Rondo: We're not playing defense

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Rondo: We're not playing defense

BOSTON -- As the opponents' points on the scoreboard continue to rise, the Boston Celtics are looking less and less like the defensive-minded team they have been over the past years.

The change is not lost on seventh-year Celtic Rajon Rondo.

"We're not playing it (defense)," the point guard said following the Celtics loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Wednesday. "I don't know (why). We've just got to try to take it one step at a time. It starts with me so I've just got to hold myself more accountable."

Rondo has been through the struggles of an 18-game losing streak and the triumphs of the 2008 NBA championship. He is one of only three players left from the title-winning squad, and he remembers the teams that rallied around one another and left no question they were bought into the Celtics foundation.

"Just our trust, our trust isn't there," he said. "When we do make a mistake, we don't make up for one another. In the past, a guy may be off the dribble or a guy might have an open shot, a guy might run from no matter where and cover up and contest the shot. Right now, we're just standing watching our guys take open looks."

The Celtics (14-17) are being outscored by their competition, 97.9 points to 95.5, this season. They allowed over 100 points in their previous three losses, a drastic change from the team that would hold their opponents to under 90 points with ease (or at least they made it look that way). Now, they are struggling on both ends.

"Teams are making us pay," said Rondo. "When we we play good defense, and they have great ball movement, swing the ball on our guy, get a wide open three and makes it, it messes your confidence up defensively. But you've still got to go back and defend on every other possession."

As for Rondo himself, head coach Doc Rivers would like him to focus on his offensive game amid the team's defensive struggles. Rondo suffered a bruised right thigh and hip and missed one game during the Celtics west coast trip. He played 40 minutes against the Grizzlies, recording a double-double with 11 points (4-11 FG, 0-4 3PG) and 10 assists.

"I thought Rondo, as far as health-wise, I thought he was fine," said Rivers. "With the way were not scoring, and you could see Kevin (Garnett) struggle today with his shot, we really need him to be more aggressive in our pick-and-roll package, in our offense. It was funny, the beginning of the game he did that. At the very beginning, he called quick pick-and-rolls, we were attacking, then he got away from it. Thats not second-nature to him, to be an aggressive scorer, but we really need him to be that. We need him to get in the open court, attack the basket, look for baskets in transition instead of guys shooting threes that arent going in. And thats something weve just got to keep pushing.

Said Rondo, "I'm out there playing. Everybody's fair game. I don't really blame anything on my injury."

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

Irving takes over in third quarter, Cavs beat Celtics in Game 4, 112-99

CLEVELAND – They had them right where they wanted them.

LeBron James was in foul trouble.

Kyrie Irving had not yet heated up, and the lead hovered above double figures but seemed oh-so-close to creeping upwards of 20 points if the Celtics did a better job of making open shots in the first half.

Those missed shots, combined with a Kyrie Irving takeover in the third quarter, would prove to be part of the narrative for Game 4 – missed opportunities - as the Cavs rallied for a 112-99 Game 4 win.

Cleveland now leads the best-of-seven series 3-1, with a chance to eliminate the Celtics in Boston on Thursday and advance to the NBA Finals where a well-rested Golden State team will be awaiting them.

Irving led all scorers with a playoff career-high 42 points, 21 of which came in the third quarter. Meanwhile, Boston’s Avery Bradley had 19 points while Jae Crowder (18 points), Al Horford (16), and Kelly Olynyk (15) also finished with double figures scoring.

"He put the team on his back," said Tristan Thompson, regarding Irving's play. "He still has another gear."

Boston spent all of the fourth quarter playing from behind, failing to get that necessary made shot or defensive turnover or stop that they needed to slow down Cleveland’s growing momentum.

And with Irving making a slew of clutch baskets that put Cleveland in control, it was James’ turn to put the game away.

He did just that, finishing with 34 points which included 15 in the fourth quarter.

But for a good chunk of Tuesday’s Game 4 matchup, it looked as though the Celtics were coming back to Boston for Game 5 with the series tied up.

It was an odd game for sure, with nothing being any stranger than LeBron James being whistled for not one, not two, not three, but four personal fouls … in the first half.

The fourth came when he was whistled for an offensive foul against Terry Rozier with 6:46 to play and Boston ahead by 10 points.

With James on the bench, Cleveland managed to play Boston to a standstill as the half ended with the Celtics still leading by 10 points (57-47).

Cleveland slowly crept back in the game in the third, and eventually went ahead 73-72 following a pair of free throws by James with 3:15 to play in the quarter.

The Cavs were able to lead by as many as five points in the third quarter which ended with Cleveland ahead 87-80 as Irving scored the last 14 points for Cleveland which included a buzzer-beating 3-pointer that would be the final points scored in the quarter.

Cleveland’s strong finish to the third was a striking contrast to how the game began.

Boston got off to its best start in this series after a 3-pointer by Jae Crowder put the Celtics ahead 18-11.

The Celtics went ahead 22-13 after a pair of free throws by Jonas Jerebko and would eventually lead by as many as 16 points.

Meanwhile, James – the man Crowder was defending most of the time early on – had six points in the first quarter on 3-for-7 shooting.