|Fast Break: Celtics extend win streak to four games||01.09.13 at 9:54 pm ET|
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.
|Leandro Barbosa understands when you play defense ‘everything comes automatic’||11.27.12 at 3:54 pm ET|
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.”
|Irish Coffee: An All-NBA case for Rajon Rondo||04.17.12 at 2:16 pm ET|
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?
|Avery Bradley’s successful first NBA start||01.21.12 at 1:44 am ET|
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.”
|Paul Pierce: ‘Of course’ I still want to retire a Celtic||at 12:59 am ET|
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.”
|Fast Break: Suns rise, Celtics fall … again||01.20.12 at 9:56 pm ET|
Friday night’s Celtics game against the Suns at the Garden was a familiar story: Get off to a slow start, fall behind by double digits, make it close and fall behind again after exerting too much energy playing from behind all night.
The final result: A 79-71 Phoenix victory in Boston.
Ray Allen led the Celtics with 14 points. Paul Pierce (12), Brandon Bass (11), Kevin Garnett (10) and Avery Bradley all reached double figures, but the C’s (5-9) lost their sixth game in seven tries.
Suns center Marcin Gortat totaled 24 points (14 in the first quarter) and 12 rebounds to lead the Suns (6-9). Steve Nash added 11 points and nine assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Pole position: Gortat scored almost as many points in the first quarter (14) as the Celtics (15) — on just as many field goals (7) and eight fewer shots (19-11). If Jermaine O’Neal wants to be judged on his defense, let’s just say it wasn’t so good early, and the Celtics were forced to play catch-up all night once again.
Poor paint job: The Celtics simply had nobody capable of getting to the rim and scoring. Their guards weren’t deft enough to get to the hoop, and their bigs weren’t athletic enough to get their shot off cleanly. On multiple occasions, Paul Pierce worked his way into the paint, only to be contested by a quicker defender who could simply jump higher.
Rondo a no go: Let’s face it: At this point, Rondo is the Celtics offense. Without him orchestrating and finding Paul Pierce and Ray Allen on the wings or Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass for open jumpers, everything else falls apart. Even with Rondo, the Celtics offense hasn’t exactly looked pretty this season. Without him, it’s downright ugly. The Celtics succeeded in keeping their turnover total high (18), leading to 20 Phoenix points.
|What can Mickael Pietrus really give the Celtics?||01.10.12 at 8:51 am ET|
WALTHAM — It’s a calculated gamble but one Celtics team President Danny Ainge knew he had to take.
When the Celtics got the news that Jeff Green would need season-ending surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm – surgery that was successfully performed on Monday at the Cleveland Clinic – Ainge was down a key man on his bench.
The Phoenix Suns provided the opportunity when they waived Mickael Pietrus on Dec. 22. Two days later, Ainge signed him to a one-year deal worth $1.3 million.
The veteran forward – who turns 30 on Feb. 7 – guaranteed that he’ll make his Boston debut this Wednesday when the Celtics host the defending champion Mavericks at TD Garden. Pietrus, who has averaged 8.1 points and 3.1 rebounds a game in his eight NBA seasons, missed the first two weeks with the team after rehabbing from arthroscopic right knee surgery.
What can he give the Celtics?
“Obviously, I haven’t played for eight months so I’m going to be Mickael Pietrus from the first game,” Pietrus said. “But, defensively, you can always help your team do the littlest of things to make them be a great team. So if I can get in the game Wednesday, even five minutes or 10 minutes, whatever, I’m willing to help my team.”
Pietrus is one of the most genuinely enthusiastic and likable players in the NBA. Combine that will his defensive skills, and he can bring a lot of intangibles to the Green.
“That’s why I was excited,” Pietrus said with a wide smile. “That’s why I wanted to be a Celtic because I think – on the floor – me and KG and all the guys can bring the toughness that Boston had when we played them. They were so tough. It was hard for us to get a shot so I’m trying to get the same mindset. Get in the game, play hard and make sure we work hard, and at the end of the day, make sure we get the ‘W’.
“It was a good two weeks. I got to see downtown Boston a little bit, read the newspaper so obviously, there’s no snow yet so good thing – summertime in Boston. I’ve been watching my teammates and watching a lot of film so on Wednesday, I’ll be ready… Wednesday is going to be a great day for me!”
Pietrus tested his knee in practice last Thursday then worked with the second unit on Sunday before going full bore on Monday, not coming out to rest at all.
“Today I went through my first practice,” said Pietrus. “It feels good to be a Celtic. I had fun so hopefully, I’ll be back on the court Wednesday.”
Asked how close he was to 100 percent after knee surgery, Pietrus pointed to the watch of a reporter.
“You have a watch? Probably 48 hours,” Pietrus said. “I think I’ll be able to help my team. I went through practice with no pain. I told you guys I’d be ready to go in two weeks and two weeks came. I’m very happy I could go through practice with my teammates and get stuff done.”
Pietrus, who battled against the Celtics in the playoffs in 2009 and 2010 with the Orlando Magic, said he’s happy to be wearing the green.
“It feels good,” he said. “Look around, there’s 17 banners so I’m in a great spot. I just want to work hard and be available for my team on Wednesday.”
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