|11.15.14 at 9:24 am ET|
The immediate reaction by most Friday night was to blame Rajon Rondo for dribbling out the clock and not getting a shot off, the appropriate ending to a self-destruction at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 122-121 loss at TD Garden.
But to the cerebral Brad Stevens, there was much more to his star player not getting up a shot down a point with the game in the balance.
With seven seconds left, coming out of a timeout, Stevens watched as the Cavaliers and James took away the number one option in Jeff Green, forcing Kelly Olynyk to inbound to Jared Sullinger. The big man then dumped it to Rajon Rondo, who was fighting to get free from rookie Joe Harris. The Cavaliers switched Harris off a screen and Shawn Marion was on Rondo for the final four seconds. Then Rondo lost control before dribbling out the clock, firing up an off-balance attempt a full second after time expired.
“Well, we had a couple of different options,” Stevens said. “We had Jeff over the top, which I’d have to look at the film to see if he had LeBron sealed for a lob. Obviously, it’s a little bit riskier of a pass, but we had just thrown it to Jared and then we just had a simple swing to Rondo and our desire was to reject the screen. And he had a good match-up, but Joe Harris did a nice job on him, and we didn’t get a shot off.
“Rondo isolated on a rookie on the right wing. I felt pretty good when he got the ball reversed to him. Again, give Joe Harris a lot of credit. He did a great job on that possession. We were trying to space and rip and drive and play. I told Rondo those plays start with me. I’ll be responsible for that one.”
|11.15.14 at 2:55 am ET|
“They’re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’re better than what the critics said coming into this season,” said James. “Coach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’re top three in the league in assists; they’re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’s a great brand of basketball.”
For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.
|11.14.14 at 10:21 pm ET|
A Friday night nailbiter became a LeBron James classic against the Celtics, as the superstar led a furious fourth-quarter comeback that was sealed when Rajon Rondo was unable to get a potential game-winning shot off before the final buzzer.
The Cavaliers got the victory, 122-121, behind 41 points from James. Rondo seemed to dribble the clock out to end the game on a possession when the Celtics had seven seconds to create something, and the crowd seemed understandably baffled by his inability to create or even force a shot.
The win for the Cavs now puts them above .500 (4-3) as the Celtics now drop down to 3-5 on the season.
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
BOSTON STILL DOES NOT LIKE LEBRON JAMES
The Celtics were the home team, but the loudest noises from the crowd came for James. Some cheered, many booed, but the electricity in the building was apparent.
For every missed shot, every time he complained to the refs, every turnover he had and every foul he committed, the Boston fans rejoiced — even during a 41-point effort. Returning to Cleveland redeemed James’ likeability in the eyes of many, but not at the TD Garden.
A BACK-TO-THE-FUTURE TEMPO ARRIVED
Did the final score give it away?
If you like up-and-down basketball, you would have enjoyed this game. The pace seemed to play into the Celtics‘ favor aside from James’ ability to get out in transition. But even he missed two contested layups on fast breaks in the first half alone.
The Celtics pushed the tempo the entire game, and were almost rewarded. Rajon Rondo was the head of the monster, finishing with 16 assists on the night (the first one being a milestone that we’ll get to later).
However, the pace slowed down in the fourth quarter and was a huge part of why the Cavs were able to come away victorious.
|11.14.14 at 8:22 pm ET|
Oh, and LeBron James also decided to return home from Miami, swinging the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in the process.
However, David Blatt may be the newcomer that gets lost in the shuffle. He also happens to be the head coach.
Blatt has a lot to be happy about, considering the greatest played in the world fell into his lap just weeks after earning his first NBA coaching job. But Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., had a homecoming of his own on Friday night, along with a chance to face the team he grew up cheering for.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m looking for some familiar faces,” Blatt began his pregame press conference.
Blatt admits that the Celtics have held significant meaning to him since he was a young child growing up just 20 minutes away from the Boston Garden.
“I was a great follower of the Celtics. Bill Russell was my idol, and probably the Celtics‘ teams were the reason that I fell in love with basketball the way that I did,” Blatt proclaimed with a smile from ear to ear.
So what has it been like for someone with no NBA experience to be handed the job of coaching James? Well, Blatt went as far as to compare LeBron to one of his own childhood idols.
“Pleasurable,” the coach said, and with no signs of losing his grin. “Fabulous talent, great basketball IQ. A guy, who like Bill Russell, is about the right things. About winning, about making his teammates around him better, about taking responsibility, about being accountable. He’s a man who respects the game and badly, badly wants to win a championship for Cleveland. What’s not to like?”
Blatt joked with reporters briefly after his press conference was over, making it clear in the process that he was thrilled to be back in his hometown. The only problem?
“I was hoping someone would have brought me some clam chowder,” he quipped.
|11.14.14 at 8:04 pm ET|
After stealing the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, Rondo found Kelly Olynyk for a layup 1:27 into the contest, recording his first assist of Friday’s game and the 4,306th of his nine-year career in Boston.
Pierce amassed his 4,305 assists in 1,102 games over 15 seasons on the Celtics. Rondo still trails Larry Bird (5,695 assists in 870 games), John Havlicek (6,114 in 1,270) and Bob Cousy (6,945 in 917) on the career list. Judging by the company he keeps, Rondo’s not so bad.
|11.13.14 at 7:34 pm ET|
Following Wednesday’s home loss to the Thunder, Brad Stevens took the Celtics through a practice that lasted almost two hours on Thursday afternoon and not surprisingly, the focus was on defense after the C’s let up 109 points to a severely short-handed Oklahoma City squad.
“I think we wanted to talk about some things we were doing defensively and not doing defensively,” Stevens said. “We watched a lot of film of that. And then, you know, we’ll see what the carryover looks like. [But it clearly] was a defensive oriented film session and review session.”
Stevens added: “We did some good things. But we did not sustain them, and that was the other emphasis [Thursday].”
There was some positive news coming from the session.
Marcus Smart was up and walking around at the Celtics‘ practice facility, and also spoke to the media for the first time since spraining his left ankle during last Friday night’s game.
“I’ve sprained my ankle before, plenty of times,” said Smart. “It’s a part of the game, it’s a part of being an athlete. But I’ve never been in that type of pain with my ankle before, so it was something new to me.”
The pain was obvious since Smart was ushered off the court on a stretcher, but even though the sprain turned out to be less serious than what seemed at the time, the rookie is being cautious about how he handles the injury moving forward.
“I’m just taking it slow, taking my time, [I want to] make sure I’m 100 percent,” Smart said. “I don’t really want to rush anything right now. Even though I’m going to feel better before I really am, I’m just trying to make sure that, you know, I’m 100 percent before I step on the court again.”
|11.13.14 at 11:09 am ET|
Wednesday night was an example of what can go wrong when he doesn’t. As a point guard and captain, Rondo has often been responsible for calling out defenses for the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley. Rondo, by his own admission after a 109-94 loss to the Thunder, is still working his way back to form after missing training camp and preseason with a broken bone in his left hand.
“I think around Game 6 for me and still kind of preseason but everything counts,” Rondo said. “I’m still trying to get my rhythm, my wind and my timing with my teammates. I’m still a long way from where I want to be so I’m just going to continue to work.
“I’m OK defensively,” Rondo said. “I think it’s a team effort. I’m just trying to do my job in getting to the ball, contest shots. We didn’t do a great job of that, including myself. [Anthony] Morrow hit some tough shots but we still have to make them more uncomfortable off the ball. Give them credit. They made plays. They made the shots. They had our defense scattered all over the court. They went inside with dunks with Adams. And they went outside with Morrow and [Nick] Collison. They had us all over the place.”
The Helter Skelter defense allowed the Thunder to shoot 62 percent in the second half as the Thunder outscored Boston, 67-43, to cruise to just their third win in nine games.
“We let one slip away,” Rondo said. “They come off a back-to-back. They got in around three in the morning and we’ve been waiting. It’s a disappointing loss but we continue and have to move forward.”
Moving forward means LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers on Friday night at the Garden. The Thunder shot lights out without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Wednesday. Celtics fans shudder to think what might happen if Cleveland’s “Big 3” get hot Friday.
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