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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 »

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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.

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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.

“Regardless 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.

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Danny Ainge on The Big Show: Kevin Garnett has a strained calf 12.30.10 at 5:12 pm ET
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Danny Ainge (AP)

Celtics president Danny Ainge told The Big Show Thursday that after an MRI and a thorough examination, Kevin Garnett would likely be out a couple of weeks with a strained calf muscle.

“It’s a muscle injury, a strained calf,” Ainge said. “It’s actually the softer side of the leg below the knee. It’s not anything to do with his knee, which is great news, and it’s one of those injuries that he may be out for a couple of weeks at the most. That’s my guess. It’s always a guess. I’ll just say two weeks. I think that’s on the conservative side.”

Ainge said that when he saw Garnett go down and grimace in pain that he was hoping it wasn’t serious, but he did flashback to the Utah game in 2009. “That was a specific injury that he had and had been playing with,” Ainge said. “KG had been playing with a sore leg for weeks before that Utah injury and it wasn’t something that just happened. he had that bone spur on there for much longer than before that Utah game.”

Ainge also had an update on Rajon Rondo who has missed six games with an ankle sprain. “Rajon is getting better,” Ainge said. “It was a pretty severe sprain. Rajon is in a situation where he could play, but he’s in pain still. He has pain on both sides of the ankle and we just don’t want to get him back on to the court until he can play hard.”

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

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Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo among leaders in All-Star balloting at 1:17 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo are among the starters for the Eastern Conference in the latest round of All-Star balloting, released Thursday by the NBA. Garnett and Rondo both ranked second at their positions (behind Miami’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, respectively).

Orlando center Dwight Howard has the most votes of any Eastern Conference player, with Shaquille O’Neal in second at the center position.

Garnett leads Amar’e Stoudemire by about 75,000 votes for the second starting forward spot with Paul Pierce a distant fourth. Rondo’s lead over Derrick Rose is a little more than 50,000 votes. Fans can vote on NBA.com and the final results will be announced Jan. 27.

Here’s a breakdown of the latest results as supplied by the NBA:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Forwards: LeBron James (Mia) 969,459; Kevin Garnett (Bos) 712,555; Amar’e Stoudemire (NYK) 637,486; Paul Pierce (Bos) 381,348; Chris Bosh (Mia) 260,007; Josh Smith (Atl) 193,897; Carlos Boozer (Chi) 159,073; Danilo Gallinari (NYK) 127,726; Andre Iguodala (Phi) 115,660; Danny Granger (Ind) 107,145.

Guards: Dwyane Wade (Mia) 938,402; Rajon Rondo (Bos) 777,310; Derrick Rose (Chi) 721,122; Ray Allen (Bos) 392,441; John Wall (Was) 169,219; Gilbert Arenas (Orl) 144,889; Brandon Jennings (Mil) 128,556; Raymond Felton (NYK) 105,425; Joe Johnson (Atl) 99,598; Jamal Crawford (Atl) 97,809.

Centers: Dwight Howard (Orl) 988,572; Shaquille O’Neal (Bos) 410,663; Joakim Noah (Chi) 153,657; Al Horford (Atl) 120,404; Andrew Bogut (Mil) 110,153; Andrea Bargnani (Tor) 92,822; Brook Lopez (NJ) 77,048; Roy Hibbert (Ind) 70,698; JaVale McGee (Was) 59,508; Ben Wallace (Det) 44,375.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Forwards: Kevin Durant (Okc) 735,521; Carmelo Anthony (Den) 602,516; Pau Gasol (LAL) 597,201; Dirk Nowitzki (Dal) 447,737; Tim Duncan (SA) 436,651; Blake Griffin (LAC) 435,857; Lamar Odom (LAL) 232,299; Luis Scola (Hou) 197,728; Kevin Love (Min) 171,945; Caron Butler (Dal) 168,937.

Guards: Kobe Bryant (LAL) 1,153,694; Chris Paul (NOH) 585,690; Manu Ginobili (SA) 403,632; Steve Nash (Pho) 321,659; Deron Williams (Utah) 313,011; Jason Kidd (Dal) 234,779; Russell Westbrook (Okc) 233,593; Tony Parker (SA) 219,378; Vince Carter (Pho) 185,213; Eric Gordon (LAC) 179,917.

Centers: Yao Ming (Hou) 637,527; Andrew Bynum (LAL) 376,283; Brendan Haywood (Dal) 215,905; Nenê (Den) 211,475; Marc Gasol (Mem) 205,227; Emeka Okafor (NOH) 172,012; Chris Kaman (LAC) 131,741; Marcus Camby (Por) 111,346; Andris Biedrins (GS) 65,908; Robin Lopez (Pho) 62,199.

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Doc Rivers on D&C: ‘I think we’re in good shape’ with Kevin Garnett at 9:47 am ET
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Doc Rivers (AP)

On his weekly appearance on the Dennis & Callahan show, Celtics coach Doc Rivers expressed optimism about the health of Kevin Garnett, but added that he will know more later Thursday after Garnett has an MRI. Garnett suffered a leg injury Wednesday night in the first quarter against the Pistons. There was no contact on the play, which fueled fears that Garnett had possibly re-injured his surgically-repaired right knee. The team thinks that the injury was related to a muscle, and not his knee, however.

“I can’t tell you much more than what you know already,” Rivers said. “He’s going to do more tests today. We do think it’s muscle-related. We don’t think it has anything to do with the knee, but we don’t know. So we’re going to wait and see.”

Rivers added, “I think we’re in good shape here, but you just never know. I’m just going to wait for the MRI. I should know by mid-afternoon.”

To hear the whole interview, go to the Dennis & Callahan audio on demand page.

Garnett is still likely to miss some games. Rivers said that he expects to start Glen Davis in Garnett’s place and go with a combination of Marquis Daniels and Luke Harnagody in a rotation.

He is also looking for more from Jermaine O’Neal who has played the last three games after missing time with a knee injury. “We need him,” Rivers said. “He struggled against obviously Orlando, first game back. I thought Indiana in the second half he was terrific. I thought [against Detroit] he was one of the few bright spots. He played with great energy and did his job defensively.”

Rivers also said that Rajon Rondo continues to be day-to-day with his ankle injury and he may not be available Friday when the Celtics play the Hornets. “I don’t know if we’ll see him tomorrow or not but he’s getting close,” Rivers said. “Each time he’s worked out there’s been some swelling. That’s a concern. We’re going to take it slow. We’re not going to push him back, we’ll just wait until he’s ready to play.”

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

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Danny Ainge sheds some light on why Rajon Rondo didn’t play for Team USA 12.23.10 at 5:29 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo

One of the enduring mysteries of the past summer is why Rajon Rondo was the last player left off the United States national team that participated in the World Championships. Rondo left the team shortly before the competition began.

Rondo has rarely spoken about it, although he did dispute the notion that he was cut during the Celtics media day. “No I [wasn't],” Rondo said. “It was a good experience. I don’t regret it all. I made a lot of good friends. [Mike Krzyzewski] is a great coach. I had a great experience.”

The official word was that Rondo withdrew from the team because of an personal issue (he had a death in the family) and because he was tired from the long playoff run. Speaking to The Big Show on WEEI, Celtics president Danny Ainge offered a little more insight.

“I think Rajon really didn’t want to do it,” Ainge said. “He was pretty tired after the end of the NBA finals and he needed some rest. He’s not a real attention seeker and I don’t think he wanted to play for the US team. They came back to him again and he said he really didn’t want to do it, and they came back again and he finally relented. They got it down to 13 players, I think he sort of volunteered to be the guy to not do it. I just don’t think it’s a dream, a passion of his to play on the US team. I don’t think there was any more to it than that.”

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