Boston Celtics Archive: March 2010

Elsa/Getty ImagesKevin Durant and the upstart Thunder made the big plays late.
BOSTON -- Instant reaction after the Oklahoma City Thunder posted a 109-104 triumph over the Boston Celtics Wednesday night at the TD Garden:

How the game was won: Kevin Durant poured in a game-high 37 points on 10-of-20 shooting, while Russell Westbrook added 21 points and 10 assists for the Thunder. Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace paced six Boston players in double figures with 18 points apiece, while Rajon Rondo added 16 points and 11 assists.

Turning point: Jeff Green -- Boston's first-round pick (5th overall) in the 2007 draft who was traded to Seattle in exchange for Ray Allen -- drilled a pair of 3-pointers in the final two minutes, both times turning Oklahoma City's one-point lead into a two-possession game.

Stat of the game: The Celtics shot 71.1 percent (27 of 38 overall) in the first half ... and led by only four at the intermission. Boston scored the final seven points of the second quarter while opening its biggest lead to that point as the Thunder shot 56.8 percent (21 of 37) before the break.

Unsung hero: Wallace committed two turnovers and two fouls in five scoreless minutes to start the game and heard boos a couple times, but rebounded to scored 18 points on 7-of-8 shooting over 26 minutes off the bench.

What it means: The Celtics continue to falter against top competition at home. Particularly concerning is the fact that, in a game with a playoff atmosphere, the team again let the game slip away late and it was the youthful Thunder that made the plays -- on the road -- when they mattered most. Coupled with Atlanta's thrashing of the Lakers, the Celtics slipped a game back of the Hawks in the race for the third seed in the Eastern Conference.

Pregame notes: Pierce, Perkins return

March, 31, 2010
BOSTON -- A collection of pregame news and notes before the Boston Celtics host the Oklahoma City Thunder Wednesday night at the TD Garden:

The rundown (a quick look at pregame headlines)
* Pierce, Perkins to play vs. Thunder
* Chance for bench to find rhythm
* Thunder's Durant on MVP chatter

Pierce, Perkins to play vs. Thunder

Celtics coach Doc Rivers said trainer Ed Lacerte called him Wednesday morning to green light Paul Pierce (right shoulder stinger) for action against the Thunder, and both the captain and center Kendrick Perkins will return to the starting lineup Wednesday night.

"He's playing, so yes, he's going to go, he's fine," Rivers said when asked if Pierce was healthy enough to play. "Eddie just called me in the morning and said, 'Paul's ready.' I think [team physician] Dr. [Brian] McKeon looked at him and gave him the go-ahead. That's good.

"It's scary. Obviously, you don't know why he gets injured. I guess I could call [Patriots] coach [Bill] Belichick, because it's a football injury. We don't have a whole bunch of stingers in our league that I know of."

Pierce suffered his first stinger in Sunday's loss to the Spurs after being fouled by Manu Ginobili in the third quarter. Pierce admitted he was sore after the game, but after an offday Monday, practiced with the team Tuesday and looked fine before suffering the exact same injury off a back pick midway through the session.

Rivers noted after Tuesday's session that, at worst, Pierce would miss a game or two, but the medical staff stressed that the injury wasn't a separation, and clearly his condition is safe enough for him to return to action immediately.

The Celtics will have their regular starting five in place with the return of Perkins, who sat out the last two games after battling left knee tendinitis for the better part of the past two months.

Boston is 36-13 this season with their regulars in place and 121-38 since the Big Three united at the start of the 2007 campaign.

"Our starting lineup is pretty good when it's intact," said Rivers. "We like it when we have it."

Healthy starting 5 = Chance for bench to find rhythm

One of the benefits of having a healthy starting five is that Boston's bench will have the chance to find a much-needed rhythm. The recent spate of injuries has forced the team to pull guys like Rasheed Wallace into the starting lineup, hindering the ability for the reserves to get in sync as the playoffs near.

Boston's bench has been woefully inconsistent in recent weeks.

"It means our bench will be better," said Rivers. "Rasheed will go back to the bench and that gives us a post player."

The one downside is that a guy like Marquis Daniels misses out on a chance to start and maybe emerge from his recent struggles. Regardless of his role, Rivers indicated at Tuesday's practice that it's important for Boston to get Daniels going, particularly establishing him in the post moving forward.

Thunder's Durant on MVP chatter

Averaging a shade under 30 points per game -- and sitting fractions of a point behind league-leading LeBron James -- Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant admits he's heard the whispers about including him in the MVP conversation. It's a bit humbling to the third-year player.

"I haven't really thought about it, but a lot of people wish me good luck and I look at them like, 'What do you mean?' said Durant. "Every year there's going to be guys in the MVP race like Dwight Howard, LeBron, Kobe [Bryant], [Dwyane] Wade. I never envision myself in that category yet. Hopefully before it's all said and done, I can get up there with those guys. Right now I'm just trying to do my best to get this team to the playoffs."

So is the talk frustrating if it overshadows the team's success?

"No, it's pretty cool," Durant said to laughter. "For a kid like me, coming from where I came from, to grow up as a player and have people say I could be the MVP in the NBA, that's something I dreamed about. It's pretty cool, but it's not something I'm worried about."

Allen can't associate with OKC

March, 31, 2010
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty ImagesRay Allen shoots at familiar old digs at Key Arena in Seattle.
Celtics guard Ray Allen spent a lot of time after Tuesday's practice session talking about Seattle basketball (Allen is trying to organize a summer charity game in order to rekindle interest in bringing an NBA team back to the Emerald City) given the fact that Oklahoma City -- formerly the Seattle Supersonics, Allen's former employer -- visit the TD Garden Wednesday night.

But don't expect Allen to get all nostalgic. While his name might be etched in the team's record books, Allen can't relate to the Thunder.

"There are a couple of employees that I worked with when I was there, but for the most part, I don't associate [with] that team at all," admitted Allen. "Obviously, if the name was the same, or the coach was the same, you might notice it. But, for the most part, you can see they've done a good job of cutting all ties from the Seattle team."

Allen came to Boston in a draft night trade in 2007 that featured Jeff Green, Boston's first-round pick (5th overall), going to the Sonics. That same draft produced Kevin Durant for Sonics with the second overall pick. In 2008, the team moved to Oklahoma City after 41 years in Seattle.


March, 31, 2010
Larry W. Smith/NBAE/Getty ImagesKevin Durant is the primary reason for the confidence gushing out of Oklahoma CIty.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Call it a bit of advanced scouting, but Celtics center Kendrick Perkins was watching the Oklahoma City Thunder play on NBA TV recently and the one thing that stood out above all else came after the final buzzer.

"They interviewed Jeff Green after the game and he surprised me because he was like, 'We're a hard-working team, trying to win a championship,'" Perkins recalled after Tuesday's practice. "Well, no one picked Oklahoma City to even make the playoffs this year, but just the vibe in that locker room, to have one goal and that's to win a championship as a young team, I found that kind of crazy."

Crazy in a good way. After the ping-pong balls bounced against the Celtics following a 24-win campaign in the 2006-07 season, Boston nearly saw Perkins and Green united as teammates.

Instead, the Celtics traded Green -- the fifth overall pick that year -- to Seattle as part of a package that brought Ray Allen to Boston and set into motion the uniting of the Big Three. You know what happened from there.

It's unlikely the Celtics would have fancied themselves as championship contenders before the trades that brought Allen and Kevin Garnett to Boston. But, with help from those same ping-pong balls, Oklahoma City landed Kevin Durant and that gave the Thunder almost immediate hope at greatness.

"For young teams to have any type of success, historically, you have to figure out who the best player is," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "With a young team, when everybody is good, everyone is fighting to find out who is the man. There's no question who's the man in Oklahoma."

On a team that averages a mere 25 years of age, it's 21-year-old Durant that Rivers and his players were talking about most after Tuesday's practice.

The third-year forward is averaging 29.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game this season, while pacing the Thunder to a 45-28 record, which leaves them as the No. 6 seed in the Western Conference entering Wednesday's game.

Rivers fielded comparisons to Dirk Nowitzki and George Gervin, but noted, "he's a Durant -- there's [no comparison] -- he's the original."

Click HERE to read the full story.

Planting more playoff seeds

March, 31, 2010
The general consensus among pundits on whether the Celtics should aim for the third of fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs seems to tip in favor of the higher seed, but coach Doc Rivers offered a bit of a contrarian view while discussing the matter with reporters Tuesday after practice.

Rocky Widner/NBAE/GettyAs he demonstrates, Doc Rivers is fine with the fourth seed in the playoffs.
Asked if he's worried about the playoff position, Rivers smiled and noted, "Not as much as everyone else. I guess you want to avoid Cleveland, that's what everyone is saying. But if you want to win the title, you have to play them at some point. You can make the case that it's better earlier, because you're fresher, stronger. If we're so old -- as everyone says -- maybe playing them in the second round is better. I just don't give it a lot of thought. At the end of the day, it will play itself out. I'm not going to worry about it."

With the Cavaliers on the cusp of securing the top seed in the Eastern Conference, they project to meet the fourth seed in the second round, should higher seeds take care of business. Rivers' theory holds a measure of merit, but only assuming both teams expend similar amounts of energy in the opening-round series. Let's say the Celtics end up at the fourth seed and endure a seven-game series against the upstart Bucks, while the Cavaliers sweep a hapless eighth seed, then the "stronger, fresher" argument is shot.

The line of thought for those that desire the No. 3 seed is that the Celtics wouldn't see the Cavaliers until the Eastern Conference Finals, even if it meant going through the No. 2 seed (Orlando) in the event that, again, top seeds take care of business in the opening round. Under that scenario, crystal-ballers note that Cleveland would likely expend more energy against the athletic Hawks in the second round, maybe depleting them a bit before the conference championship.

You can see all the chatter is enough to make River dizzy. As Rasheed Wallace noted after Sunday's loss to the Spurs, the Celtics are simply focused on staying (or getting) healthy and playing the best brand of basketball they can as the second season arrives.

"It'd be nice to win [the final nine games], but I'd rather be healthy and in a rhythm," said Rivers, noting that, without health, it won't matter what seed the Celtics end up with.

Ray Allen likewise seemed disinterested in sweating the No. 3/4 debate, reiterating that he hasn't even looked at the standings since a first-and-only glance during a visit to Milwaukee earlier this month, and even then it was just to check out how his old team was doing.

"I haven't looked since then," said Allen. "If we take care of business, we'll be where we deserve to be."

Legler: C's will not make title run

March, 31, 2010

ESPN NBA analyst Tim Legler thinks it is unrealistic to expect the aging Celtics to make a deep playoff run or challenge for Banner 18 this season. He predicts Boston will win its first-round series and then get ousted by either Cleveland or Orlando in Round 2.

“I just don’t see the Celtics having enough defensive commitment, energy, youth or enough depth on that bench to be able to handle either one of those teams in a seven-game series. It certainly looks like the window of opportunity to win a championship may be closing on the Boston Celtics before out very eyes.”

What do you think? Is Legler right that the Celtics are not true title contenders? Watch the video above, vote in our poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments section of this entry.

Doc: We need Marquis

March, 31, 2010
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Celtics need Marquis Daniels to step up his play as the postseason nears.
If Paul Pierce (right shoulder stinger) is unable to play Wednesday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the likely candidate to take his spot in the starting lineup is Marquis Daniels.

But the mere fact that Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't immediately suggest Daniels as the potential replacement when asked Tuesday who would fill Pierce's shoes might illustrate better than anything else just how much Daniels has struggled lately.

In 16 appearances in March, Daniels is averaging a mere 3.9 points, 1.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists over 17.6 minutes of play. That's down considerably from a stellar February (9.4 points, 3 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 21.9 minutes) and even his injury-riddled season as a whole (5.8 points, 2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 19.7 minutes).

What's more, Daniels is struggling to just get on the court in recent games. He logged a mere six minutes of action against both Denver and Sacramento, not checking in until the final two minutes of the third quarter against the Kings. Having scored a total of 14 points over his last six games, Daniels may have already been leapfrogged on the depth chart by Tony Allen, who had logged four DNPs during March before making the most of his recent uptick in playing time.

Rivers, who went so far as to call Daniels the most important player to get healthy as the Celtics battled the injury bug in February, isn't giving up on the versatile swingman, but he needs to see more from Daniels over the final nine games. And Rivers admitted it might actually be up to the team as a whole to get Daniels going again.

"I think we have to do a better job of getting him the ball in the post and activating hm," Rivers said after Tuesday's practice in which Daniels spent time with the first unit after Pierce's departure with a shoulder injury. "Sometimes a player needs to be activated to get them going, so maybe that [is what Daniels is lacking right now]. I'm reaching, but we do need him. We need him to be the best defensive player on our team at times and to be a better rebounder. We need him to come back with more energy."

Daniels showed those abilities after returning from surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left thumb, which sidelined him for 28 games. Upon his return in February, Daniels connected on 65 percent (37-of-57) of his field goal attempts in nine appearances that month.

But Daniels went ice cold in March, shooting a mere 32 percent (12-of-38) over the first eight games of this month. Just when he seemed to be emerging from the funk with back-to-back double-digit performances against the Pistons and Knicks, Daniels didn't score a single point over 33 minutes during a back-to-back on the road against Houston and Dallas. Soon after he put up another goose egg against Denver, and that led to the first-half benching versus Sacramento.

Rivers admitted Daniels' confidence could be eroding, particularly if he remains concerned about his thumb.

"When your hand is hurting and you come back, you're scared to do things," said Rivers. "He does still lose the ball with that hand, so confidence has to be a factor."

Boston's bench as a whole is striving for more consistency as the postseason nears. Daniels has been put in the unenviable spot of having his role altered with late-season additions of Nate Robinson and Michael Finley, but the Celtics desperately need him to bring a measure of consistency to an inconsistent bench.

"As a unit, it's like game to game whether they have a rhythm," admitted Rivers. "We have to figure it out. We worked a long time with them [Tuesday] on offense. We may have to do that more."

Practice report: Perkins in, Pierce out

March, 30, 2010
WALTHAM, Mass. -- A collection of news and notes after the Boston Celtics practiced Tuesday afternoon at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint:

The rundown (a quick look at practice headlines)
* Pierce leaves practice with a shoulder stinger
* Perkins returns to practice, ready to go
* Draw it up: C's close practice by drawing up plays

Pierce leaves practice with a shoulder stinger

Celtics captain Paul Pierce suffered a shoulder stringer on the same shoulder he tweaked in Sunday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, chasing him from practice Tuesday and leaving him questionable for Wednesday's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

According to coach Doc Rivers, Pierce got hit on a back pick and went down clutching the same right shoulder that the captain dubbed "sore" after getting fouled by Manu Ginobili in the third quarter of Sunday's game.

"He got hurt again today -- the same thing, a stinger, with the same exact reaction," said Rivers. "It looked worse today... I guess a stinger will be fine. You get concerned with two in a row -- a game and a practice -- the exact same thing. He got hit and went down.

"The good news is that it's not a shoulder separation or anything. Worse case, he misses a game or two. That's not all bad. You'd rather have him, but at least it's not a lower body injury."

Rivers didn't appoint a potential replacement for Pierce, joking that, "I haven't given it much though, maybe me." Marquis Daniels, whose struggled as of late, would seem to be the favorite to replace Pierce, and he worked with the first unit during the latter part of practice, but the Celtics will wait to make that decision.

Pierce has missed 10 games this season with a hodgepodge of injuries, including a right knee infection, sprained left midfoot, and a sprained right thumb.

Pierce departed Sunday's game shortly after the injury (he stayed in to attempt two free throws, missing the first), but refused examination from trainer Ed Lacerte and soon re-entered the game. He finished with a team-high 18 points (only five of which came after the injury).

"It’s a little sore," Pierce said after the game. "It's a stinger -- I've got some numbness down the right side of my arm, but hopefully it doesn’t get any worse."

Pierce finished 4-of-11 shooting that night, missing all three 3-pointers he attempted, and generating 10 of his points at the charity stripe. It was only the second game in his last six that he's been held below 22 points.

Perkins returns to practice, ready to play vs. Thunder

Celtics center Kendrick Perkins returned to practice Tuesday and deemed himself ready to play Wednesday night against Oklahoma City.

Perkins sat out two games (and a practice) last week in hopes of preventing the tendinitis in his left knee from worsening, which afforded him nearly a full week off. He gave a positive report after Tuesday's session, while noting there was lingering stiffness.

"I felt alright, I thought I played pretty good at practice today," said Perkins. "My knee felt better. I'm looking forward to going out there and playing [Wednesday].

"There's a little bit [of stiffness]. It's probably something I'll have to deal with the rest of the season. I'll continue to get treatment, continue to come in at night and get that treatment."

Perkins also admitted he's been battling the tendinitis for as much as two months before he finally took the advice of Rivers and the training staff and shut it down for the week. Perkins begrudgingly noted the injury has likely affected his game.

"I can't get up and block shots like I want to, I can't get up for the rebounds," said Perkins. "But I'm out there, so I gotta get the job done. I'm not making excuses, but I think it has [affected his play] in a way."

While the Celtics certainly missed Perkins' presence the past two games, Rasheed Wallace, who started in his place both games, noted after Sunday's loss that, "Our main thing is to get Perk healthy. Take a couple games off, lay off them knees for a minute, and come back with fresh legs."

Draw it up: C's close practice by drawing up plays

The Celtics closed out Tuesday's practice with players designing plays on a whiteboard to run in 5-on-5 sets. Glen Davis drew up the last one, dipping into Rivers' own playbook for his call, and it worked with Michael Finley draining a 3-pointer from the top of the key over the first-teamers (leading to a mini-celebration by the reserves).

"I had each guy draw up a play," said Rivers. "[Davis] might have been the smartest, he drew up one of mine. He knew it would get him out of practice and maybe more minutes [in games]. Some plays were doozies, but some were pretty good."

Rivers noted he does the exercise a few times each year and sometimes gets unexpected results.

"Players are on the floor, they see stuff," said Rivers. "Gabe Pruitt drew something up two years ago and it's something we still run."

Pruitt, a member of the 2007-08 championship team, appeared in 62 games over two seasons for the Celtics after being tabbed in second round of the 2007 draft. He generated little in terms of production (2 points, 0.8 assists per game) before his NBA career ended, but his legacy, evidently, lives on in Boston.

Fear the Deer?

March, 30, 2010
Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesOverlooked and forgotten players have helped build a playoff contender in Milwaukee this season.
Among the prizes involved in netting the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference -- the one the Celtics and Hawks are jockeying for over the final nine games -- is the potential to avoid seeing the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round of the playoffs (who the No. 4 seed currently projects to land). NBA writer Chris Sheridan tells us exactly why teams should Fear the Deer:
They have been surging unlike any other non-elite NBA team, and with 10 games remaining in the regular season they have a chance of maintaining that No. 5 seed and entering the playoffs as one of the few lower-seeded Eastern teams that might instill a little fear into whichever team they face in the postseason.

"There's a lot of excitement in this city because we're actually winning, and a lot of that has to do with our coach," Jennings said. "Since the first day of training camp he's said it's time for a change, and that's what we're trying to do."

After being a sub-.500 team from Dec. 6 through Feb. 22, Milwaukee's current string of 16 victories in 20 games has moved it from 24-28 to 40-32. The recent run has included victories over Cleveland, Boston, Denver, Utah, Atlanta and Charlotte, thrown Skiles into the coach of the year mix while doing the same for John Hammond in the debate over who should be named executive of the year.

Hammond was the mastermind behind the trade deadline-day deal in which Milwaukee acquired Salmons from Chicago (along with the right to swap first-round picks) in exchange for Joe Alexander and Hakim Warrick. Much like Dallas' acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood, the Bucks have thrived in the six weeks since by having the luxury of an extra offensive-minded player, the same player who led Chicago's late-season surge a year ago when the Bulls got him from Sacramento and sprinted into the playoffs before falling to the Boston Celtics in one of the more memorable seven-game shootouts in NBA postseason history.

"John came in and gave us a lot of what we were missing since Michael Redd went down. We really didn't have that person we could go to who could score," Jennings said.

Click HERE to read the full story.

For more fun, check out Sheridan's diary on a night with "Squad 6," Milwaukee's now famous cheering section (below) that is making the Bradley Center a tough place to play.

Gary Dineen/NBAE/Getty ImagesAfter five straight losing seasons, the Bucks are finally giving their fans something to cheer about.

The 'What If' Game, Part II

March, 30, 2010
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesRay Allen is introduced to Boston media back in 2007.
Around the same time the Celtics visited the Thunder in December, Portland's Greg Oden suffered a season-ending knee injury and we played the (somewhat obvious) "What if?" game while contemplating how history might have been altered had the Jeff Green-for-Ray Allen trade not set Boston in motion on a franchise altering path.

With the Celtics boasting a 16-4 mark at the time, we wrote:
And while bringing home Banner No. 17 (and with No. 18 a realistic goal this season), it's hard to believe things could have possibly worked out better -- especially given how awful most Celtics fans felt on the night of the draft lottery. But you can't help but wonder what could have been had those ping-pong balls bounced one way or another.

Could a staring lineup of Kendrick Perkins, Al Jefferson, Kevin Durant, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo have positioned Boston for a brighter future? Who would have been the odd-man out if the Celtics had drafted Oden? What if the Celtics had simply settled for Yi Jianlian?

Given the hand-wringing that went on during the year about the aging Big Three, coupled with all the rumors swirling about trading Allen for a younger shooter, we couldn't help but run it through our minds again.

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/GettyJeff Green in a Celtics hat, for a fleeting moment.
Would you sacrifice the world championship from the 2007-08 season if it meant going back in time and having those ping-pong balls fall in a way that brought Durant to Boston? Remember, it was pretty obvious the Celtics were going after Durant, who is averaging 29.6 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per game this season.

Heck, even if the Celtics had ended up with Jeff Green, it's interesting to think how things might have evolved. Green is averaging is averaging 14.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game this season.

The Celtics had a 19.9 percent chance at landing the top pick in the 2007 NBA Draft lottery -- which the Blazers ultimately used to select Oden. What's more, Boston had a 38.7 percent chance at a top 2 pick and a 55.8 percent chance at a top 3 pick. The worst possible outcome -- the No. 5 overall pick, which the Celtics ultimately ended up with -- had only a 12.3 percent possibility.

Playoff positioning

March, 30, 2010
Thanks to a wrinkle in the rules, the Celtics hold a playoff-seeding tiebreaker over the Atlanta Hawks despite being 0-4 against them. Colleague Peter May details how it could possibly be true:
Back in the final week of the 2007-08 season, the people in the NBA office who oversee playoff scheduling nearly had a collective coronary.

Michael Dwyer/APOne happy Spurs fan behind an unhappy Paul Pierce.
There were four teams within a game of each other vying for the top spot in the Western Conference. What should have been an exhilarating push over the final few games to determine a conference champion was instead turning into a potential nightmare.

Three of the teams were in the Southwest Division: Houston, New Orleans and the defending champion San Antonio Spurs. If those three teams ended in a tie, the league's tiebreaker formula would kick in and give the division title to the Hornets. But that wasn't the problem. The problem was the fourth team, the Lakers.

If all four teams ended with the same record, which was entirely possible, then the Rockets would emerge as the tiebreaker winner. And there you had it: A team that could not win its division under one scenario emerged as the No. 1 seed in the conference under another scenario. The league did not want that to happen.

Luckily, the Lakers won out and secured the best record in the conference by a game over the Spurs and Hornets and by two games over the Rockets. But the matter moved the NBA to institute a minor wrinkle in the tiebreaking formula for the following season, 2008-09: If a division winner finished with the same record as a non-division winner, then the division winner would automatically receive the higher seed. Head-to-head results from the regular season would not matter.

"We added division winner as the first tiebreaker in an effort to provide a larger benefit to capturing a division title," explained league spokesman Tim Frank.

Click HERE to read the full story.

But does it really matter where the Celtics end up in terms of seeding? Rasheed Wallace helped put it in perspective after Sunday's loss to the Spurs:
With nine games remaining in their respective regular seasons, the Boston Celtics and Atlanta Hawks have matching 47-26 records, leaving them neck-and-neck as they jockey for position in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

If it comes down to a photo finish and both teams are still tied when regular-season play ends in the middle of April, the Celtics will get the higher seed based on the NBA's division-winner tiebreaker.

But regardless of how it all plays out, does playoff position really matter to Boston?

"These last few games, they mean something, but they don't mean nothing -- if you get what I'm saying," Rasheed Wallace offered after Sunday's loss to the San Antonio Spurs, suggesting that it was more important for the Celtics to use these games to get players like Kendrick Perkins (left knee tendinitis) healthy and to develop some cohesion on the court.

Wallace said the team's focus is on finishing up strong and healthy. The Celtics will let the chips fall where they may from there.

"You always want to finish out strong," said Wallace. "We're not a team that sits back and says, 'We made the playoffs, cool, we're good. Let's throw the last dozen games away.' Nah, we're still trying to win all [nine]. No matter how many, we're trying to win them all."

Click HERE to read the full story.

C's dip to No. 13 in power rankings

March, 29, 2010

Just when it looked like the Celtics were starting to climb in the power rankings again, Sunday's loss stunted their progress and actually caused them to dip two spots to No. 13 in this week's NBA power rankings.

From curator Marc Stein: "Every time I start believing in the Celts again, they lose by 21 at home to the Spurs or some ESPN researcher points out that they lead the league with 12 losses in games they led by at least five at halftime."

The Celtics now sit one spot behind a Milwaukee Bucks squad they very likely could encounter in the first round of the postseason. Boston is also two spots behind the Oklahoma City squad that visits the TD Garden Wednesday night.

The Celtics sit at No. 11 in John Hollinger's statistics-based rankings, nestled snuggly between the Bucks (12) and Thunder (10), with another pair of potential postseason foes nearby in the Heat (14) and Bobcats (13).

Leprechauns can't jump?

March, 29, 2010
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesThe Spurs had plenty of reasons to celebrate at both ends of the court Sunday.
A couple of noteworthy stats from our ESPN Stats and Information folks that showcased why Boston struggled so badly in Sunday's loss to the Spurs:

1) The Celtics finished with their lowest point total since the Big Three united, highlighted by an inability to hit shots beyond the paint. Boston shot 37 percent overall (its second worst performance this season) and scored 30 second-half points, matching a season low. A big part of those troubles stemmed from an inability to score on jump shots.

The Celtics were a cringe-worthy 7 of 40 overall (17.5 percent) on jump shots for the game. Rasheed Wallace hit the team’s only 3-pointer of the night in the first half, and Boston finished 1 of 14 from beyond the arc overall (missing all five trifectas it took in the second half).

2) At the other end of the floor, it wasn't much prettier, with Manu Ginobili slaying the Celtics off the dribble. Ginobili scored 20 of his game-high 28 points in the middle frames, handing out five assists in that span as well. The Spurs outscored Boston, 58-37, during those two quarters. But Ginobili proved most effective creating offense for himself, attempting 12 of his 19 field goals off the dribble (including 9 of 13 in the middle frame). Not only that, he got to the rim for a layup attempt eight times in that span.

Ginobili finished 7 of 12 off the dribble (5 of 9 in the paint) for 21 points. Off the pass he was 2 of 7 for 7 points.

“Manu’s been playing great for the last month," said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. "He’s basically taken over the team. He’s been the same Manu we’ve had when we won championships, so you know without Tony [Parker] it’s really important for somebody to step up like that and he’s done it.”

The Celtics lobbed similar compliments, with Kevin Garnett stressing that Ginobili "imposed his will on the game." Even still, Wallace couldn't resist an under-the-radar jab.

"Manure did his thing," said Wallace, who earlier this season dubbed Toronto's Hedu Terkoglu, "Turkododo" while complaining about his flopping. "He opened the floor for them, we tried to trap him, but he made the basketball pass to the open man, or they made the extra pass after that. It's basic basketball. Honestly, man, there's not too much more to say about that. We tried to do a good job on him, but he got off. He got loose a little bit on the first half."

Third quarter in focus

March, 29, 2010
Steve Babineau/NBAE/Getty ImagesCoach Doc Rivers and associate head coach Tom Thibodeau need to find the reasons for Boston's second-half struggles.
After Sunday's loss to the Spurs, we detailed Boston's third-quarter struggles this season, comparing it to the dominance the team displayed in third frames during the 2007-08 championship season.'s John Schuhmann touched on Boston's second-half woes last week as well and he's got some pretty dynamite numbers to back it up. Here's a bit from Schuhmann (with a condensed chart below from displaying Boston's efficiency woes in the second half of games)
A look at quarter-by-quarter numbers makes it clear that most NBA teams, even the good ones, are pretty inconsistent over the course of a game. For example, check out the Celtics, the most inconsistent team in the league from quarter to quarter.

The Celtics' defense is stifling in the first half and they're the best second-quarter team in the league. In fact, their +14.2 mark in the second quarter is better than any differential for any team in any quarter. But they can't maintain nearly that level after they come back out of the locker room.

In fact, only two teams, the Nets and Sixers, have more losses than the Celtics do when leading at halftime. Boston has led 52 of their 71 games at the half, but 16 of their 25 losses have come in that situation.

The Celtics didn't lead at the half Sunday night, but they were within a point before San Antonio opened the third quarter on a 12-0 run and emerged with a 21-point thumping.

The fourth-quarter efficiency numbers you can almost look beyond because it's hard to know the factors in those situations, particularly if the Celtics are resting starters on the bench in a blowout (as rare as that's been this year).

But those third-quarter stats are eye-popping. How can a team be so good in the second quarter, yet so awful in the third?

Part of the answer seems to be that, when the Celtics' bench is on, they tend to give the Celtics a nice second-quarter boost, stretching leads early in the frame, then passing the baton to the rested starters. But why the Celtics' starters then come out with lackluster energy in the third frame is a bit baffling.

Schuhmann whispers the "A" word (age):
Is it an age thing? Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rasheed Wallace all shoot worse in the second half than they do in the first. Wallace's dropoff, from 47.8 percent in the first half to 33 percent in the second half, is by far the largest of any player in the league who has attempted at least 200 shots in each half this season. Yet, for some reason, he's attempted more shots in the second half (294) than he has in the first (278). Pierce suffers the next worst dropoff of the four Celtics vets, from 49.9 percent to 44.2 percent.

We'll leave you with one final stat to ponder: In Boston's last nine losses over the past two months, only once have they outscored the opposition in the third quarter (a 30-27 advantage over the Grizzlies on March 10). In the other eight games, Boston has been outscored, 199-154, or an average of 5.6 points per quarter in those losses.

Bad loss, good opponent

March, 29, 2010
One poor game Sunday against the Spurs -- and it was poor -- doesn't necessarily undo the strides the Celtics have made the last couple of weeks. From colleague Peter May:
So take away what you will from this one. The Celtics almost to a man were horrible. They scored 10 points in the first three minutes -- and 63 in the last 45. Their defense broke down repeatedly, usually as a result of something Manu Ginobili did. He was sensational. DeJuan Blair outrebounded the entire Boston team in the fourth quarter (9-7). "A one-man wrecking crew," Rivers called the burly Pitt rookie.

Steve Babineau/NBAE/GettySan Antonio's Manu Ginobli torched the Celtics for 28 points in Sunday's romp.
The Spurs didn't even need Tim Duncan to be dominating. He was happy to be a facilitator, adding insult to injury. He played a shade more than 26 minutes and watched the last 14-plus minutes from the bench.

"It was one of those nights," Rivers said. "We played awful. They wanted to play."

But aside from getting beaten by a hot team, this also was the Celtics' 13th loss at home this season. They now have the same home record as the Toronto Raptors. It has been clear for a while that this team, for whatever reason, has been unlike the last two Celtics' teams, which established themselves as beasts at home while picking up wins on the road along the way. We are no longer stunned when they lose at home, which is not exactly a good sign. But it's been the case all season.

So, in that respect, a loss to a very good San Antonio team at home should not be cause for great concern. A sloppy, uninspiring loss to a very good San Antonio team will, and should, cause the Celtics Nation denizens to grumble and be justifiably cranky. Just what are we to expect from these guys, anyway?

"The way they played is usually the way we play," Paul Pierce said. "But I don't feel like it's a step back. It's just one of those games that you have to get out of your system. You have nights like that. I expect us to play a lot better basketball from here on out."

They'd better. We'll give them a pass on Sunday night, as underwhelming as it was. They might well have played a terrific game and still lost. The Spurs are the Spurs.

Now, if they get hammered Wednesday night by the Thunder …

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Isaiah Thomas
22.2 6.2 1.1 32.2
ReboundsA. Johnson 6.4
AssistsI. Thomas 6.2
StealsJ. Crowder 1.7
BlocksA. Johnson 1.1