|03.05.15 at 10:58 am ET|
If there was one person in the building not surprised by the brilliant adjustment made by Celtics coach Brad Stevens on the game-winning inbounds play from Marcus Smart Wednesday night, it was Gordon Hayward.
He was, of course, a star player for Stevens at Butler University when the Bulldogs went to back-to-back national title games, losing to Duke and UConn. Hayward was also the man who scored what appeared to be the game-winning basket with 1.7 seconds left, giving Utah an 84-83 lead.
Then the Celtics called timeout. They wanted Smart to inbound the ball. But the rookie was having all sorts of problems getting the ball in. Another timeout. Then Stevens diagrammed a play to get the look that would free Tyler Zeller at the rim, if Smart could get the ball in.
“They switched the play before when Marcus couldn’t get it inbounded with Hayward and (Derrick) Favors,” Stevens said. “So, we wanted to try to get that switch again, so we just ran a little action to get that switch again and then (Rudy) Gobert was on the ball so he wasn’t at the rim. So we were hoping to slip and catch it a little bit cleaner and lay it in, but, you know, that was the goal – and it ended up being Ok.”
Was Stevens surprised that Gobert was on the ball?
“That’s a hard call, and I think that with Marcus Smart taking it out and Gobert on the ball it’s hard to deliver a good pass,” Stevens said.”If Gobert tips it the game’s basically over, unless it tips right to us. So it’s easy to second-guess that stuff, but I won’t because I saw how long Marcus had to throw over just to get the pass to where it was. It’s another reason why we had to throw the ball in the air, though.”
“Coach Stevens drew up a great play,” Smart added. “The first play was supposed to go to Jae Crowder, Utah played it very well and he came back with the counterattack. It was tough, they put a tall defender on the ball and I had to pass-fake the ball to get him leaning one way and Tyler did a great job shoving his man off and just put it at the back of the backboard.”
Zeller caught the ball, gave a quick pump fake and delivered the game-winner as time expired.
‘It was a great pass,” Hayward said of the Smart entry pass from midcourt. “That’s what Coach Stevens does. He’s excellent in those situations of coming up with a play, I know it better than anybody. It’s a great play, great design, they knew we were switching. The pass had to be perfect to get over Rudy (Gobert) and Rod (Rodney Hood), and it was. And then (Zeller) made a good finish too. Credit them with their finish, too, but that’s not where we lost it, though. We should have been better.” Read the rest of this entry »
|03.04.15 at 10:12 pm ET|
Gordon Hayward hit a jumper over Tyler Zeller with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give Utah an 84-83 edge, but it was Tyler Zeller who would get the last laugh. Brad Stevens drew up a play to perfection and Marcus Smart hit Zeller under the hoop for what turned into the game-winner at the buzzer. The shot was reviewed, but the Garden erupted once at the refs announced the basket was good, and the C’s came away with a 85-84 win.
Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were the game’s two high scorers with 21 and 18 points respectively — both coming off the Boston bench. Avery Bradley was the Celtics‘ only starter to reach double figures with 13. Trey Burke and Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 16 points apiece. The Celtics are now 24-35 after the win, while the Jazz drop to 24-36 on the season.
For a full box score, click here.
Here are five things we learned in the win:
UGLY FIRST HALF
Yes, both teams did play in different cities the night before, but a score of 34-33 at halftime is not a common sight in the NBA. Typically a cold start will get better for both teams, but after the Jazz took a 19-18 lead into the second quarter, the teams combined for only 30 more points in the half — leaving the Celtics with a one-point edge at the break. Despite turning the ball over just once, the C’s managed their 34 points on 32.6 percent shooting (including 16.7 percent from downtown). The Jazz weren’t much better, shooting a mere 37.1 percent, but attempted 11 less shots than Boston (46-35).
|03.04.15 at 9:26 pm ET|
Marcus Smart has been recognized for his efforts to keep the Celtics in the playoff hunt through a crazy trade season in Boston.
Smart and Minnesota Timberwolves sensation Andrew Wiggins were named Wednesday the Kia NBA Eastern and Western Conference Rookies of the Month, respectively, for February.
Smart ranked third among East rookies in scoring (9.8 ppg), assists (4.3 apg) and steals (1.64 spg) for the month. He also was fourth in rebounding (4.5 rpg) and averaged a conference-rookie-high 32.6 minutes in 11 games for the Celtics, whose 7-4 record was tied for fourth best in the East.
The 6-4, 220-pound point guard set single-game career highs in rebounds (10), assists (nine) and steals (five) during February. Smart scored in double figures in six of his final seven games of the month.
Smart’s playing time increased significantly following the Dec. trade of Rajon Rondo to Dallas. He continued to impress even as Danny Ainge brought in Isaiah Thomas in a deadline deal with Phoenix. Wednesday against Utah marked Smart’s 16th start of the season.
As for Wiggins, the rookie out of Kansas won the West award for the fourth consecutive month and helped the Timberwolves to a 5-6 record, their best mark in a full calendar month this season. The 6-8, 199-pound forward led all rookies in scoring (16.8 ppg) and minutes (38.7 mpg), and he shot 45.7 percent from the field and averaged 4.8 rebounds.
On Feb. 23, Wiggins scored 30 points in a 113-102 loss to the Houston Rockets, his third 30-point game of the season, matching the Minnesota rookie record set by Isaiah Rider in 1993-94.
Here are just some of the highlights of the month for Smart:
|03.03.15 at 9:56 pm ET|
After a three-game win streak and a hard-fought loss to the Western Conference-leading Warriors, the Celtics began answering questions this weekend about possibly playing in the playoffs.
Well, nothing tempers expectations like a 31-point blowout by the surging Cavaliers.
LeBron James scored a game-high 27 points, and Cleveland dominated from start to finish in a 110-79 victory against the visiting Celtics on Tuesday night. The loss marked the second straight for the C’s (23-35), who fell two full games behind the Nets for the eighth seed in the East playoff race.
Brandon Bass‘ 15 points led an anemic Celtics offense that finished 35 percent from the field. Meanwhile, five more Cavs joined LeBron in double figures: Kyrie Irving (18 points), Kevin Love (12), J.R. Smith (12), Timofey Mosgov (10) and Tristan Thompson (10).
For a complete box score, click here.
|03.02.15 at 4:40 pm ET|
Newly acquired Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas captured the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, becoming the first Boston player to earn the award since Jared Sullinger last season from Feb. 3-9, 2014.
Here’s a quick look at the week that was for Thomas.
Celtics 115, Suns 110: 21 PTS (6-16 FG, 3-8 3P, 6-7 FT), 7 AST, 1 REB, 1 STL
Celtics 115, Knicks 94: 19 PTS (3-10 FG, 2-6 3P, 11-11 FT), 7 AST, 6 REB
Celtics 106, Hornets 98: 28 PTS (9-22 FG, 2-8 3P, 8-10 FT), 7 AST, 1 REB, 1 STL
Warriors 106, Celtics 101: 20 PTS (8-21 FG, 3-11 3P, 1-1 FT), 5 AST, 2 REB
Thomas edged Hawks forward Paul Millsap, Hornets teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Mo Williams and Pacers guard George Hill for the award. Damian Lillard, who averaged 26 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds from Feb. 23 to March 1, earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who submitted the first winning month (7-4) of his career in February, was nominated for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month, but lost out to Pacers coach Frank Vogel for the honor.
|03.01.15 at 8:24 pm ET|
The Celtics are holding their own against the NBA’s elite.
Less than three weeks after beating the Eastern Conference-leading Hawks, the Celtics gave the West-leading Warriors all they could handle, establishing a 26-point first-half lead in front of a raucous home crowd before Golden State chipped away and crumbled their hosts, 106-101.
Once again, Isaiah Thomas ignited the C’s scoring effort with 20 points — missing a 3-pointer that would have tied the game in the final seconds — to go along with five assists in 29 minutes off the bench. Tyler Zeller’s 17 points led all five Celtics starters in double figures, followed by Brandon Bass (15 points, 12 rebounds), Avery Bradley (12 points), Marcus Smart (10 points) and Evan Turner (10 points). Jae Crowder added 17 rebounds and nine points off the bench.
Still, it wasn’t enough to overcome a Warriors team that owns the league’s best record (46-11) and features MVP favorite Stephen Curry, who netted 37 points to lead all scorers. Meanwhile, the Celtics drop to 23-34 and remain on the outside looking in on the East’s eighth and final playoff seed.
For a complete box score, click here.
THE RUN THAT WAS ALWAYS GOING TO COME
Since taking a 5-4 lead 1:55 into the game, the Celtics held the Warriors at bay longer than anyone expected, but it was only a matter of time since the league’s top-scoring team got back in the game. Over the course of 12 minutes from the end of the third quarter to late in the fourth — as Shaun Livingston gave them a spark off the bench, Green heated up and Curry remained on fire — Golden State outscored the Celtics 32-15 to grab their first lead since the opening minutes.
DEFENDING THEIR LIVES
If the Celtics have any hope of making the playoffs, it’ll be their improvement on the defensive end that will make the difference between a first-round series and a lottery pick. Six games after holding the Hawks to 42.3 percent shooting, the C’s held the Warriors to 42.1 percent — not an easy task two of the game’s most prolific shooters. Curry and Klay Thompson (20 points) were always going to get their points, but the C’s built their lead by holding Golden State’s frontcourt — Draymond Green, Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, David Lee and Andre Iguodala — to combined 4-of-20 shooting in the opening 24 minutes. That’s especially impressive considering the Celtics are sans Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk.
ISAIAH THOMAS IS AN ELITE SCORER
Quite simply, Thomas has been a dominant offensive force during his Celtics tenure, anchoring a unit that scored 117.9 points per 100 possessions during his first four games in Boston. Even more impressive, he owns a usage rate of 35.4 percent, meaning more than a third of the C’s possessions are running through Thomas when he’s on the floor. His 58.2 true shooting percentage during that four-game stretch would rank among the NBA’s best guard over a full season. Sunday night was no different, as his 15 points before the break led a 65-point first-half for the Celtics. He cooled off in the second half, finishing just 8-of-21 from the field and missing eight of his 11 3-point attempts, but his presence remains a revelation.
|02.28.15 at 5:55 pm ET|
Don’t look now, but the Celtics are making a playoff push — and a strong one at that, having won seven of their last 10 games.
At the beginning of the season, if you had to pick the three best players on the Celtics, your answer probably would have been Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger. As we now know, Rondo and Green were sent packing, and Sullinger is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot.
Enter the likes of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jonas Jerebko — players who were on three separate rosters at the start of the season (none of which were the Celtics). Those players have been dominating games off the bench in Boston’s last two wins. We know the NBA has been trending toward “small ball” lineups, but this unit often takes things to a whole new level.
Thomas is undersized for his matchup every night at just 5-foot-9, but he plays far above his height in the sense that he is constantly comfortable battling in the paint. Crowder (typically a small forward) and Jerebko (a power forward) moved up to power forward and center, respectively, in the new “small ball” lineup. The other two positions are often filled by 6-foot-2 Avery Bradley and 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart. Like I said, a whole new level.
“Well, with a two-game sample size I would say it’s been good, but I don’t know that we can determine if it’s good long-term or not,” Brad Stevens said of his new lineup that he seemingly stumbled upon. “I think that the biggest thing for me has always been if you can find somebody with enough speed and skill that can guard above their size. Then you can create some havoc on the other side of the court, and that’s what Jae has done. Jae’s ability to guard the post has given us some options as we’ve been smaller here, and Jonas too. But we had to double Al [Jefferson] still and we had to do some of that stuff, but Jae did a great job on Al Jefferson. He did as good as anybody can.”
So what’s been the difference in the C’s recent success?
“Isaiah Thomas,” Bradley said without hesitation when asked what sparked the change in the team. “Not only him, Jae Crowder, I can go down the list. Everyone’s just buying in to what Brad’s trying to do, and that’s team basketball.”
“That’s pretty nice,” Thomas replied to Bradley’s compliment. “It’s not me, though, it’s just this team. We’re playing hard, coach is putting us in a position to be successful and that’s the big key. We’re believing in each other.”
Come April, team basketball could be something that carries the C’s to the playoffs — something Bradley admitted has been a goal he’s thought about since the beginning of the season. Thomas concurred, admitting that Friday’s atmosphere felt much like a playoff game to him. Turns out Thomas might not have to wait as long as we thought to get his first taste of the postseason for real.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow.
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