|Fast Break: Tim Duncan, undermanned Spurs stop Celtics||02.12.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
Tim Duncan offered a reminder of what can happen when the Ping Pong balls don’t fall the Celtics way, turning back the clock 17 years after they missed out on one of the game’s great power forwards. Duncan finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds to held the Spurs hand the C’s their second loss in three games, 104-92.
Six Celtics scored in double figures — led by 15 points from Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk (10 rebounds, second straight double-double) — but the Celtics dropped to 19-35. Here’s what went wrong (and right) entering the All-Star break.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: Sans two of their big three — Tony Parker (back) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) — as well as key contributors Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Tiago Splitter (calf), the Spurs still dug the Celtics an early hole. Led by Marco Belinelli, who posted nine first-quarter points and five early assists without Avery Bradley (ankle) to frustrate him, San Antonio shot 56 percent as a team and led 25-19 after one.
Green thumbs down: It was an ugly Jeff Green outing this time around. He missed his first six shots before knocking down a 3 at the end of the first quarter, and then failed on a couple bunnies before sinking a buzzer-beating layup to limit the damage to 48-44 at the break. He had more turnovers (2) than rebounds (1), assists, steals or blocks at the half. Green’s engagement early once again proved an indication of his overall performance.
Not going streaking: After logging six straight double-doubles, Jared Sullinger‘s string came to an end. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week started 2-of-9 from the field (0-2 3P) and sat for a large stretch of the second half in favor of Olynyk, Kris Humphries and (wait for it) Joel Anthony.
|Fast Break: Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger help Celtics stop Bucks||02.10.14 at 10:23 pm ET|
Behind 11 points from Green, the Celtics outscored Milwaukee 32-18 in the fourth quarter to improve to 19-34 on the season. While the Bucks remained atop the tank rankings at 9-42, the C’s now own the league’s eighth-worst record — four games out of a playoff spot.
While Sullinger (13 points, 10 rebounds) logged his sixth straight double-double, Olynyk (14, 11) had the first of his NBA career.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bass kicking: If not for Bass, the Celtics would have been in serious trouble early against the Bucks. While the rest of his teammates shot a combined 6-of-17 from the floor (35 percent) in the opening 12 minutes, Bass finished 5-of-8 for 12 points to go along with four rebounds, and the Celtics led 26-24 after one.
Crash course: Perhaps motivated by the few Milwaukee fans in attendance who constantly chanted his first name, Gerald Wallace filled the stat sheet in the opening half. Starting in place of the injured Avery Bradley, he compiled eight points on three shots, three boards, three steals and two assists by halftime, helping the C’s take a 49-46 lead into the locker room. His production halted after the break, but …
Green thumbs up: After scoring just two points on four shots in the first quarter, Green progressively improved throughout the night, saving his best for the last quarter. He scored eight points on five shots in both the second and third quarters, and then erupted for another 11 on eight attempts in the fourth to close out the win.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Tank top: The Bucks sat Larry Sanders (eye), Ersan Ilyasova (back), O.J. Mayo (illness) and Caron Butler (ankle), and the Celtics countered with Rajon Rondo (knee), Bradley (ankle) and Vitor Faverani (knee) on the bench. If a February game against the NBA’s worst team in Milwaukee could get any uglier, it just did.
Oh, shoot: Midway through the third quarter, the Bucks were shooting exactly 50 percent from the floor (22-44 FG), taking a 61-59 lead after consecutive buckets by Khris Middleton (a 3) and Zaza Pachulia (a bunny). Milwaukee entered the game shooting a league-worst 42.1 percent from the field.
Zaza’s elbows: Pretty much everybody felt the wrath of Zaza Pachulia‘s errant elbows, but Bass got the worst of it, reportedly suffering a corneal abrasion to his left eye that kept him out of the fourth quarter.
Phantom Phil? This late Phil Pressey foul call had Jackie Mac doing her best Tommy impression, but alas it appears Rondo’s replacement may have tripped up Gary Neal well before the whistle.
|Celtics forward Jared Sullinger named NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week||02.10.14 at 1:58 pm ET|
The NBA named Jared Sullinger the Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
Sullinger averaged 23.7 points (60.0 FG%), 12.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 blocks in three victories against the Magic, 76ers and Kings last week, recording three of his five straight double-doubles. Jordan Crawford (Dec. 2-8) is the only other Celtics player to earn the honor this season.
Here are Sullinger’s performances last week:
- Celtics 96, Magic 89: 21 PTS (10-15 FG), 12 REB
- Celtics 114, 76ers 108: 19 PTS (6-11 FG), 10 REB, 5 AST, 4 BLK
- Celtics 99, Kings 89: 31 PTS (14-24 FG), 16 REB
Sullinger has cemented himself as either a building block for the Celtics future or one heck of a trade chip (a la Al Jefferson in 2007). Not bad for an undersized big who fell to No. 21 and missed much of his rookie season due to back surgery.
Thunder superstar Kevin Durant took home the Western Conference Player of the Week honor.
|Celtics trade rumor: Brandon Bass is Danny Ainge’s most likely deadline deal||02.10.14 at 1:32 pm ET|
The Warriors, Bobcats and Suns are reportedly the most likely destinations for Bass, who is owed $6.9 million next season — the going rate for a player with his production (10.8 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.2 apg, 54.1 TS%, 15.0 PER, 1,425 minutes).
‘He is a good fit in a lot of places,’ a league executive told the Sporting News. ‘He can start, he can come off the bench, he can make shots, he can play center against small lineups. A lot of teams need a guy like that.”
Golden State’s best offer? Something like Marreese Speights (owed $3.7 million next season), injured center Festus Ezeli, Jermaine O’Neal‘s expiring contract (bought out before he ever returned to Boston) and a future pick (the Warriors don’t have a No. 1 this season). But does that really upgrade their roster?
The Bobcats could package either of their protected first-round picks (Blazers, Pistons) along with expiring contracts (Ben Gordon, Ramon Sessions) or recent lottery disappointments (Cody Zeller, Bismack Biyombo). Bass and Keith Bogans‘ expiring contract for Gordon’s expiring deal and Portland’s No. 1 pick is an intriguing possibility that would save the Celtics $6.9 million next season and another pick in the loaded 2014 draft.
Likewise, the Suns’ best trade chips are Emeka Okafor‘s $14.5 million expiring contract and any number of four protected 2014 first-round picks (Timberwolves, Wizards, Pacers and their own). Given Suns general manager Ryan McDonough‘s prior work under Celtics president Danny Ainge, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the two sides hammer out a deal should their pursuit of Pau Gasol fall through. Bass and Jeff Green for Okafor’s expiring contract and the Pacers pick would save the Celtics $25.3 million over the next two seasons, for example.
|Celtics set to sign Chris Johnson for remainder of season||02.07.14 at 8:47 am ET|
Thankful for another day!
Chris Johnson‘s second 10-day contract expired at midnight, but the Celtics have already informed the 23-year-old wing they will sign him for the remainder of the season. Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski first reported the news.
The 6-foot-6 Johnson has averaged 7.6 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 1.0 steals in 21.6 minutes over eight games in a Celtics uniform, registering an impressive 60.9 true-shooting percentage. His performance convinced Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to fill one of the team’s two open roster spots for a pro-rated minimum salary that translates into less than $500,000 against the cap.
“I think it’s a great story, but it’s not like it’s some miracle,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after Thursday’s practice. “It’s the result of hard work, doing the right things, not being scared of the moment, taking advantage of opportunities, those type of things.”
As the Celtics did with Chinese imports Shavlik Randolph, D.J. White and Terrence Williams last season, they are expected to give Johnson, who was playing for the D-League’s Rio Grande Valley Vipers three weeks ago, a non-guaranteed deal for next season that will keep him around until training camp.
Thanks to the Courtney Lee deal, the Celtics still have roughly $1 million worth of wiggle room under the luxury tax line after signing Johnson, granting them some flexibility as the trade deadline looms.
|Celtics remain unbeaten with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley backcourt||02.05.14 at 9:33 pm ET|
The Celtics hadn’t won two games in a row since Dec. 13 and 16, gathering Ping Pong balls as they slid down the NBA standing over the past month, but the C’s improved to 2-0 with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in the starting backcourt.
Rondo approached triple-double territory (8 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds), Bradley contributed 14 points before tweaking his ankle again and the two combined for five steals in a 114-108 victory against the host 76ers.
Jeff Green led all scorers with 36 points, helping the Celtics (17-33) avenge last week’s buzzer-beating loss to Philadelphia (15-35) in the Garden. Jared Sullinger (19 points, 10 rebounds, third straight double-double), Brandon Bass (18 points) and Jerryd Bayless (11 points) also reached double figures.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Backcourt’s back: After missing two weeks with an ankle injury, Bradley picked up where he left off, scoring 17 points in his return on Sunday and reaching double figures against the Sixers within the game’s first 10 minutes. Despite playing four seasons together, Bradley and Rondo haven’t even started in the same backcourt for half a season’s worth of games. How that duo performs the rest of the way could dictate whether they remain teammates for years to come. The early returns are positive — on both sides of the ball, as Bradley and Rondo also helped keep Michael Carter-Williams (11 points) and Evan Turner (12 points) in check.
Green thumbs up: Likewise, Green showed signs of the uber-athletic potential everyone imagined in his pairing with Rondo. Green had a baker’s dozen by halftime, and Rondo assisted on three of his five field goals — including back-to-back buckets during a 10-0 run that helped the Celtics establish a nine-point lead just before halftime. Green’s confidence tends to build momentum when he’s involved early, and Rondo may help make that a trend.
Sharing the wealth: Actually, just about everybody benefited from Rondo’s presence. The C’s assisted on 13 of their 14 first-quarter field goals, taking a 34-23 lead after one, and finished the first half with 19 dimes on 23 FGs. Rondo had nine of the 19. While the Sixers made their runs to cut into the advantage — even taking the lead in the second quarter — the Celtics‘ execution on the offensive end helped keep them at bay.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Awkward Klynyk: Kelly Olynyk continues to endure some growing pains. Brad Stevens severely limited the rookie’s minutes during an all-around poor performance. In one tough-to-watch stretch, a Philadelphia shot clock violation bailed him out of biting on a Spencer Hawes up-fake from beyond the arc, and then he committed a horrific turnover in transition. He finished with one point and two giveaways in 12 minutes.
Sloppy second: Stevens rested Rondo with a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter, and the 76ers immediately rattled off a 10-2 run that included a pair of Carter-Williams buckets in his absence. The stagnant C’s were forced to bring back the still recovering Rondo after just three minutes. Through three quarters, the Celtics outscored the Sixers 68-57 with Rondo on the floor while Philly owned a 25-20 advantage with him on the bench.
Avery’s ankle: Bradley tweaked his ankle again late in the fourth quarter and sat the final 3:16. After his performance alongside Rondo the last two games, any more missed time would be another devastating blow.
|Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo, financial planning for NBA free agency and a Celtics conspiracy that just makes cents||01.31.14 at 5:49 pm ET|
Celtics captain Rajon Rondo is due $12.9 million next season — the final year of a five-year, $55 million extension he signed in October 2009 — and the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement makes any suggestion he’d rather test the free agency waters than sign another longterm extension an obvious one.
In the simplest terms, Rondo stands to make twice as much money on his next contract if he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2015. So, when he tells reporters, “I may want to go through” free agency, as he did after Friday’s practice, who can blame him? For years, Paul Pierce said the same, because it makes financial sense.
The following timeline — cobbled together using Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ and input from the Celtics front office — details what max contract Rondo can sign at different points over the next 18 months, and should help explain why Rondo won’t sign an extension this season and may not end up signing one next season.
(Even if Rondo doesn’t ultimately sign for max dollars, which he probably won’t, this exercise should still demonstrate the vast difference in money available to him at various times in his near future.)