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Celtics at a loss to explain slow starts 01.07.12 at 2:07 pm ET
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Paul Pierce and the Celtics struggled with their shooting Friday night against the Pacers. (AP)

Rajon Rondo pushed the ball forward trying to lead a Celtics fast break as time was running out in the first half of Friday night’s game against the Pacers. Indiana thwarted any easy opportunities for the Boston point guard by getting back on defense. Rondo pulled the ball out to just beyond midcourt to receive instruction from coach Doc Rivers. Less than 10 seconds remained, though, and the Celtics found themselves out of sorts offensively. Rondo was trapped by two Indiana defenders and was forced to pass the ball to Kevin Garnett, who launched a wild, off-balance jumper to end the half.

The TD Garden crowd serenaded the Celtics with boos while they left the court with their heads hung low. The possession exemplified Boston’s dreadful 25-point first-half output. The anemic offensive display tied a franchise record set in 1995 and repeated in 1999.

“It sucks to be on the wrong side of history,” Ray Allen said. “Especially with the firepower we have, you never think we could score so few points. We can always look back and remember this game.”

Allen, who missed Wednesday’s game against the Nets due to flu-like symptoms, remarkably was the game’s high scorer at halftime with eight points. As a team, Boston shot 9-of-34 (26.5 percent) from the field in the first half. Nine of those 34 attempts came from Paul Pierce, who struggled mightily, only hitting one attempt.

Boston’s captain finished the game with 10 points on 3-of-17 shooting, to go along with a team-high five turnovers (three of which came in the first half). Even though Pierce didn’t convert his opportunities, he was satisfied with the looks he got at the basket. ”I took a lot of good shots tonight,” Pierce said. “They just didn’t fall, but I feel good about [the shot selection].”

Rondo made no excuses for his team’s performance Friday night, but he noted that Pierce’s shooting struggles were something he doesn’t think the 13-year veteran will replicate going forward. Meanwhile, Jermaine O’Neal said a rare break in the schedule will give the Celtics an opportunity to sharpen their offensive execution in practice, something the compacted season has made difficult with limited off days.

Perhaps more alarming for Boston is that this is the second consecutive game the team has struggled to produce offense in the first half. Wednesday against New Jersey, the Celtics scored a paltry 34 points through 24 minutes. The Nets were playing without two starters (Deron Williams and Kris Humphries), and were only able to counter Boston with a woeful 35-point effort themselves. The Celtics found their groove offensively and would go on to enjoy 55-point second half, cruising to an 89-70 victory.

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Paul Pierce shows his ‘human’ side as Celtics and Pacers set offense back ’50 years’ at 10:54 am ET
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Paul Pierce was a mere symptom of the cause Friday night at TD Garden.

Yes, he made just three of the 17 shots he attempted from the field. Yes, he finished with just 10 points in 37 minutes of play. Yes, he attempted six 3-pointers, making just one.

But the Pacers and Celtics combined to make just 58 of their combined 145 shots from the field. That’s 87 misses. That’s a lot. Just asked the coach on the losing end of an 87-74 Indiana survival.

“Both teams set offense back about 50 years today,” Doc Rivers said. “It was awful to watch. I thought defensively, we were pretty good until the third quarter.”

That’s probably because as the Celtics were desperate to get out from under their 25-point first half, they opened things up and sped up the game, losing sight of their defensive principles just to put points on the board and get into a rhythm.

As for Pierce, “He was human, you know?” Rivers explained. “I thought he tried to do too much off the [dribble], especially early. And then I thought he got frustrated a little bit. That’s going to happen. But that’s where somebody else we needed to pick up, and nobody could. Without Ray [Ray Allen] shooting today, we would’ve shot 20 percent.”

Allen finished 7-for-11 in his first game back from the flu. The rest of the team was a collective 19-for-55, which is bad enough for 35 percent.

“We were able to score but we didn’t get stops,” said Pierce. “We played them to dead even, both teams scored thirty points. When they have the lead, you’re just running on a treadmill. We’ve just got to go back to work, watch the tape and see some of the things we did wrong. There’s no need to put our heads down, it’s early in the season, and we just need to clean up a few things.

“Ray’s doing what he does, he knocks down shots so we get him open but unfortunately myself and some other guys didn’t step up enough offensively for us to win.”

Perhaps Pierce and the Celtics can rediscover their offensive mojo in the next five days, as the team has several practices planned.

“It will give us a chance to get some good practice time in,” Pierce said. “I haven’t had any practice this year so it’ll be good for me to get back in and refreshed with some of the things we’re doing. Add to our playbook which we haven’t been able to do because of our lack of practice plus it’ll be a good rest for us. We’re playing every other day, so get our feet back up under us and regroup and get back on next week.”

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With four days off, Celtics talking about practice at 1:11 am ET
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Celtics veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen are looking forward to practice after the loss to the Pacers. (AP)

The Celtics just played their eighth game in 13 days, emerging with a 4-4 record, capped by their worst offensive performance of the season, and all Ray Allen can think about is the next one.

“I just always like playing,” said Allen, whose 23 points on 11 shots were the lone bright spot in an 87-74 loss to the Pacers. “It’s great to be able to practice, go over plays, talk about certain things and kind of reinstitute defensive philosophies and execution on offense, but you learn full tilt in game situations.”

Allen won’t get that chance until the C’s host the Maverick Wednesday. In the meantime, we talking about practice.

“I know you guys are going to write a blog about how terrible we are offensively, but we just haven’t practiced,” said center Jermaine O’Neal. “There’s just no way you can run the guys when you’re playing every other day, because it’s going to effect us on game days. Now, we get a day off to rest our bodies and we’re back out working.

“We get a couple days to really bang bodies, to really run our sets,” added O’Neal. “We’ve been coming in and doing dummy drills and stuff like that so guys can get contact, but there’s nothing like competing — competing in practice, getting used to screens, holding guys off to get rebounds, rotations and all of that. Basically, we’ve had to talk our way through it. Sometimes you can get away with it, and sometimes you can’t. Tonight, we didn’t.”

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Fast Break: Pacers win ugly, end Celtics’ four-game win streak 01.06.12 at 9:57 pm ET
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The Celtics started the game with their worst offensive half in franchise history and never recovered. Despite lingering around for much of the game, Darren Collison‘s 3-pointer with a minute and a half to play finally put a nail in the coffin on a 87-74 Pacers victory that ended the C’s four-game winning streak and left them with plenty of questions to answer during a four-day layoff before they welcome the defending champion Mavericks to town on Wednesday night.

WHAT WENT WRONG

The first half: The 6-year-olds who played at halftime in the Garden had a better shooting night than the Celtics did in the first half. The C’s matched a franchise low, scoring 25 points on 9-of-34 shooting (26.5%) in the opening 24 minutes, heading to the locker room to a smattering of boos from the home crowd. Paul Pierce was 1-of-9 from the floor at the break. As our own Mike Petraglia noted, the Celtics had only totaled 25 points in a half twice before in franchise history during the shot clock era. It’s a good thing Indiana only shot 13-of-39 (33.3%) for 33 points.

Cleaning the glass: The Pacers had more rebounds at halftime (30) than the C’s had points. David West, who got booed mercilessly almost every time he touched the ball, didn’t help matters, totaling double-digit boards and adding insult to injury after spurning Boston for Indiana during the free agency period. The Pacers out-rebounded the C’s, 47-36, including a 14-7 advantage on the offensive end.

Not benching much: The bench, including Brandon Bass (5 points, 2-7 FG), got outscored by their Pacers counterparts 33-14. Marquis Daniels‘ offensive woes continued, as evidenced by a wide-open missed layup on a scoreless night.

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Irish Coffee: Celtics weekly report card at 12:12 pm ET
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Given that NBA teams cram 66 games into just over four months, each of this season’s 17 weeks becomes like an NFL week. As NFL writers are wont to do, we’ll start a new series of Celtics report cards each Friday. After an 0-3 start capped by a loss to a woeful Hornets team, the C’s have won four straight — albeit against three D-League NBA clubs with a combined 3-16 record. That being said, let’s get to the grades.

BRANDON BASS: A+

If you thought Glen Davis was a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season, get a load of Bass so far this year. In 28 minutes a night, he’s averaging 14.0 points and 6.6 boards, shooting 61.5 percent from 10-15 feet and 66.0 percent from 16-23 feet. His consistency in a new system has been remarkable. In just a few short weeks, Bass has helped create that valuable spacing for which Doc Rivers strives and already assumed the second crunch-time big role alongside Kevin Garnett.

RAY ALLEN: A

You can’t blame the man for missing a game because of the flu. In six games, he’s averaging a team-leading 20.0 points on sizzling 61.1 percent 3-point shooting. His 51.5 percent shooting from inside the arc isn’t too shabby, either, but three missed free throws is very un-Shuttlesworth-like (picking nits). Could this be the season Allen finally achieves his Holy Trinity of Shooting (50 FG%-40 3P%-90 FT%)? Allen gets paid to shoot the rock and run opposing two guards ragged. Mission accomplished.

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Irish Coffee: Kevin Garnett’s guide to being a Celtic 01.05.12 at 11:30 am ET
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I don’t know much about Kevin Garnett, but I do know this: If you haven’t earned his respect, your name won’t cross his lips. “You’re a nobody.” As Celtics rookie JaJuan Johnson said during the first week of training camp, he wasn’t sure if KG even knew his name. The future Hall of Famer only referred to him as “New” or “Rook.”

Conversely, if Garnett mentions you by name, you’re doing something right. In recent days, young Celtics Greg Stiemsma and Avery Bradley in particular have earned postgame praise from the 16-year veteran.

“I think what you’re seeing is opportunity for the young guys, starting with Greg, and now Avery’s getting a chance to play and taking advantage of it,” Garnett said after totaling 14 points and 12 boards in the C’s 89-70 trimming of the Nets. “I don’t root for young guys a lot, especially when they’re hard-headed and don’t like to listen. We’ve got a good group of guys here, and that includes our young guys. They’re a young group, full of enthusiasm, full of hope and promise and a lot of potential, but they’re good guys, and they work really, really hard.”

It’s no secret hard work goes a long way in Garnett’s book, and we all know KG is going to talk. All they have to do is listen to that team pitch he, his fellow Celtics veterans and coach Doc Rivers are selling, buy in and apply it.

“There are no I’s. There are no You’s. It’s a We. It’s an Our. It’s a They. It’s an Us,” said Garnett. “The first thing you have to have in here is that you have to understand what you’re coming into, understand that being a Celtic is bigger than anybody in this locker room. You’re carrying on tradition. You have to have a work ethic. You have to care about the next guy beside you. If you can’t and if you don’t, then you’re not here. It’s the culture here.”

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Brandon Bass: ‘I’m playing with three hall of famers’ and Rajon Rondo, too at 8:56 am ET
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Brandon Bass continues to show the world why the Celtics traded Glen Davis for him.

Sixth man for sixth man but this sixth man can score with the best of them. He did so again Wednesday night when the Celtics desperately needed someone other than Paul Pierce to score with Ray Allen at home with the flu.

Bass came off the bench and scored 15 points and hauled down 13 rebounds, leading a second-half surge that saw the Celtics pull away from the Nets, 89-70.

“Energy, play good defense, rebound, score when I get good opportunities,” Bass said. “That’s what I think my role is and that’s what I’m going to try to bring every night.”

The only question: Can he keep it up? He is averaging 14 points and 6.6 rebounds in 27.7 minutes over the first seven games. He has averaged 7.8 points and 4.1 rebounds in 18.6 minutes per game over his previous six NBA seasons.

“Rondo, Paul and KG all put me in a position to shoot, swing and go into pick and roll so I don’t think it’s my job to be a play maker, but I will make a play if I get the opportunity to,” Bass said.

Bass’ reference to not being a playmaker is why he has affectionately earned the reputation as Brandon “No-Pass” Bass, as Paul Flannery wrote on Tuesday. Bass realizes this. So, when he was told he got an assist on Wednesday, he replied, “Oh, did I?”

But Bass’ job is to get open underneath the basket and be ready when Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett all look to him and fire him the ball.

“There are opportunities to do lots of different things,” Bass said. “I’m on the floor with three hall of famers and there’s an All-Star in Rondo so you got a lot of opportunities to do a lot of different things.”

“It’s nice,” added coach Doc Rivers. “I haven’t been able to do this. I did it last year at the end with Jeff [Jeff Green] when we went small and they stayed big. But it’s rare you can come out of a time-out and run a pick and roll for a pop for the big. It’s actually an iso for him to take someone off the dribble. That’s just nice to have. I’ve not – I don’t think I’ve ever had that.”

The other big benefit Bass provides are minutes, minutes that can be used to rest Garnett. Wednesday, the official box score showed Bass with 25 minutes, 45 seconds, just 11 seconds fewer than Garnett, the perfect situation for Rivers.

“Brandon’s so important for us because we take Kevin out of the first quarter at seven; you don’t lose offensively when Kevin comes out, you lose some defense for sure,” Rivers said. “Brandon rebounds well, too.”

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