Bradley, Celtics fall short against Grizzlies, lose 93-83

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Bradley, Celtics fall short against Grizzlies, lose 93-83

BOSTON The long-awaited return of Avery Bradley was one in which the third-year guard delivered a good but not great performance -- the kind that his Celtics brethren have been providing all season.
He had four points in 19 minutes, and his play and defensive intensity were certainly welcomed by the C's and to a certain degree, felt by the Memphis Grizzlies. 
But against a team as good as Memphis is this season, even a solid performance by Bradley wasn't enough as the Grizzlies defeated the C's 93-83.
It was Boston's 12th double-digit loss this season, a scary reality when you consider there's still more than half a season left to play. 
While the Celtics came in well aware that a number of players would have to step up, all eyes - and expectations - were on Bradley who had not played in an NBA game since the Eastern Conference semifinals in May against Philadelphia. 
Since then, Bradley underwent surgery to both shoulders with Wednesday's game being his first this season. 
"Honestly, with him on the floor early on, I thought the whole defense looked pretty good," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
Said Bradley: "It felt good to be out there. I'm just trying to play as hard as I can, and I feel like everything's going to be come together as a teanm. I feel like we played hard tonight."
For the Celtics, losers of four in a row, that would indeed be a step in the right direction.
Far too often this season, the C's have looked as though their effort to compete let alone win, wasn't nearly as high as their opponents which has been a factor in most of their losses being of the blowout variety. 
And that to some extent, has had an impact on the team's confidence which seems to fade in and out in most games. 
"It's hard to be confident when you are struggling," said Boston's Paul Pierce who had a team-high 17 points against the Grizzlies. "The good thing about it is we're staying positive about this stretch. It's a tough stretch for us obviously and we know we are going to get through it."
If so, they'll have to find ways to compete for longer stretches of time. Those ebbs and flows are especially problematic in the first half of games which tend to put the C's in catch-mode for the rest of the night. 
On Wednesday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 18 points before they were able to cut Memphis' lead down to five points following back-to-back 3s by Jason Terry that made it an 83-78 game with 4:52 to play. 
But having dug themselves such a deep hole early proved too much for them to fully come back from as some of the team's most reliable scorers -- like Kevin Garnett -- came up short from the free throw line in the fourth quarter while others failed to knock down pressure-packed shots with the shot clock winding down. 
It was the kind of late-game struggles that you would not expect from a team of veterans, some of whom have won championships both in Boston and elsewhere. 
"We didn't play like a veteran team," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "We played like a really young team that was rushed. And that's what happens when you're not winning games as well."
As the final minutes were played out, the Grizzlies came up with all the big shots and clutch defensive plays to get the victory.
And with the loss, Boston (14-17) extends its losing streak to four in a row. 
And the worst part for the Celtics?
It won't get any easier with Indiana at the Garden and Atlanta on the road Friday and Saturday, respectively. 
While Bradley's presence didn't do much in terms of limiting the Grizzlies shooters, the C's were able to force six turnovers in the first that led to 10 points and maybe most important, the Celtics did something they hadn't done since Christmas -- lead after a quarter of play. 
A driving lay-up by Courtney Lee in the final seconds of the first quarter gave the Celtics a 26-25 lead to end the quarter which snapped a 12 quarter streak in which the C's had to play from behind. 
Boston's slim lead remained on the skinny jean side of things through the early stages of the second quarter. 
As they have done so many times this season, Boston went through a mini-lull offensively and the Celtics defense, even with Bradley, was unable to slow the bleeding as Memphis pulled ahead by six points (39-33) following a 3-pointer by Darrell Arthur.
Arthur's basket was part of a 21-8 run by the Memphis that catapulted them to a comfortable 50-41 halftime lead. 
The third quarter was more of the same as the Grizzlies dominated play at both ends of the floor which fueled them to continue surging ahead and taking a 75-59 lead into the fourth quarter that would prove to be too much for the C's to overcome ... again. 
But going forward, the Celtics will have Bradley back in the mix which in time should help significantly improve their defense and with that, should put a few more W's in the win column for the Green team. 
"He's going to slowly work his way back," Pierce said. "And get his legs in game shape and have a real impact out there for us on both ends of the court. He's been going through a lot, with the surgeries all summer, to finally get a chance in the new year to get back out there, I think he was real anxious and excited to be out there."
Said Bradley: "My main focus is to just go out there and play hard. I feel everything else will work its way out if I just do that."

OFFSEASON

Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

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Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

BOSTON – It’s a toss-up as to which was celebrated more by Boston Celtics fans: Dwight Howard coming to terms with the Atlanta Hawks, or the fact that it significantly improves Boston’s chances of landing one of their top free agent targets Al Horford.

A league executive texted CSNNE.com that Howard being off the market and going to Atlanta, should make the Celtics the favorite to land Horford.

Acquiring Horford, a four-time all-star, would be the biggest free agent signing in the Danny Ainge era. Boston is scheduled to meet with Horford tonight and is expected to offer him a four-year, $113 million max contract.

But as much as the Celtics want Horford, their primary target remains Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant who may be more inclined to seriously consider Boston if they were to acquire Horford.

OFFSEASON

Turner: Ainge 'seemed confident' about Celtics chances of signing Horford

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Turner: Ainge 'seemed confident' about Celtics chances of signing Horford

After signing with the Blazers, Evan Turner has been making the rounds showering praise on the Celtics organization and fans. He also left a farewell gift for those excited about free agency: Turner told the Boston Globe that Danny Ainge “seemed confident” at the Celtics’ chances of signing free agent center Al Horford.

Previous reports indicated that the Celtics plan to make a max-contract offer to Horford when they meet him Friday night in Atlanta. The Rockets are the only other team that has reportedly met with the former Hawks All-Star, and Houston's situation isn’t nearly as attractive as Boston’s.

If the Celtics do manage to land Horford on Friday, they’d obviously be adding a former All-Star who’d immediately help the team on both ends of the floor. Immediately, though, Horford would give them another recruiter. Horford and Durant reportedly would like to play with each other, so having him enter the room might help their chances at luring Durant to Boston during Saturday's meeting.

As for Turner, he told the Globe that Ainge expressed he would like him back, but would've had to take a pay cut and a reduced role.

"I liked Boston a lot, bro. The organization, and it’s just a sports city and the city is super nice," Turner told the Globe. "If you put money and everything aside, I would play in Boston every single day of the week. Seeing all those Hall of Famers come back and everything, that’s a real franchise."

The Celtics will likely be saying singing a similar tune to both Horford and Durant this weekend.

After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

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After ‘tough month,’ Farrell understands speculation on his job status

BOSTON - With the Red Sox reeling coming off a month in which they went 10-16 and dropped a handful of games in the standings, speculation has recently focused on John Farrell's job security.

Dave Dombrowski, the Red Sox' president of baseball operations, told reporters Thursday that Farrell's job status was not a focus and that the entire organization had to perform better. Dombrowski added that it's seldom that one person is responsible for a downturn in play.

"We've come off a tough month and finished a disappointing trip through Texas and Tampa,'' acknowledged Farrell when asked about the chatter regarding his job status. "I can understand the question and the potential speculation that's out there. But our expectation is to win and that doesn't change. The focus daily is that, is to go out and put together an effort to win.      

"My communication with Dave is very consistent. I think he's confident in my focus  and that's to win each and every day. That's where we stand. We're looking forward to  the opportunity to start this final homestand before the [All Star] break, so that gets underway tonight.''

Farrell was also asked about the dichotmy that existed between his own evaluation of David Price's outing Wednesday and Price's own estimation. 

Farrell said post-game that he believed Price "probably had his best stuff of the season, in terms of velocity and in terms of the shape of his secondary pitches.''

Price, who was in full self-flagellation mode, offered a slightly contradictory assessment.

"Changeup, that's probably the worst changeup I've had in a month,'' he said. "Curveball was awful. Can't get my cutter or my slider where I want to. I'm just bad right now.''

Farrell was questioned Friday about the seemingly contradictory analysis.

"The commentary was, here was a guy coming off an outing where he had best velocity he's shown all year -- up to 97 mph,'' said Farrell, "strikes out 10 over six-plus innings. He made some mistakes in the middle of the middle of the plate. But in terms of just raw stuff, I thought he showed a curveball that had much more consistent depth to it than in more recent starts.

So in terms of raw stuff, I thought it was one of his better outings of the year. The execution?

No, that wasn't as good as the game against San Francisco or the game against Seattle.

"Whether that's a differing opinion from someone else? That was just my view of the raw stuff.''

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam