Celtics

Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100

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Celtics fall to Pacers as Rondo returns, 107-100

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

INDIANAPOLIS There were plenty of plays that could sum up the kind of night it was for the Boston Celtics.

But none drive the point home more than the uncontested lay-up by Darren Collison with less than a minute to play that essentially sealed the 107-100 victory for the Indiana Pacers

The Celtics were collectively a step slow in rotating on that play, and many others all game.

"We couldn't get a stop all game," said Paul Pierce. "In the most important part of the game, the fourth quarter, we couldn't get a stop right there."

If it were a one-game thing, fine.

Chalk it up to being one of those nights.

But the problems Boston has had, especially defensively, is raising the kind of concerns that no team should be having this late in the season if it's serious about winning a championship.

"It's a weird time to be talking about this," Pierce said. "It's nine games to go in the season. This is the type of stuff you talk about at the beginning of the year. We're about to go into the playoffs. We shouldn't be talking about this stuff."

The mounting losses to teams that are either out of the playoff picture or barely hanging on has created a mixture of disappointing and frustration that seems to be permeating throughout the locker room.

"I'm frustrated when we lose," Pierce acknowledged. "I'm frustrated with the inconsistency we're playing with. It's the little things that frustrate me, things that I know this team can do because we did it all year long. And then we wait until the last 10 games to start regressing."

And that regression is coming at a time when the Celtics (51-22) are in no position to give games away.

Boston's loss, combined with Chicago's loss to Philadelphia keeps the C's two games behind the Bulls for the best record in the East.

However, the Celtics are now tied with Miami for the second-best record in the East. If the two were to finish with the same record, the C's would get the higher seed because they've already won the head-to-head matchup by beating the Heat in each of their first three matchups this season.

But the Celtics have more pressing matters than to worry about their playoff seeding.

First they must make it through the regular season with some semblance of improved play.

And it's no secret that it's the Celtics defense, more than anything else, that has to get better soon.

Despite the changes made in recent weeks to the roster, the Celtics stick to their belief that the foundation for their success is still built upon their play defensively.

"I know we're dealing with different issues here, but we are a defensive team," said Kevin Garnett. "We have to get back to that; start getting back into a rhythm whatever that may be."

Boston also needs to get Rajon Rondo to start playing like the Rajon Rondo we saw at the start of the season who was a dark horse MVP candidate.

After missing Sunday's game at Minnesota because of right pinkie finger injury, Rondo convinced coach Doc Rivers and the medical staff that he was fit to return against the Pacers.

Rondo erupted for 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting to go with 8 assists and 4 rebounds.

"That's how he has to play every night," Rivers said. "He attacked. His speed was a factor. We haven't seen that in a while, and that's terrific."

Not so terrific of late has been the Celtics defense, especially when it comes to defending the lane.

Although Boston had as many points (42) in the paint as the Pacers, there was no mistaking the dominating impact that Indiana 7-footer Roy Hibbert had on the Celtics and the game as a whole.

He finished with a game-high 26 points, benefiting heavily from the few Celtics big man available, getting into foul trouble.

Both Garnett and Nenad Krstic were in foul trouble most of the night, which limited their impact on the game and, even more important, the amount of time Rivers could use them.

Foul trouble. Injuries. New guys. Old guys. New roles.

All have been factors of late in the Celtics' late-season swoon.

But in terms of their concern level, the Celtics' struggles defensively has been arguably the most difficult challenge for this team to stomach - and as of late, get past.

"It's frustrating, for lack of a better word," Garnett said of the team's defensive problems. "We put ourselves here. Just like we put ourselves here, we'll take ourselves out of it."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

Larkin provides fourth-quarter spark, Celtics beat Sixers, 102-92

PHILADELPHIA – Despite playing its second straight game without a key rotation player, the Boston Celtics did just enough to get their first win of the season, 102-92, over Philadelphia.

Boston (1-2) was led by Kyrie Irving’s game-high 21 points, but it was Shane Larkin's floor game down the stretch that truly catapulted Boston to its first win of the season.

Larkin, who was seeing action in large part because Marcus Smart was out with a left ankle injury, provided a huge spark in the fourth before finishing with 10 points and four assists.

He drained a 3-pointer that tied the game at 75-all, which was part of an 18-9 Celtics run.

The Sixers (0-2) were led by J.J. Redick and Jerryd Bayless who had 19 and 18 points, respectively. Joel Embiid got off to a slow start, but finished with a double-double of 11 points and 13 rebounds.

Boston played with a lead for most of the first half, but Philadelphia took over with a 7-0 run to end the second quarter and had the Celtics playing catch-up for all of the third and some of the fourth quarter.

Boston was once again short-handed, with Marcus Smart out with a left ankle injury. He replaced Gordon Hayward, whose left ankle injury in the first quarter of Boston’s loss to Cleveland on Tuesday, is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But with players out, that opens up opportunities for others to step up.

Larkin, who walked away from a contract overseas that would have paid about $5 million more than he’s making with the Celtics, was one of those players.

Aron Baynes, who got the start with Smart out, had 10 points and eight rebounds. Boston also got another strong game off the bench from Terry Rozier who had 14 points and seven rebounds

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

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Moving to power forward 'presents a different challenge' for Horford

PHILADELPHIA – For the third time in as many games, the Boston Celtics will field a different lineup.

It will have a domino effect on Boston’s usual starters, but no one more than Al Horford who will slide over to power forward with Aron Baynes inserted into the starting lineup where he’ll be charged with trying to defend Sixers 7-footer Joel Embiid.

Meanwhile, Horford will be assigned to defend Robert Covington who is one of Philadelphia’s better perimeter scorers.

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“I feel like one of my strengths is being able to play multiple positions,” Horford told NBC Sports Boston. “It presents a different challenge for me, which is making sure I do a good job of covering him out on the perimeter, staying between him and the basket.”

In Philadelphia’s 120-115 season-opening loss to Washington, Covington led all Sixers with 29 points which included him going 7-for-11 from 3-point range in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.

While Covington will be Horford’s first defensive assignment, he knows he will also be called upon at times to defend Embiid who ranks among the best centers in the NBA despite having played just 32 games over the course of three NBA seasons.

In the loss to the Wizards, Embiid had a double-double of 18 points and 13 rebounds.

Horford’s defense will be critical for Boston (0-2) to get its first win of the season, but the Celtics will also need him to take advantage of scoring opportunities as well.

“We have some guys down, but that creates opportunities for other guys to step up and contribute,” Horford said. “It’s going to all of us, the veterans, the young players, all of us to get that first win.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens agreed.

“I think that’s how we have to look at it,” Stevens said. “We’re going to have to make a few tweaks on how we do things, obviously. Hey, it’s gonna be something that we’re going to have to do really, really well on the fly.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE