|12.04.14 at 1:38 am ET|
In his first action in almost a month, Celtics rookie Marcus Smart played just 4:38 of the first half of Wednesday’s 109-102 overtime win over the Pistons, but he feels ready to contribute more.
“It felt good to be out there,” said Smart, who missed all three of his 3-point attempts, collecting two assists and a pair of fouls. “Last game I played was Nov. 7, so it’s always a good feeling to get back out there with this group of guys and get a feel for the game again. I felt like I could’ve gave more, but we’re taking things slow, and that’s just kind of how it goes.”
“I didn’t think he looked ready,” said Stevens. “It had nothing to do physically. He hadn’t practiced. I felt like it would be better to go with Phil and Gerald. They would give us the same things that Marcus gave us, and they’ve been traveling with the team and everything else. That’s kind of tough to just throw him in there. I didn’t even see him until we got to the gym today.”
“What he says goes,” countered Smart. “If he felt like I wasn’t ready, then that’s what it is. I thought I was ready. I was lagging a little bit until my ankle got warm, and then once it did, by that time I was already out of the game. But, like I said, we’re just taking things slow, so it’s all good.”
The Celtics do not plan on practicing Thursday and will hold only a walk through session prior to Friday’s game, so there isn’t much of a window for Smart to make up for lost time. Still, Smart is optimistic he’ll be able to impact his first career game against the Lakers.
“It’s the rivalry,” he said. “We’ve got 17 [championships]; they’ve got 16. Everybody knows that. I’m excited. I definitely feel like I’ll be ready Friday to give a little bit more, but it really comes down to how coach feels and if he feels like I’m able to give more.”
|12.04.14 at 1:15 am ET|
After finishing 1-for-6 from the field against the Pistons, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has now scored just two points in each of his last three games. He’s been held to single digits in six of his last seven outings and he hasn’t made a free throw since Nov. 23.
This isn’t your older brother’s Rajon Rondo.
“I’ve not been myself,” he said after a 109-102 win snapped a five-game losing streak. “I haven’t been as aggressive. I haven’t been making shots. I’ve been turning the ball over. So, like I said, a lot of those losses I put on myself, and I’ve got to find a better rhythm.”
How, exactly, does Rondo plan to find that rhythm? He could start by attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line and breaking out of his 30 percent free-throw shooting funk.
“I don’t really have the answer,” added Rondo, who had eight assists against four turnovers. “If I had it, I’d probably figure it out, but I’m still confident in myself. I’m still believing in myself. So, that hasn’t shied away from my game, and I’ll continue to get better.”
Things have gotten so bad that Celtics coach Brad Stevens benched Rondo for one possession on each end in the final minute of a one-possession game, replacing him with Evan Turner for free-throw shooting and defensive purposes. In the final minutes of overtime, the Celtics actively kept the ball out of Rondo’s hands in order to avoid any Hack-A-Rondo attempts. It’s hard to remember any team ever freezing out an All-Star and all-defensive point guard in such a manner.
“Evan’s shooting 87 percent or something?” said Stevens, who sold Turner short on his 92 percent free-throw shooting. “We were playing Rondo off the ball in some actions … and it doesn’t really matter who has it to me. I took him out the one time, and I immediately regretted it. I felt like I should have had him back in, so I had him take the ball out the rest of the time.”
Regardless of how Stevens couched his reasoning, it was obvious the Celtics did not trust their captain with the ball in the final minutes of a close game, and that strategy actually worked to their advantage in their first home victory in almost a month. That’s not normal.
|12.03.14 at 10:23 pm ET|
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.
|12.03.14 at 6:20 pm ET|
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.
|12.03.14 at 6:17 pm ET|
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.
|12.03.14 at 12:38 pm ET|
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.
|12.03.14 at 12:05 pm ET|
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.
Steph Curry is an early MVP candidate. Draymond Green is playing phenomenally and is lock to win The Best Draymond in the League Award.
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.
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