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Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches 03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET
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At the end of the third quarter, Rajon Rondo was getting stitches on his face, Jared Sullinger was 3-for-11 from the field and the Celtics trailed by 15. They never quit — far from it — but still suffered a seventh loss in their last eight games, 99-90 to the Atlantic-leading Raptors. (Yes, the ones from Toronto are winning the division.)

Rondo (9 points, 15 assists) returned from an elbow to the face in the fourth quarter, and Sullinger (26 points, 8 rebounds) totaled 19 points on just six shots in the final frame, but the C’s (23-48) couldn’t erase a double-digit Raptors lead. Avery Bradley (16 points) and Chris Johnson (13 points) also reached double figures.

The Celtics are currently tied for the league’s fifth-worst record.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Closing second: After regaining the lead with five minutes to play before halftime, the C’s defense fell apart. The Raptors converted their final six shots of the half, raising their field goal percentage from 40.6 to 50.0 at the break. Toronto’s nine-point halftime lead rapidly reached double digits early in the third quarter.

Interior defense: Back-to-back relatively uncontested Jonas Valanciunas third-quarter buckets punctuated a putrid night defensively for the Boston bigs and forced a Brad Stevens timeout. Out-rebounding the Celtics and outscoring them in the paint, Toronto’s starting frontcourt combined for 36 points and 16 rebounds in the first 30 minutes as the Raptors built a 68-54 lead midway through the third.

In stitches: A horrific third quarter only got worse when a Greivis Vasquez elbow split open Rondo’s face between his eyebrows. Replaced by Phil Pressey 5:42 into the frame, Rondo received nine stitches before returning to the bench with a bandage on his face a couple minutes into in the fourth quarter. He returned with 8:05 left.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Mondo Rondo: The Celtics captain singlehandedly kept them in the game through the first 15 minutes. He had his hand in their first eight field goals (2 layups, 6 assists). A couple Green drives broke up Rondo’s perfect start, but he got right back to work. When Rondo took his first breather 3:09 into the second quarter, he had impacted 13 of the C’s 15 field goals (3 layups, 10 assists), and they led 35-33.

Johnson on the rise: As he has for much of his brief Celtics tenure, Chris Johnson made the most of his minutes. Checking in for Green, who submitted the prototypical Jeff Green performance, Johnson was everywhere. In 10 second-quarter minutes, he converted a 3-pointer, a pull-up 8-footer and a fast break layup while halting DeMar DeRozan‘s fast start (including a highlight reel chase-down block after Kelly Olynyk failed to convert a 3-on-1). Johnson’s effort anchored a 13-0 run that erased a double-digit Raptors lead early in the second quarter.

Sully late: After finishing 0-for-3 in the first quarter and scoring only seven points through three quarters, Sullinger erupted in the fourth. He made three consecutive 3-pointers to cut Toronto’s lead to four in the final minutes.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, NBA, Phoenix Suns
Celtics eclipsed by Suns late in return of Avery Bradley 03.14.14 at 9:52 pm ET
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Rajon Rondo gets around Phoenix's Ish Smith Friday night. (AP)

Rajon Rondo gets around Phoenix’s Ish Smith Friday night. (AP)

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.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, NBA, Phoenix Suns
Fast Break: Celtics extend win streak to four games 01.09.13 at 9:54 pm ET
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Riding the best game of Jared Sullinger‘s young NBA career, the Celtics won a season-best fourth straight game, 87-79 against the Suns, and improved to 4-1 since Avery Bradley’s return on Jan. 2.

Sullinger (12 points) grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds to record the second double-double of his rookie season, as the C’s (18-17) climbed above .500 for the first time since Christmas Day.

In a balanced effort, Sullinger, Jeff Green (14 points), Jason Terry (13 points), Kevin Garnett (10 points), Bradley (9 points), Rajon Rondo (8 points, 8 assists), Paul Pierce (7 points, 7 rebounds), Brandon Bass (6 points, 5 rebounds) and Courtney Lee (6 points) all scored between 6-14 points.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Green machine: On back-to-back second-quarter possessions, Green threw down ferocious dunks on separate Suns to hand the Celtics a 38-33 lead and force a Phoenix timeout. The first came on a dribble drive over old friend Jermaine O’Neal, and he slammed the second on a fast break oop from Bradley over Michael Beasley.

Rotating schedule: Actually, the entire Celtics bench once again performed admirably. Green, Terry and Sullinger were the C’s three highest scorers as the reserves outscored their Suns counterparts 47-16. Bradley’s return has helped coach Doc Rivers find some consistency in his rotations, and the Celtics appear to be responding to their more clearly defined roles.

On the defense: The Celtics are slowly climbing the NBA’s defensive ranks. After allowing 98.1 points per game through December, the C’s have gave up an average of just 86.3 points in Bradley’s first four games back. In his fifth, the Suns didn’t reach 70 points until 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter. Even lineups that contain Green and Terry, who aren’t exactly known for their defensive prowess, appear to be grasping the C’s defensive schemes.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Dudley do right: Quietly, Boston College product Jared Dudley has carved out a nice NBA career for himself. He’s averaging double-digit points for the third straight season, shooting 40.5 percent from 3-point range in his five-year career and dishing out a career-high 2.7 assists per game. Against the Celtics, he amassed 14 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, doing all the little things to keep the Suns in the game.

Bigs problem: It wasn’t a matter of whether the length of the Suns frontcourt would hurt the Celtics; it was a question of how much. The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Marcin Gortat and 6-foot-9, 245-pound Luis Scola entered the game averaging 24.5 points and 15.1 rebounds between them, and they combined to surpass both those numbers against the Celtics (28 points, 22 rebounds). In all, the Suns totaled 50 points in the paint.

Aunt Chippy: Whether the Celtics instigate it or not, there’s been some serious chippiness in their recent stretch of games. Two games after Rondo’s suspension for bumping a ref and two nights after Carmelo Anthony grew infuriated with Garnett, Rondo and Suns forward P.J. Tucker logged technicals and both Green and Courtney Lee took hard falls to the parquet floor. While some of their success can be attributed to the intensity, there’s a line between aggressiveness and overaggressiveness, and the Celtics have been riding it.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Jared Sullinger, NBA, Phoenix Suns
Leandro Barbosa understands when you play defense ‘everything comes automatic’ 11.27.12 at 3:54 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Leandro Barbosa has heard the time-tested expression in basketball over and over: defense wins championships. Now, after nine full seasons in the NBA, the 29-year-old finally is on a team that believes it.

Growing up in Brazil and playing his formative NBA seasons in Phoenix, Barbosa was all about getting to the basket at all costs but the defensive side of his game was admittedly not a priority. When he signed with the Celtics on Oct. 18, all of that changed.

“It’s different,” Barbosa said after practice on Tuesday. “Especially, for me, I came in late. I’m trying to work really hard to pick things up really quick. I’m happy to be involved, and we’re doing better. Hopefully, next game we’ll do even better.

“I feel great. I think the most important thing is to feel comfortable. I think I’m feeling that right now. The coaches talk to me in a lot of different ways, in an offensive standpoint and an offensive standpoint. I’m just enjoying it right now.”

Barbosa said the biggest change in his philosophy came from the coaching staff.

“I think this is the first team that is a defensive team, and I’m happy because I know that I have to definitely be better on the defensive end,” Barbosa said. “From where I come from, we don’t play defense, and I’m talking about Brazil. So, we’re getting better. I’m very happy and getting myself better.

“What I learned, when you play defense, everything comes automatic. Especially, on this team we have so many weapons, I don’t think we don’t have to worry about offense. To go to the championship, we have to play better defense. That’s what we’re looking for and what we’re working for.”

Read More: Boston Celtics, Leandro Barbosa, NBA, Phoenix Suns
Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo 04.17.12 at 2:16 pm ET
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By now, you know Rajon Rondo‘s streak of 22 straight games with at least 10 assists trails John Stockton‘s record of 29 by seven. With only five games left, that record will stand at least until the 2012-13 NBA season begins.

But just how good has Rondo been during this streak, and this entire season for that matter?

In his last 22 games, Rondo has averaged 10.1 points, 13.8 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 1.8 steals, leading the Celtics to a 15-7 record. He has totaled 223 points and 303 assists — 57 of which led to 3-pointers — putting his hand in 886 of the C’s 2,050 points (43.2%) in that span.

To put that in perspective, NBA MVP favorite LeBron James has averaged 26.1 points and 5.5 assists in his last 22 games, leading the Heat to a 14-8 record. He has totaled 574 points and 121 assists (25 on 3P) in that span, generating 841 of Miami’s 2,081 points (40.4%).

And those numbers aren’t too far off Rondo’s season averages of 12.1 points, 11.6 assists, 4.9 rebounds and 1.8 steals. Out of all the players in NBA backcourts, Rondo may fall outside the top 50 in scoring, but he ranks first among guards in assists, fourth in rebounds (behind two guards Paul George, Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade) and fourth in steals (behind only Chris Paul, Mike Conley and Ricky Rubio).

All of which begs the question: Should Rondo make First Team All-NBA?

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, Kobe Bryant
Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start 01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET
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In the first quarter of Friday night’s loss against the Suns, Avery Bradley picked off a pass at midcourt and converted an easy layup. In the fourth quarter, Bradley lunged after a loose ball underneath Boston’s basket, saving a possession that led to a score.

That’s his job: Provide energy and defense.

Injuries to Rajon Rondo and Keyon Dooling gave Bradley an opportunity to make his first start in the NBA. The experience was valuable.

“It builds my confidence a lot,” said Bradley.  ”Every game I play I know what Doc [Rivers] and my teammates expect from me — to bring that energy every time I step on the floor.”

He was tasked with defending two-time league MVP Steve Nash. Bradley felt his best chance to combat the 37-year-old was to antagonize him with aggressive defense.

“I tried to get him tired,” Bradley said. “[I] picked him up full court to let him know I was going to bother him the whole game.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA
Paul Pierce: ‘Of course’ I still want to retire a Celtic at 12:59 am ET
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This isn’t the first time Celtics captain Paul Pierce‘s name has emerged in trade discussion. Prior to the arrival of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in 2007, rumors consistently swirled that team president Danny Ainge would deal his star and enter full-blown rebuild mode. Flash forward five years, same story.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been down that road,” said Pierce, addressing the issue for the first time after the Celtics suffered their sixth loss in seven games, 79-71 at home to the Suns, “but I don’t think about it actually.”

In the midst of a 5-9 start and the first real signs that this might truly be the end of another Big Three era in Boston, Yahoo! Sports reported earlier this week that several contending teams made inquiries about Pierce’s potential availability before the March 15 trade deadline. Then CBSSports.com reported Friday that Ainge may be willing to wait 10 or more games before deciding to deal one of his three stars.

“It’s just obvious,” Ainge told WEEI’s Big Show on Thursday. “Of course if we get the opportunity to make a trade that will help our team, we’ll do it. I guess I was stating obvious answers and it became like a really big story. We’ve all known there’s a window for this group, so we’re constantly evaluating that and been evaluating it for the last couple of years. I don’t have anything on the books. I don’t have have anything imminent. There’s nothing out there that I’m actively doing. I’m being patient with this group of guys.”

As Pierce said, this isn’t his first rodeo. He’s seen teammates from Antoine Walker to Kendrick Perkins come and go. “I understand,” he said. “What the Celtics have done for me in my career, I’m more than happy. They’ve kept me this long, and I’ve been able to play in a lot of good situations. You’ve got to understand the business.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Danny Ainge, Kevin Garnett, NBA
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