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Irish Coffee: LeBron, Heat ‘never count Celtics out’ 04.02.12 at 2:57 pm ET
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Was Sunday’s Celtics blowout, as Chris Bosh suggested, “just a bad, sh#tty game” by his Heat, or was it a warning signal to potential playoff opponents flashed from Boston — one if by C’s, so to speak?

On their way to producing the NBA’s second-best record since the All-Star break, the Celtics have won five straight and seven of their last eight games, the most recent of which handed Miami its third loss in five contests. Over the past week, Doc Rivers & Co. have surged from the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed to within 1.5 games of Dwight Howard‘s Magic and the No. 3 slot. Count the Heat among those in the league taking notice.

“I’m going to say the same thing I said last year: We are one team and I am one guy that never counts the C’s out,” said NBA MVP favorite LeBron James. “I would never count them out. They’ve just got too many winners. They’ve got guys who have been in the moment before. Like I told you guys last year, when everyone was down on the C’s, I always said I’m not going to turn my back on those guys.”

Of course, those guys James referred to are Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, the latter of whom missed his sixth straight game on Sunday. Didn’t matter, thanks to Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass.

“It’s because we’re a great team,” said Garnett following their 91-72 win over the Heat on national television. “Our positions and personnel, it’s all about a system. You know your role in the system. You do what you’re told in the role. You carry out your role 100 percent wholeheartedly, and that’s your contribution to the team.”

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The Celtics are in first place, can they stay there? 03.26.12 at 11:38 pm ET
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Kevin Garnett goes in for two of his 24 points against Charlotte, as the Celtics moved into a first-place tie with Philadelphia. (AP)

On Jan. 20, the Celtics scored 71 points in a home loss to Phoenix that put their record at 5-9. A month later, they capped off a road trip from hell with a 15-point loss to Oklahoma City that left this proud team talking about moral victories. That’s how sub .500 teams talk, which is what they were, lugging a 15-17 mark into the All-Star break.

A month after that, they’re in first place after beating the Bobcats, 102-95. The Sixers hold the tiebreaker, so technically the Celtics still have a game to make up on Philadelphia, but the accomplishment is still worth acknowledging. Did anyone really see this coming?

This is a team that showed up out of shape with a makeshift roster constructed for the main purpose of not being here after this season. They’ve had two five-game losing streaks – the first time that’s ever happened in the Big 3 era — and they lost two crucial players to heart conditions, their starting center to season-ending wrist surgery and just had another get carted off the court in a stretcher.

The last two nights they have been without Ray Allen, as well as his primary backup and invaluable role player in Mickael Pietrus. Sure, they played the Wizards and Bobcats, the two worst teams in the league, but the victories all count the same and for the Celtics to remain in the mix for the division race, these are the game they have to win.

They are 8-14 against teams with winning records this season and more than a third of their 27 wins have come against four teams: Washington, Charlotte, Toronto and New Jersey.

In April, they play 15 games in 26 days with 12 of them against teams who are competing for the playoffs. The other three are on the road on back-to-back-to-back nights. Beginning on Sunday when they host Miami, the Celtics will play the following schedule in eleven days:

Miami, San Antonio, at Chicago, at Indiana, Philadelphia, at Miami (again) and Atlanta. Then they play Toronto, New Jersey and Charlotte in consecutive days.

If they are still in first place after all that, then that will really be an accomplishment because winning the division — so often an afterthought over the last four years — takes on added importance this season. The reward is a fourth seed and homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. The alternative will likely be the seventh seed and a first round matchup with the Heat.

Still, the Celtics have reason to feel good about themselves. They’ve won 12 of 17 games since the All-Star break and they continue to survive whatever obstacle is put in their way. Whether it was the loss of Chris Wilcox, the eight-game road trip, the trade deadline, the lack of big men depth without Wilcox and Jermaine O’Neal and the frightening Pietrus incident, the Celtics have persevered.

Much of the credit belongs to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who have stepped forward in the second half of the season and carried the team. Pierce scored a season-high 36 points against the Bobcats and he’s been playing like the middle of the season Pierce again. In his last four games, he’s scored 102 points and grabbed 38 rebounds.

Garnett continues his amazing renaissance as the team’s center. He took 20 shots against Charlotte – on the second night of a back-to-back – and it’s suddenly not a stretch to think he could be the team’s center for the next two years if that’s what he wanted to do.

This season has not been about growth or cohesion. It’s been about survival and on March 27, they can finally look at the standings in their division and see their names on the top line. In many ways, the hard part is just beginning.

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Irish Coffee: Danny Ainge’s dreams of Celtics future 03.12.12 at 12:10 pm ET
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We’re three days from the NBA trade deadline, and still no serious sign of a blockbuster deal involving the Celtics. Then again, the same could’ve been said last season, when Danny Ainge shipped Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder for Jeff Green, Nenad Krstic and the Clippers’ 2012 first-round draft pick.

All that remains from that deal is the top-10 protected No. 1 pick, which currently slots into the low-to-mid 20s. That’s still not a bad haul for a center who is currently averaging 4.4 points (45.1 FG%) and 4.6 rebounds in 26.7 minutes, but considering the negative hype surrounding that trade it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Ainge gets cold feet on dealing any of the Old Three or Rajon Rondo.

Do I believe Ainge would ever let public perception stop him from making a deal that improves the Celtics moving forward? Not really, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it made him think twice about pulling the trigger on a deal that only marginally improves his team.

Over the next three days, teams will likely call about Rondo, which is probably the case in the latest Pau Gasol rumor in the Los Angeles Times after the Lakers beat the Celtics 97-94 (Rondo: 24 points, 10 assists; Gasol: 13 points, 13 rebounds). The same speculation was floated a couple weeks ago by HoopsWorld’s Eric Pincus.

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Trade Rumor: Celtics asked for Tyler Hansbrough, pick for Ray Allen 03.09.12 at 3:19 pm ET
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At the end of Jackie MacMullan’s excellent piece on the end of The Big Three, she quotes Pacers president Larry Bird regarding Danny Ainge’s asking price for Ray Allen.

“Here’s the thing,” Bird said. “When Danny and I talked about trading for Ray, he wanted Tyler Hansbrough and a first-round pick. If that’s the value he’s putting on Ray Allen, he ain’t getting it. That tells me he’s in no hurry to trade him.”

That jives with other talk around the league that Ainge’s price is high for one of his four All-Stars. On The Big Show on Thursday, Ainge said that he wouldn’t deal future assets to fix his bench’s problems now. He’s not desperate to make a trade, in other words.

The deadline is March 15 so there’s no rush to cave, especially when deals around the league are hung up on the Dwight Howard sweepstakes.

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Trade Rumor: Celtics interested in Michael Beasley 03.08.12 at 3:06 pm ET
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Minnesota forward Michael Beasley turned 23 less than two months ago, and in four seasons in the NBA he’s averaged 15.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. He’s also making 42 percent of his 3-pointers this season. Beasley has also been durable more than you’d expect. He missed only 14 games in his first three seasons in the league, and while he missed 11 games with a foot injury, he’s been back in the Wolves lineup since late January.

But Beasley doesn’t really fit with Minnesota, who have Kevin Love entrenched at the power forward spot and rookie Derrick Williams ready for more playing time. He will be a restricted free agent this summer with a qualifying offer of $8.1 million, per Sham Sports contract database. He can be had, but the question is for how much?

Ken Berger of CBS Sports notes the Celtics, Lakers and Orlando are interested in Beasley. A trade for free agent center Jermaine O’Neal straight-up works cap-wise, but the Wolves would certainly want more than an aging center contemplating wrist surgery. The Celtics will have two first round picks in this year’s draft — their own and one obtained from the Clippers, via the Kendrick Perkins trade. (The pick is top-10 protected through 2016, but the Clips are headed for the playoffs and have the fourth-best record in the Western Conference).

Celtics president Danny Ainge has never been afraid to take chances on talent that hasn’t fit in other places. Beasley was the No. 2 pick in the draft, but was dumped on the Wolves for cash and second round draft picks when the Heat cleared cap space to sign LeBron James and Chris Bosh. Would he be worth a mid to late-round pick in what has been described as a deep draft?

In the same report, Berger also notes that the Celtics are “prepared to entertain offers for Paul Pierce,” and that while the Clippers may be interested in Ray Allen, they don’t have the assets for a deal. Finally, Berger writes that Ainge would have to be “blown away” for a deal involving Rajon Rondo.

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Dog days of March could lead to glory days in May for Celtics 03.07.12 at 9:31 am ET
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At the end of the season, we’ll look back at the schedule and see the Celtics’ 97-92 come-from-behind overtime victory over the Rockets in early March. The box score and game details will show that Boston was down 10, with just over 5½ minutes left, and coming off an emotional overtime win over the Knicks. All of these components add up to the type of game that galvanizes a team.

Not in the 2011-12 season, though. This was ugly basketball at its finest (or sloppiest, depending on how you want to look at it). Tuesday night’s game featured more candidates to be on Sportscenter’s “Not Top 10 Moments” than actual sound basketball plays. But after 53 grueling minutes of basketball, the Celtics were the ones that don’t have to look back regretting they lost a game neither team deserved to win.

“It was a no-energy game,” Doc Rivers said. “You can feel it. I even said at halftime even the building had no energy. It’s just one of those nights. And our guys kept talking about grinding the game.”

The Celtics fell behind by seven after one quarter. Uncharacteristically, Boston had a great second quarter, and took a six-point lead into halftime. The C’s bolstered the margin to double digits in the third quarter. The Rockets responded by going on an impressive 35-11 run that propelled them to a 10-point lead with just over 5½ minutes left.

“It was definitely a strange game,” Paul Pierce said. “It was a battle of wills. One team wanted it one quarter, then the [other the next]. Like a seesaw battle. They make a run, we make a run, they make a run. Nobody could really just put the other team away.”

As the Celtics’ four-game winning streak appeared to be in jeopardy, they turned to the foundation that this team has been built on these past five seasons — defense. Their rotations were crisp. Houston muddled around the perimeter, and with every swing pass the recipient was greeted by a Boston defender. The imposing defensive style forced consecutive shot-clock violations, and with just under two minutes left the Houston lead had dwindled to just three.

“The defensive energy picked up,” Ray Allen said. “When they went on a run, we weren’t getting any stops. They kind of dictated how the game was being played. We changed that by pushing them up away from the basket. Everything that they had was contested, and we got rebounds.”

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Ray Allen comes through in the clutch again, this time using a ‘Top Gun’ move at 12:31 am ET
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It’s a move that’s vintage Ray Allen.

He catches a pass from Brandon Bass with just under 40 seconds remaining and the Celtics trailing by a point. Allen sees Courtney Lee charging at him in desperation to get a hand in his face.

“When Lee jumped at me, I knew I was going to fake him and let him fly by me,” Allen said. “It’s like one of my favorite moves, Top Gun, I put on the brakes and let him fly by.”

He lets Lee fly by, just like in his favorite movie. And as was the case with Tom Cruise’s character in “Top Gun”, Allen made Lee pay by nailing a wide-open 3-pointer with 35.4 seconds remaining to put the Celtics on top, 84-82, capping a furious 14-2 run by Boston. The game would wind up going to overtime, with the Celtics willing themselves to a 97-92 overtime win over the Rockets at TD Garden.

The game didn’t begin so smoothly for Allen and the Celtics. Allen’s jumper was flat, as he missed his first three shots, all threes, and the Celtics fell behind 28-21 after a quarter.

“I had a couple early in the game that didn’t go in for me and I was watching how they were guarding me, so as the fourth quarter came along everytime I got the ball I knew they were trying to run me off the three so I just said this three was going to be on my terms,” Allen said.

Allen finished with 21 points on 7-for-15 shooting, including 3-of-8 from long range, in 41 grueling minutes.

If there’s anyone on the Celtics who can speak to the virtues of taking care of the body in the grind of a season, it’s No. 20. It’s certainly paying off this week, as Allen played his second straight game over 40 minutes in three days, with the prospects of playing the young and up-tempo Sixers on the road in Philly in less than 24 hours.

“The in-between days were you really have to take care of your body and make sure that you focus on rest,” he said. “Even in the games you have to learn how to be efficient out there. Sometimes you have to run harder just to push that bad wind out of you and sometimes you have to just be efficient, and get to your spot and allow your body to recover out there.

“So it changes, you just have to listen to your body. Sometimes your body is telling you you can’t go more. When that happens you have to make sure you pass the ball. Still make a sharp cut, but our legs are so important when you get to the shot. So if I’m short on the shot I know it’s my legs. So I always make sure I pay attention to that. I think as a team we have to make sure we play more together in these stretches because it is going to require us to be a team unit when we play those games.”

With the Celtics dying on the vine with 5:33 left, and down 10, it was Allen who drew upon his freakish good conditioning to bring his team back from certain defeat. he scored in every way possible, lay-up, mid-range jumpers and, of course, his trademark – the 3-pointer. He accounted for half of Boston’s 14 points in the run that got the Celtics back in the game.

“There’s so many facets of the game, you have to score in transition, you have to score in the paint,” Allen said. “In fast breaks, you have to score off easy buckets, you have to score free throws, you have to score 3-pointers. There’s so many different things so you have to be prepared for everything. I always feel like if I can be in better condition than my guy then that’s going to be four-to-six points a game I will be able to get.”

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