|Brad Stevens knows Celtics have ‘got to finish’ before they can even think about winning||11.28.14 at 10:27 pm ET|
Winners go for the jugular. Losers allow victory to slip through their hands.
Unfortunately, for Brad Stevens, he’s seeing much too much of the slipping and not enough killer instinct, with Friday’s 109-102 loss to the Bulls the latest example.
There’s a common, unsettling theme developing between Stevens’ rookie season of 25 wins and this season. The Celtics‘ coach watched Friday as a 16-point second-quarter lead evaporated. He then saw his team bounce back as they have so many times this season, taking an 81-72 lead late in the third quarter.
Was Friday finally going to be one of those rare days where the Celtics show the mental toughness to hang on for a quality win like they did on Nov. 8 in Chicago against these same Bulls?
Nope. Not when you shoot 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the final quarter, score 11 points, miss all eight 3-point attempts and convert just one of five free throws. The Celtics, like they did against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Cleveland just crumbled on their own parquet floor.
“I felt good coming into the game,” Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about it. Hey, we scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
After his team fell to 4-9 on the season, losing for the fifth time in six games, Stevens was asked if he’s starting to question what he’s doing based on all the losing.
“We can win by 30 and I’m questioning me,” Stevens said. “This has nothing to do with [score]. I don’t change game to game, as far as my own analysis or being overly critical or any of those types of things.”
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|Celtics go ice-cold in matinee loss to Bulls||at 3:25 pm ET|
Another big first half lead. Another would-be win turned into a loss as the Celtics were outscored 24-11 in the fourth quarter and fell to the Chicago Bulls, 109-102, Friday afternoon in a matinee contest at TD Garden. Jimmy Butler hit four key free throws while the Celtics went ice cold from the field as Boston fell to 4-9 on the season. The Bulls, who outscored the Celtics, 55-42 in the second half, gained a measure of revenge for Boston’s stunning win in Chicago earlier in the month.
Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 rebounds while Avery Bradley added 18 points. Rajon Rondo finished just two points, three rebounds and one assist shy of a triple-double but missed two key free throws late as the Celtics lost for the fifth time in six games.
“I felt good coming into the game,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about, We scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
The game was highly entertaining, with plenty of back-and-forth.
Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose (hamstring) both overcame nagging injuries to start the game but it was an aggressive Celtics‘ dose of Bradley and Sullinger that proved to be painful for the visitors early on. Bradley hit his first three shots while Sullinger connected on three of his first four as the Celtics built a 16-point lead (54-38) midway through the second quarter.
But the Bulls finished the first half on a 16-6 run to cut it to 60-54 at the half. Brandon Bass came off the bench to score 11 points and haul in six rebounds to power Boston while Pau Gasol had 11 points to lead the Bulls.
The Bulls continued their charge in the third quarter, Rose connected on a three just four minutes into the third to tie the game, 68-68. Jimmy Butler’s 15-foot pull-up jumper gave Chicago its first lead since 6-4, capping a 16-8 run to open the second half.
The Celtics regained a measure of control late in the third quarter, going on a 15-6 spurt. Bradley scored the final 10 points in the run for Boston, which led 83-76 on Bradley’s layup with 1:54 left in the period.
The Bulls closed the Celtics‘ lead to 91-85 heading into the fourth quarter. Boston would shoot just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) in the final 12 minutes, scoring just 11 points.
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|Magic 9-Ball: Rajon Rondo Trade Barometer v2.0||11.18.14 at 1:33 pm ET|
Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.
RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE
Eight appearances into his contract season, the Celtics captain remains equal parts brilliant and baffling. In one breath, we can confidently say there’s never been another NBA player like Rajon Rondo, and in the next we rail against his three straight missed free throws in the final seconds of a two-possession game.
Rondo is averaging 11.6 assists, 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds for a Celtics (3-6) squad that arguably should have won its last six games. The only player to produce those numbers over a full season was Oscar Robertson, who did so twice for a middling Cincinnati Royals team as a 6-foot-5 point guard in a league featuring just nine teams in the 1960s. Half a century later, a 6-foot-1 Rondo leads all 30 teams in assists per game, assist opportunities per game (21.6) and points created by assists per game (27.1), according to NBA.com’s stat tool.
Yet, it’s somehow reasonable to expect even more from Rondo. His 30 percent free throw shooting (6-20 FT) is the league’s worst among players who have attempted 10 or more free throws this season. While his jump shooting from the elbows had risen well above the league average prior to his ACL surgery, he’s seemingly reverted to the version of himself who was timid attempting jumpers earlier in his career.
|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.
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