Celtics go a long way to find out what they already knew

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Celtics go a long way to find out what they already knew

SACRAMENTO Now that the Boston Celtics' first jaunt out West is in the books, the goal -- to learn more about exactly who are the Celtics -- was achieved.

Not to go all Dennis Green, but they are exactly who we thought they were: A team that still doesn't know how to win or lose with any kind of consistency.

In the span of less than a week on the road, the Celtics only reinforced their status as a middle-of-the-road club.

And with that, here's a review of the Celtics last four games -- all on the road -- highlighted by the Good, Bad and Ugly times that have been a common thread that has tied this team down to being nothing more than a .500-playing ball club:

CHRISTMAS DAY AT BROOKLYN: CELTICS 93, NETS 76
The Good: The C's delivered the kind of Christmas Day present that their fans have been clamoring for all season. The defense limited Brooklyn to just 40 percent shooting while forcing 20 turnovers, which led to 25 points for the Celtics. The C's bench was especially strong, led by Jared Sullinger and Jeff Green, who had 16 and 15 points, respectively.

The Bad: This loss seemed to be what accelerated the eventual firing of Avery Johnson, who was cut loose after being named the Eastern Conference's Coach of the Month for October and November.

The Ugly: For the second time this season, things got a little testy between these two clubs, with the result being a nice Christmas Day bonus for NBA charities that benefit from the fines levied for player technical fouls. All total, four players -- Kevin Garnett and Courtney Lee of the Celtics, and Gerald Wallace and Andray Blatche of the Nets -- were each whistled for a technical foul.

DEC. 27 AT LOS ANGELES: CLIPPERS 106, CELTICS 77
The Good: There really wasn't much for the Celtics to take out of this one. The Clippers are an elite NBA team this season and proved it in emphatic fashion against a Celtics club that was overwhelmed in every way imaginable. Fortunately the Celtics will only see them once more this season, which is about the only positive they can glean from this one.

The Bad: Where do you begin? Losing to the hottest team the NBA has seen in years is nothing to be embarrassed about, especially in their house. But the Celtics showed no fight, no perseverance and for the most part, looked clueless in just about every phase of the game. It would serve as a humbling reminder of just how far away the Celtics are right now, from being able to compete with, let alone beat, the NBA's better teams.

The Ugly: Adding insult to injury was what else? Injuries. Rajon Rondo suffered a right hipthigh injury that limited his effectiveness. He played nearly 32 minutes but had just 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting, while tallying just six assists with four turnovers.

DEC. 29 AT OAKLAND: WARRIORS 101, CELTICS 83
The Good: The Boston Celtics may actually have someone not named Kevin Garnett who can score in the post. His name is Jared Sullinger. And, yes, he's a rookie, but he continues to play like a man wise beyond his years. And it took Rondo being out for the rest of the C's to actually make getting him the ball in the post a greater priority. He didn't have a monster game, but his 12 points and game-high 8 rebounds was the kind of performance both he and the Celtics should try and build on.

The Bad: The defense was as bad as we've seen it. The Warriors are a quick-shot, pull-up-in-transition team. They have been like that all season. But the Celtics played as though that caught them by surprise, frequently giving their shooters great looks on the perimeter. And making matters worst? Many of the shots they gave Golden State's shooters were from their favorite spots on the floor.

The Ugly: Not having Rajon Rondo on the floor was evident in so many areas. Courtney Lee (season-high 18 points) did a decent job of filling in for Rondo, but Rondo's on-the-floor leadership was clearly something that the Celtics missed dearly. "He (Lee) was fine," C's coach Doc Rivers said after the loss. "He played a lot of minutes which I thought hurt him, and Courtney is never going to make the passes that Rondo makes."

DEC. 30 AT SACRAMENTO: KINGS 118, CELTICS 96
The Good: Again, not a lot of positivity could be found on the floor or inside the locker room afterward. But anytime Kevin Garnett throws down a verbal challenge -- and it is rare -- the C's have responded accordingly.

He did so after a lackluster start a year ago, and it was among the factors that catapulted the Celtics to a 24-10 record after the break and a return trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, where the C's came within a game of advancing past eventual NBA champion Miami Heat.

The Bad: The defense seems to keep finding different depths of disappointment to reach. It's one thing to let the Los Angeles Clippers and the Golden State Warriors go buck wild offensively. They're really good teams. But the Kings? The previously 10-19 Sacramento Kings? Chris Webber is not walking through that door, Celtics. Allowing the Kings to go off like they did offensively, should never happen to a team with a defensive foundation.

The Ugly: The long trip home provided the Celtics with nothing to show for those miles logged but more miles of separation between themselves and the rest of the NBA's good teams. Losing three straight happens, even to good teams. But the three losses have all been blowouts, with the Celtics having not led after a quarter of play since they beat Brooklyn on Christmas Day. And considering how the Nets went about firing their head coach Avery Johnson less than a week after the C's beat them, it's clear that they had behind-the-scene issues that certainly factored into their poor play that night.

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

BOSTON – When the fourth quarter rolled around on Friday night, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a down-to-the-wire fight with the Sacramento Kings. 

It was the kind of game that in the past has brought out the scrappy, get-it-done-somehow brand of basketball that has in many ways come to define the Celtics under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. 

And it was on full display Friday night as the Celtics made all the big plays at both ends of the floor down the stretch to beat the Sacramento Kings, 97-92. 

After Sacramento cut Boston’s lead to 90-87, Al Horford drained a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game again. 

Isaiah Thomas came up with a pair of free throws that turned out to be huge, because shortly after he made them the Kings got a 3-pointer from DeMarcus Cousins that made it a 95-92 game.

The Kings had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth when Horford was credited with his sixth block of the game, this time on DeMarcus Cousins.

Horford was immediately fouled and went to the free throw line where he sealed the victory by making a pair.

Those were the kind of plays we saw often last season being made by the Celtics who finished in a tie for the third-best record in the East. 

This year, not so much. 

“For the most part we got what we wanted (in the fourth quarter) and we got the stops we needed even,” Thomas said. 

Which is the kind of game Jae Crowder and the rest of the guys who have been here awhile, have grown accustomed to.

“We got back to being the aggressive team,” Crowder said. “We came out and imposed our will early; that helped. But if the game comes down to what it was tonight, we have to be the team that comes out on top. It was like a playoff game, real physical. We have to grit it out, grind it out.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

Al Horford

So this is what an ultra-aggressive Al Horford looks like? The four-time All-Star had a season-high 26 points which included knocking down four three-pointers to go with eight rebounds and six blocked shots – yes, six blocked shots.

DeMarcus Cousins

While his fiery temper hasn’t died down completely, his incredible offensive skills and brute strength is what folks are talking more about, finally. He led the Kings with a game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and four blocked shots.  

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

His streak of being Boston’s outright scoring leader ended at 14 games, but he’s more than happy to take a back seat for one night if it means getting a victory. Horford led the charge on Friday night, but Thomas still chipped in with 20 points, seven assists and two steals. 

Matt Barnes

Although he missed eight of his 11 shots from the field, the 36-year-old Barnes was rewarded for his hustle and effort as he finished with a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

Jae Crowder

Boston needed tough plays to be made on Friday and Crowder was up the challenge all night. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists and a steal. Good things happened when he was on the floor, evident by his game-high plus/minus of +15.

 

DUDS

Rudy Gay

He finished with 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting but the Kings needed more from their second-leading scorer who finished almost seven points below his 19.6 points per game average. That stands out on a night when the Kings lost by just five points.