OFFSEASON

Rondo thrives under pressure of Game 5

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Rondo thrives under pressure of Game 5

PHILADELPHIA Typically the best players for each respective team make their way to the podium following playoff games.

For the Celtics, that was Brandon Bass after the team's Game 5 win on Monday night. But as well as Bass played, he should not have been up there by himself.

And as you listened to him extol on all that went right for him in an absolute, we-had-to-have-this-one kind of game for the C's, one name kept coming up: Rajon Rondo.

Rondo can maddening at times, for fans, his coaches and his teammates.

But in those we-gotta-have-it kind of games, there are few in the NBA who consistently step their game up like he does.

And Rondo, not one to disappoint, did just that in Game 5 with a stealth-like dominance as he finished with 13 points and 14 assists with just three turnovers.

"When they broke the game open (in the third quarter), he was the catalyst for the whole attack," said Sixers coach Doug Collins.

In the third, the Celtics were trailing 57-53 when Kevin Garnett was whistled for an offensive foul.

From there, it was all Boston as the C's went on to close out the quarter with a 22-9 run and take firm control of the game, and with it, this series.

During the run, Boston made nine field goals with Rondo dropping dimes on all but two of them.

And in the fourth quarter, with the Sixers even more fearful of Rondo's passing attack, he changed his game up just a bit and become more assertive as a scorer by tallying seven points in the quarter.

No matter how you want to look at it, Rondo's imprint has been all over this series - and so far, there's nothing the Sixers have been able to do about it.

"It starts with Rondo," said Sixers forward Elton Brand. "You have to stop Rondo."

Easier said than done, especially when he's in that zone where he's finding that perfect balance between doing what he does best - getting the ball to his teammates - and managing to get some points of his own without turning the ball over too often.

"He's being aggressive, scoring lay-ups, getting into the paint," Brand added. "It leaves Kevin Garnett open for a jumper, it leaves Brandon Bass open for a jumper or a drive."

And that makes the Celtics an extremely difficult team to beat, home or on the road.

To see Rondo thrive this time of year is nothing unusual.

But as many triple-doubles as he has compiled in the postseason, as many dominant performances that he has delivered, C's coach Doc Rivers thought his play in the second half of Monday's Game 5 win was right up there with some of his best moments with the Celtics.

"The second half was one of the best games he's had this year for us," Rivers said. "I thought it was more than just the basketball part of it. I thought his will, his leadership, we needed it. And he gave it to us."

It was one of those rare nights where Rondo's words seemed just as powerful as his play, as he directed players repeatedly to get to certain spots on the floor. It was the vocal leadership that at times, Rondo has shied away from doing as much as he probably should.

"I can hear him barking at guys, demanding guys get into spots," Rivers said. "And that's not something he loves doing."

But he loves to win, and has shown time and time again the willingness to do whatever is necessary to make that happen.

Said Rivers: "Like I said, we needed somebody to lead us. And I thought he did a great job with it."

OFFSEASON

Top 5 free agent wings Boston Celtics could target

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Top 5 free agent wings Boston Celtics could target

BOSTON – If there’s one thing we can expect from the Boston Celtics, it’s that they will take a lot of shots.

In fact, last season they led the league with 89.4 field goal attempts per game. Getting shots off is a good thing.

Making them?

Even better.

And it is this latter point that serves as the motivation for the Celtics to give serious thought to adding another wing player to a roster that’s already guard-heavy.

Despite leading the league in shots taken, the Celtics ranked among the bottom-10 (25th overall) in field goal percentage.

That said, here are a handful of wing players who are on the Celtics’ radar this summer with free agency beginning on Thursday.

 

5. DeMar DeRozan, SG, Toronto

One of the better scoring wing players in the NBA, DeRozan did not plan to talk to any other teams during free agency other than the Toronto Raptors despite rumors during the season that the Los Angeles Lakers would make a run at the former USC standout and Compton, Calif. native. DeRozan has averaged at least 20 points each of the last three seasons which includes a career-high 23.5 points this past season. And unlike most wing scorers, DeRozan does not look to shoot 3s often. But as we saw last season when he shot a career-best 33.8 percent, it is becoming a more reliable shot that compliments his strength of attacking the rim. The Celtics would love to have a crack at him, but they know better. DeRozan isn’t going anywhere.

 

4. Evan Fournier, SG, Orlando (restricted)

Whatever chance teams thought they might have had at landing Fournier, took a hit when the Magic traded away Victor Oladipo to Oklahoma City. Do not be surprised if the Magic and Fournier’s camp work towards getting a deal done as Fournier averaged a career-high 15.4 points last season. The four-year veteran has improved his scoring average every season and shot a career-best 40 percent on 3s last season. Fournier’s shooting and deceptively solid ball-handling make him a vital cog in Orlando’s chances at success going forward. As for Boston, the Celtics like Fournier’s game but like DeRozan, understand it will be extremely difficult to pry him from his current team.

 

3. Arron Afflalo, SG/SF, New York

The nine-year veteran is one of the more under-rated free agents on the market this summer. An above-average defender, Afflalo has averaged double digits scoring each of the last six seasons in addition to being a career 38.5 percent 3-point shooter. Those two qualities make the 30-year-old Afflalo a player that one could easily see fitting in quite well with the Boston Celtics. However, acquiring him would likely involve moving at least one of the team’s younger guards just to create a clearer path to playing time. Because at this point in his career, Afflalo is very interested in being part of a winning situation in which he gets decent court time which is something that’s far from a given considering how the Celtics’ roster is currently constructed.

 

2. Jared Dudley, SG/SF, Washington

Dudley is one of the few free agents who has made no secret about wanting to play for the Celtics, and actually has something to offer. The 30-year-old Dudley is a career 8.4 points per game scorer who has embraced his role in this league as a key reserve off the bench. He is a near 40 percent (39.9) shooter from 3-point range for his career and shot 42 percent last season for the Washington Wizards. The challenge is figuring out what role he would play for a Celtics team that’s extremely deep with perimeter talent. But Dudley’s 3-point shooting, desire to don the Green and White, and experience are all factors that make him an attractive free agent to Boston.

 

1. Evan Turner, SG/SF, Boston

There may not have been any player on the Celtics roster that head coach Brad Stevens trusted more than Evan Turner, something that should not be taken lightly when it comes to Turner’s free agency and how he handles what should be a decent amount of suitors. His career was at a crossroads when he came to Boston two years ago. Now he’s considered one of the best reserves in the NBA, a player whose multi-faceted skillset fits in well with the direction that most teams are looking to go with their roster. Turner’s price tag should be north of $10 million per season, which might be a bit too rich for the Celtics’ liking. But if a deal can be struck, Boston would be wise to do so. Because as much as they benefited from Isaiah Thomas’ all-star season and the emergence of Jae Crowder and the steady play of Avery Bradley at both ends of the floor, it was Turner who had the ball in his hands down the stretch of many games. And it was Turner who often made the right decision when it mattered most, something that’s not lost on the Celtics or head coach Brad Stevens who has made no secret about his desire to have Turner back with Boston next season.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

OFFSEASON

Could Kevin Durant's love for Larry Bird lead him to the Celtics?

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Could Kevin Durant's love for Larry Bird lead him to the Celtics?

In Episode 15 of CSN's "Celtics Talk" podcast, Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are joined by Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman to discuss the impending free agency of Kevin Durant, and how Boston fits into the puzzle of suitors. Slater talks about how the Thunder fan base is feeling right about now, after the team took the Warriors to seven games. 

As far as Boston is concerned, Slater talks about how Durant has always modeled his game after Celtics legend Larry Bird, and Boston is most likely looking to just get Durant in a room, talk to him about what the franchise is about, and then hope to make another run at him next summer.

Kyle and Sherrod also go over the Celtics’ 2016 draft class, including Jaylen Brown, Guerschon Yabusele, Ante Zizic, Demetrius Jackson, and Ben Bentil. Plus, where does the 2015 Celtics draft class find playing time this season.