Rondo, Celtics have up and down night

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Rondo, Celtics have up and down night

ATLANTA For about two minutes on Tuesday, Rajon Rondo might have been the best player in the NBA with the way he was knocking down jumpers, getting steals and finding teammates for alley-oops.

But his play, like the Boston Celtics as a team, was filled with spurts of success followed by stretches in which they struggled.

Those rough times far outweighed the good ones, leading to a disappointing 87-86 loss for the Celtics.

Boston still leads the best-of-seven series 3-2, with Game 6 in Boston on Thursday.

Rondo had a typical Rondo-esque night, finishing with 13 points, 12 assists and five steals along with five turnovers.

The C's love it when Rondo is aggressive, but there's no getting around the fact that while he made some really clutch shots, he missed a ton of them, too.

His 13 points scored came on 6-for-17 shooting which is an inefficient night shooting the ball by anyone's standards.

Making matters worse for the Celtics was that Rondo's poor shooting night came in the same game that Pierce (7-for-17 shooting) had his shooting struggles as well.

"There's nights like Sunday when Paul makes all his shots, and then there's nights like tonight when he and I had low field goal percentages," Rondo said.

Even with his poor shooting, the C's realize without Rondo's spurt of brilliance, they would have never had a shot at stealing a victory.

Trailing 66-54 with less than three minutes to play in the third, the Celtics went on a 10-0 run to end the quarter.

During that stretch, an alley-oop pass to Ryan Hollins, a lay-up, a steal and subsequent jumper and then another lay-up. Capping off the 10-0 run was a reverse lay-up by Mickael Pietrus.

"It was tremendous," Pierce said of Rondo's play in the final minutes of the third quarter. "He took over the game there in the third when it looked like it could have really gotten out of hand, and we fought back."

Said Ray Allen: "He (Rondo) played great. Down the stretch, his energy was always moving forward. At the end, it was unfortunate. If we had one more time-out, it would have been a different scenario. So, we have to go back to the drawing board."

And in the game's final seconds, Rondo had what appeared to be a chance to save the C's one last time.

Atlanta had the ball with 10.9 seconds to play. When they tried to in-bound the ball to Joe Johnson, Rondo intercepted it and began to head up court. With no time-outs remaining, he had no choice but to attack quickly. With his former prep school teammate Josh Smith defending, Rondo ran a quick pick-and-roll with Kevin Garnett that resulted in Al Horford switching out on Rondo.

Horford's defense led to Rondo losing control of the ball as Smith deflected it towards the sideline as time expired.

It was a fitting end to the kind of night it was for Rondo and the Celtics, one with a slew of successful stretches of play - but not enough to get the victory.

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.