Celtics

Celtics credit maturity, leadership in Rondo

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Celtics credit maturity, leadership in Rondo

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

HARTFORD -- On one side of the locker room, Shaquille O'Neal repeatedly tossed a Celtics strength-and-conditioning coach in the air. On another side, teammates joked loudly with one another.

Rajon Rondo quietly sat in the middle of it all, hands rested in his lap and eyes glued to game film. Tip-off was less than two hours away and it was his job to reign in all these personalities on the court.

Rondo, however, does not find his task as difficult as it may seem.

"This has been the easiest year, really, so far," he told CSNNE.com. "I know we haven't played a game yet or been through adversity, but right now I think we have a good group of guys."

Rondo attributes this to a "trickle-down effect" of unselfishness that he believes starts with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. His teammates, on the other hand, give credit to Rondo himself.

Three years ago Rondo was assigned the duty of leading a newly assembled Celtics team as the starting point guard. It was only his second season in the NBA, and at 21 years old he was one of the youngest players on a veteran squad.

There were bumps along the way as Rondo tried to establish his role on the team. He was the floor general, yet at the same time the Celtics already had so many experienced leaders. Naturally, there was a learning curve.

But after being at the helm for an NBA Championship and a trip to the NBA Finals two years later, his teammates notice a difference in their point guard. Rondo, now 24, has grown up.

"A lot has to do with maturity," Pierce explained to CSNNE.com. "He's been around the block a few times now. He understands the coaching staff, he understands the players around him, whereas before he probably bumped heads with a few people or reacted a certain way. But now he understands who he is, he understands the system, he understands everything around him and what's needed for him."

Allen echoed Pierce's sentiments.

"He's more settled in," he said. "I've noticed a maturity in him this year that I haven't seen. It's things that he says during games. During the preseason, he's focused on his help defense, he's zoned in more, and he knows that a lot of what's going on starts with him. It's been great encouragement for me to see him because a lot of things that I would say, he's saying them now. So I believe that it's mostly brought on through him because those are things that he wants. He's setting that tone."

As Rondo enters his fifth season with the Celtics, he has a longer tenure with the team than all but two players, Pierce and Kendrick Perkins. He has seen teammates come and go, all the while learning how to incorporate each one of them into the system.

This season he has to do the same with a handful of newcomers -- some who have already made their mark, like Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal, and others who are just getting acclimated to the pros, like Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody. Then there are players like Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, who didn't play a complete season with the Celtics last year due to injuries and trades.

Once they hit the court, Rondo has to corral everyone together.

"It's almost just like having a whole bunch of toys that you can play with," said Allen. "You bring friends over and say, 'That's the fire truck -- the ladder extends this high. This over here is my Batman toy -- he has a belt on.' When you understand what you're doing and what you're working with, it's like you have an opportunity to show everybody.

"He's gotten me the ball where I need the ball. He makes sure to do that on Kevin's plays and Paul's where he needs to be, so hes definitely got himself in a great position and hes shown great signs of leadership."

Rondo may not be the loudest person in a locker room filled with boisterous personalities, but there is no question whose voice is heard during the games. The jokesters, the story-tellers, the singers, and the dancers all turn to him.

"He's like the driver," said Pierce. "He's the point guard. He's already earned the respect of the veterans. He's taking it all in stride. It's not Rondo saying, 'Hey, you need to do this or that.' But you see him a little more vocal each and every year because it goes with his confidence."

Doc Rivers has been pleased with the maturity of Rondo's leadership, which includes a team-first attitude shared by everyone on the squad.

"It's been good," said Rivers. "It's preseason, so his leadership will come later. All of them will. But I think every guy on our team has made an amazing effort thus far to make sure that our team is together. So we've just got to keep going."

Rondo did not prepare for his role any differently this season than in past years. He didn't change his approach with certain players or adjust his demeanor. Instead, he says being a leader comes naturally to him.

And being a successful leader on the Celtics means involving the entire team.

"It's just a part of how we play Celtic basketball, really," Rondo said. "No one person can win the game for us and we know that. Night in, night out, it's going to be different guys being leading scorers. If we continue to have that mentality and all we care about is winning, it's very easy for me."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comJCameratoNBA.

Kyrie goes back to the mask tonight

Kyrie goes back to the mask tonight

The mask will be back tonight in Atlanta for Kyrie Irving.

The Celtics guard told reporters at the team's shootaround Saturday in preparation for Saturday night's game against the Hawks - where Boston will try and win its 15th in a row - that he'll grudgingly go back to wearing the clear plastic facemask he had been using to protect a facial fracture he suffered last week. 

Irving wore the mask against Brooklyn for a full game earlier in the week then ditched it in the second half of the victory over the Golden State Warriors on Thursday. He shot just 4-for-16 from the field (1-for-5 on 3's) against the Warriors and has made no secret of his disdain for wearing it.  

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To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

BOSTON – If you were to deconstruct the building blocks of the Celtics' 14-game winning streak, you would find the foundation lies in what they’re able to accomplish defensively.
 
And to the Celtics’ credit, their defense has been challenged in a multitude of ways already.

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They have managed to beat teams with great one-on-one talent (Golden State), those that rely heavily on athleticism and length (Milwaukee) as well as those that put a premium on sharing the ball (Philadelphia), which will be among the ways Atlanta could potentially challenge the Celtics tonight.
 
While the Hawks (3-12) have had their struggles this season, it hasn’t necessarily been because of selfish play offensively.
 
Atlanta averages 327.9 passes per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
 
The problem hasn’t been getting players the ball; it’s what happens – or doesn’t happen – when they get it.
 
Despite being a top three passing team, the Hawks average 22.9 assists, 10th in the NBA. And they're connecting on 45.5 percent of their shots from the field, 14th in the league.
 
For Boston to continue its winning ways, it’ll again be because their defense will have taken away things the Hawks love to do.
 
When it comes to scoring, Atlanta has been one of the NBA’s best at generating offense off screens.
 
Despite having an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (104.2) this season, Atlanta has been among the league leaders when it comes to scoring off screens.
 
In fact, only two NBA teams (Golden State and Cleveland) have generated more points off screens this season than Atlanta (141).
 
That still shouldn’t be a major issue for the Celtics defense, which allows a league-low 94.1 points per game and has shown the ability to find success against any and every kind of offense.
 
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between two teams at opposite ends of the success spectrum this season.
 

KYRIE IN THE CLUTCH
It’s one thing to score a bunch of points, but it takes a special player to do it in the latter stages of play, especially against an elite team that knows you’re looking to get points any way possible. We saw Kyrie Irving shrug off a horrible shooting night (4-for-16) in the 92-88 win over Golden State that included him draining all seven of his fourth-quarter free throws. But Irving coming through when the game counts shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. According to NBA.com/stats, Irving is averaging a league-best 5.8 points in “clutch” situations (last five minutes of a game with the margin being five points or less), ahead of notable standouts Damian Lillard (5.0) of Portland who is second and ex-teammate LeBron James (4.6) who ranks behind Irving, Lillard and Miami’s Dion Waiters (4.9).
 

HIGHS, LOWS FOR HORFORD
Although he spent nine seasons in Atlanta, it has been anything but a sweet homecoming for Al Horford statistically speaking. In the four games he has played against his former team, Horford has averaged 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, which are his lowest career scoring and rebounding averages against any team. However, the 5.8 assists he averages against the Hawks represents his highest career average in that category against any team.
 

JAYLEN BROWN
His athleticism has always made Jaylen Brown a standout and the way he has shot the ball this season in clutch situations has stood out as well. But what hasn’t been talked much about is his defense against 3-point shooters. NBA.com/stats lists Brown with 67 contested 3’s this season. That's tops in the NBA. And his 4.2 contested 3’s per game rank sixth in the league.
 

DENNIS SCHRODER
When you see the numbers, it’s clear that much of what the Atlanta Hawks do these days is centered around Dennis Schroder. But upon deeper inspection, it’s apparent that Atlanta is literally driven by the play of the 6-foot-1 point guard. Known for his attacking style of basketball, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s one of the league’s best at getting to the rim. According to NBA.com/stats, Schroder leads the NBA with 19.1 drives per game. The closest Celtic in that category is Irving who averages 9.7 drives per game which ranks 38th in the league.
 

TAUREAN PRINCE
With Schroder looking to run out in transition as much as possible, Taurean Prince has been more than willing to help fill lanes and provide an option for Schroder to pass to on the break. That has led to lots of spot-up shot opportunities for Prince this season. He comes into tonight’s game averaging 5.4 spot-up possessions per game, which ranks third in the NBA behind Detroit’s Tobias Harris (6.3) and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (6.2).