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5 things we learned as Celtics frustrate DeMarcus Cousins, Kings 12.31.14 at 3:22 pm ET
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Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

It was quite a New Year’s Eve party in the Garden on Wednesday afternoon, as DeMarcus Cousins provided the fireworks and Gino started the dance party during the Celtics‘ 106-84 win over the Kings.

A frustrated Cousins (11 points, 11 rebounds) earned his second technical foul of the game in the fourth quarter, but by then it was already Gino Time.

Jared Sullinger led the way with 20 points and 11 rebounds, and fellow Ohio State product Evan Turner added 10 points and 11 rebounds. Kelly Olynyk (15 points), Jae Crowder (12 points) and Marcus Smart (11 points) all scored double-digits off the bench.

Snapping a four-game losing streak, the C’s improved to 11-18, remarkably just three wins out of the Eastern Conference’s No. 8 seed.

FRUSTRATING COUSINS

Asking Celtics center Tyler Zeller to curb Kings counterpart DeMarcus Cousins‘ production was a tall order on New Year’s Eve, but Zeller drank in the challenge, causing all sorts of problems for Cousins. The Sacramento star missed eight of his first nine shots and earned his first technical foul for his trouble. Cousins still got his double-double, of course, but Zeller’s early effort helped the Celtics establish a 49-39 halftime lead.

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Irish Coffee: Just how bad did Rajon Rondo want out? 12.30.14 at 12:23 pm ET
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Despite his league-leading assists average, former Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo wasn’t the player over the past season we came to know during three trips to the Eastern Conference finals from 2008-12. That much is certain.

Rondo’s true shooting dipped to an alarmingly low level in 2014-15 (career-worst 42.2 percent), and his performance on the other end was no longer all-defensive worthy. As a result, the Celtics proved better both offensively and defensively without him on the court, per Basketball Reference.

While Rondo’s decline at the age of 28 appeared a result of a player once reliant on slicing and scrapping his way into the restricted area still struggling to recover both physical and mentally from a serious knee injury, there have been rumblings in the fortnight since his trade that the regression might have been the result of another factor entirely: Effort.

“He’s always up to stuff when he’s locked in, and I think that’s the guy that Dallas is getting,” Grantland editor-in-chief Bill Simmons told writer Zach Lowe during their podcast last week. “In Boston, he would just give up the ball and just stand there, and I do think they had to trade him. It was too bad that was the way it worked out, not just from what we were seeing from the games, but from what I was hearing. In practice, when you have your guy who’s the unquestioned best guy on the team and the quote unquote ‘leader’ of the team, and he’s just not going hard in practice at all, that puts a coach who is trying to get through to young players in a really bad spot. And I think they knew they had to trade him.”

That’s new information, and while some hearsay can be discarded as the customary smear campaigning from Boston teams in the wake of major trades, Simmons’ sources aren’t the only ones dropping hints.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Dallas Mavericks, NBA, Rajon Rondo
With Rajon Rondo gone, Marcus Smart still isn’t quite ready to be ‘the guy’ yet 12.26.14 at 11:25 pm ET
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Friday marked just the second start in the NBA career of 20-year-old Marcus Smart.

It’s no wonder he isn’t quite ready to assume complete control of the Celtics‘ offense, even with the deck cleared following the trade of Rajon Rondo to Dallas last week.

Smart worked hard Friday (5 points, 6 assists in 31 minutes) but it wasn’t enough in the end as the Celtics fell to the Brooklyn Nets, 109-107.

“A lot of confidence, actually,” Smart said. “It just shows I’m getting back to the player that I was in the preseason and getting back to what this team needs, energy-wise, on the defensive end, and just trying to help my team.”

But asked if he’s ready to assume the role of Rondo, Smart stopped short of that complete commitment.

“Not really. I don’t feel like there’s a guy on this team,” Smart said. “Everybody’s the guy because you never know on any given night, it can be somebody’s night.

“It’s a lot. It’s a lot that comes with it but obviously, I’ve done a lot in my life and throughout my whole career through basketball to prepare me for this type of situation and to just to do whatever I can to help this team come out with victories.”

Still, only at 20, he’s earning the respect of his peers around the NBA. Take Kevin Garnett. KG fell on top of him while scrambling for a loose ball in the third quarter. After Smart got the ball ahead on the break, Garnett tapped him on the backside for his hustle on the floor. Afterward, Garnett said he was “trying to trip his ass.”

“Knowing KG, I wouldn’t be surprised,” Smart said. “The guy goes hard. That’s who KG is and that’s why a lot of guys respect him.”

Smart could laugh because he’s becoming more and more comfortable assuming command of his team.

‘€œFelt very comfortable. Practiced the other day helped that. Went over some plays and getting guys in the right spots so I was able to know where guys were going to be and try to find them today.’€

Smart found out on Christmas Day that he was starting on Friday.

“Coach [Brad Stevens] called me before practice and told me that I was going to be starting and just to keep bringing the energy,” Smart said.

“Both, practice time and conditioning. With an injury you tend to sit on the sideline and your conditioning goes and its easy to get out of shape then it is to get into shape. Getting those minutes and practice time has put me back into the shape that I was in in the preseason.’€

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett, KG
Kevin Garnett says winning in Boston with Rajon Rondo made Celtics ‘infinite’ 12.26.14 at 10:32 pm ET
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In many ways, coming back to TD Garden was surreal and odd for Kevin Garnett Friday afternoon.

It was the first time the 38-year-old future hall of famer has been back to Boston since the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo away to the Dallas Mavericks. And it might be the last time he gets a standing ovation from the Garden crowd that had a love affair with his game for six unforgettable seasons in Celtic green.

After Garnett’s Nets managed to escape with a 109-107 win over the Celtics, Garnett reflected on playing a Boston team that no longer has any members of the 2008 championship squad.

“I’ve been getting a lot of ‘Rest in peace’ texts and stuff, so I had to change my number,” Garnett said. “It’s all good, though. We’re infinite. Once you win once, you win forever.”

Garnett didn’t have a big role in Brooklyn’s win. He had just six points and four rebounds in 17 minutes and didn’t play the final 17 minutes in which the Nets rallied from a 12-point deficit to win.

Before Friday’s game, he received a standing ovation in the dark from the fans who came out to see him play in Boston for perhaps the last time in his career.

“It’s always love here,” said Garnett. “It’s always an appreciation that I can never give back, other than the salute. Winning is infinite. And I’ll always have that special relationship with this city.”

Garnett admitted that he has indeed given some thought to the end of the road coming at the end of this season and that Friday might have been his swan song in Boston.

“At this stage it’s always somewhere lurking in the back, probably whether I admit it or not,” Garnett said. “But, if I’m being truthful with you, sometimes [I do think about it]. Seeing Paul [Pierce] the other day, he was in town to play the Knicks and we had a conversation. So, at this stage, we know that things are not taken for granted, but more appreciated. It crosses [my mind], I wouldn’t lie about that.”
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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Kevin Garnett, Marcus Smart
Fourth-quarter dud leads to Celtics’ loss to Nets 12.26.14 at 3:37 pm ET
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If the Celtics had a Christmas hangover, they could only hide it for three quarters. Headaches and nausea spread throughout the sellout crowd at the TD Garden after the Celtics squandered an 11-point lead during the fourth quarter of their Friday matinee against the Nets, eventually losing, 109-107 (box score).

For a complete recap, click here.

Jared Sullinger had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds, but he missed a fallaway jumper after receiving a full-court pass from Gerald Wallace.

After the game, Sullinger recognized he missed a great opportunity.

“That’s the best shot you can get. 1.5 seconds on the clock and that close to the rim. Gerald [Wallace] threw a hell of a pass and I’ve just got to make it.”

With stars Deron Williams and Brooke Lopez playing limited minutes, Jarret Jack led the way for the Nets, netting a game-high 27 points. Jack did an excellent job coming off picks and knocking down mid-range jumpers. With 28 seconds left, Jack hit an impressive shot from 13 feet to put the Nets up for good.

While Jack was impressive, NBA journeyman and the Nets’ eighth man, Alan Anderson, stole the game from the Celtics. Playing the entire fourth quarter, Anderson was instrumental in a 11-2 run that tied the game midway through the final period. Anderson scored 10 of his points in the final frame, most notably a devastating and demoralizing game-tying 3-pointer.

In the first three quarters, the Celtics appeared to be in control. Jeff Green had 22 points, while four of his teammates also notched double figures. Green did most of his damage early, hitting five of his six first-quarter shots. Avery Bradley, who has struggled with his jump shot all season, took the reins during the second quarter, scoring seven points during a key 10-2 run.

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Report: Julius Randle’s exclusion stalled Rondo-to-Lakers talks 12.23.14 at 3:46 pm ET
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In his weekly power rankings, Yahoo! Sports reporter Marc Spears dropped an interesting nugget.

The Lakers and Celtics had mutual interest for a Rajon Rondo deal, but the Lakers weren’€™t willing to give up injured rookie Julius Randle, a source said.

A previous report from Yahoo’s Adrian Wojnarowski suggested the Lakers offered Steve Nash‘s expiring $9.7 million expiring contract and Houston’s 2015 first-round pick in exchange for Rondo.

Likewise, USA Today’s Sam Amick reported an offer that would have sent Jordan Hill, a first-rounder and presumably Nash to Boston in exchange for Rondo and Jeff Green going back to L.A. (although Hill owns Bird rights approval of a trade and can’t be dealt until Jan. 15).

Either way, it’s noteworthy that the Celtics discussed trading their captain to the rival Lakers before ultimately sending him to Dallas. The trade talks also suggest Rondo’s breakfast with Kobe Bryant during the Lakers’ most recent visit to Boston was more than “just two [expletives] having breakfast.” It would’ve been fascinating had the Lakers been willing to include Randle in a potential deal.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Julius Randle, Los Angeles Lakers, NBA
Danny Ainge on why he traded Rajon Rondo 12.20.14 at 1:55 am ET
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Here’€™s the first question Danny Ainge was asked in his press conference prior to Friday’€™s game: “Why did you trade Rajon Rondo?”

Ainge’€™s answer was brief, “€œThere was a definite uncertainty into what may happen this summer. So that was a big factor.”

That’€™s all Ainge initially said on trading away his largest asset for what will presumably be a late first-round pick in 2016 and a second-rounder in that same draft, as well as a few misfit parts. Those few words tell us everything we need to know, though.

Ainge believed Rondo was going to bolt in free agency and didn’€™t want to lose him for nothing, so he traded him. It was the right move, plain and simple.

However, uncertainty remained a key word.

“We like the players that we got in the trade,”€ Ainge expanded. “€œBut, listen, I think that with [Rondo’€™s] impending free agency and uncertainty of what may happen this summer, I think that gave us the impetus of wanting to do a deal.”

Ainge was later asked how long these uncertainties had existed regarding Rondo’€™s future in Boston.

“Oh, I think that there’€™s been uncertainty for a while,”€ Ainge said. “You know, as to what kind of team we’€™d be able to put together. We tried this summer to get some significant players in, unsuccessfully, and there’€™s a price that we won’€™t go [to], either. [A price] that we won’€™t pay for any player in order to make that happen this past summer.

“At the same time, there’€™s been uncertainty as to what [Rondo’€™s] future would be, and there’€™s been uncertainty as to how he would return and how he’€™d come back and play [after tearing his ACL]. Yeah, I think he’€™s understood that, and I’€™ve understood that and we’€™ve talked about it.”

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Read More: Danny Ainge, Rajon Rondo,
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