|5 things we learned as Isaiah Thomas, Celtics motor past Pistons||04.08.15 at 9:46 pm ET|
Playing their final game against a lottery-bound team, the Celtics badly needed a win to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, and Isaiah Thomas — now recovered from the back injury that sidelined him for two weeks last month — carried them to a 113-103 victory against the host Detroit Pistons.
Thomas scored a season-high 34 points to go along with six assists, leading the C’s to their fourth win in five games. Combined with a loss by the Nets (36-42), the Celtics (36-42) assumed the seventh seed in the East with the head-to-head tiebreaker against Brooklyn.
The Indiana Pacers (35-43) and idle Miami Heat (35-43) remain a game back of the Celtics, who face a home-and-home series this weekend against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who clinched the second seed on Wednesday night and would currently host the C’s in a first-round playoff matchup.
Against Detroit, Jae Crowder (17 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Avery Bradley (11 points) all reached double figures, as 10 different Celtics reached double figures. For a complete box score, click here.
From the outset, the Pistons’ frontcourt tandem of Greg Monroe (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (22 points, 14 rebounds) proved a problem for the undersized Celtics. In the opening 5:34, Monroe and Drummond each scored six points on four shots apiece — all in the paint — forcing Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call his first timeout. Detroit bruised its way to an early 14-8 advantage and made the C’s to rethink their lineup early. Monroe, of course, becomes an unrestricted free agent when the Celtics have money to spend this summer, although his inability to stretch the floor with a jump shot may not fit Stevens’ pace-and-space system.
Rather than match size with size, Stevens instead replaced Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller with Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, asking Monroe and Drummond to defend out to the 3-point line. As a result, the Celtics closed the first quarter on a 22-2 run and led 30-16 after one. Naturally, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas helped key the run, scoring or assisting on 13 of those 22 points. By game’s end, the Celtics benched outscored their counterparts, 73-31.
|5 things we learned as Bucks trample Celtics||04.03.15 at 9:56 pm ET|
Allowing 36 points in the third quarter, the Celtics essentially removed themselves from the running for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, dropping a 110-101 decision to the Bucks at home on Friday night.
The final two playoff spots in the East remain in play, but this latest loss did the Celtics (34-42) no favors, as they remain behind the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat in the race for seventh and eighth.
Jared Sullinger briefly returned against the Bucks (38-38), Isaiah Thomas scored a team-high 23 points to go along with six assists, Avery Bradley added 17 points and Jonas Jerebko (17 points, 5 assists) submitted arguably his most impressive performance in a Celtics uniform, but it wasn’t enough.
Local product Michael Carter-Williams helped Milwaukee’s cause with eight points, seven assists, five rebounds and five blocks. For a complete box score, click here.
The Celtics handed the 10th annual Red Auerbach Award — given to the player who best embodies what it means to wear the green — to a beaming Avery Bradley prior to tipoff. And the fifth-year guard took the role rather seriously, scoring the team’s first nine points to establish an early 9-6 advantage. Playing all 12 minutes of the first quarter, Bradley was omnipresent defensively, wreaking enough havoc to help hold the Bucks to 40 percent shooting in the frame and take a 25-21 lead after one.
BUCKING THE TREND
The Celtics led by only two at halftime, but appeared in control of the flow of the game, and when Tyler Zeller immediately gave them a 54-50 edge after the break, it seemed like we were in for more of the same — a game C’s team holding off a series of surges from the visitors. Then, the Bucks rattled off a 28-8 run that transformed a four-point advantage into a 78-62 deficit late in the third quarter. Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia combined for 20 of Milwaukee’s points in a run that changed the game.
Things got so bad in the third quarter that Celtics coach Brad Stevens turned to Jared Sullinger, who was surprisingly activated hours before the game after missing the previous 24 contests with a stress fracture in his foot. Sullinger said prior to the game he had lost 20 pounds during his absence in an attempt to answer C’s president Danny Ainge’s public criticism of his conditioning. In three minutes of work, Sullinger missed both of his field goal attempts, committed two fouls and finished a minus-7. How much he is able to help the Celtics in the final six games of their playoff push remains a question.
Despite digging themselves a 15-point hole, the Celtics refused to go down without a fight, as has been their custom all season. Somehow Gigi Datome always seems to find himself at the heart of the C’s fourth-quarter comebacks, and while he didn’t score as the C’s slashed the deficit to four early in the fourth quarter, his insertion into the lineup immediately coincided with the 17-8 run. It must be the hair. Or his ability to spread the floor, crash the boards and play competent defense. But the Celtics never inched closer than four, and anybody who complained about the officiating might have a point.
MARKING KHRIS MIDDLETON
Bucks wing Khris Middleton will be an interesting free-agent case study. He’s exactly the type of player the Celtics covet — a potentially undervalued asset capable of playing three positions. Stevens loves Swiss Army types whose versatility allows him to toy with matchups in any number of ways. So, while teams fight over fellow restricted free agents Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler — all expected to remain with their current teams — is there a chance Ainge could pry Middleton from Milwaukee?
The Celtics would have to overpay, but they might be willing to do so in order to land a guy they believe fits their system. In addition to averaging 13.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line in 30 minutes a night, Middleton ranks among the league’s elite in defensive real plus-minus, defensive win shares and defensive rating. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the Bucks victory.
|Celtics’ Avery Bradley receives Red Auerbach Award||04.03.15 at 7:57 pm ET|
Prior to Friday’s game against the Bucks, the Celtics named Avery Bradley as the 10th recipient of the annual Red Auerbach Award, given to the player or coach who best represents what it means to be a Celtic on and off the court.
A regular participant in the Shamrock Foundation’s charitable efforts, Bradley promptly scored the C’s first nine points against Milwaukee, surpassing 1,000 points in a season for the first time in his five-year career. Appearing in 72 of Boston’s 76 games, he has averaged 14.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season.
“Avery Bradley received this award because he embodies what it means to truly be a Boston Celtic,” Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca said in a statement. “He continues to prove that not only can you be a great basketball player, but you can also be an amazing role model in the Boston community off the court. We are proud to have someone like Avery as a part of our organization, as he exemplifies exactly what it means to be a part of the Celtics franchise.”
The Celtics rewarded Bradley with a four-year, $32 million contract this past summer. He joins select company as the 10th recipient of the Red Auerbach Award since 2006: Paul Pierce (2006, 2013); Al Jefferson (2007); Kevin Garnett (2008, 2012); Ray Allen (2009); Rajon Rondo (2010); Doc Rivers (2011); Brandon Bass (2014); and Avery Bradley (2015).
|Jared Sullinger surprisingly returns to Celtics||04.03.15 at 1:13 pm ET|
In an unexpected turn of events, Celtics forward Jared Sullinger — once thought to be out for the remainder of the regular season with a broken bone in his foot — is available to play in Friday night’s home game against the Bucks.
On Feb. 22 the Celtics announced Sullinger “will be out for the remainder of the 2014-15 regular season” with a left metatarsal stress fracture, and C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge followed with some harsh words about the third-year forward’s lack of conditioning. So, when word came Friday that the injury “has healed completely,” it took everybody by surprise.
“We are excited that Jared’s recovery progressed quicker than initially expected,” Ainge said. “Jared was extremely diligent in his rehab, repeatedly expressing his eagerness to help our team reach the postseason. He will be available in a limited role this weekend as he works his way back to 100 percent game shape.”
Sullinger has averaged 14.4 points and a team-high 8.1 rebounds in 28.7 minutes over 51 games this season.
|Texas, like everybody, is chatting about Brad Stevens||03.31.15 at 12:40 pm ET|
A knowledgeable source informs me that as of this morning there have been no direct talks b/t Texas and Shaka Smart. Not sensing momentum.
‘ Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 31, 2015
The University of Texas, which recently fired head men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, has reportedly joined the growing list of Brad Stevens suitors. Of course, the University of Texas has also joined the growing list of institutions Danny Ainge will laugh at before hanging up the phone.
Brad Stevens is under contract through 2019 at a bargain average annual rate of $3.7 million. Unlike collegiate sports — where contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on — the Celtics would have to agree to let their coach out of the deal, and let’s be clear: That ain’t happening.
|Staring down the barrel of the Celtics season||03.30.15 at 5:01 pm ET|
The importance of the next three Celtics games cannot be overstated. Isaiah Thomas called Monday night’s visit to the Charlotte Hornets “a must win,” and really all nine of their remaining contests could command the same label. But, really, the next three could make or break their playoff chances.
After traveling to Charlotte, the C’s then respectively host the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday and Friday, marking a trio of head-to-head battles against teams jockeying for the Eastern Conference’s final three playoff spots. Here is the schedule for those five teams over the next five days.
- 6. Bucks (36-37): at Atlanta Hawks, vs. Chicago Bulls, at Celtics
- 7. Miami Heat (34-39): vs. San Antonio Spurs, at Cleveland Cavaliers
- 8. Brooklyn Nets (32-40): vs. Pacers, at New York Knicks, vs. Toronto Raptors
- 9. Celtics (32-41): at Hornets, vs. Pacers, vs. Bucks
- 10. Pacers (32-41): at Nets, at Celtics, vs. Hornets
- 11. Hornets (31-42): vs. Celtics, vs. Detroit Pistons, at Pacers
|Irish Coffee: Should Celtics consider starting Isaiah Thomas?||03.30.15 at 1:32 pm ET|
The starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller ‘ a five-man unit Celtics coach Brad Stevens has employed in 18 of his team’s 22 games after the All-Star break ‘ has been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions since the season resumed on Feb. 20, according to NBA.com/stats. That group has totaled 195 minutes together in that span ‘ nearly 20 percent of the C’s total playing time ‘ digging an average deficit of 2.6 points per game.
‘We have to punch first; we have to hit first,’ Isaiah Thomas said after the C’s dug themselves a 14-point hole in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. ‘I don’t know what it is. We’re waiting to get hit, and then it’s tough for us to get back in it. We have to change that as soon as possible.’
Meanwhile, every lineup featuring Thomas that has played more than 10 minutes together on the Celtics has outscored the opponent per 100 possessions, including a group of Thomas, Bradley, Turner, Bass and Zeller that has outscored opponents by a point per minute over one quarter’s worth of floor time together spread out over four separate games. So, it stands to reason the Celtics could benefit from swapping Smart for Thomas to start the first and second half.
Asked if he was implying his insertion into the starting lineup might help deliver that early punch, Thomas smiled. ‘I didn’t say that,’ he responded before wisely leaving roster decisions to Stevens.
‘If coach puts me in the starting lineup, I’ll be happy,’ added Thomas, a legitimate NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate. ‘If he doesn’t, it is what it is, but I definitely can help. That’s my game ‘ bring energy and make plays. So, if he calls my name and I’m in the starting lineup, I’m going to continue to play the game of basketball the way I know how and just do what it takes to win.’
Of course, moving Thomas might simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as few regular lineups sans the diminutive point guard have enjoyed much success. Stevens must consider whether Thomas’ presence would benefit the starting lineup more than his absence would detract from the bench.
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