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Paul Pierce and the rest of the Celtics make sure the Luke Harangody ‘legend’ grows 01.08.11 at 12:13 am ET
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After each home game of late, Paul Pierce usually takes his place – right in front of the doorway to the training room – to speak to the media about what went right and/or wrong in the just-completed game.

But this night was different. Luke Harangody made sure of that with his first career double-double, 17 points and 11 rebounds in Boston’s 122-102 laugher at the Garden.

“Paul Pierce is officially taking the the night off,” the captain announced on his way to the vanity where the Celtics usually check themselves in the mirror to make sure they’re presentable. “There’s plenty of players to give you great quotes today. All my quotes will be coming from Luke Harangody… and tweets.”

Friday night, Harangody’s play spoke volumes. The rookie out of Notre Dame has been used by Doc Rivers to come off the bench in the last two weeks to provide energy, a strategy that began against New Orleans on New Year’s Eve and continued against Minnesota and San Antonio this week.

But on Friday, he showed that when he focuses and doesn’t rush his rhythm, he can be much more than just an energy upgrade from Semih Erden. After all, he had over 2,400 points and 1,200 rebounds in four years with the Fighting Irish.

“Yeah, he can do that, and that’s the one thing we knew,” Rivers said of the rookie’s ability to draw a big man away from the basket and shoot the ball. “And when he slows down like he did today, he makes those shots, and that was good. You know, every time he makes a shot, you know the legend of Luke grows, in a lot of ways. We laugh, but it does, because the next game you’ll hear the other team yelling ‘Get back out to him’ and that creates space for [Rajon] Rondo and everybody else.”

And that’s what the starters on the bench really love to see.

“I think he was in all of a half-second and he took a shot and the whole bench started laughing, because that’s who he is,” Rivers said. “And we want him to stay that way. He’ll make mistakes because he’s young, he’ll make mistakes because he’s going fast but he’ll never make mistakes because he’s not going hard.

“The guys appreciate that, honestly. They love effort. When you get guys that come off the bench and play with the effort and intensity he plays with, the starters love that. That’s what gets them up and cheering and that’s why they like him so much. They see his effort everyday.”

And what about his habit of jacking up shots as soon as he gets in the game? Blame it on his coach at Notre Dame.

“I think we should blame, or thank [coach] Mike Bray for that,” Rivers joked of the Irish head coach. “I watched him a couple times against Georgetown when my son [Jeremiah] was there. He shot it basically every time he touched it there, too. He’s just got that tradition and he’s going to keep it going.”

Bray won’t be there Saturday night in Chicago as his team has a little date with St. John’s about 70 miles away in South Bend. But he will have friends and family, no doubt all of whom are expecting Harangody to do exactly what the Celtics now expect – shoot from the hip.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Jeremiah Rivers, Luke Harangody
Doc Rivers believes Jermaine O’Neal is going to have a sore knee ‘the rest of his life’ 01.07.11 at 11:34 pm ET
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Using a flare for the dramatic, Doc Rivers explained why Jermaine O’Neal didn’t play in the second half of Friday’s 20-point blowout win over Toronto. Rivers pointed to Boston’s 67-45 halftime lead and O’Neal’s stiff left knee as reasons O’Neal played just nine minutes, allowing Luke Harangody to have his rookie breakout game. Rivers said the hope is that he’ll be ready for the Bulls in Chicago on Saturday night.

“His knee was sore, so I knew in the second half I wasn’t going to go with him,” Rivers said of O’Neal’s chronic left knee. “And we had a lead, so we just looked at it and if we could get him through this game and maybe play him [Saturday] it would be great.

“It was a little sore before the game, but it got – at halftime he came to me and said, ‘Man, my knee’s sore.’ So I think his knee’s sore for the rest of his life. But there’s going to be different degrees of pain.”

O’Neal, who has backed up Shaquille O’Neal off the bench, played in seven of the first eight games of the season before missing 19 straight with the bad left knee. Friday marked his eighth game back but Rivers said he will likely have to keep a close eye on his minutes going forward.

O’Neal is averaging 5.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 15 games for the Celtics this season.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jermaine O'Neal, Luke Harangody, NBA
Fast Break: Luke Harangody leads Celtics over Raptors at 9:57 pm ET
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Celtics rookie Luke Harangody produced the first double-double of his career, totaling 17 points and 11 rebounds, as the Celtics scored a season-high in a 122-102 victory against the Raptors in Boston. The win marked the team’s 3,000th career win.

Six Celtics (28-7) scored in double figures: Harangody, Paul Pierce (20), Ray Allen (17), Nate Robinson (15), Glen Davis (14) and Shaquille O’Neal (12). Only Avery Bradley didn’t get on the board against the Raptors.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Luke Harangody dominates; yup, you read that right: Harangody played so well on Friday night that his name was actually a trending topic on Twitter in Boston. In just under four first-quarter minutes, the Celtics rookie scored eight points to help the C’s race to a 34-22 lead in the opening 12 minutes.

The only person who could cool down Harangody was Doc Rivers. The Notre Dame product knocked down his fifth straight shot (a trey) and grabbed three of his 11 rebounds in the opening 4:15 of the second quarter. Harangody finished his best game of the season with 17 points and 11 rebounds in 26-plus minutes.

The Raptors forget to play defense: In the first half, the Celtics shot almost as well from the floor (65.9 percent) as they did from the foul line (70 percent) — scoring a season-high 67 first-half points against the Raptors. Entering the break, only Rondo (2-for-5) and Von Wafer (0-for-1) failed to shoot 50 percent.

At halftime, four Celtics — Harangody, Allen, Pierce and Robinson — had already reached double figures. Combined, those four shot 16-of-20 in the opening 24 minutes. After the break, the C’s cooled to a 57.5 shooting clip for the game.

Shaq & Co. share the wealth: Shaq doesn’t get enough credit for his passing ability. Twice against the Raptors, he made great looks — once on an offensive board that he kicked to an open Pierce for 3 and another on a touch-pass to a waiting Davis underneath the basket.

In all, the Celtics recorded 31 assists on 46 field goals. Led by Rondo’s seven dimes, eight Celtics produced multiple-assist nights.

The C’s also shared the rebounding load. Harangody’s 11 boards led the way, but Rondo, Pierce, Allen and Shaq all had at least four rebounds on the night. As a team, the Celtics out-rebounded the Raptors, 43-31.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Defensive activity: As bad as the Celtics beat the Raptors on Friday night, it could’ve been worse. Sure, the C’s shot 60-plus percent from the floor, but they failed to lock it down defensively on the other end.

Toronto got a ton of open looks, leading to a 50.6 percent shooting percentage against the Celtics. Against the Raptors, that’s OK. Against everybody else, that’s trouble.

DeMar DeRozan is a heckuva scorer: DeRozan’s youthful athleticism gave the Celtics’ defense problems at times. He got into the lane at will and maneuvered around Shaq like a squirrel around a tree. The Raptors’ shooting guard finished with 20 points.

DeRozan is signed with Toronto in the Atlantic Division through 2014, so the Celtics should be seeing plenty of him over the years — unless the Raptors trade him away like every other good player that goes through Canadian customs.

Fourth-quarter brain fart: What was once a 23-point lead disintegrated into a 98-86 advantage after an Andrea Bargnani dunk over Davis with nine minutes remaining in the game. Then, Allen buried a 3-pointer, Davis and Rondo made four straight free throws, and Harangody buried an 18-footer to push the lead back to 21. The Raptors never sniffed a comeback again.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Luke Harangody, NBA, Toronto Raptors
Irish Coffee: Who means most to Celtics’ success? 01.03.11 at 11:42 am ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Add Paul Pierce‘s sprained ankle to the ever-growing list of injuries that have plagued the Celtics through their first 32 games this season.

Following Sunday’s 93-79 victory in Toronto against the Raptors, Doc Rivers told reporters, “We have a game [Monday] night, so he’ll be OK.” But it was another “not again” moment that reminded Celtics fans of the team’s fragility.

It also reminded me of this article from the Los Angeles Times, which made the following statement:

Rajon Rondo, their lone indispensable player, has an ankle injury and has been out three times but keeps returning before he’s 100 percent.

Is Rondo really their only indispensable player? Could they legitimately reach their goal of an 18th NBA title without Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett or – for that matter – any of the starters who are undefeated as a unit in the playoffs?

That’s when I decided to look at the Celtics’ record with and without each player in the lineup during The New Big Three era. Here’s how it shakes out with and without each guy (winning percentages in parentheses):

  • Paul Pierce … With: 195-69 (.739); Without: 8-6 (.571)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .168
  • Rajon Rondo … With: 191-68 (.738); Without: 12-7 (.632)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .106
  • Kevin Garnett … With: 169-58 (.745); Without: 34-17 (.667)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .078
  • Ray Allen … With: 192-72 (.727); Without: 11-3 (.786)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.059
  • Kendrick Perkins … With: 167-65 (.720); Without: 36-10 (.783)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.063

Based on these numbers, Pierce has been the most valuable player on the team over the last three-plus regular seasons. Not Rondo. It’s also interesting to note the Celtics’ success without Allen or Perkins in the lineup.

One thing is certainly clear: Pierce, Rondo and Garnett are all indispensable. Well, at least that L.A. Times piece gave us one interesting note:

From the last four openers to Christmas Eve, Boston has gone an astounding 94-14 … a 71-win pace. Not even the Bill Russell teams that won 11 titles in 13 seasons ever did as well in that time frame.

The Celtics’ best four-year opener-to-Christmas Eve run in the Russell era was 94-26 from 1959-1962. Even posting win totals of 72-69-62 in Michael Jordan‘s last three seasons, the Bulls were 64-14 before Christmas.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, after the last three Christmases, they went 84-54 when injuries hit … as they have once more.

Just for fun, let’s look at the same numbers for each of the top-10 rotation players for this year’s team. How have the 2010-11 Celtics performed in their absences, taking into account the relatively small sample size?

  • Kevin Garnett … With: 24-6 (.800); Without: 1-1 (.500)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .300
  • Rajon Rondo … With: 18-3 (.857); Without: 7-4 (.636)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: .221
  • Shaquille O’Neal … With: 17-6 (.739); Without: 8-1 (.889)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.150
  • Delonte West … With: 3-2 (.600); Without: 22-5 (.815)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.215
  • Jermaine O’Neal … With: 7-5 (.583); Without: 18-2 (.900)
    Winning percentage discrepancy: –.317

The order of these players’ importance to the Celtics is certainly not surprising, but one thing is: How little an impact Jermaine O’Neal has had on this team. The Celtics have been a significantly better team when he doesn’t see the floor.

PAUL PIERCE THE COMEDIAN

On his Twitter page, Pierce made no mention of how his ankle was feeling on Monday morning, but he did offer this: “Excuse me I need to get thru please” — accompanied by the following video …

Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo
Kevin Garnett gets his revenge on Andrea Bargnani 11.27.10 at 1:01 am ET
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Call it a lack of respect from certain members of the Raptors, an overwhelming desire to make good on a sub-par performance five days earlier or a kick in the butt from his head coach, Kevin Garnett was a man on a mission Friday night.

After Andrea Bargnani dropped 29 points on the Celtics last Sunday in a 102-101 come-from-behind Raptors win in Toronto, Celtics coach Doc Rivers pulled Garnett aside and essentially told him that can’t happen again. Garnett responded by scoring a season-high 26 points while holding Bargnani to 11 in Garnett’s best two-way game of the season as the Celtics prevailed, 110-101, Friday nigh at TD Garden.

“Doc has different ways of motivating me,” Garnett said. “He pulled me to the side, he wasn’t really happy with Bargnani situation up there and I wasn’t really pleased with that, either. And tonight was more of a concentrated effort to just make sure I kept him under control. It doesn’t take much to motivate me.”

Rivers was far more subtle in his post-game comments but hinted that he saw the KG everyone expected on Friday night.

“Kevin’s energy tonight was off the charts, and you knew it would be, if you know Kevin,” Rivers said. “Because the last time we played them, the guy in his position had a pretty good game, and that’s just Kevin Garnett.”

Then there were the words of Shaquille O’Neal, who hinted that Raptors forward Amir Johnson was talking trash and directing it at KG on the court. Pretty dumb idea, if true.

Garnett said he was inspired by his own fire and Rivers’ words of inspiration.

“It was 50-50 a little bit,” Garnett added. “I didn’t get much sleep [Thursday] night. That’s what it is. I’m going to see Bargnani as long as I’m in the league but I guess the way Doc came at me was the way he wanted it. That’s what he wanted. I likes to see me a little of the chain at times and I don’t mind being like that.”

Read More: Andrea Bargnani, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, Kevin Garnett
Rajon Rondo out again, Nate Robinson gets 3rd start 11.24.10 at 7:38 pm ET
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The Celtics are taking every precaution with the left hamstring of Rajon Rondo and have ruled him out of tonight’s game against New Jersey at TD Garden. He likely will miss Friday’s contest against Toronto as well, coach Doc Rivers said before Wednesday’s game.

“I don’t think it’s a bad hamstring, but you just have to be careful with it,” said Rivers, who added Rondo is “iffy” against the Raptors on Friday night.

Nate Robinson makes his third straight start in Rondo’s absence.

Rivers said Rondo, who will miss his third straight game, was leading the NBA in assists, dishing out 14.3 per game. The Celtics are 1-1 in the two games without him, losing at Toronto on Sunday before a big win on Monday in Atlanta.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Nate Robinson, NBA, New Jersey Nets
The NBA 30 on 30: Blogosphere Forecast (6 of 7) 10.26.10 at 1:14 pm ET
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NBA fans live a team’s ups and downs. They react to every draft pick, trade and free-agent signing. They debate the merits of the 15th man. They find significance in the most insignificant stats. They simply KNOW their team. So, too, do bloggers. That’s why we sought the opinion of the league’s best blogs — one for each of the 30 teams — to break down the team they cover and, of course, the Celtics.

We’ll move to the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division (sans the C’s) with the sixth of a seven-part  series (Don’t forget to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5) …

New Jersey Nets
NEW JERSEY NETS
by Mark Ginocchio, Nets Are Scorching

New Jersey Nets' Brook Lopez (11) posts up as New York Knicks' Ronny Turiaf defends during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, in New York.

The Nets might have an All-Star on their hands with Brook Lopez. (AP)

ON THE NETS: I think the Nets are going to surprise some people this year and be a lot better than last year.

Not Oklahoma City Thunder good, but maybe eighth seed in the East good, which could still be below .500.

I think Brook Lopez is going to go a long way in establishing himself as an All-Star, and while I’m advocating being patient with Derrick Favors, I see him being used to lure a superstar over to New Jersey this season (Carmelo Anthony?).

ON THE CELTICS: The Celtics are clearly the class of the Atlantic Division this season, and they’re once again one of the favorites to be representing the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals.

With their age, I can see them hitting some ruts during the regular season, and of course all of their core guys have to be healthy for the playoff run, but the Celtics are one of the few teams out there that I think are capable of defensively shutting down Superfriends in Miami.

With that in mind, I’ll be rooting for them if/when their paths cross.

New York Knicks
NEW YORK KNICKS
by Tommy Dee, The Knicks Blog

New York Knicks' Amar'e Stoudemire speaks with the media during the Knicks' Media Day at their training facility Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, in New York.

The addition of Amar'e Stoudemire has Knicks fans thinking playoffs. (AP)

ON THE KNICKS: The Knicks will be improved, assuming Amar’e Stoudemire stays healthy.

They need the trio of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chander and Anthony Randolph to make strides on both sides of the ball to get the most out of Mike D’Antoni‘s transition offense quarterbacked by Raymond Felton.

Of course, the Carmelo Anthony situation will continue to loom, and this is a pressure-packed season for the coach, seeing that his system has taken a tremendous hit with fans over the last two years.

They still have roster flexibility, and I expect them to land Anthony, but in the meantime they have to consistently win free-throw attempt battles and out-rebound their opponents. Those are two constants for playoff teams.

If they do that — and knock down their open jumpers — they’ll be a playoff team. If they don’t, it could be another lost season in the Big Apple.

ON THE CELTICS: I actually love what the Celtics did this offseason. To this day, I think they beat the Lakers if Kendrick Perkins doesn’t get hurt.

But they’ve loaded up the front line with size, and age, with both Shaquille and Jermaine O’Neal, which is key because of the status of Perkins’ health — and it makes them deeper up front against the likes of Miami and Orlando.

The Celts owned the Magic last postseason because they chose to guard Dwight Howard 1-on-1 in the post, and it proved effective as he couldn’t kick out to open shooters. Perhaps more importantly, with the Big 3 in Miami, I believe the Heat are vulnerable up front. That’s the way to attack them.

If Rajon Rondo continues off his impressive playoff performance and the Celtics maintain health, then they should be right there in the end once again.

Off the floor, I love the addition of Lawrence Frank, one of the most prepared minds in the game today.

Philadelphia 76ers
PHILADELPHIA 76ERS
by Brian Ward, Depressed Fan

Philadelphia 76ers coach Doug Collins, right, seated next to Sixers President and General Manager Ed Stefanski,  makes remarks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Monday, May 24, 2010. Collins is back as an NBA coach after seven seasons as an analyst with TNT. Collins is excited to take over the 76ers, the team that made him the No. 1 overall pick in the 1973 draft.

It might be asking to much for Doug Collins to lead the Sixers to the playoffs in his first season. (AP)

ON THE 76ERS: The Sixers had an up-and-down summer. New general manager Rod Thorn and head coach Doug Collins are both clear upgrades.

Sending Willie Green and Jason Smith out of town was a case of addition by subtraction.

Evan Turner is taking his lumps right now, but while he may not be scoring as much as we’d hoped, he’s producing in other areas and contributing while figuring out the difference between the Big Ten and the NBA.

I’d be feeling much better about the Sixers’ prospects if it wasn’t for the Samuel Dalembert trade. Ed Stefanski pulled the trigger on a deal that basically gutted the Sixers interior defense and defensive rebounding without a thought to who would fill that void.

To make matters worse, he took back the second year on Andres Nocioni‘s contract in the deal, which submarined the Sixers’ cap space for next summer. It was a horrible trade from every angle.

If the Dalembert trade hadn’t been made, I’d feel pretty confident in predicting a 10-15 game turnaround for this team and probably a trip to the playoffs in Colllins’ first season at the helm.

As things stand, however, the Sixers’ talented perimeter players won’t be able to cover for their feeble stable of bigs, and it’s a stretch to think they’ll win 35 games. If I had to make a prediction today, I’d say 30-52.

ON THE CELTICS: From the outside, looking in, the Celtics don’t look as strong as they did last season.

Their core is a year older, and the addition of Shaq is going to open some major holes in their defense.

That being said, they have a cakewalk through the Atlantic, and they’ll probably finish somewhere between the No. 2 and 4 seed in the Eastern Conference, depending on health.

If Kendrick Perkins comes back healthy in time for the playoffs, they could make a return trip to the Finals, but I think that’s a bit of a long shot.

Toronto Raptors
TORONTO RAPTORS
by Zarar Siddiqi, Raptors Republic

Toronto Raptors' Andrea Bargnani, of Italy, speaks to reporters after the team's basketball training camp finished for the day at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday Oct. 2, 2010.

Andrea Bargnani is hoping the Raptors aren't as some media outlets are predicting. (AP)

ON THE RAPTORS: 26 wins.

The Raptors aren’t as bad as ESPN is making them out to be. They could be on par or better than teams like Philadelphia, Indiana, New Jersey, Detroit, Washington and New York, so there will be wins to be had.

The defensive effort has been solid in training camp, and if the Raptors can get consistent offensive production out of Andrea Bargnani and the Italian improves his defensive awareness, they have enough players who can play and carry the load.

Jarrett Jack, Linas Kleiza and Leandro Barbosa can complement the youth of DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis and Amir Johnson, but the question will be whether the Raptors can rely on their defense to keep them in games when their star-starved offense goes into a funk.

Last year, they were dead last in defensive rating. If they can become a middle-of-the-pack team, it could be a decent rebuilding year, but I don’t see the playoffs on the horizon.

ON THE CELTICS: The health of the two O’Neals and Kevin Garnett will dictate how the Celtics will fare.

The Raptors saw first-hand how volatile things can be with Jermaine O’Neal if he’s injured, and if you have to rely on Shaq giving you cover at center, then the Celtics could be in trouble in the postseason, much like they were when Perkins went down in the Finals.

From what I’ve seen of Rajon Rondo, he looks to have improved his outside game to the point where he can make a sagging defense pay.

With Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all good mid-range shooters and passers, it will make the Celtics hard to stop, and we know the defense will be there.

Barring injury, I’d pick the Celtics to win 57 games but lose to the Bulls in the postseason (yes, I think the Bulls will be good) as Tom Thibodeau comes back to haunt you.

If injuries hit early, there will be a firesale.

Stay tuned for the final portion of this seven-part series: the Boston Celtics.

Read More: blogs, Celtics, NBA, New Jersey Nets
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