Celtics beat Orlando in Garnett's return, 109-106

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Celtics beat Orlando in Garnett's return, 109-106

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON With their defensive anchor back on the floor, the Boston Celtics closed out the Orlando Magic with - you guessed it - great defense.

And it was Kevin Garnett leading the late-game defensive surge, as the C's held on for a 109-106 win over the Magic Monday night.

Garnett finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds, but it was his steal and subsequent pass upcourt to Ray Allen who was immediately fouled, that sealed the Celtics victory.

Coach Doc Rivers said he didn't know what to expect from Garnett, who returned to action after missing the previous nine games with a muscle strain in his lower right leg.

"I knew he'd play with energy," Rivers said. "You could see that."

After the play, Garnett gave a stare into the jubilant crowd, the kind of look that the Garden faithful ate up entirely.

He was back.

He was active.

He was Kevin Garnett.

"It felt good," Garnett said of being back on the floor for the first time since suffering the injury at Detroit on Dec. 29. "I've been doing a lot of things to get back here and get strong, and I'm glad I was able to come out here and help my team out."

Garnett's late-game heroics were truly needed. Monday's matchup not being all that different than the Christmas Day game, as the teams staged a back-and-fourth battle that wasn't ultimately decided until the game's final moments.

Ray Allen and Orlando's Hedo Turkoglu exchanged one big shot for another in the game's final minutes.

And the officials, who were calling things relatively close most of the game, began to uh, look the other way at times down the stretch. That seemed to benefit the C's, who had several players in foul trouble.

After the loss, the Magic weren't looking to make any excuses.

There were several factors that contributed to their loss, but none seemed to stick out more than the Celtics' impressive shooting.

Boston shot 60 percent from the floor, compared to 45.9 percent by the Magic.

Even with the C's shooting so well, the game was relatively close most of the night.

"I don't know if it's a good thing or bad thing to be in a game that close where they shot 60 percent," said Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. "We're going to have to be better defensively then that. On the positive side, they had to shoot 60 percent to win a very close game. So I don't know there was some good things, but our defense has to change or we can't play at this level."

Rivers wasn't all that pleased with his team's play defensively for most of the game.

"I'm sure Coach Van Gundy is saying the same thing - we both prepared for this to be a defensive game," Rivers said. "And for three quarters, no one has heard that. The last three minutes, we turned back to who we are. We were a defensive team and became that, and that's why we won the game."

After Orlando got three cracks at taking the lead, the Celtics grabbed the rebound and called a time-out with 1:15 to play and the score tied at 102-102.

Out of the time-out, the Celtics got a pair of free throws from the ''new guy'' -- Garnett.

Garnett's two free throws gave the C's a 104-102 lead with 1:05 to play.

Orlando continued to battle, but the Celtics would never trail again.

The C's set the tone with an impressive start, which was one of the Magic's biggest concerns coming into the game.

"Getting off to a good start is big for us," Orlando forward Brandon Bass told CSNNE.com. "Especially on the road."

Things didn't quite work out the way Bass wanted, as the C's opened with a 15-6 before Van Gundy had seen enough and called a time-out.

A key to Boston's quick start was the play of Shaquille O'Neal.

After scoring just two points in an injury-plagued 13 minutes on Christmas against Orlando, O'Neal had 12 points and 2 blocked shots on Monday.

Boston also got a strong game from Glen Davis, who had 15 points as he reprised his usual role as an energy guy off the Celtics bench.

"Baby Davis back in his spot was great," Rivers said. "In a difficult spot, because playing Dwight Howard is never easy."

But the C's showed that even with Howard roaming around the basket, getting points in the paint is essential to beating the Magic.

Boston had 52 points in the paint compared to just 26 for Orlando in a game that had the look and feel of a playoff matchup.

"For both teams, you'll take as many as you can get," Rivers said. "It's always nice to have them. It is one of only 82 games, but the meaning of them - they don't mean a lot come playoff time because guys are coming back from injuries, back-to-backs - but they're just fun for the players. You find out a lot about your guys because of the execution and stuff like that."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”