The goal for the Celtics at this stage of the season is progress; Friday was regression.
In the grand scheme of things, it's just another loss -- of which the Celtics have 44 this season -- and keeps Boston among the pack of teams jockeying for lottery position at the bottom of the league standings.
The actions of Humphries and Stevens remind us that these guys are still competitors. The Celtics could lose their final 19 games in a row and most fans would celebrate the potential draft advantage it would produce. But neither Humphries nor Stevens is wired to accept losing. Both are smart enough to understand the situation the Celtics are in this season, but both have often stressed that doesn't make defeats any easier to stomach.
Before month's end, it's likely that Stevens will have matched his regular-season loss total from six seasons at the helm of Butler, where he posted a 166-49 record. No matter how much he braced himself for nights like Friday, it will never roll off his back.
In a way, the reactions of Humphries and Stevens were maybe the most encouraging aspect of Friday's loss. What took place on the court certainly left nothing to celebrate. Boston missed 65 shots while shooting 30.9 percent from the floor (29 of 94 overall) and completely fell apart in the final minute of a winnable game.
Humphries was left to replay in his mind a key late sequence when he was forced to switch onto Eric Bledsoe when Chris Johnson couldn't fight over a screen. Bledsoe missed a late-clock jumper over Humphries, but Alex Len had position on a fronting Johnson and tipped in the miss -- while being fouled -- as the Suns broke the game's final tie and went on to score the final seven points of the night.
After Markieff Morris emerged with a 50/50 ball and streaked the other way for a dunk, Humphries had seen enough.
"[Humphries is] upset because we lost, and he certainly has got a right to be," said Stevens. "That was not a good ending. It was not a good performance. I thought we shot probably worse shots than we've shot for a while. We missed 65 shots. That's pretty incredible that we had a chance to win, but that's not good and we need to make sure that we don't do that again."
(Read full story)
24 - Gerald Wallace
17 - Jared Sullinger
14 - Jeff Green
12 - Kelly Olynyk
10 - Avery Bradley
9 - Rajon Rondo
7 - Kris Humphries
6 - Brandon Bass
4 - Jerryd Bayless
3 - Chris Johnson, Vitor Faverani
2 - Phil Pressey
1 - Chris Babb, Keith Bogans
0 - Joel Anthony
Total (including departed players): 121
29 - Green
22 - Sullinger
20 - Bass, Olynyk
12 - Faverani, Wallace
11 - Humphries
3 - Rondo, Bayless
2 - Bradley, Pressey
1 - Bogans, Johnson
0 - Anthony, Babb
Total (including departed players): 149
As all the noise finally died down recently, Boston Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck, one of Rondo's most staunch supporters, came out to publicly champion Rondo as the current and future leader of this franchise.
Rondo admitted after Friday's loss to the Phoenix Suns that the support resonated with him.
"It means a lot, especially coming from the head guy," said Rondo. "With all the rumors swirling, the criticism that I was having throughout the past couple weeks, he stuck his neck out. He didn't have to say anything, but he did. I've talked to Wyc since then. Everything is what it's supposed to be."
Earlier this week, Grousbeck raved about Rondo while reflecting on the 2013-14 season in an interview with the Boston Globe.
"[Rondo is] loved right here, from my seat on the court," said Grousbeck. "I love the guy. I love his championship ring when he was the young kid. I love his growth. It reminds me of Paul Pierce. Growing from the moments in his younger days and making progress toward being an all-time Celtic and a leader. I am always hopeful that a guy like that is going to stay around."
(Read full story)
Bradley, who had missed 19 of the team's last 22 games, including the previous 13 straight, chipped in nine points on 4-of-12 shooting over 16 minutes, 38 seconds of floor time while coming off the bench. He admitted there's still rust to knock off after being away from basketball activities for more than a month.
Asked if he desired to play more minutes, he said, "Of course. As a competitor, you want to go out there and help your team. At the same time, I have to be smart and [coach Brad Stevens], he knows better than me, and he knows I have to get back in the rhythm. I was as little rusty. He has to limit my minutes. He told me that before the game, but I didn’t know how many minutes I was going to play and I really didn’t care."
Bradley missed all seven shots he took away from the basket and all four of his makes came near the rim. He said he tried to pick up his defensive intensity because of the obvious rust on his jumper.
Maybe more importantly, the team got another chance to watch the Rajon Rondo/Bradley backcourt pairing that it hasn't seen much of in recent seasons due to injuries. The duo had logged a mere 97 minutes of court time together in six previous games this season.
Rondo and Bradley ran together for 10 minutes on Friday night and were plus-4 in the small sample.
"Hopefully we’ll get to see that quite a bit in the last month here," said Stevens. "Knock on wood, because they haven’t been able to play much together over the first four years they’ve been together. I think it’s really a duo that you would think would complement each other very well based on the strengths on both ends of the court. Hopefully we’ll see that again with a healthy month left in the season."
Echoed Rondo: "Our time will come. I’ve missed [games], he’s missed [games]. Hopefully we can get it together and we’ll both be out there playing and healthy."
How did Bradley look to Rondo on Friday night?
"He looked well," said Rondo. "He didn’t play or practice at all in a month. So for him to get out there -- I know he missed a couple shots, but for the most part, my main concern was his lateral movements, as far as the ankle, and his defense looked great tonight."
Randolph started the season back in China, where an early season shoulder injury turned his latest overseas trek into a nightmarish adventure while he wondered what could have been in Boston. Earlier this month, former Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough -- now at the helm for the Phoenix Suns -- gave Randolph another NBA opportunity by signing him for the rest of the season.
"I was really disappointed because I was expecting to be back here," admitted Randolph, who was a healthy DNP during the Suns' 87-80 triumph on Friday night at TD Garden. "I was going through my summer, my offseason, preparing like I was going to be back here and what my role was going to be on this team. From all the communication we had, I think both sides -- I think they thought I was going to be back here. But I know this is a business, things happened and didn’t happen the way that they expected them to. And when it came time for them to pick up my option or let it go, I think some things happened, didn’t transpire the way they thought and they couldn’t, at that time, commit to my contract. It was pretty disappointing and shocking, but you have to move on, gotta keep doing what you got to do."
After being out of the league for most of the previous six seasons, Randolph averaged 4.2 points and 4.4 rebounds over 12.4 minutes in 16 appearances for Boston. He grabbed 26.3 percent of all available defensive rebounds during his time on the floor and 22.4 percent of all caroms overall (which were the best numbers on the team; albeit in a small sample size of 198 minutes).
Randolph said he talked with Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge and he hinted the team had hoped to make additional offseason moves that could have freed up the necessary room to carry Randolph this season. It never happened and, with a lingering logjam at the power forward spot and over the luxury-tax line at that point, the Celtics couldn't take the risk of carrying Randolph.
"I spoke to Danny when it happened and he basically just said, 'There were some things that we thought that we were going to be able to do by this point, and we’re still over the cap,'" said Randolph. "Committing to [Randolph] at this point, they would have had to make some trades that they hadn’t made at that point, that they just couldn’t take the gamble. If I had been like an All-Star-caliber player, then it probably would have been worth the gamble. At that point, they just couldn’t commit and, listen, this is a business and I completely understand."
Randolph was intrigued by the opportunity that could have been with a transitioning team like Boston.
BOSTON -- Rapid Reaction after the Phoenix Suns defeated the Boston Celtics 87-80 on Friday night at TD Garden:
THE NITTY GRITTY
Goran Dragic (20 points, four assists, three rebounds) and Eric Bledsoe (17 points, 10 rebounds, four assists) gave Boston fits, while P.J. Tucker added a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds). But it was rookie Alex Len, pressed into late-game service when Kelly Olynyk floored Miles Plumlee with an elbow, who produced the crucial tip-in in the final minute to help the playoff-hunting Suns emerge. Kris Humphries and Chris Johnson had matching team-highs at 11 points as Boston shot just 30.9 percent overall (29 of 94) and lost despite eight players registering eight points or more. Rajon Rondo finished with eight points, eight rebounds, and five assists over 34:23 but was minus-18 in plus/minus, while Avery Bradley chipped in nine points, a rebound and a steal over 16:38 off the bench in his return from missing the last 13 games.
The Suns led by as many as 11 points early in the second quarter, but Boston rallied to tie it before the end of the frame. Phoenix got its lead back up to eight early in the third quarter, but again Boston clawed back. It was the Celtics out front by three with 3:18 to play in the fourth quarter, but Bledsoe completed an old-fashioned three-point play to tie the score. Knotted at 80 with 54.1 seconds to play, Len took advantage of a switch and tipped in Bledsoe's miss while being fouled (and made the freebie for an 83-80 lead).
The Celtics debuted their new St. Patrick's Day alternate jerseys. They'll wear the sleeved shirts their next two games as well. ... Chris Babb was a healthy DNP, while Joel Anthony made a blink-and-you'll-miss-it cameo late in the first half (an inbound turnover and he was immediately subbed back out). ... The Celtics finished with 56 rebounds, including 19 on the offensive glass.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics (22-44) have now lost three in a row and will maintain the fourth-worst record in basketball (entering the night tied for that spot with the Jazz and Lakers). If the losing streak is to stop, Boston is going to have to win on the road against the Western Conference, something it hasn't done this season. The Celtics are 0-13 as they prepare for a back-to-back in New Orleans and Dallas to wrap up their west slate. The Celtics return home Wednesday to host the Miami Heat.
"[The mother] said, ‘You look familiar' and I was like, ‘Just serving pizza at camp,’" recalled Stevens. "She said, ‘Do I know you?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. What’s your name?’ And she said, ‘Anyways, where do they keep that dog?’ That was all of our places at Butler -- we were clearly on the next level [below the English bulldog that serves as team mascot]."
Butler Blue III, the team's latest mascot, visited TD Garden before Friday's game after Stevens' last employer was ousted in the first-round of the Big East tournament earlier this week. Blue III -- nicknamed Trip -- invaded Stevens' office and took a lap around the Garden floor.
"[Dog owner] Michael Kaltenmark had planned that trip up here and it was fun to see [Blue III] in here," said Stevens. "He came by the office and went out on the floor for a minute. Did what he does: He just finds his way into buildings."
Later Stevens added: "It was nice of them to come up and visit us. You just heard my kids walk by, I know they are going to spend some quality time with him that’s for sure."
Check out the photos of Trip's Garden tour on Butler Blue III's Flickr stream:
Bradley, who has missed 19 of the last 22 games due to a right ankle sprain, will be eased back given that he hasn't gone through a live practice. Bradley hasn't played since Feb. 9 and has missed 13 straight games.
"[Bradley is] moving pretty well," said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. "He felt really good, re-conferred with Dr. McKeon today and was giving the green light to go ahead. He’s not going to start for us and part of that is bringing him back easy from a minutes standpoint. I found that, when we first brought Rondo back and with that minute limitation, it was hard to manage that."
Bradley said he's anxious to return to game action, but that his ankle feels better.
"[The ankle] feels good. It’s been feeling good for the last few weeks," said Bradley. "We’ve just been taking our time, just making sure all the scar tissue is healing up so I don’t go out there and have a little accident and a little setback. But it feels amazing. When I injured it like a month ago, I couldn’t walk at all. But now I feel great."
The Celtics will stick with their recent starting 5 of Rajon Rondo, Jerryd Bayless, Jeff Green, Brandon Bass, and Kris Humphries. With Bradley now available, Boston has the luxury of bringing Bradley, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk off the bench, adding depth they've missed for much of the season due to health woes.
A lot of familiar faces in the visitor's locker room with the Phoenix Suns, including Shavlik Randolph.
Asked if he was disappointed that the Celtics elected to release him this summer before his contract became guaranteed, Randolph admitted it was a tough process. He landed back in China, where a shoulder injury led to headaches with his overseas squad.
"I was really disappointed because I was expecting to be back here," admitted Randolph. "I was going through my summer, my offseason, preparing like I was going to be back here and what my role was going to be on this team. From all the communication we had, I think both sides -- I think they thought I was going to be back here. But I know this is a business, things happened and didn’t happen the way that they expected them to. And when it came time for them to pick up my option or let it go, I think some things happened, didn’t transpire the way they thought and they couldn’t, at that time, commit to my contract. It was pretty disappointing and shocking, but you have to move on, gotta keep doing what you got to do."
Bradley has missed 19 of the team's last 22 games due to a right ankle sprain originally suffered in late January. Bradley sat out five games, but aggravated the injury returning too soon. He has not play since Feb. 9, sitting out Boston's last 13 games.
Bradley participated in the team's morning shootaround and coach Brad Stevens reaffirmed that Bradley would play during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub.
The 23-year-old Bradley has put together a quality season, averaging career bests at 14.3 points and 3.9 rebounds over 30.6 minutes per game. He's in line to become a restricted free agent after the season.
Hop HERE for ore on Bradley's return.
- RONDO, BLEDSOE BACK: Rajon Rondo is expected back in the starting lineup for Boston after sitting out the second night of a back-to-back on Wednesday, but the Suns recently got their own reinforcement at the point guard position with the return of Eric Bledsoe. The 24-year-old guard, acquired from the Clippers over the summer, played 32 minutes in a reserve role during Wednesday's visit from Cleveland and put up 15 points, nine assists, and three rebounds as stumbling Phoenix lost its third straight. The Suns are 16-9 when Bledsoe plays this season.
- SPOILER TO THE SUNS?: The Suns have lost seven of their last 10 while slipping to ninth place in the Western Conference (and a couple games back of the final playoff spot). They've got 18 games to catch Memphis or Dallas. Asked after Wednesday's loss if the Celtics envied the chance to play spoiler versus the Suns, Jeff Green offered, "We look at it as a chance for us to win. We’re not concerned with what they are trying to do, we’re concerned with what we’re trying to do and that’s get better from game to game."
- LOOSE BALLS: This is the second and final meeting of the season for these two teams. The Suns posted a 100-94 triumph in Phoenix last month. ... Call them Celtics West: The Suns have a handful of familiar faces including Gerald Green, Shavlik Randolph, and Dionte Christmas (as well as general manager Ryan McDonough). ... The Celtics are hoping to have Avery Bradley back for Friday's game. ... The Celtics will wear new sleeved alternate uniforms in celebration of St. Patrick's Day. The team will also wear those same jerseys its next two games on the road.
(Read full game preview)
But Green is not affecting the game like most others on that same list.
Green needs to put his energy into being a more consistent defender, a more common distributor, and at least an occasional rebounder. Green must find ways for the Celtics to be more successful when he's on the court.
Because right now, that's not happening.
Make no mistake, very few Boston players, particularly the ones logging the sort of minutes that Green is, are putting up glossy numbers this season. But the splits on Green are striking.
In the 11 games since the break, the Celtics are minus-110 in plus/minus during Green's 407 minutes of floor time, and plus-41 in his 121 minutes on the bench. Boston's offensive rating is 5½ points better when Green is off the floor, and its defensive rating is a staggering 24 points worse when he's in the game.
Worried that trash time was skewing those numbers, we narrowed that look to the first half of those 11 games. Boston's net rating when Green is on the court was minus-18.6 (91.7 offensive; 110.3 defensive) and plus-13.6 when he was off the floor (108.4 offensive; 94.8 defensive).
Now, numbers don't tell the whole story. Kris Humphries also has some bad on/off splits in the post-All-Star sample, but the eye test tells you he's playing better recently.
Can the same be said for Green, who remains up and down with his production? When you separate the good from the bad, it's clear it has little to do with scoring output.
(Read full story)
So says Boston Celtics president Rich Gotham.
"It'll just give us one more reason to not like the Knicks," Gotham told HuffPost Live. "In Boston we like to have good reasons to not like the New York teams, particularly the Knicks, if you're the Celtics.
"Phil, he's the guy who is the challenger to Red Auerbach's record for most titles won as a coach, so bring it on. Give us a little more fuel for the rivalry. I don't want to say anything about the people who are there now, but having a guy like Phil around, it's all good fun for us, because he's one of our nemeses."
Jackson actually has more titles than Auerbach as a head coach. Jackson has an NBA-record 11 titles as a head coach. Auerbach won nine as a coach. But Red had 16 as both a coach and executive. Jackson has 13 total rings (coach and player) and hopes to add to that title total with the Knicks. He is expected to come to an official agreement with the Knicks later this week to serve as president of basketball operations.
Rondo has sat out the second game of five consecutive-night sets since returning in mid-January and the Celtics have four more back-to-backs on their schedule the remainder of the season.
“Based on where we are as a team and Rondo is his rehab, it’s probably safe to say he won’t [play in back-to-backs] the rest of the year,” Ainge said during his weekly appearance on Boston sports radio 98.5 the Sports Hub on Thursday morning. “We need him to play because we want him to get re-acclimated. There’s a mental process, a mental hurdle to overcome when you come back from an ACL tear. So it’s important for him to play some games, but at the same time we don’t want to wear him out or take any risks.
"We want him to have a full year of rehab and strengthening and not take any steps backwards or something crazy. So we’re going to be careful with Rondo as we finish the year. It appears he’s gaining ground on returning to himself so that by that by the beginning of next year, he's 100 percent."
Rondo said recently that he is experiencing day-after soreness throughout his body and has exercised caution in sitting out the tail end of back-to-backs.
"If I was ready, I would play," Rondo said of sitting out back-to-backs. "It’s a combination of things that bother me in the lower part of my body -- my calves, my Achilles, and then my knees," said Rondo. "It’s just a part of those three that are affecting me after games that, the next day, I need to rest."
Added Rondo: "I’m still pretty sore when I wake up. My Achilles bothers me the most when I get out of the bed. Throughout the day, it gets better, but I still don’t want to try to overdo it and [then] something else happens because of that."
Rondo is averaging 11.9 points, 8.7 assists, and 4.6 rebounds over 31.4 minutes per game in 19 appearances since returning. The Celtics have 17 games remaining on the schedule and, subtracting those four back-to-back games, Rondo would still appear in more than 30 games this season after missing nearly a full year of basketball activity due to ACL surgery.
The Celtics? After three straight seasons in the offensive rebounding basement, they've vaulted to 12th in the NBA this year while hauling in 27.3 percent of all available missed shots. What's more, Boston ranks in the top 10 in second-chance points at 14 per game this season.
Here's where Boston ranked in each of the past four seasons (with offensive rebound percentage), which only makes this year's number more eye-popping:
2012-13: 30th (20.1)
2011-12: 30th (19.7)
2010-11: 30th (21.1)
2009-10: 28th (22.8)
One night after grabbing 20 offensive rebounds in a loss to the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics hauled in 16 more offensive caroms in Wednesday's loss to the New York Knicks.
So why the uptick this year? Much can be credited to second-year big man Jared Sullinger, who ranks in the top 10 in the league in total offensive rebounds and leads the team with an offensive rebound rate of 13.2 percent. And rookie Kelly Olynyk has emerged as an active rebounder on the offensive glass in recent weeks (his offensive rebound rate is a robust 12 percent).
Before Wednesday's game, Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens explained his thoughts on offensive rebounding.
"I think my biggest thing, personally, is that you have to balance [offensive rebounding] well with transition defense," said Stevens. "Transition defense, you can’t give up on that. That has to be a huge part of what you do. Right now, our transition defense has gotten significantly better in the last two months, and overall been pretty good, really since [Rajon] Rondo’s been back we’ve been pretty good. Then, offensively, there’s going to be games when you’re not making shots and if you can get a putback or two to kinda stem the tide, it’s important. And we do have guys, especially in [Kris] Humphries and Sullinger, that are really good offensive rebounders and you certainly don’t want to take that away from those guys. Anything we can do to get a basket, I think we need to try to do it."
On Wednesday, Pressey made his 60th appearance of the 2013-14 season for the Boston Celtics, tied for the seventh-most games among all rookies, including his seventh start, while spelling a resting Rajon Rondo during a 116-92 loss to the visiting New York Knicks.
Pressey registered nine points, five assists, and five rebounds over 35 minutes of floor time. The same kid who had to earn his first NBA deal through his play at summer league now looks awfully comfortable on an NBA court and is averaging 13.9 minutes per appearance (19th among all rookies). Pressey had some highlight moments -- like a little no-look drop-off to a trailing Kris Humphries for a transition slam in the second quarter -- but could only watch as Carmelo Anthony and the Knicks scorched the floor (52.5 percent shooting overall; 57.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc) en route to a lopsided win.
But step back a bit and what you find with Pressey is a player who's carving out a role at the NBA level. There’s absolutely room for growth, particularly in his offensive game, but Pressey landed with a team that both needed his skill set and has nurtured his game.
Before Wednesday’s tilt, Pressey reflected on his NBA journey to this point and wondered if slipping out of the draft was actually a blessing. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge phoned Pressey on draft night to let him know Boston was interested in giving him a shot to make the roster at summer league, and that opened more doors than he probably could have imagined.
Pressey wonders now if he had been picked by another team in the draft if he would have been shipped overseas to hone his game, leaving his NBA future murky at best.
Instead, his deal with the Celtics contained a guaranteed first season and the potential to stick around into the future at a team-friendly rate (the Celtics have until July 15 before Pressey's second-year minimum salary becomes guaranteed).
“I think I’m good for this type of team,” said Pressey. “My rookie year, it’s going well so far. I wish we won a lot more, but, I feel like, for me personally, it’s gone up and down, but overall it’s going pretty good.”
Play Podcast ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter weighs in on the Panthers' WR situation, Julian Edelman's future with the Patriots, Vince Wilfork's decision to ask for his release and more.
Play Podcast "Spanning the Globe" features ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss, Yahoo! Sports' Eric Edholm and ESPN LA 710's Mark Willard.
Play Podcast Red Sox manager John Farrell talks about whether he expected his team to make such a turnaround in one season, his relationship with his players, fans' expectations for the squad and more.