Blakely: Losses have turned Celtics into winners

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Blakely: Losses have turned Celtics into winners

BOSTON Players often view games as individual vignettes that over the course of a season, give you a greater sense of a team's body of work.

But there are some individual games that speak volumes as to a team's identity.

Boston had one of those games on Sunday as they managed to survive a triple overtime battle with Denver and emerge with a 118-114 win.

Survival has indeed been part of the Celtics story this season.

Losing the league's assists leader in Rajon Rondo with a partially torn right ACL is a major blow. Compounding the loss less than a week later was promising rookie Jared Sullinger being lost for the season following back surgery.

Instead of being hurt by those setbacks, it seems they have only helped this group to re-invent themselves into a formidable club that doesn't subscribe to the theory that teams that lose key players are supposed to lose.

The Celtics have shown the kind of fight and resiliency that was nowhere to be found at the start of the season. As strange as it may sound, the loss of Rondo and Sullinger might have been just what this team needed in order to see those traits within themselves.

Far too many games to count this season, they played as if the regular season was just a lay-over until the arrived at the "real games" - the playoffs. But because of how this team sputtered out the gates this season, that's no longer a luxury.

The regular season for a change had meaning for the Celtics; significant meaning if they were to have any shot at achieving the lofty dreams they aim for every season.

But what appeared to be a dead end to those dreams coming to fruition with Rondo's injury, have only become a detour into a brand of Celtics basketball that in many ways is better.

That's not to say that the C's are a better team without Rondo, of course.

But what the Celtics lost in Rondo's talent, they have more than made up for their fight to prove they can win in his absence.

They seem to work harder on defense, crash the boards more frequently, follow the game plan closer and by doing all those things, position themselves most nights to have a chance at winning.

But to achieve all those things, it has to be done by the collective group. And that is what makes this team, this re-invented Celtics team, so special.

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are still Boston's 1A and 1B options. But the gap in terms of contributions between them and the rest of the team, isn't nearly as wide as many suspected.

Jeff Green has become a consistent X-factor off the bench who is a double-digit scoring machine. Jason Terry has rediscovered his shooting touch and clutch-gene. Chris Wilcox appears to have worked himself back into Doc Rivers' good graces as a viable option as Kevin Garnett's backup. And Leandro Barbosa is still effective, even with more minutes.

It collectively adds up to a team that isn't going to go away anytime soon, even if they are not complete.

But within that incomplete state lies a team that is complete with fire, hunger to win and an edge about them that makes them kind of scary come playoff time.

Avery Bradley is one of the more soft-spoken Celtics you'll find. But there's no mistaking the confidence - the swagger if you will - that he exudes that in many ways, symbolizes this entire team.

Once Sunday's game went into overtime, the Celtics' confidence was still high.

"There was never a doubt in our mind in any overtime that we weren't going to win this game," Bradley says.

Whether you believe him or not is not the point.

The fact is, as you walk around the Celtics locker room talking to player after player, the confidence level of this team is on a similar or higher plane than Bradley's.

It's clear that this winning streak while impressive, won't be enough to satisfy this group. They see this latest run as just part of the puzzle.

But truth be told, it's more than that.

When you look at how they are winning, it says more about who they are than where they are in terms of the standings.

This a team whose foundation is built on great defense, timely shot-making and the contributions of many.

And then there's the edge that they are steadily playing with these days, an edge that wasn't around most of this season.

That gritty defense and overall edge about their play has become their identity; an identity that this current seven-game winning streak has firmly established and brought to light.

And that light isn't ready to flame out anytime soon.

With Thomas drawing attention, Rozier rises to occasion to send Celtics to OT

With Thomas drawing attention, Rozier rises to occasion to send Celtics to OT

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

Stars, studs and duds: Lillard steps up in second half, overtime

BOSTON – Saturday was yet another night when the opposing team – this time it was the Portland Trail Blazers – that up the Boston Celtics with an avalanche of points that ended in a 127-123 overtime loss.

And yet through the rubble of all those lay-ups and put-back baskets and mid-range jumpers, Stevens saw something he has not seen in a while – hope that better days defensively were coming sooner rather than later.

“As crazy as it sounds with them scoring (127) … I actually thought we were a lot closer to defending the way we want to defend," said Stevens. "I thought we were really locked into those guards, and I thought we tried to make it as tough as possible. Those guys are really good players, obviously, but I thought, I thought we did a lot of good things in that regard.”

For the most part, Boston and Portland played a relatively even game that wasn’t decided until the final minute of overtime.

“They just made more plays down the stretch,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

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

 

STARS

C.J. McCollum

He tends to get second billing to Damian Lillard, but he was a first rate problem for the Celtics. He led the Blazers with 35 points on 11-for-21 shooting.

Damian Lillard

After a foul-troubled first half, Lillard stepped up like the All-Star he is in the second half to finish with 28 points and seven assists which included seven of Portland’s 14 points in overtime.

Isaiah Thomas

It was another dynamic scoring night for Thomas, finishing with a game-high 41 points which included 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime.


STUDS

Terry Rozier

Making the most of his chance to play due to injuries and illnesses, Rozier came up with a number of big shots all night. He finished with 15 points which included a 3-pointer with 8.4 seconds in the fourth that forced overtime.

Mason Plumlee

In addition to doing a solid job protecting the rim, Plumlee also tallied a double-double of 10 points and 11 rebounds while dishing out a game-high eight assists.

Meyers Leonard

Easily the big X-factor of the game, Leonard had 17 points off the bench on 6-for-7 shooting.

 

DUDS

Celtics Turnovers

This is the one area where the Celtics have been really good all season. Saturday? Not so much. Boston turned the ball over a season-high 21 times which accounted for 34 points for the Blazers.