|Rethinking the Rajon Rondo-Jared Sullinger combo||03.27.14 at 10:24 am ET|
Rajon Rondo told Brad Stevens he would like to play alongside Jared Sullinger “as much as possible,” but the Celtics captain and his coach don’t appear to be on the same page on this one, considering the sophomore big — probably the team’s second-best player at this point — hasn’t started a game for more than a month.
“I like playing on the court with Sully,” Rondo said after the C’s 99-90 loss to the Raptors. “I told Brad I wanted to play with Sully as much as possible. Not a knock on any of our other bigs, but one thing that Sully does that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is he’s probably the best outlet passer we have.”
With respect to his encouragement of Sullinger’s 3-point shooting, Stevens admitted, “I’m not as much an analytics guy as everyone portrays me to be,” but the numbers support his coach’s hesitancy to pair the two more often.
The Celtics average 29.9 defensive rebounds, 23.2 assists and 98.8 points per 100 possessions while scoring 10.8 percent of their points on the fast break with Rondo and Sullinger paired on the court. To put that into perspective, the C’s average 33.3 defensive rebounds, 26.8 assists and 101.4 points per 100 possessions while scoring 18.7 percent of their points on the fast break with rookies Phil Pressey and Kelly Olynyk sharing the floor. Rondo and Sullinger are a minus-47 over 431 minutes; Pressey and Olynyk are a plus-21 over 418.
|Fast Break: Raptors claw Celtics, Rajon Rondo ends up in stitches||03.26.14 at 9:46 pm ET|
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.
|Double ’07: Paul Pierce, Rajon Rondo and Celtics captaincy||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).
|Weekly NBA Draft Watch: March Madness could reveal sleeper pick for Celtics||03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET|
The C’s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?
Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.
We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.
Don’t forget that outside of Boston’s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.
The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.
Who is 2014’s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘The Manamal’ in the NBA? Time will tell.
|Fast Break: Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley too cool for LeBron James-less Heat||03.19.14 at 9:51 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo scored just nine points, but he was the best player on the floor all night, taking over the fourth quarter in a 101-96 victory against the two-time defending NBA champion Heat. Of course, it didn’t hurt that LeBron James (back spasms) was relegated to the Miami bench, but still — this was Rondo’s night.
The Celtics point guard finished one point shy of a triple-double (15 assists, 10 rebounds), ending a five-game losing streak. Avery Bradley‘s 23 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers, led the scoring effort, and four other Celtics reached double figures: Brandon Bass (18 points), Jared Sullinger (14 points), Jeff Green (13 points) and Kelly Olynyk (10 points). And the Celtics needed all of it from each of them.
The Celtics improved to 23-46, moving one win ahead of the Lakers and Suns for the NBA’s seventh-worst record.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bradley’s back: After making just six of his 25 attempts from outside of 10 feet in his first three games back from an ankle injury, Bradley found the stroke that made him so successful early this season. The soon-to-be free agent knocked down three of his six first-half 3-point attempts and added a long jumper to enter the break with 11 points. In all, the C’s shot 50 percent (9-18) from distance over the first two quarters and stayed within 56-53 after two.
Charmed third: Working inside and out, Bradley and Brandon Bass shot a combined 8-of-8 from the field to score 21 of the C’s 27 third-quarter points. Rondo was on the feeding end of four of those buckets, finishing with six assists in the frame. As a result, the Celtics took an 80-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Bench press: The C’s bench situation isn’t pretty. It’s comprised of four guys who weren’t on the team to start the season, two rookies and another player with 45 NBA games under his belt entering the year. Yet, they received valuable contributions from three of those seven players, as Sullinger, Olynyk and Jerryd Bayless (7 points, 5 assists) combined for 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: The opening quarter couldn’t have gone much worse for the Celtics defense. While the NBA’s two-time defending MVP sat on the bench, the Heat still scored 34 points on 70 percent shooting to take a 12-point lead in the game’s initial 12 minutes. It wasn’t Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh who victimized the C’s, but Udonis Haslem. The Miami veteran scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter.
No LeBron: The Heat announced James would miss his first game in a month shortly before tipoff. It remains to be seen whether he’ll return Friday in Miami, but regardless of how they feel about him, Boston fans missed a player worth the price of admission. Perhaps a motivated Celtics team took it as a sign of disrespect, too.
|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.”