|Raptors view Celtics as threat in Atlantic Division||11.06.14 at 9:40 am ET|
The Raptors flipped a 34-48 record and a last-place finish in the Atlantic Division in 2012-13 to a 48-34 ledger and a division crown in the third year of the Dwane Casey coaching era last year. With headstrong 28-year-old point guard Kyle Lowry and burgeoning young shooting guard DeMar DeRozan in the fold, they cemented themselves as the Atlantic favorites for years to come.
The Celtics are hoping to replicate Toronto’s turnaround behind their own headstrong 28-year-old point guard Rajon Rondo and burgeoning young shooting guard Avery Bradley in the second year of coach Brad Stevens‘ tenure.
The Raptors are recognizing their effort.
“They’re definitely very talented,” DeRozan said after scoring 23 points on 25 shots in a 110-107 win in Boston. “They’ve got a great coach. They’ve got a hell of a point guard in Rondo. They’re still learning and still growing. You’ve got a talented kid in [Marcus] Smart, so they definitely have a chance and we definitely have to look for them, especially in our division.”
Including the preseason, the Celtics and Raptors have faced each other three times, twice battling to the final possession. The C’s outplayed Toronto in almost every facet of Wednesday’s game — shooting 51.3 percent from the field, grabbing 31 more rebounds and leading by as many as 16 points — but committed 28 turnovers, most of which were unforced.
When asked if he viewed the Celtics as a threat in the Atlantic Division, Lowry didn’t hesitate.
“Yeah,” he said, even after dropping 35 points on 17 shots on their backcourt. “The way they play, they play so hard, man. You just have to tip your hat to how they play. They’re well coached, and they have some talented young pieces. They’ve got an NBA champion over there, so they’ve got some pieces and players who know how to get the job done.”
|Rajon Rondo gives himself 79 percent chance to play Wednesday||10.27.14 at 1:48 pm ET|
All preseason long Brad Stevens has been unwilling to place a percentage on the chances that his star point guard, Rajon Rondo, will be available on opening night. Rondo is just over four weeks into his recovery from surgery on a broken left hand, but he seems to be way ahead of schedule despite the coach’s hesitancy to announce his return.
“There’s a lot of ifs there,” Stevens said regarding Rondo’s status prior to Monday’s practice. “I’d still say he’s somewhere in the realm of questionable, but it certainly looks like all signs have been moving forward.”
If you know Rondo, then you know he is a much more of a precise type of guy.
So what percentage would Rondo place on himself to play on opening night? “Probably 79 [percent] right now,” he concluded Monday.
Obviously, Rondo was asked to expand on his answer: “I feel good, it’s just that contact is a completely different thing if I land on it.” Rondo went on to explain that he has only been through one practice with contact so far, but has not landed on or been hit on the hand. Rondo did admit that he had gotten it tangled up in a jersey, however, it caused him no pain or issues.
“He was good on Friday,” Stevens said of the lone contact practice that Rondo referred to. “He’ll go full again [on Monday], then I think he’s going to re-see the doctors [on Tuesday], maybe Wednesday morning.
“It’s going to be about how he feels,” Stevens ultimately offered. “So if he goes through the next couple of days without pain and feels really good and the doctors give him clearance, then he’ll be good to go.”
So what could Rondo’s minutes look like on Wednesday?
“If he were to play as early as this week then I would probably play him in shorter stints, but still play him quite a bit,” said Stevens. “Obviously you want him to get a flow and rhythm, but when we’re talking about five- or six-minute stints, that’s plenty of time.”
On Rondo’s overall minutes per game, Stevens said: “I think we’ll probably play it as is once he’s ready to play. Again, it has not been a conditioning issue because he’s been able to run the whole time.”
It’s still too early to jump to any conclusions and rule Rondo a go for Wednesday, but his status clearly looks much more optimistic than anticipated. The original prognosis of 6-8 weeks suggested that Rondo would miss between 4-10 regular-season games, so simply the fact that he has a chance of playing in the first game is impressive.
Seventy-nine percent is a high number, though — and it seems to be getting higher every day. Without being overly optimistic, it feels like there’s a great chance we hear Rondo’s name announced when it’s time for the starting lineups on Wednesday night.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Celtics practice notes: Rajon Rondo improves, Jeff Green returns, rotation starts coming together||10.14.14 at 2:01 pm ET|
The Celtics kicked off the preseason with a busy stretch of four games in just six nights. They since have had an off day, then practice resumed on Monday and Tuesday in Waltham leading up to Wednesday’s game against the Raptors in Maine.
Here are some notes from prior to Tuesday’s practice.
Rajon Rondo shows improvement
Rondo has been on the court shooting the ball prior to each preseason game, which is a very good sign. He also has been doing ball handling with his broken left hand (with a brace on it). All signs point to Rondo being right on schedule in his recovery, if not ahead of schedule.
“We’ve increased his conditioning within workouts,” Brad Stevens said. “So what we’ve done is, the last couple of days, we’ve actually worked him out with a couple of other guys early in a small group. And then he’ll do all of the non-contact stuff in our workout, which [Tuesday] will be most of the workout. So that’ll be good. He’s getting there, it’s just a matter of he can’t be involved in contact.”
Jeff Green returns from calf injury
Green has been practicing this week, and Stevens indicated he will be in shape to play against Toronto.
“Yeah, he’ll play [Wednesday],” Stevens said. “That’ll be part of his conditioning.”
With the emergence of Evan Turner so far this preseason, Stevens would like to find ways to get Turner and Green on the court at the same time now that Green is back. It’s something Turner sees going well.
“I think Jeff and I have a good rapport,” Turner said. “It’s all about communication, and once again, [Green] is our go-to-guy. I just want to play, so whatever he wants I’m going to do.”
Turner expressed confidence that he and Green will be able to play off one another.
“We attempted to,” he said with a laugh. “We played together before he got hurt, too, so I think clearly he will have to get re-acclimated because he hasn’t played in the last couple of weeks, but it should be fine.”
|Tyler Zeller impresses Celtics teammates in training camp||10.02.14 at 2:29 pm ET|
As the Celtics continued their training camp in Waltham on Thursday, one newcomer’s performance has commanded the attention of his teammates. Tyler Zeller’s name has been the first out of many players’ mouths when asked who has impressed them most in camp this fall.
“When you ask that question, it’s got to be somebody new, so it really narrows the list down,” Zeller joked. “But it’s one of those things where it’s really an honor for somebody to say that about you. But at the same time I’ve got to continue to prove that and continue to get better.”
Brad Stevens spent time recruiting the Zeller brothers for years while at Butler — all three of them. Ironically, Tyler may have been the brother that Stevens felt he was least likely to end up coaching one day.
“When I was an assistant I recruited Luke, who is the oldest, very hard and didn’t get him,” Stevens said. “And then [I] figured out we weren’t going to get Tyler pretty quickly. And then I recruited Cody, the youngest one, probably the hardest because I had known him since I recruited Luke.”
Joked Stevens: “But clearly, if he wanted to come, I would have taken him.”
Now that Stevens got his guy, or at least one of them, he is seeing a lot of things in Zeller’s game that are going to earn him minutes in his first year in Boston.
“Like I’ve said all along, he just runs the floor,” Stevens said. “He’s a very unselfish player, he’s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”
|Celtics open training camp, Brad Stevens ready for more aggressive approach||09.30.14 at 7:04 pm ET|
The Celtics kicked off training camp Tuesday with two-a-days at the team’s training facility in Waltham. It’s somewhat of a new trend for the team, which has journeyed to Newport, Rhode Island, for training camp the last several years.
Brad Stevens had a simple state of mind as to why the team is staying local.
“Because my office is here,” he said. “The computer is there, the TV I know how to work is in the same place. The equipment guys don’t have to carry thousands of bags. The video guys don’t have to move their whole life. It made a lot more sense to stay here. … The kind of work we get done is a lot more important than anything else, like where we do it.”
Stevens indicated he may have moved things along a bit too slowly last season and wants to take a more aggressive approach this time around.
“I’ve got a great idea about how fast or how slow I need to go,” he said. “Right now, in a lot of ways I’m trying to throw as much at them as possible in the next three days and then we’ll break it down after that.”
Added Stevens: “I thought I was too gradual last year and so we’re going to be a lot quicker in that. But at the same time, at the appropriate time, after a couple of days we’ll stop and hopefully break it down.”
With Rajon Rondo out of camp with a broken hand, Stevens briefly explained the team’s point guard situation on the first day of camp: “We had three teams, Evan [Turner], Marcus [Smart] and Phil [Pressey].”
Turner is less of a true point guard than Smart and Pressey, but that doesn’t concern Stevens.
“One thing is you don’t really know [is how Turner will respond], but he’s better with the ball than not,” Stevens said, adding: “Not withstanding Rondo, he’s as good of a pick-and-roll player as we have.”
Continued Stevens: “We have one point guard healthy that has NBA experience and that’s Phil Pressey. And that’s not a lot of it. I’m not as worried about [the point guard position] because I think people are going to put you in a box for your position, and I’m just not going to do that. I’m not going to worry about it. [Turner’s] a ball handler, he can make plays, he’s smart. And then I think that keeps our other guys in the positions that they’re most comfortable.”
The Celtics continue camp in Waltham all week before hosting a practice at the TD Garden on Friday for season ticket-holders.
|Danny Ainge’s quest to hang another banner in Boston||09.23.14 at 6:36 pm ET|
“You left off the Celtics,” another media member countered.
“I did. Yes, I did. Good observation,” said Ainge, pausing, and then adding, “but I do believe the extraordinary is possible.”
Ladies and gentleman, the 2014-15 Boston Celtics, where the extraordinary is possible, but the reality is the roster looks an awful lot like the edition that won 25 games this past season.
“There were things that we wanted to do that we weren’t able to do,” said Ainge. “There were some things that were tempting that we didn’t do, that I’m very glad we didn’t do. I like that we were able to get some things accomplished, although we weren’t able to get a big, big deal accomplished that we wanted to. But I’m excited about our two young guys that we drafted, I’m very happy that we have Avery [Bradley] coming back and I really like our young core.”
It’s no secret the Celtics wanted Kevin Love, but all reports indicated their interest never amounted to much. Now, it seems, there was another trade ownership considered “a major deal” this summer that Ainge dismissed.
|Rebuild Spotlight: What to expect from Brad Stevens||09.17.14 at 11:01 pm ET|
The Celtics are coming off of their worst season since 2006-07. Despite high expectations this offseason, the team is entering 2014-15 with a similar roster to last season, which comes with similar expectations. However, Brad Stevens will be in his second season as coach, Rajon Rondo will begin the season healthy and Danny Ainge has added some new, young talent. But it’s still clear that the Celtics are entering yet another rebuilding season, leaving us with some major questions. We’ll try to find some answers in this five-part series called Rebuild Spotlight.
Despite just 25 wins in Brad Stevens‘ debut season in Boston, the verdict is in on the coach: He’s the real deal. That was the hope when Ainge lured Stevens away from Butler with a six-year contract, but now we have clarity. After dazzling in his first season on the NBA sidelines, Stevens has made it clear that he is going to be as much a cornerstone of the Celtics’ rebuild as anyone.
Of course, much like the young players he coaches, Stevens must reach his full potential if he is going to lead the Celtics back to contention. The C’s were a solid defensive team right away last season; they were 14th in defensive rating heading into the All-Star break, but finished 20th at season’s end. Stevens wants to establish a defensive identity, and with Avery Bradley (who sees Boston having a top-10 defense this season) returning and the addition of Marcus Smart (whom scouts believe is the league’s next great perimeter defender), improvement on that side of the ball is expected.
Defense will be Stevens’ focus when training camp begins, but the Celtics’ offense, untraditionally, is where the biggest improvements are needed. Frankly, last season was a mess offensively, regardless of whether Rajon Rondo was on the floor or not.
Boston finished the season 27th in offensive rating and 28th in turnover rating. Until those numbers change, the losses are going to continue to pile up. Last year’s plan was to make Jeff Green the featured piece on offense. Yet, he failed to prove himself as a consistent option when all signs pointed to Green compiling career numbers.
On the other hand, Bradley (23 years old) and Jared Sullinger (22) stepped in as strong offensive options when healthy. Stevens would be silly not to present his younger stars with larger roles in the offense this season. Obviously, beginning the season with a healthy Rondo to go along with the additions of Smart, fellow rookie James Young, Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner have to prove to be of some help.
Stevens likely will be dealing with an offense by committee like he was last season, this time with Rondo at the helm from the get-go. Bottom line is that there must be more offensive fluidity if the Celtics expect to up their win total from a year ago, particularly in terms of attempting to find some sort of consistency that Green couldn’t provide.
When it comes down to it, Brad Stevens is a fantastic leader for the Celtics going forward. His job is certainly not in any kind of jeopardy at all, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t expect improvements this season. Stevens has had a year to settle in and learn the ropes of the NBA. This season, prepare to watch him take the next step toward becoming one of the elite coaches in the league.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
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