|Celtics remain unbeaten with Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley backcourt||02.05.14 at 9:33 pm ET|
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 Klynyk: Kelly 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.
|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.
|Former Boston College star Reggie Jackson helps Thunder overpower Celtics||01.05.14 at 9:25 pm ET|
Jackson eviscerated the C’s defense with a career-best 27 points and handed the Celtics (13-21) their fourth straight loss and seventh in eight games.
The NBA’s leading scorer, Kevin Durant, played more of a facilitating role for Oklahoma City (27-7), allowing the point guard his moment in the limelight. Durant still went for 21 points, eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Jackson erupts: Prior to the game, much of the defensive consternation revolved around the matchup between Green and Durant. How Boston’s top defender, Avery Bradley, would defend Oklahoma City’s raw point guard was not a hot topic. However, Jackson, filling in for an injured Russell Westbrook, surprisingly torched the usually stingy Bradley for a career-high 27 points. The Boston College product lit up Bradley in the first half. He scored 11 points in the first five minutes, and 19 over all in the half.
D on Durant: In one sense, the Celtics defense deserves plaudits for not allowing Durant to break out for 46 points like he did in the Thunder’s previous win. But Durant’s 21 points (in just 27 minutes) against Boston did not properly reveal the impact he had on the game. He dished out eight assists, and when Oklahoma City was comfortably ahead, Durant went out of his way to pad his teammates’ point totals. Durant also pulled down seven rebounds.
Front-court production: While Crawford and Bradley kept Boston’s head above water, the Celtics‘ starting big men did next to nothing to aid the guards offensively. Forwards Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger combined for 13 points compared to their combined season average of 25.5 points per game. Their sparse production was not a product of a dearth of opportunities; Sullinger finished 3-for-11 from the field and Bass 1-for-5. Sullinger fouled out in just 19 minutes.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bogans’ christening: It took close to the entire first half of season, but Keith Bogans finally found the score sheet. The veteran guard acquired by the Celtics this offseason opened up the second quarter by burying a 3-pointer. Bogans last appeared in a game on Nov. 30 and had played in just 28 minutes over four games and attempted three shots. He saw playing time in lieu of backup shooting guard Courtney Lee, who was in the process of being traded Sunday.
Three-point barrage: A usually docile Celtics 3-point game erupted as Boston canned 11 3-pointers, the most since Dec. 10. The C’s defied a recent trend of poor 3-point shooting, particularly over the past three games. Boston shot a horrendous 14-61 (23 percent) in recent losses to the Hawks, Bulls and Pelicans. Crawford and Green authored the outburst with three 3-pointers apiece. Boston shot a nifty 8-13 from downtown in the first half to stay within 10 points.
Humphries: Kris Humphries again logged solid minutes off the bench, collecting 14 points along with three blocks and rebounds and two assists. In the last three weeks, Humphries has proved himself the most reliable Celtic off the bench. In his last 10 games, Humphries has averaged 9.8 points per game on 56 percent shooting, and 6.9 rebounds.
|Irish Coffee: Why an Andrew Bynum trade isn’t crazy||12.30.13 at 11:02 am ET|
The Cavaliers suspended 26-year-old former All-Star center Andrew Bynum indefinitely over the weekend — a penalization for detrimental conduct that the team lifted after all of 24 hours before placing him on paid leave — so rumors have swirled around Cleveland dealing the oft-injured, much-maligned, weird-hairdoed 7-footer.
Naturally, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge is doing his due diligence to determine Cavs owner Dan Gilbert‘s asking price. In a series of tweets on Saturday, Bill Simmons lumped the Celtics in with the title-contending Clippers and Heat among Bynum’s suitors, but there’s a catch to all this.
Regardless of whether or not Bynum eventually lands in Los Angeles or Miami — the latter of which Gilbert would probably like to prevent — the Celtics may still be interested in acquiring him, if only for his quirky contract.
|Jeff Green on Celtics’ defense: ‘Lately, we’ve been (expletive)’||12.27.13 at 9:04 pm ET|
WALTHAM — The Celtics returned to practice for a second straight day after their three-day holiday break, Friday. The opportunity to end their three-game losing streak comes Saturday afternoon (1) taking on the Cavs, who are also desperate for a win after dropping their last three.
“If we don’t play well,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens, “we’ll get beat. [Kyrie] Irving and [Dion] Waiters can get to the rim on us, they can get to the rim on everybody. If we don’t defend well, it’s going to be hard for us to win.”
“Lately, we’ve been [expletive],” said Green. “We’ve been giving up a lot of points and a lot of easy looks.
“Our defense,” continued Green, “is the key.”
The Celtics defeated the Cavs at the TD Garden, 103-86, on November 29. Jordan Crawford is excited to match up again with Cleveland start Kyrie Irving, though he understands it’s far from an individual match-up.
“It’s a team effort,” said Crawford. “Kyrie’s looking for his, and once you key in on him, he’ll find the others. But you want to step up to the challenge. He’s a great player, so you want to see where you at.”
Also of note from practice was Rajon Rondo working on two additional agility drills. In what has become a familiar sight, Phil Pressey was last to leave the court.
For a complete preview of Saturday’s matchup, click here.
|Donny Marshall on M&M: Celtics talking to Kings about trading Rajon Rondo for Isaiah Thomas, others||12.18.13 at 11:15 am ET|
Marshall turned heads earlier this week when he said Sacramento is a possible landing spot for Rondo, who has yet to play this season as he works his way back from a torn ACL suffered in January. According to Marshall, there is a multi-player deal in the works between the Celtics and Kings.
“This is actually something that the teams are talking about,” Marshall insisted. “The name that people would understand and would know is a guy like Isaiah Thomas. He’s a great little guard. He’s having career highs right now, he’s averaging about 18, 19 points a game. He’s a scorer. He’s a guy who can run the point for you, but he can also score. He’s one piece.
“I think the other piece, you throw in some other athletes — remember, they just made a trade, Sacramento, to get Rudy Gay, Aaron Gray. And they’ve had some other guys there that they’re trying to move. The key for them is two future first-round picks. If you’re to stay on that same theme that the Celtics have been on, to get young and to be good for a long time, how do you do that? You get them through the draft. ‘¦ I think here’s another opportunity to not only get a couple of good players now, young players, but you get two future first-round picks. To me, it makes total sense.”
Added Marshall: “Guys are always going to be talked about. In Rondo’s situation ‘¦ it makes sense. Do you want to be mediocre? Do you want to finish sixth this year? Not that anyone is going to try to tank — this team is playing terrific. ‘¦ I’m happy that they’re playing the way they’re playing. But for the fans and for that market, to be mediocre is not fun. ‘¦ That, I don’t think the Celtics deserve. The fans don’t deserve that, the players don’t deserve that. The way you get past that sooner than later is trying to move a guy like Rajon Rondo. And that’s not to be disrespectful to a player like Rondo.”
The Celtics also reportedly are pushing to acquire disgruntled Rockets center Omer Asik.
“You talk about Omer Asik, they want to now try to find a package to get him out of Houston. Brandon Bass is a name that they’re throwing in there. I don’t think Jeff Green will be a guy that you would want to [trade]; I think he’s untouchable, in my opinion. I think that’s one guy you can try to continue to build around, but there are some other pieces that will go.
“A complete dismantling? No. But I think Danny [Ainge] will do what he’s always done. He will think these things through. He will talk to all of his guys around him. The one thing that’s great about Danny is he always has people around him that are smarter than him. I love that theory. Because now you go to them and you trust them, and those people are doing their due diligence to make sure the team is going in the right direction.
“I don’t think they’ll dismantle, but I do think Danny will take some pieces that he can build around and and not completely be in the basement, but put himself in a position to be able to get — I think they can get some of those lottery picks. I really think they can get some of those game-changers in the next two drafts.”
|Stat Man: Brad Stevens’ post-timeout brilliance||11.11.13 at 1:48 pm ET|
It was quite a week for Brad Stevens. Seven days ago, his Celtics dropped to 0-4 and rose to the top of ESPN’s Tank Rank. Now, his C’s are riding a three-game win streak punctuated by a pair of plays in the span of 3.6 seconds against the two-time defending NBA champions that emphatically announced the coach’s arrival.
In the final moments of Saturday’s Heat upset, Stevens concocted a pair of post-timeout plays that offered the first NBA glimpse of the brilliance that everyone who knew him at Butler has raved about for the past four months.
The first: Since Shane Battier had previously fronted Gerald Wallace in the post, Stevens called for Jeff Green to lob an entry pass to Wallace under the basket for a layup that cut a four-point deficit in half with one second left.
And second: Weighing the risk of throwing crosscourt against the reward of potentially freeing up a shooter where LeBron James might sag defensively, Stevens called for Wallace to return the favor, lobbing an entry pass to Green in the far corner for a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer. Both seemingly made more brilliant by the fact Dwyane Wade made the youth basketball mistake of missing the rim entirely on a free throw attempt between them.
During his tenure in Boston, Doc Rivers was rightfully praised for his post-timeout play calls, but he also had Paul Pierce to help him look good despite so often calling the same isolation elbow jumper. Stevens doesn’t have that luxury and requires a bit more creativity in engineering scoring opportunities for a team without a playmaker.
In the aftermath of the two most remarkable play calls during Stevens’ brief NBA coaching career, now seems as good a time as any to examine the Celtics coach’s success in post-timeout situations.