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5 things we learned from the Celtics’ loss to the Thunder 11.12.14 at 9:54 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo's 20 points couldn't stop a Celtics meltdown. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo‘s 20 points couldn’t stop a Celtics meltdown. (Getty Images)

The Celtics are tough to figure out.

Coming in riding a two-game win streak, the C’€™s raced to a 15-point lead in the first quarter, but then struggled against a star-less Thunder team that picked up its first road win of the season by a score of 109-94 (click here for box score).

The win for Oklahoma City was reminiscent of Boston’€™s short-handed victory against the heavily favored Bulls on the second night of a back-to-back last Saturday. The Thunder did not look like the team that lost Tuesday night in Milwaukee, beating the Celtics in convincing fashion.

Reggie Jackson and Anthony Morrow led the Thunder with 28 points each. Morrow came off the bench and was quiet much of the game, until exploding for 19 points in the fourth quarter.

Although Morrow’s contributions were well above average, the Thunder managed to take a 50-15 advantage over the Celtics in bench scoring. This was far from expected given that the Thunder’s depleted roster was facing off against a Celtics squad that prides themselves on depth. Perhaps the absence of Marcus Smart and Marcus Thornton (both out with sprained ankles) cost the C’s some bench production, but it would have been hard to predict such a stark difference from Saturday.

Here are five things we learned in a game that dropped the Celtics back below .500 (3-4):

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Read More: Oklahoma City Thunder, Rajon Rondo, Reggie Jackson,
Rajon Rondo didn’t want to miss last Saturday’s game vs. Bulls 11.11.14 at 3:40 pm ET
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WALTHAM — The Celtics held practice at their training facility in Waltham on Tuesday as they prepare for a three-game homestand, beginning Wednesday night against the Thunder.

The most noteworthy news from practice was the fact that Rajon Rondo practiced in full after missing last Saturday’s game in Chicago to have screws removed from his surgically repaired left hand. Although minor, this certainly was not a procedure that was planned far in advance — nor did Rondo seem happy about missing the game.

“Danny [Ainge] made a decision at halftime [of Friday’€™s victory over the Pacers], I had no idea,”€ said Rondo when asked when it was made official he wouldn’€™t be joining the team on its flight to Chicago Friday night.

After Friday’s game was when Rondo was notified he would be staying back in Boston to get the screws removed. Even without Rondo Saturday night, the Celtics defeated the Bulls, 106-101.

“€œ[I] came in very pissed off, but, you know, the team got the win. … I just wanted to go travel with my team and play against Chicago,” Rondo said.

Rondo added he thought he would have had the surgery on Sunday — an off day.

“Well, I thought we would have the day off Sunday anyway, and I thought I could do it Sunday, but they [Ainge and team doctors] make the decisions,”€ Rondo said.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo
Celtics going young in front court, Tyler Zeller still fighting for minutes 11.06.14 at 4:14 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Through four games this season it has been pretty clear how Celtics coach Brad Stevens intends to use his big men — he’€™s going with the young guys up front.

Veteran Brandon Bass‘€™ minutes have essentially been cut in half, as he averaged 27.6 per game last season to just 14.5 so far this year. Some of the drop off can be attributed to the three-guard lineup that Stevens has been rolling out, but the big reason is simply younger players earning themselves more minutes.

Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk are both coming off season-highs in minutes played against the Raptors on Wednesday, with 38 and 34 respectively, and the rotation is beginning to feel as if both will be playing right around 30 minutes a game.

In a game where Toronto was without both of its starting bigmen, Sullinger (19 points and 16 rebounds) and Olynyk (18 points and 13 assists) were able to feast, each finishing with a double-double.

But, another young big man has become lost in the mix — Tyler Zeller. Zeller has appeared in all four games, but is averaging just 6.7 minutes during three of those contests.

What about the fourth game?

An eight point, four rebound, two block performance against the Rockets — a game in which Zeller played 19 minutes.

The minutes likely were a product of Zeller being the best matchup against a force like Dwight Howard. Centers Brook Lopez and Jonas Valanciunas have missed games against the Celtics this season in contests against the Nets and Raptors, giving Stevens less incentive to get Zeller more time on the floor.

So will the coach simply use Zeller based on matchups this season?

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller,
5 things we learned in Celtics’ loss to Raptors 11.05.14 at 10:07 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo couldn't lead the Celtics past the Raptors Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo couldn’t lead the Celtics past the Raptors Wednesday night. (Getty Images)

After an unsuccessful two-game trip to Texas, the Celtics returned home to the TD Garden on Wednesday to face off against the Raptors. Toronto came into Boston as the Atlantic Division favorite, sporting a record of 3-1 with its only loss coming on the road in Miami.

The Raptors took a nail-biter from the Celtics, 110-107, as Jeff Green missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Celtics somehow out-rebounded the Raptors, 55-24, yet still managed to come up short. Contributing the most to the Celtics‘ third loss was 28 turnovers for Brad Stevens‘ team. (For the box score, click here.)

“Well you know we were doing really well as far as that category goes, coming into this game,” Stevens said about the turnover issues. “But I thought most of our turnovers were in the half-court and late in the [shot] clock. I’d have to go back and watch to say that for sure, but they’ve got active hands in the half-court and we didn’t respond as well as we needed to to that. We knew that going in; we talked about it this morning, we talked about it this afternoon, and talked about the need for really precise execution and I thought we did that at times and we didn’t at times. But again, I think the overarching theme was their physicality and their athleticism was a major factor.”

Here is what we learned in the C’s loss:

HOT START

The C’€™s came out blistering hot at home once again, connecting on their first seven field goal attempts and finishing the first quarter shooting 15-for-19 from the floor –€“ good for 78.9 percent.

The Celtics also held a rebounding edge of 14-2 over the Raptors at the end of the first frame, which translated to a 35-23 lead. The only thing seemingly keeping the Raptors in the game was their 12 points off of six Celtics turnovers.

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Read More: Celtics, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo, Raptors
Why you should care about Wednesday’s Celtics win: Rajon Rondo’s spectacular return, Marcus Smart’s debut 10.29.14 at 10:22 pm ET
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The Celtics hosted the Nets on an opening night where it seemed nothing could go wrong for the home team at TD Garden.

First the C’s took a 26-point lead into halftime, then they dropped 101 points by end of the third quarter thanks to a Kelly Olynyk buzzer-beater.

In the end, the Celtics played extremely well as a whole, winning 121-105 while shooting an insane 55.7 percent from the field for the game (€Click here for the box score). And it was Rajon Rondo who gave them the shot in the arm that they really needed, not missing any games after breaking a bone in his left hand just 33 days ago.

Rondo dazzled in his return

Rondo returned to action just shy of five weeks after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand and was better than ever. Wearing protective padding over his injured hand, Rondo posted a near triple-double in his first game action since April, finishing with 13 points (6-for-9 from the field), 12 assists and seven rebounds in just under 30 minutes of action.

Brad Stevens said prior to the game that there is no minute restriction on his star point guard, but he will open up the season playing in these types of short “stints” followed by even shorter rests.

“I thought he played great,” Stevens said of Rondo after the win. “I probably played him in the second half too long of stints for what I wanted to at one time, but I actually thought one of the best parts of the game for us was the fact that we went to the bench and we just kept going. And the bench made such a great contribution, and Rondo just kind of fit in seamlessly.”

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Read More: Celtics, Nets, Rajon Rondo,
Rajon Rondo to play and start on opening night vs. Nets 10.29.14 at 6:09 pm ET
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He’€™s been giving us updates on himself all week, from 79 percent on Monday to 83 percent on Tuesday, but now Brad Stevens has made it official. Rajon Rondo will play in the Celtics‘€™ first game of the season on Wednesday night just 33 days after surgery to repair a broken bone in his left hand.

Stevens was straight to the point when asked if Rondo would play and if he would start, simply responding, “€œYes,”€ to both questions.

Then Stevens was asked if Rondo would have a minutes restriction: “€œNo,”€ said the coach. ‘€œThe way that I’€™ve looked at it is that I might play him in shorter stints, but no minute restrictions. And then, you know, it will be about how he plays after that, it really is his first preseason game as well for him.”

Stevens also went on to say that Rondo will receive shorter rest than he did last year in between his playing stints.

Rondo’€™s presence means that rookie Marcus Smart will be demoted to coming off the bench. Meanwhile, Rondo will start alongside Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.

Marcus Smart could be much better if he just stops taking so many 3-pointers 10.29.14 at 7:15 am ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart’s shooting was a topic of many discussions during the preseason, to the point that it has begun to steal the spotlight from exactly what kind of player Danny Ainge and the Celtics may have acquired in Smart.

Smart is a premier defender and an elite athlete who may be much more talented on the offensive side of the ball than we give him credit for. We still need to see Smart play alongside Rajon Rondo, but so far Smart is the one who has been keeping himself from being far more efficient.

Ben Rohrbach wrote a well-researched piece earlier in the preseason that focused primarily on Smart’s poor 3-point shooting — something that Smart should try to stay away from early in his career. As Ben points out in his piece, Rondo and Avery Bradley both have significantly improved their shooting in one way or another since the beginning of their careers. So as a long-term goal, Smart never should give up on developing a shot from downtown in the NBA. But now is not the time to pretend to have one already.

Three-point shooting is something that Smart should be working on — and has been working on daily behind closed doors. But if he plays to his strengths, Smart can be far more efficient than we saw overall in the preseason. He did give us glimpses, though, and they looked mighty good.

The best example of what Smart is capable of came in the preseason finale against the Nets. Smart only played 16 minutes, but he dropped 16 points to go along with his four assists and two steals. The important part is that Smart shot 5-for-8 from the field, including 3-for-3 in the paint and 4-for-4 from the free throw line. The numbers can’t get any more efficient than that, but they can grow in volume. Smart rarely attempts 2-point field goals. So much so that he only attempted two per game in preseason action.

Are you ready for this? Smart attempted 7.5 field goals per game in the preseason and 5.5 of them were 3-pointers! This is a 25 percent 3-point shooter we’re talking about who attempted a league-leading 44 3-pointers in the preseason (and made just 11, if you’re not good at math).

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Read More: Marcus Smart,
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