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The NBA’s big problem, according to Jeremy Lin

01.14.14 at 12:38 pm ET
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As if a game involving a team riding an eight-game losing streak and trailing by 20 points couldn’t have gotten any uglier, the Celtics began fouling Dwight Howard, over and over, midway through the fourth quarter.

Once Rockets coach Kevin McHale inserted his center into the final frame against his former team, the Celtics hacked a Howard seven times in 3:27, resulting in 14 mostly terrible free throw attempts for the viewing pleasure of the fans who remained until the bitter end. It wasn’t pretty, and that’s a problem for the NBA, because it worked.

“It freezes everybody,” Rockets point guard Jeremy Lin explained after his team’s 104-92 victory at the Garden. “We just don’€™t get rhythm. We don’€™t play offense for a while. We’€™re just watching. We get cold, and then there’€™s no flow. At that point, their goal is to freeze us, so they are accomplishing that.”

It doesn’t take a Harvard graduate to figure this out. McHale and Celtics coach Brad Stevens agreed it works, too.

As Howard missed 8-of-14 from the line, the C’s slashed a 16-point deficit to seven and could’ve sliced it further had they not turned the ball over three times down the stretch. These are the Rajon Rondo-less Celtics, after all. Then, the two-minute mark hit, the C’s could no longer foul Howard off the ball and had to play real defense, which promptly resulted in a pair of Houston layups that mercifully brought their ninth straight loss to an end.

“I would probably support a change in the rule that would call it intentional or call it like it would be called int he last two minutes,” admitted Stevens. “But because it’s a rule and usually if a guy’s making one out of two, it makes you think twice. To his credit, he made one almost every time up to the foul line. But we were scoring, and so we were getting a plus-one in about 10 or 15 seconds off the clock for the better part of three or four possessions. And then we went dry, and that’s when the two-minute mark hit anyways and we really couldn’t do it anymore.”

To paraphrase: The Celtics, like most teams, Hack-a-Howard because they can, even if they don’t like it. And why should they? It’s ugly and cheap, like an inflatable doll, and nobody wants to see that. Especially fans.

So, what should the NBA do about it? Take a cue perhaps from Shaquille O’Neal himself, who once said of the Hack-a-Shaq technique, “The only thing I call cowardly is when you’re up by 10 and do it. That’s a coward move.” Adam Silver could make it his first order of business upon taking over for David Stern as commissioner: Off-the-ball whistles become intentional when a team is leading by 10 points. That way ugly basketball can’t get any uglier.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Dwight Howard, Houston Rockets, Jeremy Lin

Irish Coffee: When Rajon Rondo returns, Jerryd Bayless should bump Jordan Crawford down the Celtics depth chart

01.14.14 at 9:31 am ET
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Since winning Eastern Conference Player of the Week for Dec. 2-8, Jordan Crawford is among a handful of the NBA’s worst shooting regulars (46.5 TS%), and yet his usage rate ranks second only to Jeff Green on the Celtics.

By no coincidence, the C’s are 3-14 in that span. We have a sample size of 215 games in Crawford’s career, and his teams are now 71-144 when he takes the floor. That’s a .330 winning percentage. And that’s bad.

Rajon Rondo has hinted that his return could come as soon as Friday against the Lakers, and Celtics coach Brad Stevens will be forced to adjust his backcourt depth chart. Assuming Rondo and Avery Bradley start and each play 30-plus minutes a night, that leaves somewhere around 25-30 minutes to split between the remaining guard corps.

Who deserves those minutes more? Crawford or Jerryd Bayless. Friday night’s loss to the Rockets offered the answer: Jordan Crawford is the odd man out. As Crawford forced shot after shot through three quarters, Bayless bided his time, taking only two in 11:31. Then came the fourth quarter, when Stevens stuck with Bayless over Crawford for all 12 minutes, and the newly acquired guard asserted himself as the game demanded, ultimately scoring 15 points on 11 shots and making a game of what was once a mockery.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jerryd Bayless, Jordan Crawford, NBA

Celtics fall to Rockets in return to Garden, drop ninth straight

01.13.14 at 9:53 pm ET
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When the Celtics and Rockets matched up on Monday night, Boston clung to the hope that a change of scenery, and the end of its arduous road trip, would finally stop the bleeding.

But a night back in the TD Garden did nothing to suture the wounds administered from Boston’s disappointing five-game West Coast trip. The Celtics lost their ninth straight game, as the Rockets claimed a 104-92 victory. Boston has lost 12 of its last 13 games. The lost to Houston means that Celtics are 3-14 against the Western Conference this season.

Dwight Howard bullied the Celtics bigs with 32 points and 10 rebounds, and James Harden and Jeremy Lin chipped in 16 points apiece.

Avery Bradley led Boston in scoring for the third time in four games, as he tallied 24 points. Jerryd Bayless used a massive fourth quarter to post 17 points. Brandon Bass, coming off the bench, scored 14 points, and Jordan Crawford added 13.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS:

Defending Dwight: Boston managed Houston’s behemoth center very well in the first quarter, as Howard scored eight points, but that figure came on eight shots and he only pulled down one offensive rebound. It’s no mistake that the Celtics led 27-19 at that point. But the final three quarters went nothing like the first one. Howard missed just one shot for the rest of the game, and accumulated 24 points on eight shots from the second quarter on. No Boston defender should be held solely culpable as the Celtics rotated a number of defenders on him, and the help defense required to shut down a player of Howard’s caliber was absent.

First half free throws: The difference at halftime was simple enough: the Rockets got to the free throw line, while the Celtics did not. Houston outshot Boston by a slim margin (Rockets=41.9 percent, Celtics=35.8 percent) front the field, Boston turned the ball over two times less than Houston and the rebounding figures were nearly deadlocked. But the Rockets made 16 trips to the line, and converted 13 times, en route to a 52-43 advantage. Boston reached the charity stripe just three times, as Crawford finished 3-for-3. Houston made seven more free throws than the Celtics in the second quarter, which the Rockets claimed emphatically 33-16.

Avery’s starting helpers: Bradley did everything he possibly could have to keep Boston in it, scoring a team-high 24 points and forcing Harden into 6-of-17 shooting. But the other four starters did next to nothing on offense to aid Bradley. Only Crawford reached double digits, and he achieved his 13 points at an inefficient 3-for-11 rate. Bradley finished the game 11-for-21 from the floor. The rest of his unit shot 10-for-39.

WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE CELTICS

Bayless: With Boston trailing by 19 points after three quarters, Bayless received the opportunity to play the entire fourth quarter. The newly-acquired reserve guard ran with his chance, scoring 16 of his 17 points in the final frame and cutting the deficit to six points at one juncture late in the quarter. Bayless’ effort was not enough, but his performance will not be forgotten with starter Crawford struggling, and Boston thin at guard.

Bradley’s first: For the second straight game, Bradley erupted in the first quarter and helped push Boston to an early lead. Against Houston, Bradley tossed in 14 first-quarter points, and added three steals, two assists and two rebounds in a first quarter that Boston dominated, 27-19. He shot 6-for-8 from the field, and made five jump shots, including two 3-pointers. On Saturday, Bradley tallied 13 first-quarter points, again buried six shots and only missed one in the Celtics‘ loss to the Trail Blazers.

MarShon returns: MarShon Brooks, one of the returns in the trade that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets this offseason, made his first appearance for Boston since Dec. 22. Brooks ran the point for Boston and led a spirited fourth quarter, when the Celtics provided the crowd something to cheer for, for the first time since early in the second quarter. Brooks did not light up the stat sheet (two points, five rebounds, one assists in 12 minutes), but he ran the point with a confident aura that was not prevalent prior to his demotion to the D-League.

Rajon Rondo’s Celtics return coming ‘sooner rather than later’

01.13.14 at 9:52 pm ET
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With the Celtics mired in a losing streak and spiraling down the standings, Rajon Rondo‘s return can’t come soon enough, and it doesn’t appear the All-Star point guard is all that far off from playing for the first time since his ACL injury.

“I get the impression it’€™s sooner rather than later,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters prior to playing the Rockets.

While Stevens, Rondo and the Celtics are avoiding any strict timeline, the coach didn’t rule out a return this week. “I think you could say possibly,” he said.

Yahoo’s Marc Spears reported that the Rondo was targeting Friday’s game against the Lakers as his comeback night. The Celtics also face the Heat on Jan. 21 before hosting Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and the Nets on the 26th — on ESPN, no less, and we all know how Rondo enjoys national TV audiences.

Rondo added to the speculation when he sent out a tweet Monday night reading “29,233,380 secs.” That’s the amount of time from his surgery on Feb. 13 to tipoff for Friday’s game.

 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, NBA, Rajon Rondo

Celtics complete West Coast trip with loss to Trail Blazers

01.12.14 at 12:18 am ET
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The Celtics‘ worst-case scenario for their West Coast trip came to fruition on Saturday night: five games, five losses.

Boston finished the trip with a 112-104 loss to the Trail Blazers in Portland. The C’s losing streak has been extended to eight games, the longest losing streak since 2007 when they dropped 18 straight in the dreadful 24-58 campaign that precipitated the formation of the Big Three.

LaMarcus Aldridge led Portland’s explosive, league-leading offense with 21 points and 13 rebounds. Five other Trail Blazers scored between 10 and 18 points with Wesley Matthews topping that group (18 points).

Avery Bradley scored 25 points in the losing cause. Jeff Green (16 points), Jared Sullinger (14 points, 10 rebounds), Jordan Crawford (13 points), Jerryd Bayless (12 points) and Kris Humphries (10 points) also reached double figures.

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS

Poor third: While Boston, for the most part, carried its torrid shooting pace from the first half (61.9 percent) into the third quarter, and avoided turnovers, the team failed in other areas that led to Portland reclaiming a four-point lead. Portland out-rebounded the Celtics in the third frame 14-9. Additionally, Portland got to the line at will and converted every opportunity, finishing 10-for-10 in the quarter.

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Stephen Curry hands Celtics seventh straight loss with late jump shot

01.11.14 at 1:06 am ET
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Stephen Curry buried a 23-foot jumper with 2.1 seconds remaining to break a tie game and secure a 99-97 win for the Warriors over the Celtics, as Boston suffered its seventh straight loss.

Gerald Wallace had an opportunity to win the game for the Celtics with a 3-pointer on the next possession, but he clanked the shot and Boston (13-24) dropped its 10th game in its last 11.

Andre Iguodala paced the Warriors with 22 points, and dynamic guards Curry and Klay Thompson added 19 and 17 points, respectively.

Jeff Green led the way for Boston with 24 points, and the Celtics got massive double-doubles from Jared Sullinger (21 points, 11 rebounds) and Kris Humphries (16 points, 14 rebounds).

WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE CELTICS

Igoudala: It seemingly happens all the time: Commit all your defensive effort on the top scorer(s), only to have a complementary player step up and torch you. In the case of the Celtics Friday night, the team focused its game plan around curtailing the production of Curry and Thompson. But the added attention to the spectacular guard duo allowed Iguodala to step up for a huge game. Iguodala posted a team-high 22 points, seven assists, five rebounds and three steals. It was his first game with at least 20 points since Nov. 6, and he reached double figures for only the third time in his last 14 games. Read the rest of this entry »

Rajon Rondo says he’ll return before All-Star break

01.10.14 at 5:56 pm ET
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Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, out since last February when he required surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, told reporters on Friday that he will return to the court either this month or next, sometime prior to the All-Star break. The Celtics‘ final game of the half is on Feb. 12.

“It may be this month, next month,” Rondo told reporters at a Friday shootaround, prior to the Celtics‘ contest against the Golden State Warriors. “It’€™ll be before All-Star Break.”

According to the Boston Globe, Rondo suggested that he feels significantly better on the court since he first began full-contact practice in December, but he acknowledged that he is not yet in basketball shape. According to the Globe, he remained open to the possibility of an assignment in the NBA Development League before returning to the Celtics lineup.

“I feel more confident, stronger, more explosive. What I’€™m doing in the weight room, it’€™s productive,” Rondo told the Globe. “[But] I’€™m just trying to get back into shape. … I haven’€™t played ball in 12 months. You can do all the cardio, treadmill, running you want, it’€™s still different from basketball shape.”

Rondo was averaging 13.7 points, 11.1 assists and 5.6 rebounds a game at the time of his injury last season, the third straight year in which he averaged 11 or more assists a night. In his absence, the Celtics are averaging 19.3 assists per game, 27th among the 30 teams in the NBA.

Read More: Rajon Rondo,
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