|Fast Break: Evan Turner buzzer-beater sinks Celtics||01.29.14 at 9:59 pm ET|
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. “One 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.
|Despite disappointing ending, Rajon Rondo’s return a success||01.18.14 at 1:04 am ET|
Through 47 minutes and 59 seconds there was nothing to complain about regarding the debut of Rajon Rondo.
But it took just a second for that outlook to change.
With Boston trailing by three points in the waning moments, Rondo hoisted a 3-pointer that would have sent the game into overtime at the buzzer. But his shot clanked off the rim, and Boston fell 107-104 at the Garden.
Still, there were plenty of positive takeaways from Rondo’s first game since last January — starting with the fact that he changed the dynamic of the team before the opening tip. Stevens, unbeknownst to Rondo, bestowed captainship upon Rondo before the start of the game. Rondo is the 15th Celtic captain, following Pierce, who reigned from 2003-2013.
“I never told him — I mean, maybe it’s something I should have done,” Stevens said. ‘”But I think it’s something you earn through your effort, through your leadership, through your involvement in the community.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Phil Pressey makes first career start, leads Celtics to victory||01.16.14 at 12:24 am ET|
A few minutes into the third quarter, Phil Pressey jetted around a pick-and-roll, confidently rose for an 18-foot jump shot and connected. But before he could celebrate a whistle sounded: A Boston foul nullified Pressey’s first points as a Celtic starter.
“I felt like that really was going to get me goin. When I finally hit one, it felt good,” Pressey said with a smile after Wednesday night’s game.
Pressey never scored those elusive first two points, but with Boston’s 10-game losing streak snapped in the team’s 88-83 win over the Raptors, he can now boast about his 1-0 record as a starting point guard in the NBA.
The undrafted rookie free agent’s 0-for-5 shooting line and zero points were not indicative of the impact he made on the game. Pressey dished out a career-high 10 assists and did not commit a single turnover in 26 minutes of play — also a career-high.
Pressey liked the 10 dimes, but not as much as the zero turnovers.
“I know if I take care of the ball, I know I’m giving my team an opportunity to get more shots up. That’s what I pride myself on,” Pressey said.
The Celtics‘ thinness at the guard position necessitated Pressey’s insertion into the lineup. (Starting point guard Jordan Crawford and reserve guard MarShon Brooks were dealt to the Warriors, Rajon Rondo is still out, and Keith Bogans indefinitely left the team for personal reasons).
Pressey said he was alerted of his promotion in shootaround. Yet the suddenness of the promotion was not alarming.
“The guys embraced me from the start, like I’ve been there from day one, so it was very easy for me to step in and help my team out,” Pressey said.
Pressey started off slowly, but he helped spark a 6-0 run to end the half that put Boston ahead 45-41. With under one minute left, Pressey and Jared Sullinger executed a pick-and-roll that culminated with Sullinger canning a long running jumper. Pressey then pick-pocketed Toronto point guard Kyle Lowry and set off in transition where he found a trailing Avery Bradley with a smooth behind-the-back pass for an easy layup. Then Pressey collected a Raptors miss and alertly sent an outlet pass to Bradley, who had leaked ahead of the field. Bradley was fouled and made both free throws.
Pressey helped extend Boston’s lead to 17 with three assists in the third quarter.
“I thought when things got tough, he got tough,” Stevens said.
And things got tough in the fourth quarter. The Celtics blew their massive lead, and suddenly found themselves nursing a three-point advantage in the waning moments. But Pressey helped weather the storm and Boston eked out the win.
“To his credit, I thought he pulled guys in and together instead of when something doesn’t go our way we’re not together,” Stevens said.
There’s speculation that Rondo will return on Friday against the Lakers. But Boston hopes to ease Rondo back into action, and Pressey’s strong outing suggests that he’ll continue to see big minutes until Rondo’s healthy.
|Fast Break: Avery Bradley, Celtics can’t hold off Pelicans||01.03.14 at 10:10 pm ET|
In an ugly but entertaining game, Avery Bradley‘s contested go-ahead layup attempt ricocheted off the rim in the final seconds against the Pelicans, and — after a pair of Brian Roberts free throws — Jared Sullinger‘s game-tying 3-piont attempt sailed wide, as the Celtics fell short against New Orleans at home, 95-92.
The Celtics (13-20) lost their second game in as many nights and third straight — a killer for a team headed on a five-game-in-seven-nights West Coast trip against the Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors and Nuggets on Sunday.
Bradley (22 points) led the Celtics in scoring while Sullinger (13 points, 11 rebounds) and Brandon Bass (16 points, 11 rebounds) each notched double-doubles. Jeff Green (16 points) also reached double figures.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Cold start: Whether it was the frigid temperatures, the same-day trip from Chicago or just plain stagnant offense, the Celtics scored just 13 points in the first 10 minutes against a team that allowed 108.9 points per 100 possessions entering the game. Bradley scored seven points (3-5 FG) in that stretch, but his Celtics teammates scored only six (3-11 FG) — including a zero-point, zero-rebound start for the ailing Sullinger.
The Stiemer: Battling a knee injury, old friend Greg Stiemsma hadn’t scored in double figures all season — until his glorious return to Boston. No Stiemboat whistle sounded in his honor, but the 7-footer who found his way back into the NBA under Kevin Garnett‘s tutelage scored 12 points on seven shots in 19 big minutes off the bench.
Ryan Anderson: In a scary moment that deserves mention, the Garden crowd sat in silence despite a 75-73 C’s lead early in the fourth, as Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson lay motionless on the floor following a head-to-head collision with Gerald Wallace. Considering all that Anderson’s been through already this season, it’s no wonder every player on both sides of the ball stood in support as paramedics carted him off in a neck brace on a stretcher. He was taken to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with a cervical stinger.
|Irish Coffee: Ranking Danny Ainge’s Celtics assets||12.20.13 at 1:59 pm ET|
The recent trade rumors surrounding the Celtics aren’t going away any time soon, so for the purposes of any trade discussion between now and the Feb. 20 deadline — real or imaginary — let’s rank all the assets available to president of basketball operations Danny Ainge in order of value (highest to lowest). Here goes.
RAJON RONDO: Albeit completely unfounded, the mere fact people debated whether a Kings package of Ben McLemore (2013 No. 7 overall pick), Isaiah Thomas (18.9 ppg, 5.5 apg, 59.5 TS%, 22.8 PER, 730 minutes), Jason Thompson (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg over six NBA seasons), Marcus Thornton (18.7 ppg in 2011-12) and two first-round picks was enough for Rondo should tell you all you need to know about the Celtics point guard’s value.
2014 CELTICS FIRST-ROUND PICK: Whether this was the stumbling block in an Omer Asik deal or not, Ainge should rightfully think thrice before dealing either first-rounder in this coming June’s loaded draft. While the Celtics still own a one-game lead atop the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference’s No. 4 seed, they’re only 1.5 games out of the lottery, and most GMs would be willing to gamble against the C’s making the playoffs.
JARED SULLINGER: If the 2012 NBA draft took place tomorrow, how many players would be selected over Sullinger? Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Bradley Beal and Andre Drummond are likely the only four you’d definitely take over the Celtics sophomore since he’s returned from back surgery. Under control at least through 2015-16 for a grand total of $5.1 million, Sully has arguably been the C’s most important player this season.
|NBA fines Gerald Wallace for swearing, warns Jared Sullinger for flopping||11.20.13 at 6:22 pm ET|
The NBA levied a $10,000 fine against Celtics forward Gerald Wallace for his postgame comments during a locker room interview after Tuesday’s dreadful 109-85 loss to the Rockets. “I don’t know what the [expletive] tonight was, just to be honest with you,” Wallace told the media. “I don’t really know what was going on.”
Wallace has been extremely vocal after Celtics losses, regularly criticizing his teammates for their effort, but the NBA is walking a dangerous line by establishing a precedent for fining a player who used vulgar language during a locker room interview. After all, Kevin Garnett wasn’t exactly Mary Poppins.
Meanwhile, the NBA also issued a warning against Celtics forward Jared Sullinger for flopping while boxing out Houston center Dwight Howard. Of course, the game was already over at that point. A second offense would result in a $5,000 fine for Sullinger. In other words, swearing after a loss is twice as bad as flopping during one.
|Brad Stevens knows road success depends on C’s finding ‘outstanding’ defense||11.15.13 at 8:38 pm ET|
As the Celtics embark on a four game/six night stretch, Brad Stevens is looking forward to the opportunity to see some of the Western Conference’s elite clubs. He is fully aware that his team will need to extremely sharp on the defensive end to keep their head above water against this type of elite type of competition.
“We’re going to have to be outstanding on the defensive end to have a chance to win these games,” said Stevens. “There’s no question about it. It’s one of those deals where you’re playing teams that you’ve got to play well against to have a chance to win. Defensively, every detail matters, every effort play matters, everything adds up.”
The Portland TrailBlazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs all present a multitude of challenges, yet the one consistent is an explosive guard and a dominating presence inside the post. Portland’s Damian Lillard/LaMarcus Aldridge precedes Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, and the beat goes on in Texas with the likes of James Harden, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan.
“I watched a few of our preseason games,” Stevens said, “just to kind of get a gauge of if they’re improving at the rate we’d like them to, and they’ve improved quite a bit defensively. Offensively, we’ve had our moments. I think we’ve improved, maybe more so, just because of our shifts and rotations. We still have a long way to go. We’re getting a lot better on the basketball. We were a lot better at defending the paint, even though we got back cut a few times in the first half [against Charlotte]. We’ve been good all year defending the 3-point line, knock on wood, so I think it’s one of those deals where we’ve got some strengths to us. But we’ve got to foul less and we’ve got to make sure we’re as good defending the post as we possibly can.”
Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics lack a true NBA superstar yet still present a balanced team. The roster is full of capable players at the offensive end, so when the C’s move the ball, they can get a lot of people involved.
In order to be successful in this upcoming trip, they will need to continue to play hard defensively, remaining active on the ball and creating steals. Without a true point guard, the Celtics understand the value of scoring in transition. The biggest surprise this season is the team’s ability to move the basketball on offense. Stevens has this team moving the ball from side-to-side and playing an enjoyable brand of team basketball. Any time a team that moves the ball, that presents a major challenge. Another bonus for these upcoming games is the return of post presence Jared Sullinger, who the Celtics missed desperately with right knee soreness during this past Wednesday night’s loss to the Bobcats.
“We’re not as good on the block [without Sullinger], obviously,” confirmed Stevens. “Throwing it into the post [Monday] night against Orlando, we went on a 4-0 run when we were down [by] throwing him the ball. He gives us a little more flexibility playing inside-out, and that’s been when we’ve been at our best. He is probably our best low post player.”
Beginning with tonight’s game against the Blazers, the Celtics will have an opportunity to show the league their early success is no fluke, but instead the result of hard work and the team buying into the Stevens system.
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