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Three-Pointer: Rajon Rondo and ‘coach’s porn’ 04.01.11 at 12:34 am ET
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Even Rajon Rondo's jump shot was working against the Spurs. (AP)

What a difference a game makes.

The Celtics had been reeling, losing seven of their last 12 games and nearly falling to third place behind the Bulls and Heat in the Eastern Conference — inspiring concerns about everything from the physical health of both O’Neals to the mental health of their start point guard.

But the Celtics also hadn’t played a contender in the last 12 games, or since Feb. 13 for that matter. The Celtics have proven themselves plenty over the last four seasons — as NBA champions in 2008 and as underdog runners-up in 2010 – but entering Thursday night’s game in San Antonio they found themselves needing to prove themselves once again.

After the trade of Kendrick Perkins and following a 5-7 record with the East’s No. 1 seed on the line, can the Celtics still compete with the NBA’s best? After a 107-97 victory against the league-leading Spurs (57-18) on the road without a healthy center, the answer was clear. (The complete game recap can be found here.)

Among the Spurs, Lakers, Mavericks, Bulls and Heat, only Chicago can match the Celtics’ performance against the NBA elite. Here are their records in games against each other:

  • Celtics: 8-4
  • Bulls: 8-4
  • Spurs: 7-6
  • Mavericks: 6-6
  • Lakers: 4-7
  • Heat: 3-9

The Celtics now boast a .667 winning percentage against the league’s five other major NBA title contenders, and two of their four losses to those teams came against a Mavericks team that the C’s likely won’t face again, even if they were to return to the NBA Finals.

There’s plenty of points to take from Thursday night’s Celtics victory. Here are three of them:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, nenad krstic, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen
Irish Coffee: Celtics should stop making excuses 03.30.11 at 2:24 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

The Celtics are 5-7 in their last 12 games. You know that. I know that. And they know that. There’s nothing you and I can do about it, but there’s plenty they can — starting with taking some responsibility for coughing wins up to teams like the Nets and undermanned Bobcats.

Just listen to the comments from Celtics veterans in a recent HoopsWorld story

Ray Allen: “I’m not comfortable, and I think even if we didn’t make trades we still had injuries where we were still playing catch up. I’m not comfortable.”

Was he more comfortable taking the same amount of shots per game in January (11.9), when the C’s finished 12-4 without Kendrick Perkins while Allen averaged more points, rebounds and assists than he did this month?

Paul Pierce: “It’s hard when you got pieces missing every other week, it seems like. In another week, we’re going to be a whole new team.”

Was it hard when the Celtics went 33-10 without Perkins for the first 43 games of the season, or when they finished 19-6 in their first 25 games without Shaquille O’Neal — or did it get exponentially harder over the last 12 games against powerhouses like the Nets and Bobcats?

And then listen to the comments from the newest Celtics in that same HoopsWorld story …

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Erik Ainge, Ray Allen
Fast Break: Bobcats take bite out of Celtics 03.25.11 at 10:12 pm ET
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Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett all missed potential go-ahead buckets in the final 30 seconds, and the Celtics suffered their worst loss of the season, 83-81, against a Bobcats team that traded its best player (Gerald Wallace) and sat its next two most talented guys (Stephen Jackson and Tyrus Thomas) with injuries.

After blowing double-digit leads in both halves, the Celtics (50-21) still only trailed 82-81 with 27 seconds remaining. But Pierce (game-high 18 points) missed an ill-conceived, contested jump shot and Gerald Henderson made 1-of-2 free throws to put the Bobcats (28-43) up two with 15 seconds left. Allen and Garnett each missed 3-point attempts in the finals seconds.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Not putting the game away early: After just eight minutes of action, the Celtics had pushed their lead to double digits, and it appeared as though Gino might make an appearance as early as the second quarter. But a lineup that included Glen Davis, Jeff Green, Delonte West and Carlos Arroyo let the Bobcats close the game to 25-19 by the end of the first quarter. Charlotte remained within single digits through halftime.

Not putting the game away late: Just as they did in the first half, the Celtics coughed up a double-digit lead — this time in the fourth quarter, with the starters on the floor. The Bobcats took the lead when Pierce missed a pair of free throws, Henderson grabbed an offensive rebound and laid it in as three C’s watched. Pierce then clanged a 3-point attempt off the backboard and Davis committed his sixth foul. That fourth-quarter stretch defined a game full of poor decisions, as the Celtics settled for jumpers offensively and lacked effort defensively.

Committing turnovers (again): The Celtics committed 18 turnovers in their 90-87 loss to the Grizzlies on Wednesday, and on Friday they picked up where they left off — turning the ball over six times in the first 15 minutes. They finished with 17 turnovers that led to 13 Bobcats points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Getting Ray Allen involved early: The Celtics’ offense has struggled of late, especially in the first quarter, and Allen’s lack of touches has been part of that dilemma. Not Friday. And definitely not against the Bobcats. Allen took (and made) two 3-pointers in addition to drawing a pair of fouls that led to four free throws. All in all, he recorded 10 of the C’s 25 first-quarter points — the team’s best output for the opening 12 minutes in almost three weeks.

After that, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything else that went right for the Celtics.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Charlotte Bobcats, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen
Irish Coffee: Celtics a slam dunk 03.10.11 at 12:38 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Between Blake Griffin and Eric Gordon, the Clippers own four of the top 10 throwdowns on NBA.com’s Dunk Ladder. Not to mention the fact that DeAndre Jordan had more than twice as many dunks (7) during the Clips’ 108-103 victory against the Celtics on Wednesday night as Rajon Rondo has had all season (3).

So, I figured now is as good a time as any to check out the dunk statistics for the Celtics, especially in comparison to their performance during the 2007-08 season. Thanks to CBS Sports’ Dunk-O-Meter and Roto Evil’s Slam Dunk Stats, we can do that.

If an aging NBA veteran has almost twice as many dunks through 62 games this season than he did during a year in which he captured the NBA Finals MVP, that seems to say a lot about the kind of lift and athleticism that’s still in his legs, right?

Of course, I’m talking about Paul Pierce, who according to CBS Sports has slammed 28 dunks already this season — including the highlight-reel one last night that can be seen in the video that accompanies this blog (thanks to @MrTripleDouble10). By comparison, Pierce recorded just 16 dunks in the 2007-08 regular season.

Count Ray Allen in the same category, as his 11 dunks so far this year are two more than he produced during the entire season three years ago. Glen Davis has already more than doubled his dunking output (11 in 2010-11, compared to 5 in 2007-08), but that can be credited to his increased role as the Sixth Man on this year’s squad.

If we can draw conclusions about how much more lift or aggressiveness Pierce has this year compared to three seasons ago based on his increased number of dunks, is the same true for those going in reverse? That means you, Kevin Garnett.

The naked eye test suggests Garnett has been more active and aggressive around the basket than he’s ever been in a Celtics uniform, but could it be that we’re simply remembering the guy who’s been hobbled by knee problems the last two years?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, nenad krstic, Paul Pierce
Paul Pierce speaks for starters: ‘No excuse to way we started out’ at 12:50 am ET
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It would seem after his bench was outscored, 26-12, in a 108-103 loss to the Clippers Wednesday night at TD Garden, Doc Rivers would have laid blame for the defeat at the hands of his reserves.

But Rivers also realizes that the Celtics dressed just five players Wednesday who were with the team before the Feb. 24 trade deadline, and one of those five was Avery Bradley.

It’s a lot to ask any second unit to make up a 15-to-20 deficit in a game, let alone one that was making its debut. So, the way Rivers saw it, this loss really was at the feet of his “Big 4″ – namely Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.

“I was concerned because in the first quarter, our four starters put us in a hole and then you needed to sub, and you knew nothing good was going to happen,” Rivers said, as his team fell behind by as much as 15 in the first quarter and 23 early in the third.

“It actually [wasn't bad]. They held their ground,” Rivers said of his reserves, led by Carlos Arroyo and new starting center Nenad Krstic. “The problem was it was a 20-point ground [deficit] they were holding and that’s very difficult.

“We sub anyway. We sit guys down regardless of score. Obviously, we were down 20 and we’re subbing. It’s not something you want to do but you have to.”

Pierce couldn’t argue.

“It’s tough when you get out to bad starts and a lot of that has to do with the starters. How we come out at the beginning of the games, we’ve got to come out with a better focus,” Pierce said. “Once you get a team confidence like the Clippers then they feed off that for the rest of the game and were able to get the win.”

Pierce did point to the defensive struggles of the second unit but only as far as they had to pick up the pieces from the starters not playing defense, either.

“I think some of it is the second unit, but a lot of that was at the start of the game with the first five so no excuses on that point,” Pierce said. “They came out and shot 70 percent and a lot of that was against the guys that know what we are doing night in and night out.

“You give some leeway to the newer guys, but there is no excuse to the way we started out giving them the big lead and then having to fight all the way to get back into the game.”

The reserves did a very respectable job on Blake Griffin, who had just 12 points in 37 minutes. Down 23, the Celtics slowly started to chip away, outscoring the Clippers, 24-16 in the third to cut the lead to 10.

Then the starters finally did their thing. Allen drilled a 3-pointer from the right wing on a bullet pass from Rondo with 7:36 left to draw the Celtics within six, 86-80. Garnett’s jumper with just under six minutes left capped a 15-2 run to draw the Celtics within three.

But Mo Williams drained three free throws with 5:23 left to restore the lead to six. Jeff Green drilled a trey with 47.4 seconds left to get within four, 104-100. Allen’s three with 10.5 seconds left turned out to be too little, too late.

The Celtics will try to regroup and start a new winning streak on Friday against the upstart 76ers in Philadelphia. The Sixers are making a late-season push to finish in the middle of the playoff pack in the Eastern Conference and are one of the hottest teams in the NBA since the All-Star break.

Friday would be a great time for a new start for the “Big 4.”

Read More: blake griffin, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Los Angeles Clippers
Even Ray Allen finds it hard to believe how open he was 03.05.11 at 12:12 am ET
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Ray Allen could only imagine what Warriors fans were thinking when he was unconscious in the first half, drilling all four 3-point attempts on his was to 20 points and a 64-53 Celtics lead at the break.

“Well, I think I’m the one guy that you look up and ask yourself, ‘How did he get so wide open in the corner?’ I think that everybody is thinking that – everybody in the Bay Area is thinking that early in the game,” said Allen, who finished with 27 in Boston’s 107-103 win over those defenseless Warriors.

“You don’t really look at Paul [Pierce] and he’s wide open, and Jeff [Green] was wide open several times, Nenad [Krstic] was open a couple times; when Rondo get to the basket, I think that’s as the result of all the guys on the floor and the plays that we run.”

Good thing Allen’s sore right knee healed in time so he could play. But ice and a stat sheet that shows that Golden State is 28th of 30 NBA teams in points allowed can make you healthy in a hurry.

“He shoots the ball pretty well most days,” coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s just an amazing shooter, he really is. And what’s more amazing is how many times he’s wide open. It’s just remarkable when you think about it, the Reggie Millers, I’ve been on teams where before the game the coach is, ‘Do not give this guy an open shot’ and you turn around and he’s standing there all by himself. It’s just amazing how they find the open spots.”

“You just make sure you run, make a sharp cut, stay spaced, and if a team has to double, you know that someone has to be open,” Allen explained.

But you get open with great defense. And when Monta Ellis wasn’t lighting up the Celtics as part of a 41-point night [matching Kobe Bryant for most by an opponent this year], the Celtics were playing enough defensive to allow them to get out in transition.

“The defensive end is really where it starts because when we get stops like that and we force them to miss, and then I’m gone. I don’t even wait, I just get to the corner. They have to get to the paint, and Rondo, he knows where I’m at so I just have to make sure that I’m ready.”

As for that bothersome knee, he wasn’t out on a driving range on Thursday but rather just resting. “Driving range? Who said that?”

Informed it was his coach, Allen replied, “And where am I going to hit golf balls at?”

He then turned slightly more serious when asked just how sore were his legs to require a day off from practice.

“My knee was bothering me a little bit. I just had a little bit of soreness in there that I worked through over the last day and a half,” Allen said. “Coming in this morning, it felt similar and I was kind of taking it hour-by-hour and seeing how it felt when I got down here and when I got down here, it felt better.

“This morning I just came in and got treatment and just try to play it by ear. That’s why I have a suit on in case I was on the bench. I honestly thought when I came down here, there might be a chance but I came down here as usual to be ready to play. It’s hard from one day to the next and then the day before say, ‘I’m not playing tomorrow’ because you feel a little soreness. You have to get in there and really put your body to the test and get it better. I got treatment and ice and by the time I got down here, I shot and felt a lot better and here I am.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Golden State Warriors, Jeff Green, Kobe Bryant
Fast Break: Celtics escape, but continue to progress 03.04.11 at 10:00 pm ET
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With each passing day, the trade that sent Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson begins to look a little better from the Celtics’ perspective. Word came down today that Robinson had arthroscopic surgery on his right knee and will be out 4-6 weeks. Considering the fact that the Celtics traded four players who are injured (including Marquis Daniels and Semih Erden) and replaced them with healthy players, that’s already a net positive.

But what about the on-court results? New center Nenad Krstic has already shown his value as an offensive threat and against the Warriors on Friday night, Jeff Green had his coming out party. Green, who had scored just 18 points in his first three games, erupted for 13 in the first half and finished with 21 points in 28 minutes.

Despite some anxious moments at the end, the Celtics have now won four games in a row after their 107-103 win (recap) and while they would certainly like to close games out better, they’ll gladly take the wins while sorting things out.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Ray Allen should take more days off: The veteran sharpshooter took Thursday off from practice as a precaution. Doc Rivers said that Allen told him his legs were feeling a little sore so Rivers told him to hit some golf balls. Allen showed up for Friday’s game wearing a compression sleeve on his right leg, but any concerns soon evaporated as he made his first seven shots and finished 9-for-13 with 27 points.

A glimpse of what Green can do: The problem for the Celtics and their new forward is simply one of opportunity. Beyond playing the minutes behind Paul Pierce, what else can they do with him? That’s a question Rivers raised Thursday at practice and really, there isn’t a good answer.

But with Glen Davis out for a few days with a strained knee, Rivers used Green with the starters and it resulted in unreal production. Of all the things Green provides, the ability to get out on the break with Rajon Rondo is the most appealing and the two connected for a series of highlight-worthy plays. Unlocking Green’s potential is one of the priorities of the last six weeks and Friday night was a positive step.

Paul Pierce’s quiet excellence: Just another 27-point, seven-rebound night for Pierce, who is the glue that holds everything together.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Troy Murphy will need some time: Murphy has now played 26 minutes and missed all seven shots that he’s attempted. Rivers said he wanted to run him until he dropped and he’ll have to keep giving him minutes while he figures things out on the fly.

Von Wafer strains his right calf: It never ends for the Celtics. After dropping seven points in just six minutes, Von Wafer limped off the court with what the team called a strained right calf. There was no immediate update on how long Wafer will be out, but he did not return to the game. That’s a tough blow for Wafer, who has played well in limited opportunities this season.

Second half fades: It happened late in the third quarter against the Suns, but this time the culprits were the starters as they allowed the Warriors to almost erase a huge lead late in the game. Monta Ellis scored 41 points, tying the mark set by Kobe Bryant for most against the Celtics this season. The Celtics escaped, but this late-game trend needs to stop.

Read More: Celtics, Fast Break, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce
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