|Al Horford drops 20 points in win over Timberwolves||03.15.17 at 10:55 pm ET|
For the first time since Jan. 25, Al Horford scored 20 points.
Horford, who entered Wednesday night’s game averaging just under 14 points (13.9) a night, was not only his team’s second leading scorer but took some initiative on offense and turned in his best game as a member of the Celtics in a 117-104 win over the Timberwolves.
Horford’s scoring has easily been the biggest knock about his game this year. It’s been five years since the Celtics’ four-year, $113 million man has averaged fewer than 15 points a night. But if Wednesday was an indication of what’s to come later on, the franchise’s biggest free-agent signing could pay off in the post season.
He finished 9-of-12 from the floor and was an immediate impact on offense from start to finish alongside Thomas as the C’s shot 54.4 percent and finished with 34 assists.
Isaiah Thomas (27) and Horford combined for 47 points. Horford, who flirted with a triple-double, led the Celtics in rebounding (9) and assists (8), Avery Bradley added 18 points and Marcus Smart (5 assists) and Kelly Olynyk each chipped in 10 points off the bench.
Ricky Rubio’s 23 points and 7 assists led the Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins scored 18 points, Shabazz Muhammad led the bench with 21 and Karl-Anthony Towns notched a double-double (17 points, 14 rebounds).
In a seesaw, neck-and-neck entertaining first half, the Timberwolves grabbed control of the tempo by grabbing the first double-digit lead of the night halfway through the second quarter (46-36). That’s when the Celtics’ leading scorer took control of the offense.
|Two years later, Rajon Rondo trade goes down as one of Danny Ainge’s greatest deals||03.13.17 at 4:47 pm ET|
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.
|Were Celtics that good or Bulls that bad? Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon discuss Sunday’s romp||03.12.17 at 7:19 pm ET|
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.
|Blowout win against Bulls proves why the Celtics’ defense makes all the difference||03.12.17 at 5:46 pm ET|
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.
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.
|After less-than-inspiring loss to Nuggets, Celtics find themselves in dogfight for second seed||03.11.17 at 9:25 am ET|
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.
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.
|Celtics prove they’re better than Warriors (for one night, anyway)||03.09.17 at 7:12 am ET|
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.
Fairly spirited M-V-P chant for Thomas. Might be the first one for an opposing player I've heard here since Kobe was still great
— Ethan Strauss (@SherwoodStrauss) March 9, 2017
“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.
|Isaiah Thomas admits he must keep emotions in check following outburst aimed at Brad Stevens||03.08.17 at 3:47 pm ET|
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.
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