|01.18.17 at 9:53 pm ET|
When Phil Jackson divulged over the summer that his biggest regret as president of the Knicks was not taking Jae Crowder when he had the opportunity to do so, it was as intriguing as it was dumbfounding.
With the Knicks now 43 games into their season — 19-24 after their 117-106 win against the Celtics on Wednesday — it’s become more clear why.
Part of the concern, a legitimate one at that, was his reluctance to make a move for Crowder because he would sit behind Carmelo Anthony. He instead took a second-round pick the Mavs owed the Celtics and turned it into Cleanthony Early, a decision in hindsight that would make even the biggest optimist cringe.
Despite the Celtics losing, Wednesday night proved a clear indication as to why the indecision was not only so frustrating for Jackson, but also why Crowder is so valuable to the Celtics.
Anthony, currently knee-deep in conflict with Jackson, put together 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting on Wednesday. He added four rebounds and three assists. Crowder, on the other hand dropped 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting with five rebounds and an assist.
And while it’s nonsense to look at one game as a basis comparison, the differences amongst the two has been lurking all season.
As Crowder helped take control of the game, the difference between him and Anthony became borderline palpable as they guarded one another. Crowder, ever intense, yet composed, guarded Anthony, who looked apathetic and nonexistent on the floor, hardly ever running more than a few steps at a time. A hard fall from the presence he used to own on the floor.
The 32-year-old Anthony, once a top player in the league, was essentially nonexistent on both sides of the ball, and has been visibly on the decline for the majority of the season. And while his supporting cast hasn’t exactly been shining around him, a team that boasts Anthony, Joakim Noah, Derek Rose and Kristaps Porzingis is vastly underperforming from where they should be.
This is where Crowder comes back into play. New York Post writer Marc Berman toyed with the idea of a Melo to Boston trade. Melo and $3 million to the Celtics, with the Knicks getting Crowder, Amir Johnson, Jonas Jerebko and the Celtics’ 2018 first round pick.
The idea of such a deal nestled the line of lunacy before the Knicks even took the TD Garden floor. But Wednesday was as much validation as necessary for the 26-year-old Crowder to stay around. While there is no such thing as untouchable, Crowder, along with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford are about as untouchable as they get — especially with the core they’ve established.
The Celtics may be one more piece or “star” away from being true contenders, but Melo isn’t that piece. Especially not at the expense of Crowder.
As frequent of a target as Anthony has been to the Celtics every time he was being shopped around or an impending free agent, it’s tough to resist the idea of him in green. But given his current on and off the court state, it’s become clear as ever that wherever he ends up, it shouldn’t be Boston.
Crowder is probably the biggest noisemaker off the court, but a tweet chastising fans for cheering an opposing player pales in comparison to locker room tirades.
The Celtics have made their calling card this season a blue collar and chemistry-heavy type of play. They aren’t going to match up with the top teams in the East from a skills perspective, but the way they can grind has kept them in the conversation as one of the East’s toughest teams. The addition of Anthony or subtraction of Crowder — or both — would ruin that.
|01.18.17 at 6:32 pm ET|
Dragging themselves into TD Garden Wednesday night will be the 18-24 Knicks, losers of 11 of their last 13 games. There’s been drama and injuries among other plight, but it’s still not enough for the Celtics to consider Wednesday’s tilt a win before tipoff.
The Celtics had their work cut out for them last time the two met, with a five-point win on Christmas Day. Prior to that, they dismantled the Knicks 115-87 after Carmelo Anthony got himself a double technical in the early going. The C’s are catching the Knicks at a prime time, with New York losing their most recent game against the Hawks on Monday by two points. The Knicks will also be missing 7-foot-1 star Kristaps Porzingis, who is averaging 19.4 points.
“I think we understand it’s hard to win a basketball game,” said coach Brad Stevens. “This is a strange profession when you base how you feel for two straight days based on whether or not a ball rolls in the basket or not.
“If New York hits that game winner against Atlanta … they should feel good, but it doesn’t change how they played the rest of the game, which is pretty well. But that’s the way you kind of feel in these situations, you recognize whether you’re on the end that lost the last one or won the last one, the next one is a brand new game and you’ve got to play really well to win. This team, we’ve had good games against almost every time we’ve played them in the past, and it’s going to be a hard one to win.”
With a team like the Knicks in town, it becomes easier to appreciate the situation the Celtics have found themselves in. 11 games over .500 at 26-15, the C’s — albeit with some exceptions — have exhibited balance on both sides of the ball, and have gotten key contributions from a number of players.
The most notable example of their good fortune is the fourth quarter performances of Isaiah Thomas. The point guard has bailed the Celtics out a number of potential losses, and while he’s been helping the Celtics avert crisis, the defensive play has been doing its part as well.
“Obviously, Isaiah’s fourth quarter performances have been well documented. I think we’ve had a number of guys who have made good plays in those moments. I think our defense has been pretty good in those moments. Knock on wood, we’ve been pretty good executing in those moments with a few exceptions throughout the season.
“Our guys have come to play ever since the first week of November or whatever it was. They’ve come to compete every night, and realize it’s going to be really hard. You don’t take a possession for granted, you realize that you’re going to be in three possession games or below most likely. It requires your ultimate attention, and our guys have been pretty good about that.”
Other Celtics Notes
— Tyler Zeller (sinus infection) and James Young (right ankle sprain) will be out Wednesday, but are both close to becoming full practice participants. All other members of the Celtics are active and available.
— The Celtics will remain with the same starting lineup as Monday, with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford, Amir Johnson and Jae Crowder all starting.
|01.16.17 at 10:00 pm ET|
Isaiah Thomas once again reminded us what time it is, but after watching the Celtics beat the Hornets on Monday night, I’m fascinated by Jaylen Brown.
The rookie didn’t do much down the stretch of the 108-98 victory — he was at least on the floor for much of the fourth quarter when Thomas delivered his nightly explosion — but we’re starting to get a clearer picture of his skill set.
Brown scored seven points in the first half by highlighting his explosive athleticism. He went coast-to-coast for a basket right before the half, he made an acrobatic layup inside while heavily defended, and he led another break that ended with a tough hoop inside after he laid the ball down to Jonas Jerebko and then got it back.
Brown almost completely lacks any semblance of an outside game, which is ultimately going to decide what kind of an impact he’ll make as a pro. He’s also got that lost-in-headlights look at times, too. But considering that he’s only 20 years old and is basically taking a red-shirt rookie season, the skills he’s exhibiting suggest an intriguing future.
“Jaylen Brown played one of his best games of the season,” head coach Brad Stevens told Comcast’s Abby Chin on the postgame show.
What is he? Your guess is as good as mine. As athletic as he may be, it’s also worth noting that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist cleanly turned him away at the rim on a two-handed dunk attempt in the fourth quarter. He’s not such a high-flyer that he can just throw down on anyone.
Brown had a great view while Thomas went off during another monster fourth quarter, where he scored 17 of his game-high 35. Thomas did it everywhere except from the free throw line, becoming the first Celtic since Larry Bird in 1984 to score at least 35 points without a free throw.
Thomas’s best basket may have been a corner jumper over Hornets big man Cody Zeller that started with a reverse dribble into an up-fake that got the 7-footer off his feet before Thomas calmly drilled the shot in his face.
“Isaiah doesn’t even come up to his lettahs!” broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn yelled.
Al Horford scored 22, and Kelly Olynyk and Jae Crowder added 15 points apiece as the Celtics (26-15) hit the official halfway point of the season with 13 wins in their last 16 games.
|01.16.17 at 7:51 pm ET|
After missing four straight games with a right Achilles injury, Avery Bradley will return to the lineup on Monday night against the Hornets at TD Garden.
Although the Celtics have gone 3-1 in Bradley’s absence, having their starting shooting guard certainly strengthens their lineup. Boston will face a hungry Hornets (20-20) team, one that has lost four straight games and is in danger of slipping below .500.
However, don’t let their record fool you, said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who believes a full-strength Hornets team will be a challenging one.
“They just haven’t been healthy a lot but when their starting five has been healthy, which they are, they’ve been excellent,” Brad Stevens said. “This is a good team. This is a team that’s going to go on streaks of winning games and you just hope it doesn’t start tonight.
“Our guys have a lot of respect for these guys because you clearly have to play well to beat them, there is no grey area in that regard. If you don’t play well, they’ll beat you because they don’t beat themselves.”
So far, the C’s are 2-0 in their season series against the Hornets but in their last contest against Charlotte the Hornets were without their leading scorer — Kemba Walker. The Celtics will look to stretch their season series to 3-0 while the Hornets will fight not fall below .500 for the first time this season.
Bradley, who said he felt “a little sore” Monday morning, says there will be no minute restriction in Monday’s game. The C’s will also have Kelly Olynyk back in action, while Tyler Zeller (illness) will remain on the injury list. Zeller, who hospitalized last week, is still experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness.
“Basically I had a sinus infection, middle ear infection and inner ear issue that was making me dizzy, kind of all at the same time,” Zeller explained. “Just got hit with a lot of sickness, flu, whatever you want to call it, cold, stuff. Kind of at the same time, it all compounded. Last week got it all checked out. Got it cleared. It was what they thought it was. I just kind of had to wait for it to clear out. So (coming back) now, it’s kind of getting back into the flow of things. And hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later.”
|01.13.17 at 10:59 pm ET|
Take that, Kelly Olynyk haters.
The Celtics forward — a lightning rod for criticism in Boston this season — stole some of the spotlight in Al Horford’s return to Atlanta on Friday night, helping the Celtics to a 103-101 win over the Hawks (click here for the game recap).
Olynyk, who often seems to play smaller than his 7-foot stature, was at his best Friday, scoring a season-high 26 points in 31 minutes. He hit 9-of-11 shots, including 4-of-5 3-pointers. He hit all four of his free throws. He grabbed eight rebounds — double his season average — and dished out three assists.
His contributions likely won’t make the highlight reel — especially after Isaiah Thomas once again took over down the stretch, culminating with a game-winning pull-up jumper with 2.4 seconds remaining — but there’s no doubting Olynyk’s value.
“Kelly had a great game,” Horford told CSNNE’s Abby Chin after the C’s survived a late Hawks surge. “He was very solid.”
This is why coach Brad Stevens continues to give minutes to the 25-year-old, who at times looks overmatched but other times does many of the little things that go overlooked. Point in case: On the final play of Friday’s win, Olynyk raced over to the corner and helped force a difficult jumper from Paul Millsap that was off the mark as time expired.
“For the most part Kelly was an effective offensive player throughout the entire night, and a really helpful defender,” Stevens said in his postgame press conference.
|01.12.17 at 12:48 am ET|
On a night that Floyd Mayweather was courtside, it was only appropriate that Wednesday’s Celtics-Wizards game ended with a fight.
As the players were filing off the court in the wake of Boston’s 117-108 win, the banged up John Wall crossed paths with Jae Crowder. The Celtics forward started talking to Wall, who took exception. Crowder pointed his finger in Wall’s face and the two teams started pushing and shoving, a melee that spilled into the tunnel leading to the locker rooms behind the Wizards bench.
“Just some altercation,” Wall said when asked about it. “We knew there was going to be some trash talking. We knew it was going to be a physical game. That’s all it was. Just a little trash talking and a physical game.
“My right pinky is messed up and my left wrist is swollen. I’ll probably get an X-Ray and see what’s wrong with it. I knew it was hurting. I knew it was painful before the game. It was a big game for us. I just tried to come out and play through it and the results came out how it was.”
Brad Stevens said he didn’t see it but heard about it and reminded his players what was expected in terms of behavior.
“I heard what was going on in the tunnel. All I did was walk out. There were only two guys that were walking in from the court from our team, and I just said, ‘Get in the locker room.’ And then I talked to the team about what we represent and that’s it,” Stevens said. “I don’t know what happened. I have no idea – I haven’t asked yet. I’ll find out after I get back to the locker room.”
Crowder admitted it was a challenge to keep his cool in a game with such high intensity.
“It was a good fight,” Crowder said. “It was a good fight. Both teams coming off a back-to-back. So the effort was truly there, and it was two teams playing hard.”
Crowder said he and the Celtics were very aware the referees were allowing a physical game.
“We talked about that at halftime,” Crowder added. “The refs weren’t calling it tight, so we were able to get up into guys and play a little physical. And that’s what happened.”
You don’t stick your finger in another man’s face. Period.
And John Wall certainly ain’t that guy, Jae Crowder. pic.twitter.com/pdnb2zXCtr
— Hoop District (@HoopDistrictDC) January 12, 2017
|01.11.17 at 10:20 pm ET|
Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s encounter with the Wizards that he doesn’t pay much attention to stats.
That’s a good thing because with no Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown and Amir Johnson, the stats certainly weren’t in Boston’s favor as they squared off against the hottest backcourt in the East.
“No excuses from my standpoint,” Stevens said. “You’ve got games to play, let’s play.”
Isaiah Thomas certainly did – lighting it up again in the fourth quarter – scoring 20 of his game-high 38 points in the final period to lead the Celtics past the Wizards, 117-108, at TD Garden.
And on a night second-year forward Jordan Mickey was making his first NBA start and Floyd Mayweather was sitting courtside, they needed the knockout shot from their MVP-caliber point guard in the end.
How clutch has Thomas been? He is now averaging 9.8 points per game in the fourth quarter alone, tops in the NBA. His 38 points Wednesday raises his game average to 28.2 points. He is tied with DeMar DeRozan for fourth in the NBA, behind Russell Westbrook (31.2), Anthony Davis (29.1) and James Harden (28.5).
“He’s been playing as impressive as I’ve seen someone play,” Al Horford said after the win that raised Boston’s record to 24-15 on the season.
Speaking of Horford, the first half Wednesday was not one for Horford’s highlight reel. In over 16 minutes, he was 3-for-6 from the field for six points, didn’t get to the free throw line, committed two turnovers and was a minus-8. He did grab five rebounds and blocked two shots but looked out of sorts at times, playing the 5-spot with Mickey filling in for Johnson.
For a full recap and box score of Wednesday’s win over the Wizards, click here.
Horford’s numbers this year have been very good (15.3 PPG, 6.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists). That cannot be disputed. But to Stevens point before the game, sometimes the stats don’t tell the story. And remember, some of this is also on the coaches, like earlier in the season when Stevens took responsibility for Horford not getting his shots.
Wednesday was not about the what but the when. The Celtics, without starters Bradley and Johnson and reserves Brown, James Young and Tyler Zeller, needed Horford to step up his game and take over in the paint. They needed an attitude.
On a night when the Celtics were playing a fast-riser in the East at home a night after a gut-punching loss in Toronto, they needed their big man to play big. Jason Smith outplayed Horford Wednesday night. Who you ask? You know, the ninth-year reserve out of Colorado State. With nine minutes left, Smith had 13 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes while Horford had 9 points and six rebounds in 25.
But by that time, the Celtics were close enough to let Isaiah Thomas do what he always does and that is dominate the fourth quarter. He scored 13 of Boston’s first 19 points in the final quarter and electrified the crowd, which included dapping with Mayweather courtside after one of his five threes on the night.
There were issues Wednesday, namely the Celtics committing 10 turnovers in the first half, offsetting the team’s 9-for-19 sharpshooting from 3-point range.
John Wall, fresh from his December Eastern Conference player of the month honor, entered the game averaging 23.2 points and 10.3 assists per game. Bradley Beal came to town averaging 22.1 points. Together, their 45.3 points per game were eight points higher than Isaiah Thomas (27.9) and Marcus Smart (10.2).
Of course, the Celtics were without the 18 points-per-game from Bradley, who was missing his third straight game with a sore right Achilles.
“Welcome to the NBA. It’s fun,” Stevens said, referring to playing the Wall-Beal combo a night after Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Celtics hung in there Tuesday against the Raptors before falling apart at the end. Stevens was asked how he thinks the Celtics match up with the elite backcourts when Bradley is healthy.
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