Celtics halt Rockets launch, 103-91

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Celtics halt Rockets launch, 103-91

BOSTON In a bit of role reversal, it was Boston's bench that set the tone in Friday's 103-91 win over Houston and the starters who came to the rescue in the fourth quarter.

After Houston cut Boston's lead to just 83-81 in the fourth, all but wiping out a comfortable lead built primarily on the strong play of the backups, the C's starters went on a 15-3 run to push the lead back to double digits, 98-84, with 3:06 to play.

The Celtics (19-17), winners of five in a row now, never allowed the Rockets to come close to being a serious threat for the remainder of the game.

Boston's second unit for the second time in as many games played a pivotal - and dare we say, dominant - role in helping the C's extend their season best winning streak to five in a row.

Jared Sullinger continues to show why a number of teams regret not selecting him in June's NBA draft, red flag or not.

His scoring and work around the basket has given the Celtics a dimension that no other player on this roster provides. He finished with 14 points and 11 rebounds for his second straight double-double.

And Courtney Lee, who looked tentative and at times just bad at the start of the season, has been a defensive spark plug and a much more efficient scorer. Like Sullinger, he too had 14 points to go with three assists.

Throw in solid production from Jeff Green (9 points, two rebounds, two assists) and you have the kind of high-impact rotation off the bench that the C's envisioned at the start of the season.

"Our bench was huge," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "I mean, that's what stretched the game, that stretch in the first and through most of the second quarter when we left them out there. They're just playing free together, they're defending. You know, one of the big differences is they're defending now."
And to get it done defensively against the league's highest-scoring team, speaks volumes as to how far the Celtics have come since these two met on Dec. 14 and the Rockets easily won, 101-89.

"We weren't playing the way we wanted to," Bradley said of last month's loss in Houston. "We had flashes of playing the way we want to play every now and then."

But the questions about Boston's consistency - at least for now - can be laid to rest.

They have strung together enough victories of late doing it with defense, to make one believe that maybe just maybe, this team has at the very least turned the corner from their up-and-down, inconsistent ways to start the season.

And beating the red-hot Rockets does qualify as a quality victory despite them being the youngest team in the NBA.

They came into Friday's game having won 12 of their last 16 games. And against the Eastern Conference this season, Houston had a gaudy 14-2 record.

But none of that mattered on Friday, not with the Celtics playing the kind of defense from tip-off to the final horn that positioned them for yet another victory.

After scoring six of the game's first eight points, the Celtics were on the short end of a 15-2 run that had the look and feel of Houston's win over Boston last month.

But then Sullinger entered the game.

And things were never quite the same for either team.

Sullinger's hustle around the boards along with scoring positioned the C's to not just get back into the game but actually take over.
"He rebounded the ball well for them, he made a couple tough shots, a couple turn-arounds, he played well for them, but he has been," said Rockets head coach and former Celtics great Kevin McHale.

Although his play was dominant, but the play of Lee, Green and Jason Terry (3 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds) was also key.

While it's not unusual for a second unit to come in and rescue the starters when they struggle, that wasn't really the case on Friday.

Boston's first group didn't play poorly. Not with Paul Pierce scoring a team-high 23 points to go with six rebounds, or Kevin Garnett tallying 17 points and eight hard-earned rebounds.

It's just that Boston's second unit for the most of the night, was better.

And when you're building towards becoming a complete team, it's a good thing to have nights like that from time to time.
"They've been huge for us in this winning streak," Pierce said. "They've been not only able to come in and sustain a lead, they've been able to come in and push the lead."

Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

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Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

BOSTON -- Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and is not always seen the same by NBA players -- not even teammates.

That was certainly the case following Boston’s 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which ended the Celtics season.

While the C's won more regular-season games (48) than they did a year ago and put up a much better fight in the playoffs than last April's four-game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, having it all end the way it did at home on Thursday clearly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most players.

Whether this was a successful season is open to debate.

But what’s abundantly clear for the Celtics is this team did indeed make progress from where it was a year ago.

“You go from 40 (wins), under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eeking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And so, yes, there’s progress.”

But as far as this being a successful season, that’s not nearly as cut and dry.

“Of course it’s only going to be one team to have a successful year and that’s when you hold that trophy up,” said  Jae Crowder. “So until we do that, it’s not a successful season. We are going to keep building, keep working.”

Marcus Smart had a slightly different opinion on the matter.

“I don’t look at it as a failure, for sure,” Smart said. “We did a lot of great things this season. We’re a young team. That’s good for us coming back. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I don’t look at the season as a failure. So I guess you can say it was a success for us.”

But looking at how this season ended, while disappointing, serves as a reminder as to how Boston remains a team with talent but plenty of room to grow.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right?” Stevens said. “One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in right now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there.

"And the next (task, which is becoming a legitimate championship contender) is tough. And that’s been communicated before to me and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I’ve learned is we’ve got to get better. And you know what? That starts with me. I’ve got to get better, and then I think each of our players will look at that accountably as well and we’re all going to be better the next time we take the court.”

In doing so, they look to build off the progress made this season and inch closer towards having a truly successful season . . . which around here more often than not, means competing for an NBA title.

That’s why for Jared Sullinger, one of the few remaining players from the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when deep postseason runs were an expectation and not a goal, he doesn’t see this season as being a successful one for the Green team.

“If we’re thinking making it to the playoffs is a successful season, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Sullinger said. “If you look in this locker room, you see everybody’s down. We didn’t want it to end like that; we wanted to make a run. It’s tough losing like that.”

Sullinger added, “Last year we were glad to make the playoffs. This year, we wanted to make a run, we wanted to make some noise. Unfortunately, our noise got cut short.”

C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

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C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

BOSTON – There are few guarantees when it comes to the NBA and the Boston Celtics, but one thing’s for certain: change is going to come next season.

This is especially true for the Celtics whose season ended with a 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sending the C’s home for the season with a second straight first-round exit.

“That’s just the business of the NBA,” said Isaiah Thomas who had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists which were both game highs on Thursday. “One thing I do know, I ride with these guys until the wheels fall off; I mean this was a special group.”

But whether they stay together remains to be seen.

Among those who could be on the move is Evan Turner, an unrestricted free agent this summer.

He will be among the more heavily pursued Celtics this summer, in large part because of his versatility as both a playmaker and scoring guard off the bench.

Several teams will come hard after Turner, among them being the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic who are desperate to add talented, proven veterans to their young rosters.

The second year of Jonas Jerebko’s contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 3. Considering the way he played in the postseason as well as his steady presence during the regular season, the Celtics are more than likely to keep him around for next season.

Boston has a pair of restricted free agents in Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger. It is unclear what the Celtics will do with them because it remains to be seen what type of offers (if any) they receive from another team.

“This season didn’t go exactly how I would have wanted it to,” Zeller told CSNNE.com. “But I like it here, I like the coaching staff and the players. So we’ll see what happens this summer. But yeah, I’m definitely open to the idea of coming back next season.”

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Amir Johnson who could potentially become a free agent this summer if the Celtics decline to pick up the second year on his contract which is worth $12 million.

When I asked Johnson if he felt he had done enough to have to his second year picked up by the Celtics he told CSNNE.com, “I hope so.”

Johnson added, “We never quit even when we were down big at the end of the game. I feel there’s stuff we can clean up and be better, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. But there’s something about this team, we don’t have no quit in us. I feel like we can definitely go far if we just put the right pieces together.”

And as far as his future in Boston, “I definitely want to here.”

Only time will tell just how many of Boston’s potential free agents will be riding with the Green Team next season, or be swept away and wind up on another roster in what will surely be an offseason of change.