Blakely: Bass, Celtics continue to rebound from rough start

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Blakely: Bass, Celtics continue to rebound from rough start

BOSTON As Brandon Bass lay on the sideline near the Boston Celtics bench, clutching his left knee, clearly in pain, Celtics Nation feared the worst.

The way this season has gone, with one fluke injury after another, it seemed a given that Bass would be just another one to add to the list.

"I felt like a little kid," Bass said. "I was scared. I didn't know what had happened. It hurt so bad."

A few minutes later, Bass was back on his feet and able to finish out the game as the Celtics squeaked out an 88-86 overtime win against the Hawks.

Bass' injury (he said he hyperextended the knee), and his ability to bounce back up and keep playing, was symbolic of the kind of season this has been for the Boston Celtics.

Just when you're ready to write them off because of a seemingly cataclysmic setback, they shock you with their resiliency.

Boston (34-24) is 10 games over .500 for the first time this season, and are riding a four-game winning streak which includes all four wins over playoff-caliber opponents.

"We have great character," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "Tough-minded group. They really are. You could see they wanted to win that game so bad, and you could see the way we played."

And no player better symbolized that fight than Bass, who had his seventh double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

When he went down in overtime, C's coach Doc Rivers feared Bass had suffered some type of injury to the ligaments in his left knee.

"I've had that injury -- we know the one I'm talking about?" said Rivers, who suffered a torn ACL injury to his left knee during the 1993-1994 season when he played with the New York Knicks. "I don't even like saying the word. And where he was grabbing. I didn't think it was going to be a good thing."

But it turned out better -- much better -- than Rivers expected, which in many ways, is shaping up to be the theme of the Celtics' season.

Prior to the All-Star break, Boston seemed to be caught somewhere between bound for the NBA lottery, or a playoff team headed for an early exit.

But since the All-Star break, the C's have not only distanced themselves from the mediocre, but they are trending towards becoming one of the NBA's elite teams. This current run of success will only strengthen the case that the Celtics are a legit playoff contender that teams need to be concerned about when the playoffs begin in a couple weeks.

Some would attribute the turn-around to Rivers, while others will credit the players.

Truth be told, it's a combination of the two.

"They're playing at a very, very high level," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said after the Celtics defeated the Pacers on Saturday. "They have a championship coach and a championship core."

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

WATCH: Celtics vs. Thunder

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”