Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

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Celtics falter down stretch, fall to Lakers, 97-94

LOS ANGELES Paul Pierce couldn't make a shot. The Boston Celtics couldn't grab a rebound.

And there were the C's, down by just two points at the half.

It was Boston's ability to force turnovers that kept them in the game when they struggled mightily in every other phase of play.

But it would have taken more than an unusual high number of Lakers mistakes to win this one, as the Lakers escaped with a 97-94 win.

After trailing for most of the game, the C's seemed in good shape when a Ray Allen 3-pointer put the Celtics up, 94-89, with about two minutes to play. But a short jumper in the lane by Kobe Bryant and an alley-oop lay-up by Andrew Bynum cut Boston's lead to 94-93 with 1:17 to play.

From there, a Celtics time-out produced a running bank shot by Allen that was off the mark, setting the stage for Bryant to once again deliver in the clutch.

And he did, draining a short jumper that put the Lakers ahead, 95-94, with 41.7 seconds to play.

Again the C's called a time-out and got the shot they wanted - a wide open look for Brandon Bass.

Unfortunately for the Celtics, he missed it and like most of the missed shots on Sunday, it wound up in the hands of the Lakers who managed to hold on for the win and in the process, sweeping the regular season series.

Boston then fell behind by three points on a lay-up by Andrew Bynum.

Down three with 15.5 seconds to play, the C's called a 20-second time-out to bring on its 3-point bombers.

The C's Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo each missed, as the Lakers managed to hold on for the victory with an 8-0 run to finish the game.

The third quarter featured strong runs by both teams, with the final points of the quarter being a tip-in by Matt Barnes that gave the Lakers a 72-70 lead going into the fourth.

His rebound and subsequent lay-up, in many ways, spoke to what was arguably the Celtics' biggest concern - rebounding and second-chance points.

The Lakers controlled the glass, for sure.

But the C's countered by forcing the Lakers into 15 turnovers at the end of three quarters. The 15 turnovers equalled what the Lakers averaged this season.

The two continued to exchange one big play for another in the fourth, with the bulk of the quarter being just a one-possession game.

A down-to-the-wire finish didn't seem to be in the making by the way the game began.

The Lakers led by as many as 15 points in the first half, in large part by making the most of their one true advantage - their size.

Andrew Bynum had a double-double by the half, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Teammate Pau Gasol wasn't too far behind with seven points and seven rebounds at half.

In addition to the 12 first-half turnovers by the Lakers, Boston also got a boost from Rajon Rondo who was still bothered somewhat by the poke in the eye he suffered in Friday's win over the Trail Blazers.

He came on to the floor wearing dark shades with a strap attached to the back, the kind of strap that would have allowed him to play with them. Apparently it hadn't been giving the green light by the NBA, so Rondo had to play without them.

It certainly didn't affect him as a scorer. He led all C's with 10 points in the first half, including a buzzer-beating 3-pointer - his first 3-pointer made since Feb. 15 against Detroit.

Celtics co-owner pleased with present, future of team

Celtics co-owner pleased with present, future of team

BOSTON – Like most of us around New England, Wyc Grousbeck heard all the early praise doled out on the Boston Celtics as being one of the elite teams in the East prior to this season starting. 

“I felt before the season that maybe we were being overrated,” Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That we were maybe a top-10 team in the league and the top few in the East, maybe. But it still felt like a longshot.”

And here they are, preparing to play Game No. 75 this season, against Milwaukee, with the best record (48-26) in the Eastern Conference. 

“They’ve grown into themselves,” Grousbeck said. “They’re playing better than I probably thought.”

But Grousbeck has been around the NBA long enough to know there is still much work to be done. After all, the Celtics’ focus remains on winning an NBA title. But Grousbeck is wise enough to know that while that is the goal, it often takes longer to accomplish than anyone – himself included – would like. 

It’s even trickier when you consider how the East is still relatively close despite their being just a handful of games remaining. 

“There’s a bunch of teams scuffling around in the East, and we’re scuffling around with them,” Grousbeck said. “We gotta do something in the playoffs.”

This will be Boston’s third straight season advancing to the postseason. Each of the first two appearances ended with a first-round exit. 

But this year is different. The Celtics are on pace to finish with home court advantage at least through the first round of the playoffs. But if they’re able to win the games they are favored throughout the remainder of this regular season, they will finish with the top seed in the East and with it, home court advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. 

And as we’ve seen of late, home court has indeed been an advantage for Boston which comes into tonight’s game having won its last seven at home, which includes the first four games of a current six-game home stand. 

The success Boston has had thus far has raised the expectations of many. 

And while Grousbeck certainly wants to see the Celtics have more success than they have had the last couple of years in the playoffs, there’s no mistaking he is pleased with the direction of the franchise that just four years ago was a lottery team.

“There’s no reason to put a ceiling on the season,” Grousbeck said. “I think this season already looks good to me. I love our coach. I love our young players. I love our draft picks and our potential cap room (this summer); all of our fans. So I’m already happy with where the team is going.

Grousbeck added with a grin, “If we can speed it up all the better.”

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo: 'Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year'

Jerod Mayo still has faith in New England Patriots cornerback Cyrus Jones.

The cornerback, who was the Patriots' top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, struggled mightily in his rookie season. He fumbled his way out of a role on special teams, where he served as a returner.

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He then failed to perform at nickel cornerback, and the Patriots traded for Eric Rowe, who pushed Jones down the depth chart and often onto the inactives on game day. Jones' emotional outburst during Week 5 when he got ejected for punching Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins didn't help.

Despite all that, Mayo thinks Jones will turn things around.

"I think Cyrus Jones will probably be most improved this year," Mayo said in the latest edition of "The Ex Pats" podcast. "I want people to remember a rookie [Matthew] Slater. A rookie Matt Slater was terrible. He would sit here on this podcast and tell you he's terrible, and I think Cyrus Jones is more athletic than Matthew Slater. I think -- I know for a fact, because I've seen it time and time again, the biggest leap not only in athleticsm but also in confidence is from year one to year two."

Jones admitted to the Baltimore Sun that his rookie was "hell." He added he felt "embarrassed." The 23-year-old cornerback said he didn't feel like he was a part of New England's Super Bowl LI win.

“Failure is another opportunity to begin again more intelligently,” Jones wrote in a now-deleted Instagram post.

Mayo seems to think Jones has learned his lesson, and will rebound with the help of Bill Belichick. And the Patriots may need Butler to be the most-improved player. Malcolm Butler's future with New England has become uncertain, and the remaining top cornerbacks are over 6-feet.

The Patriots need a slot corner. Jones is the next man up.

"As much as the media has kind of battered this young kid, Bill's going to boost him up this entire offseason," Mayo said. "Bill -- he's the best at putting lowlights up after a game . . . But during the offseason, he kind of -- it's individualized coach. He knows this guy's confidence is in the toilet. He's going to boost him up as much as possible.

"You know [Jones] can play football. He played in the SEC. He played on the top team on the country, and was a standout performer. So this is a confidence issue. This entire thing is a confidence issue, and I think they fix that."