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

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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.

Red Sox must solve pitching issues from within

Red Sox must solve pitching issues from within

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Having lost seven and a half games in the standings in the month of June, the Red Sox most assuredly have fallen.

Now the question is: can they get up?

Can the Red Sox slam the brakes on the kind of play they've displayed in recent weeks and reclaim their season? And how is it that a team that played as well as the Red Sox did for the first two months can play as poorly as the Sox have since late May?

One thing seems patently obvious, in the wake of yet another demoralizing defeat Tuesday at the hands of a team which had previously lost it last 11 games: any turnaround the Red Sox execute is going to be self-generated.

There will be no savior, no white knight on a horse, arriving via trade -- not anytime soon, anyway.

Like the under-siege babysitter in the horror classic When a Stranger Calls, the problems for the Red Sox are internal: "We've traced the (issue); it's coming from inside (the pitching staff).''

That much has been obvious for some time now. But what's most sobering is that the solution must be found within the organization.

"To say that someone else is going to walk through that door,'' noted John Farrell, "from another organization, I'm not banking on that.''

That's wise on Farrell's part, since Dave Dombrowski has signaled as much. There's not much help available more than a month before the deadline. And frankly, the Red Sox problems go beyond any one individual.

Say, for instance, that the Red Sox could somehow obtain an upgrade over Clay Buchholz. That still wouldn't account for the spot now made vacant by the demotion of Eduardo Rodriguez Monday night after the lefty was torched for nine runs in just 2 1/3 innings.

It would be difficult enough, given the calendar and the laws of supply-and-demand, for Dombrowski to land a quality starting pitcher before the end of the week. But to somehow acquire two arms? That's not happening.

Instead, the Red Sox have to get both Buchholz and Rodriguez to contribute.

Farrell essentially laid down a challenge to the players in his post-game exhortation late Monday night, pushing them to keep relying on one another and fight through their collective slump.

The rest will be up to pitching coach Carl Willis, who must identify the flaws for Buchholz and Rodriguez and guide them back to form. Willis was properly credited with doing a nice job after taking over a month into the season last year, but has not been as successful in stabilizing the rotation this season.

If the Sox don't show some turnaround, will Willis's job be in jeopardy? And further, how vulnerable will Farrell be if the Red Sox can't execute better?

There's some comfort in the fact that the offensive spigot seems turned back on in recent days, and with imminent return of Brock Holt, and, not far behind, Chris Young, the Sox should have a more formidable everyday lineup to say nothing of a vastly improved bench.

But then, for the most part, scoring runs hasn't been the problem often for the Red Sox.

It’s about the pitching, stupid. And the answers -- just like the problems that began this free fall in the first place -- must come from within.

Sean McAdam can be followed on Twitter: @Sean_McAdam

OFFSEASON

Top 5 free agent wings Boston Celtics could target

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Top 5 free agent wings Boston Celtics could target

BOSTON – If there’s one thing we can expect from the Boston Celtics, it’s that they will take a lot of shots.

In fact, last season they led the league with 89.4 field goal attempts per game. Getting shots off is a good thing.

Making them?

Even better.

And it is this latter point that serves as the motivation for the Celtics to give serious thought to adding another wing player to a roster that’s already guard-heavy.

Despite leading the league in shots taken, the Celtics ranked among the bottom-10 (25th overall) in field goal percentage.

That said, here are a handful of wing players who are on the Celtics’ radar this summer with free agency beginning on Thursday.

 

5. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto

One of the better scoring wing players in the NBA, DeRozan did not plan to talk to any other teams during free agency other than the Toronto Raptors despite rumors during the season that the Los Angeles Lakers would make a run at the former USC standout and Compton, Calif. native. DeRozan has averaged at least 20 points each of the last three seasons which includes a career-high 23.5 points this past season. And unlike most wing scorers, DeRozan does not look to shoot 3s often. But as we saw last season when he shot a career-best 33.8 percent, it is becoming a more reliable shot that compliments his strength of attacking the rim. The Celtics would love to have a crack at him, but they know better. DeRozan isn’t going anywhere.

 

4. Evan Fournier, SG, Orlando (restricted)

Whatever chance teams thought they might have had at landing Fournier, took a hit when the Magic traded away Victor Oladipo to Oklahoma City. Do not be surprised if the Magic and Fournier’s camp work towards getting a deal done as Fournier averaged a career-high 15.4 points last season. The four-year veteran has improved his scoring average every season and shot a career-best 40 percent on 3s last season. Fournier’s shooting and deceptively solid ball-handling make him a vital cog in Orlando’s chances at success going forward. As for Boston, the Celtics like Fournier’s game but like DeRozan, understand it will be extremely difficult to pry him from his current team.

 

3. Arron Afflalo, SG/SF, New York

The nine-year veteran is one of the more under-rated free agents on the market this summer. An above-average defender, Afflalo has averaged double digits scoring each of the last six seasons in addition to being a career 38.5 percent 3-point shooter. Those two qualities make the 30-year-old Afflalo a player that one could easily see fitting in quite well with the Boston Celtics. However, acquiring him would likely involve moving at least one of the team’s younger guards just to create a clearer path to playing time. Because at this point in his career, Afflalo is very interested in being part of a winning situation in which he gets decent court time which is something that’s far from a given considering how the Celtics’ roster is currently constructed.

 

2. Jared Dudley, SG/SF, Washington

Dudley is one of the few free agents who has made no secret about wanting to play for the Celtics, and actually has something to offer. The 30-year-old Dudley is a career 8.4 points per game scorer who has embraced his role in this league as a key reserve off the bench. He is a near 40 percent (39.9) shooter from 3-point range for his career and shot 42 percent last season for the Washington Wizards. The challenge is figuring out what role he would play for a Celtics team that’s extremely deep with perimeter talent. But Dudley’s 3-point shooting, desire to don the Green and White, and experience are all factors that make him an attractive free agent to Boston.

 

1. Evan Turner, SG/SF, Boston

There may not have been any player on the Celtics roster that head coach Brad Stevens trusted more than Evan Turner, something that should not be taken lightly when it comes to Turner’s free agency and how he handles what should be a decent amount of suitors. His career was at a crossroads when he came to Boston two years ago. Now he’s considered one of the best reserves in the NBA, a player whose multi-faceted skillset fits in well with the direction that most teams are looking to go with their roster. Turner’s price tag should be north of $10 million per season, which might be a bit too rich for the Celtics’ liking. But if a deal can be struck, Boston would be wise to do so. Because as much as they benefited from Isaiah Thomas’ all-star season and the emergence of Jae Crowder and the steady play of Avery Bradley at both ends of the floor, it was Turner who had the ball in his hands down the stretch of many games. And it was Turner who often made the right decision when it mattered most, something that’s not lost on the Celtics or head coach Brad Stevens who has made no secret about his desire to have Turner back with Boston next season.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

OFFSEASON

Could Kevin Durant's love for Larry Bird lead him to the Celtics?

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Could Kevin Durant's love for Larry Bird lead him to the Celtics?

In Episode 15 of CSN's "Celtics Talk" podcast, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are joined by Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman to discuss the impending free agency of Kevin Durant, and how Boston fits into the puzzle of suitors. Slater talks about how the Thunder fan base is feeling right about now, after the team took the Warriors to seven games. 

As far as Boston is concerned, Slater talks about how Durant has always modeled his game after Celtics legend Larry Bird, and Boston is most likely looking to just get Durant in a room, talk to him about what the franchise is about, and then hope to make another run at him next summer.

Kyle and Sherrod also go over the Celtics’ 2016 draft class, including Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizic, Demetrius Jackson, and Ben Bentil. Plus, where does the 2015 Celtics draft class find playing time this season.