Defensive effort buoys Celtics despite loss

November, 24, 2014
Nov 24
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BOSTON -- The irony, of course, is that on the night the Boston Celtics put together their best defensive effort of the season, the offense that has kept them competitive on most nights endured one of its worst performances.

The end result, then, was all too familiar: Another loss, this time a 94-88 defeat to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday night at TD Garden. Boston has dropped five of its last six, its only win coming after a rally against the winless Philadelphia 76ers. And yet the frustration that has permeated the team's locker room after recent defeats was replaced with a curious optimism that, if Boston can continue to play defense like it did against one of the league's most potent offenses, it's going to give itself a chance to truly compete on a nightly basis.

"I don’t know that I’ve been as encouraged as this time," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. "I don’t feel the same because I’ve felt like we were kind of hanging onto whether or not we made shots, or how we played on the offensive end. And that wasn’t the case today, so that’s why I leave here encouraged. I think, as we enter a five-day stretch before we play two more contenders, we have something to build off of, instead of just trying to believe we can do it without any real proof. So today is good proof for us."

Here's Stevens' proof: Boston's defensive rating for the game was 95.3, or 11.6 points per 100 possessions better than the team's head-shaking season average. Boston still sits 25th in defensive rating, but Sunday's effort is something to hang its hat on considering the Blazers entered the game with the third-best offensive rating in the league. Over Boston's last three games, the team's defensive rating is 99.3, which would position the team in the top 10 in the league.

[+] EnlargeOlynyk
Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY SportsBy stepping up their defensive intensity against the Blazers, the Celtics believe they have something to build off of despite another close loss.
The challenge for Boston now is (1) maintaining this sort of defensive intensity and (2) doing it for longer stretches of games. The Celtics put together a strong first half in which they truly frustrated Portland, only to have second-half lapses -- along with Boston's own offensive woes -- let the game get away.

"I feel like we came out with a great defensive intensity," said Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who pestered Damian Lillard for much of the night. "Unfortunately, we were not able to make shots, but I felt like we played well for the most part."

Bradley was asked what the team could take from watching film of Sunday's effort.

"I don’t even think we need to watch film," he said. "[Defensive success] all comes from effort and wanting to play defense. We wanted to go out there and prove that we are a good defensive team if we all give 100 percent on the defensive end, and that’s what we did. Everyone was trying hard tonight. We don’t need to watch film; we know what we need to do."

The Celtics will take the next four days off before hosting the Chicago Bulls in a Friday matinee. As frustrated as the team is in opening the season with a 4-8 record -- all while knowing it has rarely put together a 48-minute effort -- Sunday's showing represented something positive the team can finally cling to and use as a blueprint moving forward.

"We had a great mindset going into the game," Celtics captain Rajon Rondo said. "We had a great scouting report, Coach told us guys’ tendencies. At halftime, we made a couple of adjustments but not too many, and we went out and did it. Instead of just keep talking about it, we actually executed defensively tonight."

Rondo, who has been a beacon of optimism during Boston's struggles, remains convinced the team is close to a breakthrough.

"I'm always optimistic," he said. "I truly believe in this team and we’ve got a lot of great pieces on this team. ... We’re just going to stay consistent, stay positive and keep chugging away."

The Celtics have maintained that getting over the hump might take just one win that would provide a much-needed spark.

"We need a win, we need something to get us going," Bradley said. "We need a [winning] streak -- I think the longest streak we’ve had so far is two games. We need to get it going."

The Celtics will be helped by a schedule that will downshift after this month. The Celtics host two championship contenders in the Bulls and Spurs to close out November, but December's slate isn't nearly as daunting. The competition eases a bit, potentially offering a greater margin for error.

Boston's hope is that the challenging November has positioned the team to take advantage of what lies ahead. That, for all the bumps in the road to this point, there's a chance to turn it into a positive.

Stevens said before the season that the Celtics would know by Christmas exactly what they are. Early returns suggest a team not very dissimilar from the one that struggled to finish out close games last season while posting only 25 wins.

December should offer the Celtics a chance to prove they're better than that. But the Celtics absolutely need to show they can play with the defensive intensity displayed on Sunday in order to really make strides.

It's the only way to ensure the optimism remains in their locker room.

Jeff Green: Trade rumor is false

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics forward Jeff Green stressed after Sunday's loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that any frustration he is experiencing is merely a factor of Boston's early-season struggles and does not represent unhappiness with the organization.

[+] EnlargeGreen
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
Green said he received a text directing him to an undisclosed article that suggested he desired to be traded from Boston. Unprompted, Green addressed the story -- one that most of the assembled media was unaware of -- after Sunday's game.

"Before you start, I just want to clear the air about some B.S. rumor that came out," Green said. "I don’t know if the person who made this article is in this [group of reporters], but the rumor about me wanting to get traded is definitely false. I said that I was frustrated with losing, not frustrated with the team. So if the words didn’t come from my mouth, I'd appreciate if you do not write a dumb--- article like that."

During an on-camera interview following Friday’s loss in Memphis, Green told CSNNE that his frustrations with losing were at an "all-time high" and he added, "I'm tired of losing." The station's website later reported, citing a league executive, that Green's value could be high this offseason when he has potential to opt out of his deal and become a free agent.

Green's frustrations, however, seemed to stem from another site that combined the two reports and took his quotes out of context, suggesting his frustrations left him yearning for a trade out of Boston.

Green said reporters are "going to write whatever you want to write, I just want it to be the truth."

Green was asked how he feels about Boston and whether he wants to be here long term to see through this rebuilding process.

"I want to stay here," Green said. "I love this team. I love being here."

Later he added, "If I didn’t [want to be here], I wouldn’t have signed [his most recent] contract to come back here. I’m happy where I’m at, happy with the coach, management, front office, everybody. I haven’t been happy like this in years. It’s a good place for me."

The Celtics acquired Green in a much-scrutinized trade for Kendrick Perkins in February 2011. He missed the entire 2011-12 season after undergoing heart surgery, but returned to sign a four-year, $36.2 million contract in August 2012.

That contract includes a $9.2 million player option for the 2015-16 season. Green could elect to become an unrestricted free agent this offseason by declining the player option.

Green is averaging a career-high 18.4 points per game over 35.3 minutes in 12 appearances this season. Often criticized for his roller-coaster play, this may be Green's most consistent string of games in a Boston uniform.
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BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics looked like they had cured many of their defensive ailments in the first half of Sunday's matchup with the Portland Trail Blazers.

But Boston endured a hiccup, allowing the Blazers to score the first 10 points of the final frame, and its offense went missing over the final 12 minutes, allowing the visiting Blazers to post a 94-88 triumph at TD Garden.

LaMarcus Aldridge finished with a team-high 20 points and 14 rebounds for Portland, which rallied thanks in large part to Chris Kaman (16 points) and Steve Blake (11 points) off the bench.

Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger scored 19 points apiece to pace Boston.

First-half clamps: The Celtics limited the Blazers to 35.4 percent shooting in the first half (17 of 48) and just 28.6 percent beyond the 3-point arc (2 of 7). Boston led by as much as 10 midway through the second quarter, but were up just 49-44 at the intermission.

Second-half collapse: The game was tied after three quarters, but Portland outscored Boston 22-16 in the final frame. The Blazers shot 52.6 percent after the intermission and 41.7 percent beyond the arc.

Loose balls: The Celtics rolled with a 10-man rotation, which included extended minutes for veteran Gerald Wallace. ... Rookie Dwight Powell and second-year guard Phil Pressey were healthy DNPs ... Rookie James Young, on assignment with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League, scored 22 points in a win over Delaware. ...

What it means: The Celtics dip to 4-8 on the season, while the Blazers climb to 10-3. ... Boston has the next four days off before hosting the Chicago Bulls in a Friday matinee.

Faverani out until January?

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was hesitant to set a firm return timeline for rehabbing center Vitor Faverani, but suggested the team is now eyeing a return to practice in December with potential game action to follow in the new year.

Meeting with reporters Saturday for the first time since his second knee surgery last month, Faverani said that his rehab is progressing slowly and the team had not established a potential timeline for his return. Both Stevens and Faverani admitted that he will not meet the 6-8 week timeline initially established after surgery last month, but Stevens offered his best guess on when we might see the Brazilian big man.

"When he initially had that surgery, I heard 6-8 weeks, just like you did, and I’ve been told it’s going to go longer than that," said Stevens. "Probably well into December, maybe first of the year. So, I hate standing up here and acting like I know medically what’s going on, but I know that he’s frustrated, and I know that he’s working everyday and they are working with him."

Pressed on Faverai's potential to return to basketball activities, Stevens added: "What I had thought was he’d be practicing some time in December, but again, I don’t want to put a timeline on him because I’m speculating now. We’d be hopeful that he’d be practicing sometime in December and maybe ready to play by the first of the year."

Faverani averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds over 13.2 minutes per game in 37 appearances last season. He opened his rookie campaign as the team's starting center, but faded quickly while learning the team's defensive system and ultimately spent time with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, where he believes he originally injured the knee in February.

Faverani rehabbed with hopes of resuming basketball activities at the start of training camp, but lingering pain and swelling in the knee contributed to him trekking to Spain for a second surgery with a more familiar doctor from the start of his pro career overseas.

"We’re just taking our time," Faverani said Saturday. "I don’t know [when I'll return]. I don’t want the same to happen to me, like before -- back to play before I can. I don’t want to injure it any more."

Faverani is earning $2.1 million this season in the second year of a three-year pact he inked with Boston in the summer of 2013. The final season of his deal is nonguaranteed.

C's hopeful Smart can practice Wednesday

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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BOSTON -- Boston Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart is targeting a return to practice on Wednesday as he works his way back from a severe ankle sprain suffered earlier this month.

The Celtics, with a four-day break after Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, are scheduled to take Monday and Tuesday off before returning to the practice court on Wednesday. Coach Brad Stevens said the team is hopeful Smart can participate in his first full session since being injured on Nov. 7, but said his status for Friday's game against the Bulls remains uncertain.

Smart suffered the severe left ankle sprain and bone bruising when he stepped on the foot of Indiana's Lavoy Allen. The rookie has increased his activities lately, including some on-court shooting, but Wednesday could be the first real test to see how close he is to a return to game action.

"He's been doing his work in the weight room, as far as conditioning goes, so he hasn’t gotten a lot of basketball-specific conditioning. We’ll see how much work he needs to do once he gets back out on the court," Stevens said. "That’s a concern, certainly."

In five appearances, Smart, the No. 6 overall pick in June's draft, was averaging 6.8 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 2.1 steals over 20.4 minutes per game. Boston found success with smaller three-guard lineups that often featured Smart alongside the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics have missed Smart's defensive tenacity on the perimeter.

Celts assign Young to Maine

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
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BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics assigned rookie James Young to the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League on Sunday.

Young is expected to be in the starting lineup when Maine welcomes Delaware on Sunday evening.

The Celtics are hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, but with four days off to follow, it's a good bet that coach Brad Stevens will utilize a tight rotation. That made it more likely that Young would receive game reps in Maine.

"We’ve decided, and after some talk, after some deliberation, that the idea of potentially not playing versus playing 30+ minutes, as far as his game conditioning, as far as his overall development -- [the Red Claws] are trying to play exactly like we’re trying to play, so he’s just going to be able to go and fit in and do that," Stevens said before Boston's game on Sunday night. "We sent James because he didn’t get a chance to go up their [for an intrasquad scrimmage earlier this month], and then [fellow rookie] Dwight [Powell] is a guy that we can see using in spots [Sunday night versus Portland], especially defensively."

This is Young's second assignment of the season to the D-League. Young scored 21 points in the Red Claws' 81-80 win over the Fort Wayne Mad Ants last Sunday.

W2W4: C's vs. Blazers (Game 12 of 82)

November, 23, 2014
Nov 23
10:00
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The Boston Celtics (4-7, 2-4 home) host the Portland Trail Blazers (9-3, 1-2 away) on Sunday night at TD Garden (6 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

Blazers at a glance: Giving the usual glance at where the next opponent ranks in the top advanced metrics, Portland looks impressive. The Blazers rank third in offensive rating (108.7) and seventh in defensive rating (99.5), while ranking in the top 10 in total rebound rate (4th), assist ratio (8th), and true-shooting percentage (6th). The Blazers do an awful lot well -- and there's no glaring weaknesses to exploit. They're shooting 46 percent overall and nearly 40 percent beyond the 3-point arc. The Celtics will need their defensive A-game to compete.

Coach's take: LaMarcus Aldridge is the focal point while averaging 21.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game. But coach Brad Stevens heaped praise on the entire team. "[Aldridge is] not their only All-Star," said Stevens. "And they’ve got guys in [Wesley] Matthews and [Nick] Batum and [Steve] Blake that are great shooters as well. I think I heard a stat that Wesley Matthews has hit the fifth most 3s in the NBA last year. [Damian] Lillard is in the argument for the best shooter in the league just because of the percentage he shoots [47.6 percent overall and beyond the arc] and the difficulty of shots he hits. So I think that you’ve got great shooting, surrounding a very talented post guy, who can also shoot the ball. I think a guy that just complements everybody well is [Robin] Lopez, he probably doesn’t get enough attention, both on his offensive rebounding and on his post ability."

Aldridge altitude: ESPN the Magazine recently spotlighted Aldridge's shot technique. How does an undersized big like Jared Sullinger stop that? "You don’t really stop players, you try to stop their rhythm," said Sullinger. "There’s going to be times when he’s going to make shots, and we’re going to have to live with it. Just how tough of a shot is he going to make? Thats the biggest thing. As a basketball player, you know you’re not going to stop everybody you’re not going to hold them to zero points, but you try to make it as tough as possible for them to score."

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Practice: Lessons learned in Memphis

November, 22, 2014
Nov 22
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- After Friday's loss in Memphis, Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens said the Grizzlies' frontcourt of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph "smoked" his team and suggested Boston's young bigs like Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk could "learn a lot" from watching Memphis' veteran duo.

[+] EnlargeMarc Gasol
Justin Ford/USA TODAY Sports
Asked to expound upon that notion after Saturday's practice, Stevens said: "What I was really talking about in that situation was how well they play off one another, how well they read things. How Randolph hits you right at the right time to get his post position; how if you’re fronting him, he seals you right at the lane and Gasol reads it and flashes and plays high/low; how good Gasol is at getting to the seam in pick-and-rolls, because he doesn’t roll to the rim like a Brandan Wright or a Tyson Chandler in Dallas, where they are flying around and dunking everything. They run to the elbow and play out of that seam and find that seam for the pocket pass. Then [Gasol] has the ball with no pressure and he’s able to pick his spots. I think it makes your defense really have to react and you really have to play hard on every possession with multiple efforts just to keep them a little bit off balanced. Easier said than done for the entirety of the game."

So what did Sullinger take from battling Gasol and Randolph?

"Just how physical they are," he said. "They play really well together. They play like a tandem, that’s the biggest thing."

Can third-year Sullinger and second-year Olynyk get to a similar level of continuity as Boston's starting frontcourt?

"Yeah, it’s going to take some time," said Sullinger. "[Gasol and Randolph] played, I think it’s going on their fifth year, or something like that together. It takes time to build something like that."

Stevens admitted that film review from the Memphis game only confirmed what he saw on the court.

"I felt we had a pretty good idea of what we did and didn’t do," he said. "Obviously, they guarded us in a way that I thought made us a little passive and stagnant. Then, the biggest difference in the game were the interior guys, not only Randolph and Gasol, but [Jon] Leuer really played well for them."

A handful of notes from Saturday's session:

Frustration of losing: Stevens was asked about his team's mental psyche when losses mount against good teams. "It should be [frustrating]. I hope it is. I think that’s a good thing. The key is then how do you respond from that? I think it’s a unique situation, in that we play 82 games, and you have to be able to bounce back and be able to respond. But if it’s not tough, then that’s not good. So I think that’s a good thing." Boston is 4-7, but that's still only a ½-game out of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference (albeit, with a long way to go and a lot of teams crowded in that area).

Smart out on Sunday: Rookie guard Marcus Smart engaged in some post-practice stretching with his teammates, but did not participate in the brief on-court activities. Stevens said Smart is out for Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, though had previously said the team hopes to have Smart back on the court later this week. Boston has a four-day break before hosting the Chicago Bulls on Friday afternoon.

Light session: After traveling home from Memphis after Friday's loss, the team didn't spend much time on the court Saturday. While noting Smart's lack of participation, Stevens also noted: "We didn’t do anything physical, other than jog through. It wasn’t much that he could of done. [Rookies] James [Young] and Dwight [Powell] didn’t get any reps either." Boston did watch some film before and after the session. "Today['s pre-practice film review] it was a not-great possession followed by a good possession, just to show the difference, and how small the difference in what you look like physically and how quickly you react and those type of things, both offensively and defensively. No more than 10-15 minutes. It depends on what we’re trying to show after practice, whether it’s the opponent, or whether it’s more of our stuff, or whatever the case may be. I usually try to keep the film sessions fairly quick and to the point."
Chris Forsberg/ESPN BostonVitor Faverani gets up shots after practice on Saturday.
WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics second-year center Vitor Faverani said his knee is feeling better, but is still not close to resuming basketball activities and the team has not established any timeline for his potential return to game action.

Faverani, five weeks removed from a second surgery on a balky left knee, engaged in some light shooting Saturday as his teammates stretched following an afternoon practice. Faverani then met with reporters, but had little news on his progress.

"My knee is good; I'm happy," said Faverani, who suggested he feels "100 percent" better following a second surgery in Spain last month. But asked what activities he's able to engage in, Faverani said he's been limited to pool work and the exercise bike. He said there's potential he'll try the AlterG non-weight-bearing treadmill next week to resume running.

The Celtics suggested a 6-8 week recovery after Faverani's second surgery, but it appears he's not close to that timetable. Faverani said the team has not recently discussed when he might be back on the floor.

"We’re just taking our time," said Faverani. "I don’t know. I don’t want the same to happen to me, like before -- back to play before I can. I don’t want to injure it any more."

He added: "[A return to basketball activities] depends on my knee. It depends on how my knee recovers. We're working hard everyday to get better. I'm happy with the progress."

Faverani averaged 4.4 points and 3.5 rebounds over 13.2 minutes per game in 37 appearances last season. He opened his rookie campaign as the team's starting center, but faded quickly while learning the team's defensive system and ultimately spent time with the Maine Red Claws of the D-League, where he believes he originally injured the knee in February.

Faverani underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in March and the team hoped to have him back on the floor for the start of training camp. Faverani tried to ramp up his activities at that point, but experienced pain and swelling in the knee.

The team agreed to let him trek to Spain to seek a second opinion -- and ultimately undergo surgery -- with a doctor that's treated him throughout his pro career.

Faverani seemed positive Saturday despite the lack of progress.

"It’s tough, but it’s my life," said Faverani. "Everybody has injuries, this is my first injury. I’m just happy because [the team has] great doctors, great therapy guys. I just hope to get better."

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said earlier this month that there hasn't been much progress with Faverani and the team didn't have a timeline for his return.

After the surgery last month, Stevens said: "I feel bad for Vitor, I think he’s frustrated, too. Because he gets back, gets on the court and, for whatever reason, he gets swelling and pain. He just wants to get a clean bill of health. It’s been a while."

Indeed, Faverani couldn't recall the last time he played 5-on-5 basketball when asked Saturday.

"I can’t remember. Before my first surgery," he said. "I worked really hard all summer in Spain, but I never played basketball. Here, I got [up] shots, worked, but never 5-on-5."

Told it might have been in the D-League where he hurt himself, Faverani smiled and offered, "Maybe. I don’t remember. It’s a long time ago."

Faverani is earning $2.1 million this season in the second year of a three-year pact he inked with Boston in the summer of 2013. The final season of his deal is nonguaranteed.
Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty ImagesThe Celtics had no answer to Marc Gasol on Friday night in Memphis.
The Boston Celtics have high hopes for the big-man tandem of Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk. And while coach Brad Stevens knows they'll never operate quite like the Memphis Grizzlies' pairing of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, Boston's young frontcourt got a hands-on lesson Friday in how to thrive behind skill and savvy.

Gasol matched a career high by scoring 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting, while Randolph posted 16 points and 16 rebounds over 27 minutes as the Western Conference-leading Grizzlies stomped the visiting Celtics 117-100 at FedEx Forum.

Sullinger and Olynyk are not going to be mistaken for the sort of block bullies that Gasol and Randolph typically are. But in maybe only the second game that Boston truly wasn't competitive in this season, Stevens will hope his young bigs walk away educated in how the Gasol/Randolph tandem thrives in large part due to continuity and playing to each other's strengths.

"I told our guys in [the locker room] that, I realize we’re all pros and we have all made it and we are all good players, but there are some guys out on the floor on that [Memphis] team that we can learn a lot from, especially our young bigs," said Stevens. "It's great to take notes of those guys. Those guys are not only really good basketball players, they’re really savvy basketball players and they really know how to play and they make each other better."

Olynyk has endured some growing pains in recent games and labored through a tough first half in which Gasol ate him up defensively (all while Olynyk struggled to finish around the basket at the other end). Boston's second-year center rebounded to score 14 of his game-high 18 points in the third quarter while showcasing his ability to stretch the floor.

One of the biggest keys for Sullinger and Olynyk in establishing themselves as a sustainable frontcourt tandem is learning to work together at both ends of the floor. That's a task in progress, though it's fair to say the offensive side is well ahead of the defensive end.

It's hard to fault the two undersized bigs for struggling to contain Gasol and Randolph, who are tough matchups for the league's top frontcourts. But after watching the Grizzlies generate 66 points in the paint and dominate on the glass, Stevens will hope Sullinger and Olynyk emerge with the goal of operating with the sort of synergy that Memphis has created through time and now thrives behind.

BIG PROBLEMS

Gasol and Randolph were far from Boston's only troubles on Friday. Jon Leuer, too sick to play on Wednesday night because of a stomach virus the Grizzlies are battling, came off the bench to score 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting with seven rebounds, four assists, two steals and a block over a mere 22 minutes.

"[The Memphis] front line, they smoked us -- 71 points and 32 rebounds between those 4s and 5s," said Stevens. "Hard to win when those guys go like that."

Boston's defense remains a major concern. The Grizzlies are not among the elite offenses in the league, but the Celtics made them look like one. Memphis shot 52.7 percent from the floor overall. Boston's guards continue to be indifferent in detouring opposing ball handlers from getting to where they want to go, and that's creating cracks in the Boston defense that a team like Memphis is going to exploit.

Again, we go back to effort. Playing inspired defense is a choice, and Boston seems ambivalent about the cause at the moment. Boston is now allowing 107.9 points per 100 possessions, the fifth-worst mark in the league.

BRIGHT SPOT: POWELL'S FIRST POINTS

Celtics rookie Dwight Powell scored his first NBA points off an alley-oop dunk after checking in late in the game.

After a series of quick handoffs on the right wing, Powell roamed free to the basket along the baseline when Gasol stepped up to help on a driving Phil Pressey, who lobbed the ball to Powell for the slam.

Stevens actually spotlighted the sequence in accentuating a positive moment after the game.

"The goal is to play well. It’s very frustrating in those stretches where you don’t," said Stevens. "And it’s very encouraging in those stretches when you do, no matter when those stretches are. Like the first play when [rookies] James [Young] and Dwight checked in with Phil. The ball was popping around, we executed quick, fast, got to the rim, dunk. We didn’t play like that the whole night. Even though the game was out of reach, that was really encouraging. It’s encouraging but still leaves a salty taste in your mouth anyways."
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Grizzlies 117, C's 100: No answer for Gasol

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:26
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The Boston Celtics entered Friday's game against the Memphis Grizzlies proud of the way they'd competed in just about every game early in the 2014-15 season.

Alas, the Western Conference-leading Grizzlies joined the Houston Rockets in an elite club of teams that never really let Boston get close. Memphis never trailed in Friday's game, never let Boston get closer than two possessions in the second half, and owned a lead of as much as 21 in the fourth quarter en route to a 117-100 triumph at FedEx Forum.

Marc Gasol scored a game-high 32 points on 13-of-22 shooting, shredding Boston's shoddy interior defense. Jon Leuer, too sick to play on Wednesday night, felt good enough to add in 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting off the bench.

The Grizzlies improved to 11-2 and have now won 21 straight at home. Boston falls to 4-7.

KO tries to prevent KO punch: Second-year center Kelly Olynyk, who has endured his struggles in recent games, scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the third quarter. Olynyk tried to help Boston stick close in the third quarter, but the Celtics still trailed by 12 heading to the final frame.

Rondo Report: Maybe Rajon Rondo's worst outing overall: Defensively inept, Rondo played only 28 minutes and finished with 4 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists. He was a team-worst minus-19 in plus/minus.

Loose balls: The Grizzlies shot 52.7 percent overall from the floor, while Boston finished at 43.2 percent. ... The Grizzlies won the battle of points in the paint 66-38 ... and the battle on the glass 50-38. ... The Celtics put six players in double figures, including Evan Turner and Marcus Thornton off the bench. ... Boston played 12 bodies with rookies Dwight Powell and James Young on the court for the final 2:28. Gerald Wallace was the only healthy DNP.

What it means: The Celtics did little to make one of the West's top squads sweat. Boston simply had no answer for Gasol around the basket. Boston gets a day off Saturday before hosting the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday evening at TD Garden.

W2W4: C's vs. Grizzlies (Game 11 of 82)

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
10:00
AM ET
The Boston Celtics (4-6, 2-2 away) visit the Memphis Grizzlies (10-2, 6-0 home) on Friday night at FedEx Forum (8 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

Talent runs deep: The Grizzlies own the best record in the NBA and haven't lost at home. Memphis has quality depth and showcased that on Wednesday night by hanging around in Toronto despite missing five players due to illness. "[The Grizzlies are] good and very deep. Even [Wednesday] night, five guys are sick, and they had a five-point lead late in the game at Toronto ... These guys are playing really well," Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters. "The bigs are obvious with [Marc] Gasol and [Zach] Randolph, those are go-to guys, and they feed them in the post time and again. They both can pass, they both can play. And then I think they’ve got a lot of guys that fit their roles exceptionally well. And Mike Conley is probably having an All-Star-type of year. So it's a heck of a challenge." The Grizzlies listed seven players as questionable for Friday's game due to the virus around the team.

Griz at a glance: The Grizzlies rank fifth in defensive rating, allowing only 97.8 points per 100 possessions (and a mere 91.8 points per game). Despite their size, Memphis ranks in the back third of the league in defensive rebound rate (23rd), but limits its turnovers (6th in turnover percentage) and is a top-10 team in both second-chance points and points in the paint.

Matching the physicality: Stevens lauded Brandon Bass for his game-changing physicality in Wednesday's win over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics will need much more of that on Friday. "[Memphis has] got physical guys," said Stevens. "Sometimes you can increase that physicality, you can increase your toughness, you can increase your strength by the weight room. Sometimes it’s just about signing physical guys. They’ve got some physical dudes in that locker room, that’s for sure." Added Stevens: "I think the biggest thing that stands out with these guys is their physicality, just generally. And part of that is because they play really hard and they're really well-coached, and part is because they’re big, physical guys. Randolph and Gasol are big guys. Kosta Koufos is a big guy. Tony Allen's a physical 3, we all know that. So it's a nice basketball team, and the physicality plays a big role for them."

(Read full game preview)
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Seven Grizzlies have stomach virus

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
9:55
PM ET
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Seven members of the Memphis Grizzlies now are dealing with a stomach virus, and their status is uncertain for Friday's game with the Boston Celtics.

The Grizzlies announced Thursday that guards Tony Allen, Courtney Lee and Beno Udrih, forwards Jon Leuer and Jarnell Stokes, center Kosta Koufos and guard/forward Quincy Pondexter all are ill and are questionable for the Boston game.

Pondexter and Stokes are new additions to the injury list. The other five Grizzlies didn't play in a 96-92 loss to the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday due to the virus that kept them away from the arena.

The Grizzlies also waived guard Kalin Lucas and center Hassan Whiteside on Thursday, a day after signing them for protection in Toronto.
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Mailbag: Time to change things up?

November, 20, 2014
Nov 20
6:35
PM ET
It took a little bit less than three weeks of the 2014-15 season to pass before Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens fielded his first question about whether he had considered tinkering with his lineup and rotations.


Stevens admitted it was a fair question and one that he'd pondered while trying to figure out why Boston has struggled defensively and allowed a few winnable games to slip away. But Stevens also made it clear that it's much too early to overreact to early-season trends -- both good and bad -- and that he doesn't feel Boston's woes can be solved by simply swapping out a starter.

As the questions that arrived in the Celtics mailbag this week only confirmed, observers are restless. Boston is 4-6, which isn't a particularly bad start, especially considering the level of competition the Celtics have faced and how they've been competitive in all but one game (Houston). But after kicking away potential wins against the Cavaliers and Suns, then looking lethargic at times against the winless 76ers, mailbaggers are ready to tinker.

Let's talk them down in this week's Celtics mailbag:

[+] EnlargeTyler Zeller
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty Images
Q: Is it time to move Tyler Zeller into the starting lineup? -- Eric, @e_sal513 (via Twitter)

A: OK, we knew this one was coming. Zeller has been one of the league's most efficient offensive players and is shooting 83.3 percent from the floor. If he keeps finishing pick-and-rolls at this rate, he'll be more popular than Semih Erden, Greg Stiemsma, Shavlik Randolph and all the team's other recent backup big men combined by season's end. Given Boston's lack of a pure center, chatter about starting Zeller was inevitable at some point this season. I think Zeller is in a good spot as a changeup off the bench at the moment. He tends to thrive against other pure bigs, exploiting his ability to run the floor. As we saw on Wednesday night, Philadelphia's long and athletic bigs gave him more trouble. Stevens can pick his spots with Zeller in a reserve role right now and ride him when he's got advantageous matchups. We'd expect to see a bunch of him against Memphis on Friday. Ironically, it's Boston's better defensive play when Zeller is on the floor that might make the best case for an increased role. And his numbers alongside Jared Sullinger have been eye-popping -- but more on that later.

(Read full Celtics Mailbag)

Gamebook: Visit to Bass pro shop

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
11:25
PM ET
With the Boston Celtics leaning heavy on their younger bigs this season, all while mixing in more three-guard lineups, it's meant less floor time for veteran power forward Brandon Bass.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bass
Mitchell Leff/Getty ImagesBrandon Bass gave the Celtics his best effort of the season vs. the 76ers.
Entering Wednesday's game in Philadelphia, Bass had seen his playing time essentially halved since his first season in Boston. Despite starting 87 percent of the team's games over the last two seasons, Bass is now a part-time player, averaging 18.1 minutes per game.

Ever the consummate pro, Bass has taken the diminished role in stride. He still brings his hard hat and lunchpail to work. His numbers haven't been great early in the 2014-15 season -- Boston's offensive and defensive ratings have been far better with him on the bench -- but Bass had a hot hand Wednesday night and helped rescue his team from what could have been a head-shaking loss.

Bass checked in late in the first quarter with the 76ers up 8. He scored three baskets in the final two minutes of the frame, including a strong dunk off a pretty interior feed from Jared Sullinger, and his offensive output prevented the game from slipping away.

Bass finished with a season-high 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting with six rebounds, an assist, a steal and a block over 32 minutes. He was a team-best plus-19 in plus/minus. Coach Brad Stevens rode Bass for a 13-minute first-half stretch that was vital to jolting a Celtics team that finally woke up in the third quarter.

"I thought Brandon was our most physical interior player in first half," Stevens said. "I thought that was a big difference. We were lucky to be tied at halftime, then I thought everyone matched [Bass' energy] in the second half. ... Brandon Bass kind of led the charge tonight."

Bass' role moving forward is likely to be dictated in large part by how the younger players in front of him -- Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, in particular -- are performing. It's up to Bass to maximize his minutes and force Stevens to keep him on the floor.

Bass, 29, is in the final year of a contract paying him $6.9 million. He's the sort of decent-priced versatile veteran that could help a contending team, and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge ought to keep a copy of Wednesday's game handy in case the phone rings.

C'S KNEW DANGER OF SIXERS

Having lost three of four games to Philadelphia last season, the Celtics knew full well the dangers of looking past the winless 76ers.

"I'm lucky to have been basically raised in coaching from the standpoint that every win is a difficult thing to do," Stevens said. "I think it’s the way we approach it, it's the way our players approach it. You only get 82 chances to play. This team beat us last year three times, so there was no reason [to look past Philadelphia]. We don't look at winless, we look at a team that beat us three times."

The Sixers fell to 0-11 with Wednesday's loss. Philadelphia plays six of its next seven games at home, but that includes visits from Phoenix, Portland, Brooklyn, Dallas and San Antonio. Their best chance at a win in November might be Saturday's visit to the New York Knicks.

STICKING WITH HIS LINEUP

Stevens noted in recent days that he's pondered lineup changes, but didn't believe Boston's struggles could be traced to one player or one rotation change. Stevens stuck with second-year center Olynyk in the starting lineup, even after he had one of his roughest outings of the season in Monday's loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Olynyk bounced back to contribute nine points, four assists, three rebounds and a steal over 25 minutes in Wednesday's win. Olynyk was aggressive toward the basket, with three of his four field goals coming near the rim.

"You talk to him about why it was a tough game. And then I think it’s more about, ‘Play the next one well.’ Get back up off the mat," Stevens said when asked if he'd talked to Olynyk following Monday's game. "Nobody, through our first nine games, hasn’t had one tough one, right? We’ve just got to make sure that we respond well and go from there. It’s a lot more about being there and encouraging, but also not avoiding the reality of why it was a tough game."
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SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
18.4 2.0 1.2 35.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.4
AssistsR. Rondo 10.7
StealsR. Rondo 1.7
BlocksJ. Sullinger 0.9