|12.26.14 at 11:25 pm ET|
Friday marked just the second start in the NBA career of 20-year-old Marcus Smart.
Smart worked hard Friday (5 points, 6 assists in 31 minutes) but it wasn’t enough in the end as the Celtics fell to the Brooklyn Nets, 109-107.
“A lot of confidence, actually,” Smart said. “It just shows I’m getting back to the player that I was in the preseason and getting back to what this team needs, energy-wise, on the defensive end, and just trying to help my team.”
But asked if he’s ready to assume the role of Rondo, Smart stopped short of that complete commitment.
“Not really. I don’t feel like there’s a guy on this team,” Smart said. “Everybody’s the guy because you never know on any given night, it can be somebody’s night.
“It’s a lot. It’s a lot that comes with it but obviously, I’ve done a lot in my life and throughout my whole career through basketball to prepare me for this type of situation and to just to do whatever I can to help this team come out with victories.”
Still, only at 20, he’s earning the respect of his peers around the NBA. Take Kevin Garnett. KG fell on top of him while scrambling for a loose ball in the third quarter. After Smart got the ball ahead on the break, Garnett tapped him on the backside for his hustle on the floor. Afterward, Garnett said he was “trying to trip his ass.”
“Knowing KG, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Smart said. “The guy goes hard. That’s who KG is and that’s why a lot of guys respect him.”
Smart could laugh because he’s becoming more and more comfortable assuming command of his team.
‘Felt very comfortable. Practiced the other day helped that. Went over some plays and getting guys in the right spots so I was able to know where guys were going to be and try to find them today.’
Smart found out on Christmas Day that he was starting on Friday.
“Coach [Brad Stevens] called me before practice and told me that I was going to be starting and just to keep bringing the energy,” Smart said.
“Both, practice time and conditioning. With an injury you tend to sit on the sideline and your conditioning goes and its easy to get out of shape then it is to get into shape. Getting those minutes and practice time has put me back into the shape that I was in in the preseason.’
|12.26.14 at 10:32 pm ET|
In many ways, coming back to TD Garden was surreal and odd for Kevin Garnett Friday afternoon.
It was the first time the 38-year-old future hall of famer has been back to Boston since the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo away to the Dallas Mavericks. And it might be the last time he gets a standing ovation from the Garden crowd that had a love affair with his game for six unforgettable seasons in Celtic green.
After Garnett’s Nets managed to escape with a 109-107 win over the Celtics, Garnett reflected on playing a Boston team that no longer has any members of the 2008 championship squad.
“I’ve been getting a lot of ‘Rest in peace’ texts and stuff, so I had to change my number,” Garnett said. “It’s all good, though. We’re infinite. Once you win once, you win forever.”
Garnett didn’t have a big role in Brooklyn’s win. He had just six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes and didn’t play the final 17 minutes in which the Nets rallied from a 12-point deficit to win.
Before Friday’s game, he received a standing ovation in the dark from the fans who came out to see him play in Boston for perhaps the last time in his career.
“It’s always love here,” said Garnett. “It’s always an appreciation that I can never give back, other than the salute. Winning is infinite. And I’ll always have that special relationship with this city.”
Garnett admitted that he has indeed given some thought to the end of the road coming at the end of this season and that Friday might have been his swan song in Boston.
“At this stage it’s always somewhere lurking in the back, probably whether I admit it or not,” Garnett said. “But, if I’m being truthful with you, sometimes [I do think about it]. Seeing Paul [Pierce] the other day, he was in town to play the Knicks and we had a conversation. So, at this stage, we know that things are not taken for granted, but more appreciated. It crosses [my mind], I wouldn’t lie about that.”
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|12.26.14 at 3:37 pm ET|
If the Celtics had a Christmas hangover, they could only hide it for three quarters. Headaches and nausea spread throughout the sellout crowd at the TD Garden after the Celtics squandered an 11-point lead during the fourth quarter of their Friday matinee against the Nets, eventually losing, 109-107 (box score).
Jared Sullinger had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but he missed a fallaway jumper after receiving a full-court pass from Gerald Wallace.
After the game, Sullinger recognized he missed a great opportunity.
“That’s the best shot you can get. 1.5 seconds on the clock and that close to the rim. Gerald [Wallace] threw a hell of a pass and I’ve just got to make it.”
With stars Deron Williams and Brooke Lopez playing limited minutes, Jarret Jack led the way for the Nets, netting a game-high 27 points. Jack did an excellent job coming off picks and knocking down mid-range jumpers. With 28 seconds left, Jack hit an impressive shot from 13 feet to put the Nets up for good.
While Jack was impressive, NBA journeyman and the Nets’ eighth man, Alan Anderson, stole the game from the Celtics. Playing the entire fourth quarter, Anderson was instrumental in a 11-2 run that tied the game midway through the final period. Anderson scored 10 of his points in the final frame, most notably a devastating and demoralizing game-tying 3-pointer.
In the first three quarters, the Celtics appeared to be in control. Jeff Green had 22 points, while four of his teammates also notched double figures. Green did most of his damage early, hitting five of his six first-quarter shots. Avery Bradley, who has struggled with his jump shot all season, took the reins during the second quarter, scoring seven points during a key 10-2 run.
|12.23.14 at 3:46 pm ET|
In his weekly power rankings, Yahoo! Sports reporter Marc Spears dropped an interesting nugget.
Likewise, USA Today’s Sam Amick reported an offer that would have sent Jordan Hill, a first-rounder and presumably Nash to Boston in exchange for Rondo and Jeff Green going back to L.A. (although Hill owns Bird rights approval of a trade and can’t be dealt until Jan. 15).
Either way, it’s noteworthy that the Celtics discussed trading their captain to the rival Lakers before ultimately sending him to Dallas. The trade talks also suggest Rondo’s breakfast with Kobe Bryant during the Lakers’ most recent visit to Boston was more than “just two [expletives] having breakfast.” It would’ve been fascinating had the Lakers been willing to include Randle in a potential deal.
|12.20.14 at 1:55 am ET|
Here’s the first question Danny Ainge was asked in his press conference prior to Friday’s game: “Why did you trade Rajon Rondo?”
Ainge’s answer was brief, “There was a definite uncertainty into what may happen this summer. So that was a big factor.”
That’s all Ainge initially said on trading away his largest asset for what will presumably be a late first-round pick in 2016 and a second-rounder in that same draft, as well as a few misfit parts. Those few words tell us everything we need to know, though.
Ainge believed Rondo was going to bolt in free agency and didn’t want to lose him for nothing, so he traded him. It was the right move, plain and simple.
However, uncertainty remained a key word.
“We like the players that we got in the trade,” Ainge expanded. “But, listen, I think that with [Rondo’s] impending free agency and uncertainty of what may happen this summer, I think that gave us the impetus of wanting to do a deal.”
Ainge was later asked how long these uncertainties had existed regarding Rondo’s future in Boston.
“Oh, I think that there’s been uncertainty for a while,” Ainge said. “You know, as to what kind of team we’d be able to put together. We tried this summer to get some significant players in, unsuccessfully, and there’s a price that we won’t go [to], either. [A price] that we won’t pay for any player in order to make that happen this past summer.
“At the same time, there’s been uncertainty as to what [Rondo’s] future would be, and there’s been uncertainty as to how he would return and how he’d come back and play [after tearing his ACL]. Yeah, I think he’s understood that, and I’ve understood that and we’ve talked about it.”
|12.19.14 at 10:44 pm ET|
While Rondo’s departure generated a lot of buzz pregame, the Celtics didn’t allow his absence to affect their play on the court. Separating the two worlds was easy, something Jeff Green predicted before the game.
“At the end of the day, you got to still go and play basketball,” Green said. “Doing something that we love — its not that hard to go out there and play hard and give it all you got.”
That’s exactly what the Celtics did. Despite the score being relatively close for the first three quarters, the Celtics controlled the game for the entire night and were able to pull away in fourth. The Timberwolves got 26 points from Shabazz Muhammad and 19 from Chase Budinger, but their efforts were no match for the team effort put forth by Boston.
Without Rondo, the Celtics had 29 assists, tying their fourth-highest total this season. The crisp ball movement led to a balanced attack in which six different players scored in double figures.
If there were a standout individual performance, it would have to be Kelly Olynyk. Coming off the bench, Olnynk had an impressive first half, scoring 14 points in 14 minutes. On the heels of a career-high performance Monday with 30 points in a win over Philly, he attacked the rim with ease and showed little hesitation when given a open looks beyond the arc. He finished with a team-high 21 points.
Evan Turner started in place of Rondo and, along with Phil Pressey and Marcus Smart, did a serviceable job running the offense. The three-headed point guard trio only had six turnovers while combining for 24 points and 10 assists.
First overall pick and presumptive Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins struggled to find any sort of rhythm, finishing with only five points on 2-of-10 shooting. “Maple Jordan” did have a couple of nice blocks but otherwise was a non-factor.
|12.19.14 at 4:33 pm ET|
Danny Ainge finally decided it was time to send the last standing piece of his 2008 championship roster on its way. It was the right move, there’s no doubt about it. But couldn’t it have been done sooner?
Ainge’s Plan A was no secret: Find a star to place next to Rajon Rondo. This plan began on June 27, 2013 — the day the Celtics agreed in principle to send Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. Despite Ainge aggressively searching for that star, it just wasn’t there. When no deal presented itself at last season’s trade deadline, Boston patiently waited for summer to arrive.
By June, it looked like the Celtics might be rewarded. Kevin Love did some notable flirting with Boston, and even chatted with Rondo himself at Fenway Park. Ainge went all-out to bring Love to Boston, and for a while it looked like he could offer Minnesota the best package to pry Love away. As we now know, one thing led to another and Minnesota got an offer it couldn’t decline. It was almost an unthinkable offer in which the Timberwolves received back-to-back No. 1 overall picks (Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett) for their star. In ways it was bad luck for the Celtics, but Plan A failed the second Love went to Cleveland.
Ainge kept looking for trades but just never found one. Not only was a deal to add a star not out there at the time, there were no foreseeable trades on the horizon for the upcoming (now current) season. Plan B, it’s now clear, was to trade Rondo. Which begs the question: Why not trade Rondo as soon as Plan A failed?
This is the part I don’t understand. Was Rondo really expected to succeed on the team he was given to lead this season? He’s not that type of player. In years past, debates have gone as far as to question which point guard you would rather have with players like Rondo against the likes of Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. Those debates are nowhere to be found today. Most of that is to blame on Rondo’s ACL tear suffered in January 2013. But Rondo has never been the same type of player as other point guards in the league.
Rondo’s uniqueness lies in the fact that his value is controlled by the talent of his teammates — something we can’t attribute to any other player. Rondo will thrive in Dallas, mostly because he will be playing with his best surrounding cast since at least 2010. He couldn’t succeed in Boston because the talent was not there, and for that reason Boston should have moved Rondo as soon as it realized it couldn’t add the necessary stars that its current star required.
Knowing now what Ainge’s floor was, in terms of a deal he would accept for Rondo, wouldn’t he have taken a first-round pick in the 15-25 range of this past June’s draft? Yes, Love still was an option at the time, but the idea of him coming to Boston was fading. Even after the draft, a team like the Rockets had long been rumored to be interested in Rondo. Just a day prior the draft, Houston acquired New Orleans’ 2015 first-round pick in a deal for Omer Asik. That pick figures to be higher than Dallas’ will be in 2016, why not go for that? Obviously, Houston didn’t want to make a deal using that pick now. But what about five or six months ago?
Hindsight is 20/20, but I (like many) was shocked by the low return on Rondo. Boston recieved Brandan Wright, Jameer Nelson, Jae Crowder and conditional first- and second-round draft picks. But Rondo had to go — Kendrick Perkins has even revealed to Yahoo! Sports that Rondo wanted out of Boston.
In the end, Ainge made the right move for the franchise. Why he waited so long I may never understand, but, in fairness, we still don’t know what the final return on Rondo will be. Wright is a nice player with one of the highest efficiency ratings in the league. Could Wright, Nelson and/or Crowder fetch another draft pick before the trade deadline? Ainge purposely got this deal done more than 60 days before the deadline so that trading players he got in return this season remains an option.
Ainge is a smart guy. He often makes gutsy and questionable moves. One of them was taking a gangly point guard who couldn’t shoot with the No. 21 pick 8 1/2 years ago. Who’s to say he won’t experience that success again with the pick he just got from Dallas?
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