Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

In his first action in almost a month, Celtics rookie Marcus Smart played just 4:38 of the first half of Wednesday’s 109-102 overtime win over the Pistons, but he feels ready to contribute more.

“It felt good to be out there,” said Smart, who missed all three of his 3-point attempts, collecting two assists and a pair of fouls. “Last game I played was Nov. 7, so it’€™s always a good feeling to get back out there with this group of guys and get a feel for the game again. I felt like I could’€™ve gave more, but we’€™re taking things slow, and that’€™s just kind of how it goes.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens sounded more cautious about Smart’s availability so soon after a severe ankle sprain, opting instead to play Phil Pressey and Gerald Wallace a combined 26 minutes.

“I didn’t think he looked ready,” said Stevens. “It had nothing to do physically. He hadn’t practiced. I felt like it would be better to go with Phil and Gerald. They would give us the same things that Marcus gave us, and they’ve been traveling with the team and everything else. That’s kind of tough to just throw him in there. I didn’t even see him until we got to the gym today.”

“What he says goes,” countered Smart. “If he felt like I wasn’€™t ready, then that’€™s what it is. I thought I was ready. I was lagging a little bit until my ankle got warm, and then once it did, by that time I was already out of the game. But, like I said, we’€™re just taking things slow, so it’€™s all good.”

The Celtics do not plan on practicing Thursday and will hold only a walk-through session prior to Friday’s game, so there isn’t much of a window for Smart to make up for lost time. Still, Smart is optimistic he’ll be able to impact his first career game against the Lakers.

“It’€™s the rivalry,” he said. “We’€™ve got 17 [championships]; they’€™ve got 16. Everybody knows that. I’€™m excited. I definitely feel like I’€™ll be ready Friday to give a little bit more, but it really comes down to how coach feels and if he feels like I’€™m able to give more.”

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

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.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

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.

The Celtics entered Wednesday’s meeting with the Pistons at the TD Garden as losers of eight of their last nine games. Not a good look to begin with, but even worse when you factor in that the C’s only win during the steak came against the winless 76ers. Detroit came into the game in Boston with a record of 3-15, 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. Caron Butler hit a 3-pointer with just 14 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to tie it up at 88 apiece. The Celtics then failed to convert on the final possesion of regulation as Andre Drummond swatted away Jeff Green‘s layup attempt at what seemed to be its highest point.

The C’s put forward a well-rounded effort despite an off night from Rajon Rondo, but Green and Kelly Olynyk were the two stars. Green had 18 points through the first three quarters, then Olynyk took over with seven quick points to begin the fourth. Green finished with a game-high 32 points, netting six 3-pointers on the night. Olynyk had 20 points of his own, while also putting forward an uncharacteristic three blocks. Jared Sullinger was the only other Celtic in double figures, as he hit two big 3-pointers (and another deep 2-pointer) in the overtime en route to his 14 points.

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 are a much better team (at least offensively) 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 pretty hard to find a good rhythm when playing such few minutes.

A good example of this was when Stevens removed Rondo from the lineup with six minutes remaining in the game, seemingly without reason since Rondo had played only 24 minutes to that point. Rondo wound up scoring just two points for the second night in a row, this time with just three boards and eight assists. He played 34 minutes, but committed a huge turnover with under a minute to go in the fourth quarter, and Stevens ended up benching him for the Celtics‘ second to last possession of regulation.

The benching ended up being a big deal. Stevens sat Rondo on another important possession in overtime, likely to hide Rondo from being sent to the free throw line (where he shoots an atrocious 30 percent on the season). Rondo also seemed to hide from the ball on possessions leading up the the second benching, which could have been reason for Stevens to sit him down.

Long story short: Rondo absolutely needs to fix his free throw shooting problem. The fact that an All-Star point guard needs to be bench late in games due to foul shooting is unheard of.

MARCUS SMART RETURNED AFTER MISSING 10 GAMES WITH A SPRAINED ANKLE

However, it ended up not being much of a return. Brad Stevens waited until the 10:38 mark of the second quarter to insert Smart into the game. He certainly took his time getting Smart out there as Phil Pressey even saw some unexpected time in the first frame (more on Pressey later).

When Smart did see the floor, he seemed timid, or at least not the ferocious defender we grew used to seeing in the rookie’s first five games (plus preseason). He played just under five minutes in his first shift, missing all three of his attempts from the field. His first shift ended up being his only shift, though. Smart didn’t see the court again.

PHIL PRESSEY EARNED MINUTES OVER MARCUS SMART

Smart’s recovery was probably part of the issue, but Pressey played a lot in this game in favor of Smart. In nine first half minutes, Pressey connected on both of his field goal attempts for five points to go along with three rebounds and a pair of assists.

Pressey even saw some fourth quarter minutes in place of Rondo during crunch time. Stevens clearly has trust in his second-year point guard right now. By game’s end, Pressey totaled seven points, three rebounds and four assists. Nothing too flashy in the box score, but he had a strong impact on the game in his 18 minutes (which were two minutes short of his season-high).

STOPPING ANDRE DRUMMOND WAS TOO TALL A TASK

The Celtics frontline has been undersized all season. Stevens tried to get more physical and defensive minded by inserting Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup to stop guys like Drummond. It didn’t work.

Drummond is an athletic freak that any NBA big would have trouble facing off with, but the Celtics had an even tougher time. Drummond went for 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting in the first quarter alone, while also ripping down 6 rebounds and swatting a shot.

Drummond was a beast through out the entire game, finishing multiple difficult ally-oops around the rim. He has 27 points and 14 rebounds in his 41 minutes played, shooting 12-for-18 overall. Drummond also had four steals and five blocks, include the block that prevented Green from winning the game in regulation for the Celtics. Frankly, Drummond is the exact type of player that the Celtics need to add.

THE CELTICS FINALLY FINISHED A GAME

Repeat: The Celtics finally finished a game. There’s not much more to say about it, other than that this was an important win for a team having major issues with closing out games. At times it felt like we would never see the Celtics figure out how to wrap up a win again. It took playing opposite the now 3-16 Pistons to find that win, and as ugly as the overtime victory was, the C’s got it. Let’s see if this can give them any momentum going forward, or if they fall back into their losing ways when Kobe Bryant and the Lakers come to town on Friday night.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

After a 10 game absence, it appears the Celtics will finally have Marcus Smart back in the lineup on Wednesday when they take on the Pistons in Boston. Smart has been recovering from a severe left ankle sprain that occurred at home against the Pacers on Nov. 7.

“Indications are that he will be available to play,” Stevens said of the rookie prior to tip-off.

So how much will Smart be available to play on Wednesday?

“Well, I don’t know,” Stevens replied. “Just because he hasn’t even practiced, really, with us. It’s hard to tell. He probably won’t play quite as much, he could be on a little bit of a minutes [restriction]. So, [it’s] hard to tell. I think we need what he brings on a normal basis, so hopefully he’s able to do that.”

In the five games Smart did play in for the C’s (including the game he got injured during), he averaged 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals. Although he struggled mightily with his shooting, Smart’s best quality had been his defensive intensity. Stevens will be counting on Smart bringing the same intensity in his return on Wednesday.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

One night after blowing a 23-point lead in suffering their fifth straight loss, the Celtics return home in hopes of snapping their streak of futility. In this instance, Boston (4-11) will host a team with even fewer wins (the three-win Pistons) in an effort to right the ship, and WEEI.com will offer full coverage and analysis from TD Garden. For all the latest, follow along with the live blog, below.

Live Blog Celtics vs. Pistons live blog
 

Blog Author: 
WEEI

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.

Rondo had a masterful game on Tuesday in some ways. He racked up 19 assists and 12 rebounds. But why was this not enough to win?

Well, because he shot 1-for-8 with just two points and seven turnovers. Rondo is the leader of this team. His coach will tell you that, his teammates will tell you that and Rondo himself will tell you that. And no matter how much Rondo continues to stuff the stat sheet with impressive numbers, it will mean nothing until he can carry his team in crunch time.

Rondo is no dummy, though. Actually, he is quite the contrary. He is smart enough to identify the problems and knows it starts with him.

“I think we’re beating ourselves,” the point guard said after Tuesday’s collapse. “I take a lot of responsibility. I can’t shoot 1-for-8 and I can’t have seven turnovers. I’ve got to do a better job out there being efficient.”

Efficient is one thing, clutch is another. Many winnable games this year have ended with the ball in Rondo’s hands. The one-point loss to the Cavaliers literally ended with the ball in Rondo’s hands as he failed to even force up a shot before the final buzzer.

The bottom line is this: We don’t need any numbers to tell us that Rondo has not been efficient or clutch late in games (although his 30 percent free throw shooting needs mention in some fashion, so here it is). It’s not completely his fault. His teammates need to know his skill set and get themselves into positions where Rondo can find them for easy baskets. But instead, they watch their leader and expect him to take the big shots. But can we totally blame them? There’s no other team in the league that goes away from its best player on the final possession of the game.

Ainge said before the season that he expects Rondo to have a career year. If he was talking about Rondo’s rebounding or assist numbers he may be right. But as far as leading his team, Rondo needs to step up soon, or Ainge needs to find someone who will.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Follow Sam Packard on Twitter @SPackGuy.

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.

NOTE: Until the 76ers win a game, they will not be discussed. 

THE BEST

1. Warriors

Steph Curry is an early MVP candidate. Draymond Green is playing phenomenally and is lock to win The Best Draymond in the League Award.

Stay tuned for “Chef Curry” remix. She is about to spit Hot ð¥ #lastshmoneydanceforme

A video posted by Wardell Curry (@wardell30) on

2. Grizzlies

This season Marc Gasol taught us that losing a bunch of weight and being in tremendous shape is beneficial for a basketball player. Who knew? Thanks, Marc Gasol! Keep taking those sky hooks.

 3. Spurs

Coach Pop actually had the stones to sit Tony Parker and Tom Duncan against Philly, then spend the entire postgame praising the 76ers. Tell him, Marlo.

4. Raptors

From the replay, it was very difficult to discern how exactly DeMar DeRozan tore his groin. In this respect, remarkably similar to Nomar Garciaparra‘s groin tear in 2005 with the Cubs. DeRozan isn’t chock full of steroids, so this injury is even more inexplicable.

The Raptors have excellent depth, and I expect them to weather the storm, but the Raptors need home court if they are going to make a deep playoff run. The longer DeRozan is out, the bigger the problem for the Drakes.

5. Trail Blazers
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Prior to Tuesday night, Wesley Mathews had made at least six 3-pointers in his last three games, tying an NBA record. More importantly, with the Trail Blazers playing well, people have finally jumped on the Side Show Bob/ Robin Lopez bandwagon. Here is a nice GIF of Robin killing it from the bench.

THE WORST

6. Celtics

This may be an overreaction to Tuesday night’s loss to the Hawks, but this team has serious problems. Like an amateur porn star, the Celtics just don’t know how to finish. After an extremely tough early schedule, the C’s finally get a chance to play some of the crappy teams in the Eastern Conference, and if they want to have any chance of making the playoffs they need to climb back to .500 and go 7-2 over their next nine games. I suggest the players just relax, closes their eyes and let the win come to them.

5. Knicks

Meet Dennis Doyle, the sorry sun of a gun who left his job at a small law firm to attend all 82 Knicks games this season. While I appreciate Doyle’s decision to disregard all social norms in the pursuit of a half-baked idea, his blog quickly turned from a wacky and fun project to a extensive case study on human suffering. I just hope after witnessing a full season of J.R. Smith, Doyle gets to meet the team’s drug connect, because he is going to need all the MDMA he can afford for the inevitable PTSD.

P.S. This is what part of the alphabet would look like if Q and R were eliminated.

P.P.S. Does anyone still think Rondo is going to end up signing with this pile of hot garbage in the offseason?

4. Hornets

According to NBA Savant Zach Lowe, the Lance Stephenson signing isn’t exactly working out. I think part of the problem is there has never been a successful Lance. Armstrong used steroids, Bass was clearly the fifth banana, and Berkman always struck me as fat and ugly. The only Lance I can remember liking is Allen Payne’s short-lived character from the dreadful Cousin Pam era of “The Cosby Show.” Rather than trading Stephenson for cents on the dollar, the Hornets should just consider a simple name change. I would suggest something alliterative, maybe Sam, Seymour or even Stephen. Yeaaah. Stephen Stephenson, that’s the name of a winner.

3. Lakers

A perfect metaphor for Kobe Bryant‘s season. No matter how hard he tries, he is just going to end up surrounded by junk.

2. Pistons

With an astounding amount of talent on the roster, the Pistons are approaching a 76ers level of ineptitude. I don’t even want to write about them. With that being said, it’s almost guaranteed they storm into the Garden on Wednesday night and beat the Celtics.

1. 76ers

Blog Author: 
WEEI

Evidently, there is no lead too big for the Celtics to bungle.

After the Celtics raced out to a 42-point first quarter and 16-point lead at the half, the Celtics were outscored by a staggering 20 points in the second half in suffering 109-105 loss. The Celtics have now lost five straight and eight of nine, falling to 4-11 on the year.

Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics' loss on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Rajon Rondo delivered 19 assists but turned the ball over seven times in the Celtics‘ loss on Tuesday. (Getty Images)

Evidently, there is no lead too big for the Celtics to bungle.

After the Celtics raced out to a 42-point first quarter and 16-point lead at the half, the Celtics were outscored by a staggering 20 points in the second half in suffering 109-105 loss. The Celtics have now lost five straight and eight of nine, falling to 4-11 on the year.

The team’s game-ending woes are becoming an ongoing theme. The team entered the night being outscored by 4.6 points a night in the second half (third worst in the NBA) and 5.4 points per game in the fourth quarter (worst in the NBA). In this case, the team was outscored by 20 in the second half and nine in the fourth quarter.

Boston once again offered little defensive resistance in the 59-point second-half eruption. The Celtics’ average yield of 107.7 points per game remains the worst total in the Eastern League.

The Hawks shot 52 percent from the floor, with Kyle Korver (8-of-9, 6-of-7 on 3-pointers) leading the way en route to 24 points and Paul Millsap filling the box score with 19 points, six boards, seven assists, three blocks and three steals. The Celtics received 25-point nights from both Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green.

Rajon Rondo had a game that was alternately brilliant and sloppy, scoring just two points (1-for-8 from the floor) and committing seven turnovers (two shy of his career worst), but he grabbed 12 rebounds and dished out 19 assists, his career high for a road game.

Click here for the box score.

Blog Author: 
WEEI