Rondo influenced Heat rookie Cole's season


Rondo influenced Heat rookie Cole's season

BOSTON -- In the Celtics second game of the season, a rookie in just the second game of his career scored 20 points to help the Heat take away a 115-107 win in Miami.

Now only days before the postseason, Heat rookie Norris Cole looked back on how his success against Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo has influenced his first year in the NBA.

I learned that I could potentially be good in this league performing against one of the top point guards in Rondo, he told CSNNE.com prior to the Celtics' 78-66 win. It was my first home game so I was playing with a lot of bottled up emotions and I still was able to perform, learn how to perform under a certain amount of pressure at this level, and learn some of the Xs and Os of the game under great defenses.

Cole played 29 minutes off the bench, shooting 8-for-16 from the field and 4-for-6 from the line in the December 27 game. He also recorded four rebounds, four assists, and three steals.

Along the way, Cole paid attention to Rondos moves. He has tried to incorporate them into his game throughout the season.

He rebounds well for a guard, very well, Cole said. He controls just about everything that happens on the team. Being a leader and being able to affect the game on both ends, I think thats what I took the most from it and thats what I try to add to my game.

Cole entered that early season game with high expectations, and they were affirmed. He has taken that approach to every game he has played so far. Chances are, its a similar mindset to Rondos.

I always expect to play well, Cole said. Thats what we work hard for every day. I have very, very high expectations.

Celtics back to playing elite defense post-break

Celtics back to playing elite defense post-break

BOSTON – For two quarters of play, the New York Knicks were toe-to-toe with the Boston Celtics. 

But as the second half rolled around, Boston’s defense became even more effective, shots seemed to fall at a better clip, and what was a close game was suddenly turning into a comfortable Celtics victory with the Celtics playing the role of professors in teaching the Knicks a thing or two about what basketball erosion looks like. 


The Celtics we saw in Boston’s 121-112 win over New York was about as complete as we’ve seen the team roster-wise, has been all season. 

“Just wearing them down defensively, with the addition of (Marcus) Smart and having Shane (Larkin) come in, have everybody back,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We can throw punches and consistently throw punches and wear teams down.”

That appeared to be what we saw on Saturday night as Boston seemingly got stronger as the game progressed, while the Knicks’ best shooters came up empty when it mattered. 

A 59-56 lead at the half, Boston would pull away by as many as 10 points (81-71) in the third quarter, and their largest lead of the game – 11 points – didn’t come until the fourth. Boston’s win at Detroit had a similar second half surge as Boston opened the fourth quarter with a 13-2 run which put them ahead 99-79 as they cruised onward for a 110-98 win. 

And so here are the Celtics, winners of two in a row after dropping three straight and four of five right before the All-Star break. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged his team, like most in the NBA, may have benefited from the time off at the All-Star break. 

“We probably needed rest, but everybody needed rest,” Stevens said. “We needed to re-center ourselves and focus better and play better. I thought we played hard both nights, and certainly we can build off of that.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s first weekend following the All-Star break, which included road wins at Detroit and New York. 


Theis’ versatility

From a career-high 19 points against Detroit, to getting the starting nod the following night against the New York Knicks. Daniel Theis has shown himself to be up to whatever challenge he’s asked to tackle. There was some thought that the addition of Greg Monroe would cut into his minutes. But that doesn’t appear to be the case, not the way Theis has been playing regardless of the role he’s called upon to execute. 

Fly, Celtics Fly (on defense)

While Marcus Smart’s return has certainly been a plus to Boston’s defense, what we’ve seen the last two games is Boston play better team defense. And part of team defense involves rotating or tilting towards shooters if they beat one of your teammates off the dribble. While there’s still room to improve in this particular area, there’s no question they were better about closing out and rotating and just playing better, all-around team defense. 

Smart-Rozier pairing

When these guys are playing in sync like we’ve seen in these first two games coming out of the break, the Celtics’ second unit becomes special. Marcus Smart’s defense grabs all the headlines, but he has truly turned the corner this season as a playmaker. Smart averages 4.7 assists per game which ranks ninth among reserves. And Rozier continues to play with a more aggressive, attacking style ever since he stepped into the starting lineup for a few games as a fill-in for an injured Kyrie Irving. 

Greg Monroe

It’s still too soon to tell just how significant a role will Monroe play for the Celtics. But he might see a slight spike in playing time depending on how serious is the elbow injury Baynes suffered on Friday night in Detroit. 

Defense trending 

Boston definitely made strides the last two games defensively. The turnstile defense we had seen teams breeze through with little resistance was replaced by a moving wall of Celtics players. Boston has been the league’s top-ranked defense most of the season so you knew it was a matter of when, not if, their defense would get back on track. 


Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

Marcus Smart makes the Celtics great again

Two games in and the return of Marcus Smart has had the effect many predicted it would for Boston.

There may be other Celtics who score more points, tally more assists and snare a few more rebounds.

But the impact of Smart’s play on what truly matters – winning – is undeniable.

His play was one of the keys to Boston’s 121-112 win at New York on Saturday night.

Smart came off the bench to score 11 points to go with five assists and three steals.

In his two games back, Smart is averaging 11.5 points, 5.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 64.3 percent from the field.

Yes, it’s a small sample size for sure.

More than anything, it serves as a reminder of how one of Smart’s greatest assets as a player is his ability to contribute in a multitude of ways.

“He just adds a lot of versatility to our offense and our defense,” Boston’s Kyrie Irving told NBC Sports Boston following Saturday’s game. “He has a high awareness on both ends. He’s able to create opportunities for all of us at both ends of the floor and we appreciate that.”

Certainly Smart is credited for being a good defender, and his play-making skills have improved dramatically in the last year or so.

But arguably Smart’s biggest contribution is that his play allows others around him, to focus on whatever it is that they do well, knowing that Smart has the ability to do both his job as well as provide help when needed.

Boston’s defense struggled mightily before the break with teams scoring seemingly whenever they wanted to.

But in the last two games, Boston has looked more like the defensive unit that has been among the NBA’s best most of this season.

In the last two games, Boston’s defensive rating has been 104.5 which ranks 11th in the NBA during that span.

Several factors have played a role in Boston’s improved defense the last two games; among them being the return of Smart who missed 11 games after punching a picture frame last month that left him with 20 stitches.

“It’s the appreciation of Marcus Smart right there,” Irving said. “Implement him and him just putting his stamp and identity on our team as well. It just makes a lot of other guy’s job, easier. Because he covers up a lot of our mistakes as well as playing with unbelievable awareness at both ends of the floor. He understands spacing, he understands how the little things matter.”