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Furious Celtics comeback falls short against Raptors

03.28.14 at 10:03 pm ET
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Jerryd Bayless poured in 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to spearhead a furious Celtics comeback, but after Boston knotted the game at 103 in the final half-minute, a putback by Amir Johnson with seven seconds left gave the Raptors a 105-103 victory, finalized when Jared Sullinger missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Celtics entered the final quarter down by a dozen points, but a 28-12 run put them ahead at 101-97 with just over three minutes remaining. However, the C’s went on to make just one more bucket over the duration of the contest, with the Raptors closing with a 6-2 run that culminated in Johnson’s putback following a game-tying layup by Rajon Rondo with 29 seconds left.

Bayless led the Celtics with 20 points, Jeff Green had 16 and six members of the team finished in double digits on a night when Boston shot 53 percent from the floor. With the loss, the Celtics remained tied with the Jazz for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.

For a complete recap, click here.

Rethinking the Rajon Rondo-Jared Sullinger combo

03.27.14 at 10:24 am ET
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Rajon Rondo told Brad Stevens he would like to play alongside Jared Sullinger “as much as possible,” but the Celtics captain and his coach don’t appear to be on the same page on this one, considering the sophomore big — probably the team’s second-best player at this point — hasn’t started a game for more than a month.

“I like playing on the court with Sully,” Rondo said after the C’s 99-90 loss to the Raptors. “I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible. Not a knock on any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is he’s probably the best outlet passer we have.”

With respect to his encouragement of Sullinger’s 3-point shooting, Stevens admitted, “I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be,” but the numbers support his coach’s hesitancy to pair the two more often.

The Celtics average 29.9 defensive rebounds, 23.2 assists and 98.8 points per 100 possessions while scoring 10.8 percent of their points on the fast break with Rondo and Sullinger paired on the court. To put that into perspective, the C’s average 33.3 defensive rebounds, 26.8 assists and 101.4 points per 100 possessions while scoring 18.7 percent of their points on the fast break with rookies Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk sharing the floor. Rondo and Sullinger are a minus-47 over 431 minutes; Pressey and Olynyk are a plus-21 over 418.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, NBA, Rajon Rondo

Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches

03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET
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At the end of the third quarter, Rajon Rondo was getting stitches on his face, Jared Sullinger was 3-for-11 from the field and the Celtics trailed by 15. They never quit — far from it — but still suffered a seventh loss in their last eight games, 99-90 to the Atlantic-leading Raptors. (Yes, the ones from Toronto are winning the division.)

Rondo (9 points, 15 assists) returned from an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, and Sullinger (26 points, 8 rebounds) totaled 19 points on just six shots in the final frame, but the C’s (23-48) couldn’t erase a double-digit Raptors lead. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Chris Johnson (13 points) also reached double figures.

The Celtics are currently tied for the league’s fifth-worst record.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Closing second: After regaining the lead with five minutes to play before halftime, the C’s defense fell apart. The Raptors converted their final six shots of the half, raising their field goal percentage from 40.6 to 50.0 at the break. Toronto’s nine-point halftime lead rapidly reached double digits early in the third quarter.

Interior defense: Back-to-back relatively uncontested Jonas Valanciunas third-quarter buckets punctuated a putrid night defensively for the Boston bigs and forced a Brad Stevens timeout. Out-rebounding the Celtics and outscoring them in the paint, Toronto’s starting frontcourt combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes as the Raptors built a 68-54 lead midway through the third.

In stitches: A horrific third quarter only got worse when a Greivis Vasquez elbow split open Rondo’s face between his eyebrows. Replaced by Phil Pressey 5:42 into the frame, Rondo received nine stitches before returning to the bench with a bandage on his face a couple minutes into in the fourth quarter. He returned with 8:05 left.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Mondo Rondo: The Celtics captain singlehandedly kept them in the game through the first 15 minutes. He had his hand in their first eight field goals (2 layups, 6 assists). A couple Green drives broke up Rondo’s perfect start, but he got right back to work. When Rondo took his first breather 3:09 into the second quarter, he had impacted 13 of the C’s 15 field goals (3 layups, 10 assists), and they led 35-33.

Johnson on the rise: As he has for much of his brief Celtics tenure, Chris Johnson made the most of his minutes. Checking in for Green, who submitted the prototypical Jeff Green performance, Johnson was everywhere. In 10 second-quarter minutes, he converted a 3-pointer, a pull-up 8-footer and a fast break layup while halting DeMar DeRozan‘s fast start (including a highlight reel chase-down block after Kelly Olynyk failed to convert a 3-on-1). Johnson’s effort anchored a 13-0 run that erased a double-digit Raptors lead early in the second quarter.

Sully late: After finishing 0-for-3 in the first quarter and scoring only seven points through three quarters, Sullinger erupted in the fourth. He made three consecutive 3-pointers to cut Toronto’s lead to four in the final minutes.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, NBA, Phoenix Suns

Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy

03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET
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This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)

Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?

As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, NBA, Paul Pierce

Weekly NBA Draft Watch: Top prospects exit early from March Madness, but some intriguing talents remain

03.26.14 at 10:46 am ET
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Remember last week when I said that the beginning of March Madness is the greatest four-day stretch on the sports calendar? Well, I rarely get to reap the benefits of being right, so this is the part where I say, “I told you so.”

Seriously, what a weekend. Some will whine and complain about the low scores, the long shot clock or the quality of the play. Really!? Mercer completely outplaying Duke wasn’t shocking enough for you? Harvard winning a tournament game for the second year in a row, then giving Michigan State a run for its money didn’t entertain you? Dayton battling past Ohio State and Syracuse into the Sweet 16 — setting up a double-digit-seed showdown with Stanford, which took down Kansas — didn’t inspire you? Sorry to ramble, but this tournament is just too much fun.

To sum it all up, just picture this: No. 5-seed VCU is at the free throw line for a pair, up four points, with 10 seconds left against 12th-seed Stephen F. Austin. Now I tell you Stephen F. Austin will win this game by two points in overtime, arriving there on two missed free throws followed by an improbable four-point-play with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Would you even believe me? It makes it 10 times more fun if you had Stephen F. Austin in your bracket, too.

This is why you watch March Madness.

The Celtics are involved in some madness of their own, as they jostle for lottery position in the bottom-heavy NBA. They currently are slotted into the fifth lottery spot, which after giving a glance at the standings and schedules isn’€™t a horrible place to end up. With 12 games remaining, Boston has to face the amazingly horrible 76ers (riding a cool 25-game losing streak) twice before season’€™s end, but the rest of their games could be helpful to their cause.

The Celtics will play the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards twice each, along with games against the Hawks and Bobcats — all teams battling for playoff position in the East. Lets just say those teams will be playing for a lot more than the Celts. And even when Boston faces off against fellow lottery competition on the road in Cleveland and Detroit, those games come on the tail end of back-to-backs ‘€“ meaning no Rajon Rondo. A 3-9 finish is not too much to ask for going into Wednesday night when Boston plays host to Toronto.

As much fun as the NCAA tournament was to watch, things didn’t go quite as well for the top NBA prospects. Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart went down in their first games, Andrew Wiggins dropped his second game (ending his college career with a four-point stinker) and Joel Embiid never even played. Add Dante Exum (the heralded Australian prospect) to the mix, and none of the potential top five picks in the draft will be playing in a Sweet 16 game.

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Read More: Aaron Gordon, Andrew Wiggins, Dante Exum, Jabari Parker

Despite Avery Bradley’s huge night, Celtics get blown out by Nets

03.21.14 at 10:16 pm ET
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Avery Bradley matched a career-high with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting while making 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but his teammates shot just 36 percent from the floor and proved a non-factor on defense as the Nets — without Kevin Garnett — romped to an easy 114-98 victory. Brooklyn scored 64 first-half points and shot 56 percent in the game, with Joe Johnson leading the way with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Paul Pierce poured in 14 points (6-of-10) in just 19 minutes.

For more from the game, click here.

Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics

03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET
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Finally, it’€™s time to watch some meaningful basketball, Celtics fans! Well, in the NCAA tournament, that is.

The C’€™s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?

Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.

We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.

Don’€™t forget that outside of Boston’€™s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’€™s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.

The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’€™t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.

Who is 2014’€™s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘€œThe Manamal’€ in the NBA? Time will tell.

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Read More: Andrew Wiggins, Danny Ainge, Jabari Parker, LeBron James
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