Notes: Rivers unsure he'll rest Celtics' core players

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Notes: Rivers unsure he'll rest Celtics' core players

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI The last two games of the season are usually a time when coaches opt to rest core players for the playoffs.

Hence, the dilemma facing Doc Rivers, whose Boston Celtics were beaten soundly, 100-77, by Miami on Sunday.

While there's a desire to give those guys added rest for what Boston believes will be another long playoff run, there's also a benefit in having those guys play more together in order to improve the team chemistry, which is very much an issue with this club.

To sit, or not to sit?

That is the question Rivers acknowledges he doesn't have a concrete answer for right this minute.

"That's something we do have to think about," Rivers said. "Not sure what's better for us, just sitting it out or playing the next two."

Rajon Rondo, the team's leader in minutes played, is indifferent about being held out of action.

"That's coach's decision," Rondo said. "You know how I feel. I'm pretty young. It don't matter to me."

What does matter is the fact that the Celtics are not just struggling; but through those struggles, they're searching for answers that don't seem to be forthcoming as they would like them to be.

And as you can imagine, it's starting to wear on the players.

"The frustration is high right now on our team," Rivers said.

The intensity between Boston and Miami was evident throughout the game. But it seemed to reach a boiling point in the second quarter.

LeBron James came storming down the lane looking for either a lay-up or a dunk.

Jermaine O'Neal met him and delivered a hard foul that sent James spilling into the sideline.

Upset with the play, James and O'Neal had words. Moments later, other players were nearby which led to a lot of pushing and shoving, but no punches were thrown.

Rivers has seen his share of NBA fights, as well as his share of physical plays.

The O'Neal foul fell short on both counts.

"That play was what it was," Rivers said. "I thought it was all theatrical, all that crap. That stuff . . . I guess that's called toughness these days. Two guys run into each other. I guess we gotta call that a flagrant foul, which I thought that was a joke. I thought the reaction by both was a joke. Don't even get me started on that crap."

The 23-point loss was Boston's first this season by 20 or more points . . . Jermaine O'Neal and Nenad Krstic, Boston's only true centers on the roster, combined for just one rebound in about 26 minutes of action . . . Bench scoring was a huge factor in Sunday's outcome. Boston had 12 points off the bench on 4-for-16 shooting while the Heat got 32 points from its reserves who shot a combined 12-for-19 from the field . . . Rondo had five assists against the Heat. This season, the C's are just 3-4 in games in which Rondo has five or fewer assists . . . The Celtics will close out their regular-season road schedule on Monday against Washington. Boston holds a 2-1 series lead. Wizards rookie John Wall is averaging 18 points, 5.5 assists, four rebounds and 2.5 steals in two games against the Celtics this season.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@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.