|03.26.14 at 10:47 am ET|
This is the first in a series on the parallels between Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge‘s last team to miss the NBA playoffs and this year’s lottery-bound squad. A deeper look at the C’s player personnel, potential trade packages and financial flexibility should offer insight into whether or not Ainge can recreate the 2007 magic of acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen seven years later in 2014. (Hence, Double ’07.)
Zero score and seven years ago, Ainge faced a decision that would influence the next decade of his once great franchise: a) Trade a perennial All-Star in his prime to rebuild around a young core and a top-10 draft pick, or b) Trade that young core and the top-10 draft pick to reconstruct around his Celtics captain. Sound familiar?
As the 2014 NBA draft approaches, Ainge will be faced with the same choice he made in 2007. Therefore, the Celtics must first answer a pair of questions: 1) Do they value Rajon Rondo at age 28 the same way they did Paul Pierce at 29? and 2) Who is available at what price? Here, like Ainge, we’ll examine the former first, as it will influence every other decision made this summer (as well as the ensuing posts in this series).
|03.26.14 at 10:46 am ET|
Remember last week when I said that the beginning of March Madness is the greatest four-day stretch on the sports calendar? Well, I rarely get to reap the benefits of being right, so this is the part where I say, “I told you so.”
Seriously, what a weekend. Some will whine and complain about the low scores, the long shot clock or the quality of the play. Really!? Mercer completely outplaying Duke wasn’t shocking enough for you? Harvard winning a tournament game for the second year in a row, then giving Michigan State a run for its money didn’t entertain you? Dayton battling past Ohio State and Syracuse into the Sweet 16 — setting up a double-digit-seed showdown with Stanford, which took down Kansas — didn’t inspire you? Sorry to ramble, but this tournament is just too much fun.
To sum it all up, just picture this: No. 5-seed VCU is at the free throw line for a pair, up four points, with 10 seconds left against 12th-seed Stephen F. Austin. Now I tell you Stephen F. Austin will win this game by two points in overtime, arriving there on two missed free throws followed by an improbable four-point-play with 3.6 seconds remaining in regulation. Would you even believe me? It makes it 10 times more fun if you had Stephen F. Austin in your bracket, too.
This is why you watch March Madness.
The Celtics are involved in some madness of their own, as they jostle for lottery position in the bottom-heavy NBA. They currently are slotted into the fifth lottery spot, which after giving a glance at the standings and schedules isn’t a horrible place to end up. With 12 games remaining, Boston has to face the amazingly horrible 76ers (riding a cool 25-game losing streak) twice before season’s end, but the rest of their games could be helpful to their cause.
The Celtics will play the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards twice each, along with games against the Hawks and Bobcats — all teams battling for playoff position in the East. Lets just say those teams will be playing for a lot more than the Celts. And even when Boston faces off against fellow lottery competition on the road in Cleveland and Detroit, those games come on the tail end of back-to-backs ‘ meaning no Rajon Rondo. A 3-9 finish is not too much to ask for going into Wednesday night when Boston plays host to Toronto.
As much fun as the NCAA tournament was to watch, things didn’t go quite as well for the top NBA prospects. Jabari Parker and Marcus Smart went down in their first games, Andrew Wiggins dropped his second game (ending his college career with a four-point stinker) and Joel Embiid never even played. Add Dante Exum (the heralded Australian prospect) to the mix, and none of the potential top five picks in the draft will be playing in a Sweet 16 game.
|03.21.14 at 10:16 pm ET|
Avery Bradley matched a career-high with 28 points on 12-of-19 shooting while making 4-of-9 3-point attempts, but his teammates shot just 36 percent from the floor and proved a non-factor on defense as the Nets — without Kevin Garnett — romped to an easy 114-98 victory. Brooklyn scored 64 first-half points and shot 56 percent in the game, with Joe Johnson leading the way with 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Paul Pierce poured in 14 points (6-of-10) in just 19 minutes.
For more from the game, click here.
|03.20.14 at 9:23 am ET|
The C’s had an exciting win against the LeBron James-less Heat on Wednesday night. Sure, it was fun to see Rajon Rondo lead the charge against a quality team, but what does it really mean? This season is already lost, so what it means is a five-game losing streak has been halted, dropping Boston two spots to the sixth lottery spot. The win lowered the C’s current chance at a top-three pick by 16 percent. You never know how the season is going to end, but all signs point to a tight lottery race. Was the thrill of Wednesday worth it if the Celtics finish one win ahead of the Lakers?
Enter the beginning of March Madness, the greatest four-day stretch in sports.
We know that there will be ample buzzer-beaters and upsets, there always are. Brackets will be ripped to shreds (as mine always is), others will turn into lottery tickets (just not the kind Danny Ainge is chasing). No bets are safe come March Madness, but feel free to learn the hard way if you must. Nobody needs any extra incentive to enjoy the most entertaining tournament we have as sports fans. However, this year Celtics fans will have one extra reason to pay attention — draft picks.
Don’t forget that outside of Boston’s hyped first-rounder, Ainge also will own Brooklyn or Atlanta’s pick, which could end up being a player who breaks out in the tournament. We already know the talent players like Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and even Marcus Smart posses. A bad tournament will not lower their draft stock, but a breakout tournament could boost their NBA stock even higher. There is no clear cut No. 1 overall pick, but Celtics fans obviously would love to see any top-tier talent arrive in Boston.
The immediate franchise changers will be determined by the ping-pong balls, the hunt for the rest of the stars begins with the later picks. Once the premier talent is off the board, a lot of the next prospects to be taken in the draft are players that raised their stock in March. I didn’t even know who Kenneth Faried was until Morehead State upset Louisville in 2011. After watching him play one game, I had no doubt he was a lottery talent in that year’s draft. Kind of an extreme example, but March matters.
Who is 2014’s Faried? Can Ainge get his hands on him? And most importantly, can he develop a better nickname than ‘The Manamal’ in the NBA? Time will tell.
|03.19.14 at 9:51 pm ET|
Rajon Rondo scored just nine points, but he was the best player on the floor all night, taking over the fourth quarter in a 101-96 victory against the two-time defending NBA champion Heat. Of course, it didn’t hurt that LeBron James (back spasms) was relegated to the Miami bench, but still — this was Rondo’s night.
The Celtics point guard finished one point shy of a triple-double (15 assists, 10 rebounds), ending a five-game losing streak. Avery Bradley‘s 23 points, including a career-high six 3-pointers, led the scoring effort, and four other Celtics reached double figures: Brandon Bass (18 points), Jared Sullinger (14 points), Jeff Green (13 points) and Kelly Olynyk (10 points). And the Celtics needed all of it from each of them.
The Celtics improved to 23-46, moving one win ahead of the Lakers and Suns for the NBA’s seventh-worst record.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Bradley’s back: After making just six of his 25 attempts from outside of 10 feet in his first three games back from an ankle injury, Bradley found the stroke that made him so successful early this season. The soon-to-be free agent knocked down three of his six first-half 3-point attempts and added a long jumper to enter the break with 11 points. In all, the C’s shot 50 percent (9-18) from distance over the first two quarters and stayed within 56-53 after two.
Charmed third: Working inside and out, Bradley and Brandon Bass shot a combined 8-of-8 from the field to score 21 of the C’s 27 third-quarter points. Rondo was on the feeding end of four of those buckets, finishing with six assists in the frame. As a result, the Celtics took an 80-78 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Bench press: The C’s bench situation isn’t pretty. It’s comprised of four guys who weren’t on the team to start the season, two rookies and another player with 45 NBA games under his belt entering the year. Yet, they received valuable contributions from three of those seven players, as Sullinger, Olynyk and Jerryd Bayless (7 points, 5 assists) combined for 28 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Worst first: The opening quarter couldn’t have gone much worse for the Celtics defense. While the NBA’s two-time defending MVP sat on the bench, the Heat still scored 34 points on 70 percent shooting to take a 12-point lead in the game’s initial 12 minutes. It wasn’t Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh who victimized the C’s, but Udonis Haslem. The Miami veteran scored 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting in the first quarter.
No LeBron: The Heat announced James would miss his first game in a month shortly before tipoff. It remains to be seen whether he’ll return Friday in Miami, but regardless of how they feel about him, Boston fans missed a player worth the price of admission. Perhaps a motivated Celtics team took it as a sign of disrespect, too.
|03.17.14 at 11:26 pm ET|
Though Jerryd Bayless nearly inspired a single-handed fourth-quarter comeback, a pulseless performance from the rest of the Celtics starting five yielded a 94-89 loss to the Mavericks. Bayless — who led the Celtics with 19 points — scored nine straight points in a 2:01 stretch in the game’s final minutes, and the C’s got within a point at 90-89 with just 22 seconds remaining, but Dallas converted four free throws to put the game away.
Despite the late outburst by Bayless, the Celtics’ starting five put together a brutal performance. The quintet of Bayless, Avery Bradley (11 points), Kris Humphries (5 points), Brandon Bass (5 points) and Jeff Green (5 points) amassed a combined 45 points on 17-of-55 (31 percent) from the floor, with Green (2-of-12) struggling through a particularly dismal performance. The poor shooting offset a solid night for the Celtics bench (led by Kelly Olynyk, who scored 16 and grabbed nine boards, and Jared Sullinger, who scored 13 with nine reboundes) and a dominant night on the glass (Boston outrebounded Dallas, 57-36).
For more from the game, click here.
|03.16.14 at 8:51 pm ET|
Sunday night the Celtics proved they are nothing if not entertaining in this rebuilding season.
Former No. 1 pick Anthony Davis scored a career-high 40 points to lead the New Orleans Pelicans a heart-pounding 121-120 overtime win over the Celtics in the Bayou Sunday night. Davis added 21 rebounds, the first 40-20 game in the history of the New Orleans franchise. Jared Sullinger, who helped sparked a late fourth quarter rally with a 3-pointer, missed a trey with 11 seconds remaining that would have given the Celtics the lead.
The last two minutes of regulation featured a frantic Boston rally and several wild sequences.
Kris Humphries forced the overtime when he took an inbounds pass from Rajon Rondo and drained a 20-foot turnaround jumper at the regulation buzzer. Jeff Green matched his season high with 39 points while Humphries had another double-double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.
Green was fouled in the act of taking a 3-pointer with 4.9 seconds remaining and made all three free throws to tie the game, 110-110 before Anthony Davis drilled a jumper that appeared to give New Orleans the win with 1.1 seconds left in regulation.
Down one, the Celtics had a chance to win the game after winning a key jump ball with under 20 seconds left but Avery Bradley dribbled the ball off his leg and out of bounds, setting the stage for the frantic final sequence.
The Celtics lost their fourth straight and fell to 22-45 on the season.
The Celtics scored 39 points in the second quarter to take a 64-57 halftime lead. Leading the way in the second quarter was Green, who hit two threes and led Boston with 12 points in the stanza.
The Celtics led 66-57 on a Brandon Bass dunk with 10:40 left in the third quarter. The Celtics were outscored 27-18 in the final 10 minutes of the quarter and went into the fourth quarter tied, 84-84.