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5 things we learned in the Celtics’ overtime victory over the Pistons

12.03.14 at 10:23 pm ET
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The Celtics entered Wednesday’s meeting with the Pistons at the TD Garden losers of eight of their last nine games. Not a good look to begin with, but even worse when you factor in their only victory during the streak came against the (then) winless 76ers. Detroit arrived with a 3-15 record, so if there was a time for the Celtics to get back on track, this was it.

It took overtime to get the job done, but Boston finally got its victory, 109-102. (For the complete box score, click here.)

Caron Butler hit a 3-pointer with just 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 88 apiece. The Celtics then failed to convert on the final possession of regulation as Andre Drummond swatted away Jeff Green‘s layup attempt at what seemed to be its highest point. But the C’s scored the first eight points of overtime and finally held on for a win.

Despite an off night from Rajon Rondo, Green (game-high 32 points and six 3-pointers) and Kelly Olynyk (20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and an uncharacteristic three blocks) picked up the slack. Jared Sullinger was the only other Celtic in double figures, scoring 10 of his 14 points from the perimeter in overtime.

Here’s five things we learned in the win:

RAJON RONDO NEEDS TO PLAY MORE MINUTES AND FIND WAYS TO STAY ON THE FLOOR LATE IN GAMES

Rondo has been playing seven minutes per quarter pretty consistently. Despite some questions about his late-game antics and ability to close out games, the Celtics should be a much better offensive team when he is on the floor. Rondo had played a mere 19 minutes entering the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game. He wasn’t having anywhere close to his best game, but in his defense, it’s hard to find a rhythm in such staggered minutes.

Stevens removed Rondo from the lineup with six minutes remaining, seemingly without reason since Rondo had played only 24 minutes to that point. Rondo finished with only two points for the third game in a row, this time with just three boards and eight assists. He played 34 minutes, committing a huge turnover in the final minute of regulation, and Stevens benched him again for the Celtics‘ second-to-last possession of the fourth quarter.

Stevens sat Rondo on another important possession in overtime, protecting Rondo from being sent to the free throw line (where he’s shooting an atrocious 30 percent this season). Rondo also seemed to hide from the ball on possessions, which could have been reason for Stevens to sit him down.

Long story short, Rondo needs to fix his free throw shooting problem. It’s unheard of for an All-Star point guard to be benched so late in close games.

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Marcus Smart will play Wednesday according to all indications

12.03.14 at 6:20 pm ET
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After a 10 game absence, it appears the Celtics will finally have Marcus Smart back in the lineup on Wednesday when they take on the Pistons in Boston. Smart has been recovering from a severe left ankle sprain that occurred at home against the Pacers on Nov. 7.

“Indications are that he will be available to play,” Stevens said of the rookie prior to tip-off.

So how much will Smart be available to play on Wednesday?

“Well, I don’t know,” Stevens replied. “Just because he hasn’t even practiced, really, with us. It’s hard to tell. He probably won’t play quite as much, he could be on a little bit of a minutes [restriction]. So, [it’s] hard to tell. I think we need what he brings on a normal basis, so hopefully he’s able to do that.”

Smart also briefly answered some questions in the locker room about an hour before Wednesday’s game regarding the ankle:

How healthy his ankle is: “I’m pleased with the progress. I’m not saying it’s 100 percent, but it’s durable.”

How many on court drills has he done: “I’ve actually been doing quite a few things. A lot of cutting, jumping, full-out sprints.”

Is he secure with his ankle: “As of right now, yes I am.”

Any swelling: “No, if it was swelling I wouldn’t even be trying to give it a go.”

Will he be wearing a brace: “Just taped it really tight. I can barely move right now, which is probably a good thing.”

Has he always taped his ankles: “[I was] always a tape guy, just the day I hurt it I forgot to put on tape … I really forgot.”

And the obvious follow up, will he ever forget to tape again: “Never again.”

In the five games Smart did play in for the C’s (including the game he got injured during), he averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals. Although he struggled mightily with his shooting, Smart’s best quality had been his defensive intensity. Stevens will be counting on Smart bringing the same intensity in his return on Wednesday.

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Celtics vs. Pistons live blog – the battle for dignity

12.03.14 at 6:17 pm ET
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One night after blowing a 23-point lead in suffering their fifth straight loss, the Celtics return home in hopes of snapping their streak of futility. In this instance, Boston (4-11) will host a team with even fewer wins (the three-win Pistons) in an effort to right the ship, and WEEI.com will offer full coverage and analysis from TD Garden. For all the latest, follow along with the live blog, below.

Live Blog Celtics vs. Pistons live blog
 

Celtics might be in big trouble if their leader can’t step up

12.03.14 at 12:38 pm ET
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Last year, in the first season of the Celtics‘ post-Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett rebuild, we expected them to stumble to one of the league’s worst records. They did just that, ending up with a record of 25-57. No big deal. We all saw it coming and knew the results would be tough. But 15 games into last season the C’s held a record of 5-10 — all games in which Rajon Rondo did not play. That’s not bad.

This year was expected to be different. Rondo would be beginning the season with the team, Danny Ainge used the No. 6 pick in the draft on the promising Marcus Smart, and the rest of the youngsters had another year of experience under their belts. That young core included Brad Stevens, who arguably had as much learning to do as any player on his roster in his first go-round as an NBA head coach.

Despite all of the positive signs heading into the season, it has not been any different. In fact, it has been worse. The Celtics have a record of 4-11 after 15 games — that’s bad. Their loss to the Hawks on Tuesday night was the fifth time this season that the C’s have blown a lead of 15 or more points and lost the game. Growing an enormous first-half lead and then losing the game has become routine for these Celtics, especially on their home floor.

In ways it’s depressing that after opening up a 23-point lead in Atlanta the expectation was that they would find a way to lose, but those who saw it coming were right. The reason is their fourth-quarter execution, as they rank last in the league in fourth-quarter scoring. Stevens knows that the C’s will continue to produce disappointing results until his team does something about it.

“The game honors the more physical team,” Stevens said following the loss. “It does night in and night out. We’ve just got to improve in that area.”

He later concluded: “I’m not crazy enough to think that if [the physicality] doesn’t change, we’ll be sitting up here a lot like this.”

The fourth-quarter numbers have been well documented at this point, but it seems laughable that the Celtics haven’t even gotten lucky and been able to close out any of these games. The main problem in the fourth quarter has been the apparent disconnect between Rondo and his teammates during crunch time.

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NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5

12.03.14 at 12:05 pm ET
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Follow Sam Packard on Twitter @SPackGuy.

In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.

NOTE: Until the 76ers win a game, they will not be discussed. 

THE BEST

1. Warriors

Steph Curry is an early MVP candidate. Draymond Green is playing phenomenally and is lock to win The Best Draymond in the League Award.

Stay tuned for “Chef Curry” remix. She is about to spit Hot 🔥 #lastshmoneydanceforme

A video posted by Wardell Curry (@wardell30) on

2. Grizzlies

This season Marc Gasol taught us that losing a bunch of weight and being in tremendous shape is beneficial for a basketball player. Who knew? Thanks, Marc Gasol! Keep taking those sky hooks.

 3. Spurs

Coach Pop actually had the stones to sit Tony Parker and Tom Duncan against Philly, then spend the entire postgame praising the 76ers. Tell him, Marlo.

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Celtics fold in second half, fall to Hawks in Atlanta

12.02.14 at 10:02 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics' loss on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics‘ loss on Tuesday. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Evidently, there is no lead too big for the Celtics to bungle.

After the Celtics raced out to a 42-point first quarter and 16-point lead at the half, the Celtics were outscored by a staggering 20 points in the second half in suffering 109-105 loss. The Celtics have lost five straight and eight of nine, falling to 4-11 on the year.

The team’s game-ending woes are becoming an ongoing theme. The C’s entered the night being outscored by 4.6 points a night in the second half (third worst in the NBA) and 5.4 points per game in the fourth quarter (worst in the NBA). In this case, Boston was outscored by 20 in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics once again offered little defensive resistance in the 59-point second-half eruption. Their average yield of 107.7 points per game remains the worst total in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks shot 52 percent from the floor, with Kyle Korver (8-of-9, 6-of-7 on 3-pointers) leading the way en route to 24 points and Paul Millsap filling the box score with 19 points, six boards, seven assists, three blocks and three steals. The Celtics received 25-point nights from both Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green.

Rajon Rondo had a game that was alternately brilliant and sloppy, scoring just two points (1-for-8 from the floor) and committing seven turnovers (two shy of his career worst), but he grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 19 assists, his career high for a road game.

Click here for the box score.

Magic 9-Ball: Rajon Rondo Trade Barometer v3.0

12.02.14 at 3:34 pm ET
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Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.

RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE

Since last we evaluated Rondo’s status this season, the Celtics have won just once in five attempts, and that victory came against the winless 76ers. Because they play in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (4-10) remain only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed through 14 games, but their 1-9 record against teams with winning records isn’t too encouraging for those holding out hope for the C’s playoff prospects.

Over the past five games, Rondo has averaged 8.8 assists, 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, so his overall numbers have dipped, even if he’s still the only NBA player currently averaging at least seven points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He remains the league’s leader in assists, passes and assist opportunities per game as well as points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats.

The Celtics point guard has always been a different breed of basketball player, capable of controlling games as a facilitator, but at what point does his inability to score become a problem? His current status as the worst free-throw shooting guard in NBA history has been well documented, but Rondo’s offensive woes go well beyond the charity stripe. He has attempted more field goals than he’s scored points in seven of his 12 appearances, netting single digits on eight occasions and scoring six or fewer points four times this season. Meanwhile, the C’s  dropped from a top-five offense through two weeks of 2014-15 to 17th in offensive rating (106.1 points per 100 possessions) a month into the season.

When you combine Rondo’s 13.7 points scored per 48 minutes (PTS/48) and 36.1 points created by assists per 48 minutes (PTSC/48), the four-time All-Star is still generating 49.8 total points per 48 minutes (PTSG/48). If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. Of the league’s 30 starting point guards, 20  have generated more than 40 points per 48 minutes, and Rondo ranks ninth among that group. Obviously, a player’s points created by assists depend on his teammates, but the list shakes out how you might expect.

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