Celtics lose fifth straight, 89-86 to Knicks

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Celtics lose fifth straight, 89-86 to Knicks

BOSTON There was more passion, more fire, more of everything that Doc Rivers has been imploring the Boston Celtics to bring to the floor for weeks.
Sadly, it still wasn't enough as the New York Knicks pulled away in the second half for a 89-86 win.
New York pulled ahead 80-70 in the fourth, looking as though they were ready to put the C's away and the Celtics at that point, seemed more than willing to oblige.
But the Celtics started making shots, which as we've seen, is usually followed by better defense.
It shouldn't be that way, but it is what it is.
With Rajon Rondo leading the way, the C's went on a 12-4 run to come within two points.
A tip-in by New York's Tyson Chandler made it a four-point game, only for Rondo to come back with a pair of free throws to cut New York's lead to 86-84.
Rondo was getting it done on the defensive end as well, drawing an offensive foul against Carmelo Anthony with 1:53 to play.
The C's couldn't capitalize on the turnover, as the Knicks eventually got a 3-pointer from J.R. Smith with 1:11 to play to lead, 89-84.
Smith's shot was huge, but the hero for New York was Anthony, who just used and abused the Celtics defenders most of the night with either the pull-up jumper or driving to the basket before finishing with a game-high 28 points.
Even with Anthony having a big game, Boston had its chances afterward.
A Rondo jumper followed by a Jason Kidd miss, gave the Celtics a chance to tie the game with 13.1 seconds to play.
Following a Celtics timeout, Paul Pierce lost the ball out of bounds with 7.1 seconds to play.
Making matters worse, the C's could not get close enough to any of the Knicks players as time expired, a sequence that reinforced the fact that the C's continue to fail at executing effectively in late-game situations.
Pierce led the C's with 22 points -- only 3 in the second half -- while Rondo collected his 27th career triple-double with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.
Boston (20-22) has now lost five straight for the first time this season, and just the third time (twice last season) since the 2008 title run.
With so much attention paid to the post-game events in their Jan. 7 matchup involving Anthony and Kevin Garnett, it took much of the attention off what was a game that both teams desperately needed for different Knicks.
New York (26-14) came in atop the Atlantic Division by half a game, with the Brooklyn Nets nipping at their heels. The Celtics came in having lost four in a row and were looking to avoid a five-game losing skid.
Both teams delivered the kind of high intensity play that kept the game relatively close in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics ahead 24-20.
One of the keys to Boston's slim lead was what turned out to be a near-perfect quarter with the C's committing zero turnovers.
The second quarter did not go quite as well for the Celtics, with the Knicks going almost exclusively with multiple zone coverages.
Rather than attacking the interior of the zone, the C's relied on what they have relied on all season -- jumpers.
And has been the case often this season, those shots were off the mark which allowed the Knicks to spend a good chunk of the second quarter with a lead.
Boston eventually snapped out of his jump-shooting trance and began to try and score around the basket, or penetrate and kick out for what were open shots.
That was hit and miss for the C's, but the driving to the basket led to a surprisingly high number of free throw attempts.
But it was New York's work from the free throw line that proved to be the difference in the half, which ended with three made free throws by the Knicks which put them ahead, 50-48, at the half.
For Boston, Pierce was having a big night with 19 points in the first half, which was more points scored by the Captain than he had in each of the C's previous four games - all losses.
Boston pulled ahead 66-65 on a Jeff Green 3-pointer in the third quarter, but the Knicks closed out the third with a 7-0 run and the C's spent the rest of the game playing from behind.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”
 

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

Isaiah Thomas won't make trip to Oklahoma City for Sunday game

BOSTON – Facing Oklahoma City Thunder star Russell Westbrook with a fully healthy squad is tough. 
 
Doing so without your leading scorer makes the challenge all that much greater. 
 
That is where the Celtics find themselves heading into Sunday night’s game against the Thunder without Isaiah Thomas, who did not travel with the team when they left for Oklahoma City today. 
 
Boston’s leading scorer this season with 26 points per game, Thomas suffered a right groin injury against Houston on Dec. 5 and has missed the Celtics’ past two games because of it. 
 
He was hoping to convince Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to let him travel with the team, but Thomas acknowledged convincing Ainge was a long shot. 
 
“He’s not really in favor of me going,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “I’m trying to convince them to let me go. If I’m there, they know I’m going to try and play. I’m shooting for Wednesday [at San Antonio] for the most part. That’s more realistic than Sunday. Hopefully I can play on Wednesday.”
 
Boston has split the two games with Thomas out, beating the you-know-what out of Orlando 117-87 on the road, but dropping one at home 101-94 to Toronto on Friday night. 
 
As disappointed as Thomas is with not being able to play – it’s the first games he has missed since the 2014-2015 season – he understands the potential problems that could surface with an injury like this if he and the Celtics aren’t careful. 
 
“They keep wanting to be very patient with this,” Thomas said. “They don’t want to re-injure it. It is an injury that can get re-injured and be a problem the rest of the season. I don’t want that. On top of that, it gives me time to heal all the other injuries I have.”
 
Among the other injuries Thomas was referring to, is a still-swollen finger on his left (shooting) hand. 
 
The injury was believed to have happened on Nov. 12 against Indiana. 
 
While it was painfully sore, it didn’t seem to be an issue in Boston’s next game against New Orleans when he scored a season-high 37 points. He followed that up with a 30-point performance in a 90-83 win over Dallas.