Winners go for the jugular. Losers allow victory to slip through their hands.

Unfortunately, for Brad Stevens, he’s seeing much too much of the slipping and not enough killer instinct, with Friday’s 109-102 loss to the Bulls the latest example.

There’s a common, unsettling theme developing between Stevens’ rookie season of 25 wins and this season. The Celtics‘ coach watched Friday as a 16-point second-quarter lead evaporated. He then saw his team bounce back as they have so many times this season, taking an 81-72 lead late in the third quarter.

Was Friday finally going to be one of those rare days where the Celtics show the mental toughness to hang on for a quality win like they did on Nov. 8 in Chicago against these same Bulls?

Nope. Not when you shoot 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the final quarter, score 11 points, miss all eight 3-point attempts and convert just one of five free throws. The Celtics, like they did against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Cleveland just crumbled on their own parquet floor.

“I felt good coming into the game,” Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’€™m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’€™ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about it. Hey, we scored 102 points on Chicago and that’€™s with an 11-point quarter. So we’€™re doing a lot of good things, but we’€™ve got to finish. It’€™s the difference between winning and losing.”

After his team fell to 4-9 on the season, losing for the fifth time in six games, Stevens was asked if he’s starting to question what he’s doing based on all the losing.

“We can win by 30 and I’m questioning me,” Stevens said. “This has nothing to do with [score]. I don’t change game to game, as far as my own analysis or being overly critical or any of those types of things.”

So what went wrong?

“The ball didn’€™t go in,” Stevens said. “So I think that sometimes it’€™s as simple as that; sometimes it’€™s as difficult as they were making it difficult for us. And it was probably a combination of those two things. But I thought in the last three minutes, especially, we executed pretty well. And obviously would like to have those misses back, but that’€™s basketball. That happens. But the execution I felt pretty good about; got the ball where we wanted to get it on most every occasion. We had a little bit of a dip around the five- or six-minute mark, but other than that, you know, I think it was more just unfortunately the ball didn’€™t go in for us.”

Stevens insists the winning is right around the corner as soon as the Celtics add the “little things” that are missing right now late in games.

“Yes. So I think you just have to go out and earn it,” Stevens said. “You have to go out and do it. Like I don’€™t think there’€™s two ways around it. I don’€™t think that all of a sudden winning magically appears, because you’€™ve put your time in. I think it’€™s about having opportunities and seizing them and grabbing them.

“And we’€™re not doing that right now, and then when we do do it, it’€™s not going to be a given the next time. You have to seize it and grab it every time. It’€™s not like you cure some ill. You have to do it every single time, and that’€™s what makes it tough. And that’€™s why some of these teams in this league win so consistently and perform so well consistently throughout the season.

“Obviously, we believe in them. They know we believe in them. And that’€™s all that we can do. And then it becomes, we have to seize it. You know, again, it goes back to you’€™ve got to go get it. There’€™s nobody ‘€“ nobody on an opposing sideline’€™s going to feel sorry for you; nobody on the outside looking in is going to feel sorry for you. So it’€™s a matter of curing the things you can cure and fixing the things you can fix and then going and taking the game.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

Joakim Noah goes up for a basket against Jared Sullinger. (Getty Images)

Joakim Noah goes up for a basket against Jared Sullinger. (Getty Images)

Another big first half lead. Another would-be win turned into a loss as the Celtics fell to the Chicago Bulls, 109-102, Friday afternoon in a matinee treat at TD Garden. Jimmy Butler hit four key free throws while the Celtics went ice cold from the field as Boston fell to 4-9 on the season. The Bulls, who outscored the Celtics, 55-42 in the second half, gained a measure of revenge for Boston’s stunning win in Chicago earlier in the month.

The game was highly entertaining, with plenty of back-and-forth.

Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose (hamstring) both overcame nagging injuries to start the game but it was an aggressive Celtics’ dose of Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger that proved to be painful for the visitors early on. Bradley hit his first three shots while Sullinger connected on three of his first four as the Celtics built a 16-point lead (54-38) midway through the second quarter.

But the Bulls finished the first half on a 16-6 run to cut it to 60-54 at the half. Brandon Bass came off the bench to score 11 points and haul in six rebounds to power Boston while Pau Gasol had 11 points to lead the Bulls.

The Bulls continued their charge in the third quarter, Rose connected on a three just four minutes into the third to tie the game, 68-68. Jimmy Butler’s 15-foot pull-up jumper gave Chicago its first lead since 6-4, capping a 16-8 run to open the second half.

Sullinger drove to the basket and connected on a floater and drew the blocking foul from Kirk Hinrich. His free throw with 3:03 left in the fourth completed the three-point play and tied the game, 100-100.

Jeff Green connected for a field goal with 2:29 left to put the Celtics up, 102-100. Jimmy Butler hit a pair of free throws with 1:20 left to tie the game. Rajon Rondo had the chance to put the Celtics ahead with 1:04 left but missed both free throws off the right side of the rim.

After a missed three by Sullinger, Butler fought off Rondo for the rebound and Rondo was called for the foul on the play. Butler hit both free throws with 50.4 seconds left to give the Bulls the lead for good, 104-102. Noah hit a jumper at the top of the key with 24.4 seconds left to put the Bulls up, 106-102 and send the fans for the exit.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

The Celtics main focus during their practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be on preparing to battle a tough Bulls team when they come to Boston for a Black Friday matinee. However, a share of the spotlight will be on Marcus Smart’€™s return to practice, with the hope that he can suit up after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle.

“It’€™s just a matter of him getting back out here, and it’€™s more about conditioning than it is about anything else right now,” offered Brad Stevens.”€œJust because he hasn’€™t done anything on the court physically, as far as 5-on-5 in the last three weeks, or whatever it’€™s been.”

One thing that the team certainly will not do is rush Smart,€“ especially after Avery Bradley attempted to return prematurely from an ankle injury just last season.

“I don’€™t know [if Bradley can offer Smart any help on returning],”€ Stevens admitted. “Again, I trust our medical team and medical staff, and, you know, I think that Marcus and Avery, I’€™m sure, will share that discussion and talk about that. You know, we don’€™t want anybody to come back before they’€™re physically able, because, obviously, you don’€™t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”

Bradley knows he put himself in a bad spot last year, so his advice to Smart was simple.

“€œIt’€™s tough; this is his first year. Obviously he wants to help our team out and he’€™s a little disappointed that he hasn’€™t been able to every single game. You know, he’€™s back, but one thing everyone’€™s been telling him is just make sure that your body feels good; listen to your body.”

So, did Bradley listen to his body last season? “Obviously not, I re-hurt myself,”€ he said.

Assuming Smart is able to play on Friday, Stevens is not planning on using him any differently than he was before, despite Smart’€™s recent lack of conditioning.

“€œI don’€™t know more so than normal,” Stevens said of Smart’€™s minutes. “€œHe’€™s not a starter, so there’€™ve been a couple games early, especially the Dallas game, where he probably played close to starter minutes. You know, I think if he’€™s in the mid-twenties it’€™s not really limiting minutes, it’€™s probably about what he would be playing anyway.”

After starting Wednesday’s practice, Smart was unable to finish the session. He will get another chance to prove himself before the Bulls come to town as the Celtics will also practice on Thanksgiving.

Bradley has some concerns of his own

Bradley has not been to the free throw line in the past five games. Something his coach feels he needs to figure out.

“We need him to get to the foul line more,” Stevens said. “I think the interesting part is that his free throw have really come on jump shots, so they haven’€™t come on drives. There’€™s a fine line between that, because he is a really good catch and shoot, run and shoot type of guy who can get a guy on his back, and might get fouled on a jump shot. And at the same time, he’€™s a guy that when he gets into the paint, he’€™s not big. So, you know, he’€™s got to get an angle to finish, and he’€™s seeking and searching for that angle. Again, there’€™s a fine line. We’€™d like him to get to the foul line more, he’€™d like to get to the foul line more.”

Although Bradley won’€™t be paying special attention to his drought of getting to the line, he knows what he needs to do to get there.

“You just have to be aggressive and not think about it,” Bradley said. “Going into the game you just have to be aggressive and make plays and hopefully get the call. That’€™s my mindset, just to be aggressive.”

Bradley and Smart (if he plays) will likely be asked to play very aggressive on Friday if they are going to have success when they face a backcourt of Derrick Rose and Jimmy Butler — one of the best backcourts in the NBA when fully healthy themselves.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.

THE BEST

1. Warriors (11-2)

You’ve got Draymond Green playing out of his mind, Mo Speights calling Kendrick Perkins terrible, Steph Curry emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate. I have waited for too long, but now I am making it official. I’m locking in the Warriors, they officially are one of my five League Pass teams.

Side note: I enjoy everything Kirk Goldsberry does. His charts always have been fascinating, but now he is doing videos. Game over, Internet Basketball Folk, he wins.

2. Raptors (12-2)

There is a dearth of productive big men, especially in the Eastern Conference. If Jonas Valanciunas can does this night in and night out, the entire league better watch out. The idea of facing the three-headed monster of Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in the playoffs is absolutely terrifying.

3. Grizzlies (12-2)

This team is incredibly efficient and very, very boring. Talented frontcourt men Marc Gasol and Z-Bo not only play tough defense, but they pass the ball better than any other big man combo I can remember. I don’t know if the Grizz can sustain this success, but they certainly have enough gumption and mental toughness. Last week half the team went down with a stomach virus, yet the Grizzlies didn’t miss a beat.

4. Trail Blazers (11-3)

Rip City has won eight in row. I still have concerns about the bench depth, but if OG Steve Blake keeps sonning dudes, I may change my mind. Really, Turner? Come on, BRUH!

5. Wizards (9-4)

Is it crazy to think Paul Peirce can singlehandedly teach this young and talented squadron how to win? I certainly don’t think so. Just listen to the Gortatasburg Address and tell me you don’t believe.

THE WORST

6. Knicks (4-11)

The Knicks simply don’t play defense. With Carmelo Anthony on the sideline with back spasms, the only likable thing about the roster is Iman Shumpert’s ever-expanding flat top.

5. Thunder (3-12)

With huge players returning from injuries, I expect the Thunder to make a run. Just look at this practice video.

Mitch McGary, ladies and gentleman! But seriously, once Kevin Durant and Bryant Westbrook return, the Thunder can only lose around 20 games if they expect to make the playoffs. They are going to have to dominate the West to make a serious playoff push.

4. Timberwolves (3-9)

I’ve got nothing to say about this boring team, so here is a photo album of Corey Brewer smiling.

3. Pistons (3-11)

My favorite excerpts from the Detroit Pistons drinking game:

— Drink for each missed pull-up jumper with more than 14 seconds on the clock

— Drink whenever the camera pans to a disgruntled Stan Van Gundy

— Drink each time Greg Monroe shouts, “And one!”

— An additional drink if he didn’t even make the shot

Another additional drink if he clearly wasn’t fouled

— Drink for each Andre Drummond foul

2. Lakers (3-11)

Shockingly, the Lakers won two games in a row. Not surprisingly, Kobe Bryant doesn’t respect any of his teammates. The Lakers may have historically the worst defensive team in the history of the NBA, but at least Wesley Johnson made this cool dunk.

1A. University of Kentucky (6-0)

1B. 76ers (0-14)

Follow Sam Packard on Twitter @SPackGuy.

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard
James Young

James Young

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Red Claws won their first two home games this past weekend, narrowly beating the Canton Charge, 94-90, on Friday night and blowing out the Delaware 87ers, 120-102, on Sunday.

On Friday, the Red Claws struggled early to defend Alex Kirk, the Charge’s 7-footer from New Mexico who finished with a double-double, amassing 22 points and 10 rebounds. After a back-and-forth game that included 17 lead changes in the third quarter, Maine took control in the fourth by increasing its defensive pressure and limiting turnovers. Christian Watford hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put the Red Claws ahead, as the team finished on a 13-2 run.

On Sunday the Red Claws added Celtics first-round-draft pick James Young to the starting lineup. Young, who was assigned to the Red Claws early Sunday morning, played 33 minutes and scored 22 points in his second D-League game. Young shot 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc. While Young has put up impressive scoring numbers in each of his two D-League appearances, he has yet to dominate at the lower level. Before Young can crack the Celtics rotation, expect him to play a handful of more games in Vacationland. (For a more thorough analysis of Young’s performance on Sunday, check out Jay King’s excellent piece here.)

NOTES FROM CRUSTACEAN NATION

Celtics trickle down — Scott Morrison definitely has mastered Brad Stevens‘ system. The Red Claws play at a very high pace, and Morrison often can be heard yelling at his players to push the ball. At any moment, any member of the Red Claws is liable to take a shot, especially if it is a 3-pointer. The Red Claws, following a D-League trend, attempted an astounding 35 treys against the 87ers, knocking down 18. And the Red Claws players shared the wealth, as on Friday five players scored in double figures, while on Sunday four players notched over 10 points while four others had nine.

Familiar faces lead the way – If the Celtics are looking for depth later in the season, expect them to turn to some familiar faces. Tim Frazier and Christian Watford, training camp invitees for the big league club, played big minutes for the Red Claws and at times looked like the best players on the court. Frazier needs to work on his ball control, as he struggled early with turnovers. Watford did a good job defending bigger opponents, but it remains to be seen if this would translate to the NBA. Chris Babb, who played 14 games for the Celtics last year, looked liked the most polished player, displaying controlled intensity, especially on the defensive end.

Minor leagues are fun – Minor league sports are awesome. Catching a game at the Portland Expo Center is just downright fun. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and concessions are incredibly inexpensive. Like any good minor league sports team, the Red Claws had the perfect amount of in-game distractions. Over the weekend, there was a ferocious basketball musical chairs competition, a 2-year-old girl buckling under the pressure of a mini dunk contest, and a performance of 30 unicycling jugglers.

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard

Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently suggested that he is responsible for improving his team’s defense. But on Friday, there was little evidence of progress by either Stevens or his team.

Rajon Rondo had one of the worst games of his career on Friday. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo had one of the worst games of his career on Friday. (Getty Images)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens recently suggested that he is responsible for improving his team’s defense. But on Friday, there was little evidence of progress by either Stevens or his team.

A sometimes-lethargic Celtics team was manhandled in Memphis by the Grizzlies. The C’s, who entered the contest having permitted the third most points per game in the NBA (107.5,  behind only the 3-7 Timberwolves and 3-9 Lakers) once again permitted an opponent to score at an alarming rate. The Celtics lost, 117-100, with Memphis shooting 52.7 percent for the night. The defenseless Celtics fell to 4-7 on the season, with the kind of defensive night that screams lottery.

Four other takeaways:

RAJON RONDO HAD ONE OF THE WORST GAMES OF HIS CAREER

Rondo’s far-reaching skills were nowhere to be found. In 28 minutes, he scored four points with five boards and four assists, just the 15th time in his career and the second since 2008-09 that he’s had no more than five of any of those categories in a game where he played at least 24 minutes. The four assists matched his fewest in a game since he had a three-assist night on Nov. 28, 2012.

THE CELTICS CAN BE OVERWHELMED INSIDE

Marc Gasol scored 32 with eight boards, while Zach Randolph had 16 points and 16 rebounds in just 27 minutes. A Celtics team that had been effective on the glass instead was pushed around, getting outrebounded by the Grizzlies, 50-38.

AVERY BRADLEY IS NOT A BALL DISTRIBUTOR

The Celtics, of course, are an offense built around point-guard distribution, particularly when Rondo is on the court, but at times when Rondo wasn’t in the game, the team looked to others to generate movement and passing. When Avery Bradley was charged with that task, however, the results were poor, as Bradley endured his third game without an assist this season. He is averaging 1.1 assists per game. Entering the night, he was one of just six guards in the NBA to play at least 10 games this year while averaging less than 1.5 assists per game.

KELLY OLYNYK CAN MAKE IT RAIN

The 7-footer went 3-for-5 from behind the arc and scored 18, stretching the floor in a way that allowed the Celtics offense to be successful while he was on the floor. Olynyk had a +2 plus/minus; the rest of the Celtics starters were no better than -14. Olynyk is averaging 12.9 points per night while shooting 56.7 percent from the floor, including 46.7 percent from distance. His 3-point field goal percentage could put him in historic company. Just one 7-footer has ever shot 45 percent or better from long range — Zydrunas Ilgauskus, who made 47.8 percent of his shots behind the arc in 2009-10.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

The Celtics arrived in Philadelphia on a three-game losing streak, but they had to feel confident knowing they would be facing off against a horrid 0-10 76ers team.

The Celtics arrived in Philadelphia on a three-game losing streak, but they had to feel confident knowing they would be facing off against a horrid 0-10 76ers team.

In the end, it wasn’€™t pretty, but the Celtics got the job done with a 101-90 victory for their second road win on the season. The Celtics are now 4-6 on the season. Here are five things we learned in the victory:

THE CELTICS PLAYED DOWN TO THE COMPETITION IN THE FIRST HALF

The Celtics came into the game sporting the third-best offense in the NBA, but the scoreboard read just 46-46 at halftime. The C’€™s matched the 76ers with 10 turnovers while getting outrebounded 27-19 by Philly — never good things when facing a winless opponent that ranks last in the league in rebounding.

Had it not been for 12 points from Brandon Bass off the bench, this one could have slipped away early. Bass was really the only player that put forward a noteworthy performance in the first half; he shot 5-for-8 in his 13 minutes.

THE BENCH VETERANS WERE KEY

Brad Stevens would have been in a whole lot of trouble in this one without key contributions from veterans off the bench. Bass’€™ strong first half carried over to the second half, while Marcus Thornton came up big as well.

Bass wound up with a game-high 23 points to go along with six boards and Thornton finished with 13 while also coming up with four steals.

THE CELTICS CLOSED OUT A GAME

After letting three home games in a row slip through their fingertips, the green finally sealed the deal on a win. Sure it was against a brutal opponent, but in was a win on the road in the NBA. Stevens will take it. After a string of frustrating late losses, this victory could offer the Celtics some positive momentum going forward.

Jared Sullinger was key in making sure Boston cam out victorious, putting up 18 of his 22 points in the second half.

THIS GAME WAS SLOPPY

You can look at the turnovers in the box score, but that won’€™t tell you the full story of this game; it was ugly to watch. Despite their record, the Celtics have been an exciting team to watch so far this season. They are fast paced, young and athletic, but it was tough to tell on Wednesday.

Boston missed a lot of easy shots, but struggled even to get off a shot on other possessions. The C’€™s are going to have to tighten up their game when they play in Memphis on Friday. The Grizzlies currently have the NBA’€™s best record.

THE 76ERS ARE HORRIBLE BEYOND BELIEF

Entering Wednesday’€™s game, Philly was already just one of six teams ever to begin a season 0-10. One of those teams was the 1972-73 Philadelphia squad that finished with a record of 9-73, but this team might be worse. They are an average defensive team, but given how much they struggle to score, it’€™s tough to see them winning their first game anytime soon.

This speaks to how poorly the Celtics played to make this game a contest until the end. However, when a below average Celtics team can come in and pick up a road win on what was clearly an off night, that’€™s never a good sign for the home squad.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow