|5 things we learned: Time for the Celtics to make a change in the middle||12.05.14 at 9:56 pm ET|
The Lakers made their only trip of the season to the TD Garden on Friday night, and the fans turned out to see them. But in a building with a surprising number of Laker fans, the home team delivered a commanding performance against Kobe Bryant‘s squad, as the Celtics won, 113-96.
Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger had huge nights for the C’s (more on them later), while all five starters scored in double figures for Boston. Rajon Rondo was back to his old self, but Jeff Green and Avery Bradley were big contributors as well with 19 and 16 points respectively.
Bryant, of course, led the way for the Lakers. He finished with a pedestrian 22 points.
Here’s five things we learned in Boston’s victory:
TYLER ZELLER NEEDS TO REMAIN THE STARTING CENTER
Zeller was phenomenal in this game. In 17 first half minutes, he put together a near double-double with 14 points (on 7-for-8 shooting, no less) and nine boards. Zeller and Rondo have been fantastic together on the floor all season, but even more so on Friday. Five of Zeller’s seven first half field goals were assisted by Rondo. His combination of always being a pick-and-roll threat along with running the floor play perfectly into Rondo’s passing skill set.
“I think, obviously, Tyler played at a really high level,” Brad Stevens said after the win. “I felt Rondo was just so much more aggressive and comfortable being aggressive tonight and that was great. Anytime he’s probing like that, Tyler’s going to roll to the rim and be available. And Tyler’s got that nice little flip shot at five or seven feet where he can shoot it with either hand. He doesn’t have to get it all the way to the rim to finish. So Rondo looks for him and that’s a good thing.”
Zeller wound up with a game-high 24 points and 14 rebounds — probably the best game of his career. His miss in the first half turned out to be his only one, as he went 10-of-11 from the field for the night.
Friday was Zeller’s fourth start this season in place of Kelly Olynyk, and Stevens claimed before the game that it remains a temporary role. If Stevens is watching what everyone else has seen, he should officially hand the starting center job to Zeller.
After the game, Stevens was willing to concede that Zeller will in fact be the starting center when practice begins on Saturday.
RAJON RONDO BROUGHT SOME MUCH NEEDED AGGRESSION
Rondo has scored two points in each of his last three games. He recently said that he hadn’t been himself during those games. Something evidently changed between then and the start of Friday’s game. Rondo got off to a hot start, scoring six first quarter points to go along with five assists. Rondo’s impact was clear: his plus/minus was +14 when he came out of the game for the first time, while the Celtics‘ lead was trimmed to as few as three points before Rondo reentered with his team up seven.
Rondo may have even taken it too far, attempting 17 shots in the game (and making six), but his attacking style represented a noteworthy departure. Even with all the misses, Rondo turned in a pretty effective game, scoring 12 points along with eight rebounds and 16 assists. On the other side, the Lakers only had 14 assists as a team.
Stevens did speak with Rondo about breaking out of his slump prior to Friday’s game, and he felt it may have worked.
“The main one [thought about Rondo] was that I felt like he was waiting for the game to materialize around him more than just attacking the game, and so it was really good. I thought he attacked great tonight,” Stevens said. “And every time he shot it, I was like a fan saying, ‘Go in!'”
JARED SULLINGER WAS A BEAST
Sullinger’s performance was easy to lose track of behind Zeller’s big night, but the front court duo was not one to mess with against the Lakers. Sullinger brought it in the second half, scoring nine points and grabbing five rebounds in the third quarter alone.
He finished the game with an energetic and efficient 17 points on 5-for-9 shooting with 13 rebounds. Sullinger has said that starting alongside Zeller or Olynyk doesn’t matter to him, but things seem to be going pretty well at the moment. Read the rest of this entry »
As most know by now, Kobe Bryant and Rajon Rondo shared breakfast together in Boston on Thursday, but as Ramona Shelburne of ESPN reported, there was nothing to the breakfast — it had actually been planned for weeks.
That doesn’t mean there haven’t been any trade conversations between the two legendary franchises recently, though.
According to one of Shelburne’s sources, the Celtics and Lakers did briefly discuss a Rondo deal a few months ago, but talks have since ended. The Lakers don’t have much to offer, and are not keen on including a first-round pick in a deal — something Danny Ainge would require at least one of one of in order to ship Rondo out. Although the odds of Rondo being traded are slim, a deal along the lines of a first-round pick, rookie Julius Randle (who is out for the year with a broken leg), and an expiring contract would be something Ainge would at least be forced to ponder.
But even at season’s end, assuming Rondo has not been dealt, it’s been no secret that the Lakers plan to pursue the crafty point guard in free agency. Rondo has long been one of Bryant’s favorite players.
However, Thursday’s hangout session had nothing to do with Rondo giving up Boston for Los Angeles. “It was a basketball geek conversation,” Bryant said to reporters earlier on Friday.
And as for Kobe’s thoughts on the breakfast? “It was delicious,” he said.
|Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant get breakfast together in Boston||12.04.14 at 2:33 pm ET|
With Rondo set to become a free agent following this season, could Bryant be doing some recruiting?
Kobe & Rondo grabbed breakfast in Boston. KB loves him. LAL could probably get RR for two 1sts + Nash expiring deal. pic.twitter.com/PYeEt0zI04
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) December 4, 2014
Another shot of Kobe & Rondo grabbing breakfast in Boston: pic.twitter.com/TK6qBEB5qx
— Baxter Holmes (@BaxterHolmes) December 4, 2014
|Rajon Rondo: ‘I’ve not been myself’||at 1:15 am ET|
After finishing 1-for-6 from the field against the Pistons, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has now scored just two points in each of his last three games. He’s been held to single digits in six of his last seven outings and he hasn’t made a free throw since Nov. 23.
This isn’t your older brother’s Rajon Rondo.
“I’ve not been myself,” he said after a 109-102 win snapped a five-game losing streak. “I haven’t been as aggressive. I haven’t been making shots. I’ve been turning the ball over. So, like I said, a lot of those losses I put on myself, and I’ve got to find a better rhythm.”
How, exactly, does Rondo plan to find that rhythm? He could start by attacking the basket, getting to the free throw line and breaking out of his 30 percent free-throw shooting funk.
“I don’t really have the answer,” added Rondo, who had eight assists against four turnovers. “If I had it, I’d probably figure it out, but I’m still confident in myself. I’m still believing in myself. So, that hasn’t shied away from my game, and I’ll continue to get better.”
Things have gotten so bad that Celtics coach Brad Stevens benched Rondo for one possession on each end in the final minute of a one-possession game, replacing him with Evan Turner for free-throw shooting and defensive purposes. In the final minutes of overtime, the Celtics actively kept the ball out of Rondo’s hands in order to avoid any Hack-A-Rondo attempts. It’s hard to remember any team ever freezing out an All-Star and all-defensive point guard in such a manner.
“Evan’s shooting 87 percent or something?” said Stevens, who sold Turner short on his 92 percent free-throw shooting. “We were playing Rondo off the ball in some actions … and it doesn’t really matter who has it to me. I took him out the one time, and I immediately regretted it. I felt like I should have had him back in, so I had him take the ball out the rest of the time.”
Regardless of how Stevens couched his reasoning, it was obvious the Celtics did not trust their captain with the ball in the final minutes of a close game, and that strategy actually worked to their advantage in their first home victory in almost a month. That’s not normal.
|5 things we learned in the Celtics’ overtime victory over the Pistons||12.03.14 at 10:23 pm ET|
The Celtics entered Wednesday’s meeting with the Pistons at the TD Garden losers of eight of their last nine games. Not a good look to begin with, but even worse when you factor in their only victory during the streak came against the (then) winless 76ers. Detroit arrived with a 3-15 record, so if there was a time for the Celtics to get back on track, this was it.
It took overtime to get the job done, but Boston finally got its victory, 109-102. (For the complete box score, click here.)
Caron Butler hit a 3-pointer with just 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 88 apiece. The Celtics then failed to convert on the final possession of regulation as Andre Drummond swatted away Jeff Green‘s layup attempt at what seemed to be its highest point. But the C’s scored the first eight points of overtime and finally held on for a win.
Despite an off night from Rajon Rondo, Green (game-high 32 points and six 3-pointers) and Kelly Olynyk (20 points, seven rebounds, three assists and an uncharacteristic three blocks) picked up the slack. Jared Sullinger was the only other Celtic in double figures, scoring 10 of his 14 points from the perimeter in overtime.
Here’s five things we learned in the win:
RAJON RONDO NEEDS TO PLAY MORE MINUTES AND FIND WAYS TO STAY ON THE FLOOR LATE IN GAMES
Rondo has been playing seven minutes per quarter pretty consistently. Despite some questions about his late-game antics and ability to close out games, the Celtics should be a much better offensive team when he is on the floor. Rondo had played a mere 19 minutes entering the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game. He wasn’t having anywhere close to his best game, but in his defense, it’s hard to find a rhythm in such staggered minutes.
Stevens removed Rondo from the lineup with six minutes remaining, seemingly without reason since Rondo had played only 24 minutes to that point. Rondo finished with only two points for the third game in a row, this time with just three boards and eight assists. He played 34 minutes, committing a huge turnover in the final minute of regulation, and Stevens benched him again for the Celtics‘ second-to-last possession of the fourth quarter.
Stevens sat Rondo on another important possession in overtime, protecting Rondo from being sent to the free throw line (where he’s shooting an atrocious 30 percent this season). Rondo also seemed to hide from the ball on possessions, which could have been reason for Stevens to sit him down.
Long story short, Rondo needs to fix his free throw shooting problem. It’s unheard of for an All-Star point guard to be benched so late in close games.
Last year, in the first season of the Celtics‘ post-Paul Pierce/Kevin Garnett rebuild, we expected them to stumble to one of the league’s worst records. They did just that, ending up with a record of 25-57. No big deal. We all saw it coming and knew the results would be tough. But 15 games into last season the C’s held a record of 5-10 — all games in which Rajon Rondo did not play. That’s not bad.
This year was expected to be different. Rondo would be beginning the season with the team, Danny Ainge used the No. 6 pick in the draft on the promising Marcus Smart, and the rest of the youngsters had another year of experience under their belts. That young core included Brad Stevens, who arguably had as much learning to do as any player on his roster in his first go-round as an NBA head coach.
Despite all of the positive signs heading into the season, it has not been any different. In fact, it has been worse. The Celtics have a record of 4-11 after 15 games — that’s bad. Their loss to the Hawks on Tuesday night was the fifth time this season that the C’s have blown a lead of 15 or more points and lost the game. Growing an enormous first-half lead and then losing the game has become routine for these Celtics, especially on their home floor.
In ways it’s depressing that after opening up a 23-point lead in Atlanta the expectation was that they would find a way to lose, but those who saw it coming were right. The reason is their fourth-quarter execution, as they rank last in the league in fourth-quarter scoring. Stevens knows that the C’s will continue to produce disappointing results until his team does something about it.
“The game honors the more physical team,” Stevens said following the loss. “It does night in and night out. We’ve just got to improve in that area.”
He later concluded: “I’m not crazy enough to think that if [the physicality] doesn’t change, we’ll be sitting up here a lot like this.”
The fourth-quarter numbers have been well documented at this point, but it seems laughable that the Celtics haven’t even gotten lucky and been able to close out any of these games. The main problem in the fourth quarter has been the apparent disconnect between Rondo and his teammates during crunch time.
|Magic 9-Ball: Rajon Rondo Trade Barometer v3.0||12.02.14 at 3:34 pm ET|
Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.
RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE
Since last we evaluated Rondo’s status this season, the Celtics have won just once in five attempts, and that victory came against the winless 76ers. Because they play in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (4-10) remain only 1.5 games out of the eighth seed through 14 games, but their 1-9 record against teams with winning records isn’t too encouraging for those holding out hope for the C’s playoff prospects.
Over the past five games, Rondo has averaged 8.8 assists, 7.2 points and 5.8 rebounds, so his overall numbers have dipped, even if he’s still the only NBA player currently averaging at least seven points, seven assists and seven rebounds. He remains the league’s leader in assists, passes and assist opportunities per game as well as points created by assists per 48 minutes, according to NBA.com/stats.
The Celtics point guard has always been a different breed of basketball player, capable of controlling games as a facilitator, but at what point does his inability to score become a problem? His current status as the worst free-throw shooting guard in NBA history has been well documented, but Rondo’s offensive woes go well beyond the charity stripe. He has attempted more field goals than he’s scored points in seven of his 12 appearances, netting single digits on eight occasions and scoring six or fewer points four times this season. Meanwhile, the C’s dropped from a top-five offense through two weeks of 2014-15 to 17th in offensive rating (106.1 points per 100 possessions) a month into the season.
When you combine Rondo’s 13.7 points scored per 48 minutes (PTS/48) and 36.1 points created by assists per 48 minutes (PTSC/48), the four-time All-Star is still generating 49.8 total points per 48 minutes (PTSG/48). If that seems like a lot, it’s because it is. Of the league’s 30 starting point guards, 20 have generated more than 40 points per 48 minutes, and Rondo ranks ninth among that group. Obviously, a player’s points created by assists depend on his teammates, but the list shakes out how you might expect.
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