Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

699160.jpg

Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

LOS ANGELES Paul Pierce couldn't make a shot. The Boston Celtics couldn't grab a rebound.

And there were the C's, down by just two points at the half.

It was Boston's ability to force turnovers that kept them in the game when they struggled mightily in every other phase of play.

But it would have taken more than an unusual high number of Lakers mistakes to win this one, as the Lakers escaped with a 97-94 win.

After trailing for most of the game, the C's seemed in good shape when a Ray Allen 3-pointer put the Celtics up, 94-89, with about two minutes to play. But a short jumper in the lane by Kobe Bryant and an alley-oop lay-up by Andrew Bynum cut Boston's lead to 94-93 with 1:17 to play.

From there, a Celtics time-out produced a running bank shot by Allen that was off the mark, setting the stage for Bryant to once again deliver in the clutch.

And he did, draining a short jumper that put the Lakers ahead, 95-94, with 41.7 seconds to play.

Again the C's called a time-out and got the shot they wanted - a wide open look for Brandon Bass.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, he missed it and like most of the missed shots on Sunday, it wound up in the hands of the Lakers who managed to hold on for the win and in the process, sweeping the regular season series.

Boston then fell behind by three points on a lay-up by Andrew Bynum.

Down three with 15.5 seconds to play, the C's called a 20-second time-out to bring on its 3-point bombers.

The C's Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo each missed, as the Lakers managed to hold on for the victory with an 8-0 run to finish the game.

The third quarter featured strong runs by both teams, with the final points of the quarter being a tip-in by Matt Barnes that gave the Lakers a 72-70 lead going into the fourth.

His rebound and subsequent lay-up, in many ways, spoke to what was arguably the Celtics' biggest concern - rebounding and second-chance points.

The Lakers controlled the glass, for sure.

But the C's countered by forcing the Lakers into 15 turnovers at the end of three quarters. The 15 turnovers equalled what the Lakers averaged this season.

The two continued to exchange one big play for another in the fourth, with the bulk of the quarter being just a one-possession game.

A down-to-the-wire finish didn't seem to be in the making by the way the game began.

The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the first half, in large part by making the most of their one true advantage - their size.

Andrew Bynum had a double-double by the half, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Pau Gasol wasn't too far behind with seven points and seven rebounds at half.

In addition to the 12 first-half turnovers by the Lakers, Boston also got a boost from Rajon Rondo who was still bothered somewhat by the poke in the eye he suffered in Friday's win over the Trail Blazers.

He came on to the floor wearing dark shades with a strap attached to the back, the kind of strap that would have allowed him to play with them. Apparently it hadn't been giving the green light by the NBA, so Rondo had to play without them.

It certainly didn't affect him as a scorer. He led all C's with 10 points in the first half, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer - his first 3-pointer made since Feb. 15 against Detroit.

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

Market for Encarnacion is shrinking, yet Red Sox still don't seem interested

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- As the annual winter meetings get underway today, the market for arguably the best free-agent hitter may be -- against all logic -- lessening.

Edwin Encarnacion, who has averaged 39 homers a year over the last five seasons, should be a player in demand.

But in quick succession, the Houston Astros and New York Yankees, two teams thought to be in the market for Encarnacion, opted to go with older hitters who required shorter deals -- Carlos Beltran and Matt Holliday.

Further, the Toronto Blue Jays' signing of Steve Pearce to a two-year deal Monday, coupled with their earlier acquisition of Kendrys Morales, closes the door on a potential return to Toronto for Encarnacion.

Seemingly, all of that would position the Red Sox, in search of a DH to replace the retired David Ortiz, to swoop in and land Encarnacion for far less than they could have imagined only weeks ago.

And yet, it appears as though things would have to change considerably for the Red Sox to reach agreement with Encarnacion.

While the first baseman-DH is known to be Ortiz's first choice as his replacement, for now, the economics don't work for the Sox -- even as Enacarnacion's leverage drops.

Encarnacion is expecting a deal of at least four years, with an average annual value around $20 million.

The Red Sox, industry sources indicate, are very much mindful of the luxury tax threshold. The Sox have, however modestly, gone over the threshold in each of the last two seasons, and even with a bump due to last week's new CBA, the Sox are dangerously close to the 2018 limit of $195 million.

Should the Sox go over for a third straight year, their tax would similarly ratchet up.

That, and the fact that Encarnacion would cost the Sox their first-round pick next June -- for this offseason, compensation for players given a qualifying offer comes under the old CBA rules -- represents two huge disincentives.

It's far more likely that the Sox will seek a cheaper option at DH from among a group that includes Pedro Alvarez and Mike Napoli. Neither is in Encarnacion's class, but then again, neither would cost a draft pick in return, or the long-term investment that Encarnacion is said to be seeking.

Rajon Rondo suspended by Bulls for 'heated exchange'

Rajon Rondo suspended by Bulls for 'heated exchange'

Former Celtics and current Bulls point guard Rajon Rondo is up to his old tricks, apparently.

The Bulls have suspended Rondo for Monday’s game due to conduct detrimental to the team, with Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical saying that the suspension is the result of a “heated exchange” the 30-year-old had with a Bulls assistant during or after the team’s 107-82 loss to the Mavericks Saturday. 

Rondo clashing with others is nothing new. He once shattered a television on which the Celtics were showing him game footage to critique him and had to be carried out kicking and screaming by Kevin Garnett. Chris Sheridan reported in 2013 that Doc Rivers had an “intense dislike” for Rondo and that the two almost fought.

After being traded out of Boston, Rondo was suspended for a game by the Mavericks after a shouting match with Rick Carlisle. Last December, he was suspended for calling referee Bill Kennedy a homophobic slur, leading to Kennedy coming out as gay. 

Interestingly enough, there's something of a pattern of Rondo's bigger infractions occuring in games against former teams. The Kennedy incident came in a game against the Celtics, while this recent one was against Dallas. 

This is the first season of a two-year, $28 million Rondo signed with the Bulls in the offseason. He is averaging 8.2 points per game, 7.2 assists per game and 6.7 rebounds a night.