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Raptors view Celtics as threat in Atlantic Division

11.06.14 at 9:40 am ET
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The Raptors flipped a 34-48 record and a last-place finish in the Atlantic Division in 2012-13 to a 48-34 ledger and a division crown in the third year of the Dwane Casey coaching era last year. With headstrong 28-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry and burgeoning young shooting guard DeMar DeRozan in the fold, they cemented themselves as the Atlantic favorites for years to come.

The Celtics are hoping to replicate Toronto’s turnaround behind their own headstrong 28-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo and burgeoning young shooting guard Avery Bradley in the second year of coach Brad Stevens‘ tenure.

The Raptors are recognizing their effort.

“They’€™re definitely very talented,” DeRozan said after scoring 23 points on 25 shots in a 110-107 win in Boston. “They’€™ve got a great coach. They’€™ve got a hell of a point guard in Rondo. They’€™re still learning and still growing. You’€™ve got a talented kid in [Marcus] Smart, so they definitely have a chance and we definitely have to look for them, especially in our division.”

Including the preseason, the Celtics and Raptors have faced each other three times, twice battling to the final possession. The C’s outplayed Toronto in almost every facet of Wednesday’s game — shooting 51.3 percent from the field, grabbing 31 more rebounds and leading by as many as 16 points — but committed 28 turnovers, most of which were unforced.

When asked if he viewed the Celtics as a threat in the Atlantic Division, Lowry didn’t hesitate.

“Yeah,” he said, even after dropping 35 points on 17 shots on their backcourt. “The way they play, they play so hard, man. You just have to tip your hat to how they play. They’€™re well coached, and they have some talented young pieces. They’€™ve got an NBA champion over there, so they’€™ve got some pieces and players who know how to get the job done.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, DeMar DeRozan, Dwane Casey

5 things we learned in Celtics’ loss to Raptors

11.05.14 at 10:07 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo couldn't lead the Celtics past the Raptors Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo couldn’t lead the Celtics past the Raptors Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

After an unsuccessful two-game trip to Texas, the Celtics returned home to the TD Garden on Wednesday to face off against the Raptors. Toronto came into Boston as the Atlantic Division favorite, sporting a record of 3-1 with its only loss coming on the road in Miami.

The Raptors took a nail-biter from the Celtics, 110-107, as Jeff Green missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Celtics somehow out-rebounded the Raptors, 55-24, yet still managed to come up short. Contributing the most to the Celtics‘ third loss was 28 turnovers for Brad Stevens‘ team. (For the box score, click here.)

“Well you know we were doing really well as far as that category goes, coming into this game,” Stevens said about the turnover issues. “But I thought most of our turnovers were in the half-court and late in the [shot] clock. I’d have to go back and watch to say that for sure, but they’ve got active hands in the half-court and we didn’t respond as well as we needed to to that. We knew that going in; we talked about it this morning, we talked about it this afternoon, and talked about the need for really precise execution and I thought we did that at times and we didn’t at times. But again, I think the overarching theme was their physicality and their athleticism was a major factor.”

Here is what we learned in the C’s loss:

HOT START

The C’€™s came out blistering hot at home once again, connecting on their first seven field goal attempts and finishing the first quarter shooting 15-for-19 from the floor –€“ good for 78.9 percent.

The Celtics also held a rebounding edge of 14-2 over the Raptors at the end of the first frame, which translated to a 35-23 lead. The only thing seemingly keeping the Raptors in the game was their 12 points off of six Celtics turnovers.

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Read More: Celtics, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, Raptors

Video: Jeff Green chases down, blocks Lou Williams

11.05.14 at 8:08 pm ET
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The Celtics got out to an early double-digit lead against the visiting Raptors where an engaged Jeff Green was a big factor. This remarkable chase-down block of Lou Williams highlighted was one of three blocks for Green to go along with seven points and two assists in the opening frame. The Celtics led 35-23 after one.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jeff Green, Lou Williams, NBA

Amir Johnson, Jonas Valaciunas out for Raptors

11.05.14 at 7:49 pm ET
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Raptors power forward Amir Johnson and center Jonas Valunciunas will not play Wednesday night against the Celtics.

Johnson has already missed two games with an ankle injury and did not make the trip with the team to Boston. Valanciunas injured his head after an inadvertent collision with the open hand of Thunder point guard Sebastian Telfair. Valanciunas was also forced to leave the game due to an injury to his hand. After the game, Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said the Lithuanian 7-footer was, “all messed up.” Valanciunas was initially listed as probable, but was ruled out about an hour before the game.

With Johnson and Valaciunas on the sidelines, expect the Raptors to rely on perimeter players Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross. This should be an advantage for the Celtics, who excel when defending guards, yet struggle with taller, longer players on the interior.

Tyler Hansbrough will start in place of Valaciunas, but also look for former Celtic  — and personal NBA2K favorite — Greg Stiemsma to get a lot of burn Wednesday for the Raptors.

Read More: Amir Johnson, Jonas Valunciunas,

Report: Lakers to target Rajon Rondo in free agency

11.05.14 at 4:42 pm ET
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Multiple NBA executives believe the Lakers will target Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo in free agency this summer, according to SI.com’s Chris Mannix.

Rondo’s contract expires at the end of the season and he has publicly stated his desire to test the market while maintaining Boston is his top choice. The four-time All-Star doesn’t like change and the Celtics also can offer more money and one more year than any other team — all of which points toward Rondo staying in green.

However, the Celtics drafted a point guard with the No. 6 overall pick and are years from contending in the Eastern Conference, making the decision to sign Rondo to a max contract a difficult one, even if he appears healthy.

Enter the Lakers. The C’s rivals will have the cap space to offer Rondo significant money when Steve Nash and Jeremy Lin come off the books this summer and the possibility of competing for a playoff spot next season alongside Kobe Bryant — an unabashed fan of the Celtics star — could be an intriguing possibility for Rondo come July, particularly if Mitch Kupchak lures other pieces to L.A.

However, Rondo can see the Lakers’ long-term prospects just as well as everybody else in basketball circles and the outlook in Boston seems rosier. He knows what becomes of aging legends on proud franchises. After all, the article in which Mannix cites front office sources focuses instead on the potential of the Lakers trading Bryant.

Take a deep breath, Celtics fans. This isn’t Rondo’s first rumored departure from Boston, and it won’t be the last.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kobe Bryant, NBA, Rajon Rondo

NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5

11.05.14 at 10:13 am ET
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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.

FIVE BEST

1. Warriors (3-0)

Klay Thompson continues to score on and off the court. He dropped 41 points on the Lakers, signed a four-year max contract extension and, as recently reported, started dating Instagram celebrity Hannah Stocking. Personally, I would be more impressed if it was revealed Thompson was dating #AlexFromTarget. That dude got over 500,000 Twitter followers in about three days, which is damn impressive.

2. Grizzlies (4-0)

The Grizzlies are all about attitude, and it shows on the defensive end of the floor. They beat the Hornets 71-69 then held the Brow and the Pelicans to only 81 points. The Mike Conley injury is cause for concern, but the video of Tony Allen randomly smacking a cameraman is hilarious.

3. Spurs (1-1)

Even though they haven’t been spectacular during their first two games, the Spurs still are the reigning champs. Interesting storyline to pay attention to. The Spurs did not sign Kawhi Leonard to an extension before the deadline on Friday, allowing him to become restricted free agent at the end of the season. If I am Danny Ainge, I am offering Sugar K Leonard anything up to and including my daughter’s hand in marriage to get him to sign in Boston. Although there is little chance Pop and the Spurs let him go, a man can dream.

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Read More: Dirk Nowitzki, Kawhi Leonard, Klay Thompson, Kobe Bryant

Irish Coffee: On Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, the Celtics’ ¡Three Amigos! wreaking havoc

11.04.14 at 12:54 pm ET
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Celtics guards Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart wreak plenty of havoc. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

Celtics guards Avery Bradley, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Smart wreak plenty of havoc. (Glenn James/Getty Images)

With the exception of two brief offensive substitutions, Celtics coach Brad Stevens fielded a backcourt triumvirate of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart for the final nine minutes of Monday’s 118-113 loss to the Mavericks, and they wreaked more havoc than the “¡Three Amigos!” in Santa Poco.

The Celtics scored 29 points down the stretch, and that trio scored or assisted all of them, pulling the C’s within one with 39 seconds left after trailing by 31 points at one point in the game. Bradley scored 14 of his career-high 32 points during the run, Rondo collected six of his 15 assists and Smart submitted highlight after highlight in what can only be described as atomic excitation.

It was all thrilling basketball, and a sure sign Stevens will experiment further with this trio.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart, NBA
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