Celtics-Kings Live: Paul Pierce Leads Balanced Scoring Attack as Celts Defeat Kings 99-81

Avery BradleyFinal, Celtics 99-81: Hopefully, you all heeded Doc Rivers’ warning and did not write the Celtics’ obituary already. With a balanced scoring attack that featured six players in double figures, but none with more than 16 points, the Celtics showed they just might be able to survive without Rajon Rondo.

Paul Pierce had 16 points and 10 rebounds while Brandon Bass, Jeff Green and Jason Terry each scored 12 points off the bench. The Celtics shot 53 percent from the floor due to crisp ball movement and sharing the responsibilities formerly held by Rondo alone.

Fourth quarter, 2:50, Celtics 95-78: This much is clear: The Celtics are capable of playing inspired ball without their All-Star point guard, which is enough to beat both defending champs and cellar-dwellers that have given them trouble in the past.

With less than three minutes left, it is safe to mark this down as a “W” in the Celtics’ book.

Fourth quarter, 5:44, Celtics 90-75: Keep Gino on ice for now. There is plenty of time still for a last push by the Kings.

This is a 15-point game after Cousins was fouled in the act of hitting a driving layup. If he converts the free throw, the Kings will have halved their largest deficit of the game.

Suddenly, not having Rondo doesn’t seem so hot, does it?

Fourth quarter, 8:49, Celtics 84-67: This ain’t a blowout no more. The Celtics still lead by a large margin, but 17 points is far from comfortable for a team that has given up bigger leads before.

The Celtics have gone back to turning the ball over (seven in this half) and being stationary on offense. That is a bad combination against a young team that feeds on transition opportunities.

End of third quarter, Celtics 80-60: The offense is still a little too stagnant, but so far the Kings have not been able to make enough of a dent to matter. They just barely touched 40 percent shooting with a layup by Evans late in the third quarter, and they struggled to get into double-digit assists in three quarters. (They barely made it, although they still have just half as many as the Celtics.) Four Celtics are in double figures in scoring, yet none has more than 12 points. Pierce, Bradley and Lee are all on the cusp with nine points apiece.

Third quarter, 3:40, Celtics 74-51: We have a tight one here at the Garden. The Kings have cut the deficit to 23 after leading by as many as 28 points.

All right, not so much. But the Celtics have gone back to playing the way they did with Rondo: One guy dribbling while four guys stand around. It has led to three long jumpers and a turnover as the Kings finally strung together a couple of baskets.

Third quarter, 8:29, Celtics 66-41: Frustration is setting in for the Kings. That tends to happen when a team is losing by 25 points.

Cousins scratched the top of his head in anger after Bass blew baseline for a dunk and Evans slammed the ball on the ground after a poor pass by Cousins rolled out of bounds. This does not look like a team ready to make a comeback, but knowing these Celtics, nothing can be ruled out.

Halftime, Celtics 59-38: Against the Sacramento Kings, at least, the Celtics are way, way better without Rondo.

Beyond that, let’s not get carried away. The Celtics were exceptional in the first half against a young team that has given them trouble over the last two years. They held the Kings to 35 percent shooting, and once they stopped turning the ball over, they completely cut off Sacramento’s only source of offense. Everyone in white is touching the ball a lot earlier in the shot clock then they have when Rondo has been on the floor, and as a result their cuts and passes look crisper.

Green and Garnett were each a perfect 5-for-5 from the field in the first half, as the Celtics shot 16-for-20 in the second quarter. The only guy who has not had the touch is Bradley, who is just 1-for-6.

Second quarter, 3:04, Celtics 51-36: Not only are the Celtics shooting 67 percent from the field, but Paul Pierce has yet to score a point. That is the sign of a balanced Boston offense.

Pierce has not been completely quiet, though. He has seven rebounds and four assists as the Celtics are absolutely dominating Sacramento in both areas. The Celtics lead on the glass 18-11 and have 14 assists on 22 field goals. The Kings have five assists on 12 field goals.

Second quarter, 5:45, Celtics 43-31: For the first time in weeks, the Celtics are just playing. There does not look like there is a thought clouding their play.

Not only are Green and Terry red hot — they are 8-for-9 combined from the field — but Brandon Bass is playing his most inspired ball in a long time. He picked up steals on back-to-back possessions and flipped home a reverse dunk, which is the explosive type of play he has not had lately.

Second quarter, 9:49, Celtics 30-26: Terry might not be a “true” point guard, but he looks mighty comfortable making plays with the ball in his hands. On his first two times handling the ball, Terry dished to Bass for a jumper and drilled a pull-up jumper. He even wrapped up an 8-2 run by the Celtics to begin the quarter by finding Garnett for a dunk.

The star of the second quarter so far, though, is Jeff Green. He opened the frame with two driving layups, the second coming in secondary transition when he realized the only person standing between him and the hoop was 6-foot-4 center Chuck Hayes. He then stepped behind a Garnett screen for a jumper.

End of first quarter, Kings 24-22: It is usually not a good thing to end a quarter by giving up two straight dunks. Letting the Kings be the ones to do it is even worse.

After running out to that 8-0 lead, the Celtics were outscored 24-14 over the last 10 minutes of the first quarter. Thomas was 0-for-5 and Evans had just four points, but the Kings managed to force six turnovers and generate 22 field goal attempts.

The ball is moving well for the Celtics, but not all those passes are good ones. Terry and Barbosa are clearly trying to figure out their personal chemistry. They have not had much time together in the backcourt before this.

First quarter, 2:07, Celtics 20-17: Just as we started to laugh about the so-called “red flag” that caused Sullinger to drop to the Celtics in the draft, he leaves this game with back spasms. Maybe we laughed too soon.

Honestly, this is not quite proof that Sullinger’s back problems were real. Lots of players have back spasms, whether or not they have a history of back trouble. Of greater importance for the Celtics at the moment is how they allowed the Kings to briefly cut their lead to one point.

First quarter, 9:53, Celtics 8-0: In the Celtics’ first game without their point guard, the Kings have opted not to pressure the ball at all. This is why the Kings are the 17-29.

Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee have set the tone early with their defense, and Garnett had scored two early baskets to get established on offense.

6:20 p.m.: So, Sully left no doubt as to how he felt about the rookie-sophomore snub.

“I really don’t care,” he said while warming up prior to the game.

Sullinger said he does not play for individual honors, and although his coach said Sullinger will have plenty of chances to participate in All-Star weekend in the next decade or so, Sullinger did not seem preoccupied with that, either.

Mostly, Sullinger seemed to be looking forward to the rest he will need for the second half of the season.

The projected starters appear below.

Kings
DeMarcus Cousins
Jason Thompson
Francisco Garcia
Tyreke Evans
Isaiah Thomas

Celtics
Kevin Garnett
Jared Sullinger
Paul Pierce
Courtney Lee
Avery Bradley

5:32 p.m.: I’m not sure what “scoffing” actually looks like, but when Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Doc Rivers were asked earlier this month whether they believed Jared Sullinger deserved consideration for the rookie game during NBA All-Star Weekend, all three came as close to scoffing as I have ever seen.

The Celtics forward making the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge was pretty much a given. Considering the way Sullinger has cracked the starting lineup on a veteran club, his inclusion in the midseason showcase was a foregone conclusion.

Except, it was not. The pool of players, who will be picked as part of a sort of fantasy draft, was released Wednesday without Sullinger’s name among the honored.

We will try to track down Sully and get his reaction. In the meantime, let us know how you feel in the comments below by tweeting @NESN.

8 a.m. ET: The Celtics say Rajon Rondo’s ACL injury is no reason to give up. They will get their first chance to prove it Wednesday.

Three days after learning of Rondo’s season-ending injury, the Celtics (21-23) get to prove that Sunday’s victory over the Miami Heat was no aberration. The Kings (17-29) are in town for their only trip to Boston this season, and while that might seem like good news for the Celtics, recent history shows otherwise.

The Kings wiped the floor with the Celtics in Sacramento earlier this season, when DeMarcus Cousins put up a triple-double and three Kings players surpassed 20 points in the game. That 22-point loss was not even as ugly as the previous meeting, though, when Marcus Thornton dropped 36 points on the Celtics as part of a Western Conference road swing last season. The Kings have struggled against just about every team in the NBA recently — except the Celtics.

Join us for updates and analysis from the TD Garden during the game, which tips off at 7:30 p.m. ET.

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