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Streaky Celtics falter at end in one-point loss to Hawks

12.31.13 at 3:30 pm ET
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In a topsy-turvey game befitting of much of their play thus far in the 2013-14 season, the Celtics could not put the hammer down after opening up sizable leads in both the first and second halves, ultimately missing five potential go-ahead shots in the final 90 seconds of the game en route to a 92-91 loss at home to the Hawks. The loss dropped the Celtics to 13-18, 1 1/2 games behind Toronto in the Atlantic Division.

The Celtics, who led 23-20 after the first quarter, threatened to blow the Hawks out of the building with a 13-0 run to open the second quarter, with Boston’s lead eventually ballooning to 18, at 42-24. But Atlanta closed the half on a 15-2 run of its own, with the Celtics enduring a stretch of more than 10 minutes (the final 5:52 of the second to the 7:26 mark of the third quarter) without a field goal. The Hawks laid claim to a six-point lead (54-48) with 4:55 left in the third.

From there, however, the Celtics bounced back with a 9-0 run that was punctuated by Jordan Crawford‘s 3-pointer with 3:16 to go in the third, giving Boston a 57-54 lead that it extended to as much as a nine-point lead halfway through the fourth. But the streaky Celtics once again ran off the rails after taking an 85-76 lead, as 10 unanswered points by Atlanta allowed the Hawks to claim a one-point lead with just over three minutes left. From there, the lead changed hands six times, with Jeff Teague‘s two free throws with 1:30 left (following a foul by Avery Bradley) finally giving the Hawks a lead they would not relinquish. The Celtics missed five shots down the stretch with an opportunity to take the win, the last coming when Crawford missed a 10-footer as time expired.

Kelly Olynyk led the Celtics with 21 points off the bench, shooting 8-of-11 including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Kris Humphries added 18 points and 10 boards off the bench. But the strong effort of the reserves was undone by an ugly performance from the starting five of Brandon Bass (9 points, 2-of-6 shooting), Jeff Green (8 points, 4-of-10), Jared Sullinger (2 points, 1-of-6 before leaving with a bruised wrist), Crawford (8 points, 3-of-15) and Bradley (8 points, 2-of-10). Meanwhile, the Celtics had no interior answer for Paul Millsap, who scored 34 points (on 12-of-19 shooting) with 15 boards.

After splitting a two-game homestand, the Celtics will next hit the road to face the Bulls on Thursday.

Irish Coffee: Why an Andrew Bynum trade isn’t crazy

12.30.13 at 11:02 am ET
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The Cavaliers suspended 26-year-old former All-Star center Andrew Bynum indefinitely over the weekend — a penalization for detrimental conduct that the team lifted after all of 24 hours before placing him on paid leave — so rumors have swirled around Cleveland dealing the oft-injured, much-maligned, weird-hairdoed 7-footer.

Naturally, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is doing his due diligence to determine Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s asking price. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Bill Simmons lumped the Celtics in with the title-contending Clippers and Heat among Bynum’s suitors, but there’s a catch to all this.

Regardless of whether or not Bynum eventually lands in Los Angeles or Miami — the latter of which Gilbert would probably like to prevent — the Celtics may still be interested in acquiring him, if only for his quirky contract.

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Read More: Andrew Bynum, Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Jeff Green

Brad Stevens on Celtics: ‘#EveryGameIsAnAdventure’

12.28.13 at 4:43 pm ET
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The Celtics watched a 22-point lead dwindle to two in the final minute, but coach Brad Stevens breathed a sigh of relief when his defense held the fort against the Cavaliers’ charge on the final two possessions.

“We did a really good job and played exceptionally well in the fourth quarter — for 18.3 seconds,” joked Stevens.

Brandon Bass blocked Dion Waiters with 8.9 seconds remaining and Earl Clark‘s last-second 3-point attempt missed the mark, so the Celtics avoided blowing a double-digit lead for the third time in three games.

“Sometimes you get on your heels, and we’ve got to figure out a way to not be on our heels,” added Stevens. “And I think sometimes when you win a game like this, that helps you the next time. Obviously, there’s that tension of, ‘Oh, no, don’t lose,’ and that’s no way to live life, that’s no way to play, but it’s a factor.”

After Bradley’s put-back dunk  gave the Celtics a 94-84 lead, Stevens’ charges made just one field goal in the game’s final 6:36 — a spinning, off-balance Jordan Crawford runner amid a flurry of turnovers and failed 3’s.

“I was telling [Celtics president] Rich Gotham, it should have been promoted as part of our holiday package: Every game is an adventure. ‘Green runs deep #EveryGameIsAnAdventure,'” said Stevens, gifting the C’s pro shop a t-shirt idea. “That would be a great thing to promote. Maybe we can work on that — get that on the website.

“It was an adventure, and we’ve got to get better in those situations. Again, we have been for the majority of the time, but for whatever reason in the last two weeks we haven’t. Today, I just didn’t think we played purposefully when it mattered. You have to balance this idea of playing with extreme maturity with still playing clear and loose.”

The absence of Rajon Rondo is never more glaring than in their late-game execution , but despite a three-game losing streak that snapped  Saturday, the C’s remain a half-game behind the Raptors for first place in the division.

“Hopefully people come in and say, ‘Hey, we can get down,’ but I think we’ve made the last couple weeks an adventure, and we haven’t played the right way the whole game,” said Stevens. “And whether that’s in the first half or the fourth quarter, we have to become a better team for 48 minutes. Three times we’ve not played well in the second half, but once we didn’t play well the whole game. So, we’ve got a lot of minutes we’ve got get better at.”

So it goes  for these Rondo-less C’s. Improve every minute, every game; stem the tide until their fearless returns.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, NBA,

Fast Break: Brandon Bass, Celtics hold off Cavaliers’ charge

12.28.13 at 3:25 pm ET
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Still without Rajon Rondo to execute the offense down the stretch, the Celtics nearly blew another double-digit lead in the fourth quarter, but a balanced scoring attack helped stave off the Andrew Bynum-less Cavaliers, 103-100.

Jeff Green (19 points, 8 rebounds), Jordan Crawford (19 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists), Avery Bradley (18 points, 8 rebounds), Brandon Bass (15 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Courtney Lee (11 points) and Kris Humphries (10 points) all reached double figures to help the Celtics snap a three-game losing skid and improve to 13-17 — half a game behind the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

JG’s hot start: As always seems to be the case against Cleveland, it was evident early that this was a game in which Green was invested. In the first quarter, he scored 12 points on six shots, sinking both of his 3-point attempts, to stake the Celtics to a 24-22 lead in the first 12 minutes. Green scored a season-high 31 points against the Cavaliers a month ago.

Balance beaming: Through three quarters, seven Celtics scored between eight and 17 points (led by Green and Crawford), six C’s had between three and six rebounds (led by Green and Kelly Olynyk) and five C’s had between two and five assists (led by Crawford). This was Brad Stevens basketball at its best, resulting in an 85-66 lead on 52 percent shooting through three.

Big Bass: After struggling since the recent Omer Asik trade rumors, including a scoreless effort against the Timberwolves two weeks ago and a 2-of-9 shooting performance against the Pacers last weekend, Bass bounced back to the form we’ve grown accustomed to from him this season. Or better. He scored 15 points on eight shots, including his second career 3-pointer, grabbed six boards and matched a career-high with four assists. He also made the game-saving block on Dion Waiters in the final seconds.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA,

Rajon Rondo taking it all in stride as he continues to work back to game action

12.28.13 at 12:41 pm ET
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The quickness and agility appear to be there. The jump shot appears to be there. The side-to-side strength and conditioning appear in place.

As rumors from New York continue that the Knicks are very interested in acquiring him, Rajon Rondo looks like a player that could break through his rehab from ACL surgery and return to game action any time.

Rondo, as he has done for the last two weeks, worked with strength and conditioning coach Bryan Doo before Saturday afternoon’s game with the Cavaliers at TD Garden.

On Saturday, Rondo spent 30 minutes getting fed passes from assistant coach Jay Larranaga from the top of the key and pivoting to his spot, before releasing a good-looking jumper from mid-range and 3-point range. After 20 minutes of shooting, Rondo strapped on a conditioning cord belt and moved side to side with Doo, working on his lateral movement and strengthening the knee, hamstring and quad.

Then, perhaps most encouraging of all, Rondo got into a defensive position and went back-and-forth, jumping up on Doo, who was dribbling the ball.

All of this is tempered by the fact that Rondo indicated this week that there’s a chance he won’t return to game action until February. Rondo is clearly aware of the time it took Derrick Rose to return from his ACL tear against Philadelphia in the 2012 playoffs and Ricky Rubio cautioned earlier in December that it took him a while to get back into game-ready action, both physically and mentally after a similar injury.

Rondo injured his right ACL last January in Atlanta and hasn’t played since.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Derrick Rose, NBA, Rajon Rondo

Jeff Green on Celtics’ defense: ‘Lately, we’ve been (expletive)’

12.27.13 at 9:04 pm ET
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WALTHAM — The Celtics returned to practice for a second straight day after their three-day holiday break, Friday. The opportunity to end their three-game losing streak comes Saturday afternoon (1) taking on the Cavs, who are also desperate for a win after dropping their last three.

“If we don’t play well,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “we’ll get beat. [Kyrie] Irving and [Dion] Waiters can get to the rim on us, they can get to the rim on everybody. If we don’t defend well, it’s going to be hard for us to win.”

The Celtics prefer to start on offense in transition, so forcing turnovers is critical for their success. Jeff Green, for one, has not been pleased with the team’s effort on defense.

“Lately, we’ve been [expletive],” said Green. “We’ve been giving up a lot of points and a lot of easy looks.

“Our defense,” continued Green, “is the key.”

The Celtics defeated the Cavs at the TD Garden, 103-86, on November 29. Jordan Crawford is excited to match up again with Cleveland start Kyrie Irving, though he understands it’s far from an individual match-up.

“It’s a team effort,” said Crawford. “Kyrie’s looking for his, and once you key in on him, he’ll find the others. But you want to step up to the challenge. He’s a great player, so you want to see where you at.”

Also of note from practice was Rajon Rondo working on two additional agility drills. In what has become a familiar sight, Phil Pressey was last to leave the court.

For a complete preview of Saturday’s matchup, click here.

Read More: Brad Stevens, Cavaliers, Celtics, Jeff Green

Knicks reportedly holding out hope to acquire Rajon Rondo

12.26.13 at 9:25 am ET
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Reports emerged earlier this season that the Knicks were interested in injured Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo, with Knicks star Carmelo Anthony allegedly trying to talk Rondo into making the move to New York when his contract with the C’s expires after next season.

Now, an ESPN report indicates the desperate Knicks are hoping to acquire Rondo even earlier. The team is said to be hoping Rondo will follow the path Anthony took out of Denver in 2011, when he forced a trade to the Knicks by refusing to sign an extension.

Of course, the Knicks still would need to have something reasonable to present to Boston. A rumor in November had New York considering offering a subpar package of Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire. At that time, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge insisted: “I haven’t talked to any teams about Rajon Rondo.”

Rondo recently started practicing with the Celtics as he continues to recover from a torn ACL suffered in January, but he said last week that he might not return in January, as had been speculated.

Read More: Carmelo Anthony, Rajon Rondo,
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