|NBA power and sour rankings: Top 5, bottom 5||12.03.14 at 12:05 pm ET|
Follow Sam Packard on Twitter @SPackGuy.
In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.
NOTE: Until the 76ers win a game, they will not be discussed.
Steph Curry is an early MVP candidate. Draymond Green is playing phenomenally and is lock to win The Best Draymond in the League Award.
This season Marc Gasol taught us that losing a bunch of weight and being in tremendous shape is beneficial for a basketball player. Who knew? Thanks, Marc Gasol! Keep taking those sky hooks.
|Celtics fold in second half, fall to Hawks in Atlanta||12.02.14 at 10:02 pm ET|
Evidently, there is no lead too big for the Celtics to bungle.
After the Celtics raced out to a 42-point first quarter and 16-point lead at the half, the Celtics were outscored by a staggering 20 points in the second half in suffering 109-105 loss. The Celtics have lost five straight and eight of nine, falling to 4-11 on the year.
The team’s game-ending woes are becoming an ongoing theme. The C’s entered the night being outscored by 4.6 points a night in the second half (third worst in the NBA) and 5.4 points per game in the fourth quarter (worst in the NBA). In this case, Boston was outscored by 20 in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics once again offered little defensive resistance in the 59-point second-half eruption. Their average yield of 107.7 points per game remains the worst total in the Eastern Conference.
The Hawks shot 52 percent from the floor, with Kyle Korver (8-of-9, 6-of-7 on 3-pointers) leading the way en route to 24 points and Paul Millsap filling the box score with 19 points, six boards, seven assists, three blocks and three steals. The Celtics received 25-point nights from both Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green.
Rajon Rondo had a game that was alternately brilliant and sloppy, scoring just two points (1-for-8 from the floor) and committing seven turnovers (two shy of his career worst), but he grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 19 assists, his career high for a road game.
|Magic 9-Ball: Rajon Rondo Trade Barometer v3.0||12.02.14 at 3:34 pm ET|
Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.
RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE
Since last we evaluated Rondo’s status this season, the Celtics have won just once in five attempts, and that victory came against the winless 76ers. Because they play in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (4-10) remain only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed through 14 games, but their 1-9 record against teams with winning records isn’t too encouraging for those holding out hope for the C’s playoff prospects.
Over the past five games, Rondo has averaged 8.8 assists, 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, so his overall numbers have dipped, even if he’s still the only NBA player currently averaging at least seven points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He remains the league’s leader in assists, passes and assist opportunities per game as well as points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats.
The Celtics point guard has always been a different breed of basketball player, capable of controlling games as a facilitator, but at what point does his inability to score become a problem? His current status as the worst free-throw shooting guard in NBA history has been well documented, but Rondo’s offensive woes go well beyond the charity stripe. He has attempted more field goals than he’s scored points in seven of his 12 appearances, netting single digits on eight occasions and scoring six or fewer points four times this season. Meanwhile, the C’s dropped from a top-five offense through two weeks of 2014-15 to 17th in offensive rating (106.1 points per 100 possessions) a month into the season.
When you combine Rondo’s 13.7 points scored per 48 minutes (PTS/48) and 36.1 points created by assists per 48 minutes (PTSC/48), the four-time All-Star is still generating 49.8 total points per 48 minutes (PTSG/48). If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. Of the league’s 30 starting point guards, 20 have generated more than 40 points per 48 minutes, and Rondo ranks ninth among that group. Obviously, a player’s points created by assists depend on his teammates, but the list shakes out how you might expect.
|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.
|Brad Stevens remains obsessed with Spurs||12.01.14 at 12:57 pm ET|
The defending champions came into Boston on Sunday and blew the doors off of the struggling, young Celtics. The Spurs scored 66 points in the second half en route to a 22-point victory after the C’s led by four points at the break. It was a dominant performance, and Brad Stevens took notice.
“I told the guys in the locker room, it’s probably the best basketball team that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime, as far as how they’re coached, how they play, their understanding, their roles,” the Celtics coach said. “And you can hear them walking back in their locker room. There’s a reason they’re really good. They’ve built a bond and a trust that is very special.”
Stevens has admired the Spurs since he joined the league following the Spurs’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. He often spoke of them as a model of success, and then even more so after the Spurs were able to dethrone the Heat in convincing fashion in 2014. During draft workouts and summer league practices in Waltham this past offseason, Stevens seemingly was obsessed with finding anything he could steal from Gregg Popovich to incorporate into success for the Celtics.
The 38-year-old Stevens even reached out to the 65-year-old Popovich to pick his brain — something the Spurs coach was asked about before Sunday’s game.
“He didn’t find much,” Popovich offered (with his typical smirk while speaking with media members).
“It’s both flattering and embarrassing [that Stevens looks up to the Spurs], in a way,” Popovich added. “We’ve been so fortunate over the years with the people we’ve had. As I’ve said often, who wouldn’t want to follow David [Robinson] by drafting Tim Duncan and go from there. Your biggest job is not to screw it up. And we haven’t, we have not screwed it up. That’s the credit that we deserve. But that good fortune, anybody would like to start a program that way. I’m flattered by what he said. We do try and do things in a certain way. I think a lot of the things we do are pretty universal, but we make mistakes, too.”
|5 things we learned as Celtics can’t keep pace with Spurs||11.30.14 at 3:31 pm ET|
After another collapse at home on Friday, the Celtics played their second afternoon game of the holiday weekend against the Spurs on Sunday at the TD Garden. Similar to Friday, the Celtics dropped another one in which they remained competitive until late. This time, however, the Spurs’ hot second half led to a 111-89 victory for the road team.
The Celtics high man was Jeff Green with 16 points. He was one of five Celtics in double figures, while Tyler Zeller ripped down 10 rebounds. The Spurs also had five players in double figures, led by Danny Green with 18 points. San Antonio had much deeper contributions than Boston, though, as 10 of their players scored five or more points.
Here are five things we learned in another home loss for the Celtics:
BRAD STEVENS IS NOT AFRAID TO PLAY MATCHUPS
Stevens told the media prior to the game that Zeller would be getting the start at center over the struggling Kelly Olynyk.
The coach felt that the decision was based more on a need for Zeller in this particular game more than anything. When asked why the choice to start Zeller was made, Stevens simply responded, “Defending Tim Duncan would be the obvious answer.”
Although the move may last only one game, Stevens didn’t close the door on Zeller remaining in the starting lineup in the future.
“I look at this as a very temporary thing,” Stevens said before tip-off. “I don’t look at this as a full-time thing, nor do I look at it as something that our guys will over-blow. I just think it makes sense today and we’ll reevaluate things on Tuesday.”
The move may not have paid off exactly how Stevens wanted it too right away — Duncan had six points and two rebounds in the first quarter. However, Zeller was able to neutralize him in a sense, finishing with four points and five rebounds of his own.
In the end, the matchup was almost meaningless. Duncan played only 24 minutes and scored 14 points, while Zeller played only 18 minutes before finding himself on the court during garbage time.
THE CELTICS PLAYED DEFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF
The Celtics entered Sunday’s game ranked 28th in the NBA in opponent points per game, giving up 107.3 through 13 games. It’s safe to say that defense has been a struggle for Boston all season long.
Sunday was a different story. The Celtics kept the Spurs to 45 points in the first half, but it was how they did it that was most impressive. The C’s forced 10 turnovers in the half, blocked four shots and held San Antonio to 39.5 percent shooting. The second quarter swung the game significantly, as the Spurs shot just 29.4 percent and committed seven of their turnovers. The Celtics were able to outscore the Spurs in the second quarter by seven points, 27-20.
THE CELTICS DIDN’T PLAY DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF
After managing just 20 points in the previous quarter, the Spurs came out and scored 17 in the first six minutes of the third. San Antonio finished the period scoring 33 points, just 12 fewer than they had in the entire first half.
Even if you are good enough to stop the Spurs for a portion of the game, they also brought the league’s best defense to town, allowing only 92.7 points per game. Still …
THE CELTICS FOUND WAYS TO SCORE ON THE LEAGUE’S BEST DEFENSE FOR THREE QUARTERS
As they have all season, the Celtics found ways to score the ball. Through three quarters, the Celtics put up 73 points on 44 percent shooting — not great, but not bad. It was enough to keep the Celtics in the game (along with their early defense), as the Spurs shot 44 percent through three quarters as well. An 18-4 Boston run in the second quarter showed what they are capable of when playing their best on both ends of the floor.
However, as we know, basketball is a sport where you play four quarters. The fourth one can be tricky for these Celtics.
THE CELTICS LET ANOTHER ONE SLIP AWAY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER
As they have against the Raptors, Thunder, Cavaliers, Suns, Blazers, Bulls, and now Spurs, the Celtics lost a home game that was close in the fourth quarter.
All seven of those loses have either gone down to the wire, or have been winnable at the start of the fourth quarter on the Celtics’ home floor. Good teams win games in situations like that. Even bad teams win some of those games. But the Celtics couldn’t find a way to win any of them.
Boston only managed 16 fourth quarter points, while the Spurs scored 33 again, as they had in the third quarter. The Spurs’ 66 second half points are everything that is wrong with how the Celtics have played at home this year.
The Celtics have shown they have potential this season. None of it will matter until they prove they can close out a tight game at home.
|Brad Stevens knows Celtics have ‘got to finish’ before they can even think about winning||11.28.14 at 10:27 pm ET|
Winners go for the jugular. Losers allow victory to slip through their hands.
Unfortunately, for Brad Stevens, he’s seeing much too much of the slipping and not enough killer instinct, with Friday’s 109-102 loss to the Bulls the latest example.
There’s a common, unsettling theme developing between Stevens’ rookie season of 25 wins and this season. The Celtics‘ coach watched Friday as a 16-point second-quarter lead evaporated. He then saw his team bounce back as they have so many times this season, taking an 81-72 lead late in the third quarter.
Was Friday finally going to be one of those rare days where the Celtics show the mental toughness to hang on for a quality win like they did on Nov. 8 in Chicago against these same Bulls?
Nope. Not when you shoot 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the final quarter, score 11 points, miss all eight 3-point attempts and convert just one of five free throws. The Celtics, like they did against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Cleveland just crumbled on their own parquet floor.
“I felt good coming into the game,” Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about it. Hey, we scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
After his team fell to 4-9 on the season, losing for the fifth time in six games, Stevens was asked if he’s starting to question what he’s doing based on all the losing.
“We can win by 30 and I’m questioning me,” Stevens said. “This has nothing to do with [score]. I don’t change game to game, as far as my own analysis or being overly critical or any of those types of things.”
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