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Celtics remain unbeaten with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley backcourt 02.05.14 at 9:33 pm ET
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The Celtics hadn’t won two games in a row since Dec. 13 and 16, gathering Ping Pong balls as they slid down the NBA standing over the past month, but the C’s improved to 2-0 with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley in the starting backcourt.

Rondo approached triple-double territory (8 points, 11 assists, 9 rebounds), Bradley contributed 14 points before tweaking his ankle again and the two combined for five steals in a 114-108 victory against the host 76ers.

Jeff Green led all scorers with 36 points, helping the Celtics (17-33) avenge last week’s buzzer-beating loss to Philadelphia (15-35) in the Garden. Jared Sullinger (19 points, 10 rebounds, third straight double-double), Brandon Bass (18 points) and Jerryd Bayless (11 points) also reached double figures.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Backcourt’s back: After missing two weeks with an ankle injury, Bradley  picked up where he left off, scoring 17 points in his return on Sunday and reaching double figures against the Sixers within the game’s first 10 minutes. Despite playing four seasons together, Bradley and Rondo haven’t even started in the same backcourt for half a season’s worth of games. How that duo performs the rest of the way could dictate whether they remain teammates for years to come. The early returns are positive — on both sides of the ball, as Bradley and Rondo also helped keep Michael Carter-Williams (11 points) and Evan Turner (12 points) in check.

Green thumbs up: Likewise, Green showed signs of the uber-athletic potential everyone imagined in his pairing with Rondo. Green had a baker’s dozen by halftime, and Rondo assisted on three of his five field goals — including back-to-back buckets during a 10-0 run that helped the Celtics establish a nine-point lead just before halftime. Green’s confidence tends to build momentum when he’s involved early, and Rondo may help make that a trend.

Sharing the wealth: Actually, just about everybody benefited from Rondo’s presence. The C’s assisted on 13 of their 14 first-quarter field goals, taking a 34-23 lead after one, and finished the first half with 19 dimes on 23 FGs. Rondo had nine of the 19. While the Sixers made their runs to cut into the advantage — even taking the lead in the second quarter — the Celtics‘ execution on the offensive end helped keep them at bay.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Awkward KlynykKelly Olynyk continues to endure some growing pains. Brad Stevens severely limited the rookie’s minutes during an all-around poor performance. In one tough-to-watch stretch, a Philadelphia shot clock violation bailed him out of biting on a Spencer Hawes up-fake from beyond the arc, and then he committed a horrific turnover in transition. He finished with one point and two giveaways in 12 minutes.

Sloppy second: Stevens rested Rondo with a seven-point lead midway through the second quarter, and the 76ers immediately rattled off a 10-2 run that included a pair of Carter-Williams buckets in his absence. The stagnant C’s were forced to bring back the still recovering Rondo after just three minutes. Through three quarters, the Celtics outscored the Sixers 68-57 with Rondo on the floor while Philly owned a 25-20 advantage with him on the bench.

Avery’s ankle: Bradley tweaked his ankle again late in the fourth quarter and sat the final 3:16. After his performance alongside Rondo the last two games, any more missed time would be another devastating blow.

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Irish Coffee: Rajon Rondo, financial planning for NBA free agency and a Celtics conspiracy that just makes cents 01.31.14 at 5:49 pm ET
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Celtics captain Rajon Rondo is due $12.9 million next season — the final year of a five-year, $55 million extension he signed in October 2009 — and the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement makes any suggestion he’d rather test the free agency waters than sign another longterm extension an obvious one.

In the simplest terms, Rondo stands to make twice as much money on his next contract if he becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2015. So, when he tells reporters, “I may want to go through” free agency, as he did after Friday’s practice, who can blame him? For years, Paul Pierce said the same, because it makes financial sense.

The following timeline — cobbled together using Larry Coon’s NBA Salary Cap FAQ and input from the Celtics front office — details what max contract Rondo can sign at different points over the next 18 months, and should help explain why Rondo won’t sign an extension this season and may not end up signing one next season.

(Even if Rondo doesn’t ultimately sign for max dollars, which he probably won’t, this exercise should still demonstrate the vast difference in money available to him at various times in his near future.)

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Kris Humphries and the faces of Celtics death 01.30.14 at 1:23 am ET
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The Celtics hit a new low with a buzzer-beating loss to the 76ers. They’ve lost four in a row, wrapping up January with a 2-15 record after losing to the only team that stood between them and the Atlantic Division basement.

Other than that, how was the play, Mrs. Lincoln?

On the bright side, the Celtics have three days off before traveling to Orlando to take on one of two teams that owns a worse record than them in the entire NBA, and somehow they’re only 5.5 games behind the hapless Eastern Conference’s eighth-seeded Bobcats (THE EIGHTH-SEEDED BOBCATS!). Oh, and the C’s possess a 15.6 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, a 46.9 percent at a top-three pick and a 96.4 percent chance at a top-five pick on the night Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins scored a season-high 29 points on 16 shots. So, there’s that.

Here’s how various Celtics are dealing with their dire situation heading into the final 10 weeks of the season.

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Fast Break: Evan Turner buzzer-beater sinks Celtics 01.29.14 at 9:59 pm ET
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Neither team seemed all that interested in winning — as the Celtics and Sixers combined for six missed free throws down the stretch before Hamilton product Michael Carter-Williams finally made one to tie the game at 92-92 in the final minute — but another free throw and Evan Turner‘s running layup at the buzzer negated a Kris Humphries jumper and put an end to a 95-94 Philadelphia victory that sunk the C’s to the bottom of the Atlantic Division.

Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 24 points and 17 rebounds while Jeff Green (18 points), Humphries (13), Brandon Bass (11) and Jerryd Bayless (10) all reached double figures, but the C’s (15-33) dropped their 19th game in 22 tries. Here’s what went right and wrong in another loss loss.

WHAT WENT WRONG

No-go Rondo: For the second straight back-to-back, the Celtics rested Rajon Rondo in the second game, and the timing of both seemed a bit odd, particularly Wednesday. Not because Rondo should have played twice in two days, since he’s still experiencing some swelling in his knee, but because the second game (at Wizards and hosting 76ers) appeared infinitely more winnable than the first (in both Miami and New York) with him in the lineup. The C’s actually beat the Wizards without Rondo, but his presence against Philly would’ve a) helped counter the length of Michael Carter-Williams and b) given Boston fans another chance to see the All-Star point guard.

Worst first: The Celtics scored 26 first-quarter points, led by a baker’s dozen from Green, and held the Sixers to 29.6 percent shooting in the opening 12 points — yet only led by three after one. The C’s allowed five offensive boards and committed seven turnovers in the frame, leading to 10 of Philadelphia’s 23 points.

Phil pressing: After totaling 20 points and four assists in a victory against the Wizards in his previous start, rookie point guard Phil Pressey didn’t have the same luck opposite the 6-foot-6 Carter-Williams. Pressey finished just 1-of-7 from the floor (2 points) and committed five turnovers before Stevens yanked him for Bayless down the stretch.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Green with envy: For whatever reason, the self-described “[expletive]-hole Jeff Green showed up against the 76ers. Both Green and Philadelphia forward Thaddeus Young were mentioned as potential trade chips in the Omer Asik discussions earlier this season, and a lot of folks were pegging Young as the more valuable chip. It’s unclear whether that was Green’s motivation or not, but it sure seemed like it.

Sully bully: Soon after the pregame announcement that both Sullinger and rookie Kelly Olynyk were selected to the Rising Stars Challenge, Celtics coach Brad Stevens called his sophomore forward to the mat. “œOne thing I challenged him on is not accepting being a 22-year-old in the league,” he said. “We’€™re in a unique situation where we’€™re asking some of our young guys to be leaders. My thing to him is for our team to grow, you almost have to play a few years ahead of where you are.” Despite an injury to his shooting hand that limited him to an average of 5.3 points and 4.0 rebounds over his previous three games, Sullinger responded with his first double-double in a week.

Nice Johnson: On his second 10-day contract, Chris Johnson continues to earn what should be a minimum salary contract for the remainder of the season. On what seems like sheer effort alone, he’s made an impact in just about ever game in which he’s appeared. His first fourth-quarter triple drew the Celtics even for the first time since early in the second quarter; in the next two minutes, he assisted on a Green 3-pointer that gave the C’s a three-point lead and drilled another 3 that doubled it. He also added a handful of assists and rebounds.

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Celtics sign Chris Johnson to second 10-day contract 01.28.14 at 11:01 am ET
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As expected after Chris Johnson tweeted, “off to New York,” the Celtics have signed the 23-year-old swingman to a second consecutive 10-day contract.

In four appearances for the undermanned C’s, Johnson has impressed, averaging 10.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 26.8 minutes while filling in for Avery Bradley (ankle), Jerryd Bayless (toe) and Keith Bogans (just chilling). Bayless is expected to return to the Celtics lineup on Tuesday.

Johnson’s first 10-day contract expired after Sunday’s loss to the Nets, and his signing to a second such deal prior to Tuesday’s game will keep him on the roster for the next four games against New York, Philadelphia (twice) and the Magic.

On Feb. 6, the Celtics will be faced with a decision on whether to sign the Dayton product for the remainder of the season or let him walk, since players are limited to two consecutive 10-day contracts for the same organization.

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Video: Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett come home 01.27.14 at 3:33 pm ET
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“I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”

When it comes to covering basketball in Boston, it doesn’t get much better than Sunday night. I could wax poetically about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett and their legacies as Celtics, which I attempted to do in this column, but this 15-minute video sums it up better than any words I could put together on a page. Enjoy.

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Tommy Heinsohn on M&M: Paul Pierce ‘just an outstanding guy to be around’ at 1:28 pm ET
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Tom Heinsohn (AP)

Tom Heinsohn

CSNNE Celtics analyst Tommy Heinsohn talked with Mut & Merloni on Monday about the tributes for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett during Sunday’€™s game at TD Garden. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Heinsohn enjoyed the tributes for Garnett and Pierce, saying it exemplified what they and the team stood for.

“€œLast night with these two great players that brought a championship to Boston exhibited over their careers what the Celtics organization was and has been for many many years; full of spirit, teamwork, and accomplishment,”€ Heinsohn said.

Heinsohn recalled watching how Pierce grew not only as a player but as a person in his time with the Celtics.

“€œI’ve watched him grow as a person, as a player, accept all the challenges that anyone could hope to meet,”€ Heinsohn said. “Take the last shot at games, willingly. Really enjoyed being in that position, and the real tribute to him was when he was named captain and how he went about fulfilling that role. He was a very dedicated guy and worked at his craft all the time. Not just at the basketball end of it, but at the person side of it.”

Added Heinsohn: “He was around all those banners when he first came in, and I coached after the [Bill] Russell era and saw players come in and look up at the banners and the rafters and it became both a blessing and a curse. They feel privileged to play for the Celtics but they also know that they have to live up to the standards, and Paul Pierce certainly did that and recognized what those standards were. Just was an outstanding guy to be around.”

While Garnett was only a Celtic for six years, Heinsohn believes he always had the Celtic attitude and should have his number retired by the organization one day.

“He was totally focused,” Heinsohn said. “When he’€™d come out on the basketball court there was nothing else in his mind but winning a basketball game. And it wasn’t about him, it was about winning. He wasn’t there to score the most points or do anything else, he was there to be the supreme teammate, to excel in what he did best to help win a game and that embodied the Celtics spirit of the teams I played with and coached.”

Added Heinsohn: “€œWhen you see the impact he had on that team, he belongs up there. It was just at a chance that he ended up some place else, because he had the Celtic attitude as soon as he stepped on a basketball court in the NBA.”

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