|11.15.14 at 10:06 am ET|
The Celtics are quickly growing tired of talking about blowing big leads. It’s hard to blame them, but the painful truth is that it’s an ongoing trend that’s obvious to anyone watching them play early on in the 2014-15 season.
And it’s been a trend from the start. Against Brooklyn in the season opener they led 101-72 after three quarters. Brooklyn closed it to 15 before the C’s eventually held off the Nets. Still, they were outscored 33-20 in the fourth and gave up 64 second-half points. It may not have been a concern at the time in a one-game sample, but it’s turned into a troubling trend.
Against the Bulls in Chicago, they led 83-67 after three. They held on for dear life for a 106-101 win. But on Wednesday against the Thunder, it finally caught up with them. The Celtics raced out to an 18-3 lead and led, 51-42, at the half. They were outscored 67-43 in the second half and lost. Friday night, they had their biggest lead going into the fourth quarter, 101-84 against King James and the Cavs. They were outscored 38-20 in the fourth. Against the Nets, Thunder and Cavaliers, they have given up 64, 67, and 63 points, respectively in the second half, losing the last two.
The Celtics are learning that there’s no better way to blow big leads than playing porous defense.
“I’m frustrated by it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I want to be better at it. I thought our energy and togetherness and sustainability was much better [against Cleveland]. When things went south, we came back. They went up by three; we ended up tying the game. Jeff made a great hustle play to get the free throws. You know if you turned on the TV last night you saw it in at least two games, maybe three — and that happens. You’ve got to play all 48. You’ve got to be great all 48 against this team. And it’s not the same against everybody, but you still have to be on your A-game the whole time.”
‘We just got to win games, point blank, we just got to win,” Jared Sullinger added. “There’s no more lessons, no more moral victories, we just got to win flat out. Kyrie [Irving] made some shots, LeBron made some shots; that’s what great players do. There’s no answers we just got to win. In the NBA, no 15, 20-point lead is safe. You just have to keep playing.”
|11.15.14 at 9:24 am ET|
The immediate reaction by most Friday night was to blame Rajon Rondo for dribbling out the clock and not getting a shot off, the appropriate ending to a self-destruction at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 122-121 loss at TD Garden.
But to the cerebral Brad Stevens, there was much more to his star player not getting up a shot down a point with the game in the balance.
With seven seconds left, coming out of a timeout, Stevens watched as the Cavaliers and James took away the number one option in Jeff Green, forcing Kelly Olynyk to inbound to Jared Sullinger. The big man then dumped it to Rajon Rondo, who was fighting to get free from rookie Joe Harris. The Cavaliers switched Harris off a screen and Shawn Marion was on Rondo for the final four seconds. Then Rondo lost control before dribbling out the clock, firing up an off-balance attempt a full second after time expired.
“Well, we had a couple of different options,” Stevens said. “We had Jeff over the top, which I’d have to look at the film to see if he had LeBron sealed for a lob. Obviously, it’s a little bit riskier of a pass, but we had just thrown it to Jared and then we just had a simple swing to Rondo and our desire was to reject the screen. And he had a good match-up, but Joe Harris did a nice job on him, and we didn’t get a shot off.
“Rondo isolated on a rookie on the right wing. I felt pretty good when he got the ball reversed to him. Again, give Joe Harris a lot of credit. He did a great job on that possession. We were trying to space and rip and drive and play. I told Rondo those plays start with me. I’ll be responsible for that one.”
|11.15.14 at 2:55 am ET|
“They’re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’re better than what the critics said coming into this season,” said James. “Coach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’re top three in the league in assists; they’re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’s a great brand of basketball.”
For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.
|11.14.14 at 10:21 pm ET|
A Friday night nailbiter became a LeBron James classic against the Celtics, as the superstar led a furious fourth-quarter comeback that was sealed when Rajon Rondo was unable to get a potential game-winning shot off before the final buzzer.
The Cavaliers got the victory, 122-121, behind 41 points from James. Rondo seemed to dribble the clock out to end the game on a possession when the Celtics had seven seconds to create something, and the crowd seemed understandably baffled by his inability to create or even force a shot.
The win for the Cavs now puts them above .500 (4-3) as the Celtics now drop down to 3-5 on the season.
Here are five takeaways from the loss:
BOSTON STILL DOES NOT LIKE LEBRON JAMES
The Celtics were the home team, but the loudest noises from the crowd came for James. Some cheered, many booed, but the electricity in the building was apparent.
For every missed shot, every time he complained to the refs, every turnover he had and every foul he committed, the Boston fans rejoiced — even during a 41-point effort. Returning to Cleveland redeemed James’ likeability in the eyes of many, but not at the TD Garden.
A BACK-TO-THE-FUTURE TEMPO ARRIVED
Did the final score give it away?
If you like up-and-down basketball, you would have enjoyed this game. The pace seemed to play into the Celtics‘ favor aside from James’ ability to get out in transition. But even he missed two contested layups on fast breaks in the first half alone.
The Celtics pushed the tempo the entire game, and were almost rewarded. Rajon Rondo was the head of the monster, finishing with 16 assists on the night (the first one being a milestone that we’ll get to later).
However, the pace slowed down in the fourth quarter and was a huge part of why the Cavs were able to come away victorious.
|11.14.14 at 8:22 pm ET|
Oh, and LeBron James also decided to return home from Miami, swinging the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in the process.
However, David Blatt may be the newcomer that gets lost in the shuffle. He also happens to be the head coach.
Blatt has a lot to be happy about, considering the greatest played in the world fell into his lap just weeks after earning his first NBA coaching job. But Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., had a homecoming of his own on Friday night, along with a chance to face the team he grew up cheering for.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m looking for some familiar faces,” Blatt began his pregame press conference.
Blatt admits that the Celtics have held significant meaning to him since he was a young child growing up just 20 minutes away from the Boston Garden.
“I was a great follower of the Celtics. Bill Russell was my idol, and probably the Celtics‘ teams were the reason that I fell in love with basketball the way that I did,” Blatt proclaimed with a smile from ear to ear.
So what has it been like for someone with no NBA experience to be handed the job of coaching James? Well, Blatt went as far as to compare LeBron to one of his own childhood idols.
“Pleasurable,” the coach said, and with no signs of losing his grin. “Fabulous talent, great basketball IQ. A guy, who like Bill Russell, is about the right things. About winning, about making his teammates around him better, about taking responsibility, about being accountable. He’s a man who respects the game and badly, badly wants to win a championship for Cleveland. What’s not to like?”
Blatt joked with reporters briefly after his press conference was over, making it clear in the process that he was thrilled to be back in his hometown. The only problem?
“I was hoping someone would have brought me some clam chowder,” he quipped.
|11.14.14 at 8:04 pm ET|
After stealing the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, Rondo found Kelly Olynyk for a layup 1:27 into the contest, recording his first assist of Friday’s game and the 4,306th of his nine-year career in Boston.
Pierce amassed his 4,305 assists in 1,102 games over 15 seasons on the Celtics. Rondo still trails Larry Bird (5,695 assists in 870 games), John Havlicek (6,114 in 1,270) and Bob Cousy (6,945 in 917) on the career list. Judging by the company he keeps, Rondo’s not so bad.
|11.13.14 at 7:34 pm ET|
Following Wednesday’s home loss to the Thunder, Brad Stevens took the Celtics through a practice that lasted almost two hours on Thursday afternoon and not surprisingly, the focus was on defense after the C’s let up 109 points to a severely short-handed Oklahoma City squad.
“I think we wanted to talk about some things we were doing defensively and not doing defensively,” Stevens said. “We watched a lot of film of that. And then, you know, we’ll see what the carryover looks like. [But it clearly] was a defensive oriented film session and review session.”
Stevens added: “We did some good things. But we did not sustain them, and that was the other emphasis [Thursday].”
There was some positive news coming from the session.
Marcus Smart was up and walking around at the Celtics‘ practice facility, and also spoke to the media for the first time since spraining his left ankle during last Friday night’s game.
“I’ve sprained my ankle before, plenty of times,” said Smart. “It’s a part of the game, it’s a part of being an athlete. But I’ve never been in that type of pain with my ankle before, so it was something new to me.”
The pain was obvious since Smart was ushered off the court on a stretcher, but even though the sprain turned out to be less serious than what seemed at the time, the rookie is being cautious about how he handles the injury moving forward.
“I’m just taking it slow, taking my time, [I want to] make sure I’m 100 percent,” Smart said. “I don’t really want to rush anything right now. Even though I’m going to feel better before I really am, I’m just trying to make sure that, you know, I’m 100 percent before I step on the court again.”
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