|In glorious defeat, Rajon Rondo faces media music||02.16.12 at 1:10 am ET|
BOSTON — Give Rajon Rondo credit. Three days earlier, the Celtics point guard ducked out of the locker room without speaking to reporters after a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bulls. On Wednesday night, he faced the media music following a 98-88 loss to the Central Division-worst Pistons.
Silent in victory, vocal in defeat. Not that he really said all that much. So goes the enigma that is Rajon Rondo.
Upon scoring a career-high 35 points against Detroit three days after equaling his career best against Chicago, Rondo simply said, “I made some, I missed some.” For the record, he made 15 field goals and four free throws, missing 12 field goals and five free throws.
On Sunday, Rondo became the fourth player in NBA history to record 32 points, 15 assists, 10 rebounds and two steals in a single game, joining Magic Johnson (thrice), LeBron James and Reggie Theus. Wednesday’s performance brought his totals for the last two games to 67 points, 21 assists, 15 rebounds and six steals.
Rondo’s reaction? “The main thing is our record is 1-1 in these last two games,” he said.
Entering the fourth quarter, the Celtics trailed the Pistons, 73-72. Detroit’s lead grew to six as Rondo sat the first 3:33 of the final frame, and even after his return the Pistons stretched the lead to 13 with just over five minutes remaining. The C’s never recovered, as just four of Rondo’s 35 points came in the final quarter.
|Fast Break: Not enough horsepower for C’s against Pistons||02.15.12 at 10:07 pm ET|
BOSTON — Rajon Rondo scored a career-high 35 points, but only four of those came in the fourth quarter, when the Pistons built a 13-point lead the Celtics couldn’t erase in a 98-88 defeat — their third loss in four games.
Rondo’s 35 points came on 15-of-27 field goals and came with six assists and five rebounds as the C’s drop to 15-13. While Kevin Garnett (hip) missed his first game of the season, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen didn’t show up either, combining for just 20 points on 4-of-16 shooting.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Where’s the Truth: Thrown off by Bill Russell‘s presence courtside or just plain having an off night, Pierce looked as though his mind was elsewhere. He finished just 3-of-11 from the field, and while he didn’t record a turnover in 37 minutes, he seemed to juggle the ball each time he touched it and generally be a step behind in the early going.
JO vs. Monroe: Returning from a two-game absence, Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal (knee) appeared overmatched at times by the younger, left-handed Greg Monroe (22 points, 11-14 FG, 9 rebounds). Of course, it didn’t help that O’Neal picked up five fouls in his first 18 minutes on the floor.
What the Stuckey? As Rondo’s point total increased, lost in the shuffle was Rodney Stuckey, who totaled 25 points (including 11-11 FT), four assists and three rebounds. He led four Pistons in double figures and helped keep Detroit in a game they had no business hanging around for three quarters, let alone pulling away in the fourth quarter.
|Irish Coffee: How the Celtics can score more points||02.15.12 at 12:47 pm ET|
While the Celtics rank eighth in field-goal percentage (45.8%), they’re 26th in points scored. Why? Two reasons: They don’t get to the free throw line, and they don’t attempt enough 3-pointers.
To the first point, free throws are down across the NBA, but the Celtics have been particularly inept in that regard. The C’s are one of only two teams that attempt fewer than 30 field goals per game from 0-10 feet, where the majority of fouls occur. Only the Nets (8-21) take fewer shots within 10 feet (27.9) than the Celtics (29.5). From 2007-10, when the C’s made two trips to the NBA Finals, they averaged more than 25 free throws per game and ranked in the NBA’s top 10 each season. This season, they attempt just 19.8 a night.
That last number has gotten increasingly worse as this season has progressed. The C’s nightly free throw attempts have declined from 23.8 in December to 20.2 in January and an NBA-worst 16.4 in February. For the season, the Celtics are being outscored by an average of 2.2 points per game at the free throw line.
|Irish Coffee: Bulls consider Celtics ‘dangerous team’||02.13.12 at 11:17 am ET|
BOSTON — The Celtics haven’t had two days off between home games for more than a month — and won’t again until April — so the process of building a cohesive team capable of contending in the Eastern Conference continues for head coach Doc Rivers in Waltham on Monday and Tuesday.
“If you want quality product, you have to give time for quality product to be quality. And you have to have time for that,” said Kevin Garnett, who totaled 13 points, 12 rebounds, four blocks and three assists in Sunday’s win over the Bulls. “It’s not just something just because you have four guys who have been together — you’ve got a whole group of guys that’s in here, and chemistry is everything. And I’m not going to back off that. So, we have some days where we do have some practice time, and you’ll see a better, more quality product, so I’m happy for that.”
Of course, the same was said on Jan. 7 when the Celtics had a stretch of four days off between home games, and then promptly lost four straight to cap the longest losing streak of this Big Three era (5 games). Since then, though, the Celtics have won 11 of their last 15 games — including a string of nine out of 10 — capped by the 95-91 victory against the Bulls, albeit without reigning MVP Derrick Rose in the lineup.
“That team is very experienced, and I think that they’re playing at a very high level,” said Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, who served as an assistant under Rivers during the 2007-10 glory years. “As I said before the game, even in the Lakers game I thought they played very well and could’ve won that, of course they won the nine out of 10 and I throw out the Toronto game because to me that was a scheduling game. They had back-to-back — a late start here and then the travel to Toronto — so that was a tough game for them.
“Throw that one out, they’re playing at a very high level,” added Thibs. “When you have [Paul] Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin and [Rajon] Rondo running the team, their bench has been playing very well, they’ve been getting a number of contributions from different people, so they’re going to be a dangerous team.”
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Celtics outrun the Bulls||02.12.12 at 6:10 pm ET|
BOSTON — Receiving little help from Paul Pierce and Ray Allen through the first three quarters, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo put the team on his back, taking advantage of reigning MVP Derrick Rose‘s absence and recording a triple-double in leading the C’s to victory against the visiting Bulls, 95-91.
Rondo finished with a season highs of 32 points (11-22 FG, 10-13 FT) and 15 assists to go along with his 10 rebounds. His 4-for-4 free throw shooting down the stretch helped the Celtics snap a two-game losing streak and improved to 15-12.
While Pierce and Allen combined for just 10 points (3-11 FG) and one rebound through the third quarter, they totaled 10 points in the fourth quarter as the C’s built a double-digit lead that nearly disappeared. Fourth amigo Kevin Garnett (13 points, 12 rebounds) contributed a double-double to provide a Robin to Rondo’s Batman.
Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah combined for 38 points and 16 rebounds for the Bulls (23-7) with Rose sidelined by back spasms.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Rondo goes: With Rose nursing his back spasms, Rondo had free reign against Bulls backup point guards C.J. Watson and John Lucas. In the first 10 minutes, Rondo amassed 11 points, two assists and two rebounds as the Celtics PA announcer seemingly called his name every time down the floor. His first-quarter effort staked the C’s to a 28-23 lead. The Celtics entered the game with a 10-2 record when leading after the opening 12 minutes.
Automatic transition: Likewise, without Rose running the floor, Rondo & Co. roamed free on the fast break. The Celtics entered the game averaging just 10.3 fast break points per game (ranked 25th in the NBA). They outscored the Bulls by a 33-7 margin — with Rondo’s layups and alley-oop assists leading the way.
Willing Wilcox: With Jermaine O’Neal and Brandon Bass both sidelined by knee injuries, Chris Wilcox got his first start in a Celtics uniform. He rose to the occasion, totaling 11 points (5-6 FG) and nine rebounds.
|Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum ‘can be a dominating couple’||02.10.12 at 3:51 pm ET|
BOSTON — He might look like a llama, but he sure doesn’t play like one.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol recorded 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Celtics on Thursday night, but his biggest play of the 88-87 Los Angeles victory came when he blocked Ray Allen‘s put-back attempt off a Paul Pierce miss as the overtime buzzer sounded.
“Probably, for sure,” Gasol said when asked if he thought Allen’s attempt would have sunk the Lakers had he not blocked the shot. “I think he had momentum, he was going to the rim, he’s obviously got amazing touch and I continued to play. I made a big play down the stretch, which could have cost the game.”
The Lakers wouldn’t have been in position to win the game had it not been for Gasol and center Andrew Bynum‘s combined 41 points and 31 rebounds — 20 of which came on the offensive end.
“We try to play hard and dominate every game and be a dominating couple every game,” added Gasol. “I think with our size and our level of skills, we can be. Sometimes we get to do it. Sometimes it doesn’t work both ways, but I think tonight obviously we got a great effort from Andrew. … I was able to be effective, too.”
|Irish Coffee: Kobe Bryant on his admiration of Austin Rivers, love of Rob Gronkowsi and ignorance of Jeremy Lin||02.10.12 at 8:52 am ET|
Despite his team emerging victors by an ugly 88-87 margin in an overtime game, Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant sounded more impressed by the Celtics than his own squad when asked if the two once great and now aging championship clubs mirrored one another.
“I don’t know,” said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 24 shots. “They’ve got three Hall of Famers and a fourth one coming. That don’t look too familiar to me over here.”
Not only did Bryant sound off about his own teammates, but he pulled no punches on the topics of Rob Gronkowski, Austin Rivers and Jeremy Lin (particularly priceless stuff), among other subjects thrown his way. The following are highlights from the Black Mamba’s postgame interview.
ON THE CELTICS
“We know each other so well. The unit we had on the floor, and their unit — we’ve played against each other so many darn times. We know what’s coming before it happens.”
[Asked again about the rivalry:] “It’s always a brawl in every fight. It’s ugly. It’s physical. I’ve enjoyed competing against them. I like all of them personally. On the court, that personal stuff goes out the window. It’s been fun.”
[And again:] “It’s a throwback in the sense that we’re old school. Ray [Allen] is old school. Paul [Pierce] is old school. Kevin [Garnett] is old school. And so is Rajon [Rondo]. How we prepare for the game, how much the game means to us, you can see the emotion that they pour into it, how much they put into the game, you don’t really see that too much from the young guys nowadays.”
[And again:] “It’s been great. It’s been a dream come true growing up and watching it. Here I am part of it. It’s great. The only difference between us and the ‘80s is that guys over there in the other locker room I actually know and like. That’s the big difference between this time around and the ‘80s.”
[And again:] “They’ve been playing extremely well. They’ve won nine out of their last 10 games coming into tonight, so they’re figuring things out obviously. Us, we’re still searching. It’s a whole new system. We’re trying to figure things out still. You kind of see it on the court. You kind of see things that are kind of botched plays every now and then, miscommunication now and then, because we’re kind of practicing things on the fly. But all in all, we’ll be Ok. Both of us will.”