Rondo, Celtics cool down after strong start

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Rondo, Celtics cool down after strong start

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI When the Boston Celtics are rolling over teams, chances are good that Rajon Rondo will get much of the praise.

And when the C's get smashed, well, you can bet there will be more than a few eyeballs staring at Rondo.

There's no question Rondo didn't have one of his better games against Miami, as the Celtics lost, 100-77.

Against the Heat, Rondo had seven points with five assists and three turnovers.

But just like Boston's wins are always bigger than Rondo, the same holds true for the losses.

Rondo's ability to attack the Miami Heat defense at the start of Sunday's game, propelled the C's to an 8-0 lead.

And then . . . it all stopped.

He wasn't driving to the basket as much, the Celtics defense was breaking down, and before you knew it, Boston was on its heels and never recovered.

After the game, Rondo explained how Boston's struggles defensively after that fast start, coupled with a slew of turnovers, made it much more difficult for him to break down the Miami defense, which is among the better ones in the NBA. Boston was also hurt by the Heat shooting better than 50 percent from the field and getting most of the "5050" balls which led to a sizable advantage in second-chance points (18-3, Miami) and fast-break points (12-3, Miami).

"It's hard to push the tempo when you turn the ball over, walking the ball up the court every time," he said. "Taking the ball out of the net. You can't get a rhythm or easy baskets because of Miami's set defense."

Coach Doc Rivers thought the Celtics, more than anything else, got away from what was working to start the game.

"We came out, and I loved what we were doing," Rivers said. "We kept the game simple. Then all of a sudden, we went in that stretch where every play had to be brilliant. Throwing lobs to J.O. Jermaine O'Neal, and cross-court passes where they are intercepted. That just gave Miami life."

And for Boston, it was pretty close to a death sentence in their hopes of securing the No. 2 seed in the East.

With the loss, the Celtics (55-25) are a game behind Miami (56-24), which finishes on the road at Atlanta and Toronto, respectively.

If the two were to finish in a tie, Boston would then get the No. 2 seed by virtue of winning the head-to-head with Miami this season.

Tie-breakers are far from on the mind of the Celtics these days.

Instead, they're more concerned about breaking out of this funk they're in, which comes on the eve of the playoffs beginning this weekend.

Boston has two games to figure out how to get on track before the games that really count, are here.

Rondo isn't so sure these two games will be enough.

But come playoff time, he has no worries.

"We'll be right when the time comes," Rondo said. "First game of the playoffs, we'll be ready."

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

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Celtics-Thunder preview: Another chance against a top-tier team

Hosting the San Antonio Spurs on Nov. 25, the Boston Celtics had the perennial title contenders on the ropes with the lead in the fourth quarter only to lose it and the game, 109-103.

On the road at Houston, one of the Western Conference’s top teams, the Celtics led in the fourth quarter and wound up losing their Dec. 5 matchup 107-106 as Al Horford missed what would have been a game-winning lay-up as time expired.

Boston played well in both games, but not well enough to win which unfortunately for the Green Team has been how things have gone when they’ve faced some of the better teams in the NBA this season.

They are hoping to break that trend tonight when they hit the road and face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Thunder (14-9) come in with a slightly better record than the Celtics (13-10).

Boston’s issue isn’t that they can’t play with the better teams.

It’s their finish that needs work.

Boston has lost five of its six games this season against teams that are currently among the top-4 in their respective conferences. 

Losses to San Antonio and Houston only highlight Boston not being able to make the late-game runs needed to win.

Even in their 101-94 loss to Toronto on Friday, it was the Raptors’ ability to make one clutch play after another when it mattered most, that proved to be what was needed to propel them to victory.

“That’s what good teams do; they execute at the end of the game,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “We just have to execute better and get stops at the end of the game. That’s what it comes down to.”

And while the Celtics have a number of returners from last season, every season brings about a different team and with that, a need to learn how to collectively be successful especially down the stretch in close games.

“We’re learning,” Bradley said following the Raptors loss. “We’re moving on to the next game.”

And that would be the Thunder who come in having won six of their last seven games.

Of course when it comes to the Thunder, everything starts with Russell Westbrook who is on everyone’s short list for league MVP.

He is averaging a triple-double this season with 30.9 points, 11.3 assists and 10.8 rebounds per game.

“He’s amazing,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier who will likely spend some time defending Westbrook tonight. “He’s going to be aggressive. We have to try and find a way to stop that. He’s putting up video game stats. It’s tough but we gotta do something.”

The Celtics will likely lean heavily on Marcus Smart and Bradley, a first-team all-NBA defensive selection last season, when it comes to trying to slow down Westbrook.

“Russell’s a good player,” Bradley said. “I look forward to every matchup. If it’s him, whoever it is, I look forward to it. That’s what this league is about.”

It’s also about growth and development of franchises into title contenders, something the Celtics are eager to continue pushing towards tonight.

Horford spent the previous nine seasons with the Atlanta Hawks, advancing to the playoffs every season.

He saw first-hand how they went from a team that could barely get into the playoffs, into one that produced four all-stars in one season and had the best record in the Eastern Conference.

Horford saw the loss to Toronto as an example of a really good team doing what great teams do and that’s finding a way to win regardless of how things are going most of the night.

“We made a run early (against Toronto), they stayed with it, didn’t rattle and eventually got over us,” Horford said. “We’re growing as a group.”