Jerryd Bayless poured in 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter to spearhead a furious Celtics comeback, but after Boston knotted the game, 103-103, in the final half-minute, a putback by Amir Johnson with seven seconds left gave the Raptors a 105-103 victory, finalized when Jared Sullinger missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

The Celtics entered the final quarter down by a dozen points, but a 28-12 run put them ahead, 101-97, with just over three minutes remaining. However, the C’s went on to make just one more bucket over the duration of the contest, with the Raptors closing with a 6-2 run that culminated in Johnson’s putback following a game-tying layup by Rajon Rondo with 29 seconds left.

Bayless led the Celtics with 20 points, Jeff Green had 16 and six members of the team finished in double digits on a night when Boston shot 53 percent from the floor. With the loss, the Celtics remained tied with the Jazz for the fourth-worst record in the NBA.

For a complete recap, click here.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
Jackie MacMullan of ESPN Boston joins Mut, Lou, and Christian to talk about Rajon Rondo in the booth, the rest of the Celtics losing season, and the epic battle between the Pacers and Heat.

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.

The Celtics have shot 29.4 percent on 218 3-pointers when Rondo and Sullinger are paired together. On the other hand, the C’s are shooting 35.7 percent on 196 3-pointers when Pressey and Olynyk share the floor. Statistically, those numbers correlate to the percentages from distance for both Sullinger (25.6 3P%) and Olynyk (32.6 3P%).

Against the Raptors, Sullinger’s three straight 3-pointers drew the Celtics within four points in the final minutes. He believes not taping his finger for the first time since dislocating it against the Thunder on Jan. 24 improved his feel.

“Obviously, it’s feeling a lot better,” he said after totaling 26 points and eight rebounds in defeat. “Those couple days we had off that we didn’t really practice really helped me get the mobility in the finger and also helped it heal. It’s constantly getting hit, and tonight I decided not to tape it up and felt comfortable out there.”

“I still believe in him shooting,” added Stevens. “I’ve seen him shoot. I believe in his form; I believe in how much he shoots. That doesn’t mean when he’s not making them he shouldn’t find other options and alternatives. Four for six gave us a chance to win tonight, and it’s not easy to score inside against [Jonas] Valunciunas and [Amir] Johnson with their length, so it makes sense to stretch him. They ended up not playing Valunciunas much late as a result of that I’m sure.” Of course, Valunciunas had already done his damage (15 points, 14 rebounds) by that point.

Still, Sullinger’s performance Wednesday was more of an aberration than a solution. He has only shot that well from 3 on one other occasion (4-5 vs. Cleveland on Nov. 29). Until making those three straight triples, he was 7-of-35 from beyond the arc this month. That’s 20 percent. Prior to dislocating his finger, Sullinger connected on 30-of-108 3-pointers (27.8%). Since then, he’s 15-of-68 (22.1%). Neither number is particularly encouraging.

Yet, “I believe in myself,” said Sullinger. “I don’t really care what the ‘nay-slayers’ say. Some of y’all are out here right now. I could care less. I’m just trying to expand my game, and if I’m open I’m going to shoot it.”

Actually, one of those “nay-slayers” was in the locker room when Sullinger defended his 3-point shooting.

“When we got back in it in the second quarter … it wasn’t because he made 3′s,” said Rondo. “It was because he got the ball out off the rim pretty quickly up the court, and we were able to turn it into transition buckets. The 3′s come and go. I think it’s because he cut his hair he made a couple more 3′s tonight. I told him that.

“So, it worked. He listened. He’s put the time and effort in as well, so I give him a lot of credit. He carried us throughout a stretch of the fourth quarter, but we came up short without getting stops.”

The haircut dig was a joke, by the way, but the subtle reference to defense may not have been. The Celtics are allowing 104.1 points per 100 possessions when Rondo and Sullinger are paired together. For the record, the C’s allow 98.9 points per 100 possessions when the Pressey-Olynyk combo shares the floor. So, perhaps it’s time for both Rondo and Stevens to start rethinking the analytics when it comes to Sullinger’s game.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

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.)

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.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Remember last week when I said that the beginning of March Madness is the greatest four-day stretch on the sports calendar? Well, I rarely get to reap the benefits of being right, so this is the part where I say, “I told you so.”

Kentucky's Julius Randle (left) and Willie Cauley-Stein are two big men worth keeping an eye on as the NCAA tournament continues. (AP)

Kentucky’s Julius Randle (left) and Willie Cauley-Stein are two big men worth keeping an eye on as the NCAA tournament continues. (AP)

Seriously, what a weekend. Some will whine and complain about the low scores, the long shot clock or the quality of the play. Really!? Mercer completely outplaying Duke wasn’t shocking enough for you? Harvard winning a tournament game for the second year in a row, then giving Michigan State a run for its money didn’t entertain you? Dayton battling past Ohio State and Syracuse into the Sweet 16 — setting up a double-digit-seed showdown with Stanford, which took down Kansas — didn’t inspire you? Sorry to ramble, but this tournament is just too much fun.

To sum it all up, just picture this: No. 5-seed VCU is at the free throw line for a pair, up four points, with 10 seconds left against 12th-seed Stephen F. Austin. Now I tell you Stephen F. Austin will win this game by two points in overtime, arriving there on two missed free throws followed by an improbable four-point-play with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Would you even believe me? It makes it 10 times more fun if you had Stephen F. Austin in your bracket, too.

This is why you watch March Madness.

The Celtics are involved in some madness of their own, as they jostle for lottery position in the bottom-heavy NBA. They currently are slotted into the fifth lottery spot, which after giving a glance at the standings and schedules isn’€™t a horrible place to end up. With 12 games remaining, Boston has to face the amazingly horrible 76ers (riding a cool 25-game losing streak) twice before season’€™s end, but the rest of their games could be helpful to their cause.

The Celtics will play the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards twice each, along with games against the Hawks and Bobcats — all teams battling for playoff position in the East. Lets just say those teams will be playing for a lot more than the Celts. And even when Boston faces off against fellow lottery competition on the road in Cleveland and Detroit, those games come on the tail end of back-to-backs ‘€“ meaning no Rajon Rondo. A 3-9 finish is not too much to ask for going into Wednesday night when Boston plays host to Toronto.

As much fun as the NCAA tournament was to watch, things didn’t go quite as well for the top NBA prospects. Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart went down in their first games, Andrew Wiggins dropped his second game (ending his college career with a four-point stinker) and Joel Embiid never even played. Add Dante Exum (the heralded Australian prospect) to the mix, and none of the potential top five picks in the draft will be playing in a Sweet 16 game.

These guys will basically disappear until summertime, when the lottery/draft talk starts to heat up again. Other potential top-10 picks Tyler Ennis and Doug McDermott were knocked out in the Round of 32, and recently declared Noah Vonleh‘€™s Indiana squad never even made the big dance. So, what notable NBA prospects are even left in the tournament?

Only two of the core freshman prospects remain in the madness: Julius Randle and Aaron Gordon. Randle’s Kentucky team took down undefeated Wichita State in impressive fashion and moved on to an in-state rival showdown with Louisville. Randle has posted typical double doubles in both of his tourney games, even chipping in six assists in the Wichita upset. Gordon’€™s Wildcats rolled into the Sweet 16, and he has been a huge part of it. In his two tournament games Gordon has 34 points on 15-of-21 shooting, posting five blocks in his March Madness debut and following it up with four steals in his next game. His offense is coming, and his defensive upside is limitless.

Aside from the sure-fire top 10 guys, there are some intriguing talents who will be playing in late March. In a recent interview for Celtics.com, Danny Ainge stated that “rim protectors” would be an emphasis for the C’€™s in this draft. Of course, you never know with Ainge, he could just be speaking on trades or free agency, but this draft goes deeper than Embiid at center. Willie Cauley-Stein of Kentucky is a 7-footer and a leaper who has to intrigue scouts at the next level based on potential.

Montrezl Harrell has been an impressive big man for Louisville of late, and similar to Randle seems to have an NBA body with NBA strength already in his game. Isaiah Austin of Baylor is another “rim protector” who comes to mind. Austin is more of an inside-out player, although at 7-foot-1 he would be expected to challenge shots in the NBA. These three bigs remain very “raw” in the eyes of scouts, though.

Many fans, however, do not want to see a pick based on potential (see Fab Melo), rather more of a safe pick to assure the rebuild does not go haywire. Here are three more “safe” picks that could work for Boston.

To stick with size just one last time, Adreian Payne of Michigan State is a proven player in his four years with the Spartans. Although he is 6-foot-9, he makes up for it with experience and skill. If you want a glimpse at Payne’s ceiling, watch his 41-point first-round performance in just 24 minutes against Delaware.

Payne’s teammate, Gary Harris, is a potential lottery pick as well. As a sophomore wing player, Harris has been the Spartans’ best option much of the season and is good at getting to the rack. On the other hand, Michigan sharp shooter Nik Stauskas looks to be another off guard who would translate well to the NBA game. Playing at a higher level cannot take away his quick release, something that is very appealing. With Avery Bradley‘s future uncertain, one of those players could be a great replacement.

Much of the “madness” has played out, but safe to say there is a fantastic Sweet 16 and further rounds ahead of us.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

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).

Pierce & Rondo

In 2007, a hobbled Pierce missed his first All-Star Game after five straight bids from 2002-06. Likewise, Rondo’s rehab forced his absence from All-Star Weekend this February for the first time in five seasons.

Pierce’s last playoff appearance had ended in a head-wrapped controversy that only fueled his contentious relationship with the Boston media. Last we saw Rondo in the postseason, ironically, his chest bump of a referee required a herculean performance from Pierce to avoid an 0-2 first-round hole in 2012. And let’s just say the current Celtics captain doesn’t line the locker room with rose pedals for the C’s press contingent.

The similarities between the only true Celtics captains of this century are plenty. Heck, Ainge even respectively offered Pierce in 2005 and Rondo in 2011 to New Orleans for Chris Paul. A couple years removed from those offers, the two couldn’t be more comparable in terms of legacy, maturity and desirability.

That isn’t to say Pierce and Rondo are identical players in their late 20′s. Averaging 23.6 points over his first nine NBA seasons, Pierce had already begun to establish the self-proclaimed “natural born scorer” reputation that led Tommy Heinsohn to dub him the best pure scorer in Celtics history. Rondo, on the other hand, owns an 8.3 assists per game average over his first eight seasons, which ranks him highest in team history.

In 8,218 fewer minutes, Rondo has four All-Defensive Team selections to Pierce’s none. The 6-foot-1 point guard’s resume also includes 80 more wins in 17 fewer games and nearly three times as many playoff games by age 28. Of course, Rondo benefited from playing six of his first seven seasons alongside three future Hall of Famers. The closest thing to a Hall of Famer Pierce had ever played with was a 36-year-old Gary Payton.

While Rondo’s assists may have been inflated by the presence of Pierce, Garnett and Allen, the Truth’s points had been boosted by the lack of scorers around him. And 99 games worth of playoff experience — including an NBA title and three Eastern Conference finals — can’t be a bad thing. Even if the Big Three carried the playoff load early in his career, Rondo emerged as the most important of the four over the latter half of those contests.

Pierce endured five lottery seasons before everything changed in 2007. Rondo is in the midst of only his second spring without playoff basketball, and Ainge has publicly reminded his captain of that fact in The Boston Globe:

“We understand you have been very patient and it’s time to get it done or not, to move you somewhere where you can have a chance because you’ve been great to us, and you can move forward — or we need to get something done,” Ainge told Pierce in 2007. “Rondo shouldn’t be at that place, because this guy got a championship in his second year and he’s been playing with great players for a long, long time. He really never has had yet to go through rebuilding. I wouldn’t even count this year of sort of hanging in there because of where he’s at.”

The average player understands that. As one former teammate said when asked to compare Pierce’s situation in 2007 to Rondo’s in 2014, “It’€™s different, because Rondo won a championship and had so much success with Paul and Kevin. Pierce didn’€™t have that history. It’€™s a good question, though. Rondo has a real tough road ahead of him.”

Then again, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo aren’t your average player.

Pierce & Rondo 3

Posed the same question after Pierce received his Garden video tribute — whether or not he saw any of himself in a younger Truth — Rondo revealed the stubbornness that is the root of all his criticism. “No,” he said.  Surely, Rondo must consider what it would be like to one day receive the same hero’s welcome Pierce and Garnett did. Or not.

“No. Why should I? I’m 27,” Rondo said weeks before BirthdayGate on Feb. 22. “I’ve got a long career ahead of me, so I don’t think about that. I try to go out every night and play as hard as I can, and whatever happens, happens.”

The previous night, like so many times before, Pierce and Garnett had shared their wisdom with Rondo over dinner.

“We stressed setting the tone and being the example, even when he doesn’€™t want to,” said Garnett, who had endured three straight lottery seasons before coming to Boston. “I always talk to him about being a professional. You don’€™t get to pick and choose when you want to be a professional. Just understanding the pedigree of a champion, you don’€™t let losing become something usual. You keep the mentally of a champion, and some are not going to follow, but most will. As long as you’€™re the example and you’€™re having a voice, just do it by example. Rondo’€™s ready.”

Six weeks later, as the Nets were scheduled to arrive in town for a second time, Rondo faced a similar question — whether he could draw any parallels between this year’s team and his rookie season — and again offered the same one-word response. “No.” Perhaps he and Ainge see eye-to-eye on this one. Perhaps the point guard’s path really is different than his predecessor’s. Then again, perhaps he’s refusing to accept the similarities, just as Pierce did.

“I try to forget those days, because those are your trying days, man,” said Pierce of that 24-58 season seven years ago that included a franchise record 18-game losing streak. “Those are the days where you try to forget. But you grow from it. I think it made me a better player. Physically, mentally, it made me stronger. You only can learn from this process right now. You find out what type of players you have when you go through moments like this.”

Of course, Pierce has the benefit of hindsight. It’s a little different when you’re in the moment. But as much as Rondo publicly rejects the concept of rebuilding, both Pierce and Garnett admitted their successor grasps the notion more than he acknowledges. “He understands it probably a little more than I did at the time,” said Pierce.

Don’t think Ainge hasn’t been taking notes this season, too. As his star player’s contract enters its final season, the C’s president must decide this summer whether aligning his future in Boston with Rondo’s is such a great idea. At least publicly, Ainge has repeatedly expressed his willingness to do so, if only because the right trade hasn’t arisen.

“When you’€™re in the middle of your prime, like Rondo is, and you’€™re frustrated with the losing,” said Pierce, “it’€™s about just staying patient, staying with the guys, helping them develop, helping them get better. At times, it’€™s going to be frustrating, and you have to understand that’€™s the position you’€™re in. At times, things don’€™t always go your way, and you want everything to be better right away, but you understand it’€™s a process, Danny Ainge understands it’€™s a process, and they have to be on the same page. There’€™s constant communication between your franchise player and the organization on what they want from each other, and you go from there. You build with each other.”

Seven years ago, when Pierce told Jackie MacMullan, “I’m the classic case of a great player on a bad team, and it stinks,” the Celtics captain offered an ultimatum in that same 2007 Globe column: “Either we go for it, or we don’t.” Either build around Pierce or rebuild without him. Ainge’s gamble on Pierce paid off in the form of the franchise’s 17th title. Now, he must decide whether a different captain is ready to command the next Celtics championship.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Avery Bradley matched a career-high with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting while making 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but his teammates shot just 36 percent from the floor and proved a non-factor on defense as the Nets — without Kevin Garnett — romped to an easy 114-98 victory. Brooklyn scored 64 first-half points and shot 56 percent in the game, with Joe Johnson leading the way with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Paul Pierce poured in 14 points (6-of-10) in just 19 minutes.

For more from the game, click here.

Blog Author: 
WEEI

Avery Bradley matched a career-high with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting while making 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but his teammates shot just 36 percent from the floor and proved a non-factor on defense as the Nets — without Kevin Garnett — romped to an easy 114-98 victory.

Even extreme Celtics fans should have been rooting for a loss to the Heat.</p>
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KIRK MINIHANE

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