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5 things we learned as Spurs stick it to Celtics 03.20.15 at 10:49 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

It was a wasted trip to the Midwest.

Following on the heels of Wednesday’s 122-118 loss to Oklahoma City, the Celtics came out flat, and a late charge fell short in a 101-89 loss to the Spurs Friday night in San Antonio.

For a complete box score, click here.

But thanks to some help from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Celtics (30-38) remain tied for the eighth and final spot of the Eastern Conference. The Cavaliers beat the Pacers, 95-92, in Cleveland, dropping Indiana to 30-38 on the year. Miami won their game, 108-91, over Denver, increasing its lead to two games over the Celtics.

After winning five straight games, the Celtics have lost two straight as they fight desperately for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

For a second time this season, Marcus Smart let his emotions get the best of him, getting ejected in the second half for throwing a punch to Matt Bonner’s crotch as he was trying to fight his way through a screen. On March 8 against the Magic, Smart threw an elbow in the final minute and was ejected in the loss.

“To me, it looks like an unacceptable play,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters after the game. “You can’t do that.”

The Celtics host Detroit on Sunday night at 6 p.m. at TD Garden.

ICE COLD START

The Spurs raced out to a 19-4 start and the Celtics never recovered. Two issues plagued the Celtics. After Avery Bradley hit Boston’s first jumper of the game, the Celtics missed six of their next seven. They also committed three turnovers in the first five minutes. The Celtics allowed the Spurs to shoot 60 percent in the first quarter and race out to a 32-19 lead after the first quarter.

MARCUS SMART EJECTED

For a second time this season, Marcus Smart was ejected from a game. With 8:56 left in the fourth, Smart punched Matt Bonner in the crotch trying to fight his way through a screen at the top of the key in the fourth quarter. Smart wound up and threw his right hand to Bonner’s midsection and was ejected. Smart was ejected for throwing an elbow against the Magic earlier in the season. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, San Antonio Spurs,
Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success? 01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET
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Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.

After the C’s loss on Wednesday, Brad Stevens, Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley all referred to the Hawks as a “machine.” So what is it that makes this particular machine so good?

One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.

Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.

“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?

“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”

Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.

It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich
Fast Break: Tim Duncan, undermanned Spurs stop Celtics 02.12.14 at 9:46 pm ET
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Tim Duncan offered a reminder of what can happen when the Ping Pong balls don’t fall the Celtics way, turning back the clock 17 years after they missed out on one of the game’s great power forwards. Duncan finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds to held the Spurs hand the C’s their second loss in three games, 104-92.

Six Celtics scored in double figures — led by 15 points from Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk (10 rebounds, second straight double-double) — but the Celtics dropped to 19-35. Here’s what went wrong (and right) entering the All-Star break.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Worst first: Sans two of their big three — Tony Parker (back) and Manu Ginobili (hamstring) — as well as key contributors Kawhi Leonard (hand) and Tiago Splitter (calf), the Spurs still dug the Celtics an early hole. Led by Marco Belinelli, who posted nine first-quarter points and five early assists without Avery Bradley (ankle) to frustrate him, San Antonio shot 56 percent as a team and led 25-19 after one.

Green thumbs down: It was an ugly Jeff Green outing this time around. He missed his first six shots before knocking down a 3 at the end of the first quarter, and then failed on a couple bunnies before sinking a buzzer-beating layup to limit the damage to 48-44 at the break. He had more turnovers (2) than rebounds (1), assists, steals or blocks at the half. Green’s engagement early once again proved an indication of his overall performance.

Not going streaking: After logging six straight double-doubles, Jared Sullinger‘s string came to an end. The reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week started 2-of-9 from the field (0-2 3P) and sat for a large stretch of the second half in favor of Olynyk, Kris Humphries and (wait for it) Joel Anthony.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, San Antonio Spurs,
Doc Rivers really feels for Gregg Popovich and the $250,000 fine 11.30.12 at 7:06 pm ET
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Doc Rivers admitted before Friday’s game with the Blazers that he didn’t like the $250,000 fine handed down by NBA Commissioner David Stern Friday night against the Spurs for sitting four of their stars and sending them home for Thursday night’s game against the Heat in Miami.

Gregg Popovich, a close friend of Rivers, did not dress Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Danny Green for the game on national TV Thurday night, sending them home on a Southwest Airlines flight. Popovich said he did what he needed to in the best interest of his team, which was playing a brutal stretch of four road games in five nights and finishing up a road trip.

Stern said in a statement announcing the fine that the Spurs did a “disservice to the league and its fans.”

Rivers said he understood but sympathized more with Popovich.

“I don’€™t like it,” Rivers said. “I do get the other side of it, but it’s a tough one. You’€™ve got to coach your team to win in the long run.”

Rivers said Stern and the league made a big deal of it when it happened right away, when the league issued a statement Thursday night.

“I apologize to all NBA fans,” Stern said in his statement Thursday. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Rivers thought that was a bad move.

“I think it was an action and a reaction personally, and I think the reaction was probably overdone [Thursday], and then all of a sudden you have to have an action,” Rivers said.

Rivers was asked if he’d consider a similar move to rest veterans like Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.

“We’€™ll do it when we want to do it and we should be able to do it,” Rivers said.

Read More: Boston Celtics, David Stern, Doc Rivers, Gregg Popovich
Matt Bonner’s day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich saga 11.22.12 at 12:57 pm ET
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In case you you haven’t read his “Sandwich Hunter: The Quest for the Hoagie Grail” blog on NBA.com, the Spurs’ Matt Bonner is the league’s sandwich connoisseur. (Although, I have to disagree with the New Hampshire native’s selection of D’Angelo’s as New England’s sandwich haven. Total rookie movie from an NBA veteran.)

Considering the day-after-Thanksgiving hoagie is the greatest in history, we couldn’t let him escape Boston without first getting Bonner’s recipe for that sandwich Squanto and Myles Standish probably invented in the 1620s.

“Typically, you’ve got the turkey out of the fridge with some stuffing and gravy and cranberry sauce,” said the pride of Concord, N.H., “and you’ve got yourself an amazing leftover sandwich.”

Unfortunately, San Antonio’s 112-100 win over the Celtics on Thanksgiving eve was the start of a long road trip, so after relaxing with family after the game, he joins the Spurs in Indiana for a Friday night game against the Pacers. And that means Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili are the only heroes the Red Rocket will be seeing.

“I’m out of luck,” said Bonner, “because it’s the first game of a six-game East Coast 10-day road trip. So, we’re having a team Thanksgiving dinner, which means no leftovers, so no sandwiches.”

Hey, professional basketball players can’t have it all, so be thankful when you’re devouring that leftover turkey, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce (and my brother’s secret day-after-Thanksgiving sandwich addition: mashed potatoes) — all on toasted bread, of course. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Matt Bonner, NBA, San Antonio Spurs
What Doc Rivers sees is a lot more than just the stat sheet at 8:13 am ET
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Doc Rivers can read a stat sheet just like everyone else. What it means to him is something entirely different.

The stat sheet says Paul Pierce had zero rebounds in 36 minutes. The stat sheet reads Kevin Garnett hauling in just three rebounds in 31 minutes. Brandon Bass led starters with six and Jared Sullinger led all Celtics with seven. They were outrebounded by San Antonio 41-25 in a 112-100 loss Wednesday night at TD Garden.

‘€œI think it’€™ll be easy to say ‘€˜the bigs, the bigs.’€™ It wasn’€™t the bigs,” Rivers said. “It was, but it wasn’€™t as well. We thought we started out the game terrific in the way were playing and then we went on that little turnover-fest and got them kind of activated ‘€“ Tony Parker and their game. I thought we were late on a lot of our rotations and allowed them to just move the ball; very few deflections, which is a big number for us. And then down the stretch (Tiago Splitter) just played terrific.

“He made some big shots them, hell they even went to him a couple times. You know, offensively you score 100 points, 53%, you’€™re pretty happy. But we just let a team shoot 58% against us. We let a team shoot 50% from the three against us. And it’€™s tough to win a game, you shouldn’€™t win a game, if that happens.’€

Do the Celtics need to play harder?

‘€œI think we’€™ve got to do our coverages better, just bottom line,” Rivers said. “Harder and all that, that sounds great. That’€™s what everyone says when you lose; ‘€˜you’€™ve got to play harder.’€™ Well, we’€™ve got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint. So I thought it was a lot of that.’€

Ah, the paint. That’s where the Celtics were outscored 58-34, being dominated at one point, 48-18. But still, that’s not specifically why the Celtics lost. Yes, it’s part of the reason but Rivers points out that when you don’t defend the man delivering the ball into the paint very well, you have no shot. Still, with under three minutes left, the Celtics drew to within six and the Garden was on its feet hoping against hope.

‘€œYeah, we were right there because nobody could stop anybody on either team,” Rivers said. “Again, we shot 53% so the reason we were there is because our offense allowed us to stay there. But to me, that was fools’€™ gold, because the way we were playing defense you’€™re not going to get a stop, you’€™re not going to win a game. And I think we cut it several times and either we had a turnover and they went and scored or late-clock possessions; I think they got them all. They got all the loose balls, all the late-clock scores, and that hurt us.’€ Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Celtics, Doc Rivers, NBA, San Antonio Spurs
Fast Break: Tim Duncan, Spurs board Celtics to death 11.21.12 at 9:52 pm ET
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The Celtics came within 90 seconds of becoming only the second team in the last 25 years to fail to record an offensive rebound — against the only other team do so. Only the Spurs won when they did it on Jan. 23, 2002. This time around, the C’s lost, 112-100.

Rajon Rondo (22 points, 15 assists) did his best to breathe life into a Celtics team seemingly already suffering a Thanksgiving Day tryptophan hangover, contributing to 19 of the C’s final 21 points. Brandon Bass broke his string of 19 straight when he mercifully tipped in an offensive rebound with 1:28 remaining.

Paul Pierce (19 points), Kevin Garnett (14 points) and Jeff Green combined for just three rebounds. Meanwhile, Tim Duncan totaled 20 points and 15 boards. Here’s what else went wrong:

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Read More: Boston Celtics, NBA, Rajon Rondo, San Antonio Spurs
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