After escaping Boston with a 122-121 win over the Celtics, Cavaliers superstar and four-time NBA MVP LeBron James had high praise for coach Brad Stevens & Co. after his 41-point performance.

“œThey’€™re going to surprise a lot of teams, and they’€™re better than what the critics said coming into this season,”€ said James. “€œCoach Stevens has done a great job of putting a system in there that allows everyone to feel comfortable, to feel loose and play a great style of basketball. They’€™re top three in the league in assists; they’€™re top three in the league in scoring right now. It’€™s a great brand of basketball.”€

For more on Friday night’s game, read how the Celtics are beating the odds despite the loss.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Rajon Rondo's Celtics will be chasing LeBron James and the Cavaliers for a while. (Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)



A Friday night nailbiter became a LeBron James classic against the Celtics, as the superstar led a furious fourth-quarter comeback that was sealed when Rajon Ron

LeBron James scored 41 to lead the Cavaliers' furious fourth-quarter win over the Celtics. (Getty Images)

LeBron James scored 41 to lead the Cavaliers‘ furious fourth-quarter win over the Celtics. (Getty Images)

Friday night came down to a nail biter in Boston, in what is becoming classic Celtics versus LeBron James fashion. James got the best of the C’€™s this time around, though, as Rajon Rondo was unable to get a shot off for the win before the fourth quarter buzzer.

The Cavaliers got the victory, 122-121, behind 41 points from James. It was confusing as to why Rondo seemed to dribble the clock out to end the game on a possession that the Celtics had seven seconds to create something, and the crowd seemed to notice.

The win for the Cavs now puts them above .500 (4-3) as the Celtics now drop down to 3-5 on the season.

Here are five takeaways from the loss:

BOSTON STILL DOES NOT LIKE LEBRON JAMES

The Celtics were the home team, but the loudest noises from the crowd came for James. Some cheered, many booed, but the electricity in the building was apparent.

For every missed shot, every time he complained to the refs, every turnover he had and every foul he committed, the Boston fans rejoiced ‘€“ even during a 41-point effort. Returning to Cleveland redeemed James’€™ likeability in the eyes of many, but not at the TD Garden.

THE PACE WAS RAPID

Did the final score give it away?

If you like up-and-down basketball, you would have enjoyed this game. The pace seemed to play into the Celtics’€™ favor aside from James’€™ ability to get out in transition. But even he missed two contested layups on fast breaks in the first half alone.

The Celtics pushed the tempo the entire game, and were almost rewarded. Rajon Rondo was the head of the monster, finishing with 16 assists on the night (the first one being a milestone that we’€™ll get to later).

However, the pace slowed down in the fourth quarter and was a huge part of why the Cavs were able to come away victorious.

THE CELTICS BLEW THE GAME OPEN IN THE THIRD QUARTER ‘€“ ONLY TO GIVE IT RIGHT BACK IN THE FOURTH

This was a game that was tied up 59-59 at halftime. At the end of the third quarter the Celtics held a lead of 101-84. Impressively, Friday was the second time this season that the Celtics have scored 101 points through just three quarters (opening night being the other instance).

Jared Sullinger and Olynyk both scored in double figures in the third period alone, putting up 11 and 10 points respectively. Maybe even more remarkable were Rondo’€™s nine assists in the third quarter, to go along with a floater off the glass with just 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock to get the Celtics over the 100-point mark.

But the Cavs were just that much better in the fourth period, outscoring the Celtics 38-20 and coming away with the win. James had 10 points in the quarter, but it was Kevin Love‘€™s free throw that mad the difference in the game.

THE CELTICS CAN COMPETE WITH ANY TEAM

The Celtics were able to open up a nine point lead in the first frame ‘€“ fast starts have been a theme for them at home ‘€“ but this was a game all the way through. Even Boston blew their third quarter advantage; they still showed that they belonged on the court with Cleveland.

The C’€™s suffered their worst loss of the early season on Wednesday to the Thunder, but games like Friday prove that they are by no means a team that is going to lay down and accept losses like they may have last year.

The Cavs entered Friday’€™s game at only 3-3, but their talent is and was undeniable on the floor. The Celtics were almost the better team on this night, and as the season goes on, can expect to find themselves in these situations again.

RONDO PASSED PAUL PIERCE ON THE CELTICS’€™ ALL-TIME ASSIST LIST

Pierce and Rondo entered the night tied for fourth place on the list with 4,305 assists apiece. Early in the first quarter, Rondo dished out his first helper to Kelly Olynyk, putting him in sole possession on fourth place.

Having the fourth most assists for many franchises can be a meaningless stat, but that’€™s not the case when you pass a player like Pierce to move behind Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy.

Bird’€™s 5,695 are a ways away, but Rondo’€™s 16 dimes on the night are a start at chasing down the legend.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow
David Blatt is calling the plays for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first season. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

David Blatt is calling the plays for LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in his first season. (Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Cavaliers have a lot of newcomers this season.€“ Kevin Love, Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones come to mind.

Oh, and LeBron James also decided to return home from Miami, swinging the balance of power in the Eastern Conference in the process.

However, David Blatt may be the newcomer that gets lost in the shuffle. He also happens to be the head coach.

Blatt has a lot to be happy about, considering the greatest played in the world fell into his lap just weeks after earning his first NBA coaching job. But Blatt, a native of Framingham, Mass., had a homecoming of his own on Friday night, along with a chance to face the team he grew up cheering for.

“€œYou’€™ll have to excuse me, I’€™m looking for some familiar faces,”€ Blatt began his pregame press conference.

Blatt admits that the Celtics have held significant meaning to him since he was a young child growing up just 20 minutes away from the Boston Garden.

“œI was a great follower of the Celtics. Bill Russell was my idol, and probably the Celtics‘€™ teams were the reason that I fell in love with basketball the way that I did,”€ Blatt proclaimed with a smile from ear to ear.

So what has it been like for someone with no NBA experience to be handed the job of coaching James? Well, Blatt went as far as to compare LeBron to one of his own childhood idols.

“€œPleasurable,” € the coach said, and with no signs of losing his grin. “Fabulous talent, great basketball IQ. A guy, who like Bill Russell, is about the right things. About winning, about making his teammates around him better, about taking responsibility, about being accountable. He’€™s a man who respects the game and badly, badly wants to win a championship for Cleveland. What’€™s not to like?”

Blatt joked with reporters briefly after his press conference was over, making it clear in the process that he was thrilled to be back in his hometown. The only problem?

“€œI was hoping someone would have brought me some clam chowder,” he quipped.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Granted Rajon Rondo is a point guard and Paul Pierce a small forward, but the new Celtics captain passed his predecessor for fourth on the team’s career

Granted Rajon Rondo is a point guard and Paul Pierce a small forward, but the new Celtics captain passed his predecessor for fourth on the team’s career assists list in 644 fewer games.

After stealing the ball from Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love, Rondo found Kelly Olynyk for a layup 1:27 into the contest, recording his first assist of Friday’s game and the 4,306th of his nine-year career in Boston.

Pierce amassed his 4,305 assists in 1,102 games over 15 seasons on the Celtics. Rondo still trails Larry Bird (5,695 assists in 870 games), John Havlicek (6,114 in 1,270) and Bob Cousy (6,945 in 917) on the career list. Judging by the company he keeps, Rondo’s not so bad.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Following Wednesday’s home loss to the Thunder, Brad Stevens took the Celtics through a practice that lasted almost two hours on Thursday afternoon and not surprisingly, the focus was on defense after the C’s let up 109 poi

Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

Following Wednesday’s home loss to the Thunder, Brad Stevens took the Celtics through a practice that lasted almost two hours on Thursday afternoon and not surprisingly, the focus was on defense after the C’s let up 109 points to a severely short-handed Oklahoma City squad.

“I think we wanted to talk about some things we were doing defensively and not doing defensively,” Stevens said. “We watched a lot of film of that. And then, you know, we’ll see what the carryover looks like. [But it clearly] was a defensive oriented film session and review session.”

Stevens added: “We did some good things. But we did not sustain them, and that was the other emphasis [Thursday].”

There was some positive news coming from the session.

Marcus Smart was up and walking around at the Celtics‘ practice facility, and also spoke to the media for the first time since spraining his left ankle during last Friday night’s game.

“I’ve sprained my ankle before, plenty of times,” said Smart. “It’s a part of the game, it’s a part of being an athlete. But I’ve never been in that type of pain with my ankle before, so it was something new to me.”

The pain was obvious since Smart was ushered off the court on a stretcher, but even though the sprain turned out to be less serious than what seemed at the time, the rookie is being cautious about how he handles the injury moving forward.

“I’m just taking it slow, taking my time, [I want to] make sure I’m 100 percent,” Smart said. “I don’t really want to rush anything right now. Even though I’m going to feel better before I really am, I’m just trying to make sure that, you know, I’m 100 percent before I step on the court again.”

Marcus Thornton was able to practice Thursday after leaving Tuesday’s practice with a minor ankle sprain that kept him out of Wednesday night’s game.

“He’s good. He practiced and he was fine,” Stevens said.

It appears Thornton will be in uniform going forward, while Smart will miss about another two weeks.

Next up for the C’s is a visit from LeBron James‘€™ Cavs on Friday night — a matchup that had Stevens questioning the motives of some of his family members.

“They’re really good,” Stevens said of the Cavs. “My in-laws are from Cleveland, and for some reason, they decided to fly in this week. Shocker. I didn’t see them last year around this time.”

Obviously, Friday will be a challenge, but the Celtics will look to climb back to .500 against a 3-3 Cavs team.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

When Rajon Rondo plays great defense, the Celtics usually play great defense. That’s been a fact since Rondo arrived on the scene in Boston in 2006.

Wednesday night was an example of what can go wrong when he doesn’t. As a point guard and captain, Rondo has often been responsible for calling out defenses for the likes of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Avery Bradley. Rondo, by his own admission after a 109-94 loss to the Thunder, is still working his way back to form after missing training camp and preseason with a broken bone in his left hand.

“I think around Game 6 for me and still kind of preseason but everything counts,” Rondo said. “I’m still trying to get my rhythm, my wind and my timing with my teammates. I’m still a long way from where I want to be so I’m just going to continue to work.

“I’m OK defensively,” Rondo said. “I think it’s a team effort. I’m just trying to do my job in getting to the ball, contest shots. We didn’t do a great job of that, including myself. [Anthony] Morrow hit some tough shots but we still have to make them more uncomfortable off the ball. Give them credit. They made plays. They made the shots. They had our defense scattered all over the court. They went inside with dunks with Adams. And they went outside with Morrow and [Nick] Collison. They had us all over the place.”

The Helter Skelter defense allowed the Thunder to shoot 62 percent in the second half as the Thunder outscored Boston, 67-43, to cruise to just their third win in nine games.

“We let one slip away,” Rondo said. “They come off a back-to-back. They got in around three in the morning and we’ve been waiting. It’s a disappointing loss but we continue and have to move forward.”

Moving forward means LeBron James, Kevin Love, Kyrie Irving and the Cavaliers on Friday night at the Garden. The Thunder shot lights out without Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook Wednesday. Celtics fans shudder to think what might happen if Cleveland’s “Big 3″ get hot Friday.

“When I was out there playing, I thought guys played hard,” Rondo said. “Give those guys credit. They got into the teeth of our defense and made us collapse and had us running wild everywhere. I won’t be too critical of our defense or our effort. They made shots. That’s what NBA players do. Watch film and go from there.”

The Celtics have been good this season when the threes are falling. When they’re not, like in Houston (1-for-25), they’ve looked lost. Wednesday, they attempted 33 threes and made just nine. Rondo said the long rebounds and transition didn’t figure into the “scattered” Celtics defense.

“I don’t think so,” Rondo said. “It’s the same thing when you said that about the Houston game and we almost set the record. We had some good looks tonight, especially playing against a zone. A lot of our guys were shooting. Avery [Bradley] shot the ball, he’s one of our shooters. Jeff shot some threes. And our bigs as well. We’re a great 3-point shooting team. We didn’t make them tonight but it has nothing to do with our defensive intensity and why we weren’t able to get stops.

“They got hot in the second half and I guess when the rim is that big, it made it easy for them.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia