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

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.

THE BEST

1. Grizzlies (10-1)

The Grizzlies have started the season on fire, and the only explanation I can offer is the addition of Vince Carter. On Monday they dropped 119 points on the Rockets, who had been playing exceptional defense. Last Thursday against King Boogie, the Grizz erased a 26-point deficit before Courtney Lee hit this buzzer-beater with three-tenths of a seconds remaining.

2. Warriors (8-2) If the season ended today, Steph Curry would be the MVP. I know Anthony Davis is putting up absurd numbers, but the Warriors are actually winning games. Just watch this video of Curry dismantling the Lakers and tell me you are not impressed.

3. Trail Blazers (8-2) Portland has won its last five games, including absolutely embarrassing the Nuggets on their home floor, putting up 84 points in the first half. THE FIRST HALF! The 76ers only average 88.5 points per game.

 

4. Rockets (9-2) Despite their surprisingly great defensive play, the Rockets are extremely hard to like and the blame falls squarely on Dwight Howard‘s mutant shoulders. The entire league hates him. We expect Kobe to talk smack to his former teammate, but when you have soft-spoken, momma-loving, all-around nice guy Kevin Durant calling you a p*ssy, you know you have a problem. And all of this hate has nothing to do with the fact that that “Superman” allegedly beats his illegitimate children.

5. Mavericks (8-3) The Mavericks starting five is dominating on the offensive end. The Mavericks are scoring 115.5 points per 100 possessions, the next closest team is the Cavs with 109.7. Plus, they lead the league in hokey promotional videos, and that’s always fun. (They couldn’t have shot a second take for the “We are Chandler and Chandler” line?

THE WORST

Frankly, I am sick of having to write anything about the 76ers. Until they win a game, their place as the worst team in the league will be assumed. Instead I will rank the six second-worst teams, just for the sake of variety

6. Pistons

Good news: Brandon Jennings is playing a lot better, limiting his turnovers and shooting much more efficiently. Bad news: Andre Drummond can’t stop fouling people and has taken an inexplicable step back. Good news: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has shown flashes, including a 20-point performance against the Wizards. Bad news: Josh “Candy Necklace” Smith is still on the team.

5. Knicks Don’t worry Knicks fans, it doesn’t matter that your team can’t learn the Triangle Offense, Andrea Bargnani is coming back! Also, Seth Rogen is apparently a fan?

 

4. Nuggets

I already mentioned the Nuggets giving up 84 points in a half. That happened before I read this horribly depressing article about the downfall of the Nuggets franchise.  Why would you sign the Manimal Kenneth Faried to a $50 million extension if the organization doesn’t particularly like the player. If I were Danny Ainge, I would gladly take Faried of their hands. Heck, I’d even take Javle McGee purely for entertainment purposes.

3. Timberwolves 

If I was a Timberwolves fan, or their NBA2k owner, I would be very happy with their play this year. At this point, with a young core of Andrew Wiggins, Anthony Bennett, Zach LaVine and Gorgui Dieng, tanking is their best strategy. I have no idea why they re-signed Ricky Rubio. I know Flip Saunders wants to win now, but its simply not going to happen soon, especially not in the West.

2. Lakers

The “lamestream media” refuses to accept that the Lakers are a horrendous excuse for a basketball squadron. Well, they may have accepted it, but they continue to talk about it incessantly. Each week, there is a new think piece or analysis of why this Lakers team is struggling. I think the answer is pretty simple: Kobe is paid too much and no one wants to play with him. They have no talent and their fans are jerks. That is certainly a better explanation than Harvard-educated Jeremy Lin was able to provide.

1. 76ers

I don’t think they would lose to Kentucky, but the game might be interesting.

Blog Author: 
Sam Packard
Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller has always had the trust of coach Brad Stevens, but his minutes have yet to put that trust on display — until Monday night.

Zeller had his coming out party in the Celtics‘ 118-114 home loss to the Suns, playing a total of 27 minutes. Although Boston came up short in the win column, Zeller surely was not at fault, while Stevens was rewarded for trusting his fellow Indiana native.

The UNC product finished Monday’s game with 19 points, seven rebounds and three assists, to go along with a block and a steal. However, it was how Zeller got those numbers that made it so impressive. Besides playing with unmatched hustle — whether is be changing a shot on the defensive end or tipping a rebound to a teammate — Zeller shot an incredibly efficient 8-for-9 from the field.

As crazy as it sounds, that has been an average game in terms of shooting the ball for Zeller this season, just in smaller samples due to playing fewer minutes.

As of Tuesday, Zeller is shooting an eye popping 25-for-29 from the field in nine games this season. That’s good for 86.2 percent — tops among players in the NBA who have attempted more than four shots on the year.

“Some of it’s [knowing what you can and can't do],” Zeller said following the loss. “Some of it’s my teammates, again, do a great job of getting the ball to me on time where I have time to make plays.”

“Some of it’s just taking easier shots,” he added.

So, will we see any bad shots from the seven-footer this season?

“Give it time, it will happen,” joked Zeller. “But, I mean, you’ve just got to take smart shots and make the plays you can.”

In case you were wondering, Cedric Maxwell shot 60.9 percent from the field in the 1979-80 season, which is the Celtics‘ single-season record for field goal percentage.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Let’s face it: This is the season of Rajon Rondo. As interesting as it is to evaluate the frontcourt progress of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley‘s offensive potential and Jeff Green‘s surprising consistency, the biggest questions the Celtics must answer all involve Rondo. Just how good is he? Will he be traded? What can they get in return? In a weekly feature on Green Street, we’ll take stock of the Celtics captain’s status every Tuesday.

RAJON RONDO TRADE VALUE

Eight appearances into his contract season, the Celtics captain remains equal parts brilliant and baffling. In one breath, we can confidently say there’s never been another NBA player like Rajon Rondo, and in the next we rail against his three straight missed free throws in the final seconds of a two-possession game.

Rondo is averaging 11.6 assists, 10.6 points and 8.4 rebounds for a Celtics (3-6) squad that arguably should have won its last six games. The only player to produce those numbers over a full season was Oscar Robertson, who did so twice for a middling Cincinnati Royals team as a 6-foot-5 point guard in a league featuring just nine teams in the 1960s. Half a century later, a 6-foot-1 Rondo leads all 30 teams in assists per game, assist opportunities per game (21.6) and points created by assists per game (27.1), according to NBA.com’s stat tool.

Yet, it’s somehow reasonable to expect even more from Rondo. His 30 percent free throw shooting (6-20 FT) is the league’s worst among players who have attempted 10 or more free throws this season. While his jump shooting from the elbows had risen well above the league average prior to his ACL surgery, he’s seemingly reverted to the version of himself who was timid attempting jumpers earlier in his career.

All of that adds up to this: The Celtics are scoring 110.6 points per 100 possessions with Rondo on the court and 110.7 without him, according to Basketball Reference. In other words, they would own the NBA’s sixth-most efficient offense regardless of whether the four-time All-Star was on the court. Likewise, the C’s defensive rating without their captain (111.2) is slightly better than with him (113.8), and both numbers would rank among the league’s five worst.

So, we’re left with lines like his 14-point, 10-rebound and nine-assist effort in a 118-114 loss to the Suns on Monday night. Except, he a) committed a game-high five turnovers, leading to 13 Phoenix points; b) missed eight of 10 free throw attempts, including all three with two seconds left in a four-point game; c) took just three shots outside 10 feet (missing two), despite opponents playing an average of seven feet off him; and d) shared the defensive load against a starting backcourt of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic, who combined for 37 points (on 63.6 percent true shooting), 14 assists (against six turnovers), 11 rebounds and five steals, effectively negating Rondo’s near triple-double.

It’s important to remember the Celtics are nine games into the season, and Rondo missed the entire preseason with a broken bone in his left hand, so it stands to reason his performance should continue to improve on both ends.

Still, in the C’s last three games — collapses against the Thunder, Cavaliers and Suns — Rondo has been countered by Reggie Jackson (28 points, 8 assists, 3 rebounds), Kyrie Irving (27-5-4) and Dragic (22-7-6), all of whom have signed or are expected to sign deals worth millions less annually than the Celtics point guard’s potential maximum deal.

Value: Descending

RAJON RONDO TRADE IDEA

Few NBA teams are in desperate need of a point guard, which makes it all the more difficult for the Celtics to deal Rondo should they choose to go that route. Even fewer of those teams are close enough to contention to be willing to take on Rondo for half a season while possessing enough cap space to keep him around long-term and make a trade worthwhile. And even fewer of those teams have the assets to swap in return. So, Ainge would need to get creative.

And how’s this for creative?

The Thunder seem set at the point guard position, what with Russell Westbrook signed through the next three seasons, but isn’t it possible Westbrook and Rondo could make one helluva backcourt? Rondo’s pass-first approach seems more likely to complement Westbrook’s scorer’s mentality than Jackson’s similar shoot-first mindset, and a starting lineup featuring Rondo, Westbrook, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka is a fascinating force.

Of course, Oklahoma City must be willing to pay Rondo his money this summer, a tall task with Westbrook, Durant and Ibaka slated to make a combined $49.25 million next season. Still, the league’s latest television deal and a soon-to-be skyrocketing salary cap will make that a whole lot easier, and trading for a name of Rondo’s caliber might help convince Durant the organization means business before the reigning MVP’s own contract comes up in 2016.

The Thunder are among the few teams with enticing enough assets to land Rondo. Let’s say OKC general manager Sam Presti offered Celtics counterpart Danny Ainge a package of Jackson, old friend Kendrick Perkins‘ $9.4 million expiring contract and a 2015 first-round draft pick that projects to be the Thunder’s lowest selection in years. The Celtics would effectively replace Rondo with a point guard four years younger and roughly two-thirds the cost, adding a third first-round pick to the mix this June and maintaining cap flexibility for the summer.

“He is one of these guards that can attack you downhill, attack your bigs and score on them like the Kyle Lowrys of the world, Monta Ellis, guys like that,” C’s coach Brad Stevens said prior to last week’s loss to OKC. “With the ball, he’€™s a great rhythm player. He’€™s obviously being asked to do a lot, and he’€™s obviously very capable of doing a lot.”

Idea: Long shot

It's time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

It’s time now to ask the Magic 9-Ball.

RAJON RONDO TRADE ODDS

Both the Celtics and Rondo are still in a feeling-out process, determining whether each wants to spend the next five years with the other, and the first few weeks of this season haven’t provided many more answers than the previous seven.

Suns backup point guard Isaiah Thomas‘ admission on Monday that Ainge was the first person to call him at 12:01 a.m. on July 1 — the moment free agency opened this past summer — at least hints at the possibility the Celtics are preparing for life without Rondo in the future.

While they’ve remained competitive, the Celtics have begun to slip in the standings. If they start trending toward another 25-win season with a healthy Rondo in the mix, it seems more likely Ainge would start shopping his point guard rather than seek another star to pair with him.

On the other hand, should Rondo and Stevens right the ship and compete for a playoff spot, as appeared to be the case in Friday’s battle against the Cavaliers, the reverse seems a safer bet. So, while we may be one week closer to February’s trade deadline, the event horizon remains an awful long ways away.

Odds: 30-1

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

Last year, Jeff Green began the season with a 25-point effort against the Raptors. “Maybe this will be the year that Green pulls it all together,” many said.

Green then scored 13 points in the second game of the year, followed by just seven points in his next game. Concerns about Green were answered early; he still couldn’t preform with the type of consistency that many hoped and believed he would upon arriving in Boston.

Coming into this season, there was no reason to believe anything would change, but clearly, Green has found his groove.

The season is still young, but nine games in, Green has been remarkably consistent, despite the Celtics‘ 3-6 record. Green has scored no less than 14 points in a game, and has carried the load on offense most nights —  like his season-high of 35 points in the Celtics‘ failed comeback in Dallas or the 28 he scored in Monday’s loss to the Suns.

A video posted by KWAPT (@kwapt) on

Green has displayed jaw-dropping athleticism on many of his plays this season, specifically getting into the lane for powerful dunks, and on LeBron-esque chase down blocks. Green doesn’t feel he has done anything differently this season during his hot start, though.

“I’m just doing the same thing and that’s just being aggressive. There’s no difference,” said Green, after the demoralizing loss to Phoenix.

Green may be taking the same approach as last season, but something has been different on the court this year. Scoring 19.9 points per game through nine contests, Green is more than five points better than his career average thus far.

Again, the season is long from over, but Green is off to the best start of his career. Fair is fair. If we are going to bash Green for what he has failed to do in the past, it’s time to give him some praise for what he is accomplishing now.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but presi

Other than the late addition of Evan Turner at a bargain basement price over the summer, the Celtics came away from NBA free agency empty-handed, but president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made at least one attempt at a big-name player of small stature.

Moments after free agency opened on July 1, Ainge called point guard Isaiah Thomas.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said, “so if that’€™s interest, then I guess so.”

Thomas actually missed the call, but exchanged messages with Ainge before his agent Andy Miller took over negotiations. So, was the feeling mutual?

“I was interested in whoever was interested in me,” Thomas added, “so he was definitely a little interested if he was the first one to call me, but they went their ways and I went mine.”

Thomas’ way ultimately took him to Phoenix, where he landed by way of a sign-and-trade deal with the Sacramento Kings. His agent reportedly reached a four-year, $28 million deal with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough, who worked under Ainge for 10 seasons before finishing runner-up in the NBA’s Executive of the Year voting in his first season in Phoenix.

Thomas was notably one of six players last season to average 20 points and six assists per game. The others: LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Kyrie Irving and Russell Westbrook. Had Thomas not been 5-foot-9, he would have easily commanded double-digit millions annually. Instead, he joined Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic to form Phoenix’s potent three-guard attack.

(For the record, Bledsoe, a pricier restricted free agent, said Ainge did not contact him directly this summer. What about his agent? “Not that I know of. I don’t think they did.”)

As for the Celtics‘ way, it’s unclear why Ainge had so much interest in Thomas. They were five days removed from drafting point guard Marcus Smart. Presumably, the C’s had a deal in place to re-sign Avery Bradley, since news of his four-year, $32 million deal broke on July 2. Thomas would have been a massive upgrade over Phil Pressey, but the logjam in the Celtics backcourt currently limited their own diminutive point guard to a total of three minutes with a healthy Smart in the lineup for the first four games. All of which brings us to Rajon Rondo.

The Celtics captain is entering the final year of his contract, and Thomas had been rumored to be part of a package the Kings offered in exchange for Rondo this past February. It’s a bit presumptuous to assume Ainge was calling Thomas about a sign-and-trade deal that would have shipped Rondo to Sacramento, but it’s not out of the question the phone call to Thomas at the moment free agency opened was insurance for Rondo’s potentially imminent departure.

After all, it’s hard to imagine the Celtics would enter this season with Rondo, Bradley, Smart and Thomas all in the fold. Likewise, it doesn’t make much sense for Ainge to place his first call of free agency to Thomas unless he was serious about signing the 25-year-old, especially when the C’s had so many other needs on their roster other than point guard.

So, while nothing ever amounted from the C’s interest in Thomas, the fact they called in the first place is fascinating.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach