Celtics-Sixers Game 7 review: C's find a way

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Celtics-Sixers Game 7 review: C's find a way

BOSTON The Boston Celtics closed out their second round series with the Sixers by handing them an 85-75 Game 7 loss.

And they did it without something that the winner in the previous six games all did - win the third quarter.

On Saturday, Boston had a 55-52 lead going into the fourth quarter, but they were out-scored 19-14, in the third.

"No one played great," said Celtics guard Rajon Rondo. "But we found a way to get the win."

Limiting turnovers was one of the keys to Boston's previous three wins, victories that came about in part because they only averaged 10.6 turnovers. But on Saturday, Boston turned the ball over 15 times which led to 21 points for the Sixers.

Despite the turnovers, Boston's defense once again came to the rescue.

Philadelphia is one of the better teams in finding ways to generate offense in transition after getting defensive stops or forcing turnovers.

On Sunday, Boston limited them to just four fast-break points while tallying 14 fast-break points of their own.

Those were just a couple of factors in Boston's Game 7 wins that catapults them to the Eastern Conference finals where they'll face a well-rested Miami Heat squad. Here are some other keys outlined prior to the game, and how they actually played out as the C's snapped a two-game Game 7 losing streak with Sunday's win.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics are an older bunch, so maybe there's some truth to the thought that it takes them a while to get going. That certainly has been the case in most of the six games thus far against Philadelphia. In each of their three wins, Boston has trailed at the end of the first quarter only to bounce back and win the second quarter. No team likes to get down early, but it seems to be just what the Celtics have needed in order to be successful.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't trail after the first quarter (the score was tied at 20), but they did deliver a strong second quarter showing that put them ahead, 41-33, at the half. Boston closed out the half by scoring seven of its last eight points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Elton Brand: This was about as lopsided a matchup as there was for the Celtics through the first three games. Since then, Brand has made this duel far more competitive. For the Celtics to win, Garnett has to do more than just score and rebound. He has to establish his presence around the basket, something he failed to do during the C's Game 6 loss in which he had 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. "Even though Kevin had points, it wasn't the points we needed, the type of points. So we have to do a better job there (going into Game Seven)."

WHAT WE SAW: Both struggled with their shot in the first half, but the edge early on had to go to Garnett who was able to get to the free throw line and was doing a better job on the boards. Garnett finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds while Brand tallied 15 points and six rebounds before fouling out.

PLAYER TO WATCH: This is the biggest - and potentially last - game of the season for the Celtics, the kind of scenario that tends to bring out the best in Rajon Rondo. When you throw in the fact that his Jrue Holiday (20 points, six assists) outplayed him in Game 6, a Rondo-esque performance in the triple-double neighborhood would not come as a surprise to anyone. Improved ball movement is one of the keys that all of the C's - Rondo included - have pointed to as being critical to their success in Game Seven tonight. "The ball stuck in Game Six," Rondo said. "Everyone tried to make the home run plays. It's not a bad thing everyone wants to do well for each other. The way we got to this situation, is moving the ball, sharing the ball. We have to go back to the basics and continue to try and get better."

WHAT WE SAW: Foul trouble limited Rondo to some degree in the first half, but he went into the half very much on track for the all-too-predictable triple-double kind of night Rondo seems to have in these kind of games. At the half, he was literally halfway to a triple-double with five points, five assists and five rebounds. Rondo finished with his ninth triple-double with 18 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists. Among Rondo's clutch plays down the stretch, was a 3-pointer that put the Celtics ahead by 10 points with 2:09 to play. "The 3-point shot, obviously, was big," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "But more, his attack and command."

STAT TO TRACK: Being the aggressor has been the one ingredient for success throughout this series, and nowhere is this more noticeable than at the free throw line. For the Celtics, getting to the free throw line - a lot - will be an absolute must for them to win. In their three victories in this series, the Celtics are averaging 26.7 free throw attempts. In the three losses, that number plummets to 17 per game. The numbers are pretty comparable for the Sixers. In their three wins, they're averaging 27 free throw attempts compared to 19.3 in their three defeats.
WHAT WE SAW: Free throw shooting was not a major factor in the first half, with the Celtics and Sixers having 12 and 11 attempts, respectively. Even more impressive was that Sixers, a horrible free throw shooting team throughout this series, was 10-for-11 while the Celtics were just as impressive in successfully nailing 11 of their 12 free throw attempts. For the game, Boston was 20-for-22 from the line while the Sixers were a not-so-stellar 14 of 20.

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”