The Boston Celtics looked anything but exceptional in the first half of Friday night’s Game 3 against the Atlanta Hawks, but Rajon Rondo was able to find his rhythm in the second half as the hosting Celtics needed overtime to pick up a win in their first game at home in the Garden this postseason. It wasn’t pretty, for the most part, but Boston took the lead in Game 3 of the seven-game series with a 90-84 overtime victory in Rondo’s first game back from suspension.
Rondo finished the game with 17 points, 12 assists and 14 rebounds in his return after sitting Game 2 due to contact with an official in the waning minutes of the series’ opening game. The point guard’s players around him often looked overly-average for a game in the NBA Playoffs — and his six turnovers were a bit troubling — but Boston was able to win the battle thanks to the play of their heady point guard. It was a good for Boston considering they nearly gave it away after having an 11-point cushion late in the fourth quarter.
Rondo’s triple-double nicely complemented the rest of the “Big Four” as Ray Allen returned from injury off the bench to score 13 points and hit a dagger free-throw in overtime while Paul Pierce added 21 points (14-of-14 from the charity stripe). Kevin Garnett was excellent on the defensive end, almost overshadowing the 20 points and 15 rebounds he was able to contribute to the box score. The rest of Boston’s roster didn’t add a lot — Avery Bradley missed time in the second half with a shoulder injury — but it was enough to allow them to take the series lead at home.
The Hawks played very well in the first half, but the second half and overtime were a whole ‘nother story. Josh Smith was forced to the bench with a leg injury he suffered in Game 2 and, while it looked like Josh Smith and Tracy McGrady were going to pick up the slack following their first half performances, it apparently wasn’t meant to be. Johnson forced overtime with five points of his own late in the fourth quarter, but made just 11 of his 28 attempts from the field on his way to 29 points. McGrady was much more effective off the bench as he apparently entered a time machine for the first half, but an ankle injury seemed to take its toll on him as he finished with just two points in the second half.
While the turning point was probably Rondo picking up his play in the second half, it could also be due to the Hawks lack of any sort of presence from the forward positions. Jason Collins was ineffective after scoring his only four points in the first two minutes of the game and Erick Dampier — who got surprising playing time due to Collins’ foul trouble — certainly looked his age on both ends of the floor despite a solid six points and six rebounds.
This series is getting uglier by the game (only seven players scored in double figures on Friday night, despite the extra five minutes of overtime), but it seems that Boston has settled into being perfectly happy with picking up ugly wins and hopefully advancing. It seems that plan may work in this series, especially if injuries continue to be a problem, but that might not be the case as the NBA Playoffs roll on.
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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.
However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.
“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”
This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.
Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.
Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s
He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.
The San Antonio coach has seen everything.
Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.
“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”
“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”
The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.
Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.
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