|5 things we learned: Avery Bradley’s late 3-pointer gives Celtics their biggest win of season||12.07.14 at 3:56 pm ET|
It didn’t come easy, but the Celtics earned their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Longtime Celtics captain Paul Pierce was on the opposing side, just his third game in Boston as a visitor. The Celtics once led his Wizards by as many as 25 points, but Washington cut the lead to one late. Boston has blown several leads throughout the season and gone on to lose games. Not this time.
Avery Bradley hit a huge 3-pointer with 37 seconds to go that put the Celtics up by four points, then lobbed one up for Jeff Green on the next play after Boston forced a turnover. The Celtics‘ late-game execution got them a 101-93 win in the end. (For the complete box score, click here.)
RAJON RONDO WAS AGGRESSIVE AGAIN
After admitting that he did not feel like himself for a stretch, Rondo made sure to put his stamp on Friday’s win over the Lakers. He maintained that aggressiveness on Sunday, collecting 13 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists for the 31st triple-double of his career.
|5 things we learned: Time for the Celtics to make a change in the middle||12.05.14 at 9:56 pm ET|
The Lakers made their only trip of the season to the TD Garden on Friday night, and the fans turned out to see them. But in a building with a surprising number of Laker fans, the home team delivered a commanding performance against Kobe Bryant‘s squad, as the Celtics won, 113-96.
Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger had huge nights for the C’s (more on them later), while all five starters scored in double figures for Boston. Rajon Rondo was back to his old self, but Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were big contributors as well with 19 and 16 points respectively.
Bryant, of course, led the way for the Lakers. He finished with a pedestrian 22 points.
Here’s five things we learned in Boston’s victory:
TYLER ZELLER NEEDS TO REMAIN THE STARTING CENTER
Zeller was phenomenal in this game. In 17 first half minutes, he put together a near double-double with 14 points (on 7-for-8 shooting, no less) and nine boards. Zeller and Rondo have been fantastic together on the floor all season, but even more so on Friday. Five of Zeller’s seven first half field goals were assisted by Rondo. His combination of always being a pick-and-roll threat along with running the floor play perfectly into Rondo’s passing skill set.
“I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level,” Brad Stevens said after the win. “I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive tonight and that was great. Anytime he’s probing like that, Tyler’s going to roll to the rim and be available. And Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet where he can shoot it with either hand. He doesn’t have to get it all the way to the rim to finish. So Rondo looks for him and that’s a good thing.”
Zeller wound up with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds — probably the best game of his career. His miss in the first half turned out to be his only one, as he went 10-of-11 from the field for the night.
Friday was Zeller’s fourth start this season in place of Kelly Olynyk, and Stevens claimed before the game that it remains a temporary role. If Stevens is watching what everyone else has seen, he should officially hand the starting center job to Zeller.
After the game, Stevens was willing to concede that Zeller will in fact be the starting center when practice begins on Saturday.
RAJON RONDO BROUGHT SOME MUCH NEEDED AGGRESSION
Rondo has scored two points in each of his last three games. He recently said that he hadn’t been himself during those games. Something evidently changed between then and the start of Friday’s game. Rondo got off to a hot start, scoring six first quarter points to go along with five assists. Rondo’s impact was clear: his plus/minus was +14 when he came out of the game for the first time, while the Celtics‘ lead was trimmed to as few as three points before Rondo reentered with his team up seven.
Rondo may have even taken it too far, attempting 17 shots in the game (and making six), but his attacking style represented a noteworthy departure. Even with all the misses, Rondo turned in a pretty effective game, scoring 12 points along with eight rebounds and 16 assists. On the other side, the Lakers only had 14 assists as a team.
Stevens did speak with Rondo about breaking out of his slump prior to Friday’s game, and he felt it may have worked.
“The main one [thought about Rondo] was that I felt like he was waiting for the game to materialize around him more than just attacking the game, and so it was really good. I thought he attacked great tonight,” Stevens said. “And every time he shot it, I was like a fan saying, ‘Go in!'”
JARED SULLINGER WAS A BEAST
Sullinger’s performance was easy to lose track of behind Zeller’s big night, but the front court duo was not one to mess with against the Lakers. Sullinger brought it in the second half, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in the third quarter alone.
He finished the game with an energetic and efficient 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting with 13 rebounds. Sullinger has said that starting alongside Zeller or Olynyk doesn’t matter to him, but things seem to be going pretty well at the moment. Read the rest of this entry »
|Report: Celtics, Lakers have had Rajon Rondo trade talks in the past||12.05.14 at 3:16 pm ET|
As most know by now, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo shared breakfast together in Boston on Thursday, but as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported, there was nothing to the breakfast — it had actually been planned for weeks.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any trade conversations between the two legendary franchises recently, though.
According to one of Shelburne’s sources, the Celtics and Lakers did briefly discuss a Rondo deal a few months ago, but talks have since ended. The Lakers don’t have much to offer, and are not keen on including a first-round pick in a deal — something Danny Ainge would require at least one of one of in order to ship Rondo out. Although the odds of Rondo being traded are slim, a deal along the lines of a first-round pick, rookie Julius Randle (who is out for the year with a broken leg), and an expiring contract would be something Ainge would at least be forced to ponder.
But even at season’s end, assuming Rondo has not been dealt, it’s been no secret that the Lakers plan to pursue the crafty point guard in free agency. Rondo has long been one of Bryant’s favorite players.
However, Thursday’s hangout session had nothing to do with Rondo giving up Boston for Los Angeles. “It was a basketball geek conversation,” Bryant said to reporters earlier on Friday.
And as for Kobe’s thoughts on the breakfast? “It was delicious,” he said.
|5 things we learned in the Celtics’ overtime victory over the Pistons||12.03.14 at 10:23 pm ET|
The Celtics entered Wednesday’s meeting with the Pistons at the TD Garden losers of eight of their last nine games. Not a good look to begin with, but even worse when you factor in their only victory during the streak came against the (then) winless 76ers. Detroit arrived with a 3-15 record, so if there was a time for the Celtics to get back on track, this was it.
It took overtime to get the job done, but Boston finally got its victory, 109-102. (For the complete box score, click here.)
Caron Butler hit a 3-pointer with just 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 88 apiece. The Celtics then failed to convert on the final possession of regulation as Andre Drummond swatted away Jeff Green‘s layup attempt at what seemed to be its highest point. But the C’s scored the first eight points of overtime and finally held on for a win.
Despite an off night from Rajon Rondo, Green (game-high 32 points and six 3-pointers) and Kelly Olynyk (20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and an uncharacteristic three blocks) picked up the slack. Jared Sullinger was the only other Celtic in double figures, scoring 10 of his 14 points from the perimeter in overtime.
Here’s five things we learned in the win:
RAJON RONDO NEEDS TO PLAY MORE MINUTES AND FIND WAYS TO STAY ON THE FLOOR LATE IN GAMES
Rondo has been playing seven minutes per quarter pretty consistently. Despite some questions about his late-game antics and ability to close out games, the Celtics should be a much better offensive team when he is on the floor. Rondo had played a mere 19 minutes entering the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game. He wasn’t having anywhere close to his best game, but in his defense, it’s hard to find a rhythm in such staggered minutes.
Stevens removed Rondo from the lineup with six minutes remaining, seemingly without reason since Rondo had played only 24 minutes to that point. Rondo finished with only two points for the third game in a row, this time with just three boards and eight assists. He played 34 minutes, committing a huge turnover in the final minute of regulation, and Stevens benched him again for the Celtics‘ second-to-last possession of the fourth quarter.
Stevens sat Rondo on another important possession in overtime, protecting Rondo from being sent to the free throw line (where he’s shooting an atrocious 30 percent this season). Rondo also seemed to hide from the ball on possessions, which could have been reason for Stevens to sit him down.
Long story short, Rondo needs to fix his free throw shooting problem. It’s unheard of for an All-Star point guard to be benched so late in close games.
|Marcus Smart will play Wednesday according to all indications||12.03.14 at 6:20 pm ET|
After a 10 game absence, it appears the Celtics will finally have Marcus Smart back in the lineup on Wednesday when they take on the Pistons in Boston. Smart has been recovering from a severe left ankle sprain that occurred at home against the Pacers on Nov. 7.
“Indications are that he will be available to play,” Stevens said of the rookie prior to tip-off.
So how much will Smart be available to play on Wednesday?
“Well, I don’t know,” Stevens replied. “Just because he hasn’t even practiced, really, with us. It’s hard to tell. He probably won’t play quite as much, he could be on a little bit of a minutes [restriction]. So, [it’s] hard to tell. I think we need what he brings on a normal basis, so hopefully he’s able to do that.”
Smart also briefly answered some questions in the locker room about an hour before Wednesday’s game regarding the ankle:
How healthy his ankle is: “I’m pleased with the progress. I’m not saying it’s 100 percent, but it’s durable.”
How many on court drills has he done: “I’ve actually been doing quite a few things. A lot of cutting, jumping, full-out sprints.”
Is he secure with his ankle: “As of right now, yes I am.”
Any swelling: “No, if it was swelling I wouldn’t even be trying to give it a go.”
Will he be wearing a brace: “Just taped it really tight. I can barely move right now, which is probably a good thing.”
Has he always taped his ankles: “[I was] always a tape guy, just the day I hurt it I forgot to put on tape … I really forgot.”
And the obvious follow up, will he ever forget to tape again: “Never again.”
In the five games Smart did play in for the C’s (including the game he got injured during), he averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals. Although he struggled mightily with his shooting, Smart’s best quality had been his defensive intensity. Stevens will be counting on Smart bringing the same intensity in his return on Wednesday.
|Celtics might be in big trouble if their leader can’t step up||12.03.14 at 12:38 pm ET|
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.
|Tommy Heinsohn gives advice to Rajon Rondo after Sunday’s loss||12.01.14 at 7:22 pm ET|
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.
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