Celtics credit maturity, leadership in Rondo

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Celtics credit maturity, leadership in Rondo

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

HARTFORD -- On one side of the locker room, Shaquille O'Neal repeatedly tossed a Celtics strength-and-conditioning coach in the air. On another side, teammates joked loudly with one another.

Rajon Rondo quietly sat in the middle of it all, hands rested in his lap and eyes glued to game film. Tip-off was less than two hours away and it was his job to reign in all these personalities on the court.

Rondo, however, does not find his task as difficult as it may seem.

"This has been the easiest year, really, so far," he told CSNNE.com. "I know we haven't played a game yet or been through adversity, but right now I think we have a good group of guys."

Rondo attributes this to a "trickle-down effect" of unselfishness that he believes starts with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. His teammates, on the other hand, give credit to Rondo himself.

Three years ago Rondo was assigned the duty of leading a newly assembled Celtics team as the starting point guard. It was only his second season in the NBA, and at 21 years old he was one of the youngest players on a veteran squad.

There were bumps along the way as Rondo tried to establish his role on the team. He was the floor general, yet at the same time the Celtics already had so many experienced leaders. Naturally, there was a learning curve.

But after being at the helm for an NBA Championship and a trip to the NBA Finals two years later, his teammates notice a difference in their point guard. Rondo, now 24, has grown up.

"A lot has to do with maturity," Pierce explained to CSNNE.com. "He's been around the block a few times now. He understands the coaching staff, he understands the players around him, whereas before he probably bumped heads with a few people or reacted a certain way. But now he understands who he is, he understands the system, he understands everything around him and what's needed for him."

Allen echoed Pierce's sentiments.

"He's more settled in," he said. "I've noticed a maturity in him this year that I haven't seen. It's things that he says during games. During the preseason, he's focused on his help defense, he's zoned in more, and he knows that a lot of what's going on starts with him. It's been great encouragement for me to see him because a lot of things that I would say, he's saying them now. So I believe that it's mostly brought on through him because those are things that he wants. He's setting that tone."

As Rondo enters his fifth season with the Celtics, he has a longer tenure with the team than all but two players, Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. He has seen teammates come and go, all the while learning how to incorporate each one of them into the system.

This season he has to do the same with a handful of newcomers -- some who have already made their mark, like Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal, and others who are just getting acclimated to the pros, like Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody. Then there are players like Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, who didn't play a complete season with the Celtics last year due to injuries and trades.

Once they hit the court, Rondo has to corral everyone together.

"It's almost just like having a whole bunch of toys that you can play with," said Allen. "You bring friends over and say, 'That's the fire truck -- the ladder extends this high. This over here is my Batman toy -- he has a belt on.' When you understand what you're doing and what you're working with, it's like you have an opportunity to show everybody.

"He's gotten me the ball where I need the ball. He makes sure to do that on Kevin's plays and Paul's where he needs to be, so hes definitely got himself in a great position and hes shown great signs of leadership."

Rondo may not be the loudest person in a locker room filled with boisterous personalities, but there is no question whose voice is heard during the games. The jokesters, the story-tellers, the singers, and the dancers all turn to him.

"He's like the driver," said Pierce. "He's the point guard. He's already earned the respect of the veterans. He's taking it all in stride. It's not Rondo saying, 'Hey, you need to do this or that.' But you see him a little more vocal each and every year because it goes with his confidence."

Doc Rivers has been pleased with the maturity of Rondo's leadership, which includes a team-first attitude shared by everyone on the squad.

"It's been good," said Rivers. "It's preseason, so his leadership will come later. All of them will. But I think every guy on our team has made an amazing effort thus far to make sure that our team is together. So we've just got to keep going."

Rondo did not prepare for his role any differently this season than in past years. He didn't change his approach with certain players or adjust his demeanor. Instead, he says being a leader comes naturally to him.

And being a successful leader on the Celtics means involving the entire team.

"It's just a part of how we play Celtic basketball, really," Rondo said. "No one person can win the game for us and we know that. Night in, night out, it's going to be different guys being leading scorers. If we continue to have that mentality and all we care about is winning, it's very easy for me."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comJCameratoNBA.

Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

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Kevin Durant's future a mystery as OKC collapses

OAKLAND, Calif. - As Stephen Curry dribbled out the clock in a raucous Oracle Arena, Kevin Durant could only stand and watch.

The Golden State Warriors are heading back to the NBA Finals, while Durant's future in Oklahoma City is much less certain.

Two nights after blowing an opportunity to close out the defending champion Warriors at home, the Thunder got sent home for the summer when they lost Game 7 of the Western Conference finals 96-88 on Monday night.

Instead of becoming known as the team that knocked off the Warriors after their record-setting 73-win regular season, the Thunder will be remembered for a playoff collapse. They became just the 10th NBA team to lose a playoff series after taking a 3-1 lead and now head into an uncertain offseason with Durant eligible to become an unrestricted free agent in July.

If he does leave the only franchise he has played for in his nine-year career, he will do it having failed to deliver the championship to Oklahoma City. The closest the Thunder have gotten in Durant's tenure was when they lost the NBA Finals in five games to LeBron James and the Miami Heat in 2012.

They then lost in the second round the next season, in the conference finals in 2014 to San Antonio before missing the playoffs entirely because of an injury to Durant last year.

But under first-year coach Billy Donovan, Oklahoma City earned the third seed in the top-heavy Western Conference this season and then upset 67-win San Antonio in the second round. The Thunder followed that by winning three of the first four games against the Warriors, with a pair of lopsided wins at home.

But after losing Game 5 on the road, the Thunder blew an opportunity to eliminate the Warriors at home on Saturday night. Oklahoma City led by seven points with less than five minutes remaining but made only one basket and committed six turnovers down the stretch of a 108-101 loss that could haunt the franchise for years.

The Thunder responded on the road in Game 7 by taking a 13-point lead in the second quarter. But once Curry and Klay Thompson started hitting Oklahoma City with a flurry of 3-pointers, the Thunder had no answer. The Splash Brothers combined for 13 3-pointers as Golden State outscored Oklahoma City by 30 points from behind the line.

Oklahoma City's stars were no match. Russell Westbrook missed 14 of 21 from the field and shot just 36.8 percent in the three potential clinchers. Durant finished with 27 points but took only 10 shots in the first three quarters.

Durant did score seven straight points to cut an 11-point deficit to four with 1:40 remaining. But Serge Ibaka then fouled Curry on a 3-pointer with the shot clock running down, allowing Golden State to build the lead back to seven.

Durant then missed two shots and could only stare blankly when Curry ended Oklahoma City's season with a 3-pointer with 26.8 seconds left. Now the Thunder can only hope it doesn't end Durant's tenure in Oklahoma City as well.

Warriors rebound from 3-1 deficit, beating Thunder to return to NBA Finals

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Warriors rebound from 3-1 deficit, beating Thunder to return to NBA Finals

OAKLAND, Calif. -  Stephen Curry dribbled every which way and drained yet another 3-pointer in the waning moments, pulled his jersey up into his mouth and yelled to the rafters in triumph once more.

A special, record-setting season saved for the defending champs, with a memorable comeback added to the long list of accomplishments.

Now, the MVP and his teammates are playing for another NBA title - just as they planned all along.

Bring on LeBron James once more.

Curry and Klay Thompson carried the 73-win Warriors right back to the NBA Finals, as Golden State rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 96-88 on Monday night in Game 7 of the Western Conference finals.

Curry scored 36 points with seven 3-pointers to finish with an NBA-record 32 in a seven-game series, while Thompson added 21 points and six 3s, two days after his record 11 3-pointers led a Game 6 comeback that sent the series home to raucous Oracle Arena for one more.

The Warriors became the 10th team to rally from a 3-1 deficit and win a postseason series. They return to the NBA Finals for a rematch with James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, who lost the 2015 title in six games as Golden State captured its first championship in 40 years.

Game 1 is Thursday night in Oakland.

His signature mouthpiece dangling out and the game ball cradled in his left hand, Curry pumped his right arm as yellow confetti fell through Oracle Arena once the final buzzer sounded.

The Thunder trailing 90-86, Serge Ibaka fouled Curry on a 3-point try with 1:18 to go and the shot clock running out. The MVP made all three free throws, then a 3-pointer to seal it.

And Golden State's beloved "Strength In Numbers" catchphrase coined by Coach of the Year Steve Kerr was needed in every way on this night to do it.

Andre Iguodala joined the starting lineup for just the second time all season and the 2015 NBA Finals MVP hung tough against Kevin Durant, who scored 27 points on 10-for-19 shooting. Russell Westbrook had 19 points, 13 assists and seven rebounds.

Oklahoma City won Game 1 108-102 at deafening, soldout Oracle Arena, so Golden State never envisioned this one coming easily.

It just took a quarter and a half for Thompson to warm up after he hit an NBA playoff-record 11 3-pointers for 41 points in a 108-101 win Saturday at Oklahoma City that sent the series to a decisive seventh game back home in the East Bay.

He missed his initial seven shots before hitting a 3 6:02 before halftime, energizing the Warriors in their first Game 7 at home in 40 years.

Back-to-back 3-pointers by Thompson and Iguodala pulled the Warriors within 54-51 with 7:57 left in the third. They tied it on Curry's 3 at 7:21 and he followed with another 3 to give his team the lead.

Curry and Thompson each topped the previous record for 3s in a seven-game series, 28 by Dennis Scott and Ray Allen. Curry hit one over 7-foot Steven Adams in the third, and Thompson wound up with 30.

Iguodala replaced Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup for just his second start of the season and first of the playoffs, and what a move by Kerr and his staff, who did the same thing last year in crunch time. Iguodala made a pretty bounce pass through the paint to Draymond Green for Golden State's first basket of the game, and his smothering defense on Durant kept the Thunder star without a shot until his 3 at the 5:45 mark in the first. Durant had just nine points on five shots in the first half.

But Oklahoma City dictated the tempo with snappy passes and the hard, aggressive rebounding that had been such a part of its success this season. The Thunder couldn't maintain it.

The Warriors, who began 3 for 11 from long range and 9 of 32 overall while falling behind 35-22, lost their last Game 7 at home: 94-86 to Phoenix in the Western Conference finals on May 16, 1976.