Celtics keep Jazz out of tune, 110-86

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Celtics keep Jazz out of tune, 110-86

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON So much for the much anticipated point guard duel between Boston's Rajon Rondo and Utah's Deron Williams.

This matchup was never really close, much like the game which the Celtics won easily, 110-86.

Boston (33-9), winners of five in a row - all at home - set the tone with a 7-2 spurt to start the game, with all three of the Celtics baskets coming on assists.

For the game, Boston had 31 assists on 37 made baskets, the kind of assist-to-basket made ratio seldom achieved.

"It's just a product of our work," said Paul Pierce, who had 20 points. "Everyday we come in here and that's what we work on. We work on making the passes, running our offense. Believing in one another, not caring who gets the credit. When you have a selfless group like this, that's what happens."

It didn't hurt that Williams picked up two quick personal fouls.

"Two quick fouls - two quick calls I should say - took me out of (the) game," said Williams, who had a season-low five points on 1-for-4 shooting from the field. "And (I) couldn't really recover."

Rondo getting Williams into foul trouble wasn't exactly the plan coming into the game.

Considering the extra time Rondo put in prior to the game breaking down Williams on video, it's not surprising that Rondo recognized one or two of Williams' tendencies, and exploited them to the C's advantage.

"That's typical Rondo," said Kevin Garnett, who led all scorers with 21 points. "Rondo is one of the biggest students of the game on our team. When you are playing against players that can take a game over and are the leaders of teams, tonight, he (Rondo) just D'd up. You tend to know the other guy, especially Rondo. We have a lot of guys that are prideful around here and when we play that player, whoever it is, we all have them. He was a little focused tonight. That's typical dodo (Rondo); he's going to watch film, he's going to know their sets, their calls and he was more than ready tonight."

Friday wasn't one of Rondo's best games of the season, as he finished with four points and 12 assists.

But it was more than enough to position the Celtics for a surprisingly easy win over a Jazz team (26-16) that has now lost three in a row.

"They showed us what basketball is like tonight," said Utah coach Jerry Sloan. "They came out and played a terrific game, they took us out of our offense; we couldn't do anything of what we were trying to do."

Sloan added, "I didn't think we competed that hard. That's been our problem the past few games, we really struggle by being able to get out and get after people, cause you can see what it does to a team. We just happened to be the recipient of it tonight."

One of the few bright spots for the Jazz was no one, really.

Andrei Kirilenko had 11 points and seven rebounds, but his points and board-work were never a factor in the game's outcome.

Former Celtic Al Jefferson, who got a warm applause from the Celtics faithful when introduced with the starters, also struggled.

He finished with seven points while missing 10 of his 11 shots from the field.

The only downside for the C's was that Shaquille O'Neal suffered a right leg injury that prevented him from returning in the second half. He did not travel with the team to Washington.

In addition to the Wizards game on Saturday, there's a chance that O'Neal won't play against Cleveland on Tuesday, either.

"It just locked up on me," O'Neal told CSNNE.com moments after the C's victory. "I'll be alright."

His replacement, Semih Erden, had a career-high 14 points along with seven rebounds.

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

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.