|Brad Stevens, Sisyphus and a Celtics season in flux||02.12.15 at 1:51 am ET|
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.”
|Marcus Thornton on Boston: ‘I’d like to stay here’||02.07.15 at 12:24 am ET|
“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.
|5 things we learned as C’s extend winning streak to 3||02.06.15 at 9:52 pm ET|
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Celtics are riding a three-game winning streak.
They nearly blew a 26-point lead to a listless Sixers squad, but pulled out a 107-96 win on the strength of another 3-point barrage from Marcus Thornton. The veteran reserve connected on back-to-back triples to maintain a cushion after Philadelphia cut it to a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. The C’s (19-30) remain within striking distance of the eighth-place Heat (21-28), who visit the Spurs late Friday night.
Thornton (16 points) joined five other Celtics in double figures. Jared Sullinger led the effort with 22 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Avery Bradley (18 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points, 9 rebounds), Brandon Bass (13 points) and Jae Crowder (11 points) rounded out the C’s double-digit sextet. Luc Mbah a Moute’s 18 points led a 76ers (11-40) squad that was without Michael Carter-Williams.
For a complete box score, click here.
ON THEIR GUARD
With Michael Carter-Williams out with a right toe injury and Tony Wroten (partially torn right ACL) sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Sixers started undrafted rookie forward JaKarr Sampson alongside 2014 second-round pick K.J. McDaniels in the backcourt, and the Celtics took advantage early. In a span of 77 seconds, Bradley made his first three shots ‘ including a 3-pointer ‘ on passes from Smart, Turner and Sullinger, giving the C’s an early 7-0 lead. Bass’ layup on their next possession pushed the lead to nine and forced a Philadelphia timeout.
|5 things we learned as Rockets hold off Celtics’ comeback||01.30.15 at 9:59 pm ET|
After a dismal start, Marcus Smart’s defense and offensive contributions from a band of Celtics veterans sparked a furious comeback against the visiting Rockets, but the C’s couldn’t get over the hump in a 93-87 loss at TD Garden.
Smart held Houston’s MVP candidate James Harden to just 14 points on 4-of-21 shooting and the trio of Brandon Bass (17 points, 8 rebounds), Marcus Thornton (17 points, 4-6 3P, 7 rebounds) and Tayshaun Prince (13 points) combined for 47 points, leading the Celtics within a single possession yet again in the final minute after trailing by as many as 19 points in the first half — but it wasn’t enough to upset another Western Conference power.
“He’s pretty good,” Harden said of Smart. “He fits well in their system, and he made a lot of big plays.”
|Will any current Celtics make a future All-Star Game?||01.30.15 at 12:55 pm ET|
Is anybody on this Celtics team capable of playing in a future All-Star Game?
The current 14-man roster shares one All-Star bid, as Gerald Wallace appeared as a reserve in 2010, but the real question is whether or not any of the eight players currently under the age of 25 will ever receive an invitation. Needless to say, nobody on this year’s Celtics even cracked the top 50 vote-getters for good reason.
While we shouldn’t give up all hope on Kelly Olynyk or James Young just yet, it’s safe to assume Jared Sullinger and Marcus Smart offer the best hopes among these Celtics for a future All-Star nomination. So, let’s take a look at how the 2015 NBA All-Stars fared at the same stage of their careers as that C’s tandem.
Midway through his rookie season, Smart has averaged 6.7 points (54.3 true shooting percentage), 3.2 assists against 1.2 turnovers, 2.4 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 22.2 minutes over 30 games. How do those numbers rate against the pre-All-Star rookie averages for the 12 guards who made this year’s East and West rosters?
|5 things we learned as Celtics keep winning out West||01.26.15 at 11:42 pm ET|
Against all odds, the Celtics own a winning record on their West Coast road trip.
For the third time in five games against Western Conference opponents over the past week, the C’s came out on top, holding off the Jazz 99-90. The Celtics improved to 16-27 on the season, moving within two games of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Even more promising, they wrap up the road trip on Wednesday against the Timberwolves, owners of the league’s worst record.
Tayshaun Prince of all people led the scoring effort with 19 points on 10 shots off the bench. Fellow reserve Tyler Zeller added 14 points and seven boards while Jared Sullinger (9 rebounds) and Avery Bradley each contributed a dozen points. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz (16-29) with 26 points against his former coach at Butler.
“He’s just like me,” Stevens told reporters of Prince. “He knows what’s going on. He’s lived it all. They’ve got you down by 20 in a quarter, and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. You go up by 20 in a quarter, and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. He’s just playing. He’s playing the right way. He made us better today. He’s made us better with his presence already, and that’s been fun. It’s been fun for our young guys to have another older guy to kind of lean on and learn from.”
For a complete box score, click here.
SECOND TO NONE
Fielding a lineup of Marcus Smart, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Wallace, Prince and Zeller to start the second quarter, the Celtics ignited a 30-7 run over the course of 7:32, transforming a 21-21 game into a 23-point lead. Proving he’s still a capable contributor, Prince highlighted the effort, scoring 10 of his 12 first-half points and adding three assists during the run. After trading buckets with the Jazz early, the Celtics never trailed again.
As is so often suggested, basketball is a game of runs. The run giveth, and the run taketh away. And boy did the run taketh away in the third quarter. The Celtics went nearly six minutes without scoring a field goal in the frame. Meanwhile, the Jazz starters rattled off an 18-0 run that slashed a 22-deficit down to four.
Since Jan. 25, 2013, the Celtics haven’t finished perfect from the free throw line when attempting more than 15 freebies in a game. After making their first 16 free throws to start the game, Prince’s miss in the final minute kept the streak alive. Still, those free throws made much of the difference, as the C’s finished 21-of-23 from the line (91.3 percent) while the Jazz missed eight of their 19 tries (57.9 percent).
As Celtics coach Brad Stevens continues to search for the right rotation, the Boston bench proved more effective than the starters in Utah. Led by Prince and Zeller, the C’s bench scored 53 points on 20-of-35 shooting (57.1 percent). With Bradley (4-12 FG) and Evan Turner (2-7 FG) struggling to find their shooting stroke, the starters scored 46 points on 15-of-39 shooting (38.5 percent), suggesting the depth of Stevens’ rotation is proving effective in the February doldrums of the NBA season ‘ particularly during their fourth game in five nights.
“You can’t come out the way we came out in the third quarter,” Stevens added postgame, “and I thought we were pretty locked in and engaged, but we looked like we were running in the mud a little bit with that group, so I went to the bench quicker, and I thought the bench really did it’s job both times pushing the lead out.”
Credit Stevens for motivating an ever-changing Celtics roster in the wake of the Rajon Rondo trade. After losing 24 straight to Western Conference foes on the road, the C’s have shown considerable fight during their six-game West Coast trip, winning three of their first five contests and giving the Warriors more than they bargained for. Despite the turmoil, this Celtics team is developing. So, cue a Tayshaun Prince trade, I guess?
|Avery Bradley’s heroics give Celtics another win out West||01.24.15 at 12:27 am ET|
After failing to defeat a Western Conference opponent on the road in their previous 24 attempts, the Celtics won out West for the second straight night.
Evan Turner drilled the buzzer-beater the night before, and Avery Bradley provided the heroics on Friday, sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 remaining and making a last-minute jumper to hold off Denver and secure a 100-99 victory. Completing the stoners’ sweep — earning wins over the Blazers and Nuggets on successive nights — the C’s improved to 15-26, moving within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.
Bradley’s five points in the final 84 seconds gave him a team-high 18 points on the evening. Starting for the second straight night, Brandon Bass collected 18 points and nine points while Jared Sullinger added 14 points and eight rebounds, making up for the absence of Kelly Olynyk (ankle). Evan Turner (10 points, 6 assists) and Tyler Zeller (11 points, 6 rebounds) also reached double figures. Short-lived teammate Jameer Nelson led the way for the Ty Lawson-less Nuggets (18-25) with 23 points and seven assists.
For a complete box score, click here.
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