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Celtics might be in big trouble if their leader can’t step up

12.03.14 at 12:38 pm ET
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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.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, Rajon Rondo,

NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5

12.03.14 at 12:05 pm ET
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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. 


1. Warriors

Steph Curry is an early MVP candidate. Draymond Green is playing phenomenally and is lock to win The Best Draymond in the League Award.

Stay tuned for “Chef Curry” remix. She is about to spit Hot 🔥 #lastshmoneydanceforme

A video posted by Wardell Curry (@wardell30) on

2. Grizzlies

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.

 3. Spurs

Coach Pop actually had the stones to sit Tony Parker and Tom Duncan against Philly, then spend the entire postgame praising the 76ers. Tell him, Marlo.

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Celtics fold in second half, fall to Hawks in Atlanta

12.02.14 at 10:02 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics' loss on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics‘ loss on Tuesday. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Evidently, there is no lead too big for the Celtics to bungle.

After the Celtics raced out to a 42-point first quarter and 16-point lead at the half, the Celtics were outscored by a staggering 20 points in the second half in suffering 109-105 loss. The Celtics have lost five straight and eight of nine, falling to 4-11 on the year.

The team’s game-ending woes are becoming an ongoing theme. The C’s entered the night being outscored by 4.6 points a night in the second half (third worst in the NBA) and 5.4 points per game in the fourth quarter (worst in the NBA). In this case, Boston was outscored by 20 in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter.

The Celtics once again offered little defensive resistance in the 59-point second-half eruption. Their average yield of 107.7 points per game remains the worst total in the Eastern Conference.

The Hawks shot 52 percent from the floor, with Kyle Korver (8-of-9, 6-of-7 on 3-pointers) leading the way en route to 24 points and Paul Millsap filling the box score with 19 points, six boards, seven assists, three blocks and three steals. The Celtics received 25-point nights from both Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green.

Rajon Rondo had a game that was alternately brilliant and sloppy, scoring just two points (1-for-8 from the floor) and committing seven turnovers (two shy of his career worst), but he grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 19 assists, his career high for a road game.

Click here for the box score.

Magic 9-Ball: Rajon Rondo Trade Barometer v3.0

12.02.14 at 3:34 pm ET
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Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.


Since last we evaluated Rondo’s status this season, the Celtics have won just once in five attempts, and that victory came against the winless 76ers. Because they play in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (4-10) remain only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed through 14 games, but their 1-9 record against teams with winning records isn’t too encouraging for those holding out hope for the C’s playoff prospects.

Over the past five games, Rondo has averaged 8.8 assists, 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, so his overall numbers have dipped, even if he’s still the only NBA player currently averaging at least seven points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He remains the league’s leader in assists, passes and assist opportunities per game as well as points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to

The Celtics point guard has always been a different breed of basketball player, capable of controlling games as a facilitator, but at what point does his inability to score become a problem? His current status as the worst free-throw shooting guard in NBA history has been well documented, but Rondo’s offensive woes go well beyond the charity stripe. He has attempted more field goals than he’s scored points in seven of his 12 appearances, netting single digits on eight occasions and scoring six or fewer points four times this season. Meanwhile, the C’s  dropped from a top-five offense through two weeks of 2014-15 to 17th in offensive rating (106.1 points per 100 possessions) a month into the season.

When you combine Rondo’s 13.7 points scored per 48 minutes (PTS/48) and 36.1 points created by assists per 48 minutes (PTSC/48), the four-time All-Star is still generating 49.8 total points per 48 minutes (PTSG/48). If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. Of the league’s 30 starting point guards, 20  have generated more than 40 points per 48 minutes, and Rondo ranks ninth among that group. Obviously, a player’s points created by assists depend on his teammates, but the list shakes out how you might expect.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Rajon Rondo,

Tommy Heinsohn gives advice to Rajon Rondo after Sunday’s loss

12.01.14 at 7:22 pm ET
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Despite the popular belief that this season’s Celtics team has to be better than last year’s laughable team, Boston holds a record of just 4-10 after 14 games. You could make the argument that they have played a tough schedule in its first 14 games, but they also sat 4-10 last season, and that was without Rajon Rondo playing in any of those games.

Sunday’s loss to the Spurs was just another collapse at home — one of seven games the Celtics have let slip away in the fourth quarter on their home parquet. The losses are getting so bad that it convinced Celtics color commentator and former player/coach Tommy Heinsohn to go into the locker room and have his voice heard.

When media was allowed to enter the locker room following the game, Heinsohn was already perched over by Rondo’s locker. The two seemed to talk for around 15 minutes, mostly Heinsohn speaking to Rondo, who would nod and acknowledge the advice he was being given. Although not alarming, this isn’t something that would normally happen following a Celtics’ loss, or any game for that matter.

“Just keep chugging away at it,” Rondo said was the advice of the Celtic legend. “He shared his thoughts, I shared my thoughts as well. Tommy is a guy I’ve been talking to since day one. He’s been a big fan of mine and I believe in what he’s done here in the past. He’s coached, he’s played, he’s done it all. So anytime a guy like Tommy has advice, or wants to share something with me, I always try to listen.”

“He’s the biggest supporter here,” Rondo went on to share on the value of Heinsohn’s words. “He’s here every night, every home game, and he’s rooting for us. He wants the best for our team and he had some great advice for me. So I’m going to take that and share it with my guys, and try and figure some things out.”

Heinsohn may come off as a bit crazy as a broadcaster in his later years, but don’t forget that this is the same guy that won eight titles as a player and two more as a head coach. Heinsohn’s passion for the Celtics is genuine, as was his advice for Rondo. What Rondo and the C’s can do with that advice is another story.

Being compared to the 2013-14 Celtics is nothing that Rondo wants for his team long-term. However, last year’s team was able to improve to 5-10 by getting a road win in Atlanta, and this year’s squad will have a shot to do the same as with Tuesday night the Celtics taking on the Hawks in Atlanta.

Read More: Rajon Rondo, Tommy Heinsohn,

Brad Stevens remains obsessed with Spurs

12.01.14 at 12:57 pm ET
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The defending champions came into Boston on Sunday and blew the doors off of the struggling, young Celtics. The Spurs scored 66 points in the second half en route to a 22-point victory after the C’s led by four points at the break. It was a dominant performance, and Brad Stevens took notice.

“I told the guys in the locker room, it’s probably the best basketball team that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime, as far as how they’re coached, how they play, their understanding, their roles,” the Celtics coach said. “And you can hear them walking back in their locker room. There’s a reason they’re really good. They’ve built a bond and a trust that is very special.”

Stevens has admired the Spurs since he joined the league following the Spurs’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. He often spoke of them as a model of success, and then even more so after the Spurs were able to dethrone the Heat in convincing fashion in 2014. During draft workouts and summer league practices in Waltham this past offseason, Stevens seemingly was obsessed with finding anything he could steal from Gregg Popovich to incorporate into success for the Celtics.

The 38-year-old Stevens even reached out to the 65-year-old Popovich to pick his brain — something the Spurs coach was asked about before Sunday’s game.

“He didn’t find much,” Popovich offered (with his typical smirk while speaking with media members).

“It’s both flattering and embarrassing [that Stevens looks up to the Spurs], in a way,” Popovich added. “We’ve been so fortunate over the years with the people we’ve had. As I’ve said often, who wouldn’t want to follow David [Robinson] by drafting Tim Duncan and go from there. Your biggest job is not to screw it up. And we haven’t, we have not screwed it up. That’s the credit that we deserve. But that good fortune, anybody would like to start a program that way. I’m flattered by what he said. We do try and do things in a certain way. I think a lot of the things we do are pretty universal, but we make mistakes, too.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich,

5 things we learned as Celtics can’t keep pace with Spurs

11.30.14 at 3:31 pm ET
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After another collapse at home on Friday, the Celtics played their second afternoon game of the holiday weekend against the Spurs on Sunday at the TD Garden. Similar to Friday, the Celtics dropped another one in which they remained competitive until late. This time, however, the Spurs’ hot second half led to a 111-89 victory for the road team.

The Celtics high man was Jeff Green with 16 points. He was one of five Celtics in double figures, while Tyler Zeller ripped down 10 rebounds. The Spurs also had five players in double figures, led by Danny Green with 18 points. San Antonio had much deeper contributions than Boston, though, as 10 of their players scored five or more points.

(Click here for a complete box score and recap.)

Here are five things we learned in another home loss for the Celtics:


 Stevens told the media prior to the game that Zeller would be getting the start at center over the struggling Kelly Olynyk.

The coach felt that the decision was based more on a need for Zeller in this particular game more than anything. When asked why the choice to start Zeller was made, Stevens simply responded, “Defending Tim Duncan would be the obvious answer.”

Although the move may last only one game, Stevens didn’t close the door on Zeller remaining in the starting lineup in the future.

“I look at this as a very temporary thing,” Stevens said before tip-off. “I don’t look at this as a full-time thing, nor do I look at it as something that our guys will over-blow. I just think it makes sense today and we’ll reevaluate things on Tuesday.”

The move may not have paid off exactly how Stevens wanted it too right away — Duncan had six points and two rebounds in the first quarter. However, Zeller was able to neutralize him in a sense, finishing with four points and five rebounds of his own.

In the end, the matchup was almost meaningless. Duncan played only 24 minutes and scored 14 points, while Zeller played only 18 minutes before finding himself on the court during garbage time.


The Celtics entered Sunday’s game ranked 28th in the NBA in opponent points per game, giving up 107.3 through 13 games. It’s safe to say that defense has been a struggle for Boston all season long.

Sunday was a different story. The Celtics kept the Spurs to 45 points in the first half, but it was how they did it that was most impressive. The C’s forced 10 turnovers in the half, blocked four shots and held San Antonio to 39.5 percent shooting. The second quarter swung the game significantly, as the Spurs shot just 29.4 percent and committed seven of their turnovers. The Celtics were able to outscore the Spurs in the second quarter by seven points, 27-20.


After managing just 20 points in the previous quarter, the Spurs came out and scored 17 in the first six minutes of the third. San Antonio finished the period scoring 33 points, just 12 fewer than they had in the entire first half.

Even if you are good enough to stop the Spurs for a portion of the game, they also brought the league’s best defense to town, allowing only 92.7 points per game. Still …


As they have all season, the Celtics found ways to score the ball. Through three quarters, the Celtics put up 73 points on 44 percent shooting — not great, but not bad. It was enough to keep the Celtics in the game (along with their early defense), as the Spurs shot 44 percent through three quarters as well. An 18-4 Boston run in the second quarter showed what they are capable of when playing their best on both ends of the floor.

However, as we know, basketball is a sport where you play four quarters. The fourth one can be tricky for these Celtics.


As they have against the Raptors, Thunder, Cavaliers, Suns, Blazers, Bulls, and now Spurs, the Celtics lost a home game that was close in the fourth quarter.

All seven of those loses have either gone down to the wire, or have been winnable at the start of the fourth quarter on the Celtics’ home floor. Good teams win games in situations like that. Even bad teams win some of those games. But the Celtics couldn’t find a way to win any of them.

Boston only managed 16 fourth quarter points, while the Spurs scored 33 again, as they had in the third quarter. The Spurs’ 66 second half points are everything that is wrong with how the Celtics have played at home this year.

The Celtics have shown they have potential this season. None of it will matter until they prove they can close out a tight game at home.

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