|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|Celtics sunk by coming out party of Anthony Davis, drop fourth straight||03.16.14 at 8:51 pm ET|
Sunday night the Celtics proved they are nothing if not entertaining in this rebuilding season.
Former No. 1 pick Anthony Davis scored a career-high 40 points to lead the New Orleans Pelicans a heart-pounding 121-120 overtime win over the Celtics in the Bayou Sunday night. Davis added 21 rebounds, the first 40-20 game in the history of the New Orleans franchise. Jared Sullinger, who helped sparked a late fourth quarter rally with a 3-pointer, missed a trey with 11 seconds remaining that would have given the Celtics the lead.
The last two minutes of regulation featured a frantic Boston rally and several wild sequences.
Kris Humphries forced the overtime when he took an inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo and drained a 20-foot turnaround jumper at the regulation buzzer. Jeff Green matched his season high with 39 points while Humphries had another double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Green was fouled in the act of taking a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining and made all three free throws to tie the game, 110-110 before Anthony Davis drilled a jumper that appeared to give New Orleans the win with 1.1 seconds left in regulation.
Down one, the Celtics had a chance to win the game after winning a key jump ball with under 20 seconds left but Avery Bradley dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds, setting the stage for the frantic final sequence.
The Celtics lost their fourth straight and fell to 22-45 on the season.
The Celtics scored 39 points in the second quarter to take a 64-57 halftime lead. Leading the way in the second quarter was Green, who hit two threes and led Boston with 12 points in the stanza.
The Celtics led 66-57 on a Brandon Bass dunk with 10:40 left in the third quarter. The Celtics were outscored 27-18 in the final 10 minutes of the quarter and went into the fourth quarter tied, 84-84.
|Rajon Rondo appreciates Wyc Grousbeck sticking his neck out for him||03.15.14 at 2:09 pm ET|
The debate over the long-term future of Rajon Rondo in Boston will seemingly continue as long as he’s in a Celtics uniform. But one thing that can’t be denied is Rondo’s appreciation of those who have his back in turbulent times, led by the man who cuts his paycheck.
Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck told the Boston Globe this week that despite all of the rumors and speculation on the future of the tempestuous point guard, Rondo remains the leader of the franchise going forward.
What did that mean to Rondo?
“It means a lot, especially coming from the head guy,” Rondo said after Friday’s loss to the Suns. “With all the rumors swirling, the criticism that I was having throughout the past couple weeks, he stuck his neck out. He didn’t have to say anything, but he did. I’ve talked to Wyc since then. Everything is what it’s supposed to be.”
Here is what Grousbeck told the Boston Globe in a story that reflected on the rebuilding season of 2013-14:
“[Rondo is] loved right here, from my seat on the court,” the owner said. “I love the guy. I love his championship ring when he was the young kid. I love his growth. It reminds me of Paul Pierce. Growing from the moments in his younger days and making progress toward being an all-time Celtic and a leader. I am always hopeful that a guy like that is going to stay around.”
Rondo will enter the final year of his contract next season, in which he will make $12.9 million.
Earlier this season, Rondo said he would be open to signing a long-term deal with the Celtics but, at the same time, indicated an interest to test free agent waters. Rondo signed a five-year, $55 million extension at the start of the 2009-10 season.
Brad Stevens made it perfectly clear before Friday’s game against Phoenix that he would ease Avery Bradley back into the mix after a 13-game absence due to a sprained right ankle. Bradley actually played nearly 17 minutes, including a key stretch in the team’s 12-0 spurt that gave them a short-lived lead in the fourth quarter of Friday’s 87-80 loss to the Suns at TD Garden.
Bradley scored nine points on 4-of-12 shooting from the floor but admitted that he was rusty trying to get back into an offensive rhythm.
“My shot was rusty, but you still can play hard on the defensive end and that’s what I try to do,” Bradley said. “I try to go out there and lift our intensity and try to get the guys going, that’s my role on this team.’
“Hopefully we’ll get to see that quite a bit in the last month here,” Stevens said. “Knock on wood, because they haven’t been able to play much together over the first four years they’ve been together. I think it’s really a duo that you would think would complement each other very well based on the strengths on both ends of the court. Hopefully we’ll see that again with a healthy month left in the season.”
“He looked well,” added Rondo. “He didn’t play or practice at all in a month. So, for him to get out there, I know he missed a couple shots, but for the most part, my main concern was his lateral movements, as far as the ankle, and his defense looked great tonight.
“Our time will come. I’ve missed [games], he’s missed [games]. Hopefully we can get it together and we’ll both be out there playing and healthy.”
Bradley also made note that he will be taping his ankles more often to prevent injury. Bradley said before the game that he feels not taping his ankles this season led to the unfortunate string of injuries that have sidelined him for two significant stretches this season.
After the game, he was just grateful that he made it through his first game back.
‘I feel fine, Bradley said. “It’s a little sore but I’m going to ice it and I’ll feel fine [this weekend]. “For me, on the defensive end and cuts, that’s what gets me going and I know what kind of player I am and I know it starts on the defensive end first for me.
‘Of course, as a competitor you want to go out there and help your team, but at the same time I have to be smart and the coaches, [Brad Stevens] knows better than me and he knows I have to get back in the rhythm. I was a little rusty and so he has to limit my minutes and he told me that before the game but I didn’t know how many minutes I was going to play and I really didn’t care.”
|Celtics eclipsed by Suns late in return of Avery Bradley||03.14.14 at 9:52 pm ET|
Alex Len’s three-point play with 54.1 seconds left broke an 80-80 tie and lifted the Suns over the Celtics, 87-80, Friday night at TD Garden. Kris Humphries led the Celtics with 11 points and 13 rebounds. The Celtics lost their third straight and fell to 22-44 on the season.
Cold shooting from the field put the the Celtics in an early hole, falling behind by as many as 11 in the opening minutes of the second quarter. But strong rebounding, led by Kris Humphries, allowed Boston to work their way back in, cutting the halftime deficit to two, 46-44.
The Celtics again went cold from the floor in the third quarter, making just four of their 20 shots from the field. As a result, Phoenix grabbed a 61-53 lead with 3:24 left in the third. But the Celtics again showed their resiliency, cutting to the deficit to just four, 64-60 heading into the fourth.
The Celtics continued that momentum by scoring the first nine points of the fourth quarter to cap an 11-0 run and grab a 69-64 lead, matching their biggest lead of the game.
Phoenix came back with the next six points to take a 70-69 lead. The Celtics led 78-75 before the Suns scored five straight, including the go-ahead basket, a turnaround jumper by Markeiff Morris with 2:30 left, putting Phoenix up, 80-78. Jeff Green‘s two free throws with 2:02 left tied the game again, 80-80.
After Len’s three-point play, the Celtics could not get off a shot close to the basket and the Suns put away the game with two breakaway layups.
The Celtics are off Saturday and begin a brief two-game road trip Sunday evening in New Orleans. They play in Dallas Monday night before returning home to play the Miami Heat Wednesday night at TD Garden.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Cold feet: The Celtics shot just 37.5 percent from the floor in the first half, making just 18-of-48 shots, including 2-of-12 from long range. Good defense and Phoenix sloppiness kept the Celtics in it, as Boston trailed by just two, 46-44 at the half. It didn’t get much better in the third quarter as the Celtics shot just 20 percent on 4-of-20 shooting.
Gone fishing: There are games where Brandon Bass can take over and find his shots in the paint and under the glass seemingly at will. Then there’s nights like Friday. He started but never got into a rhythm, scoring just eight points on 4-of-12 shooting, playing 21 minutes. Part of this was due to the fact that coach Brad Stevens elected to go with a smaller, three-guard lineup of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Chris Johnson for the better parts of the second and third quarters. Throw in the continued emergence of Kelly Olynyk and guards Jerryd Bayless and Phil Pressey and there was little time left for Bass.
Green-out: Like Bass, Jeff Green can look like a world-beater one game and come out with a dud the next, like Friday. He had just nine points in 36 minutes on 2-of-14 shooting.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bradley’s back: Avery Bradley returned to game action for the first time since injuring his ankle Feb. 9 against Dallas. The team’s shutdown defender came off the bench with 3:24 left in the first quarter. With 5:09 left in the third, Bradley showed his offensive skills, getting into traffic, knocking down a 10-footer and drawing the foul for a three-point play. He finished with nine points in 17 minutes.
On the rebound: The Celtics attacked the glass with authority in the first half outrebounding the Suns, 27-24. Leading the way with six in the first half was Kris Humphries, who grabbed six of his xx for the game in the opening half. Humphries finished with his seventh double-double of the season, scoring 11 points while grabbing 13 rebounds.
Balancing the scales: The only player not to get into the scoring column in the first half was Chris Babb, the undrafted rookie out of Iowa State who was signed to his second 10-day contract on Monday. Even Joel Anthony got into the mix for the first time since playing four minutes against Golden State on March 5 and scoring two points in the first half, his first points since netting four against Atlanta on Feb. 26.
Rondo passes knee test: With about seven minutes left in the third quarter, Rondo drove to the left side of the basket for one of his patented dishes under the basket but he lost his footing, slipping to the court. His knee was protected by the black ACL brace he wears and he remained in the game and played the remainder of the third quarter with no apparent ill effects.
|Fast Break: Carmelo Anthony, Knicks stomp Rajon Rondo-less Celtics||03.12.14 at 9:47 pm ET|
A 17-foot Raymond Felton jump shot 58 seconds into the game gave the Knicks a 2-0 advantage, and they never looked back, stretching the lead to 10 in the first 4:21 and ultimately handing the Celtics a 116-92 loss.
The C’s (22-43) kept pace with the Jazz, Lakers and Kings out West for the NBA’s fourth-worst record. Jeff Green‘s 27 points paced the offense, although much of his scoring came in the second half of a blowout and he added just two rebound and no assists. Kris Humphries (15 points), Jerryd Bayless (15 points) and Jared Sullinger (10 points, 8 rebounds) also reached double figures.
Meanwhile, the Knicks (26-40) moved within three games of bumping Atlanta from the eighth seed in the disastrous Eastern Conference. Carmelo Anthony led New York with 34 points and nine rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: The undermanned Celtics didn’t exactly make a defensive stand in the opening quarter. The Knicks connected on 63.6 percent of their shots — including 5-of-6 3-pointers — to to snatch a double-digit lead and seemingly put the game out of reach in the game’s first five minutes. The C’s had no answer for Anthony, who netted 13 points on 3-of-4 shooting from distance in the first quarter.
No Rondo: It doesn’t appear the Celtics point guard will make an appearance on the second night of a back-to-back this season. Since the C’s have four such contests in their final 17 games, that should be welcome news to anyone rooting for Ping Pong balls. Of course, they could have sat Rondo on the first night of the back-to-back in Indiana, but alas he sat the more winnable game on paper in front of the home crowd on Wednesday.
Hardaway got away: Would you rather have Kelly Olynyk or Tim Hardaway Jr.? The Knicks selected the Hall of Fame finalist’s son eight slots behind the Celtics, and once you throw in the two second-round picks Danny Ainge dealt to move up and grab the 7-footer, the scales probably tip in Hardaway’s favor. Especially after he submitted a a near-flawless first half against the C’s, scoring 17 points on seven shots to give New York a 68-48 lead at the break.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Hump day: While many Celtics are playing for pride at this point, Humphries is competing for his next contract. A veteran in an ever-changing role on a young squad, he’s been a steady presence in an otherwise unsteady locker room, as the rest of the acquisitions in the Nets trade are through wearing green for the rest of the season. Humphries was the only Celtics player in double figures at halftime, and his chase-down block of Hardaway in the third quarter was the stuff of legend. (Well, as much as a Kris Humphries chase-down block can be.)
Halftime speech: The Celtics could have easily thrown in the towel at the break, but they came out punching in the third quarter. Green’s personal 7-0 run sliced New York’s lead to single digits with 13 minutes to go, but the comeback was short-lived. The Knicks starter quickly reestablished a comfortable advantage.
|Rajon Rondo (sore Achilles) explains exactly why he’s not playing back-to-backs||03.09.14 at 10:42 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo went into detail after Sunday night’s win over the Pistons, explaining exactly why he doesn’t feel ready to play in back-to-back games, nearly two months after returning to game action.
“If I was ready [for back-to-back games], I’d play,” Rondo said. “It’s a matter of a combination of things that bother me on my lower part of my body, my calves, my Achilles and then my knee so it’s just a part of all of those three that are affecting me after games. The next day, I need the rest.”
Rondo has been taking long massage treatments after each game on his lower body to try and reduce the impact from running up and down the court and playing his typically aggressive, sometimes reckless style. But the massages, he said, only go so far. He still has to wake up the next morning.
“I’m pretty sore when I wake up,” Rondo said. “My Achilles bothers me the most when I get out of bed. Throughout the day it gets better. I still don’t want to try to overdo it and something else may happen just because of that.”
Which is why coach Brad Stevens before Sunday’s game all but ruled out Rondo from playing in any of the five remaining sets of back-to-back games for the team this season, with the next one coming Tuesday in Indiana and Wednesday at home against the Knicks. Stevens, Rondo and GM Danny Ainge don’t want their superstar point guard injuring something like his Achilles trying to compensate for a right knee that may not still be 100 percent.
Is Rondo surprised it’s taking this long to get back to full strength?
“No. it’s the NBA season,” Rondo said. “It’s tough. I’m up to 30, 34, 35 minutes a night now. I’m doing the right procedures. I’m taking the massage. I’m icing after the games. I’m doing what I’m supposed to do it’s just that I have to listen to my body.”
Rondo had 18 assists and no turnovers in Sunday’s 118-111 win over the Pistons, falling just two assists shy of the NBA record for most assists without a turnover in NBA history. Rondo also passed Bill Russell for fifth place on the Celtics all-time list with 4,101, one more than the NBA Hall of Fame center.