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Celtics start fast, hold off Nuggets 12.06.13 at 9:59 pm ET
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Jeff Green (8) and Jared Sullinger put up a wall for Randy Foye (4) and the Nuggets Friday night. (AP)

Jeff Green (8) and Jared Sullinger put up a wall for Randy Foye (4) and the Nuggets Friday night. (AP)

This time, the Celtics found a way to hold their 27-point first half lead.

Jordan Crawford scored 22 while Avery Bradley and Kris Humphries each added 18 to lead a balanced attack as the Celtics raced out to huge first half lead and held on for a 106-98 win over the Denver Nuggets Friday night at TD Garden. Jeff Green scored 15 while Brandon Bass added 14.

The win improves the Celtics to 9-12 on the season, which is still good for first place in the underwhelming Atlantic Division.

The Celtics couldn’t have asked for a better start than the one they got Friday night against the Nuggets.

Led by six points from Bradley, the Celtics raced out to a 14-0 lead to open the game. Bradley finished the first quarter with 13 points and the Celtics made 17-of-26 shots (65.4 percent) to open a huge 39-15 lead over a Nuggets team that entered the game 11-7 and in third place in the Northwest Division of the Western Conference.

The Celtics built their lead to 27 when Vitor Faveriani hit a three to open the second quarter.

From that point, the Nuggets began to claw their way back into the game, outscoring Boston 29-25 in the second quarter. Still, thanks to back-to-back dunks from Humphries and Bradley to close the first half, the Celtics led by 20 at the half, 64-44.

Randy Foye hit a three to start a 9-0 Denver run to open the second half. JJ Hickson converted a layup that cut the lead down to 11, 64-53, in the first two minutes of the half. Ty Lawson drilled a pull-up jumper with 7:42 left in the quarter as Denver capped a 20-4 spurt that cut Boston’s lead down to four, 68-64.

Denver would draw to within three twice in the third, the last time coming on a Timofey Mozgov dunk with 3:31 left in the quarter that cut Boston’s lead to 76-73.

Crawford’s three with 39.5 seconds remaining and the shot clock winding down gave the Celtics a 106-96 lead and sealed Boston’s ninth win of the season.

The Celtics avoided repeating last season’s epic 27-point collapse in Atlanta. On Jan. 25, 2013, the Celtics led the Hawks, 48-21, in the second quarter but couldn’t hold on in the second half, losing 123-111, in double-overtime. That was also the last game Rajon Rondo played, as he tore his right ACL late in the game and has been out of action since.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Carmelo Anthony recruiting Rajon Rondo to Knicks? at 9:55 am ET
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In an interview with USA Today’s Jason Jordan, Mouth of Wilson (Va.) Oak Hill Academy boys basketball coach Steve Smith, whose teams featured Rajon Rondo and Carmelo Anthony at the prep level, claimed the Knicks superstar is lobbying the Celtics point guard to join him in New York.

JJ: Are you confident that he’ll be just as good, if not better, coming off of the ACL tear?

SS: No, I think he should be fine. He took a long time off and he’s rehabbed the right way. Whether he stays in Boston or not who knows. I know, talking to Melo , he’s recruiting Rajon to come to New York. Melo thinks he’ll come, too. You never know about that stuff though. I think either way, Rajon will be fine.

Last month, New York Daily News writer Frank Isola reported the Knicks eyed Rondo as their “primary target” and attempted to package Iman Shumpert, Raymond Felton and Amar’e Stoudemire in a deal for the three-time NBA All-Star — a preposterous proposal that Celtics president Danny Ainge said never reached his desk. Even if Ainge was willing to trade Rondo within the division, New York cannot currently trade a first-round pick earlier than 2018 and seemingly does not have the assets to acquire Rondo no matter how creative the offer.

Likewise, Rondo is signed through next season, when he could command a maximum contract on the free agent market, but the Celtics would be able to offer a significantly better deal than the Knicks should Ainge deem his rehabbing star a centerpiece worth building around. However, all of New York’s burdensome contracts, including Anthony’s, expire at the end of next season as well, so it’s not out of the question for the two former Oak Hill Academy stars to join forces. Rondo didn’t transfer to play for Smith until two years after Anthony graduated.

Of course, the NBA has strict rules against any form of tampering with players under contract for other teams.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Carmelo Anthony, NBA, New York Knicks
Pump the brakes on Rajon Rondo’s return 12.05.13 at 11:21 am ET
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Rajon Rondo

Rajon Rondo

Everybody can just pump the brakes on Rajon Rondo‘s imminent return.

After conflicting reports over the past week about whether or not Rondo has been cleared to return to practice 10 months after surgery to repair the ACL in his right knee, The Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes is reporting that the Celtics point guard is not scheduled for a checkup with famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews for another two weeks. As a result, while Rondo has participated in limited practice work, he reportedly has not been cleared for full contact.

Likewise, in an interview up the dial, Celtics president Danny Ainge said Rondo would not return to the court for good until his knee is “back to 100 percent.”

“I don’t think he’s close,” Ainge said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in the next few weeks. We’re not on pins and needles about it. We’re being very cautious with Rondo. He’s still got a little bit of a limp. He needs to get his strength back.”

So, if Rondo won’t be cleared for full contact until mid-December at the earliest and then must rehab his knee to full strength, it’s safe to assume we won’t see him in a Celtics uniform until 2014.

Meanwhile, the first-place C’s (8-12) have 11 games left on the December slate, and seven of them are against teams with better records. The other four — the Knicks (twice), Nets and Cavaliers — aren’t walkovers, either.

And things get worse in January. The Celtics visit the Bulls and host the Pelicans for a Jan. 2-3 back-to-back, and then face a brutal West Coast swing against the Thunder, Nuggets, Clippers, Warriors and Blazers from Jan. 5-11. If Rondo doesn’t return by then, the standings could look a whole lot different. After all, as SB Nation’s Paul Flannery noted, the C’s may own the No. 4 seed now, but they’re much closer to the East’s worst record (4.0 games up on the Bucks) than they are to the conference’s best mark (9.5 games behind the Pacers).

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Rajon Rondo,
Avery Bradley ‘can’t wait until’ Rajon Rondo returns 12.04.13 at 1:10 am ET
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As the past few days have brought conflicting reports about whether Rajon Rondo has already met with Dr. James Andrews or will do so in New York next week, the only certainty is that his return is on the horizon, and it couldn’t come at a better time for a Celtics squad that just assumed first place in the Atlantic Division.

And while we can measure Rondo’s statistical impact on these Celtics all we want — as we attempted hereAvery Bradley knows the three-time NBA All-Star point guard brings so much more than stats.

“I think that’s going to be big and good for us to have a player like Rondo,” said Bradley, one of only five players on the current roster to play with him. “He’s a very good player, and that’s going to open up everything for everybody. Everybody’s going to get a lot of open looks, because he’s a great player. I can’t wait until he comes back.”

The C’s have shown a remarkable ability to stick with teams through the first three quarters of games, winning the ones when a handful of guys contribute on the same night — like Tuesday’s win over the Bucks, when Bradley’s 15 points, including a ridiculous over-the-backboard bucket, gave the Celtics six players in double figures.

“Everybody on our team I feel like can have a big game any night,” said Bradley. “That’s the good thing about our team. We have a lot of good players that could have breakout games. Jared [Sullinger]‘s been playing well, Jordan [Crawford]‘s been playing well and Jeff [Green]‘s been playing well, and that brings a lot to our team when we have those guys come out every single night and take turns having big games.”

Except the Celtics can’t depend on six guys all coming to play every single night if they hope to cling to the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference. Just ask Gerald Wallace. They’re lacking star-power, especially when they need to execute in the final minutes of close contests. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said, “It’s hard sometimes when things tense up late.” Basically, they need Rondo. Half of their 12 losses have been by six or seven points, and Bradley knows Rondo’s return could mean the difference between competing regularly and winning regularly.

“It could be big for us,” he said. “I know once he comes back, a lot of teams are going to hate to play the Celtics.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, NBA, Rajon Rondo
Behind the backboard: Larry Bird vs. Avery Bradley 12.03.13 at 11:56 pm ET
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Who made the better behind-the-backboard basket?

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For the record, Avery Bradley had never seen Larry Bird‘s over-the-backboard bucket before.

“That was honestly just a lucky shot,” said Bradley, who finished with 15 points in the Celtics’ 108-100 win over the Bucks. “I didn’t even know how much time was left. I just wanted to get the shot up.”

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Larry Bird, NBA
Fast Break: Third time the charm as Celtics stop Bucks at 9:50 pm ET
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Jordan Crawford

Jordan Crawford

All five Celtics starters reached double figures, led by Jordan Crawford‘s 25 points, and the C’s avoided falling victim to the three-win Bucks for the third time in as many tries this season with a 108-100 home win.

Starters Jeff Green (18 points), Brandon Bass (16 points, 9 rebounds), Jared Sullinger (12 points, 8 boards) and Avery Bradley (15 points) all reached double digits, and Courtney Lee added 11 off the bench.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Long distance: The Celtics sunk their first four 3-point attempts — a pair of Bradley treys sandwiched around one apiece from Crawford and Green — to grab an early 18-9 advantage and force a Bucks timeout. While the C’s missed their next 10 3-point attempts, the early barrage staked them to a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, and a late string of triples gave them 11 on 24 attempts for the night. Crawford, Bradley and Green combined for 10 of them.

Over the Hump: The ankle injury to Kelly Olynyk finally created an opening for increased Kris Humphries minutes, and the veteran forward has responded with his usual rebounding prowess. As he has for his previous seven NBA seasons, Humphries entered the game averaging double-digit boards per 36 minutes (10.5), and that number only stands to improve after he snagged seven boards in his first seven minutes against Milwaukee.

Happy Lee returns: After missing the previous two games with soreness in his left knee, Lee scored 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting off the bench. He didn’t provide his usual stat sheet stuffing, but the Celtics desperately needed his offense after seeing their second unit get outscored by 49 points in his two-game absence.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jordan Crawford, Milwaukee Bucks, NBA
Stat Man: How much will Rajon Rondo help Celtics’ offense? at 1:02 pm ET
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Since Rajon Rondo appears one step closer to his eventual return, now is as good a time as any to ask: Just how much will the three-time NBA All-Star point guard help the Celtics’ woeful offense when he returns?

When we last saw Rondo, his 13.7 points and league-leading 11.1 assists per game created an average of 38.0 points for the Celtics, and that doesn’t include the new free throw and secondary assist statistics available this season on NBA.com/stats or the C’s increased pace under Brad Stevens.

This season, Jordan Crawford has received 1,301 touches, which ranks 15th among the league’s guards, and the Celtics rank 26th in points per 100 possessions (96.0). It’s safe to assume there’s a correlation there.

The other 14 guards: Chris Paul, John Wall, Ty Lawson, Jeff Teague, Monta Ellis, Kyrie Irving, Damian Lillard, Jrue Holiday, Tony Parker, Mike Conley, Ricky Rubio, Steve Blake, Kemba Walker and Jose Calderon.

The most jarring name has to be Blake, who’s doing a better job replacing Steve Nash on the Lakers than Crawford is substituting for Rondo. When you combine their scoring and passing, only Calderon creates fewer points per game than Crawford (23.8), and that’s because Calderon shares a backcourt with Ellis.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Jordan Crawford, NBA, Rajon Rondo
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