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Celtics guard Rajon Rondo started strong for the Celtics.Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated Emporio Armani 105-75 during exhibition play Sunday in Milan:
HOW THE GAME WAS WON
Rajon Rondo's first-quarter explosion (17 points on 7-of-7 shooting, including a 3-pointer and two circus layups), coupled with strong second-quarter team defense helped Boston build a 13-point halftime cushion and sail to the finish line of its European adventure. Rondo didn't score again the rest of the night, but finished tied for the team high in points with Jeff Green (17 points, 3 rebounds over 24:35). Paul Pierce kicked in 14 points over 17 minutes, while Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, and Brandon Bass each chipped in 11 points apiece.
The Celtics shot 72.2 percent in the first quarter -- highlighted by Rondo's efforts -- but only had a three-point lead due to a bit of defensive indifference (at least when it came to allowing corner 3-pointers). Armani connected on a mere 4-of-24 shots (16.7 percent) in the second quarter as Boston outscored its opponent by double digits and raced away.
BOLD PLAY OF THE GAME
Rondo only had two assists as part of his first-quarter outburst, but one was a pretty dish between a pair of defenders to a cutting Lee for an emphatic one-handed slam. After a subpar debut on Friday, Lee seemed to get going with the jam and had a couple nice finishes around the basket as part of a solid night off the bench.
LINEUP SWAP FOR BOSTON
Celtics coach Doc Rivers put Jared Sullinger and Terry in the starting lineup alongside Rondo, Pierce, and Kevin Garnett. Sullinger responded with another strong performance, chipping in nine points and seven rebounds (three on the offensive glass) over 18:02. The rookie first-round pick blended nicely with the first unit and his ability to clean the glass worked well with that group (he also has a nice feel around the basket and can finish in traffic -- or get to the line).
DARKO MAKING A BIG IMPACT
Darko Milicic was outstanding while chipping in two points, nine rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. We know he can use his size on the defensive end, where he's been swatting everything that comes his way during this overseas trip. But offensively he's shown an ability to create for teammates in the high post off screens and pick-and-rolls.
SMITH GETTING A CHANCE AT BACKUP PG
First-year guard Jamar Smith got 12 more minutes of floor time as Rivers is giving him an opportunity to distinguish himself as a backup ball-handler. He's better known for his shooting, but hasn't gotten much to fall this trip, connecting on just 1-of-6 shots on Sunday (the only bucket a transition layup that he nearly tried to give to Lee).
Jason Collins got his first action of the preseason (three rebounds, four fouls over 11:37)... Rivers picked up his first technical of the new seasons, barking at one of the two NBA officials after an offensive foul call on Milic... The Celtics did a much better job taking care of the basketball, committing a mere 14 turnovers (this after giving it away 25 times in Turkey)... Training camp invites Rob Kurz and Micah Downs -- alongside rookies Dionte Christmas, Kris Joseph, and Fab Melo -- got floor time in the fourth quarter and Garnett was on his feet barking out encouragement from the bench... Chris Wilcox sat out again as he battles a back issue that's kept him out since the first practice of the season.
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics finish their weeklong, two-game European vacation in encouraging fashion. Boston tightened up a lot of what it did poorly in Turkey and absolutely dominated Armani in the middle quarters. More importantly: Boston emerges healthy from the trip and returns stateside ready to build off what it accomplished both on and off the court. The team is scheduled to travel home Monday and will get some practice time before its next game Saturday night against the Knicks in Hartford, Conn.