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

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

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Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

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Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”