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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.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Glen Davis, Marquis Daniels, NBA
Fast Break: Celtics handle Cavaliers at 9:36 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo scored a season-high 23 points and dished out 11 assists, leading the Celtics to a 106-87 victory against the Cavaliers in Cleveland on Tuesday night.

Six Celtics reached double figures, including Glen Davis and Marquis Daniels, who combined for 33 points off the bench. Kevin Garnett contributed 11 points and 10 rebounds, as the Celtics won their fourth straight and improved to 13-4.

WHAT WENT WRIGHT

Bench contributions: In 84 total minutes off the bench, Daniels, Davis and Nate Robinson combined for 41 points (on 17-of-34 shooting), 19 rebounds and six assists.

More importantly, their energy gave the Celtics a much-needed boost in the second quarter, as they outscored the Cavaliers 35-22 and built a comfortable 11-point lead at halftime.

Points in the paint: The Celtics absolutely obliterated the Cavaliers in the post, outscoring them 60-26 in the paint. Davis (17 points) and Garnett (11 points) led the way for the C’s. Pretty impressive, considering Shaquille O’Neal (6) was relatively quiet on the night.

Attacking the basket: Rondo repeatedly blew past the revolving door of defense that was Mo Williams and Ramon Sessions. He scored 16 of his 23 points around the bucket in addition to dishing out 11 more assists on dribble drives.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Thanksgiving weekend hangover: Whether it was rust from having Saturday and Sunday off or the Celtics not taking the Cavaliers seriously, the C’s looked sluggish early — digging themselves a 17-8 hole after the first six minutes. Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams combined for 11 points in that span.

Free throw shooting: The Celtics shot just 13-of-23 from the charity stripe. With a 74.6 combined free throw percentage, the Celtics entered Tuesday night’s game against the Cavaliers ranked 21st in the league.

Hickson’s yellow shoes: Wearing what may have been the ugliest shoes ever to appear on a basketball court, J.J. Hickson scored only one point in the game. His yellow sneakers were so awful that my girlfriend joked that the distraction they cause might be the secret to the Cavaliers’ semi-success this season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Marquis Daniels, NBA
Three point play: Time for Plan B 11.29.10 at 4:25 pm ET
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Barely a month into the season, Doc Rivers is already seeing his plans go up in smoke. The hoped-for scenario, with all the accumulated talent on the roster, was to employ a 10-man rotation, almost in a platoon style. Now that Jermaine O’Neal and Delonte West are out, Rivers is forced to scramble a bit. The Celtics are down to a dozen able-bodied players and three of them are rookies.

“You come into the year with one plan and you got to change the plan sometimes and that’€™s something we’€™re doing as a staff,” Rivers said after the team conducted practice Monday. “The 10-man thing is not going to work right now. I believe it’€™s really important for us to have one because that allows [the starters] to get rest.”

Rivers said the injuries will force him to sub differently and you may see him go to his bench earlier in an attempt to jumpstart the minutes rotation. At the same time, he’s reluctant to leave all of his starters on the bench at any one time without veterans like West and O’Neal to take charge of the second unit.

“I’€™m just going to have to sub differently,” Rivers said. “It’€™s not what I wanted to do. The way our starters play, logically, I’€™d rather extend their minutes together. It’€™s just not going to work out that way.”

Rajon Rondo is already logging 39 minutes a night and Ray Allen checks in at 38 per game. Allen, Paul Pierce (36 minutes) and Kevin Garnett (33) have all seen their playing time increase from the previous season. Garnett said the veterans are ready for it.

“Everybody on here they’€™re going to have to be extended, not just us three,” Garnett said. “Guys have to anticipate playing more minutes.”

One player who has suddenly found himself with an unexpected role is Von Wafer, who has seen the court in small doses. Wafer is ahead of rookie Avery Bradley because of his experience, and also his shooting ability. “Obviously we need Von more than Avery in some ways,” Rivers said. “We need the guy to play the 2-spot. Avery can help us.” As for his defense, Rivers said that Wafer is working on it.

West is scheduled to have surgery on his wrist Tuesday and the Celtics will have a better idea how long he will be out after the procedure is performed. As for Jermaine O’Neal, his status is still up in the air. Rivers said that he was out for all of this week and that’s as far as they were willing to look.

Everyone knew injuries would be a part of this year’s team and now it’s time for the first of what could be many Plan B’s.

More practice notes after the jump… Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Avery Bradley, Glen Davis, Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo
Delonte West wrist surgery set for Tuesday at 2:41 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Celtics coach Doc Rivers announced that guard Delonte West will have surgery on Tuesday for the fractured right wrist he suffered last Wednesday night late in the second quarter against New Jersey after driving in for a lay-up. Rivers said the team will know more about West and his fate for the rest of the season following the procedure.

“Surgery [Tuesday] and then we’ll know more after that,” Rivers said after practice on Monday.

Rivers aded starting point guard Rajon Rondo‘€™s left hamstring is no longer an issue but his sore left foot still remains troublesome. ‘€œThe foot is the bigger issue. The hamstring [injury] is gone for the most part.’€ Rivers said.

Rondo returned on Friday against Toronto after a three-game absence with a strained left hamstring.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Delonte West, NBA, Rajon Rondo
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