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Brad Stevens, Sisyphus and a Celtics season in flux

02.12.15 at 1:51 am ET
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It’s been exactly one month since the Celtics finalized the Jeff Green trade — completing a series of deals that also sent Rajon Rondo packing — and yet they’re playing their best basketball of the season. After losing three straight immediately following their leading scorer’s departure, the C’s have won seven of their last 12 games to enter the All-Star break trailing the Hornets and Heat by only one loss for the Eastern Conference’s final two postseason spots.

Despite a 20-31 record, the Celtics are in the playoff conversation. Seriously.

“It’s always been a conversation, since Day 1,” said Marcus Thornton, whose 14 points helped ground the  Hawks on Wednesday night. “I believe we can make it, and I believe we can make noise, too, so it’s on us to make that happen.”

Except, some of the current C’s weren’t here when the season began — namely rotation players Jae Crowder and Tayshaun Prince — and not all of them are expected to be around when the team reconvenes for the second half in Sacramento some 24 hours after the league’s Feb. 19 trade deadline.

So, Jared Sullinger can decry all he wants, “It’s the All-Star break; that’s the last thing on our mind,” but the harsh reality is this team that appears to be just hitting its stride could look completely different in a week.

“I’m going to use that time to take off and kind of forget about basketball a little bit,” Thornton said when asked about an eight-day vacation leading up to the trade deadline, “but wherever I’m at, I’m ready to go.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Brandon Bass, Danny Ainge

5 things we learned in Celtics’ amazing Hawks upset

02.11.15 at 10:05 pm ET
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Brandon Bass called it.

As the Celtics exited a timeout trailing the first-place Atlanta Hawks by one with 6.3 seconds remaining, the veteran forward turned to his teammates and said, “E.T.’s going to win it with a floater.” Sure enough, Evan Turner‘s runner swished through the net for an 89-88 win, capping an 18-point comeback against a team with just 10 previous losses.

“I think it says a lot for us as a team,” said Turner. “We were able to come back against the best team in the league, down [18]. We shot like 30 percent, but once we try to put together a whole game — put together the defensive and offensive game — we’ll be all right. It’s a great win, and it’s always better to go in on a break on a win and not a loss.”

Indeed, the Celtics (20-31) pulled within one loss of the Charlotte Hornets (22-30) and Miami Heat (22-30) for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with a 7-5 record in their final 12 games before the All-Star break.

Having won three of their last four games, the Celtics looked to stay hot in their final game before entering the All-Star break. Unfortunately for Brad Stevens & Co., the first-place Hawks stood in their way.

Turner’s game-winner gave him 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the victory against Atlanta. Jared Sullinger added 17 points and 15 rebounds. And Marcus Thornton contributed 14 points off the bench. Al Horford led the Hawks (43-11) with 22 points and 12 rebounds.

For a full box score, click here.

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Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics,

Kelly Olynyk discusses returning from ankle injury

02.11.15 at 7:37 pm ET
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Kelly Olynyk will be missing his 11th consecutive game due to a right ankle sprain when the Celtics take on the Hawks at TD Garden on Wednesday — the C’s final game before the extended All-Star break.

“Yeah, it was a pretty good one,” Olynyk said of the injury while half-smiling to reporters. “I saw a little bit of it [on replay], it was pretty bad.”

“We have another week off, it just makes more sense to hold off,” offered the Gonzaga product on why he would be sitting out Wednesday’s game.

So when will Olynyk be cleared to play?

“I’m not sure,” he replied. “[I’ve] just got to see how everything progresses. It’s kind of ambiguous but that’s how it is.”

The Celtics will be out West following the All-Star break, their first game is Feb 20 when they take on the Kings in Sacramento.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kelly Olynyk,

Trades worth the Celtics’ while: Part 6

02.11.15 at 1:27 pm ET
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A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team ‘€˜€” something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is part six.

After a flurry of trades, Danny Ainge’s phone has finally cooled off. At least for the last couple of weeks. But now the trade deadline is a mere eight days away, so expect things to begin to heat back up.

If you take a look around the league (which to me means skim through the ESPN trade machine for an hour), it makes sense that the Celtics haven’t been able to piece together any more moves that accomplish the goal of selling unneeded parts for future draft picks. Most teams that are considered buyers have either already made their moves to add help, or simply don’t have the contracts or assets that would match what Boston is trying to do.

However, there are still buyers out there.

The Hawks are back in Boston on Wednesday, and despite continuing to run away with the Eastern Conference, Atlanta still has many doubters. The Hawks just traded rookie Adreian Payne to the Timberwolves in order to add a 2017 first-round pick — a pick that figures to be used to add more firepower for this season. Furthermore, Atlanta has also been rumored as a potential landing spot for free-agent guard Ray Allen.

But with the Hawks still under the cap, here’s a move that could help them build their bench:

HAWKS GET: Brandon Bass

CELTICS GET: Elton Brand and a future second-round draft pick

*Brand would have to waive his trade clause

This deal makes perfect sense for both sides, but would probably need to wait until Atlanta knows if they will be making a bigger move first. Coming off a month where the Hawks entire starting lineup won Conference Player of the Month (which is absolutely remarkable), it’s now time to build their bench. The addition of Allen — or any other guard around the league that they can lure with their newly acquired first-rounder — would sure-up Atlanta’s backcourt, but they still need help off the bench in the form of a big. Bass is that guy.

Because the Hawks are under the cap, they are able to swap Brand’s $2 million expiring contract for Bass’ $6.9 million expiring deal without any problems. Boston would most likely buy Brand’s contract out, saving them money for the rest of the season, while Bass provides the perfect spark for the Hawks. In addition, Ainge tosses another second-rounder in his pile … you never know when all of them may come in handy.

Read More: Atlanta Hawks, Boston Celtics, Brandon Bass, Elton Brand

How to fix NBA All-Star Weekend

02.10.15 at 9:59 pm ET
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Sam Packard is a Blogger and Producer for WEEI. Follow him on Twitter @SPacShakur

 

For years, NBA All-Star Weekend has been a horrible disappointment. In order to improve the event, I have two simple suggestions for commissioner Adam Silver.

1. Make Ray Allen compete in the 3-point contest before he is allowed to return to the league

Numerous media outlets are reporting that Allen is channeling his inner Roger Clemens and is close to making a midseason comeback. Before the perpetual front-runner ultimately settles on which contender he would like to play for, Allen should be forced to provide NBA fans with a pro bono shooting display as a sort of payment for taking off the first half of the season.

This clearly is the best way for the NBA’s all-time leader in 3’s to make his return to the league.  There is no doubt in my mind that Allen could still win the contest. In preparation for his comeback, Allen undoubtedly has kept up his absurd practice routine. When you have shooting OCD, you don’t just give up shooting altogether.

Imagine the potential WWE-like spectacle. After the first eight shooters finish the first round, the entire arena goes dark. The MSG public address announcer gets on the mic.

“AND NOW, A SPECIAL NINTH COMPETITOR HAS COME FORWARD TO PROVE HE IS THE GREATEST SHOOTER IN ALL THE LAND. A 6-FOOT-5 SHOOTING GUARD FROM LINCOLN HIGH SCHOOL IN CONEY ISLAND, THE NBA’S ALL-TIME LEADING 3-POINT SHOOTER, NO. 34, JESUS SHUTTLESWORTH.”

Allen, wearing a Lincoln High School Shuttlesworth shooting jacket, then proceeds to obliterate the competition. Reggie Miller complains the entire time about how Allen is breaking the rules. Marv Albert is so excited he just starts biting everyone within his grasp. The NBA Twitter community explodes, creating an abundance of reaction memes, GIFs and new hashtags.

Then Ray Ray proceeds to destroy Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver in the finals, and take his trophy and rip off his jacket revealing his brand new No. 34 Cavaliers jersey. Boos reign down from the rafters as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, who are just as surprised as the rest of us, run out on the court to embrace the newest NBA villain. Courtside, cameras find Paul Pierce, Joakim Noah and Kyle Lowry pointing at Allen and making a menacing throat-slashing gesture. The gauntlet is thrown down and it is officially ON in the Eastern Conference.

Maybe it’s just me, but I think it could be the greatest moment in NBA history.

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Read More: Ray Allen,

5 Things We Learned in Celtics’ Loss to Bucks

02.07.15 at 11:16 pm ET
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Unfortunately for the Boston Celtics, three is the magic number. On the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics were unable to win what would have been a season-high fourth game in a row.

The Milwaukee Bucks beat the Celtics 96-93 on Saturday night. Playing their fourth game in five nights, the C’€™s (19-31) were unable to sustain a comeback attempt that brought them within one point in the final minute. Brandon Knight led all scorers with 26 points and sealed the game with an impressive step-back jumper in the final 10 seconds.

The Celtics struggled to deal with the absurd length of the Bucks (28-23). The Celtics were unable to establish their motion offense, and instead settled for contested jumpers. They shot 42 percent from the floor and an abysmal 24 percent from 3-point range. Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller, Marcuses Smart and Thornton each had double-figure points in the loss.

For the complete box score, click here.

Greek Freak Freaks Greeks; Potential best player in NBA history

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the most intriguing player in the NBA. The 6-foot-11 20-year-old is STILL growing, is a dynamic ball-handler, and has the ability to euro-step and dunk from the 3-point line. Coming off a career-high 27 points against the Rockets, the talents of the Greek Freak were on full display against the Celtics. Finishing with a double-double (14 points, 11 rebounds), Antetokounmpo impacted almost every aspect of the game. His length was most impressive, as he bothered Celtics shooters the entire night. I fully expect Giannis to win the Slam Dunk contest next weekend and slowly evolve into the best player in the universe. Read the rest of this entry »

Marcus Thornton on Boston: ‘I’d like to stay here’

02.07.15 at 12:24 am ET
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After the Celtics secured a third straight victory and sixth win in their past 10 games, everyone’s wondering what’s gotten into them since the departure of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.

“Guys in here are trying to win,” said Jae Crowder, the only one left from the Dec. 19 Rondo deal. “A lot of people counted us out, so we have a lot of pride in this locker room, and the city has a lot of pride, so we want to keep playing for those guys, playing for ourselves and playing basketball the right way to give ourselves a chance.”

The Celtics own a similar record after the Rondo trade (10-16) to before it (9-14), but since the Green deal was finalized on Jan. 12, the C’s are 7-7, including the first three road wins against Western Conference teams of the Brad Stevens era. For better or worse, this hodgepodge of young talent and expiring contracts is playing to win.

But some within the Celtics locker room are waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least it sounds that way.

“It’s been great,” said Marcus Thornton, who netted 16 points off the bench in Friday’s win over the 76ers, of the team chemistry since a series of trades also saw Brandan Wright come and go. “It’s still not over yet. Feb. 19 is still a long time from now, so we’ll see how that goes, too. For the time being, everybody’s just here playing.”

Feb. 19, of course, is the NBA trade deadline, and Thornton seemed awful familiar with that date. “No, I’m not thinking about that,” he countered. “Whatever happens, happens. I would like to stay here. Who wouldn’t? We’ve got a good thing going, but like I said, it’s not controllable. I can’t control it, so whatever happens, happens.”

Thornton owns an $8.6 million price tag this season, joining fellow veterans Tayshaun Prince ($7.7 million) and Brandon Bass ($6.9 million) as attractive expiring contracts. The Celtics are winning games because of that trio, and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might prefer they help another team in that regard.

So goes the battle for Brad Stevens and this band of merry Celtics, who staved off a 76ers comeback for another victory and pulled within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.

“We’€™ve been good in those moments in really the most part of the month,” said Stevens. “And we had a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, after Rondo was traded and Jeff was traded, but in close games — or, you know, we’€™ve had to come back in a couple of these games — I feel like for the most part it’€™s been a positive in the last eight minutes of games. So, that’€™s encouraging from where we started the year.”

Growing, morphing, evolving, it’s all part of the process of these Stevens Celtics, whatever that may be.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Marcus Thornton, NBA,
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