BOSTON -- It took less than 90 seconds for Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens to turn to assistant Jay Larranaga and note how locked in Brandon Bass appeared early in Sunday's visit from the Orlando Magic. Nothing over the next final 46:30 changed his mind.
On Boston's third possession of the game, Bass came off a little pick-and-roll with Rajon Rondo and caught the ball on the left blocks. He appeared to get stuck underneath the basket while swarmed by Orlando big man Nikola Vucevic -- with Glen Davis en route to help trap -- but Bass calmly elevated and threw down an emphatic two-handed slam, his grunt audible as the crowd filled in for a (not-so) Mighty Matinee (the only NBA game on the schedule on this Super Sunday).
Bass finished with 19 points on 9-of-15 shooting with nine rebounds over 36:29 as the Celtics snapped a four-game losing streak and won for just the fourth time in 23 games with a 96-89 triumph over the Magic at TD Garden.
"The guy who I thought was outstanding right from the gate today was Bass," Stevens said. "I thought you could see it in his eyes that he was playing at a high, high level, and I thought it was fitting [that he and Rajon Rondo] made plays at the end that helped win it on both ends of the floor."
Maybe no one was more excited to get Rondo back this season than Bass, whose pick-and-pop-heavy offense wasn't quite the same without his favorite point guard alongside. Rondo provided assists on four of Bass' nine makes on Sunday, including a pair of jumpers over the final 82 seconds that helped Boston keep the Magic at arm's length.
"I’m definitely comfortable in the pick-and-roll with Rondo and he’s definitely comfortable with me," Bass said. "I think he made plays for everybody tonight."
Bass admits he might have been a little bit more locked in on Sunday given the opponent. Orlando is where he blossomed as an NBA player before being dealt to Boston in a trade for Glen Davis, who also happens to be a childhood friend.
Asked if beating Davis meant something, Bass smiled and offered, "All the time, man. You know why? Because when we're done playing and we’re at one of the local gyms, we just talk noise to each other. It’s real good. It’s good to talk noise when you’re done playing, but I wish him the best and I know he wishes me the best."
You can't help but wonder if Danny Ainge was phoning rival GMs given the light NBA schedule Sunday and making sure they were watching the only game in town. The Celtics still have a bit of an overcrowded frontcourt and Bass' future role is unclear given the young talent behind him. With only one year and a reasonable $6.9 million price tag remaining on his deal after this season, Bass might attract the attention of a contender looking for a versatile defender and lunch-pail worker who won't rock the chemistry of his new team before Feb. 20.
Read on for more news and notes after Boston's win over the Magic:
BRADLEY'S RETURN: Avery Bradley scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting with two assists, two rebounds and a steal over 32:30 in his first game back from a sprained right ankle. Bradley admitted the ankle nagged him a bit -- "I just tried not to think about it," he said. "I just tried to play as hard as I could out there." -- but said it was nice to be back on the floor, particularly alongside Rajon Rondo given the duo's lack of time together over the past two injury-riddled seasons. Bradley was set to celebrate his return to game action by rooting on his hometown Seahawks in the Super Bowl on Sunday night. "I’m a big-time Seahawks fan," Bradley said. "Big time. An Earl Thomas fan more than anything, to be honest. We went to the same college [University of Texas]. That’s one of my good friends -- him and Kam Chancellor. Those are my guys right there." No surprise that a defensive-minded guy like Bradley would have defensive backs for favorite players.
SHOTS STARTING TO FALL: Stevens glowed postgame while focused on his team's field goal percentage in Sunday's win. After shooting 37.9 percent over its last three games, Boston connected on 50 percent (41 of 82) of its attempts in Sunday's win. "The thing I’m most excited about is that we had a 50-percent shooting day," said Stevens, whose team has rarely even approached that number since early December. "We’ve really struggled to shoot it recently, but I think part of [the uptick] is [Jerryd] Bayless getting back and healthy, getting going; Avery getting going -- now you have more threats on the court to open up the floor for others. Then obviously Rondo making shots behind the screens." Take away an ice-cold Jeff Green (2-for-13, 8 points) and Boston's four other starters combined for 34-of-66 shooting (51.5 percent) for 76 points, keyed by Rondo's 9-of-11 for 19 points.
RUTHLESS BAYLESS?: Bayless chipped in six points on 3-of-7 shooting with three assists and three rebounds in a bench-high 21:20. That's a nice contribution, but as Bayless works his way back from a toe sprain that sidelined him recently, Stevens said he'd like to see even more aggressiveness from Bayless with his shot. "I think Bayless can be even more aggressive for us," Stevens said. "I thought he did a really good job of trying to be a point at times [Sunday] and running the team, but that doesn’t mean that he should pass up good looks. He’s balancing that a little bit, but with him and Avery both being able to come off those screens, come off those pick-and-rolls and shoot, those are good things for us."
OFF THE SCHNEID: The Celtics were coming off a January that saw them go 2-15, the most losses endured in any month in team history, culminating with a stomach-punch of a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Stevens had said his team would reveal its character in how it responded to that loss and the team opened February by taking advantage of another of the league's basement dwellers. As Bass noted, "We needed [a win]. We were able to get it. So it feels good." Added Rondo: "I thought it was very important for us to start the month off [well]. We don’t have a difficult month as far as games-wise. We only play 11 games. There will be a lot of days where we get to rest, so we need to take advantage of the opportunity that we have to prepare for teams, to let our body heal and get some wins this month."