Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100

191544.jpg

Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

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

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

Thomas shines again in fourth quarter, Celtics beat Hornets, 108-98

BOSTON –  Late in the fourth quarter, the TD Garden was rockin' when the fans charted chanting, 'M-V-P, M-V-P' which is become a nightly serenade of sorts for Isaiah Thomas. 

It's extremely wishful thinking on Celtics Nation's part, but there is no denying his status as one of the game's best players this season. 

He delivered yet another work of art on Monday, scoring 17 of his game-high 35 points in the fourth quarter in leading Boston to a 108-98 win against Charlotte. 

And he did the way he always seems to do it, mixing in 3-pointers with drives to the baskets and an occasional assist to keep the collapsing defenses that surround him relatively honest. 

But the numbers he's consistently posting only tell part of the narrative to what has been a fairy tale of a season for the 5-foot-9 guard who continues to defy odds on a nightly basis. 

Not only is he producing at a high level, but he's elevating the play of those around him which is reflected in the team's overall success.

Boston (26-15) hits the halfway point with its best record under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens and best by the franchise since a 32-9 start to the 2010-2011 season.

The Celtics have now won eight of their last 10 games, and 13 of 16 as they steadily pull away and establish themselves at worst being the third-best team in the East.

And against the Hornets, they got the victory with a nice blending of what they do best – shoot three-pointers and play solid, physical defense.

The game could not have gotten off to a better start for the Boston Celtics, opening with a 10-2 run that put the Hornets on their heels quickly.

Not surprisingly, the Hornets rallied to take the lead in the first quarter before Boston’s second unit stepped up.

Leading the way in the final minute of the first quarter was Jaylen Brown, just minutes removed from a moving pre-game speech honoring the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., on MLK Day.

With Boston trailing 30-29, Brown scored the final five points of the quarter to give Boston a 34-30 lead.

The second quarter saw both teams pull ahead by slim margins, neither showing an ability to pull away and take full control of the game.

But again it was the Celtics making all the necessary plays at both ends of the floor in the closing moments.

Trailing 50-48, Boston would close out the half with an 11-3 run to lead 59-53 at the half.

In the third quarter, Boston began to give itself a little more breathing room fueled in large part by their defense which not only limited the Hornets scoring but took advantage of great spacing to get open jumpers or baskets in the paint with little resistance or help-side defense.

A back-to-the-basket hook shot by Al Horford gave Boston a 77-67 lead, the game’s first double-digit margin.

The Celtics increased their lead to 12 points following a pull-up jumper along the baseline by Avery Bradley who was back in the lineup after missing the previous four games with an Achilles injury.

Going into the fourth, the Celtics were ahead 80-71.

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get a boost from their bench

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get a boost from their bench

BOSTON –  Questions about Boston’s second unit have lingered all season.

But in the first half of Monday’s game against Charlotte, the Celtics got a major boost from the second unit which paved the way for Boston’s 59-53 lead at the half.

They outscored their Charlotte brethren 21-10 which was instrumental in them fending off an always-tough Charlotte team despite the Hornets (20-20) coming in having lost four in a row – all on the road.

Boston opened with a 10-2 run, the kind of spurt that you knew would likely be followed at some point by a comparable run by the Hornets.

On cue, Charlotte began to chip away at Boston’s lead and eventually went ahead following a pair of Kemba Walker free throws with 3:39 to play.

The teams went back and forth until Boston’s Jaylen Brown, who delivered a moving pre-game speech in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, took over the game with less than a minute to play in the first.

Trailing 30-29, Brown scored the quarter’s final five points to lift Boston to a 34-30 lead going into the second quarter.

In the second quarter, it was Kelly Olynyk – another Celtics reserve - taking over with a slew of baskets and hustle plays including saving a ball from going out of bounds in front of the Charlotte bench and tossing it up court with the Celtics ultimately getting a lay-up from Brown.

With 7:24 to play in the half, Charlotte called a time-out with the Celtics leading 45-40.

The Hornets responded with an 8-3 spurt to tie the game at 48 following a dunk by Spencer Hawes which led to Brad Stevens looking for answers during a Celtics time-out with 5:18 to play in the half.

Boston’s starters eventually returned to the floor in the second quarter and seemingly picked up where their backups left off.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Monday’s game.

 

STARS

Kemba Walker

There was a definite sense of urgency on Walker’s part to do what he could to lead the Hornets out of their four-game funk. He did his part in the first half, scoring 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field.

Al Horford

This was one of the better first halves offensively we’ve seen from Al Horford this season. He led the Celtics with 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field.

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

With what looked like an increased emphasis to get the ball to Horford, Thomas played the role of the other scorer and didn’t disappoint. He had 13 points in the first half along with three assists.

Kelly Olynyk

For the second time in as many games, Olynyk was assertive both on the perimeter and around the basket. And the results by and large, were positive. At the half, he had nine points off the bench to go with five rebounds and three assists.

Jaylen Brown

He provided a major lift at the end of the first quarter, which is when he scored five of his seven first-half points.

Marvin Williams

He gave Boston problems both inside the paint as well as on the perimeter as he tallied 12 points which included a pair of 3-pointers.

 

DUDS

Cody Zeller

His job is to roll to the rim, defend and rebound. He seemed to struggle in all three phases in the first half. He had three points and three rebounds, but when he was on the floor the Hornets had a plus/minus of -7.