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Irish Coffee: Celtics passing the test 12.13.10 at 12:43 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Yes, the Celtics allow the fewest points in the NBA. That’s obviously one reason for their success this season. But they’re also the best passing team — and, as a result — the best shooting team in the league.

And that’s why this Celtics team is riding a 10-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in most power rankings. During the win streak, the C’s have knocked down 51.7 percent of their field goals, shooting at least 50 percent eight times.

For the season, the Celtics are shooting better than any other team in the last 10 years, making 50.9 percent of their shots. The next-best team (Phoenix) is shooting 47.8 percent.

So, why are the Celtics shooting so well? They’re passing the ball better than everybody. In essence, they give up good shots to get better shots.

The C’s average 25.9 assists per game; only one other team (Utah) averages 24. What’s even more remarkable is that they’re doing that while shooting fewer shots than any other team in the league. The Celtics have averaged just 76.7 field goal attempts per game; no other team shoots fewer than 77.

The Celtics are shooting fewer shots but taking better shots than everybody else in the league. How do you get better shots? By making the extra pass.

The Celtics have recorded an assist on 66.6 percent of their field goals this year. That mark is better than any Celtics team of the last 20 years. In fact, the NBA’s best all-time passing team — the 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers — averaged 31.4 assists a game but assisted on just 65.2 percent of their field goals.

Obviously, Rajon Rondo is the main reason. He’s averaging 13.7 assists per game – a 40 percent improvement from last year – and threatening to break John Stockton‘s 1989-90 NBA single-season record (14.5 per game).

But just how big a role has Rondo played in the C’s passing success? The team is averaging 10 percent more assists per game this season than last — all while Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Shaquille O’Neal, Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels are averaging fewer assists than they did last season. In fact, only Ray Allen and Glen Davis are averaging more assists than they did in 2009-10.

During their current 10-game winning streak, the Celtics have committed more turnovers than their opponents four times and have been out-rebounded three times, but they owned the assist advantage in all 10 games.

In fact, the Celtics have not been out-assisted once this season. Through 23 games, they’ve recorded 168  (39.2 percent) more assists despite shooting 11 (1 percent) fewer shots than their opponents.

So, what do all these numbers mean? Essentially, game in and game out, the Celtics’ superb passing ability can make up for deficiencies in other areas.

KOBE BRYANT VS. JOHN HAVLICEK

As Kobe Bryant approaced John Havlicek‘s career scoring mark (he surpassed it Friday), NBA.com caught up with Hondo to talk Lakers and Celtics.

Here are a few of the highlights from the interview:

NBA.com: What are your thoughts on Kobe being on the cusp of passing you for the 11th spot on the all-time scoring list?

Havlicek: Actually, I thought he already surpassed me and that is was a foregone conclusion that he would eclipse me because he’s been playing a number of years.

He came right out of high school and with the career that he’s had and the teams that he’s played with — he’s been surrounded by good players and championship-caliber coaches  — it’s not surprising.

Who knows how far he’s going to go? How long he’s going to play? He could end up second or third. I don’t know if he can reach Kareem. He’s been a fantastic player.

Kobe came in with a little bit of an attitude early on and a lot of people thought that it was a little bit too much for a high school player to have that type of attitude. But he certainly made people realize that he wanted to be one of the best and comparing him to Michael is something that people have done, so it puts him in a class above most people.

NBA.com: When he retires, where will Kobe rank among the all-time great Lakers?

Havlicek: Well, Jerry West said Kobe is the all-time Laker as he sees it, but I never played against Kobe, so Jerry West is my all-time Laker.

If Jerry West says Kobe is the all-time great Laker, I’ll go along with him, but Jerry’s my favorite all-time Laker.

NBA.com: Do you wish you played with the 3-point line?

Havlicek: I’m just as happy to get an old fashioned three I guess. It would have added a few more points to my career and it would have probably changed the way I played but I can’t really say how much it would have changed my game because I never played under that ruling.

NBA.com: One record that appears to be safe is your Celtics all-time scoring mark. At 33 years old, Pierce would need to score 6,000 points just to tie you.

Havlicek: Well, I don’t know how long Paul is going to play but I think he’s probably the best 1-on-1 Celtic player of all time because the game that he has is much different than the game other people play. His ability to score and create shots is something that he’s done better than any other Celtic. If he plays long enough, he’ll break the record. I don’t know if that’s something he has on his mind or not.

NBA.com: Talk about Rajon Rondo’s emergence into an elite point guard.

Havlicek: He’s unlike any point that I’ve ever seen. He rebounds. He doesn’t shoot the ball that well. He’s not a great free-throw shooter. But his ability to create situations on the floor is uncanny. He’s not like a Chris Paul who breaks down defenses and that type of thing. He’s totally a different kind of point guard.

 I don’t know how you can compare him to anyone. He can play defense. He’s one of the great steals leaders of the league. His quickness is probably the thing that separates him from most players. He doesn’t appear to be that quick but he sort of leaves people in the dust.

He’s a surprising type of point guard that’s unlike any I’ve ever seen. He gets the job done.

DOC RIVERS VS. PHIL JACKSON

Speaking of Celtics vs. Lakers, Shaquille O’Neal knows the rivalry fairly well at this point. So, the Boston Herald asked him to compare C’s head coach Doc Rivers and Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. Here’s what he said:

“I’m going to call Doc an ebonic Phil Jackson. And what I mean by that is Phil Jackson has his Buddha ways, but Doc got his homeboy ways because he was once one of us and he really relates to us very well. I think the guys respect him for that. You know, he treats us like men. He only expects one thing from us: Do what he says and play hard. If you could substitute a better word than ‘ebonic Phil Jackson,’ I’d like you guys to put your degrees to work. But it’s sort of like that, on that level.”

As a player, Rivers averaged 10.9 points and 5.7 assists, making one All-Star Game and never winning a title in 13 seasons. Jackson averaged 6.7 points and 4.3 rebounds, never making an All-Star team and winning the 1973 NBA title.

As a coach, Rivers has won 55.0 percent of his games, one Coach of the Year honor and the 2008 NBA championship in 12 seasons. Jackson has won 70.5 percent of his games, one Coach of the Year award and 11 NBA titles in 20 years.

WHO IS THE BEST RIVERS?

Gatorsports.com caught up with University of Florida volleyball standout Callie Rivers — Doc’s daughter — who broke down the family basketball dynamics:

Q: If there was a Rivers family 1-on-1 basketball tournament, who would win?

A: (Younger brother and the nation’s top high school recruit) Austin. Maybe (Indiana University senior) Jeremiah. Maybe my dad, actually.

Q: You think your brothers can beat your dad?

A: I don’t know. My dad doesn’t take to losing very well. He’s got some weight on all of my brothers, so he’d probably find some way to pull it out. He’s a better shooter now than what he was when he was playing, which is weird. Maybe there’s no pressure now.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, John Havlicek, Kobe Bryant, NBA
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).

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Philadelphia 76ers
Irish Coffee: The Celtics’ homecourt advantage at 11:24 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Asked, simply, if the Celtics enjoy a true homecourt advantage in Boston, Ray Allen responded, even more simply, “Always.”

Which is why last season’s 24-17 home record is all the more puzzling. After Wednesday’s victory against the Nuggets, the Celtics are 10-1 in the Garden. Their best 11-game stretch last year was 8-3 (also to start the season). Whatever the reason, the Celtics have regained the homecourt advantage they enjoyed when they finished 35-6 in 2007-08 and 2008-09.

“I think we do [have an advantage], just because our fans are the best in the world,” Nate Robinson said. “Other teams know when they’re coming here, they’re going to get the best of our fans every time they come.”

In theory, or at least in my theory, the Celtics benefit from fan support in the first quarter (when fans are fired up for the tip) and second half (when the game is more interesting — and important). A second-quarter letdown is understandble, considering the Celtics, their fans and opponents are getting comfortable at that point.

The stats certainly support that theory. Take a look at the team’s plus/minus in each quarter this season:

HOME: +54 (Q1), -2 (Q2), +30 (Q3), +18 (Q4)
ROAD: +51 (Q1), +44 (Q2), +12 (Q3), -8 (Q4)

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: Celtics Quarterly Report Card 12.08.10 at 12:02 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Nuggets, the Celtics have played 20 games and are a quarter of the way through the NBA regular season. It’s time for a report card …

KEVIN GARNETT

  • Grade: A
  • Comments: He’s been on a season-long rampage to prove each and every doubter wrong. A season removed from being considered done, cooked, finito, Garnett’s field goal and free throw percentages, points, rebounds and steals are all up. Even more importantly, he’s back to his 2007-08 Defensive Player of the Year form.

PAUL PIERCE

  • Grade: A
  • Comments: Since entering camp in impressive shape, he’s been remarkably efficient so far. Pierce’s true shooting percentage (62.1 percent) ranks third in the league at his position, and his rebounding numbers are up. Not to mention the fact that — according to Doc Rivers — he’s assumed a larger vocal leadership role.

GLEN DAVIS

  • Grade: A
  • Comments: Emerging as a legitimate Sixth Man of the Year candidate, his numbers have increased in every single category. His knockdown jump shot has forced opponents to spread the floor, opening things up for his teammates. And his propensity for drawing charges has been both invaluable and highly entertaining.

RAJON RONDO

  • Grade: A-minus
  • Comments: Two reasons he’s not an A: 1) He’s already missed more games this season (four) than he did in the previous two seasons combined; and 2) he’s shooting 44.4 percent from the free-throw line. Otherwise, he’s been phenomenal — threatening John Stockton’s single-season NBA assist record.

RAY ALLEN

  • Grade: A-minus
  • Comments: His scoring average may have dipped from last season, but he’s back to doing what he does best: Burying 3-pointers at a 40 percent clip. He’s also dishing out assists at his highest rate since arriving in Boston. My one gripe? I’ve seen him play better defensively (Exhibit A: Wesley Matthews‘ 23 points).

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Irish Coffee: The homecomings of Celtics greats 12.03.10 at 12:55 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee ‘€¦

 

Other than a Cavaliers assistant coach telling him to “shut the [bleep] up” and a fan tossing a battery in his general direction, things couldn’t have gone much better for LeBron James in his return to Cleveland on Thursday night.

The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player produced 38 points, eight assists and five rebounds, as his new team (the Heat) beat his former team (the Cavaliers), 118-90. Not too shabby.

But you know who had a better game in his first game against his former team? Danny Ainge.

I decided to do some quick research into every former player who either had his number retired by the Celtics or appeared in an All-Star game as a member of the team in order to see who had to face the C’s after appearing in another uniform.

Basketball Reference didn’t have box scores for the seasons that Jo Jo White (Warriors), Dave Cowens (Bucks), Ed Macauley (Saint Louis Hawks), Tiny Archibald (Bucks), Bailey Howell (76ers) and Paul Silas (Nuggets) could’ve faced the Celtics as opposing players for the first time after donnning green and white.

That left Ainge, Cedric Maxwell, Robert Parish and Antoine Walker. Here’s a synopsis of how each player performed in his first game against the Celtics after playing in Boston:

Danny Ainge (1989-90 Sacramento Kings)

  • Back story: Ainge and Brad Lohaus were dealt by the Celtics to the Kings for Joe Kleine.
  • The game: Celtics 115, Kings 112 (OT)
  • Stat line: 39 points, nine assists and six rebounds
  • His quote: “It was a highly emotional game for me. I never wanted to beat a team so badly as I did them that night.”

Antoine Walker (2003-04 Dallas Mavericks)

  • Back story: The Celtics traded Walker and Tony Delk to the Mavericks for Raef LaFrentz, Jiri Welsch, Chris Mills and their 2004 No. 1 pick.
  • The game: Celtics 105, Mavericks 103
  • Stat line: Seven points, eight assists and seven rebounds
  • His quote: “It was nice to see [the fans' reaction] and very surprising. It kind of puts a closing for me in Boston, and I can move on with my career.”

Cedric Maxwell (1985-86 Los Angeles Clippers)

  • Back story: The Celtics dealt Maxwell, their 1986 No. 1 pick and cash to the Clippers for Bill Walton.
  • The game: Celtics 125, Clippers 103
  • Stat line: Six points and 10 rebounds
  • His quote: “Revenge? How can you be seeking revenge against a team that’s stil paying you?”

 Robert Parish (1994-95 Charlotte Hornets)

  • Back story: At the age of 41, Parish signed two-year, $5.5 million free-agent deal with the Hornets.
  • The game: Celtics 98, Hornets 91
  • Stat line: Eight points, four rebounds and one block
  • His quote: “I must say I was surprised by the length of the ovation. I’m not comfortable with being honored, showered with appreciation. But it’s always appreciated.”

Unlike LeBron’s return to Cleveland, the only bad blood that existed in these cases came between the player and management as a result of the trades — rather than between the fans and the player. All four of those guys are beloved by Boston fans. I’m not sure James will ever capture Cleveland’s adoration again.

HALL OF FAMER BILL FITCH?

Speaking of former Celtics, two-time NBA Coach of the Year Bill Fitch, who guided the C’s to the 1981 NBA championship, is a finalist for the 2011 class for the Hall of Fame.

“I haven’t even thought about that,” Fitch told Houston’s local FOX affiliate. “When you get to be my age (76), the only hall you think of is the big one upstairs.”

“They have a shirt and tie of mine somewhere up there,” Fitch added. “You know how when you win a big game the hall of fame asks you for something. So I feel like I’ve undressed at the hall, but they’ve never asked me to stay.”

Fitch may have the eighth-most wins in NBA coaching history, but he also ranks second for most losses at the helm. Former Celtics star Don Nelson and coach Rick Pitino are also finalists for this year’s Hall of Fame class.

FIVE CELTICS IN NBA’S TOP 50

Sporting News polled 76 current and former NBA players and coaches — including Rick Barry, Dee Brown, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens, Bill Fitch, Tom Heinsohn, Daryl Morey, Jim O’Brien, Doc Rivers, Paul Silas and Jo Jo White – to determine the league’s top 50 players.

Kobe Bryant ranked No. 1 for the second straight season, capturing 49 of the 76 first-place votes. James, Dwyane Wade, Kevin Durant, Dwight Howard, Carmelo Anthony, Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol rounded out the top 10.

Here’s where the Celtics finished (last year’s ranking in parentheses):

14. Paul Pierce (10)
16. Rajon Rondo (38)
20. Kevin Garnett (7)
25. Ray Allen (27)
35. Shaquille O’Neal (16)

Considering 11 of the 76 contributors had Celtics ties, the numbers may have fallen in their favor. Do you think Heinsohn had them ranked 1-5, with Glen Davis at six?

RAJON RONDO: NBA’S THIRD-BEST POINT GUARD?

Baseketball Reference creator and Trail Blazers statistical consultant Justin Kubatko contributed an interesting analysis to The New York Times of the NBA’s top point guards over the last year and change. Along with their shooting percentages and assist percentage (number of teammates’ field goals assisted while on the floor). He also included two new statistics:

“The first, steal percentage, is an estimate of the number of steals the player records per 100 opponent possessions. The second, win shares per 48 minutes, is an estimate of the number of wins the player generates per 48 minutes played (the league average for this statistic is 0.100).”

The results determined Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker were the league’s most productive point guards, in that order. Here are the results:

  • Paul: 51.9 2-PT FG%, 39.4 3-PT FG%, 86.7 FT%, 51.2 AST%, 3.68 STL%, 0.264 WS/48
  • Williams: 51.1 2-PT FG%, 34.4 3-PT FG%, 82.8 FT%, 46.0 AST%, 1.66 STL%, 0.175 WS/48
  • Rondo: 52.8 2-PT FG%, 25.4 3-PT FG%, 61.9 FT%, 42.8 AST%, 3.16 STL%, 0.166 WS/48
  • Parker: 51.0 2-PT FG%, 30.6 3-PT FG%, 77.4 FT%, 36.2 AST%, 1.40 STL%, 0.144 WS/48

Perhaps what’s most surprising is how much better Paul is than everyone else. As Kubatko notes:

This is not much of a contest. Paul shoots the highest percentage on 3-pointers and free throws; he has the best assist percentage; he has the top steal percentage; and he generates wins at a rate almost 51 percent higher than the next-closest point guard.

‘THE ASSOCIATION’ PREVIEW

The first of NBA Entertainment’s five-part, behind-the-scenes documentary of the Celtics airs Friday night at 7.p.m. on ESPN, prior to their game against the Bulls at the Garden.

My favorite part of this preview, other than the fact that former New Kid on the Block Donnie Wahlberg is narrating it, is this quote from Shaq:

“Sometimes, you’ve got to put things in business terms. When I was younger, I was the CEO — everything was branded my way. But now, I’m an older guy, an experienced gentleman and they have a CEO, so I look at myself as a consultant. And, if it’s all about winning, then you have no problem doing that.”

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’€™s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, LeBron James, NBA
C’s injury bug so bad even Kevin Garnett can’t get home cooking 12.01.10 at 11:44 pm ET
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For now, the injury list is not having an impact on the Celtics record. Doc Rivers knows his luck can only last so long while he moves banged up players in and out of a make-shift rotation. The C’s have the best record in the East at 14-4 following their win over the Trail Blazers Wednesday night at TD Garden.

But that great record is coming with a price – nagging injuries.

And making matters worse Wednesday, the Celtics lost Kevin Garnett for over five minutes in the third quarter when team doctors had trouble closing up a wound under his chin that required five stitches, leading Rivers to wonder openly what in the wide, wide world of sports is going on. For a moment, he thought he was on the road, not on the parquet.

Garnett took an elbow early in the third quarter from Andre Miller and had to leave at the 7:47 mark. He didn’t return until 2:24 remained in the quarter. The Celtics, who trailed 68-62 just moments earlier, were kick-started by KG and finished the quarter on a 13-4 run that gave them the lead for good.

“It usually does,” Rivers said of Garnett’s high-energy impact. “He was pissed because someone hit him in the mouth so you knew he was come either with energy or attacking everybody else on the floor.

“The third quarter was huge because we didn’t want to sub [Shaq] him out. We wanted to wait until Kevin [returned]. Whoever did our stitches, we’re going to have a talk. That was the longest [wait]. I thought we were on the road. That’s what the opposing doctors do. They can’t find the sutures, they take their time.”

And try as he might, Rivers couldn’t get an explanation from chief trainer Ed Lacerte about why it was taking so long to get the cut under Garnett’s chin fixed.

“It did take a long time,” Rivers said. “I kept checking with Eddie, like ‘What’s going on back there?’ That was big for Shaq. He kept saying he could stay in and that was huge for us.”

Not only did O’Neal played the five-minute stretch, he played the first 9 minutes, 36 seconds of the third quarter, until getting a blow when Garnett finally returned to the game.

Rivers said after the game Wednesday that Rajon Rondo‘s strained left hamstring, which Rivers thought was no longer an issue early in the week, started to get sore in the fourth quarter. Then Rivers said that back-up point Nate Robinson has an aching left foot which was bothering him.

“I left Rondo in because Nate’s foot was hurting,” Rivers said. “Rondo’s hamstring was starting to get sore and he was worried that if he came out he couldn’t return. So, the injury thing is really starting to creep up on us a little bit, and it is what it is.”

Robinson confirmed after the game that he’s been dealing with a sore right heel since Nov. 22, when the Celtics beat the Hawks in Atlanta.

Read More: Andre Miller, Boston Celtics, Celtics injuries, Doc Rivers
The Three-Pointer: Marquis Daniels delivers what Doc ordered 11.30.10 at 11:14 pm ET
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Last year, a few times during the season, the cameras would catch Marquis Daniels in street clothes on the end of the Celtics bench, and people would be reminded, “Oh, yeah, he’s on this team.”

In other words, he was forgettable, even for Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who designated Daniels as a DNP for 13 of their 24 playoff games last season.

Since entering the NBA in 2003, Daniels has missed at least 20 games in six of his seven full seasons. After signing a $2 million deal with the Celtics last season, he played in just 51 games — reaching double figures only eight times and looking more like Lou Tsioropolous than the guy who averaged 13.6 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.1 assists for the Pacers during the 2006-07 season.

In the Celtics’ 106-87 victory over the Cavaliers, we saw a different Daniels — one the Celtics must have known still lurked somewhere beneath those dreads, or else they wouldn’t have re-signed the swingman to another one-year deal (this time for more money, at $2.5 million).

“He surprises me, and he upsets me, because I know he can do it every night,” Rivers told reporters after Tuesday night’s win. “I’m going to stay on him, because he has that in him. I think he can be that terrific every single night. I really do.”

When the final seconds had ticked off the clock in Cleveland, Daniels’ line read like this: 16 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), four rebounds, two steals and one block — all improvements from his averages of 4.7 points, 2.1 rebounds, 0.8 steals and 0.4 blocks. But it wasn’t just his statistical production that endeared him to Rivers for at least one night. It was his defense.

“We put him on [Ramon] Sessions, he was guarding Mo Williams and moving his feet,” added Rivers. “They couldn’t beat him off the dribble. That was huge. We didn’t know how long we could go with that. We were going to try to get them on the other end in the post. We didn’t know we could stay in front of those guys, and the fact that Marquis could do that was a big deal for us.”

In the wake of Delonte West‘s surgery after suffering a broken wrist last week, the Celtics desperately needed someone off the bench to help Glen Davis — who had his usual productive night off the bench with 17 points and 11 rebounds — ease the burden for the Celtics starters. They’ve been waiting for more than a season for Daniels to be that guy, and for at least one game he met the challenge.

It’s no surprise that his best game of the season came two games after West’s injury and just one day after Rivers made the Celtics bench pull double duty at practice.

“We brought the second unit in early [Monday],” said Rivers. “They had their own practice before the regulars had their practice, and you could see that it got to them a little bit. And it was great, but we need them like that every night.”

Consider that a challenge to Daniels going forward, as if the motivation of another, bigger payday wasn’t already enough.

‘STEP ON THE GAS PEDAL’

After falling behind the Cavaliers 17-8 in the first 6:34 of Tuesday night’s game, the Celtics outscored Cleveland 48-28 to close out the half and take a 56-45 lead into the locker room.

That’s when Celtics commentator Tommy Heinsohn said it, as a ton of Celtics fans were thinking it: “All right, now step on the gas pedal.”

Too often this season the Celtics have rushed out to double-digit leads, seemingly in total control of every aspect of the game, only to have their advantage start to vanish like Marty McFly‘s image in that “Back to the Future” photograph.

Tuesday night, however, the Celtics outscored the Cavaliers 24-20 in the third quarter, stretching their lead from 11 to 15 points and allowing Rivers to give his starters some much-needed rest, considering the C’s host the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

In their first 13 games, the Celtics led all three of their games at halftime but were outscored in nine of those games during the third quarter — leading to close games and forcing the Celtics to rely on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo for well over 30 minutes a night.

That trend has changed in the C’s last four games, as they have won the third-quarter battle in wins over the Hawks, Nets, Raptors and — after Tuesday night — the Cavaliers. That allowed Rivers to limit Pierce and Allen to just 23 minutes apiece in the final game of that stretch.

‘TOP OF THE FRONT RIM’

My father could drain free throw after free throw in the driveway. He’d make 200 in a row, or at least it seemed that way when I was a kid. His mantra: “Aim for the top of the front rim.” He ingrained that — and as a result the importance of foul shooting — into my head at an early age.

Despite having three guys — Allen, Garnett and Pierce — shooting 89, 85 and 84 percent from the free-throw line, the Celtics entered Tuesday night’s game ranked 21st in the NBA in foul shooting. And they didn’t do themselves any favors, shooting just 13-of-23 from the charity stripe against the Cavaliers.

Shaquille O’Neal‘s struggles at the line are a given (he’s at 57 percent). It’s really only Rondo who can help the Celtics improve in that arena. The Celtics point guard is shooting a putrid 47 percent from the line this season, and he made just 1-of-4 against the Cavaliers.

This problem may not have much effect on the C’s success during the regular season, but there’s no doubt it could be an Achilles heel in the playoffs, when games are more physical and tighter at the end. After all, the Celtics ranked eighth in free-throw percentage when they won the title three years ago.

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