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Two years later, Rajon Rondo trade goes down as one of Danny Ainge’s greatest deals 03.13.17 at 4:47 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

Rajon Rondo seems to be in the twilight of his career. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

When the Celtics finally traded Rajon Rondo in December 2014, his value was at a nadir. The mercurial point guard was in the final year of his contract and coming off a mysterious hand injury that took longer to heal than anticipated. With that in mind, Danny Ainge was lauded for extracting any value from the Mavericks in return for him. 

But as it turns out, the trade was a heist. 

The Mavericks’ package for Rondo centered around a 2016 first-round pick (Guerschon Yabusele), 2016 second-round selection (Demetrius Jackson) and a then-little-known forward named Jae Crowder. Though the picks received much of the attention at the time, Crowder has turned into perhaps the team’s best all-around players. This revelation is hardly breaking news, but it was especially on display Sunday, when Rondo spent the majority of the contest on the bench while the Celtics shellacked the Bulls. 

Despite only being 1.5 games out of the playoffs, the Bulls are preparing to rebuild. Maybe the most telling moment of their futile season came in late January, when Rondo called out his running mates, Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade. In an Instagram post, Rondo lambasted their leadership style after they had publicly called out some of their teammates. 

“My vets would never go to the media,” he wrote. “They would come to the team. My vets didn’t pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn’t take days off. My vets didn’t care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn’t blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn’t have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn’t change the plan because it didn’t work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can’t win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I’m not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don’t deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it’s the leadership.”

Playing for his fourth team in three seasons, the 31-year-old Rondo is far from being the max contract player he once thought he was. That was obvious Sunday. He logged just 18 mins in the Celtics’ 100-80 victory, scoring two points with six assists, three rebounds and three steals. Even though Rondo is healthy, he hasn’t started a game since Nov. 30. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Jae Crowder, Rajon Rondo
Were Celtics that good or Bulls that bad? Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon discuss Sunday’s romp 03.12.17 at 7:19 pm ET
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Was Sunday more about the Celtics looting great or Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and the Bulls looking awful? Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon discuss inside TD Garden.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Josue Pavon, Mike Petraglia
Blowout win against Bulls proves why the Celtics’ defense makes all the difference 03.12.17 at 5:46 pm ET
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Mar 12, 2017; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) smiles from the bench during the second half of the Boston Celtics 100-80 win over the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas smiles from the bench during the second half of the Boston Celtics 100-80 win over the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden. (Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bulls needed the second quarter to reach double figures in points, the third quarter to score at least 30 and a miracle to close their deficit. 

The Celtics not only held Chicago to nine first-quarter points in Sunday’s 100-80 blowout victory, they also played with the kind of defensive intensity that should put them in great position to grab the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and hold onto it.

The Celtics’ defense set the tone early as the Bulls finished the first quarter 3-of-22 from the floor. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder were very physical with Chicago’s best scorers — Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade — and kept them in check throughout the afternoon. Wade (8 points) and Butler (5 points) combined for just 13 points on 6-of-22 shots.

The Bulls never led once.

Isaiah Thomas finished with a game-high 22 points, Bradley added 17 points, 6 rebounds and three steals and Al Horford chipped in 12 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Six Celtics players scored in double figures. 

For a complete recap of Sunday’s win, click here. 

Boston’s commitment on the defensive end disallowed the Bulls to find their offensive rhythm and much like we’ve seen throughout the regular season — the Celtics’ defensive stops catapulted their offense. But it wasn’t just a few guys creating stops, it was a group effort. 

Al Horford and Amir Johnson each finished with two blocks and a number of stops, while the Celtics bench — led by Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown — combined for 5 steals. The Celtics finished the night with 14 steals and coerced the Bulls to commit 17 turnovers.

With 15 games remaining in the regular season, the Celtics (42-25) are in a tie with the Wizards for second place but due to their relatively light schedule, have a great opportunity to head into the playoffs with the second best record in the east. This week, the C’s will take on the Timberwolves, Nets and 76ers — three of 11 below .500 teams that are left on their remaining schedule. 

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls,
After less-than-inspiring loss to Nuggets, Celtics find themselves in dogfight for second seed 03.11.17 at 9:25 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas was held to 21 points Friday night. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas was held to 21 points Friday night. (Chris Humphreys/USA Today Sports)

It’s getting to be crunch-time. That’s why losses like the one to Denver Friday night should feel uneasy for the Celtics.

After dropping a 119-99 decision to the No. 8 team in the Western Conference, Brad Stevens’ club finds itself in the Eastern Conference’s No. 3 spot, percentage points behind No. 2 Washington. It is also 2 1/2 games in front of the fourth-seeded Raptors.

Both the Celtics and Wizards are 2 1/2 games in back of top-seeded Cleveland.

(For a complete recap of Friday night’s loss, click here.)

So, with the Celtics having gone 2-3 on their five-game West Coast road swing, now comes the make-or-break final month. The C’s have a flurry of home games now staring at them, with eight of their last 10 games this month to be played at TD Garden.

The next four games are against teams that are on the outside looking in for the postseason, with No. 5 being a showdown against Washington on March 20 at home.

As for April, the Celtics will play an equal number of contests at home and on the road, with the toughest test coming when they host Cleveland on April 5.

The Wizards, conversely, have a fairly brutal schedule for the rest of March, with four of the final 12 games for the month coming on the road. Washington finishes off March with five straight games on the road, starting in Cleveland, and then finishing off with a West Coast swing.

Where do you think the Celtics will end up?

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Celtics prove they’re better than Warriors (for one night, anyway) 03.09.17 at 7:12 am ET
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Kelly Olynyk had quite a game for the Celtics Wednesday night. (Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

Kelly Olynyk had quite a game for the Celtics Wednesday night. (Kelley L Cox/USA Today Sports)

It gets you thinking.

Sure, there was no Kevin Durant. And, yes, they only play each other two times a season. But when you have the success the Celtics have had against the powerhouse Warriors, thoughts of what might happen in a playoff series are bound to start percolating. Maybe Brad Stevens’ team could win a game.

As was the case last season, the Celtics went into Oracle Arena and came out as victors over the NBA’s best team, this time beating Golden State, 99-86, Wednesday night. In case you forgot, the C’s win in Oakland the last time snapped the Warriors’ 54-game home winning streak.

(Of course, we’ll forget the 104-88 walloping the Warriors put on the Celtics at TD Garden with Durant back in November.)

This time, one of the aspects of the victory which made it memorable was the chant of “M-V-P” from the home crowd toward Celtics’ guard Isaiah Thomas, with Steph Curry having to stand on the same court at the same time. After hearing the shouts during both games against the Lakers and Clippers, Thomas extracted them this time with a 25-point effort.

“We get them in other teams’ arenas too. We can’t be sensitive about that,” the reigning MVP, Curry, told reporters after the game.

What truly paced the Celtics past the Warriors, who entered the game 26-3 at home, was defense against Golden State’s shooters, Klay Thompson and Curry. The duo combined to go just 4-for-17 from beyond the 3-point stripe.

Another huge plus for the Celtics came from Kelly Olynyk, with the forward not only going 7-for-9 from the floor, but totaling a plus-29 in just 26 minutes. Also highlighting the reserves’ contribution was Jaylen Brown’s plus-13 in 15 minutes.

For a complete recap of the game, click here.

Isaiah Thomas admits he must keep emotions in check following outburst aimed at Brad Stevens 03.08.17 at 3:47 pm ET
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Isaiah Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring this season. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring this season. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Everything seems to be cool between Isaiah Thomas and Brad Stevens –– for now.

In a meeting with reporters Wednesday, Thomas said he didn’t mean to disparage Stevens following the Celtics’ loss to the Clippers Monday. The All-Star point guard also admitted he must do a better job of keeping his emotions in check. 

“I didn’t mean to throw anybody under the bus. That’s not me,” Thomas said, via ESPN’s Chris Forsberg. “I just said how I felt at that time. My job is just to move on and do my job and don’t make it a distraction, because it’s not.” 

The Celtics were in control of the Clippers throughout the first half Monday, but unraveled after halftime. At one point, Los Angeles went on a 41-14 run, which carried into the fourth quarter. With Al Horford (elbow strain) and Jonas Jerebko (flu) out of the lineup, the Celtics were forced to go with a smaller rotation. At the end of the third period, their lineup featured James Young at one of the forward spots and Jordan Mickey at center. Thomas expressed frustration at the configuration, saying it’s too late in the season to be experimenting

While Thomas didn’t back off his words Wednesday, he said he regrets creating a stir. 

“I gotta do a better job of calming down after tough games, tough loses,” he said. “I’m always going to be me. And that’s the only way I know how. Like I said to Brad, I’m not here to throw anybody under the bus, because I wouldn’t want anybody to do that to me. That’s just how I felt at that time. Yes, I have to do a better job of it and I know that. I’m here to be Isaiah Thomas and lead and win games. And I know if we win that wouldn’t have even been a problem.” 

Stevens, for his part, appeared to take Thomas’ outburst in stride. 

“At the end of the day, I didn’t put much thought into it until it became a deal that everybody was talking about,” he said. “And at that point in time, I heard from Isaiah pretty quickly. So again, I don’t put a lot of stock. I understand the emotions and how high they run at the end of games, win or lose.”

After two consecutive loses, including a brutal last-second defeat to the Suns after Thomas missed a free throw and fumbled an inbound pass in the game’s final moments, the Celtics will look to get back on track against the Warriors Wednesday. That, of course, is easier said than done. Golden State is sitting atop the Western Conference with a 52-11 record. 

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Isaiah Thomas,
Isaiah Thomas appears upset with Celtics coaching staff following stunning loss to Clippers 03.07.17 at 7:58 am ET
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Isaiah Thomas was upset following the Celtics' loss Monday night. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas was upset following the Celtics’ loss Monday night. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics led by 13 points late in the third quarter Monday night against the Clippers and appeared well on their way to avenging their last-second loss to the Suns the day before.

But, the Clippers then went on a 43-14 run and the Celtics ended up by losing the game, 116-102.

It was their second straight loss.

Click here for a full box score.

After the game, Isaiah Thomas appeared very upset and frustrated.

“We should have won this game,” Thomas told reporters. “We should have won [Sunday] night [in Phoenix]. We can’t be experimenting in Game 63.”

Thomas is likely referring to the lineup the Celtics rolled out late in the third quarter of  Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, James Young and Jordan Mickey. These players hadn’t played together much, if at all this season.

“It’s just the way we lost tonight was unacceptable,” Thomas said. “We lost the game in the last 15 minutes of the game. We played a really good game up until the last 15 minutes. And that’s the players’ fault, the coaches’ fault, that’s everybody in this locker room’s fault. We could have done a lot better.”

Tuesday is an off day with the team then taking on the Warriors Wednesday night.

Read More: Isaiah Thomas,
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