Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100


Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100

By A.Sherrod Blakely

INDIANAPOLIS There were plenty of plays that could sum up the kind of night it was for the Boston Celtics.

But none drive the point home more than the uncontested lay-up by Darren Collison with less than a minute to play that essentially sealed the 107-100 victory for the Indiana Pacers

The Celtics were collectively a step slow in rotating on that play, and many others all game.

"We couldn't get a stop all game," said Paul Pierce. "In the most important part of the game, the fourth quarter, we couldn't get a stop right there."

If it were a one-game thing, fine.

Chalk it up to being one of those nights.

But the problems Boston has had, especially defensively, is raising the kind of concerns that no team should be having this late in the season if it's serious about winning a championship.

"It's a weird time to be talking about this," Pierce said. "It's nine games to go in the season. This is the type of stuff you talk about at the beginning of the year. We're about to go into the playoffs. We shouldn't be talking about this stuff."

The mounting losses to teams that are either out of the playoff picture or barely hanging on has created a mixture of disappointing and frustration that seems to be permeating throughout the locker room.

"I'm frustrated when we lose," Pierce acknowledged. "I'm frustrated with the inconsistency we're playing with. It's the little things that frustrate me, things that I know this team can do because we did it all year long. And then we wait until the last 10 games to start regressing."

And that regression is coming at a time when the Celtics (51-22) are in no position to give games away.

Boston's loss, combined with Chicago's loss to Philadelphia keeps the C's two games behind the Bulls for the best record in the East.

However, the Celtics are now tied with Miami for the second-best record in the East. If the two were to finish with the same record, the C's would get the higher seed because they've already won the head-to-head matchup by beating the Heat in each of their first three matchups this season.

But the Celtics have more pressing matters than to worry about their playoff seeding.

First they must make it through the regular season with some semblance of improved play.

And it's no secret that it's the Celtics defense, more than anything else, that has to get better soon.

Despite the changes made in recent weeks to the roster, the Celtics stick to their belief that the foundation for their success is still built upon their play defensively.

"I know we're dealing with different issues here, but we are a defensive team," said Kevin Garnett. "We have to get back to that; start getting back into a rhythm whatever that may be."

Boston also needs to get Rajon Rondo to start playing like the Rajon Rondo we saw at the start of the season who was a dark horse MVP candidate.

After missing Sunday's game at Minnesota because of right pinkie finger injury, Rondo convinced coach Doc Rivers and the medical staff that he was fit to return against the Pacers.

Rondo erupted for 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go with 8 assists and 4 rebounds.

"That's how he has to play every night," Rivers said. "He attacked. His speed was a factor. We haven't seen that in a while, and that's terrific."

Not so terrific of late has been the Celtics defense, especially when it comes to defending the lane.

Although Boston had as many points (42) in the paint as the Pacers, there was no mistaking the dominating impact that Indiana 7-footer Roy Hibbert had on the Celtics and the game as a whole.

He finished with a game-high 26 points, benefiting heavily from the few Celtics big man available, getting into foul trouble.

Both Garnett and Nenad Krstic were in foul trouble most of the night, which limited their impact on the game and, even more important, the amount of time Rivers could use them.

Foul trouble. Injuries. New guys. Old guys. New roles.

All have been factors of late in the Celtics' late-season swoon.

But in terms of their concern level, the Celtics' struggles defensively has been arguably the most difficult challenge for this team to stomach - and as of late, get past.

"It's frustrating, for lack of a better word," Garnett said of the team's defensive problems. "We put ourselves here. Just like we put ourselves here, we'll take ourselves out of it."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”

Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery


Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley had just returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after having had surgery on both shoulders, eager to put his injury-riddled days in the past.

Then-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue had suffered a similar shoulder injury a decade earlier in 2003, so he knew all too well what Bradley was going through.

“I remember Tyronn Lue took me to the side and said, ‘you’re going to struggle,’” Bradley recalled. “When he said it to me, I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’”

The words of Lue, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were indeed prophetic. And now that current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is back to practicing after having surgery on his right shoulder, Bradley plans to be there for Olynyk the way Lue was there for him.

Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the 2012-2013 season recovering from the injury, recalls struggling with his shot for the first couple of weeks.  

His first game back was Jan. 2, 2013. For the next two weeks, Bradley shot 40.6 percent from the field (28-for-69) and 28.6 percent (8-for-28) on 3s, both below his career averages in those respective categories.

Bradley is hopeful Olynyk doesn’t struggle as much as he did upon his return to the lineup from shoulder surgery.

But just in case, Olynyk knows he has a teammate who literally knows what he’s going through right now in trying to get back on the floor and play good basketball.

“It’s our job as his teammates to help keep him confident in himself,” Bradley said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to have your days when you come in and you might make shots. Then you’ll have your week where you don’t make a shot.’ You just have to stay confident.”

But Bradley admits it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve had success shooting the ball and now all of a sudden the shots that you normally make in your sleep keep you up at night wondering why they no longer going in.

“It just happens. The muscle memory, you have to get it back,” Bradley said. “It’s just reps; that’s what it took. It took like maybe a good month before my shot felt good again. It’ll probably be the same for Kelly; hopefully not. If it is, I’ll be there to make sure he’s positive and knowing it’s a process and he has to continue to get shots up.”

But there’s more to returning to the game when healthy.

While the body may be ready to go, the mind more often than not hasn’t totally cleansed itself of the injury.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, thinking it’s going to happen again,” Bradley said. “You may not want to drive it to the basket as much or box out the same way or be aggressive. But like I said, we have to give him that confidence and he has to do his work as well, staying in the weight room, making sure he’s strong. We’re here to help.”

And no one is offering the consistent assistance that Bradley has to his injured teammate.

“I’ve taken him to the side like five times already and I told him, ‘I’m here bro. Whatever you need,’” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that he’s back."