OFFSEASON

Celtics speeding things up without Rondo

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Celtics speeding things up without Rondo

WALTHAM -- To put it simply, the Celtics have been rather boring on offense for the past few years.

They play the half-court game. They slow it down. They run sets and run the shot clock down. Occasionally they'll speed things up. Occasionally.

This is what they're instructed to do. This is what they're constructed to do. Rajon Rondo runs the point, and in turn runs the show.

It has been a give-the-ball-to-Rondo-and-wait style of basketball for significant portions of many games.

That, obviously, isn't the case anymore this season, and without a real point guard on the team as of now, it won't be the case.

The C's are pushing the tempo and picking up the pace off of rebounds. The goal is to get out on the break and act fast. You wouldn't exactly know it by looking at yesterday's box score though -- 14 fast break points. That's because, according to Doc Rivers, the way it's scored is a poor representation of how often it happens.

"The way they do fast break points is the silliest thing . . . So if you ever go by that number- that's why whenever you guys say after a game, 'such and such had . . .' I know in my mind it's way off, so I never even pay much attention to that number. We had a lot of early offense, and that's what you want. And early offense is a fast break."

The "official" way fast break points are scored is if a basket is made within six seconds of a defensive rebound.

What Rivers' "early offense" means is finding the outlet almost immediately upon a rebound, or turnover and creating a numbers advantage on the break -- whether that means it turns into a layup, foul shots, or is kicked out for a transition three-pointer.

"Fast break to me, is if you can create numbers," Rivers said. "It can be 12 seconds, but because you pushed the ball up the floor, have created a five-on-four, then you've created a fast break point."

Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee were two guards who created those opportunities on a number of occasions Wednesday night.

"One of the things me and Courtney (Lee) told each other before the game, 'Just get it and go!' " Bradley said after the win over Sacramento. "That's what we were doing."

There were plenty of times that a rebound would go straight to Rondo, who would take much time off the shot clock as he would dribble and call out sets. You'd see it far too often: guys like Courtney Lee, Jason Terry, or Jeff Green standing outside the three-point line waiting to see what Rondo would do. What that also did, though, was let the defense set.

Now with a multitude of players able to handle and push the ball up the floor, players are becoming more alert and active on the offensive end.

"We didn't recreate the wheel in one or two days," Rivers said. "We're running the exact same stuff, it's just that there's no one guy starting it. That would be the difference. There's no one guy pushing the ball on the break. And everybody has to be alert, because the ball could be coming your way in transition. And when that happens, I think everybody starts running because they think they may be the guy."

It may seem like the Kings didn't do a great job at pressuring the ball handler and preventing the C's from bringing the ball up the court faster. But that in part has to do with the Celtics not allowing them to.

"The Kings missed a lot of shots early, or in the second quarter, and it's tough to put pressure -- and that's the point I'm making to our guys -- if you throw the ball ahead," Rivers said. "The guy that wants to pressure is already behind the ball. We advance the pass so you can't pressure that. That was a big, to a guard at half court, to another guard. If you don't dribble, it's tough to pressure, and I thought that's what we did a nice job of. It was one pass to another pass to getting in your offense."

And as long as the C's are getting stops on the defensive end, they'll do their best to turn it into offense as fast as they can.

OFFSEASON

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.

OFFSEASON

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

  STARTERS BENCH RESERVES ON THE BUBBLE
FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
 
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.