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Marcus Smart talks about his much-improved jump shot 01.13.15 at 5:36 pm ET
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Marcus Smart has spent much of his rookie season battling through injuries. Lately, however, Smart has been quietly improving upon one of his biggest weaknesses — his jump shot.

It’s no secret that Smart needs to improve his 3-point shooting. I wrote about it — and why his lack of a shot means he should drive to the hoop more — earlier this season. Even Smart is aware of the criticism of himself, but that doesn’t mean he can’t fix it.

“That was the biggest knock on my game coming into the league was I couldn’t shoot,” Smart said following Monday’s win over the Pelicans. “Over the last 12 or 13 games I think I’ve been shooting the ball well and I’ve been in the gym every day.”

In Smart’s first seven games (five before his ankle injury and two while battling back and playing short minutes), he shot 6-of-28 from downtown for 21.4 percent. In his last 16 games, though, Smart has been much improved. The Oklahoma State product has shot 22-for-52 on 3-pointers, which is good for an impressive 42.3 percent over that span. To put that in perspective, that number would place Smart 11th in the league in 3-point percentage on the season, ahead of Stephen Curry (39.1 percent).

So what’s the cause for his improvement?

“Just trying to stay consistent with jumping straight up and down,” said Smart. “Not floating to the sides, left and right, just try to shoot the same shot. I’ve always known, ever since high school, what my problem was. It was just a matter of getting into the gym and working on it.”

Seems as though the work has paid off for the rookie recently, something his coach has taken notice of.

“He would probably say that he’s worked more deliberately and consistently than he’s ever done before,” Brad Stevens said at Tuesday’s practice. “That’s obviously an emphasis. We talked about it at the beginning of the year. We thought, coming in, that his shot was better than his percentages [Smart shot just 29.9 percent from deep in his final season in college], and we continue to think he’ll make shots.”

If Smart’s development wasn’t clear before Monday’s game, it is now. Up just one with under a minute left, Avery Bradley found Smart in the corner for a potential dagger. Smart knocked the 3-pointer down to clinch the Celtics‘ win without hesitation, something he likely wouldn’t have done just a couple of months ago.

Smart still could benefit from attacking the rim more. At his size — a 6-foot-4, 220 pound point guard — it certainly should be a bigger part of his game, especially since we saw him do it in college. But while he learns to find his way into the paint in the NBA, his new found jump shot is a great sign for Smart’s development going forward. If he can improve upon such a big weakness this early in his career, it makes you think that Marcus Smart has a whole lot of promise ahead of him.

Read More: Marcus Smart,
10 trades worth the Celtics’ while: Part 4 01.13.15 at 9:00 am ET
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A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team — something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is part four.

Well, Danny Ainge is certainly doing a good job of trying to put this series out of ideas. Part one was built on a Rondo trade and parts two and three both featured Jeff Green, who is now a member of the Grizzlies. In the meantime, Ainge also found time to flip Brandan Wright to the Suns, and now begin talks with the Clippers about acquiring Austin Rivers — who was part of the return in the Green deal from the Pelicans. Needless to say, it was a pretty busy weekend for the C’s front office.

One obvious piece remains on this Celtics‘ squad that just doesn’t fit: Brandon Bass. There are limited options out there — the Cavs just added Timofey Mozgov and most of the buyers out West have found deals — but one destination stuck out to me.

BLAZERS GET: Brandon Bass

CELTICS GET: Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright

As great of a teammate as Bass is, he just clearly is no longer of value to the Celtics. The Blazers on the other hand, could definitely use a boost off the bench of Bass’ caliber in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. In return, they give Boston two players that are hardly playing, but from Ainge’s point of view, he gets a free look at a former top-five pick on the last year of his rookie deal in Robinson.

Both Robinson and Wright come as expiring contracts (Wright wouldn’t figure into the rotation at all), so at worst Ainge lets both walk in free agency as he would with Bass. But if Robinson were able to flourish in his last chance to prove himself, Ainge may be able to find a hidden gem if he were to re-sign Robinson on a cheap deal. If the move paid off, Ainge would be adding another youthful asset that he likely otherwise would not have had access to (or a good enough evaluation on to go and sign).

Odds are that the former No. 5 overall pick would move on at season’s end, especially considering Boston seems to like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. But again, if that were the case no harm to Ainge, he simply would clear the cap space he would have anyways when Bass finished up his time in Boston. Nothing fancy here, just a simple trade that seems to make sense for both parties involved.

Read More: Brandon Bass, Thomas Robinson,
Brad Stevens praises Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart after C’s beat Pelicans 01.13.15 at 8:38 am ET
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After a tough road trip filled with trades, the Celtics returned home Monday to collect an impressive victory over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Jared Sullinger was a huge reason why. Sullinger finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, stepping his game up against one of the top young talents in the league.

“I thought today’s a good example of his versatility,” coach Brad Stevens said of Sullinger’s big game. “When we had [Brandon] Bass in the game they usually matched up [Ryan] Anderson on [Sullinger], when we had Kelly [Olynyk] in the game they had to match up [Omer] Asik on [Sullinger]. And so when Asik’s on him he stretched it a little bit, and when Anderson was on him he posted. That’s why, in my opinion, a guy like Jared has to be able to do both if he’s going to be really good. I thought he did a lot of really good things tonight.”

While Sullinger really stood out in the box score, rookie Marcus Smart’s name would not pop if you only looked at the numbers. Smart’s contributions go beyond what’s on the stat sheet. He hit a 3-pointer out of the corner while falling down that clinched the game for the C’s — the most clutch shot of Smart’s career to date.

“He had nothing but zeros at halftime except for two assists and one turnover, and we talked as a staff, we thought he was terrific,” Stevens said of the No. 6 overall pick. “All that other stuff on a stat line isn’t where his impact can be the greatest, and he really made a huge impact, being his hands on balls, being active. I didn’t know coming into the game if he could guard [Tyreke] Evans and I thought he did a decent job on him — he’s a hard guy to guard, too. So he did a lot of great things. And obviously hit a big 3.”

Check out Sullinger’s postgame press conference below, but on a night when his Ohio State Buckeyes won the NCAA football national championship, Sully wanted to be brief so he could rush home for the second half.

Read More: Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart,
Marcus Smart, Jae Crowder carry leadership torch 01.13.15 at 2:01 am ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Whether it’s a direct result of trading Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green or a direct response to those deals, these young Celtics are playing with more purpose than they have all season.

“It’€™s kind of like being a younger brother,” C’s rookie Marcus Smart said following a 108-100 victory against the Pelicans. “You’€™re always told, ‘You can’€™t do this; you’€™ll never do this,’ and you just want to prove them wrong. And that’€™s kind of what we’€™re trying to do.”

Rondo has since admitted to a lack of effort during his final 18 months in Boston, and Green was notorious for showing up one night only to disappear the next. That’s a horrible message for young players, and probably part of the reason they’re gone.

“I’€™d like to see everybody carry the torch,” Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of a void left by trading his two top players, adding: “Everybody has to be a leader, and I’€™ve seen just in recent weeks that there are more voices to be heard and more people that are stepping up and trying to be leaders, and time will tell whether they can be. Sometimes some voices snuff out the voice of others, and we’€™re tying to create a culture where everybody takes ownership and it results in the success of the team.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, NBA
Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens explain Jeff Green trade, uncertain future 01.13.15 at 1:37 am ET
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When Rajon Rondo was shipped out of town just over three weeks ago, Danny Ainge used a key word to describe why — uncertainty. It also seemed to remain the reason Ainge felt the need to ship Jeff Green to Memphis as well.

“I just felt like [it was] a timeline thing,”€ Ainge said prior to Monday’€™s home win over the Pelicans. “€œThe players that we had, the uncertainty of the future and free agency, and [I] felt like we were getting good value in return based on this contract situation.”

The trade doesn’€™t make this current season any easier on coach Brad Stevens, but the coach understands it’€™s a process geared towards the future.

“Losing [Green] three weeks after losing your multiple-time All-Star point guard, there’€™s going to be challenges that come with that,” Stevens said. “That’€™s why you prepare everyone to play and that’€™s why everybody’€™s got this talk about ˜next man up.”

Last year everything was very new to Stevens, especially the trade deadline. Now in his second season in the NBA, Stevens is learning to adapt to what to expect during the rebuild.

“This is about the time last year where we had some –€“ at the time for that team we had some pretty significant moves — with Jordan [Crawford] being traded and Courtney [Lee] being traded,” Stevens reflected. “€œSo there’€™s a little bit of being able to look back and learn from that. I think I learned a lot from the Rondo trade, just as far as not only losing a really good player, but also trying to bring new guys in and get them up to speed as quickly as possible, but also recognizing that you don’€™t have to rebuild Rome in a day.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Danny Ainge, Jeff Green,
5 things we learned in Celtics’ victory over Anthony Davis, Pelicans 01.12.15 at 10:54 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

The Celtics defeated the Pelicans, 108-100, Monday night at TD Garden (click here for the box score).

In a back-and-forth game which featured 14 lead changes, the Celtics finally managed to protect a late lead and seal a victory in the final frame.

Pelicans forward Anthony Davis scored a game-high 34 points, while Jared Sullinger led the way for the Celtics with 24 points and 10 rebounds.

Here are five things we learned in the game:

Davis is a superstar

Given the Celtics’ inability to defend big men, it was expected Davis would dominate. For the first three quarters, the Celtics did a solid job of containing him, limiting him to 21 points, but in the fourth quarter, the NBA’€™s best player not named LeBron James took over, scoring 13 points over the final 12 minutes.

Beyond the box score, Davis impacted the game with his mere presence in the paint at both ends. The Celtics rarely drove the lane out of respect to his shot-blocking ability (three blocks), and in defending the pick and roll, the Celtics overplayed Davis, leaving Eric Gordon alone to score a number of points at the rim.

Sullinger is ready to step up

With the recent trades, Sullinger is now the most talented player on the Celtics. Just like Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green before him, Sullinger was the final Celtic to be announced during introductions. Sullinger had a great night, scoring 27 points on 9-of-17 shooting. He was dominant on the offensive glass, accounting for six of his 10 rebounds. He did an excellent job using his large posterior to keep Davis from getting position deep in the paint.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger,
Celtics finalize Jeff Green trade for a No. 1 pick, Austin Rivers and Tayshaun Prince’s expiring contract 01.12.15 at 11:53 am ET
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The Celtics officially announced the Jeff Green trade for an unidentified future first-round pick, Tayshaun Prince‘s $7.7 million expiring contract and Austin Rivers, son of former C’s coach Doc Rivers.

Green, whose 17.6 points per game currently lead the Celtics, joins a Grizzlies team battling for home-court advantage in the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Memphis sends Quincy Pondexter and a second-round pick to a Pelicans squad in search of a playoff spot.

According to Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski, who first reported the deal, the Celtics will receive a first-round pick from Memphis that won’t come to fruition until 2019 and are expected to send Rivers elsewhere in exchange for a second-round pick and expiring contracts. Surprisingly, the Clippers have been mentioned as a potential trade partner, potentially pairing Rivers with his father in Los Angeles.

Prince’s expiring deal will give the Celtics as much as $30 million in cap space this summer.

Following the trade’s completion, Green posted his appreciation for Boston on Instagram.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jeff Green, NBA,
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