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Brad Stevens envies the ‘beautiful basketball’ of the Atlanta Hawks after seeing it up close and personal 01.15.15 at 10:24 am ET
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Brad Stevens had the perfect model for his players to see Wednesday night. The Atlanta Hawks came in winners of nine straight, despite missing star big man Al Horford and sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

He thought maybe his team would see how Atlanta (31-8) is playing the game right now for their coach Mike Budenholzer and be inspired. He thought wrong.

Not three minutes into the game, Stevens had to call a timeout to remind his young team, still working to learn each other’s game, that he wants them to run basic offense.

“I thought our offense was pretty poor all night, and I think they’€™re obviously a difficult-enough offense to guard,” Stevens said. “But when you give them run-out dunks, it doesn’€™t help anything, and we just turned the ball over too much. Put too much pressure on ourselves to be good in the half-court defensively, and then to come back.

“We had cut it to nine and we were playing with some pretty good energy, but then at the end of the day they made us pay on a few different plays. And they do such a great job of ‘€“ they don’€™t over-dribble, you know? They attack, they space, they pass ‘€“ it’€™s beautiful basketball. They really move the ball well. And I thought we never really got into anything from a movement standpoint. We got pushed out a little bit out of our space and we fumbled the ball all around as a result of that.”

The Celtics responded in the first quarter and managed a 24-24 tie after 12 minutes. But the roof started to cave in when the shots didn’t fall in the second and they could never really recover from a 57-45 halftime hole. Still, it was the start of the game that stuck in Stevens’ craw.

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Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, NBA
Jared Sullinger would rather not change momentum 01.15.15 at 12:45 am ET
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Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

While his team’s double-digit loss to the Hawks came as no surprise — even as Atlanta rested starters Al Horford and Kyle Korver — Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort almost from the opening tip.

“I was really disappointed with our first three minutes of the game,” Stevens said of a timeout that came just 2:38 into Wednesday’s 105-91 loss to the red-hot Hawks. “I’m usually not that disappointed in the first three minutes of the game. I thought it was poorly played on our part.”

Things didn’t get much better over the final 45 minutes, either, as Kelly Olynyk allowed dunk after layup after dunk inside, Tyler Zeller finished 0-for-4 from the floor and Stevens continued to dig deep into his rotation.

“Well, I thought our offense was pretty poor all night, and I think they’re obviously a difficult enough offense to guard,” added Stevens. “But when you give them run-out dunks, it doesn’t help anything, and we just turned the ball over too much.” (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?)

With usual energy boosters Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart struggling to produce, the Celtics desperately needed a game-changer, but only Phil Pressey (7 points, 2 assists) on the end of the bench provided any punch.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, NBA,
5 things we learned as Hawks dominated Celtics 01.14.15 at 10:18 pm ET
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The red hot Hawks came into Boston on Wednesday and extended their winning streak to 10 games, and it wasn’t even close. Playing without Al Horford and Kyle Korver, Atlanta was unfazed and dominated the Celtics, 105-91 (click here for full box score).

DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Teague led the way for the Hawks with 22 points apiece while Avery Bradley led all Celtics in scoring with 17, but failed to score in the fourth quarter.

Here’s five things we learned in a loss that drops the Celtics to 13-24 on the season:

THE HAWKS ARE REALLY GOOD

The Hawks have been silent assassins all season. Atlanta has lost two games since Thanksgiving and have been rolling over the competition in the process. Teams around the league have certainly taken notice, but so far it has yet to change what the Hawks have been doing.

Even without two of their best players, Horford and Korver, the Hawks brought their quiet confidence into Boston and played very well. With names like Mike Muscala, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore playing roles in the rotation and their starters all preforming like equally-talented All-Stars, the Hawks are onto something. Which begs the question: Could the Celtics build a “superstar-less” contender like Atlanta has?

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Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Avery Bradley,
10 trades worth the Celtics’ while: Part 5 01.14.15 at 5:31 pm 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 five.

How active have the Celtics been? Well, since the last post in this series, Ainge has flipped Jameer Nelson to the Nuggets for Nate Robinson, bought Robinson out to save about $1.2 million, and reportedly completed the framework for a deal to ship Austin Rivers to the Clippers for two expiring contracts and a second-round pick. Oh, and the last post in this series was Tuesday morning. So the C’s have been rather busy.

Now Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports is reporting that teams have been showing interest in Marcus Thornton, and by the way things have gone in the last week, that probably means he’s next to go. Thornton’s expiring contract makes him an attractive bench scoring option as a rent-a-player for other teams, but his $8.6 million salary makes it tough to find a match. Even more so when you consider all the effort Ainge has put into clearing cap space for next season in recent trades, meaning it’s unlikely Ainge would take any players he needs to pay next season in return.

Currently (not including Gerald Wallace), Ainge will be paying players all age 25 or younger next season. Each of those players are on relatively nice cost-controlled deals aside from Avery Bradley as well, so it would be tough to see Ainge sacrificing all of that hard work. Which means, of course, more draft picks and expiring contracts in return for Thornton:

RAPTORS GET: Marcus Thornton

CELTICS GET: Landry Fields, Greg Stiemsma and a future second-round pick

The Raptors already have a similar player in Lou Williams, but you can never have enough bench scoring. Admittedly, it was very tough to find a fit for Thornton, and even this one isn’t perfect. Fields and Stiemsma aren’t getting minutes for Toronto, though, so this would give them a proven scorer to insert into the rotation and try and get back into the hunt in the wide open East.

For Boston the trade is as simple as they all have been: get expiring contracts and add a draft pick, which this trade accomplishes. Toronto has their second-rounder in the upcoming 2015 draft, so Boston would be able to see the pick right away if the Raptors agreed upon it.

Another potential fit could be swapping Thornton for Kendrick Perkins, much like an earlier suggested Jeff Green trade, and having the Thunder throw in a second-round pick like the Raptors would in this deal.

It seems as though Ainge is determined to squeeze as much trade value out of any player on his roster that he doesn’t intend to keep beyond this season, so at this point, expect anything from the Celtics’ crafty front office.

Report: Celtics trade Jameer Nelson to Nuggets for Nate Robinson 01.13.15 at 6:49 pm ET
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According to Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Celtics are reportedly shipping Jameer Nelson to Denver in exchange for guard Nate Robinson.

Just one day after making the Jeff Green deal official, Danny Ainge is back at it again. But as Tayshaun Prince is currently negotiating a buyout with Boston, it sounds like we can expect Robinson to do the same. Boston’s motive in the trade was simple, Nelson is under contract next season and Robinson is not. The deal allows the C’s to add even more cap room this summer to a number that was already expected to exceed $30 million. It’s a smart move by Ainge. With Nelson not a part of Boston’s long-term plan, just swapping him for a contract that will come off the books at the end of the season is another win for the Celtics.

Despite Robinson playing a role on the 2010 Celtics team that made it to the NBA Finals, it sounds like he will be unneeded this time around. Spears made reference that the Clippers may be interested in Robinson if he is bought out.

In six games with the Celtics, Nelson averaged 4.8 points and 5.5 assists. However, Nelson did not suit up for the last six games he was in Boston. The point guard was injured at first, but even when healthy, it’s safe to say Ainge was looking to flip Nelson all along considering his DNPs of late.

With Brandan Wright being moved to Phoenix on Friday, Jae Crowder already becomes the only player left that was aquired in the Rajon Rondo trade on Dec 18. Crowder had a career-high 22 points on Monday, so you would think he’s here to stay. But at the rate Ainge is moving, it seems no player is safe.

 

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,
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