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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Smart expected back next week

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
9:30
PM ET
Boston Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart is expected to return to game action next week, according to coach Brad Stevens.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart
Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty Images
While Smart is only starting to ramp up his on-court activity as he works his way back from a left ankle injury, Stevens told reporters in Philadelphia on Wednesday that Smart could be back as early as Sunday's visit from the Portland Trail Blazers. The more likely scenario is a return later in the week as Boston has a four-day break through Thanksgiving before hosting the Chicago Bulls in a Friday matinee.

"I think there is the potential that he could be back as early as early next week," Stevens said. "I, personally, think Sunday would be stretching it. I don’t know that. But then, I think he could be back [on the floor] once we have that four-day break."

Smart suffered a severe ankle sprain and bone bruising after stepping on an opponent's foot earlier this month against the Indiana Pacers. While the injury looked worse and Smart was stretchered off the floor, the team announced that Smart would miss 2-3 weeks, a timeline that pegged him for a return next week.

Smart is traveling with the Celtics on a brief two-game road trip, but is still easing his way back.

"He was able to move and shoot a little [during Tuesday's practice], nothing more than that," Stevens said. "He’s not able to do any of the defensive drills, not able to do 5-on-5, nothing laterally. At least that’s what I’ve been told as of [Wednesday]."

Stevens stressed that the team won't rush Smart's return to either practice or game action.

"He’s not going to play in anything until he’s ready," Stevens said. "If he was ready as early as Sunday, we’d play him. But if he’s not, then it makes sense to have [four] more days."

The Celtics have missed Smart's defensive tenacity in recent games. In five appearances, Smart 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 him alongside the starting backcourt of Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.
CSNNE Screen Shot via @MrTrpleDouble10Jeff Green with a reverse alley-oop from Rajon Rondo.
Despite repeatedly being warned not to look past a winless Philadelphia 76ers team, the Boston Celtics seemingly sleepwalked through the first 2 ½ quarters of Wednesday's game. Fortunately for Boston, Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green woke the starters up early enough to ensure that Philadelphia didn't get win No. 1 of the season.

In a tied game, Rondo fed Green for a reverse alley-oop in transition midway through the third quarter. Avery Bradley followed with two jumpers, including a 3-pointer as Boston separated a bit en route to a 101-90 triumph at the Wells Fargo Center.

The Celtics trailed by as much as nine in the first half, but their bench initially kept them afloat. Brandon Bass scored 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting and was a team-best plus-21 in plus/minus over 32 minutes of floor time. Marcus Thornton added 13 points -- behind a trio of 3-pointers -- to aid the bench effort.

Jared Sullinger got hot in the second half, scoring 18 of his 22 points after the intermission. He added nine rebounds and four assists. Green kicked in a double-double (11 points, 10 rebounds) as well.

Rondo report: Not one of Rondo's crisper efforts (he had a team-high six turnovers), but he did finish with 9 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds and 2 steals over 30:26. Rondo appeared to escape injury despite rolling his ankle a bit in the third quarter.

Loose balls: Boston stuck with a 10-man rotation. Veteran Gerald Wallace and rookies James Young and Dwight Powell were healthy DNPs. ... Massachusetts natives Nerlens Noel (10 points, 8 rebounds) and Michael Carter-Williams (11 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists) played starting roles for Philadelphia. ... Tony Wroten scored a team-high 21 points for the 76ers off the bench. ... Boston had 32 assists on 41 field goals and the Celtics shot 49.4 percent from the floor. ... Kelly Olynyk won his first jump ball of the season.

What it means: The Celtics improve to 4-6, while the 76ers dip to 0-11. Boston visits the West-leading Memphis Grizzlies (10-2 overall, 6-0 home) on Friday night to wrap up a brief two-game road trip.

W2W4: C's vs. 76ers (Game 10 of 82)

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
10:00
AM ET
The Boston Celtics (3-6, 1-2 away) visit the Philadelphia 76ers (0-10, 0-4 home) on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center (CSN, 7 p.m.) Here's what to watch for:

Everyone needs a win: The Celtics are eager for a win after letting a couple close ones get away, but can't look past a winless division rival. "[The 76ers are] looking for that first one," said center Kelly Olynyk. "They don’t want to make any records the wrong way. They’re definitely looking to turn their stuff around. And we definitely need to get one under our belts, so it’s going to be a battle and a scrap and we gotta go in there hungry and ready to play." Even amidst their tanking/struggles, the 76ers beat Boston the final two meetings of last season.

Philly in focus: The 76ers rank dead last in offensive rating while averaging a measly 88.3 points per 100 possessions, not a good look for a team with the second highest pace in the league. Their defense hasn't been awful with a rating of 104 (17th overall). But Philly is the worst rebounding team in the league and 28th in turnover percentage. It's not a surprise to see them winless given their play thus far.

Coach's take: Despite Philly's struggles, coach Brad Stevens killed them with kindness. "For the first time now, they’re getting healthy," said Stevens. "They are big and long. I think they’ve put a real premium and priority on length and athleticism. So, Tony Wroten’s had a good start to his year; Michael Carter-Williams is now back and healthy. I think the bigs have all progressed well. [Nerlens] Noel did a lot of good things in the last few films I’ve watched. Hey, Philly has given us problems with how hard they play, how long they are, and I think they are hungry. We have to be hungry. It’s a big game for us, as is everyone, but because it’s next and because we’ve lost a couple in a row now, this is a big big deal for us."

(Read full game preview)
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Defense not quite as advertised

November, 19, 2014
Nov 19
6:45
AM ET
Maybe the most frustrating aspect of how poorly the Boston Celtics have played defensively early in the 2014-15 season is how unexpected of an issue it was.

[+] EnlargeBoston Celtics
AP Photo/Charles Krupa
For all their warts (and losses), these Celtics were a team that hovered in the top half of the league in defensive rating for much of last season. Boston didn't quite address its glaring need for a rim protector this summer, but with the addition of Marcus Smart on the perimeter, along with changes to the team's defensive strategies to accentuate their strengths, there was reason to believe a player like former All-Defense member Avery Bradley when he said before the season that Boston had potential to be a top-10 defense.

And when the Celtics emerged from the preseason with the league's top-rated defense, it only seemed like confirmation that Boston's progress this season would be dictated by that side of the ball.

Nine games into the new campaign, the Celtics rank No. 27 in defensive rating, allowing a staggering 109.4 points per 100 possessions. Everything the Celtics are doing well -- particularly on the offensive side of the ball -- has been masked by defensive lapses that have routinely contributed to close games slipping away. And it's been Boston's poor defensive play that has prevented it from making progress.

As Stevens noted before the team practiced on Tuesday afternoon, "We scored 114 points against Phoenix and 121 against Cleveland -- that's enough. We gotta shore up the other end of the floor."

It's the defensive breakdowns that are keeping Stevens up at night. The Celtics have shown an ability to be a quality defense in small sequences, but have routinely given up 30-point quarters and left themselves no margin for error in crunch time when more experienced teams have made the necessary plays to emerge with wins.

Practices have centered on defense in recent days, and Tuesday's was no exception.

"It's frustrating, but it's the thing we're focused on," said Stevens. "We're going to go in [the film room] right after [media access] and we're going to watch and we're going to watch and we're going to watch and we're going to watch. We just all gotta get a little bit better. You don't have to rebuild the whole thing or re-create anything. We just have to be a little bit better in what we're trying to do."

(Read full story)
The Boston Celtics were back on the practice court Tuesday after letting a potential win slip away Monday night against the Phoenix Suns. A rundown of the top headlines from pre-practice access:

CAN'T GET TOO HIGH OR TOO LOW

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens
Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
Before the 2014-15 season even tipped, Celtics coach Brad Stevens acknowledged a daunting November schedule and said his team couldn't get too high or too low based on their nightly performances. But even Stevens needs to remind himself of that at times, particularly after letting four winnable games get away over the past two weeks.

"One of the things I’m trying to keep in mind is that we’ve played a lot of good basketball against a lot of good teams and we talked about not overreacting in November a long time ago," said Stevens. "I find myself every morning overreacting, so it’s good that I get to talk to [reporters] and put some perspective on it. And try to figure out how we can best move forward and get better as a group."

Stevens doesn't like his team's 3-6 record, but knows the schedule to this point hasn't afforded many breaks. What's more, his team has done a lot of things well in those games, though late-game execution has sometimes failed the team.

That's part of the reason Stevens will resist tinkering too much with his lineups and rotations because what's hurt Boston is not necessarily fixable by shuffling a couple players at the start of games.

"I know [rotation tinkering has to] be certainly thought about; I don’t think there’s any question about that," said Stevens. "I don’t think it’s as easy as saying it’s one person in the starting lineup or one person off the bench, or whatever the case may be."

RONDO'S POSTGAME WORKOUT

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo missed eight of the 10 free throws he attempted on Monday night, including three straight in the final seconds that left fans at TD Garden booing in frustration. Stevens suggested that Rondo returned to the team's practice facility after Monday's game to work on his free throw woes.

"I think that he was back in here [Monday] night shooting," said Stevens. "He’s a guy that’s going to take that personally."

Rondo is shooting a team-worst 30 percent (6 of 20) from the free throw line this season and the next closest on the team is Marcus Thornton at 71.4 percent.

"I think coming back in and getting shots and being able to say that you believe the next one is going in, and thinking positively about it, making sure that you take your time, and focus on all the little things that you can control within the technique," Stevens said when asked about ways for Rondo to improve at the line. "Then shoot the ball with confidence -- that’s something that’s easier said than done when you’re on that line by yourself."

Rondo pinned the blame of recent losses on himself after Monday's game. Referencing his free throw struggles he said, "It’s tough. It’s frustrating. I work hard on it and I’ll continue to work and get better."

SMART GETS UP SHOTS

Celtics rookie Marcus Smart, rehabbing from a severe ankle sprain, got up shots before the team's practice Tuesday.

While Stevens said Smart's return timeline remains unchanged -- the team pegged him to miss 2-3 weeks, which would suggest a return next week -- it's an encouraging sign that Smart is able to do more than the stationary shooting he was performing in recent days.

The Celtics have certainly missed Smart's defensive presence. But Stevens refused to peg the team's defensive struggles solely on his absence.

"Marcus is a good defender, but he's one guy and we’ve got to be able to pick up the slack when he’s not around," said Stevens.

Rondo not discouraged by narrow losses

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
12:57
AM ET
video

BOSTON -- Boston Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said this season is starting to feel like deja vu, which itself felt a bit like deja vu.

The Celtics let another winnable game slip away in the final minute on Monday night, falling to the Phoenix Suns 118-114 at TD Garden. Four of Boston’s last five losses have been decided by five points or fewer, and the Celtics have struggled to execute in late-game situations.

Not that this is a particularly new issue. A year ago, Brad Stevens’ charges were a head-shaking 15-34 in what the league defines as “clutch” situations -- games within five points in the final five minutes.

Stevens acknowledged Monday that the team hasn’t shown the sort of improvement that was expected in that area.

“Well, we’re 2-4 in those games [this season], that’s the reality of it,” Stevens said. “And if you’re in even games, all things being equal, I think that you hope to be able to win them. As an extreme optimist, you hope to win them all, and as a realist you hope you get half of them. We’re not there. That’s frustrating. But there are a lot of factors involved and we just have to get better at what we can control.”

[+] EnlargeSullinger & Rondo
AP Photo/Charles KrupaJared Sullinger and Rajon Rondo agree that the Celtics are not lacking for confidence.
The Celtics have done an excellent job being consistently competitive. Last year’s 49 “clutch” games ranked them near the top of the league in that category. The way many in Boston’s locker room looked at it entering the new season, if the Celtics could win closer to half of those games, it would suggest as much as a 10-win improvement was within range.

Whether this year’s issues are a matter of continued growing pains or a daunting November schedule -- or maybe a little bit of both -- the Celtics are trying to balance the frustration of nail-biting losses with the hope that they are making the sort of progress that will show up on the win-loss register soon.

Rondo, perhaps showcasing his role as captain, pinned the team’s struggles on himself. Monday’s near-triple-double line of 14 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists was diminished by eight missed free throws and five turnovers, and Rondo accepted “full responsibility,” while noting he puts “a lot of these losses on myself.”

But when the focus turned to the Celtics as a whole, Rondo offered as much optimism as possible.

“I don’t think we’re down confidence-wise,” Rondo said. “We’re a prideful team and we believe in each other. We have a lot of games that we believe we could have won, but those games are in the past. And we’re going to continue to move forward and get better.”

But how does this team go about winning close games?

“It may just take one game,” Rondo said. “We have a tough couple road games coming up, so we’ll start with that.”

Rondo was adamant things will turn around for Boston.

“We’re not a team to make excuses,” he said. “We will deliver eventually, we have to continue to believe in each other. Stick together.”

The Celtics have major issues that need correcting, most notably a defense that has struggled to consistently generate stops. Boston ranks No. 27 in defensive rating, allowing a staggering 109.4 points per 100 possessions, which offsets all the strides the team has made on the offensive end this season (at least outside of crunch time).

When Boston’s defense started putting consecutive stops together in the fourth quarter on Monday, it helped the team rally ahead and Jeff Green’s steal/dunk/foul combo with 57 seconds to play had the Celtics out front 114-112.

Then the wheels came off. Goran Dragic slipped free of Rondo on a baseline screen and generated a too-easy layup to tie the game. After a timeout to draw up a play, Avery Bradley threw the ball away and Eric Bledsoe streaked in for an uncontested layup and a two-point lead. When Jeff Green’s 3-pointer found iron on the next trip, it essentially sealed the Celtics’ fate.

Maybe it’s their youth, but the Celtics did their best to remain upbeat in the aftermath. Jared Sullinger said, “Confidence is the least of our worries,” echoing Rondo’s pleas that Boston will find a way to start winning these sorts of games.

“We have a lot of young talented guys that listen very well and play hard,” Rondo said. “What more could you ask for?”

Well, more wins probably would take some of the pressure off the team.

The Celtics face the winless Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday before a trip to 10-1 Memphis on Friday. Then Boston is back home for games against Portland (7-3), Chicago (7-3) and San Antonio (6-4) to wrap up their daunting November.

“We will overcome this tough stretch,” Rondo said. “I’m a strong believer that we have a great group of guys in our room that play as hard as possible. We just have to continue to stay on the same page for 48 minutes.”

Notebook: A stellar Zeller

November, 18, 2014
Nov 18
12:30
AM ET
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics backup center Tyler Zeller entered Monday's game shooting 85 percent from the floor, a mark that seemed impossible to sustain if he received elevated minutes.

And yet that mark actually went up while Zeller logged a season-high 27 minutes of floor time.

Zeller scored 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting while adding seven rebounds, three assists, a steal and a block. He topped the silver-lining list -- one that would also include Jeff Green's quality play -- for a Celtics team that endured a 118-114 loss to the Phoenix Suns at TD Garden.

"[Zeller] played one hell of a game tonight," Celtics big man Jared Sullinger said. "He finished around the basket, he was setting screens, really helpful on the defensive end -- he played one hell of a game."

Zeller has seen his role increase lately as coach Brad Stevens leans harder on him as Boston's only true center.

“You have to be ready to play at any time and make the best out of whatever you get," Zeller said. "That’s what I’m trying to do. So whenever Coach puts me in, I just try to go do whatever I can."

Zeller's uptick in playing time Monday was the result of Kelly Olynyk's quiet night. Olynyk went scoreless in 13 minutes and finished minus-15 in plus/minus. Beset by defensive woes and foul trouble, Olynyk was replaced by Brandon Bass in the lineup to open the second half.

Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo seems to have built immediate trust in Zeller's ability to finish near the basket.

"He’s a great roller; he’s the best roller we have," Rondo said. "He has great hands and he has great touch with both hands around the rim. He’s getting more minutes and he’s earned them."

Zeller is shooting 86.2 percent for the season (25 of 29). In fact, his field goal percentage is currently higher than his free-throw percentage (78.9 percent, 15 of 19).

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Rondo missed a career-high eight free throws Monday night, including three straight with Boston down four points in the final seconds.

"It’s tough," Rondo said of his free throw woes. "It’s frustrating. I work hard on it and I’ll continue to work and get better."

Rondo is shooting a team-worst 30 percent (6 of 20) from the free throw line -- the next closest is Marcus Thornton at 71.4 percent.

Rondo is a career 61.6 percent shooter at the charity stripe, but has never shot better than 64.7 percent from his rookie season.

YOUNG OK WITH MAINE EXCURSIONS

Celtics rookie James Young, who scored 21 points while making his NBA Development League debut Sunday with the Maine Red Claws, was back with the parent club for Monday's game. He said he's open-minded to the idea of shuttling between the teams for game reps.

Young and fellow rookie Dwight Powell were assigned to Maine for Sunday's win in Fort Wayne. With the Red Claws idle until Friday, they were back with Boston Monday and active for the Phoenix game (though neither played).

Young, the No. 17 pick in June's draft, initially seemed lukewarm on the idea of playing in Maine when asked before the season, but now sees the value after his first D-League stint.

"I wouldn’t mind going back for a few more games," Young said. "Get better, get more run."

The 19-year-old has played only nine minutes in two appearances for Boston this season. Young logged 35 minutes of court time with Maine on Sunday. Powell, the 45th pick, put up 21 points and 17 rebounds in 37 minutes of action for Maine.

"Me and Dwight just went out there and had some fun," Young said.

Suns 118, Celtics 114: Another one slips away

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
10:00
PM ET
video

BOSTON -- Another night, another winnable game slips away from the Boston Celtics.

Boston overcame an early 14-point deficit and rallied ahead in the final minute behind an inspired Jeff Green, only to be felled by late-game execution as the visiting Phoenix Suns emerged with a 118-114 triumph at TD Garden.

For a moment, it looked like Green was going to will his team to victory. Playing with the aggression he's so often scrutinized for lacking, Green carried Boston's offense late in the game. That included a steal/dunk/foul combo with 57 seconds to go that had the Celtics out front 114-112.

After the Suns tied the game on a Goran Dragic layup, Avery Bradley threw the ball away and gave Eric Bledsoe an easy layup in transition. When Green's 3-pointer rattled out soon after, Boston's fate was all but sealed.

Boston's defensive indifference for large portions of the first three quarters didn't help the team's cause. Nor did its inability to slow Markieff Morris, who scored a career-high 30 points on 14-of-21 shooting to go along with 7 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals over 39:17.

Green finished with 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting with 3 steals, 2 blocks and 2 rebounds over 35:39. Jared Sullinger added 18 points and eight rebounds, while Rajon Rondo flirted with a triple-double while posting 14 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists, but missed eight free throws.

Green's other Dunk of the Night: In the Battle of the Dunking Greens, Jeff Green edged old friend Gerald Green by getting some serious air on a fastbreak dunk from the blocks. Honorable mention: Gerald Green's alley-oop.

Loose balls: Brandon Bass started the second half in place of an ineffective Kelly Olynyk. ... Olynyk finished with 0 points and 4 rebounds over 13 minutes. He was minus-13 with four fouls and struggled defensively. ... Tyler Zeller made the most of an increased role, turning in 19 points on 8-of-9 shooting with seven rebounds over 28 minutes.

What it means: The Celtics fall to 3-6 on the season and will lament letting another winnable game get away. Boston hits the road for a brief two-game road trip with stops in Philadelphia and Memphis.

Power Rankings: C's steady at No. 22

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
5:00
PM ET
The Boston Celtics stood firm at No. 22 in this week's ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings. From curator Marc Stein:
Perhaps it's a little easier for Celts fans to take knowing LeBron had to score a season-high 41 to spark an epic Cavs comeback or perhaps not. Until Friday night's collapse, Boston hadn't lost a game at home after entering the fourth quarter with a lead of 17 or more since March 1988 against Philly.

(Read full Power Rankings)

W2W4: C's vs. Suns (Game 9 of 82)

November, 17, 2014
Nov 17
9:00
AM ET
The Boston Celtics (3-5, 2-3 home) host the Phoenix Suns (5-5, 1-2 away) on Monday night at TD Garden (CSN, 7:30 p.m.) Here's what to watch for:

On guard: Celtics coach Brad Stevens singled out Phoenix's deep backcourt, which accounts for four of the team's top five scorers in Isaiah Thomas (16.7 ppg), Goran Dragic (15), Gerald Green (14.6), and Eric Bledsoe (13.3). "They’ve got a lot of different scoring guards, from a standpoint of, they’ve got three or four guys that can really get it going on their own off high screens," said Stevens. "And it’s really daunting. Because you look at, you’ve got Thomas off the bench, and start Bledsoe and Dragic. Those three guys could be the starting point guard at a lot of different places, they are all very good players. Then you’ve got Green, who, I heard a stat when I was watching one of the games, I don’t know if it’s true, but he scored 30 points in under 30 minutes four times last year. Which is the first since [Michael] Jordan. You just have a lot of ability to put the ball in the basket, and they get up and down the court."

Transition D key in track meet: Both Boston and Phoenix play at an elevated paces -- the Celtics are 4th overall, Suns are 6th -- so you'll hear an awful lot about transition defense (particularly after the Celtics struggled in that area on Friday against the Cavaliers). "I thought our transition defense was poor [on Friday]," said Stevens. Later he added: "We talked a great deal about transition defense [during Sunday's practice]. Those are choices you have to make to be great." The Celtics rank 22nd in transition defense allowing 1.154 points per play, according to Synergy Sports defensive data.

Phoenix in focus: The Suns rank in the middle of the pack of the league in offensive rating (103.8 points per 100 possessions, 15th overall) and are mediocre defensively (104.5, 20th). The Suns do limit their turnovers (10th in turnover percentage) and take advantage of fastbreak opportunities (2nd in fastbreak points).

What else? The Celtics are up to No. 6 in offensive rating (107.9), but are 27th in defensive rating (109.7). ... Said Rajon Rondo of Phoenix: "One similarity is that they try to score in the first 6 seconds, other than that, we have more of a balanced attack. They are a pretty guard-oriented team. No disrespect to their bigs, but those three guys -- that three-headed snake -- with Bledsoe, Dragic, and Thomas -- and Gerald Green has been playing well, too -- but they are a backcourt team."

(Read full game preview)

Young, Powell score 21 apiece for Maine

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
9:30
PM ET
 

Boston Celtics rookies James Young and Dwight Powell scored 21 points apiece while making their NBA Development League regular-season debuts as the Maine Red Claws defeated the host Fort Wayne Mad Ants 81-80 on Sunday night at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum.

Young, the No. 17 pick in June's draft, finished 7-of-19 shooting overall and was 3-of-11 beyond the arc over 35 minutes. Powell, the 45th pick, grabbed a game-high 17 rebounds over 37 minutes.

With Maine idle now until Friday's home-opener, the Celtics are expected to recall both Young and Powell in time to be with the team for Monday's visit from the Phoenix Suns. The assignment was a chance for both players to get some much-needed game action.

"Just the opportunity to play, the opportunity to get minutes," Celtics coach Brad Stevens said Sunday afternoon when asked about the assignments. "Our systems are almost identical [between Maine and Boston]. So when Dwight went up [to Maine] last week for the intrasquad scrimmage, he had no problem assimilating, from a standpoint of the system. We thought it would be better for them both to get live 30-35 minutes of action than it would be to go through an hour-and-10-minute practice."

One thing that should be stressed is that the assignments of Young and Powell are in no way a reflection of the team's lack of confidence in the duo. Players with less than three years of NBA experience can be assigned to the D-League an unlimited amount of times per season. With increased synergy between the Celtics and Red Claws this year, Stevens has said the team will attempt to maximize the benefits of the D-League by getting younger players increased reps that might not always be available with the parent club.

The D-League is an opportunity for players like Young and Powell to showcase the development being made while working at the NBA level. Not only could it increase the player's own confidence, but it could buoy the confidence of the pro coaching staff in them, particularly important should playing time open at the NBA level.

Chris Babb, who spent time with the Celtics last season before being cut in late September due to a bloated roster, added 15 points for Maine in Sunday's win.

Stevens implores C's to 'do your job'

November, 16, 2014
Nov 16
5:00
PM ET
WALTHAM, Mass. -- One philosophy that we've repeatedly heard from Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens is the simple notion of "do your job," a suggestion that, if a player focuses solely on the task at hand on a play-by-play level and ignores the noise around him, the desired result is more likely to be achieved on a more consistent basis.

The Celtics, back on the court Sunday for the first time since allowing the Cleveland Cavaliers to rally from a 19-point deficit to win on Friday night at TD Garden, blocked off a portion of their afternoon practice to focus on that "do your job" mentality.

[+] EnlargeBrad Stevens
AP Photo/Charles KrupaBrad Stevens wants his players to get off the emotional roller coaster.
"One of the things I really tried to emphasize today was, regardless of circumstance, we all have a job to do," Stevens said. "And the hardest thing is to focus on that job without emotion. Things are going really well, you've got to focus on the task without emotion. If things are going really poorly and it feels like the weight of the world is falling on your shoulders, focus on what your job is and do it well. That’s easier said than done, but that’s our emphasis as we move forward. It should be something that we’re doing anyway."

Stevens sounds positively Belichick-ian with his comments. But he has good reason to echo New England’s football coach with his sentiments, which borrow in part from The Butler Way.

Like many young teams, the Celtics seem to get caught on the emotional roller coaster. When things are going well, the team finds energy in positive production and has used it to string together some of its best basketball of the season. Take Friday's game as an example as Boston erupted for 42 third-quarter points and carried a 17-point lead -- and all the momentum -- into the final frame.

But Boston came unglued when Cleveland's Kyrie Irving hit a series of 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter. Rather than move past the run and remain focused on the current possession, the Celtics seemed to become overwhelmed by what had happened as their lead dwindled. That contributed greatly to allowing the Cavaliers to rally all the way back.

It's human nature to ride those swings, but Stevens knows that the best teams in the league don't allow past performance to indicate future success.

Multiple times already this season the Celtics have allowed teams to make runs, particularly in the fourth quarter, and haven't always been able to steady themselves in the face of that adversity. Stevens implored his players to focus on their responsibilities on every individual possession and believes it will lead to more consistent results.

Boston's inability to do that last week might have cost the Celtics a couple of wins.

A few more notes from Sunday's practice:

Stretching Smart: Rookie guard Marcus Smart, who is rehabbing from a severe ankle sprain, joined the team on the court for some light post-practice stretching. Smart was expected to miss three weeks after stepping on an opponent's foot earlier this month. "All that he’s doing is shooting stationary," Stevens said. "There is increased activity, as far as on the [Alter-G, non-weight-bearing] treadmill, so he’s not doing a whole lot. He is up on his feet and walking, the boot is off and all that stuff."

VitorWatch: No progress: The rehab of Vitor Faverani remains stalled. Asked about any progress from the second-year center, Stevens offered, "No increased activity." What's next for Faverani? "Zero idea. I don’t know. I talked to him [Sunday]. They have not given him any specific timeline." Faverani is rehabbing from a second knee surgery aimed at alleviating lingering pain and swelling following the first operation in March.

Passing Pierce: Rajon Rondo leapfrogged Paul Pierce Friday and is now fourth on the Celtics' all-time assist list. What does the honor mean to him? "It’s an honor to pass up a name like Paul Pierce, a guy who’s been in this organization for 15-plus years," Rondo said. "He’s done so many things, along with scoring the ball -- assists, steals, turnovers. Whatever the case may be, you pass up a guy like Paul Pierce, or come close to a guy like Larry Bird, who I think is next, that's definitely an honor. It’s been an honor to be in this organization for so long, nine years this year, so I'm just very fortunate and happy to be a Celtic." The 28-year-old Rondo said his accomplishments don't fully register at the moment. "It’ll probably hit me 15-20 years from now. Right now, we're just trying to get a win. That’s what it’s about."

Jared Sullinger diary: Celtics' progress, facing LeBron & Love, wearing No. 7

November, 15, 2014
Nov 15
10:30
PM ET
SullingerBoston Celtics forward Jared Sullinger is keeping a Celtics diary this season. In his second entry, he discusses what he's learned about this team so far this season, what the C's need to work on, what he expected from LeBron James when the Cavs came to town, and how he came to wear No. 7. (As told to Louise K. Cornetta)

We are happy Rajon Rondo is able to be back playing with us because playing with him is a lot of fun. He's a competitor first and foremost. It seems to me like he's always on a roll. He's always looking to share the ball. He's one of the few pass-first point guards in this league. He's been playing great.

We get Rondo back but lose Marcus Smart, who rolled his ankle in our game against the Raptors. I was on the court when it happened. I think I got the rebound and passed it out or something. I do remember I was on the far end of the court. All of a sudden I saw him take two steps and fall. We ran over there to try to see what happened. It looked like he was grabbing his left leg, but really he was grabbing at his ankle. We were all nervous but happy when we saw him give the thumbs-up sign. It was a tough situation.

I've been down that road when I got hurt my rookie season and had to miss games. I've let him know that this is an 82-game season. If you feel only 60 percent, even 70 or 80 percent, then don't go. It's a long season and you don't know how your ankle is going to react after one game. If it's 100 percent, then play. Hopefully everything works out just fine.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smart, Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger
Mike Lawrie/Getty ImagesJared Sullinger (right) is glad to have Rajon Rondo (center) back in action, but now Marcus Smart (left) is sidelined.
I think the team has been playing well to start the season. We just have to play a whole 48-minute game. In the short stint we've had so far this season, what I've learned is we have some fighters. We've had some games where we've come out sluggish, but we kept fighting. We're going to keep playing and will play hard. This team is a bunch of competitors.

It's very important for everyone to continue to buy into Coach [Brad] Stevens' system. It's slowly increasing as we get more aggressive. We all love the aggressive Coach Stevens. What he wants us to most work on is to be a great defensive team. He wants to see our defense turn into offense. Our offense has been good to start the season and I think that's because of Coach Stevens' coaching style. It's more about his spacing of having us play in a wider space. The confidence he has in everybody is really strong. How I fit into his coaching style is I'm a big man who can shoot. I can rebound, push the tempo, and play hard all at once.

We played the Cavs on Friday and that meant LeBron [James] came to town. Preparing for him is also about preparing for the circus that comes with him. It's not only about playing him, but also about the company that he brings. We know there will be extra cameras and extra media. It's got to be a little overwhelming for the young guys. But at the same time, you just have to hone into why we're here and why we're doing this.

I matched up against Kevin Love in that game. I prepped for that by watching a lot of film. You have to understand that when he's one of their primary options, you can't take away everything, but you try to take away some things. What I have to do is take away some of the things that he likes to go to, but I'm not going to be able to take away everything. I knew I was not going to be able to hold him scoreless.

Since we're talking about preparing for a game, you might wonder if I have some kind of pregame routine. I really don't. I just kind of go with the flow. I think that is one thing that is different about me that some veteran players would say. I don't do the same thing over and over again. I'm not very superstitious. The only thing I'm superstitious about is which route I take to the gym. If I'm driving or my dad or cousin is driving me, we take the same route.

[+] EnlargeJared Sullinger
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty ImagesSullinger put up 19 points and 10 rebounds in Boston's 122-121 loss to Cleveland on Friday.
What else can I tell you about me? Well, I wear the No. 7 for my mom because her birthday is in July, the seventh month. Previously I had worn 34 in high school, but I couldn't here because that was Paul Pierce's number. The reason I wore that number in high school was because my brother Julian, who is a Division II coach at Tiffin University right now, used to wear it. Zero was taken by Avery Bradley. I wore 0 in college and that was because my oldest brother, James, wore 0 in college at The Ohio State University. So I've never really had to pick a number until now. Since I never had a number that was based off my mom, I decided to pick 7.

Speaking of family, a holiday I always enjoyed with my family has been Thanksgiving. For me, it's the No. 1 holiday on the holiday scale. It's that happy spirit that comes out of people. But this will be the first Thanksgiving without my grandmother. It will be a special one because she always brought such a loving spirit to our Thanksgivings. I just know she'll still be with us on Thanksgiving, even though she can no longer actually be there. I'm sure I'll have family visit, but I'll be OK if my dad stays home in Ohio. He's been with me the past two weeks. I'm tired of seeing him. So he can stay where he's at. Just kidding, Dad!

Holidays are different when you have games around those dates because you can't always spend Thanksgiving and Christmas with your whole family. I don't get to see all my nieces, nephews, brothers and friends. At the same time, I understand it's a part of this profession. It took a lot of hard work and dedication to get here. I understand that a small sacrifice is missing some holidays with the family. Hopefully we can mix it up and they can come to Boston.

Being in Boston has made me a fan of the other teams in town. You get to see them a lot. I watch hockey a little bit now with the Bruins. The Red Sox were a lot of fun to watch, especially in 2013. This town made me become a baseball fan. I actually watch baseball now when I never did before.

With the Patriots, I have a good friend on the team in Jonas Gray. I've known him for quite some time now. He's the starting running back on the Patriots. We were already close before we both started playing for teams here. With us both living in the same city now, we're even closer.

I do love football and am really into Fantasy Football. My fantasy football name is Team Sully. I actually have two teams. One is not too good. I'm 4-6. The other, though, I am 8-2. The one I am doing well in I'm in with my aunt and cousin and a couple of other friends at home. My quarterback on that team is Tony Romo. My running backs are Lamar Miller, Alfred Morris and DeMarco Murray. For wide receivers I have Michael Crabtree and Anquan Boldin. I have a pretty good team.

Last thing I have is I got to be involved with our Sr. Celtics program, which encourages people to exercise and be active no matter what their age. I just want to help in bettering the health of the community I live in. I wanted to let them know that there are things you can do at home, that you don't always have to go to the gym. I like being involved in community events like this because with the neighborhood I grew up in, we didn't get to see things like this. I thought the day I spent with some Sr. Celtics was really, really beautiful.



SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
19.0 2.0 1.1 35.5
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.8
AssistsR. Rondo 11.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.8
BlocksJ. Green 0.8