Boston wins third straight because of their… offense? Yup.

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The Boston Celtics won their fourth straight game without Rajon Rondo — this one against a title contender from the West (well, contender unless you ask Charles Barkley) — because of their high-powered offense.

You read that right. The Celtics without Rondo and Jared Sullinger abused the fifth-best defense in the NBA this season on their way to a 106-104 win Sunday at home.

It’s not the kind of game that answers the Celtics long-term questions, but it is wins like this that makes sure they make the playoffs this season.

Boston really won this game in the second quarter, when they outscored the Clippers 26-10 to open a 19-point halftime lead. (A lead they almost squandered, but that’s another topic.) It was the Celtics bench that did it — it accounted for 19 of the Celtics points that quarter, led by Jason Terry with 6 (he finished the game with 13 and was a game high +17). The Clippers shot 22.2 percent for the quarter and had 8 turnovers in the 12 minutes, the second game in a row where their vaunted bench decided to take the second quarter off from scoring.

Boston’s bench outscored the Clippers 59-22, if you’re looking for one stat that describes what happened.

This is the second game of the Clippers Grammy road trip where their defense decided to take a game off, and once again it cost them. Boston scored 111.7 points per 100 possessions in this game, which is 11 points per 100 better than its season average. Boston was finding ways to score and the more athletic and longer Clipper front line wasn’t able to stop them.

Yet the Clippers chipped away and chipped away at the lead in the second half and they got it all the way down to a two-point game inside of a minute left. The Clippers shot 58.5 points in the second half and they were led by Eric Bledsoe who had 17 after halftime.

But with it tight, Paul Pierce hit a step-back three with less than three seconds left that was the dagger, on his way to finishing with 22 points. It was vintage Pierce right over a Matt Barnes contest.

Be careful reading too much into this game — both teams were without their star starting point guards. As good as Bledsoe has been, Chris Paul remains the best point guard in the game and Clippers miss what he can do. Boston, without Rondo, is not the same team on either end of the court.

But Boston is winning, which is what gritty veteran teams do. Boston is not going to roll over because of its injuries. And while they may not be a contender they are not going to be an easy playoff out for anyone.

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.