|Sad Brad: The night the Celtics broke Coach Stevens||04.05.14 at 2:22 am ET|
Following each of the Celtics‘ first 52 losses this season, Brad Stevens always seemed to find the silver lining. Avery Bradley‘s defense. Chris Johnson‘s effort. Even Chris Babb‘s shooting. You name it. But after a 111-102 home loss to a Sixers team fresh off a 26-game losing streak, a dark cloud hung over the coach.
The captain knew it. “They were playing harder than us,” admitted Rajon Rondo.
The rookies knew it. “They scored more points than us,” added Kelly Olynyk, “and we didn’t play that hard.”
And the coach sure as heck knew it. “They played well,” said Stevens. “We played not well. That’s it.”
Including Wednesday’s 26-point debacle against the Wizards, the Celtics just suffered perhaps their two worst losses — or best, depending on how you look at it — and that’s saying something in a season full of defeat.
|Fast Break: Sixers nix Celtics, Rajon Rondo’s triple-double||04.04.14 at 10:04 pm ET|
This was far from a nationally televised game, but Rajon Rondo managed his first triple-double of the season — and first since tearing his ACL on Jan. 25, 2013 — but it still wasn’t enough for the Celtics in a 111-102 loss to the lowly 76ers.
Rondo finished with 11 points, 11 rebounds and 16 assists, but the Celtics dropped their seventh straight game to fall to 23-53. Jerryd Bayless led the C’s with 23 points. Brandon Bass (11 points, 12 boards), Jeff Green (15 points), Kelly Olynyk (14 points) and Jared Sullinger (10 points) also reached double figures.
The Sixers, meanwhile, “improved” to 17-59. Philadelphia and Boston have the second- and fourth-worst records in the league, respectively.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Everything: The Celtics barely shot 40 percent from the field and committed 22 turnovers against a team battling for the NBA’s worst record. Need we say more?
Worst first: The Celtics failed to come out firing on all cylinders against the Sixers. Instead, the engine wouldn’t start. They started 0-for-7 from the field and committed three turnovers over the opening 4:29. Luckily, Philly nearly matched their ineptitude, only taking a 6-0 lead in that span.
Powe-r to the people: Early in the first quarter, the Celtics showed Leon Powe on the Jumbotron. The highest profile member of the 2008 championship team the Red Sox could convince to take part in their home opener festivities earlier in the afternoon, Powe received a smattering of applause from a surprisingly sold-out crowd. He probably deserved more than that, but perhaps then again Celtics fans may have forgotten how to clap this season. Although, they did manage to orchestrate a wave as the Celtics trailed 74-69 late in the third quarter, so there’s that.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Mondo Rondo: The Celtics had just six field goals in the first quarter, and Rondo assisted on five of them. He also had half of their rebounds in the quarter. Since returning, he’s made a concerted effort to get his teammates involved early, forgoing his own scoring in an effort to ignite the offense. In that respect, little has changed. And without him, it’s unclear whether the Celtics would have qualified as a basketball team after 12 minutes.
Bayless is more: Starting in the absence of Avery Bradley (strained right Achilles), Bayless found his stroke after a shaky first few minutes, and the fireworks continued throughout an otherwise ugly first half. He probably could’ve done without the double No. 1 finger salute to the sky on a 3-pointer in the opening quarter, but he managed 18 points — including 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc — before the break. Through 24 minutes, Bayless started 6-of-12 from the floor, his teammates were a combined 10-of-32 (31.3 FG%) and the Celtics lead 51-49.
Over the Hump: The Kris Humphries–Brandon Bass frontcourt has not been a successful pairing, getting outscored by 10.4 points per 100 possessions, and yet Celtics coach Brad Stevens has started the tandem for the past 19 games. By halftime of the 76ers game, apparently, he had seen enough. Stevens finally inserted Jared Sullinger into the starting lineup to begin the third quarter. Of course, that didn’t work, either.
|The best of Rajon Rondo, Celtics broadcaster extraordinaire||03.31.14 at 11:56 pm ET|
Clearly nervous to start the broadcast, as evidenced by his forced smile finding the camera in the pregame, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo settled into his role as color analyst, offering some fascinating insight with a little help from consummate play-by-play man Mike Gorman. Here’s the best of Rondo’s TV debut.
RONDO ON THE CELTICS
On himself: “I’m almost at 100 [percent]. I’m feeling great. Each game, I’m getting stronger, my endurance is getting better. I feel strong. Each game, I’m trying to continue to get better. Offensively and defensively, just continue to try and look explosive. It’s definitely hard to be away from the game that you love. You take it for granted sometimes, but it was definitely a humbling experience. I’m glad I went through it. [I learned] patience. I’m very antsy. I love to do things on my own and when I want to get it done, but the patience is very key as far as being able to sit down.”
On Kris Humphries: “I didn’t know Kris was as good a shooter as he is. Kris definitely can hit a mid-range shot, and that’s why we play together. We have great chemistry. He’s definitely very professional. He wasn’t playing a lot at the beginning of the season, but he stayed in the gym, stayed working, and looking at him now — the starting center for the Boston Celtics.”
On Sullinger: “I’m very impressed. Coming off knee surgery is definitely different, obviously speaking from experience, but coming off back surgery with his size it’s definitely tough to … play the way he’s been playing. Our bigs don’t get enough credit. They’ve done a great job, especially in our pick-and-roll defense and the way they shoot the ball.”
On Phil Pressey: “To be in his situation — he’s a rookie not knowing when he’s going to play, when he’s going to start, when he’s going to get minutes — he’s been terrific. He’s very professional. He’s been in the gym working extremely hard. I’d like to see him [drive] more. He’s a pass-first point guard like myself, but he’s so quick, he can get in there, throw a couple floaters, a couple layups to create shots for himself as well.”
On Chris Johnson: From Day 1, since he’s come in, he’s been a pro. He’s a very confident player. When he started a couple days ago, we were playing the Toronto Raptors, and [DeMar] DeRozan had it going. I said, ‘You want me to check him?’ And he said, ‘No way.’ You need guys like that — that want the pressure, that want to compete out there on the floor with you every night — and he’s definitely one of those guys. He feels like he belongs, and he’s definitely belonging right now.”
On Brandon Bass: “He’s a very athletic guy. He’s the most athletic guy on the team besides Jeff [Green].”
On Jeff Green: He’s the best athlete on the team “by far. The things he can do are amazing.”
RONDO ON THE BULLS
On Joakim Noah: ‘”He pretty much fills up the stat sheet. He reminds me a little bit of myself. He plays hard on both ends of the floor. What I like about Joakim most is that he competes on every play. … He’s a guy you want on your team. He does everything on the court.'”
More on Noah: “I think this is 10 years for Noah and I that we’ve played against each other. We played each other in AAU and obviously in college, so Noah and I have been battling for a long time. A very long time. About two years ago, we came to an understanding, because we were always going at each other, and we didn’t never really understand why, but I think it’s because we both love to compete. He’s a guy who’s going to bring it every night, and I do the same, but we don’t play the same position, so one game we were at the free throw line and just thought about why we even go at each other. We kind of squashed it. No beef. No big deal. He’s fun to compete against.”
On Mike Dunleavy: “Gotta keep him going left. Dunleavy loves to go right, and coach [Tom] Thibodeau does a great job drawing up plays letting him go to his right hand.”
On Jimmy Butler: “Definitely a player you want on your team. He doesn’t get a lot of plays called for him, but he still makes plays on both ends of the floor.”
On Kirk Hinrich: “I love playing against Hinrich. He competes. I love playing against guys that compete. Every night he’s going to bring it no matter his matchup or his size. I remember one year in the playoffs, he checked myself, Ray [Allen] and Paul [Pierce] in one game, so whatever defense the coach asks of him, he’s pretty much going to do it.”
Of course, Rondo literally checked Hinrich into the scorer’s table during the 2009 playoffs.
More on Hinrich: “He’s definitely a physical guard. He’s one of the most physical guards we have in our game. He’s stronger than he looks. He plays hard.”
RONDO ON THE GAME
On the first quarter: “You’ve got to fight over the screens a little bit more. They’re setting the tempo. I’d like to see the Celtics get aggressive, because they’ve set the tone so far. Any Thibodeau team [is physical]. In the past, when he was with us, we were pretty high up, but this team in particular — Noah’s intensity, the way Hinrich plays the ball, the way Jimmy Butler plays the ball — they’ve got to be 1 or 2 on top of the league.”
On defending D.J. Augustin: “Give Pressey credit. He’s been pressuring the ball, staying close to his body. That’s what the Celtics couldn’t do last night.”
RONDO ODDS AND ENDS
On captaincy: “Being the older guy on the team or one of the oldest guys on the team, I have to be more vocal. The last couple years I’ve been able to stay behind KG [Kevin Garnett] or Paul, listen to those guys talk, but now this year my role has gotten bigger like it has each year, as I’ve been in the league eight years, so just try to continue to talk and also lead by example. Try to get out there, be the first one on the floor, stay in the weight room, continue to get better and encourage my teammates to do the same.”
On lessons from Garnett and Pierce: “Every night. You can’t pick and choose when you want to be a captain or a leader. If you want to be it, you’ve got to be it every day.”
On 2006-07 vs. 2013-14: “Try to continue to go one game at a time, keep your best foot forward, stay positive, stay in the gym, don’t get discouraged. Things aren’t always going to go as great as they were in college. This is the league, so it’s definitely an adjustment. You can’t win every game, but for the most part, continue to stay professional and continue to go to work.”
On 2009 series vs. Derrick Rose: “I love those memories. Great series, great battle going against one of the best point guards in the game, so we had fun going at it. Luckily, we came out with the victory 4-3. It was a tough battle. Doc [Rivers] played me around 47 or 48 minutes a game. We had a couple overtime games that series, and I was able to play the entire game. Obviously, being young helps. I definitely hate to come out. It’s part of the game, but if I could play every minute I would.”
On learning Brad Stevens: “Obviously, the coaching change is different, playing for one guy for seven years and chaining to a brand new guy, so I got to sit back during this injury and watch him from afar.”
On up-tempo vs. half-court offense: “Up-tempo. Up-tempo. Those are the funnest games to play. Teams like the Knicks, the Suns, the Denver Nuggets, the run-and-gun, the shootouts, those are games you want to be involved in, but a game like this isn’t bad. That’s what these games come down to at the end of the day in the playoffs. You have to be able to get stops and score and execute in the half-court offense.”
On playing point guard: “Basically, whenever the guy’s open, just try to hit him. And if not, try to get guys in the right spots offensively, so we can execute. For the most part, a lot of the plays do allow me to have the ball in my hands and create for my teammates.”
|Fast Break: Bulls stampede Celtics, Rondo calls it||03.31.14 at 10:14 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo made his broadcasting debut during a scheduled night of rest, and while he left the booth with his Celtics leading at the break, the Bulls put a taxed C’s team out of its misery in the fourth quarter, 94-80.
Brandon Bass and Jerryd Bayless led the fizzling offense with 18 points apiece, but the Celtics (23-51) couldn’t avoid a fifth straight loss. Remarkable, the C’s only victory in their last 11 games came against the Heat.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Ankle trouble: The right ankle that has plagued Avery Bradley throughout the season flared up again before halftime, forcing him out of the remainder of the game. Given his vastly improved jump shooting, Bradley’s injury has constantly disrupted what should have been an impressive contract season.
Wings: Playing opposite Jeff Green, who submitted another Jeff Greeny performance, Mike Dunleavy eclipsed 20 points for the first time in weeks. While Rondo stressed the key to stopping Dunleavy was forcing him left, Dunleavy scored going right and finding open perimeter shots. Likewise, Jimmy Butler (18 points) gave the Celtics fits.
Fourth and long: It took more than four minutes for the Celtics to score their first basket of the fourth quarter. Seemingly gassed from playing the same team in two nights, the Celtics watched the Bulls rattle off 13-0 run before a Kris Humphries jumper finally stopped the bleeding with 7:50 remaining. The damage was done, however, as Chicago turned a 71-70 lead after three into a comfortable 14-point advantage down the stretch.
|Rethinking the Rajon Rondo-Jared Sullinger combo||03.27.14 at 10:24 am ET|
Rajon Rondo told Brad Stevens he would like to play alongside Jared Sullinger “as much as possible,” but the Celtics captain and his coach don’t appear to be on the same page on this one, considering the sophomore big — probably the team’s second-best player at this point — hasn’t started a game for more than a month.
“I like playing on the court with Sully,” Rondo said after the C’s 99-90 loss to the Raptors. “I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible. Not a knock on any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is he’s probably the best outlet passer we have.”
With respect to his encouragement of Sullinger’s 3-point shooting, Stevens admitted, “I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be,” but the numbers support his coach’s hesitancy to pair the two more often.
The Celtics average 29.9 defensive rebounds, 23.2 assists and 98.8 points per 100 possessions while scoring 10.8 percent of their points on the fast break with Rondo and Sullinger paired on the court. To put that into perspective, the C’s average 33.3 defensive rebounds, 26.8 assists and 101.4 points per 100 possessions while scoring 18.7 percent of their points on the fast break with rookies Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk sharing the floor. Rondo and Sullinger are a minus-47 over 431 minutes; Pressey and Olynyk are a plus-21 over 418.
|Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches||03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
At the end of the third quarter, Rajon Rondo was getting stitches on his face, Jared Sullinger was 3-for-11 from the field and the Celtics trailed by 15. They never quit — far from it — but still suffered a seventh loss in their last eight games, 99-90 to the Atlantic-leading Raptors. (Yes, the ones from Toronto are winning the division.)
Rondo (9 points, 15 assists) returned from an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, and Sullinger (26 points, 8 rebounds) totaled 19 points on just six shots in the final frame, but the C’s (23-48) couldn’t erase a double-digit Raptors lead. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Chris Johnson (13 points) also reached double figures.
The Celtics are currently tied for the league’s fifth-worst record.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Closing second: After regaining the lead with five minutes to play before halftime, the C’s defense fell apart. The Raptors converted their final six shots of the half, raising their field goal percentage from 40.6 to 50.0 at the break. Toronto’s nine-point halftime lead rapidly reached double digits early in the third quarter.
Interior defense: Back-to-back relatively uncontested Jonas Valanciunas third-quarter buckets punctuated a putrid night defensively for the Boston bigs and forced a Brad Stevens timeout. Out-rebounding the Celtics and outscoring them in the paint, Toronto’s starting frontcourt combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes as the Raptors built a 68-54 lead midway through the third.
In stitches: A horrific third quarter only got worse when a Greivis Vasquez elbow split open Rondo’s face between his eyebrows. Replaced by Phil Pressey 5:42 into the frame, Rondo received nine stitches before returning to the bench with a bandage on his face a couple minutes into in the fourth quarter. He returned with 8:05 left.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Mondo Rondo: The Celtics captain singlehandedly kept them in the game through the first 15 minutes. He had his hand in their first eight field goals (2 layups, 6 assists). A couple Green drives broke up Rondo’s perfect start, but he got right back to work. When Rondo took his first breather 3:09 into the second quarter, he had impacted 13 of the C’s 15 field goals (3 layups, 10 assists), and they led 35-33.
Johnson on the rise: As he has for much of his brief Celtics tenure, Chris Johnson made the most of his minutes. Checking in for Green, who submitted the prototypical Jeff Green performance, Johnson was everywhere. In 10 second-quarter minutes, he converted a 3-pointer, a pull-up 8-footer and a fast break layup while halting DeMar DeRozan‘s fast start (including a highlight reel chase-down block after Kelly Olynyk failed to convert a 3-on-1). Johnson’s effort anchored a 13-0 run that erased a double-digit Raptors lead early in the second quarter.
Sully late: After finishing 0-for-3 in the first quarter and scoring only seven points through three quarters, Sullinger erupted in the fourth. He made three consecutive 3-pointers to cut Toronto’s lead to four in the final minutes.
|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
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