Rondo says three Celtics keys to a title: defend, rebound, stop LeBron

22 Comments

Rajon Rondo is two thirds right about this.

Rondo is on his Red Bull sponsored and fueled stop in Hong Kong and spoke with the South China Morning Post for an interesting interview. He discusses having to learn and adjust as a rookie who went from a Kentucky star to third string on a losing NBA team. He talked about growing as a player and maturing as a person. He talked about wanting to be a quarterback.

And he talked about what it was going to take for the Celtics to win another title with this group next season.

“We’ve not been up to par in terms of winning the championship but we’ve been in every round in every fight,” says Rondo. “There are a few things we have to do – obviously stopping LeBron. But that’s easier said than done. We’ve got to do a better job of team rebounding, keeping guys out of the paint. That’s not just when playing Miami but overall. We got to get better rebounding and defensively.”

Three things to do for the Celtics to win a title. Let’s look at them.

First, stopping — or at least slowing and containing — LeBron James is the task for 29 teams that want to knock off the Heat as champions. As Rondo said, no easy task, but it is hurdle to clear in the NBA now whether you are in Boston, Los Angeles, Oklahoma City or anywhere else. So, we’ll give Rondo a checkmark there for being right.

Second, better defense — no, that’s not the problem. The Celtics had the second best defense in the defense in the league last year giving up 95.5 points per 100 possessions, — 6.2 points per 100 fewer than the league average. They held teams to the second lowest shooting percentage against and they forced a lot of turnovers. Their defensive rating was actually better than the year they won the NBA title

The problem for the Celtics was their pedestrian offensive numbers that were 24th in the NBA at 89.9 points per 100 possessions. If Boston wants to win more, if it wants a title, it needs to score more. That should come with the addition of Jason Terry off the bench and bringing back a healthy Jeff Green. There should be more scoring off the bench. But the end of the floor the Celtics need to improve is when they have the ball.

Third, rebounding — Rondo’s right there. Boston grabbed 19.7 percent of their missed sots last season, the worst offensive rebounding percentage in the league. Offensive rebounds are often easy putback points, at the least they are a second chance. On the other end, Celtics opponents got the offensive board on 27.6 percent of their misses (above the league average).

Boston is going small this year and it is the smart way for them to win, it should help the offense and with Kevin Garnett out there the defense shouldn’t falter. But they have to crash the boards like beasts this season. For Boston, Pat Riley’s “rebounds = rings” mantra is accurate.

Or at least it’s one of the steps they need.

Irving’s 47 lead Celtics past Mavericks to maintain streak

Leave a comment

DALLAS (AP) — Kyrie Irving scored 10 of his season-high 47 points in overtime as the Boston Celtics rallied once again from a double-digit deficit to beat the Dallas Mavericks 110-102 on Monday night and extend their winning streak to 16 games.

The Mavericks led by as many as 13 points in the fourth quarter, but as they have several times during their winning streak, the Celtics stormed back.

The winning streak ties the fourth-longest in Celtics history.

Boston tied the game at 96 when Irving stole the ball from Dirk Nowitzki and fed Jayson Tatum for an alley-oop lay-up that hung on the rim for a full second before dropping through.

Irving scored his team’s first six points of overtime. Then after Jaylen Brown gave Boston a 104-102 lead with a jumper with 1:39 to play, Irving went to work on Yogi Ferrell, backing him down and drawing contact on a lay-up with 48.5 seconds to play. Though Irving missed the free throw to keep the score 106-102, Dallas never got closer.

Harrison Barnes scored 31 points and Wesley Matthews had 18 for Dallas, which came back from an early double-digit deficit as the Celtics went cold for much of the second and third quarters.

Irving and Barnes had chances in the final 30 seconds but both missed shots that would have given their teams the lead.

The Mavericks fell behind by as many as 15 points in the first half, outscoring the Celtics 55-35 over the second and third quarters.

Dallas took its biggest lead of the game when Yogi Ferrell fed a cutting Dwight Powell for a lay-up to make it 87-74 with 7:47 to play before the Celtics rallied.

Boston shot just 10-for-34 over the two middle quarters after building the early lead.

 

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

1 Comment

DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

Associated Press
1 Comment

Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.