Bradley, Lee picking up slack for Celtics

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Bradley, Lee picking up slack for Celtics

LOS ANGELES When Rajon Rondo was on the floor, there was no question that he was the Celtics' floor leader.

Besides having the ball in his hand more than anyone else, often his play at both ends of the floor would set the tone as to how the Celtics would play.

With him out of the mix, the ability of Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley to fill that void has been one of the more overlooked aspects of the C's strong play as they have put together wins in eight of their last 10 games.

"It's not said but, simultaneously and kind of inadvertently, we're following their lead," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "Those two have been very good for us."

In Boston's 97-90 loss at Denver on Tuesday, it was their play at both ends of the floor that kept the Celtics in the game when the team's usual 1-2 punch -- Garnett and Paul Pierce -- struggled to make the kind of impact the C's are accustomed to.

And with tonight's game against the Los Angeles Lakers being a back-to-back, the C's may once again need strong games from players besides their two future Hall of Famers.

For a team that prides itself on its defense, having Lee and Bradley start games is about as ideal a scenario for the Celtics.

But as important as it is for them to play strong defensively, Celtics coach Doc Rivers needs them to provide more in order for the C's to be successful.

Against the Nuggets on Tuesday, the C's took a 50-49 lead into the half. Bradley and Lee accounted for 24 of the Celtics' first-half points which included a jumper by Lee with just before the halftime horn sounded.

"We need that on this trip and the rest of the season," Rivers said.

Prior to the all-star break, Rivers said he spoke with both players as to what he expected from them once they returned.

"We have to be a little more aggressive for them in pick-and-rolls and attacking the basket," Rivers said. "They were pretty good."

But their success will still be predicated in large part by the play of Pierce and Garnett.

"When you got KG and you got Paul, they're going to draw a lot of attention," Lee said. "So when they get the ball, they draw doubles. And then me and Avery are open."

And when they are open, their ability to knock down open shots or drive to the basket has created another means in which the C's can generate offense.

Both have managed to strike a balance between being more aggressive while still finding ways to continue playing off of the team's two core guys.

"It's not hard at all," Lee said. "We know that those are our go-to guys. For us to get open and get the best looks, we have to go through them. They're good players, they're both unselfish and they're going to make the right plays as far as find the open man."

For Garnett, it has been refreshing to see the work each has put in their game, pay off both individually and for the Celtics.

"I'm proud of those two," Garnett said. "They've worked really, really hard to get to where they are. They've been busting their ass night-in, night-out. You have to tip your hat, try to continue to encourage them."

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Lowry

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics have no answer for Lowry

BOSTON — For most of Friday night’s game, the Boston Celtics played the kind of game that on most nights would result in a victory. 

But Toronto is one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference with talent, depth and an undeniable desire to win at all costs. 

One strong quarter by the Raptors was just enough to put away the Celtics, 101-94. 

And it came in the third when Toronto outscored Boston 33-18 which turned out to be the only quarter the Raptors (16-7) outscored the Celtics. 

“They got hot; made some tough shots,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “The tough shots kind of hurt us.”

The tough shots and a flawless 8-for-8 performance from the free throw line. 

While it’s a 48-minute game, there was no getting around the fact that it was Toronto’s dominance in the third that ultimately determined the game’s outcome. 

“If you look at it from our perspective it’s what went wrong; if you look at it from theirs, they ratcheted up the defense quite a bit (in the third quarter),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It was hard for us to break their … break their wall of defense.”

In the third quarter, Boston shot just 27.8 percent from the field, 30 percent (3-for-10) on 3’s and a woeful 5-for-10 from the free throw line. 

“We started making everything difficult for them and not letting them get that easy in and try to take advantage of that,” said Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.

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

 

STARS

Kyle Lowry

The Celtics had no answer for the All-Star point guard who led all players with 34 points, 21 of which came in the second half. 

Avery Bradley

Bradley was the lone Celtics starter who seemed to be in a good shooting flow, tallying 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting which included five made 3’s. 

DeMar DeRozan

The Celtics made him work a lot harder than he usually does to score, but he still managed to tally 24 points – just four points below his season average – on 9-for-25 shooting.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

He made a few more turnovers than usual, but Horford still put together a relatively balanced performance. He had 19 points and seven rebounds with six assists and a blocked shot. 

Norman Powell

The X-factor in Friday’s outcome had to be Powell. A 5.8 points per game scorer this season, Powell had 20 points on 7-for-10 shooting along with a game-high five steals. 

 

DUDS

Jae Crowder

With Isaiah Thomas (right groin) out, the Celtics really needed its core starters to step up and have a productive night offensively. Crowder just didn’t have it going on Friday, scoring just seven points on 2-for-11 shooting which included a number of 3s that rimmed in and out on him.