|Isaiah Thomas: ‘Danny Ainge was 1st person to call me’||11.17.14 at 11:48 pm ET|
Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made at least one attempt at a big-name player of small stature.
Moments after free agency opened on July 1, Ainge called point guard Isaiah Thomas.
“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said, “so if that’s interest, then I guess so.”
Thomas actually missed the call, but exchanged messages with Ainge before his agent Andy Miller took over negotiations. So, was the feeling mutual?
“I was interested in whoever was interested in me,” Thomas added, “so he was definitely a little interested if he was the first one to call me, but they went their ways and I went mine.”
Thomas’ way ultimately took him to Phoenix, where he landed by way of a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings. His agent reportedly reached a four-year, $28 million deal with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who worked under Ainge for 10 seasons before finishing runner-up in the NBA’s Executive of the Year voting in his first season in Phoenix.
|Celtics growing tired of explaining how they’re blowing big leads||11.15.14 at 10:06 am ET|
The Celtics are quickly growing tired of talking about blowing big leads. It’s hard to blame them, but the painful truth is that it’s an ongoing trend that’s obvious to anyone watching them play early on in the 2014-15 season.
And it’s been a trend from the start. Against Brooklyn in the season opener they led 101-72 after three quarters. Brooklyn closed it to 15 before the C’s eventually held off the Nets. Still, they were outscored 33-20 in the fourth and gave up 64 second-half points. It may not have been a concern at the time in a one-game sample, but it’s turned into a troubling trend.
Against the Bulls in Chicago, they led 83-67 after three. They held on for dear life for a 106-101 win. But on Wednesday against the Thunder, it finally caught up with them. The Celtics raced out to an 18-3 lead and led, 51-42, at the half. They were outscored 67-43 in the second half and lost. Friday night, they had their biggest lead going into the fourth quarter, 101-84 against King James and the Cavs. They were outscored 38-20 in the fourth. Against the Nets, Thunder and Cavaliers, they have given up 64, 67, and 63 points, respectively in the second half, losing the last two.
The Celtics are learning that there’s no better way to blow big leads than playing porous defense.
“I’m frustrated by it,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I want to be better at it. I thought our energy and togetherness and sustainability was much better [against Cleveland]. When things went south, we came back. They went up by three; we ended up tying the game. Jeff made a great hustle play to get the free throws. You know if you turned on the TV last night you saw it in at least two games, maybe three — and that happens. You’ve got to play all 48. You’ve got to be great all 48 against this team. And it’s not the same against everybody, but you still have to be on your A-game the whole time.”
‘We just got to win games, point blank, we just got to win,” Jared Sullinger added. “There’s no more lessons, no more moral victories, we just got to win flat out. Kyrie [Irving] made some shots, LeBron made some shots; that’s what great players do. There’s no answers we just got to win. In the NBA, no 15, 20-point lead is safe. You just have to keep playing.”
The immediate reaction by most Friday night was to blame Rajon Rondo for dribbling out the clock and not getting a shot off, the appropriate ending to a self-destruction at the hands of LeBron James and the Cavaliers in a 122-121 loss at TD Garden.
But to the cerebral Brad Stevens, there was much more to his star player not getting up a shot down a point with the game in the balance.
With seven seconds left, coming out of a timeout, Stevens watched as the Cavaliers and James took away the number one option in Jeff Green, forcing Kelly Olynyk to inbound to Jared Sullinger. The big man then dumped it to Rajon Rondo, who was fighting to get free from rookie Joe Harris. The Cavaliers switched Harris off a screen and Shawn Marion was on Rondo for the final four seconds. Then Rondo lost control before dribbling out the clock, firing up an off-balance attempt a full second after time expired.
“Well, we had a couple of different options,” Stevens said. “We had Jeff over the top, which I’d have to look at the film to see if he had LeBron sealed for a lob. Obviously, it’s a little bit riskier of a pass, but we had just thrown it to Jared and then we just had a simple swing to Rondo and our desire was to reject the screen. And he had a good match-up, but Joe Harris did a nice job on him, and we didn’t get a shot off.
“Rondo isolated on a rookie on the right wing. I felt pretty good when he got the ball reversed to him. Again, give Joe Harris a lot of credit. He did a great job on that possession. We were trying to space and rip and drive and play. I told Rondo those plays start with me. I’ll be responsible for that one.”
|LeBron James: Celtics will ‘surprise a lot of teams’||at 2:55 am ET|
“They’re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’re better than what the critics said coming into this season,” said James. “Coach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’re top three in the league in assists; they’re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’s a great brand of basketball.”
For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.
|David Blatt returns home to coach against Celtics, his childhood team||11.14.14 at 8:22 pm ET|
Oh, and LeBron James also decided to return home from Miami, swinging the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in the process.
However, David Blatt may be the newcomer that gets lost in the shuffle. He also happens to be the head coach.
Blatt has a lot to be happy about, considering the greatest played in the world fell into his lap just weeks after earning his first NBA coaching job. But Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., had a homecoming of his own on Friday night, along with a chance to face the team he grew up cheering for.
“You’ll have to excuse me, I’m looking for some familiar faces,” Blatt began his pregame press conference.
Blatt admits that the Celtics have held significant meaning to him since he was a young child growing up just 20 minutes away from the Boston Garden.
“I was a great follower of the Celtics. Bill Russell was my idol, and probably the Celtics‘ teams were the reason that I fell in love with basketball the way that I did,” Blatt proclaimed with a smile from ear to ear.
So what has it been like for someone with no NBA experience to be handed the job of coaching James? Well, Blatt went as far as to compare LeBron to one of his own childhood idols.
“Pleasurable,” the coach said, and with no signs of losing his grin. “Fabulous talent, great basketball IQ. A guy, who like Bill Russell, is about the right things. About winning, about making his teammates around him better, about taking responsibility, about being accountable. He’s a man who respects the game and badly, badly wants to win a championship for Cleveland. What’s not to like?”
Blatt joked with reporters briefly after his press conference was over, making it clear in the process that he was thrilled to be back in his hometown. The only problem?
“I was hoping someone would have brought me some clam chowder,” he quipped.
|Rajon Rondo passes Paul Pierce in career Celtics assists||at 8:04 pm ET|
After stealing the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, Rondo found Kelly Olynyk for a layup 1:27 into the contest, recording his first assist of Friday’s game and the 4,306th of his nine-year career in Boston.
Pierce amassed his 4,305 assists in 1,102 games over 15 seasons on the Celtics. Rondo still trails Larry Bird (5,695 assists in 870 games), John Havlicek (6,114 in 1,270) and Bob Cousy (6,945 in 917) on the career list. Judging by the company he keeps, Rondo’s not so bad.
|Rajon Rondo feels he’s ‘still a long way’ from where he wants to be||11.13.14 at 11:09 am ET|
Wednesday night was an example of what can go wrong when he doesn’t. As a point guard and captain, Rondo has often been responsible for calling out defenses for the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley. Rondo, by his own admission after a 109-94 loss to the Thunder, is still working his way back to form after missing training camp and preseason with a broken bone in his left hand.
“I think around Game 6 for me and still kind of preseason but everything counts,” Rondo said. “I’m still trying to get my rhythm, my wind and my timing with my teammates. I’m still a long way from where I want to be so I’m just going to continue to work.
“I’m OK defensively,” Rondo said. “I think it’s a team effort. I’m just trying to do my job in getting to the ball, contest shots. We didn’t do a great job of that, including myself. [Anthony] Morrow hit some tough shots but we still have to make them more uncomfortable off the ball. Give them credit. They made plays. They made the shots. They had our defense scattered all over the court. They went inside with dunks with Adams. And they went outside with Morrow and [Nick] Collison. They had us all over the place.”
The Helter Skelter defense allowed the Thunder to shoot 62 percent in the second half as the Thunder outscored Boston, 67-43, to cruise to just their third win in nine games.
“We let one slip away,” Rondo said. “They come off a back-to-back. They got in around three in the morning and we’ve been waiting. It’s a disappointing loss but we continue and have to move forward.”
Moving forward means LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers on Friday night at the Garden. The Thunder shot lights out without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Wednesday. Celtics fans shudder to think what might happen if Cleveland’s “Big 3″ get hot Friday.
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