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Irish Coffee: Celtics vs. Bulls tale of the tape 04.07.11 at 2:42 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

In a potential Eastern Conference finals preview on Thursday night, little separates the Celtics and Bulls — head-to-head, offensively or defensively. Chicago (57-20) owns a three-game lead over the C’s (54-23) for the No. 1 seed, but Doc Rivers & Co. have won two of their three head-to-head matchups against their old assistant Tom Thibodeau. In order to determine where the advantages lie, let’s go straight to the tape …

HEAD-TO-HEAD

Celtics vs. Bulls

97.7 … points … 95.7
11.0 … fast break points … 9.3
44.7 … points in the paint … 40.0
37.7-79.0 (47.7) … FGM-A (%) … 34.7-74.0 (46.9)
3.3-10.7 (31.3) … 3PM-A (%) … 4.0-10.7 (37.5)
19.0-23.0 (82.6) … FTM-A (%) … 22.3-29.0 (77.0)
34.0 … rebounds … 41.7
5.0 … o-rebounds … 9.0
29.0 … d-rebounds … 32.7
22.7 … assists … 19.7
10.0 … steals … 5.3
4.0 … blocks … 4.3
10.3 … turnovers … 17.3
22.7 … personal fouls … 20.0

Considering the Celtics were missing Shaquille O’Neal in Game 1, Jermaine O’Neal in Game 2 and Kevin Garnett in Game 3, while the Bulls missed Carlos Boozer in Game 1 and Joakim Noah in Game 3, injuries didn’t play a huge role in the overall production. So, the Celtics’ shooting (points & FG%), passing (assists) and defensive (points/percentages allowed, steals and turnovers) are legitimate, as is the Bulls’ across-the-board rebounding edge.

Now, let’s examine how well the Celtics and Bulls have produced throughout the season:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Derrick Rose, Kevin Garnett
Ray Allen on D&C: ‘Talking to the media is very therapeutic’ 04.06.11 at 12:34 pm ET
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Ray Allen

Celtics guard Ray Allen joined the Mut & Merloni show Wednesday to talk about the C’s as they head into the stretch run of the regular season. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

The Celtics defeated the 76ers Tuesday night, but they are only playing .500 ball over their last 16 games. Part of the reason for that has been attributed to the recent influx of new players. Allen talked about working the new players into the Celtics’ way of doing things.

“We’ve talked about it a considerable amount of times,” he said. “One of the most important for them that they see is, when we travel on the road you see all the [Celtics] fans that are in the building in the other gyms, you understand the tradition, the fan following. And then at home, they see what it’s like in our building, so they understand that they’re playing under a different monster than what they’ve been playing under before. They’ve got to make sure that every night they play hard. And it’s not just about scoring points, it’s about being a better teammate, it’s about working hard every night, it’s about playing defense, it’s about just having a passion out there on the floor.”

Rajon Rondo‘s inconsistent play of late is another frequently mentioned reason for the C’s struggles.

“He’s like the head of the monster, the head of the snake, so to speak,” Allen said of the young point guard. “We’ve got to make sure his energy is great, his attitude is great, his body language is great, everything. Because he probably takes the brunt of all the pressure, the attitude that one of us may get, if he takes it all on, and we’ve got to make sure that we always keep him right, because he’s the one that’s going to make sure he keeps us going deep into the playoffs.”

Allen acknowledged that he and his veteran teammates have talked to Rondo about staying focused before every game.

“We’ve all talked about it,” he said. “We’ve talked about having great spirit out there on the floor every night, whether you’re playing the best player or the worst player, you have to have the same energy, the same spirit, because your team follows you. And those are lessons I learned early in my career.”

Allen left the locker room at Indianapolis’ Conseco Fieldhouse last Monday night without speaking to the media after a loss to the Pacers. He explained the reason for that to Mut & Merloni.

“Sometimes you just don’t have the answers immediately after a game,” he said. “For me, personally, talking to the media is very therapeutic because it helps figure out some of the things you need to do out on the floor that you didn’t do and you get things off your chest. Some nights you don’t have the answer. Sometimes you get so frustrated with yourself, just with the game itself or with losing itself, that sometimes just talking doesn’t help. So, you’ve just got to get away and just kind of sit back and think about what you can do better. You go through those different emotions every night.”

Read More: Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen,
Message or not, Doug Collins was certainly impressed with the Celtics at 12:00 pm ET
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It took nearly 20 minutes after the final buzzer of the Celtics’ 99-82 win over the Sixers Tuesday night for Doc Rivers to show up for his postgame news conference in the small media room at TD Garden.

Turns out, he was being showered with praise by Sixers coach Doug Collins.

“We ran up against a team that played probably as well as they’ve played in a long time,” Collins said. “I talked to Doc after the game, 29 assists, they executed brilliantly, they had two or three really great defensive spurts. To start the third quarter, we fought to get back in, and we cut it to four again, and then they had another defensive spurt.”

Then came the really sugar-coated stuff.

“I told our guys how that’s really what championship teams do, they might not play it for 48 minutes, but they’re going to lock you down for stretches, and win those what I call five minute skirmishes. And I thought they won two five-minute skirmishes in the second half which I really thought gave them separation.”

As for the message sent and received business that was in vogue after the game should this be a playoff preview, Rivers said he was really only concerned about the final score, nothing less, nothing more.

“No. No. Not at all,” Rivers said, downplaying the mere suggestion. “I just think we won today, and they lost today, and they’re going to watch film and we’re going to watch film. But it’s good to win.”

That doesn’t mean everyone was buying it. Rondo admitted he thought the Celtics made a ‘little statement’ about just how hard it’s going to be for the Sixers to knock off the Celtics in a seven-game series.

But back to Collins. Without mentioning him by name, the Sixers coach also had praise for the way C’s GM Danny Ainge has rebuilt the depth of the bench to support his starting guards.

Delonte West really helps them, Jeff Green has played very well against us, and they played a very very good game,” Collins said. “Rondo once again leading their team, Ray Allen shooting a high percentage. So when they play like that, it should make Doc smile because they’re one of the best teams in the league.”

Collins has been around long enough to know that trash-talking a superior opponent, especially one you might see in the first round of the playoffs in 10 days, almost never does any good.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Doc Rivers, Doug Collins
Paul Pierce on Celtics’ future hopes: ‘As Rondo goes, we go’ at 10:38 am ET
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Paul Pierce could see it. Doc Rivers could see it. So could Kevin Garnett. All of the Celtics’ leaders essentially said the same thing following Tuesday’s 99-82 win over the 76ers at TD Garden. The Celtics are slowly but surely getting in playoff form, and if they are going anywhere, they’re going to need Rajon Rondo to get them there.

Rondo had 16 points and 13 assists and led the charge all night long as the Celtics were pressed early and often by a young Philadelphia team trying to show it could be a legitimate threat come the playoffs if the two meet in the first round.

“You expect Rajon to play that way every night,” Pierce said. “He’s set a standard for himself over the last couple of years with his play. It’s no surprise when I look up and he has those type of numbers. I just think his next step is being more consistent with it to where he’s putting up 13, 14, 15 assists every night, but that comes as you get older. I was in that position, too, as a young player, just learning how to be consistent with it. As Rondo goes, we go. When he has these monster assist games, we usually win.”

“He was just aggressive and attacking and shooting,” Rivers said of Rondo, his prized floor general. “You can see he’s getting himself ready, you can just feel that. I don’t know if he plays with great focus all game right now, or if any of our guys do. But you can see what they’re all doing. They’re in some ways sharpening their tools in spurts. It’s tough for coaches. You’d like for them to do that and keep doing it. But they know where they’re at.”

As for team consistency, the captain said the Celtics showed enough to overcome the Sixers, learning from recent history where they have had a hard time protecting a double-digit lead. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Doc Rivers, NBA
Rajon Rondo not 100 percent but good enough to make a statement vs. Sixers at 12:08 am ET
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After scoring 16 points and dishing out 13 assists in a 99-82 win over the Sixers Tuesday night at TD Garden, Rajon Rondo said the Celtics made a statement by shutting down the team they may face in the opening round of the playoffs.

“Tonight was a good test for us,” Rondo said. “That might be a first-round team and we did a good job of making a little statement that it’s going to be hard to beat us in a seven-game series.”

The Celtics trailed by two after one as Rondo’s counterpart – Jrue Holiday – had 11 points in the first quarter. Holiday was held scoreless the rest of the game. Now, the 54-23 Celtics prepare for the 57-20 Bulls in Chicago Thursday night with a chance to draw within two games of the Eastern Conference leaders.

“It’s a different game versus Chicago and Miami,” Rondo added. “Obviously, the intensity will be a lot greater but in the playoffs, the first round, there’s going to be a lot of intensity. We just want to win [against Chicago] because we’ll probably have to see those guys in the conference finals or whoever we may end up [with]. We just want to win the game [against the Bulls], Miami, tonight against Philly, we want to win every game the rest of the season.”

As for his body, which includes a pair of sore feet and a banged up pinky, Rondo says he’ll have time in the summer to get back to full strength. Right now, his focus is getting ready for a playoff run. He was asked -point blank – if he felt healthier now as the playoffs approach.

“No, I’m pretty much the same,” Rondo said. “We haven’t played as many back-to-backs. Just getting a little bit more rest, taking better care of my body, lifting more. I wouldn’t say I’m feeling 100 percent but I’m doing OK.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jrue Holiday, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
Three-Pointer: Rajon Rondo and ‘coach’s porn’ 04.01.11 at 12:34 am ET
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Even Rajon Rondo's jump shot was working against the Spurs. (AP)

What a difference a game makes.

The Celtics had been reeling, losing seven of their last 12 games and nearly falling to third place behind the Bulls and Heat in the Eastern Conference — inspiring concerns about everything from the physical health of both O’Neals to the mental health of their start point guard.

But the Celtics also hadn’t played a contender in the last 12 games, or since Feb. 13 for that matter. The Celtics have proven themselves plenty over the last four seasons — as NBA champions in 2008 and as underdog runners-up in 2010 – but entering Thursday night’s game in San Antonio they found themselves needing to prove themselves once again.

After the trade of Kendrick Perkins and following a 5-7 record with the East’s No. 1 seed on the line, can the Celtics still compete with the NBA’s best? After a 107-97 victory against the league-leading Spurs (57-18) on the road without a healthy center, the answer was clear. (The complete game recap can be found here.)

Among the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls and Heat, only Chicago can match the Celtics’ performance against the NBA elite. Here are their records in games against each other:

  • Celtics: 8-4
  • Bulls: 8-4
  • Spurs: 7-6
  • Mavericks: 6-6
  • Lakers: 4-7
  • Heat: 3-9

The Celtics now boast a .667 winning percentage against the league’s five other major NBA title contenders, and two of their four losses to those teams came against a Mavericks team that the C’s likely won’t face again, even if they were to return to the NBA Finals.

There’s plenty of points to take from Thursday night’s Celtics victory. Here are three of them:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen
Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics kick Spurs 03.31.11 at 10:38 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo recorded 22 points and 14 assists (to go along with zero turnovers), leading the Celtics in an inspired 107-97 victory over the Spurs in San Antonio on Thursday night.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett also eclipsed 20 points and Glen Davis netted 16 points off the bench for the Celtics (52-22). While Jermaine O’Neal returned after nearly three months to score five points in 11 minutes, Celtics starting center Nenad Krstic left the game with a “right knee injury” and did not return.

Tony Parker and Tim Duncan reached the 20-point mark as the Spurs (57-18) dropped their fifth straight.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Pierce and Rondo asserting themselves: Pierce scored 12 first-quarter points to keep the Celtics competitive despite allowing 33 first-quarter points, and Rondo sparked a 14-3 run to close the third quarter as the C’s established a 77-70 lead entering the fourth quarter. In all, Pierce and Rondo took 36 shots, making 19 of them. Rondo was so good, even his jump shots were falling, causing the Spurs coaching staff to toss their hands up in disgust.

Buckling down on defense: After the Spurs made 12-of-24 shots and scored 33 points in the first quarter, the Celtics held them to 15-of-44 shooting and 37 points over the next two quarters. Entering the game as the league’s sixth-leading scoring team, the Spurs controlled the (quick) pace in the early going, but the Celtics put a stop to that in the second quarter.

The return of Jermaine O’Neal: In limited action, O’Neal played with surprising energy and range of movement, considering he hadn’t seen the court since Jan. 10. He knocked down his only two shots, including an impressive turnaround over Matt Bonner in the first quarter. Should Krstic’s injury be severe, the Celtics will be relying more heavily on O’Neal than they ever expected, and Thursday night’s performance was a positive sign.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Celtics’ bigs problem gets bigger: Just as Jermaine O’Neal got back into the fold, and as Shaquille O’Neal gets closer and closer to his return, Krstic’s leg bent the wrong way in the second quarter. He left the game clutching his right knee. Krstic did not return, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers told TNT sideline reporter David Aldridge, “We don’t know for sure, but it does not look good.” In 2006, Krstic tore his left ACL.

Defending the paint: The Celtics gave up 26 points in the paint in the first half and 50 total. Spurs point guard Tony Parker got to the rim at will early, leading all scorers with 14 points in the opening 24 minutes. His ability to penetrate opened things up for the Spurs inside. Of course, Garnett’s two quick first-quarter fouls left the Celtics without their best interior defender in that span for more minutes than they would have liked.

Second-chance opportunities: The Celtics shot 48 percent in the first half, and the Spurs made just 40 percent of their attempts, yet the two teams were tied at the half. The C’s allowed eight offensive rebounds and 15 second-chance points in the first half alone.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo
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