Boston Celtics: 2013Game37
* FAMILY MATTERS: Hornets rookie Austin Rivers is struggling at the moment and playing bite-sized minutes (logging just five in last night's win in Philadelphia), but the biggest storyline on Wednesday will undoubtedly center on Celtics coach Doc Rivers going against his son for the first time. For more on that, hop HERE.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Hornets rank 18th overall in the league (0.909 points per play), but actually stand first in transition offense (1.279 ppp). That's worrisome for a Boston team that ranks last in transition defense and the Celtics must force a halfcourt game. Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez have been two of the most efficient scorers in the league, but outside of rookie Anthony Davis, the Hornets haven't gotten much help from their top rotation players. The Hornets rank 19th in spot-up shooting, but Greivis Vasquez has thrived in that play type. Defensively, New Orleans ranks 27th overall at 0.958 points per play. Lopez (.0793 ppp, 77th percentile) is the only one of the Hornets' top eight rotation players that ranks above the 55th percentile in individual defense. Rookies Davis and Rivers have struggled mightily in the defensive end.
* STEPPING ON A HORNETS NEST?: After enduring an 11-game losing streak in December, the Hornets were 7-25 at the start of the month. But New Orleans has won five of its last six, including a 111-99 triumph over the 76ers last night in Philadelphia. Look past the record as these are two of the hottest teams in basketball right now and New Orleans owns recent wins over the Texas trio of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. The Hornets are battle tested having endured one of the toughest schedules in the NBA.
* DEFENDING THE 3-POINT LINE: The Celtics have struggled at times to defend opponents' looks beyond the 3-point line. The Hornets don't take an exceptional amount of 3-pointers, but rank eighth in the league in 3-point percentage (37.3) and have dangerous shooters like Anderson, Vasquez, and Roger Mason.
BOSTON -- Despite feeling a bit under the weather in recent days, Courtney Lee turned in 17 inspired minutes during Monday night's win over the Bobcats and produced the hustle play of the night in the fourth quarter when he won a track meet down the floor and blocked Hakim Warrick as he went up for a layup.
Lee finished with nine points on 4-of-7 shooting with the block and a steal.
"It was a big man running down the middle and I know that my feet are a lot faster than his, no offense to him," said Lee. "You don't want to give up on a play, especially a play that you can get back in. So I just play hard the whole time."
When asked where that hustling nature comes from, Lee got a bit heavy with reporters.
"Oh, man, if you really want to get deep to it -- I want you all to hear this, man: You can take it back to just life period," said Lee. "I mean, I didn't have the best childhood, but you continue to fight and I use that same philosophy on the court. Something might not be going right, but you can always give effort. Effort takes no talent."
After struggling to carve out his role at the start of the season, Lee is settling into a nice groove. In seven games this month, Lee is averaging 8.1 points per game on 59 percent shooting overall, which includes shooting 45.5 percent beyond the 3-point arc.
* COLLINS' BIG IMPACT: Even as Chris Wilcox (thumb) nears a return, veteran big man Jason Collins has contributed some solid minutes lately. With rookie big man Jared Sullinger in early foul trouble on Monday, Collins played eight minutes and chipped in three points, four rebounds, and two assists.
"He does it every night," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He’s Groundhog's Day if there was ever one. He just comes in, he does the same thing: Blocks shots, takes a charge, gets his body in the way. He’s going to bang, he’s prepared; He’s such a pro. It’s just good to have him around."
* WILCOX BACK ON BENCH: Wilcox, sidelined since mid-December with a thumb issue, dressed for Monday's game and was on the active roster, but knew he wasn't going to get in the game (and even resisted the urge to make himself available when Sullinger got early foul trouble). Wilcox said he still wants to get in another practice or two before a potential return to game action. And while it was good to be back on the bench with his teammates, Wilcox admitted it only made him a bit more antsy to get back on the floor. Wilcox was averaging 5.1 points per game in December while shooting a healthy 73.1 percent from the floor before his injury.
* BULLPEN BARBOSA: Rivers elected to go with backup guard Leandro Barbosa over Jason Terry for a late fourth-quarter stretch on Monday. Boston's coach admitted it was simply a gut feeling. "Just a feel, honestly," said Rivers. "I thought we needed energy. And [Barbosa is] always ready. He is terrific. He’s always ready.” Rivers clearly enjoys the luxury of having established veterans like Barbosa and Collins able to contribute in short minutes without worrying about their roles.
While much of Bradley's impact has manifested itself on the defensive end, he put forth a steady reminder on Monday that he can be a viable option in Boston's offense as well. Bradley produced a season-high 16 points against Charlotte, knocking down six of his 10 shots and finishing 4-of-7 shooting from 3-point nation.
Bradley's defensive assignments were clear, with Charlotte boasting a solid stable of guards, including Kemba Walker, Ben Gordon and Ramon Sessions. But amid applying his typical relentless ball pressure, Bradley took advantage of his openings on the other end of the floor, kicking things off with a strong baseline drive less than 20 seconds into the game.
From there Bradley extended his range, sticking to his customary spots in the corners -- the sources of all four of his 3-pointers.
"It's a shot that we end up getting a lot," Bradley said prior to Monday's game, not knowing he would have his finest performance of the season from those spots. "Me, Jeff Green, Courtney [Lee], we end up getting that shot a lot, so it's a real important shot for us to knock down, because it's usually wide open."
Bradley knocked down two of his four 3-pointers in the second frame as Boston upped its lead as high as 18 at one point and provided a crucial 3-point make in the third quarter to help fend off a charge from the Bobcats. With Boston's lead down to four nearly halfway through that third frame, Bradley took a pass from Rondo and buried his final make from distance, giving Boston a seven-point edge and a bit more breathing room.
"[Bradley's] big for us on both ends of the floor," Rondo said. "So we know what we have as a player in Avery."
BOSTON -- There was simply too much Rajon Rondo goodness on Monday night to cram into one postgame story, so here are some interesting quotes and notes thax got left on the cutting room floor [Hop HERE to read our story on Rondo's triple-double performance]:
* DOOLING'S LOCKER ROOM IMPACT: Rondo noted there was a renewed swagger in the Celtics' locker room amidst a six-game win streak and was asked who had provided vocal leadership in helping reverse Boston's fortunes. Rondo initially quipped, "Besides myself?" Then pointed to Keyon Dooling, the former Celtics player who retired this offseason and is now the director of player development for the team. "Keyon Dooling's helped, actually. He's been in the locker room helping guys out. His personality, I think it started with him, and I just try to lead, play my songs in here. I haven't let you listen to them yet, but a couple of my tracks I play in here to get these guys going before the game." Pressed on the music, Rondo (seemingly?) joked, "No, my songs. I'm on the track."
* DEFENSE IS FUELING OFFENSE IN TRANSITION: Echoing what coach Doc Rivers has preached, Rondo is thriving when the Celtics run. Rivers has implored his team to pick up the pace, and Rondo's ability to find the open man in transition is the primary reason. "I think our defense is creating mismatches on the offensive end," Rondo said. "When guys are wide open or they're cross-matched in transition, it's easy for me to pick the defense apart. A couple times tonight I ended up with a big on me and I attacked the big. Other times a big was on me, another big was on [Jason Terry] or Avery [Bradley], left them open for corner 3s and they were knocked down tonight. And like I said, we had a lot of good mismatches in transition and that allowed us to get the lead early on in the game."
* A QUIET ALL-STAR WEEKEND: Rondo was noncommittal when asked whether he'd participate in any of the weekend festivities at this year's All-Star game in Houston. He's previously competed in HORSE and the skills competition, but said before Monday's game, "I've got to make All-Star first, so we'll see what happens then. I don't like to commit that early. I'd rather make All-Star then consider the other things." Rondo was seemingly a slam dunk for the Eastern Conference backcourt in early returns on fan voting, but said he'd enjoy the downtime if he wasn't selected. When a reporter jokingly asked if he'd go back to Mexico -- where he previously said he jetted during a two-game suspension -- Rondo replied, "I won't go back to Mexico. I'll probably do something different."
* RONDO AND SPORTSCENTER: Rondo's "big hands" SportsCenter commercial debuted on Monday (watch HERE). Asked if he enjoyed the filming back in September before the start of training camp, Rondo said, "I had a great time doing the commercial... I shot it a long time ago. I thought they, because of my suspensions, they just said, 'Forget the commercial.'" That elicited laughter from reporters before Rondo added, "No, it was a fun time. I met a lot of the cast members and it was quick. It wasn't that long. I had a good time."
THE NITTY GRITTY
Rajon Rondo produced the 26th triple-double of his career -- and third this season -- by registering 17 points, 10 rebounds and 12 assists while spearheading the Celtics to their sixth straight win (even if it took a little more effort than the team might have expected against the hapless 'Cats). Paul Pierce scored a team-high 19 points despite 6-of-16 shooting (2-of-8 beyond the 3-point arc). Kevin Garnett added seven points and 10 rebounds, while Avery Bradley had a season-high 16 points with 4-of-7 shooting beyond the 3-point arc. Hakim Warrick and Ramon Session had 16 points apiece to pace Charlotte, while Kemba Walker (4-of-16, 12 points) and Ben Gordon (5-of-14, 12 points) struggled for a Bobcats squad that shot 41.8 percent overall.
The Celtics led by as much as 18 in the first half before falling asleep at the wheel against the young 'Cats who -- true to coach Doc Rivers' warning -- pounced when given the opportunity. With the lead at 11 coming out of halftime, Charlotte went on an 11-2 run to tie the game less than four minutes in. Boston didn't put the game away until a Rondo-fueled 9-0 burst midway through the fourth quarter that culminated with Rondo feeding Courtney Lee on consecutive plays (first a flashy dish for a reverse layup, then a driving kick that Lee turned into a corner 3-pointer) for an 87-74 lead with 5:33 to play.
We all knew Bradley would give the Boston defense a jolt when he returned from injury, but on Monday he did the same for the offense, hitting four 3-pointers while scoring his season-high 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting.
SULLINGER BATTLES WHISTLES
Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger picked up two fouls in three minutes in the first quarter and played only five first-half minutes. He battled through it and played 17 second-half minutes, making all four shots he took for eight points and five rebounds. And he managed to avoid the foul out.
LOOSE BALLS: HENDERSON COLLARS KG
Garnett absorbed a flagrant-1 foul when Gerald Henderson fouled him hard around the neck in the middle of the second quarter. Garnett didn't like the foul and barked at Henderson a bit, but tempers soon cooled... The Garden temperature stayed chilly, however. With the impending return of hockey (including the Bruins' intrasquad scrimmage here on Tuesday night), the Garden was especially frigid for Monday's game. Temperatures might have been unseasonably warm outside the arena on Monday, but it didn't carry over inside.
WHAT IT MEANS
This won't be remembered as the prettiest of the streak -- and Boston surely could have made things easier on itself -- but the Celtics have now won six straight and are a season-best three games over .500 (a place they haven't been since Dec. 12 before losing eight of 10). Boston has two more games on this homestand, including a visit from Doc Rivers' son, Austin, and the New Orleans Hornets on Wednesday.
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics forward/center Chris Wilcox will be active for Monday's visit from the Charlotte Bobcats, but is unlikely to see the floor. After getting through his first full-contact practice since suffering a thumb injury last month, Wilcox could be back in action later this week.
"I don’t think he’s going to play tonight, he’s just going to wear his uniform," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "[He'll be back in game action] pretty soon. Maybe even by next game he’ll be in uniform, where he could play. But we are in no rush with that, we’re just going to make sure he feels good. He practiced [Sunday] and he wants to have a couple more practices, which is important."
Rivers admitted that having a healthy Wilcox, who suffered a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in Chicago last month, would add another layer of depth to the front line.
"If someone is in foul trouble -- Brandon [Bass] gets in early foul trouble or Jared [Sullinger] or Jason [Collins] -- you still have Chris. That’s nice to have, as opposed to trying to scramble the way we’ve been doing it, when one of those guys gets in foul trouble it hurts us."
A few more quick hits from pregame:
* RIVERS ROOTING FOR PATRIOTS: Rivers bolted from practice on Sunday to take in Patriots-Texans from a luxury box at Gillette Stadium. Rivers, a familiar presence in Foxborough when the schedule allows, said he's superstitious for teams he roots for. "Wore the same outfit -- you do the whole fan thing," Rivers said.
Is he superstitious like that with the Celtics' current five-game winning streak?
"No, not with us. I’m just that way with other teams," he said. "It’s funny with us, I just show up and say, ‘Please guys, make shots. And stop them from making shots.' But when I watch other teams that I like, you tend to do the same thing. You turn the beer label the same way, those things."
Rivers lamented being unable to attend the AFC Championship Game on Sunday when the Patriots host the Ravens. The Celtics are in Detroit that night. "I can’t get thrown out in time," Rivers joked.
* NO LOOKING PAST THE 'CATS: Rivers has stressed that his team take the Bobcats seriously despite their struggles. Asked if he reminds his team about Charlotte's 7-5 start, Rivers noted, "No, I remind us what we were. I think it’s easier to talk about what we were doing five games ago than what someone else was doing. We’ve proven when we play well, we can beat anyone. But when we don’t, we can’t. For us, our formula is pretty simple, we just have to play the defense we play."
* SEAT FOR SOLDIERS NIGHT: The Celtics were hosting members of the United States armed services and their families for Monday's sixth annual "Seats for Soldiers" night. Fans were given the opportunity to donate their seats for each branch of the armed services. Before Monday's game, Wilcox conducted a live teleconference with the USO in Kandahar for New England soldiers stationed overseas (and the Celtics were going to feed Monday's game to the soldiers there as well).
* CAN'T SLEEP ON THESE 'CATS: Celtics coach Doc Rivers will implore his team to look past their opponent's record. Yes, the Bobcats have a .250 winning percentage (only the Wizards and Cavaliers are worse) and Charlotte has lost 22 of its last 24 games. But Rivers noted Sunday that, "They play hard as hell. You don’t play well against them, you will lose. They play extremely hard. It’s funny, I’ve talked to a couple guys after they just played them and the first thing that came out of their mouth: 'If you’re not ready to play them, they’ll knock you out. They come at you.' That tells you a lot with what they’ve done, if they’re still doing that." Rivers is likely referring to good friend Tom Thibodeau, whose Chicago squad endured a 91-81 loss to visiting Charlotte in late December.
* SYNERGY SNAPSHOT: Offensively, the Bobcats rank 22nd overall averaging 0.895 points per play, according to Synergy Sports data. Charlotte is middle of the pack in transition and actually ranks second in pick-and-roll ball-handlers (two of its top three play types), but the Bobcats really struggle with spot-up shooting (27th, 0.897 points per play) and have limited post offense. Defensively, Charlotte is dead last while allowing 0.967 points per play. Neither Kemba Walker (0.944 ppp, 23rd percentile) nor rookie Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (0.974 ppp, 15th percentile) have provided much resistance and 20 percent of opponents' plays go at them. Put another way: Byron Mullens ranks as the team's best individual defender (0.836 ppp, 60th percentile) among Charlotte's top rotation players and most of his teammates are not particularly close.
* NO BUMPS IN THE ROAD: The Celtics already own a five-game winning streak, but with two of the league's worst teams visiting the Garden this week (New Orleans looms on Wednesday), Boston knows it has a chance to really make a surge here. While Rivers said he doesn't pay attention to the standings, Boston can start shimmying up the Eastern Conference playoff seedings if it sustains its win streak. The East-leading Heat are 5½ games out. Maybe more importantly, nothing would derail all this built-up momentum like stumbling against a team like the Bobcats. The Celtics' early season struggles doesn't give them the ability to look past any opponent.
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