Celtics could have Garnett for rematch with Magic


Celtics could have Garnett for rematch with Magic

By A. Sherrod Blakely

WALTHAM Once again, Boston and Orlando prepare to face each other well-positioned among the NBA's top teams.

Still, Monday night's game at TD Garden doesn't seem to have the same sizzle or build-up that we saw for their Christmas Day collision in Florida.

"It's just a regular-season game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "There's history between us and all that stuff. You always want to win. The games don't literally have meaning, but guys get fired up for games like this. Or at least I hope they do."

Certainly the C's are looking for a nice boost of energy from the return of Kevin Garnett, who has missed the last nine games with a muscle strain in his lower right leg.

He was able to make it through Sunday's practice, which may be enough to convince Rivers to play him Monday night.

Garnett's return against the Magic - or any team for that matter - can only help the Celtics' cause.

"The game changes from a communication standpoint, to pick and roll . . . the game changes a lot," said guard Rajon Rondo. "He's definitely a low-post presence as well. We definitely miss him. I wanted him back a couple games ago, but he has to take care of his body and be conscious of the long run. The same thing he told me when I was down, just be smart and try to hold it down as much as possible until he gets back."

Rivers, in typical Rivers fashion, joked about how important Garnett is to the Celtics.

"Kevin's our . . . it's like losing your best defensive player, your best talker and your quarterback. Outside of that," quipped Rivers, "it's not that big a deal."

Garnett's return becomes even more important with another one of Boston's big men, Shaquille O'Neal, potentially out or limited.

He suffered an adductor strain in his right leg that kept him out of Sunday's practice.

Rivers said he'll also be a game-time decision.

The Celtics will need as many big bodies as possible against an Orlando team that was plus-six on the boards during the C's 86-78 Christmas Day loss.

While Boston had good reason to worry about the play of Orlando center Dwight Howard, it was the play of power forward Brandon Bass that gave the Celtics major problems.

Bass finished with 21 points and 9 rebounds.

In addition to Garnett, the C's will also look for a strong game from Glen Davis, who became the starter with Garnett sidelined.

As a starter, Davis' play was up and down.

But as a backup, the 6-foot-8 forward is one of the NBA's top sixth men.

"Each time we get a player back, it makes our bench better," Rivers said.

Bench play will be an important factor in Monday's game.

When the two met on Christmas, Orlando's bench outscored its Boston counterparts, 26-20.

As disappointing as the loss was, the C's were even more disturbed by how it came about.

Despite foul trouble for most of the game, the C's managed to get hot in the third quarter and pulled away for a six-point lead going into the fourth.

However, a jumper by Garnett with 3:21 to play would be the last basket made by the C's.

"We played horrible down the stretch," Rivers said. "That game down there, I don't think either team was proud of how they played. I thought both teams were proud of the way they competed. It was not played very well."

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

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”


Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”