|03.29.15 at 8:42 pm ET|
If the playoffs started today, the Celtics would be on the outside looking in.
They lost their hold on the eighth seed in the East thanks to a 119-106 beatdown from old friend Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite another furious fourth-quarter comeback that nearly cut a 35-point deficit to single digits, the Celtics never led.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s victory earlier in the day gave the Nets (32-40) a half-game lead over the Celtics (32-41) for the eighth and final playoff spot. The seventh-place Miami Heat (34-49) also won and moved two games ahead of the C’s, who face fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders Charlotte and Indiana in the next three days.
Isaiah Thomas (19 points) led six C’s in double figures against the Clips. Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (14 points), Brandon Bass (13 points), Gigi Datome (12 points) and Jonas Jerebko (10 points) were the others. Chris Paul (21 points, 10 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 14 rebounds) both had double-doubles for L.A., and Blake Griffin (21 points, 9 rebounds) came close.
For a complete box score, click here.
The Celtics submitted arguably the worst defensive quarter of the Brad Stevens era in the opening 12 minutes. The Clippers scored 34 points on 60 percent shooting — including 3-of-5 from 3-point range — and established a 14-point lead after one. It marked only the second time under Stevens the C’s had allowed 34 points in a quarter. The last time, according to Basketball Reference, came Dec. 3, 2013, when the Celtics outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 39-37 in the fourth quarter of a 108-100 victory. For an encore, the Celtics gave up another 34 points on 50 percent shooting in the second quarter and entered the break trailing 68-47.
|03.27.15 at 10:17 pm ET|
A win is a win is a win.
Although they did not play their best basketball, the Celtics defeated the Knicks, 96-92, Friday night at Madison Square Garden. Boston (32-41) gained a game on the Heat, but remains only a half-game ahead of the Nets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The C’s begin a stretch of five games in seven nights when they host the Clippers on Sunday night.
Against the Knicks, Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics with 18 points, while Jae Crowder (17 points) Brandon Bass (16 points) Evan Turner (15 points), and Avery Bradley (10 points) also scored in double figures. Andrea Bargnani scored 25 points for the last-place Knicks (14-59).
For a complete box score, click here.
CELTICS LOOK DISJOINTED
After a woeful effort against the Heat on Wednesday, the Celtics needed to get off to a strong start. Instead, the C’s struggled to create open shots and looked generally lazy on the defensive end of the floor. Luckily for the Celtics, they were not playing a formidable opponent and only finished the quarter down a point, 22-21. To start the third quarter, the Celtics squandered their eight-point lead by quickly giving up a 7-0 run. During the second half of the season, the starters have not performed nearly as well as the bench. Brad Stevens may consider changing the rotations down the stretch.
CROWDER CONTINUES TO PLAY WELL
In addition to his usual excellent defense, Crowder did a great job pushing the pace after turnovers and defensive rebounds. On offense, his first thought has been to attack the basket, which has served him well recently. Crowder grabbed nine boards and made seven of eight of his free throws. Since Thomas went down with the back injury, Crowder has been the most consistent player on the floor for the Celtics, averaging 13 points and six rebounds per game.
THOMAS BACK TO FORM
Physically, Thomas looked drastically better than he did on Wednesday night in Boston. He did a better job of creating separation and looked more explosive when attacking the rim. Although he looked better from a physical standpoint, early on Thomas struggled to find his stroke, opening the game 1-for-7 from the field. He warmed up a little bit in the second half, finishing with 17 points, including going 8-for-9 from the free throw line.
SILVER IMPRESSED BY BRAD STEVENS
Add Commissioner Adam Silver to the long list of people who are very impressed by Stevens’ coaching. In an interview with Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman during the second quarter, Silver said Stevens is ‘”one of the best young coaches in the league.” Silver was very impressed by Stevens’ quick transition from college to the pros, noting “there are some legendary failures of some Hall of Fame college coaches who’ve come in. I would say Brad has broken the mold from that standpoint.’”
SHARING THE ROCK
In an interesting statistical note, nine different players made the Celtics’ first nine field goals. Jonas Jerebko broke the streak by hitting two shots in a row early during the second quarter. Of those nine players, eight finished with five points or more, as only Tyler Zeller was unable to score another basket.
|03.26.15 at 12:12 am ET|
— JAE CROWDER (@CJC9BOSS) March 26, 2015
Things were so ugly in the Celtics‘ 93-86 loss to the Heat on Wednesday, Jae Crowder publicly apologized to Boston fans for the effort put forth by himself and his teammates.
Of course, Jae Crowder led all C’s with 16 points, barreled his way to 11 free throw attempts and grabbed seven rebounds in what seemed like a typically hardnosed 27 minutes from the forward. Along with Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome, Crowder was part of the last-ditch lineup Celtics coach Brad Stevens discovered in the fourth quarter. That group slashed a 22-point deficit down to six before running out of time, but Crowder wasn’t satisfied.
“We don’t show up for three quarters. I don’t understand it,” he said as the C’s fell to 31-40 — still in eighth place, but just a half-game out of 11th. “You can’t come out lackadaisical”
“That’s something we have to fix as a team, as a group,” added Smart, who scored four of his six points and swiped three of his four steals in a remarkable fourth-quarter defensive effort that came too late. “If we don’t fix that and figure that out quick, we’re gonna have some problems.”
|03.25.15 at 11:54 pm ET|
Goran Dragic requested a trade from the Suns, so when Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough also dealt Isaiah Thomas minutes before the deadline, the news came as a bit of a shock.
“If I’m honest, I was a little bit surprised, especially because I asked for the trade,” said Dragic after his Heat beat the Celtics, 93-86. “But that’s how the NBA goes. It’s a business.”
Following Dragic’s Third Team All-NBA campaign in 2013-14, Phoenix acquired Isaiah Thomas on a four-year, $27 million contract in a sign-and-trade with the Kings — seemingly as insurance should restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe find a lucrative contract offer elsewhere.
Only the Suns then reached a five-year, $70 million deal to keep Bledsoe in Phoenix. In theory, the Suns entered this season capable of extending the two-point-guard attack that worked so well last season over a full 48 minutes, but reality eventually took over on the court.
“Unfortunately, we had three point guards at the same position and only one ball,” added Dragic, who scored a game-high 22 points Wednesday, “so it’s kind of hard to satisfy everybody.”
In the end, Dragic landed in Miami, where he’s excited about the Heat’s playoff potential, especially if they can ever get healthy, and Thomas found his way to Boston. While rumors spread that the two former teammates butted heads in Phoenix, both players squashed that notion.
Asked about the on-court dynamic between the two during their 46 games as a backcourt tandem, Thomas said, “It was nice. When we did play together, it worked. He’s a hell of a player.”
“I talked with Isaiah. He’s happy here. He was a great teammate. We had a good relationship,” added Dragic, who then offered a glowing scouting report on Thomas, who returned from injury on Wednesday. “He can score in bunches. He’s an offensive-minded player. If he’s hot, he can score 30 points easy. He has that quality to put his team on his shoulders, especially on offense.”
As for Thomas’ new backcourt mates, Dragic is also impressed and seems to think they complement him well. “[Marcus Smart] is aggressive like Avery Bradley. They’re really good defenders on the ball. … It’s always nice to have these kinds of players on your team, because you know they’re going to defend the whole game, and they’re going to cause a lot of problems for the offense.”
|03.25.15 at 10:28 pm ET|
No Dwyane Wade, no Hassan Whiteside and no Chris Andersen should have been no problem for the Celtics, but the hometown team with newfound playoff aspirations submitted one of its worst performances of the season Wednesday night.
The Heat dominated the first three quarters en route to a 93-86 victory that would have looked a lot worse if not for a furious fourth quarter comeback by Boston. Wade, Whiteside and Andersen all were inactive due to injuries, but their absences had little impact on the outcome, as Goran Dragic’s 22 points led five Miami scorers in double figures.
The Celtics cut the deficit to six points in the final two minutes, but ultimately fell short of an improbable comeback. Jae Crowder (16 points, 7 rebounds) led the C’s in scoring. Avery Bradley (12 points), Phil Pressey (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (10 points, 8 rebounds) also reached double figures.
A win would have pulled the Celtics (31-40) into a seventh-place tie with the Heat (33-38), but instead they remain as the eighth seed — holding the tiebreaker against the Pacers (31-40) and leading the Nets (30-40) and Hornets (30-40) by a half-game each. For a complete box score, click here.
ISAIAH THOMAS RETURNS
Thomas missed eight games with a bruised back after taking a hard fall the last time the Celtics played the Heat. He was still wincing in the locker room before the game, but felt “good enough” to return to game action. His performance failed to reflect his confidence, as he struggled through his 20 minutes and finished 2-for-7 from the field. Late in the second quarter he took a charge and landed directly on his injured tailbone. He got up groaning and looked to be in serious pain. He returned in the second half but was no more effective. Thomas finished with four points, zero assists and three turnovers.
CELTICS DIG DEEP HOLE
The Celtics played a terrible first half, especially on the defensive end. The Heat capitalized on a wide array of open looks, shooting an outrageously high 60 percent from the field. In addition to a number of easy layups, Miami punished the Celtics from beyond the arc, converting 7-of-12 3-pointers. To compound their problems, the Celtics also turned the ball over 13 times and entered the locker room trailing 57-40.
|03.25.15 at 3:28 pm ET|
For starters, I’m not saying Celtics coach Brad Stevens will or even should win the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor. Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr are the heavy favorites, and rightfully so, considering their Hawks and Warriors respectively perch atop the East and West.
Rather, this is the argument one could make for Stevens should anyone choose to do so.
There has been much discussion about the difficulty in evaluating a perceived increase in coaching influence around the league, but there are certain truths about a coach’s role we hold self-evident ‘ their ability to effect wins and losses, design effective offenses and defenses, and manage ebbs and flows of rosters often altered by trades and injuries.
With those in mind, let’s examine eight statistical measures as they relate to all 30 teams: 1) win percentage, 2) point differential, 3) offensive rating, 4) defensive rating, 5) net rating, 6) pace of play, 7) roster turnover and 8) total games missed by its members. The first five are objectively obvious, and the final three allow for subjective interpretation.
For example, no team slowed its pace more than the Lakers since last season, if only because of new coach Byron Scott’s grinding approach, no team turned over its roster more than the Cavaliers, as a result of King James and his court, and no team missed fewer man games during the 2013-14 regular season than the Thunder ‘ a stark contrast to this year’s edition.
So, let’s first look at how significantly each team changed from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
|03.24.15 at 6:17 pm ET|
If the NBA and NHL playoffs were to start today, then the Celtics would be off to Atlanta for a first-round series while the Bruins cleaned out their lockers. Not many people in Boston saw this being the case on March 24.
Of course, the 31-39 Celtics still have 12 games to play, and while they currently sit in the East’s eighth seed, they are by no means a lock to make the playoffs. According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds on ESPN.com the C’s hold a 48.6 percent chance of landing in the postseason. If you want to see what the remainder of the regular season entails for all the teams competing for the final spots in the East, Ben Rohrbach gave us a pretty good look last week.
But let’s have some fun here. If the Celtics do make the playoffs, what’s their ceiling? We can all likely agree that if the Celts draw LeBron James‘ Cavaliers in the first-round that they stand no chance. Maybe they steal a game, but LeBron would prove to be too much. Boston could probably give the Hawks a good run and make it a series, but likely still fall in five or six games despite making Atlanta sweat.
What’s changed in the East over the past month is the fact that the Bucks are no longer locked into the sixth seed as they seemingly were just a month ago. Going into the All-Star break, Milwaukee had withstood Jabari Parker’s ACL tear and compiled a 30-23 record — becoming the first team to double their previous season’s win total (15) by the All-Star break in the following season. Since then? Frankly trading away Brandon Knight completely crippled them. Despite still holding onto the sixth seed by the skin of their teeth, the Bucks are just 4-13 since the break. Their 34-36 record means they are just three games ahead of the Celtics and a game and a half ahead of the Heat (who sit in control of the seven spot).
In their final 12 games, the C’s face seven opponents with losing records and five with winning records. If they can win seven or eight of those games (including two huge must-wins over the Bucks and games against the Heat and Pacers), the sixth seed is in sight. To further help Boston’s cause, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return on Wednesday for the important matchup against Miami, and ideally the rest of the playoff push.
The C’s clearly wouldn’t own home court, but would a matchup against the third seeded Raptors, or potentially Derrick Rose-less Bulls be something these resilient Celtics couldn’t overcome? Personally, I’d like their chances.
The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games, and look like they’ll be limping into the playoffs. They are also coming off a season in which they were upset on their home floor in game 7 of the first-round by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett‘s Brooklyn squad. The Bulls may be a tougher opponent than Toronto, but with Rose’s future as uncertain as any player in the league, the feisty Celtics would surely have a shot at an upset here if Chicago were to climb into the third seed.
I don’t want to take the fun out of Brad Stevens‘ first playoff race by raising expectations. Like I said, we never expected this to be the case from the beginning. So for now, enjoy these final 12 games. But if the C’s can get hot for this home stretch — with some help from Miami and Milwaukee — we could be watching a Celtics team that gets hot at just the right time go from making a little more noise than we thought this season to a whole lot more noise in the postseason.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
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