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Celtics Will Be Minus Kevin Garnett For Next Two Weeks

Kevin Garnett (left) cannot bear to watch his team's lackluster play while Paul Pierce (right) looks on.

Kevin Garnett (left) cannot bear to watch his team’s lackluster play while Paul Pierce (right) looks on.

The Boston Celtics are in the midst of a four game losing streak and just came off a winless road trip through New Orleans, Dallas, and Memphis. The news got worse today when Celtics President of Basketball Operations Danny Ainge announced that Kevin Garnett will be out for at least the next two weeks with inflammation in his left ankle.

Garnett missed the 105-88 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on March 16th with a left abductor strain and the 105-103 loss to the Miami Heat on March 18th with the flu. He returned last Wednesday when the Celtics traveled to New Orleans to take on the Hornets. Doc Rivers said Garnett aggravated the injury in the 104-94 defeat at the hands of the Dallas Mavericks on Friday. Garnett did not suit up in the loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday night. Then Garnett went for an MRI on Sunday.

With a hobbling Garnett, the Celtics suffered too many breakdowns against the Mavericks with Brandan Wright exploding for 23 points and eight rebounds. After the Celtics got off to a hot start, the Mavericks were able to control the paint and get important rebounds from Wright and Vince Carter when the Celtics pushed the Mavericks’ advantage into single digits. The Celtics’ pick-and-roll defense also suffered without Garnett on the floor.

The Celtics were also without guard Courtney Lee against the Grizzlies. Lionel Hollins and the Grizzlies coaching staff took advantage by inserting Jerryd Bayless with Mike Conley in the backcourt whenever Avery Bradley was on the floor. Bradley is more of an on-ball defender while Lee can cover the other guard. With two weak defenders in Jason Terry and Jordan Crawford, Bayless erupted for a career-high 30 points to lead the Grizzlies to a 110-106 victory over the Celtics. Rivers was forced to empty the bench with the Celtics facing a double digit deficit in the fourth quarter. The reserves got the Celtics back in the game, but the deficit was too much to overcome.

The Celtics are fighting for potential home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs while to trying to avoid getting the 8th seed in the Eastern Conference to face the  Heat.They are four and a half games behind the fourth place Brooklyn Nets while only two games ahead of the eighth place Milwaukee Bucks. There is a crucial home game against the New York Knicks on Tuesday night. The only good news is that Lee is expected to be back on the floor against the Knicks.

While the team is already depleted by injuries, the last thing the Celtics needed was to hear that they will be without Garnett, who is their emotional leader and best defender while there is only 14 games left in the regular season.

Celtics Can Battle Heat For Eastern Conference Supremacy

Forward Jeff Green nearly carried the Boston Celtics to a win over the Miami Heat.

Forward Jeff Green nearly carried the Boston Celtics to a win over the Miami Heat.

The Boston Celtics showed they still provide problems for the Miami Heat on Monday night even without Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett on the floor. Despite the consensus that the Celtics are an aging, slow team, they showed that they can match the Heat by pushing the ball up the floor and beating the Heat in transition.

In the past, both Rondo and Garnett gave Erik Spoelstra and the Heat coaching staff fits because the Heat did not have anyone who could defend them even in a half-court offense. If Spoelstra put LeBron James on Rondo, then Rondo would be able to find a smaller defender such as Mario Chalmers on Paul Pierce or getting screened to free up former Celtic Ray Allen.

Jeff Green rose to the occasion in the 105-103 loss to the Heat on Monday and gave Celtics fans a glimpse of what could have been if Green did not have an aortic aneurysm in his heart last year. Like Rondo, Green can match the athleticism and size of James and Dwyane Wade. Green is 6-9, 235-pounds with the ability to be a top player in the NBA. These intangibles were why then-Seattle SuperSonics and current Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti traded Allen for Green during the NBA Draft in 2007. Green has never been an aggressive scorer despite leading Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007. When the Thunder could not afford to keep Green, Presti sent him back to the Celtics for Kendrick Perkins in 2011. What Green gave the Celtics on Monday night is exactly what Danny Ainge and former Boston Globe columnist Bob Ryan were saying when they received the most talented player in that deal. The Thunder may have benefited in the short term with Perkins’ interior defense and the lunch-pail mentality that he brings to the court. The Celtics were just unlucky with Green’s heart condition or else they could have went to the NBA Finals last year.

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Celtics Are Running Out Of Time And Options To End Skid

Doc Rivers has been unable to find the right ingredients for the 2012-'13 Boston Celtics.

Doc Rivers has been unable to find the right ingredients for the 2012-’13 Boston Celtics.

Should Danny Ainge dismantle the Boston Celtics roster?

The Celtics are still searching for their identity halfway through the season. They are the losers of four straight games with three (New Orleans Hornets, Detroit Pistons, and Cleveland Cavaliers) of those defeats against teams who are below .500. Now the Celtics are in the eighth spot of the Eastern Conference at 20-21.

In the 103-88 loss to the Pistons on Sunday, Doc Rivers criticized the team in his postgame press conference and said the team will have to make changes if the Celtics continue to play inconsistent basketball. Everybody thought the Celtics would be better and take off when Avery Bradley returned. Bradley did provide a jolt in the backcourt on defense, but he suffered a rib injury against the Hornets. He missed the overtime defeat to the Chicago Bulls on January 18th. Then he came back to start the game in Detroit, but he is clearly playing in pain and he is not the same player he was when he initially returned.

There are more glaring problems such as the lack of stable production from role players such as Jason Terry, Jeff Green, and Courtney Lee. Brandon Bass was scoreless against the Pistons and appeared to lose confidence in his mid-range jumper. The role players are relying too much on Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Rajon Rondo to the point that Rivers may need to perform his best Rick Pitino impression. Garnett and Pierce are not the Hall-of-Fame caliber players they were earlier in their careers. Rivers and the coaching staff have been attempting to get more from their younger veterans to preserve Pierce’s and Garnett’s legs for the length of the season.

The only player who has been performing above their expectations is Jared Sullinger. Sullinger spends limited minutes on the court because he is constantly in foul trouble. He has given the Celtics energy with his ability to rebound and score in the paint.

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Jared Sullinger Plays Big Role for Celtics’ Reserves

Boston Celtics forward seemed to be getting to every loose rebound against Marcin Gortat and the Phoenix Suns last Wendesday.

Boston Celtics forward seemed to be getting to every loose rebound against Luis Scola and the Phoenix Suns on January 9th.

It is no coincidence that the Boston Celtics won six consecutive games (before they fell to the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday) because of their improvements on the defensive end. The Celtics are getting consistent production from their bench and the rebounding of rookie forward Jared Sullinger.

Sullinger posted double digit rebounds in wins over the Phoenix Suns (16) and the Houston Rockets (11). The 6-foot-9-inch forward has accumulated most of his boards on the offensive end and he has helped the Celtics get out of last place in offensive rebounding.

During the winning streak, Sullinger averaged nearly 10 points and nine rebounds per game. He also corralled 21 offensive rebounds in this stretch against players such as Tyson Chandler of the New York Knicks, Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith and Al Horford, and the duo of Marcin Gortat and Luis Scola of the Suns.

Despite Sullinger being undersized, he is able to outmuscle bigger players with a big lower mass that is able to push opponents away from the basket. He is also able to do this on the defensive end of the court.

Teammates have praised Sullinger for his basketball intelligence, his interior passing, and the ability to score. Sullinger can also make 15-foot jumpers outside the paint. Most of Sullinger’s scoring has come from within five feet of the basket because he has strong post moves and of his rebounding ability.

At the beginning of the year, the Celtics believed they had strong depth inside with Sullinger or Brandon Bass and Darko Milicic as reserves along with Chris Wilcox. The Celtics lost Milicic because he went back to Serbia to take care of his ailing mother. Bass has struggled with inconsistency. Wilcox suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb and has been out since December 18th. Bass was just reinserted into the starting lineup and Jason Collins is playing limited minutes due to nagging injuries. This has left Sullinger to be a force and to play a big role in the reserve unit.

The biggest reason why Sullinger has struggled is his propensity to accumulate fouls early. This issue has not gone away since Sullinger fouled out in the final minute in the 103-91 victory over the Rockets last Friday. He committed three fouls in the first half of the 100-89 win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday. He also got into early foul trouble against the Hornets. Officials will pick on Sullinger because he is a rookie. Sullinger’s size forces him to be physical when defending taller forwards, which means he will get called if the officials are calling a tight game.

At this time last year, Sullinger was battling injuries while playing for the Ohio State Buckeyes against Big Ten competition. He fell to the 21st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft in June because teams were worried about his back and conditioning problems.  Now, he is in the running for Rookie of the Year while helping the Celtics climb back into the Eastern Conference race. Currently, the Celtics are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but they are just four and a half games behind the Eastern Conference-leading Miami Heat.

Sullinger has provided the Celtics with energy off the bench. If the Celtics continue to win, they will also need continued production from Sullinger.

Celtics Need to Bolster Their Frontcourt Depth

The Boston Celtics could use Ryan Hollins' size and energy in their depleted frontcourt.

Following the uneventful passage of the NBA trade deadline and the Boston Celtics’ failure to execute a trade, there are potential buyout options. The Celtics are not seen as contenders anymore and would have trouble signing someone if another organization at the top of the Eastern or Western Conferences vies for the same player.

Over the past ten games, the Celtics have been outrebounded by a minus-120 differential. Jermaine O’Neal (left wrist) and Chris Wilcox (heart ailment) have not played for most of March and both are out for the rest of the season. The Celtics are working with a rotation of Kevin Garnett, Brandon Bass, and Greg Stiemsma at the four and five positions.

The Celtics have closed the gap on the Philadelphia 76ers and they play the Sixers three more times including a matchup this Friday night in Philadelphia. The Celtics could climb as high as the third or fourth seed or they could make the playoffs in the bottom rung of the Eastern Conference. There they would be forced to play either the Miami Heat or the Chicago Bulls in the opening round.

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Path to the Playoffs: Green Giant Needs to Wake Up

Are these Celtics taking the last stretch too lightly?

Last week was the first in the ongoing series of the Path to the Playoffs. In the second week, the C’s continued their struggling ways of recent, but might have done more damage internally than to their record.

After beating the New Orleans Hornets and New York Knicks in consecutive games the C’s followed up with ugly losses to the current eight seed in the West, the Memphis Grizzlies and the struggling Charlotte Bobcats.

In what could be a preview of a vicious first round playoff series, Boston defeated the Knicks once again in their encore performance at Madison Square Garden. Led by Kevin Garnett’s 24 points and 11 boards the C’s pulled away in the final frame by scoring the final 10 points. The bloodied and beaten Celtics had much more on their mind after the game though. Coach Doc Rivers strayed away from the “We were bored” theory and instead called a veteran unit that relies on their stifling defense “soft.” The phrase was not taken lightly, as Garnett and Pierce both had comments on Rivers choice of words after the game. It seems odd for a coach with so much respect for his team to say something just to stir up his team and possibly lose some of the much valued respect he has gained.

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