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How did the Celtics lose Game 1? We’ll count the ways 04.30.12 at 1:35 am ET
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ATLANTA — Well before Rajon Rondo lost his cool, the damage had been done to the Celtics in their playoff opener against the Hawks. It started in the first quarter when Atlanta raced to a 20-6 lead before six minutes had gone off the clock. It continued in the next 42 minutes, when they couldn’t make shots and every offensive possession carried with it an eerie reminder of the first half of the season.

“I don’€™t know if we kind of eased into the game,” Paul Pierce said. “It’€™s hard to tell. We establish ourselves early defensively. We definitely didn’€™t do that. They got every loose ball. They got every 3-point shot. They got everything they wanted in the first, and then it was like in a boxing match. You sit there and you’ve got your guard up, then you take your guard down, you take a punch and you’€™re like, Ok, we’€™re in a fight. We’ve got to realize we’€™re in a fight from the jump.”

The Celtics realized that too late, and after an 83-74 loss they now find themselves in the unenviable position of having to make up ground without homecourt advantage to sustain them. Over the final three quarters, the Celtics actually outscored Atlanta, 56-52, playing the kind of grimy, sludge-ball everyone expected in this series.

“This is a long series,” Pierce said. “You have to win four games and we just have to learn from our mistakes. Learn from the first quarter, learn from what we did better in the second and third quarters, and we’ve got to learn to keep our composure.”

It will be much harder if Rondo is suspended (click here for more on that story), but the blueprint is there. Assuming they can shoot better than 39 percent, there’s no reason they can’t get back into the series. Still, there’s a lot to work on between now and Tuesday’s Game 2.

Among the areas that need improvement:

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Kevin Garnett
Doc Rivers has the back of Rajon Rondo 04.29.12 at 11:12 pm ET
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Just before Rajon Rondo left the court in disgrace Sunday night after being ejected for chest bumping (not in a good way) official Marc Davis, he stopped and pleaded his case to his coach.

Doc Rivers stood there and listened briefly before Rondo was ushered to the locker room by team security. Apparently, it struck a chord with Rivers, who was once in Rondo’s shoes, playing a pair of heated playoff series against the Celtics back in 1986 and ’88.

Despite replays showing Rondo clearly bumped Davis with 40 seconds remaining before getting ejected, the Celtics coach came to the defense of his star point guard after Sunday night’s 83-74 loss to the Hawks in Game 1.

‘€œHe’€™s in the game, right?” Rivers answered when asked about Rondo’s reaction to the foul call on Brandon Bass, who raked Josh Smith in the face on a loose ball scramble. “So, when you’€™re in the game, I didn’€™t know there’€™s a rule the guy only involved in the play is the only one who can argue the call. As a coach, I’€™m not in the play, either. I argue calls vehemently.

“They’€™re all 10 competitors. You’€™re standing right there, you see what you see, you have a right to argue just as much as anybody else. I think it’€™s great. I think it’€™s getting your guys’€™ back on your team.’€

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Read More: 2012 NBA playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers
Fast Break: C’s lose their cool in Hot-Lanta at 9:40 pm ET
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The Celtics fell 83-74 on Sunday night in Game 1 of their first-round matchup with the Hawks. Rajon Rondo led the way for Boston with 20 points, but was ejected after arguing a call and bumping into official Marc Davis. Kevin Garnett started poorly, but finished with 20 points (8-19 FG) and 12 rebounds.

For the Hawks, Josh Smith scored 22 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Hit in the mouth: The Hawks shot 12-of-22 (54.5%) from the field in the first quarter. Atlanta got to the foul line, created easy transition buckets, and sustained the fervent pace that clearly gives it an advantage over the older Celtics.

The excitement and momentum of playing in front of their home crowd certainly didn’t hurt the strong start, and the Celtics rust from resting their starters didn’t help. Either way, Boston couldn’t stop the bleeding early. The C’s never got to the line and missed all seven of their 3-point attempts in the first half (they finished 0-of-11 from beyond the arc).

Tickets sold out: Garnett’s poor first half played a massive role in the team falling behind by double digits. The Big Ticket was aggressive early, which normally translates to good things for the Celtics. Sunday night, however, KG shot 1-of-9 from the field in the first half. Call it a product of rust, but it would have been wise for Garnett to position himself deeper in the paint when his jumper wasn’t falling.

Meanwhile, Garnett’s adversary, Smith, scored 15 points (7-12 FG) and grabbed 11 boards in the first half alone.

Ray of Light: Game 1 went sour rather quickly for the C’s. While that’s certainly concerning,  a bigger issue is the health of Ray Allen. Last Wednesday, Doc Rivers pronounced Allen probable to play in Sunday night’s series opener, by Saturday the prognosis changed to doubtful, and when it came time to tip off the playoff run Allen was in a suit and tie.

The Celtics could very well survive this series against Atlanta and maybe beat the Derrick Rose-less Bulls without Allen, but Allen makes both of those feats easier.

Losing your cool: The Celtics undoubtedly will be holding their collective breath while awaiting the league’s ruling on Rondo bumping the official. There is a chance Boston could be without him for Game 2.

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Rajon Rondo
Video chronicles Rajon Rondo’s tip-off trickery 04.27.12 at 4:23 pm ET
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Even for something as routine and commonplace as the opening tip of a basketball game, Rajon Rondo finds his way to add his own sense of flair and style to it.

It’s likely something that anyone who closely follows the Celtics has noticed, but someone took it upon themselves to make a video compilation complete with every instance in which Rondo managed to do something interesting with the ball after receiving the tip-off.

Included in the video are highlights such as Rondo getting the ball on a hike from Kevin Garnett multiple times, as well as a few instances in which Rondo makes a soccer play and heads the ball forward after getting it.

Read More: Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo,
Irish Coffee: Banged-up Celtics ‘hoping everybody is’ at 1:12 pm ET
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He might not be a real doctor, but he must feel like one after all the injuries he’s seen in the past four months.

“We’€™ve got to be careful with them, even in the playoffs,” said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. “It just doesn’€™t take much, it seems like, right now, for a guy to not be able to play the next night. So we have to be very careful.’€

Take Paul Pierce as Exhibit A. The Celtics captain began this lockout-shortened regular season with a bone bruise in his right heel and ended it with a sprained big left toe. The original plan was to rest Pierce’s ailing feet for the final two games, but his desire to stay in rhythm won out, so Rivers played him 18 minutes on Tuesday and just 2:18 on Thursday before March’s Eastern Conference Player of the Month limped back to the locker room.

“He hurt it,” said Rivers, referencing the toe that led the C’s to list Pierce as likely unable to return. “That’s why he’s been sitting. And then he wanted to play. We’re not sure if it was the tape, or whatever, because when he wanted to come back, he just kept saying, ‘I just needed to get it loose.’ So we had a long discussion, because I had no interest in putting him back in, but he really wanted to play a couple minutes just to get up and down the floor.”

The Celtics dodged a bullet, as Pierce returned for the final 4:24 of the first half to score seven quick points and ease fans’ fears. The same can’t be said for Ray Allen, who missed his ninth straight game with bone spurs in his right ankle. On Thursday, Rivers dubbed him probable for Game 1 against the Hawks, but the Celtics announced via Twitter on Friday, “Allen will not practice today and his status for Game 1 on Sunday is still unknown.”

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Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers
Kevin Garnett: ‘Together, Celtics play hard as sh*t’ at 1:27 am ET
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It wasn’t pretty. Not the NBA lockout. Not the 0-3 start. Not the losses of Jeff Green and Chris Wilcox to heart surgeries. Not the two five-game losing streaks. Not the way Paul Pierce started the season, Ray Allen ended it or everything in between that involved Jermaine O’Neal. But it’s over.

The 2011-12 Celtics regular season is in the books, resulting in another Atlantic Division title to toss into the supply closet along with the franchise’s 21 others that mean little compared to the 17 NBA championship banners hanging from the rafters. All in four months work for Kevin Garnett.

“We’re a very, very motivated group,” said Garnett. “Individually, we have a lot of pride. Together, we play hard as sh*t. Like I said, we’re a very prideful team. Like I always said, man, when you come in here and put that jersey on, there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with that, and we don’t take that lightly in here.”

The Celtics finished 39-27, capturing the fourth seed as the division winner, but finishing a game behind the Hawks (40-26), who will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Sunday at 7 p.m. on TNT (full schedule here), presumably without injured centers Al Horford and Garnett’s personal favorite Zaza Pachulia.

“This Atlanta team is a very exciting team — athletic, a better team since we’ve seen them, a more mature team,” said KG. “Smooth, Josh Smith, has played to me some of his best basketball. Joe Johnson is classic Joe Johnson. And they’re coming together as a team. … They’re feeling good about themselves, and that’s a thing we have to reckon with. And we’re going to prepare for them starting tomorrow.”

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Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics stop Bucks season here 04.26.12 at 10:11 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Mickael Pietrus all returned to the lineup, and the Celtics cruised to an 87-74 victory against the Bucks in their regular-season finale.

The trio combined for just 13 points, but Rondo dished out 15 assists despite taking just one shot. Avery Bradley (14 points) and Paul Pierce (12 points) were the only Celtics to reach double digits, but the Celtics (39-27) cruised nonetheless.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Recovery act: At times, Rondo ran the floor like, well, a guy with a bad back, but it appeared more like an act than anything worth concern. He toyed with defenders at will, improving his streak of games with at least 10 assists to 24 by halftime. Meanwhile, Pietrus returned from his four-game absence to register nine points off the bench. Garnett only played 11 first-half minutes, but he showed no signs of the sore hip flexor that kept him out against the Heat. All in all, the trio of walking Celtics wounded appeared ready to go for the playoffs.

S’Moore: After totaling seven points and seven rebounds against the Heat on Tuesday night, rookie E’Twaun Moore put together another nice performance. At one point against the Bucks, he was a plus-18 in his time on the floor. Moore finished with eight points, five assists and four rebounds.

Hollins of Fame: It took all of 51 seconds for Ryan Hollins to put together his most productive stretch of the season. He scored seven points in just under a minute, including a pair of dunks — one of which even came on a putback after a rebound — that helped the Celtics establish a double-digit advantage early in the second quarter. After a month of discouragement, Thursday night was an encouraging sign for Hollins.

WHAT WENT WRONG

My left big toe: Just minutes into the game, Pierce limped back to the Celtics locker room accompanied by team Dr. Brian McKeon — a scary sight for a Celtics team hobbled by injuries entering the playoffs. Scarier still was the Celtics diagnosis that Pierce had sprained his left big toe and was “probably not likely to return.” Naturally, the C’s captain returned before halftime, scoring seven of the team’s final 11 points before the break. The feet have been an issue for Pierce ever since his heel injury during training camp, but on a night he accept an Eastern Conference Player of the Month trophy, his injuries don’t appear too serious.

Ray of hope: While Rondo, Pietrus and Garnett all returned, Ray Allen missed his ninth consecutive game — and 15th in his last 20 — with bone spurs in his right ankle. Celtics coach Doc Rivers pronounced Allen “probable” to play Game 1 of the Hawks series, but even if he does play, there has to be some doubt about his effectiveness after such a long absence. As for Greg Stiemsma, his foot problems shouldn’t keep him from his first career playoff game, even if he missed a second straight game on Thursday.

On the road again: With the Hawks holding a 20-point lead midway through the fourth quarter against the Mavericks, they appeared well on their way to claiming home court advantage in their first-round series against the Celtics. The C’s will own the fourth seed as the Atlantic Division winners, but will have to travel to Atlanta for Game 1 (on Sunday). The Celtics finished 2-1 against the Hawks (1-1 in the ATL) this season, but 2-0 when they weren’t missing five of their top eight rotation players.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Mickael Pietrus, Milwaukee Bucks
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