OFFSEASON

Celtics hang on to beat Heat, 85-82

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Celtics hang on to beat Heat, 85-82

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There was man-to-man, zone, double-teaming, tilting . . . you name the defense, and there was a very good chance the Boston Celtics implored it at some point againt the Miami Heat.

At times, it was a masterpiece.

Other times, it looked sloppy and disjointed.

But it achieved the only thing the Celtics were looking for against the Heat - a victory.

The C's, about as short-handed as we've seen them this season, put together a strong third quarter of play that propelled them to an 85-82 win.

It got close at the end. Miami trailed 83-81 when LeBron James was fouled with 12.5 seconds to play.

James, a 76.4 percent free-throw shooter this season, missed the first one as the Garden faithful jeered him with no mercy as the shot rimmed in and out of the basket.

He made the second free throw that cut the C's lead in half.

Moments later, Glen Davis was at the free throw line with 6.3 seconds remaining.

A 75 percent free throw shooter, Davis calmly sank both free throws.

Following a Heat time-out, Miami 3-pointer specialist Mike Miller had a great look that hit the back of the rim before rolling out. Dwyane Wade's attempted tip-in was off as well as the Celtics somehow came away with the victory.

"To gut this out was great," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.

As limited as the C's were, Rivers said they were close to having even fewer players available moments before tip-off.

Nate Robinson, who was questionable coming into the game with a bruised right knee, told Rivers about five minutes before tip-off that he wasn't going to play.

"And then came up later and said he wanted to give it a go," Rivers said.

Paul Pierce was another player whose status was in doubt, according to Rivers.

"Paul said before the game he felt awful," Rivers said.

It showed in his play.

Pierce scored just one point against the Heat, missing all 10 of his shots from the field. After the game, Pierce said he sprained his hand in practice on Saturday and was having foot issues as well, adding that he planned to have an MRI on his left foot Monday.

"And so, you know, we literally were thinking at one point, 'We're not going to have enough bodies to play this game,' " Rivers said.

As it turned out, the C's had more than enough bodies to get the job done against a Miami team that continues to come up short against the Celtics - even when the Celtics were about as short-handed as they have been all season.

"We're disappointed," said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "We did not play to our potential. It could have swung either way, but we weren't able to get over that hump."

With the win, the Celtics (39-14) not only regained their spot atop the Eastern Conference standings, but they also locked up the season series with the Heat (39-15) by beating them for the third time in as many meetings this season.

Injuries limited Boston to suiting up just 10 players.

To a man, every one of them who saw action contributed in some fashion to the victory.

Kendrick Perkins, often the forgotten man in the Celtics starting five, had a season-high 15 points while logging 30-plus minutes for the fifth straight game.

Rajon Rondo tallied his third triple-double of the season, finishing with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.

Boston's bench came up with a slew of big plays, as Glen Davis (16 points) and Von Wafer (10) combined for 26 points which was more than enough to outscore Miami's second unit which totaled just eight points.

Now that the Celtics have won all three meetings, you have to wonder if the C's success is starting to get into the heads of the Heat players.

"It's a good win and if there's a mental message, I don't know what it would be," Rivers said. "They're pretty tough over there. So, I hope there is; I just don't think there is."

Miami's Dwyane Wade sees it as just another obstacle in the Heat's path toward becoming the championship-caliber team many expect them to be.

"This is classic, typical, bigger brothers, you got to get over it," Wade said. "I've been through it before; LeBron's been through it before with the Pistons. You look down the line, everyone has been through it, MJ went through it with the Pistons back in the day. You got to get over the hump, and we're getting close and close but we're not there yet, so we continue to learn from it."

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

OFFSEASON

Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

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Durant leads U.S. to second exhibition rout, 106-57 over China

LOS ANGELES - Just two games into the U.S. basketball team's pre-Olympic tour, coach Mike Krzyzewski already sees the start of something big.

Kevin Durant scored 19 points, Klay Thompson added 17 and the Americans rolled to a second straight blowout exhibition victory, 106-57 over China on Sunday night.

DeMar DeRozan scored 13 points in his hometown, and DeMarcus Cousins had 12 points and seven rebounds in the second stop on the five-city tour leading the Americans to Rio de Janeiro. The victory over an overmatched opponent was impressive, but Krzyzewski liked it more for the composed, cohesive manner in which the new teammates worked together.

"We should have won, but the way we won was excellent," Krzyzewski said. "We're really growing together as a group."

After opening their showcase tour by trouncing Argentina in Las Vegas on Friday night, the U.S. team posted another rout at a packed Staples Center. Krzyzewski is finding it difficult to disguise his early optimism, praising his team's work in their brief practice time together.

And while they're still learning their teammates' tendencies and solidifying player rotations, the U.S. team looked remarkably connected for long stretches against China, which has no current NBA players.

Durant noticed it, as did Los Angeles Clippers center DeAndre Jordan, who kicked off the festivities by blocking a shot on China's first possession and throwing down an alley-oop dunk on the Americans' first possession.

"We've only been together a week, but it seems like we've been teammates for years," Jordan said.

Jordan scored 12 points and led a strong defensive effort with three blocks for the Americans, who held the Chinese to 30.9 percent shooting. Krzyzewski believes the American team will excel at defensive switching because of its abundance of versatile players.

"I think we're learning more about one another, and our defense was there pretty much the whole game," Krzyzewski said.

The Americans haven't lost a game since the 2006 world championships, winning 65 straight games. They're 47-1 in exhibitions since NBA stars took over the roster in 1992, going undefeated since 2004.

While LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kawhi Leonard all declined the chance to play in Rio, the Americans who accepted the opportunity appear to be serious about winning without some of the nation's top stars.

"We're young, but we've got a bunch of seasoned pros," said Kyrie Irving, who had 10 points and four assists. "We've been on a lot of journeys, and we've crossed paths before, but now we're all coming together at the right time."

Anthony was the only holdover in the Americans' starting lineup from Las Vegas while Krzyzewski works on chemistry and coordination. He put Paul George in with the starters alongside Anthony, Jordan, Kyle Lowry and DeRozan, whose family watched from courtside.

Both teams had early shooting struggles, but the Americans took charge with impressive speed late in the first quarter.

Durant, one of the two returning American gold medalists from London, heard boos from the LA crowd during pregame introductions. He quickly found his outside stroke with 14 points and four assists in the first half, and Cousins overpowered the Chinese down low for 12 first-half points on the way to a 55-29 halftime lead.

The Chinese team's most recognizable name to North Americans is Yi Jianlian, the Milwaukee Bucks' choice with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 draft. He spent five seasons with four NBA teams before heading back to the Guangdong Southern Tigers.

Yi led the Chinese with 18 points. Zhou Qi, the 7-foot-2 center drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round last month, scored two points on 1-for-6 shooting. Exciting guard Zhao Jiwei scored 14 points.

The teams meet again Tuesday in Oakland, where Durant will play in front of his new home fans for the first time since defecting from Oklahoma City to the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

They'll also meet Aug. 6 in the opening game of Olympic competition in Brazil.

OFFSEASON

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

  STARTERS BENCH RESERVES ON THE BUBBLE
FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
 
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.