Game 9 of 82 (11%), Monday, November 17, 430pm PST
Suns @ Celtics
The Phoenix Suns won 48 games last year. They didn’t make the playoffs. They play in the Western Conference. The Western Conference is really good. The Boston Celtics won 25 games last year. With a healthy Rajon Rondo, and a more athletic (yet deeply flawed) roster, this year’s Celtics will win more than 25 games. How many more? We will find out in time. Probably about 10 more games. Somewhere in the 35-win range. Maybe a few more. Maybe a few less. Of course, it depends on how GM Danny Ainge deals (or doesn’t deal) with the trade deadline. Yet, the number is less important than the fact that the Suns are a better team. This doesn’t mean that they would win every game they play against the Celtics, but it does mean that when the Celtics lose to a team like Phoenix, it isn’t all that surprising.
After 9 games, the Celtics have played the 12th most difficult schedule in the NBA (courtesy of teamrankings.com). Of Eastern Conference teams (who will all play significantly easier schedules this season due to the fact that 50 of the 82 are in-conference), only Philadelphia and Charlotte have played tougher schedules in the early going. Of the team’s six losses, they have managed to lose in some brutal ways, and they’ve kept nearly all the losses close. They’ve lost by the smallest margins (5 points, 4 points, 2 points, and against Cleveland, by a single point.) Six of their last seven games have been decided by 5 points or less. So…to put it simply: all is not lost, despite all the losses.
Every game is it’s own story. The story of this game for Phoenix was penetration and passing, which lead to 30 assists, and also lead to Markieff Morris’ career-high (30 points on 14 of 21 shots). The story of the 4th quarter was Eric Bledsoe’s physical defense (two steals and numerous harassments). Bledsoe’s attacking play is one more reminder that the Celtics can be a different defensive team with Marcus Smart. Right now, the Celtics lack any physical presence.
Oh No, Olynyk and Ron-doh! Free-Throw
For the Celtics, the story of the game was Kelly Olynyk’s career-low point.
Olynyk’s line: 13 min; negative 15 (+/-); 4 fouls; 3 turnovers, and 0 points on two attempts).
It was also the free-throw shooting of Rajon Rondo.
Rondo took 10 free-throws. In the first half, he split a pair on two separate occasions. Toward the end of the 3rd quarter, he missed both with 2:25 remaining, and then failed to convert a three-point play after sinking a driving lay-up. The third quarter misses were particularly painful as the Celtics trailed by 1-point (89-88) at the end of three. With 2.6 seconds remaining in the game and the Celtics already down 4, Rondo had three attempts. The first two clanged off the rim. Two of 10. Free-throws quite costly.
Rondo has never been a good free-throw shooter. 61.6% for his career. The man with abnormally large hands has struggled with the deft touch required of free-throw shooting. Missing the preseason has probably impacted Rondo’s conditioning. He doesn’t seem at all out of shape, but the team is pushing the pace whenever he’s on the court, and the all-out attack is no doubt impacting his defense and his free-throws. You don’t see it when he’s whizzing around the court, setting up teammates with passes. Free-throws can come down to legs. Its why team’s often end practices with free-throws. You have to hit them when you’re most tired.
The Celtics did many things right in this game. Rondo has found Tyler Zeller’s strength (running the floor) and Zeller finished the night shooting 8 of 9 (mostly within 5 feet) for 17 points. Jeff Green is getting the ball in good spots, and attacking the rim. Green finished with 28 points on 17 attempts, adding 3 steals and 2 blocked shots.
And yet, the Celtics lost another close game. Suns 118, Celtics 114.
The schedule provides one brief respite (@ Philadelphia on Wednesday), before the Celtics see four more high-quality opponents to end the month. Memphis, Portland, Chicago and San Antonio. On the other hand, the December slate provides Eastern Conference opponents. With games against the Magic, Pistons, injured Wolves (no Rubio for now), and a highly anticipated Lakers match-up (not exactly the 2010 NBA Finals), the schedule eventually balances out and then tilts in our favor, as fans of an Eastern Conference team.