, but that tag is too nebulous to hold any real meaning. Generally a player’s coach is regarded as someone (usually an ex-player) who is in touch with his team’s psyche and doesn’t try to make them bend to his will. A player’s coach allows the team to be the star instead of the system. Just as generally, player’s coaches are praised when things go well for knowing what buttons to push and derided for being too soft when things go poorly. That’s just the nature of the business.

Rivers is hardly soft. He demands a lot of his players and expects them to perform according to the coaching staff’s gameplan. But he rarely airs them out in public, at least not in a way that seems too personal. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to have a handle on when to go hard and when to make things light, as in holding a team dunk contest during practice on Saturday. It’s hardly an exact science and Rivers has, at times, taken blame when he felt that he pushed his team too hard in retrospect.

If he has a criticism it’s that he doesn’t incorporate the Celtics younger players into the lineup and give them a fair chance to contribute. It’s impossible to say for sure if Bill Walker, for example, can ever be a part of the rotation because he never gets a real chance to play meaningful minutes. But in Rivers’ defense, he’s not coaching a team for the future. The Celtics are built to win this season. That’s how he will be judged and everything he does needs to be seen through that prism.

That may be unfortunate for Walker and J.R. Giddens at this point in their career, but it makes sense for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Rivers’ job is to get the best out of those players during the time that he has them on his team.

MAVERICKS (26-14, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.3

Points Allowed: 98.1

Differential: +2.2 (12th)

Offensive Efficiency: 107.5 (13th)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.2 (11th)

Pace: 92.1 (19th)

Likely Starters: Jason Kidd, Josh Howard, Shawn Marion, Dirk Nowitzki, Erick Dampier

Injuries: Eduardo Najera (back), Tim Thomas (Achilles)

CELTICS (27-11, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 93.7

Differential: +6.8 (Second)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.5 (Third)

Pace: 91.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist) Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics-Nets 01.13.10 at 10:33 am ET
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In the aftermath of the loss to the Hawks Monday night, there were many conflicting emotions. Some players didn’t like how the game was called. Others expressed uncertainty about the was the team was handled once Doc Rivers was ejected. But one player refused to pay any of that any mind; Paul Pierce.

“We don’t make excuses,” Pierce said when asked about the officiating. When someone asked about four of the starters playing 40+ minutes, Pierce pointed out that the Hawks had done the same thing.

Pierce is the captain, and in pro sports the whole notion of the captain isn’t nearly as important as people like to think it is. But he is the public face of the franchise and the first person to respond to the media’s questions. In essence Pierce helps set the tone for how the press deals with the rest of the locker room. Pierce was stoic and measured in the face of adversity Monday night and added yet another layer to his leadership credentials.

CELTICS (26-10, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.7

Points Allowed: 93.8

Differential: +6.9 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 109.1 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.6 (Third)

Pace: 91.8 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Brian Scalabrine, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Rasheed Wallace (foot) Marquis Daniels (thumb)

NETS (3-34, 1-9 last 10)

Points Per Game: 89.8

Points Allowed: 101.1

Differential: -11.4 (30th)

Offensive Efficiency: 97.3 (30th)

Defensive Efficiency: 109.6 (22nd)

Pace: 92.3 (18th)

Likely Starters: Devin Harris (questionable, wrist), Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, Brook Lopez

Injuries: Harris. Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics-Hawks 01.11.10 at 10:23 am ET
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The focus around town has been understandably elsewhere during these early days of 2010, but as you woke up this morning to the reality of a Pats-free January and a simmering Red Sox hot stove (down from a full boil) the Celtics have got what you might call a big one tonight. That’s relative of course. There are no true Big Games in January, but the Celtics have faced the Hawks twice this season and they have been beaten pretty badly in both encounters.

After the latest defeat Friday night, Doc Rivers conceded to the press that the Hawks had been both, “the better team” and “more physical.” There’s little chance that the coach actually believes those two statements to be true in totality, but those have been the facts this season in regards to the Hawks.

The Celtics have a chance to make up for that tonight, which also kicks off a stretch of 10 games where they will play six times against quality teams. If you haven’t been paying rapt attention to the C’s lately, tonight would be a good time to start.

CELTICS (26-9, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.8

Points Allowed: 93.5

Differential: +7.3 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 109.0 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 101.2 (Second)

Pace: 91.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (thumb)

HAWKS (23-13, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 103.4

Points Allowed: 97.8

Differential: +5.6 (Fifth)

Offensive Efficiency: 111. (Third)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.8 (12th)

Pace: 91.7 (23rd)

Likely Starters: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

Injuries: None Read the rest of this entry »

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Preview: Celtics-Hawks 01.08.10 at 11:04 am ET
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By now we’ve all had a chance to watch and re-watch the inbound play that resulted in a layup for Rajon Rondo and helped the Celtics take Miami to overtime, where they eventually won. (If not, Jess has an excellent re-cap of Doc Rivers explaining the ins and outs on the Dennis & Callahan show Thursday). The whole thing was wonderfully executed from Paul Pierce’s pass (“Paul is the only guy that can make the pass,” Rivers said.) to Glen Davis‘ screen that sprung Rondo to Rondo’s finish at the rim.

All of which brings up an interesting point. Rivers is generally acknowledged at a master of designing plays coming out of timeouts. That’s an anecdotal observation. It would be hard to track such a thing without watching tons of game tape from around the league. It might be possible to tell how successful a team was coming out of timeouts and tracing that back to the coach, but what if something hadn’t quite worked on that play? What if Rondo’s tip spun in and out? It was still a great play call.

A few seconds earlier Rivers had Ray Allen isolated at the top of the key. Dwyane Wade stripped Allen and went in for a dunk. We have no idea what play Rivers had drawn up because Allen never got a chance to run it. But on balance, we’ve seen the Celtics score many points of out of timeouts with well-designed calls. (As an aside: One of the best I’ve ever seen at it was Villanova women’s coach Harry Perretta. He shared some of his plays with Pat Summitt who used them to help win a national championship.)

It’s interesting that some coaches don’t seem to even want to try to take advantage of the situation. George Karl rather famously doesn’t have inbound plays at least until Chauncey Billups demand that he draw some up. The Wizards were running a promotion to have a fan draw up an inbound play, which seems ridiculous. But they’ve got other problems right now.

At the very least, it’s to Rivers credit that he takes these situations seriously and does what he can to put his team in a position to make succeed.

CELTICS (25-8, 6-4 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.9

Points Allowed: 92.3

Differential: +7.7

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 100.6 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (19th)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Rasheed Wallace, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Kevin Garnett (hyper-extended knee), Marquis Daniels (thumb), Eddie House (flu, questionable)

HAWKS (22-12, 4-6 last 10)

Points Per Game: 104.4

Points Allowed: 97.8

Differential: +6.6 (Fourth)

Offensive Efficiency: 112.7 (Second)

Defensive Efficiency: 105.5 (12th)

Pace: 91.8 (22nd)

Likely Starters: Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, Marvin Williams, Josh Smith, Al Horford

Injuries: None. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Celtics, Hawks, Preview,
Preview: Celtics-Heat 01.06.10 at 10:32 am ET
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Paul Pierce has been around for so long that it’s sometimes easy to take him for granted. He popped up on various All-Decade teams, particularly those teams that were put together by careful observers who look more at production than hype. There is no question that his role on a championship team helped his standing, but take a moment to stroll through his career numbers on basketball-reference.com. Pierce has been a model of offensive efficiency and a more complete player than he is usually given credit for.

The Celtics have missed him over the last five games while he dealt with a knee infection following surgery. Would he have been a difference-maker in their losses to the Clippers and Golden State? The guess here is that he probably would have helped them win at least one and probably both, simply by settling things down in the fourth quarter of chaotic games.

Before the team headed for Miami, someone asked Pierce if he thought Eddie House or Ray Allen would make a better team rep in the 3-point contest. Pierce rather nonchalantly suggested that he would make a better candidate and he’s right. The man has been killing it from beyond the arc all season. It’s a minor point in the grand scheme of things, but yet another indication that one of the great players in team history is often criminally overlooked, even in his own town. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Cealtics, Heat, Preview,
Preview: Celtics-Suns 12.30.09 at 10:59 am ET
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It’s funny what a couple of losses can do to a team. Just last weekend everyone was hailing the Celtics resiliency and toughness after they found a way to beat the Magic in Orlando. Now, they’re careless and sloppy and not quite as dominant as everyone thought. Or maybe, they just miss Paul Pierce, especially late in games.

The C’s play the Suns Wednesday night and it’s a matchup that should have been circled back when the schedule came out because it’s two good teams who play an entertaining, but completely different, brand of basketball. If the Celtics lose, which they might, it would be three straight defeats and the ship will be sinking. Or something.

Do they need to tighten up? Absolutely. Do they need to play better? Sure. Are they headed for an inevitable playoff fall after a couple of lackluster games on the road in late December? Um, no. For one night, forget about the playoffs. Forget about wherever this team is eventually heading and just enjoy the hoops.

CELTICS (23-7, 7-3 last 10)

Points Per Game: 100.5

Points Allowed: 91.9

Differential: +8.7 (First)

Offensive Efficiency: 108.9 (10th)

Defensive Efficiency: 99.5 (First)

Pace: 92.0 (21st)

Likely Starters: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Kevin Garnett, Kendrick Perkins

Injuries: Paul Pierce (knee), Marquis Daniels (wrist), Glen Davis (ankle)

SUNS (20-12, 5-5 last 10)

Points Per Game: 109.8

Points Allowed: 106.0

Differential: +3.8 (Ninth)

Offensive Efficiency: 114.6 (First)

Defensive Efficiency: 110.6 (27th)

Pace: 95.8 (Fourth)

Likely Starters: Steve Nash, Jason Richardson, Grant Hill, Amar’e Stoudemire, Channing Frye

Injuries: None.

Key Matchup: Nash vs. Rondo

Nash won a couple of MVP’s earlier this decade that in retrospect most feel he probably shouldn’t have won. That’s not a knock on Nash who has been one of the game’s great guards of this or any other era, just the reality of suspect MVP voting. What’s interesting, however, is that Nash may be having an even better season than his MVP years. He ranks first in every assist category in the league, and in free throw shooting. He is the top-ranked guard in True Shooting Percentage and Effective Field Goal Percentage and owns the best Offensive Efficiency Rating in the NBA. He’s the key to everything the Suns do and represents yet another test for Rondo.

Celtics in a Paragraph: The Celtics turn the ball over a lot. They average a little more than 15 per game, which puts them in the lower half of the NBA. It’s even worse when you factor in pace where they rank near the very bottom of the league. More than a quarter of their possessions end in turnovers, which puts their 26-turnover performance in a 100-possession game against the Warriors in a little better perspective. That said, turnovers have always been an issue for the Celtics in this era. They had been doing a better job managing them this season, but even a little slippage in this area turns an issue into a full-blown problem.

Suns in a Paragraph: In the past 10 games the Suns have defeated the Lakers, Spurs and Magic and lost to the Blazers, Nuggets and Cavs. They remain a very good team in a hyper-competitive conference that is good enough to beat anyone, but probably not good enough to get to the Finals. That’s a shame for anyone who loves watching well-executed fast-break basketball. Until they break through, their style will always be suspect, but when the Suns did try to play a more conventional game they were not only boring, they were mediocre. For a league that prides itself on its creativity, the NBA can be surprisingly conservative.

What to watch For: Phoenix has four players that have already launched at least 100 3-pointers this season: Nash, Richardson, Frye and former Boston College star, Jared Dudley. Each of them shoot a high percentage, and as a team the Suns are shooting over 42 percent from 3-point range. Not coincidentally, Phoenix owns the best offensive efficiency rating in basketball. The Celtics are the top rated defense in terms of efficiency, so something has to give.

In their first meeting, Phoenix was able to spread the floor with high pick and rolls and with Nash running it there are no good options for defending it. The pressure will be on Rondo to fight through screens and provide pressure on the ball and the Celtics bigs to not leave Frye open for pick and pop jumpers.

Read More: Celtics, Preview, Suns,
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