|Hot Celtics might not only make playoffs, but have chance to advance||03.24.15 at 6:17 pm ET|
If the NBA and NHL playoffs were to start today, then the Celtics would be off to Atlanta for a first-round series while the Bruins cleaned out their lockers. Not many people in Boston saw this being the case on March 24.
Of course, the 31-39 Celtics still have 12 games to play, and while they currently sit in the East’s eighth seed, they are by no means a lock to make the playoffs. According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds on ESPN.com the C’s hold a 48.6 percent chance of landing in the postseason. If you want to see what the remainder of the regular season entails for all the teams competing for the final spots in the East, Ben Rohrbach gave us a pretty good look last week.
But let’s have some fun here. If the Celtics do make the playoffs, what’s their ceiling? We can all likely agree that if the Celts draw LeBron James‘ Cavaliers in the first-round that they stand no chance. Maybe they steal a game, but LeBron would prove to be too much. Boston could probably give the Hawks a good run and make it a series, but likely still fall in five or six games despite making Atlanta sweat.
What’s changed in the East over the past month is the fact that the Bucks are no longer locked into the sixth seed as they seemingly were just a month ago. Going into the All-Star break, Milwaukee had withstood Jabari Parker’s ACL tear and compiled a 30-23 record — becoming the first team to double their previous season’s win total (15) by the All-Star break in the following season. Since then? Frankly trading away Brandon Knight completely crippled them. Despite still holding onto the sixth seed by the skin of their teeth, the Bucks are just 4-13 since the break. Their 34-36 record means they are just three games ahead of the Celtics and a game and a half ahead of the Heat (who sit in control of the seven spot).
In their final 12 games, the C’s face seven opponents with losing records and five with winning records. If they can win seven or eight of those games (including two huge must-wins over the Bucks and games against the Heat and Pacers), the sixth seed is in sight. To further help Boston’s cause, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return on Wednesday for the important matchup against Miami, and ideally the rest of the playoff push.
The C’s clearly wouldn’t own home court, but would a matchup against the third seeded Raptors, or potentially Derrick Rose-less Bulls be something these resilient Celtics couldn’t overcome? Personally, I’d like their chances.
The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games, and look like they’ll be limping into the playoffs. They are also coming off a season in which they were upset on their home floor in game 7 of the first-round by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett‘s Brooklyn squad. The Bulls may be a tougher opponent than Toronto, but with Rose’s future as uncertain as any player in the league, the feisty Celtics would surely have a shot at an upset here if Chicago were to climb into the third seed.
I don’t want to take the fun out of Brad Stevens‘ first playoff race by raising expectations. Like I said, we never expected this to be the case from the beginning. So for now, enjoy these final 12 games. But if the C’s can get hot for this home stretch — with some help from Miami and Milwaukee — we could be watching a Celtics team that gets hot at just the right time go from making a little more noise than we thought this season to a whole lot more noise in the postseason.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|5 things we learned as Celtics roll over 76ers||03.16.15 at 9:55 pm ET|
The hottest team in the NBA? Well, that might just be the Boston Celtics.
The C’s destroyed the lowly 76ers 108-89 on Monday night, wining their fifth straight game and moving into a tie with the Pacers and Heat for the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. Yes, the Celtics (30-36) would now be in the playoffs if they were to start tomorrow.
Tyler Zeller scored a career-high 26 points on 11-of-15 shooting in an incredibly efficient 28 minutes. Avery Bradley also netted 20 points for the Celtics, who received double-digit scoring from all five starters as well as Jae Crowder and Gigi Datome off the bench. Massachusetts product Nerlens Noel was the leading scorer for Philadelphia with 18 points.
For a full box score, click here.
A FIRST FOR BRAD STEVENS
Stevens now has his first five-game winning streak as a head coach in the NBA — an impressive run, even if the latest victory came against Philly. Maybe even more impressive? The C’s have now won 14 of their last 20 games. No matter how you spin it, this stretch has proved Stevens can flat out coach. He just may sneak a team that has undergone several identity changes this season into the playoffs, so imagine the possibilities when Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge provides Stevens with the roster that many expect in the future.
|5 things we learned as Celtics top Jazz on Tyler Zeller’s buzzer beater||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).
|Playoffs are real possibility for red-hot Celtics||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.
|Jared Sullinger: Celtics ‘going to find ways to get me in the best shape as possible’||02.25.15 at 9:26 pm ET|
It was announced following the All-Star break that Jared Sullinger would miss the remainder of this season with a stress fracture in his left foot. Injuries happen in sports, but these type of injuries alway seem to happen to Sullinger.
This will be the second season in Sullinger’s three-year NBA career that he will have to shut it down early. The cause for even more concern is that both injuries (back surgery in 2013 and now his foot injury) can be attributed to Sullinger’s poor conditioning. This is something the power forward (listed at 265 lbs) is aware of, and plans to address.
“A little bit of everything,” Sullinger said of his goals during his recovery process. “[I want to] change [my] physique, change the way I look — that’s the biggest thing is just change the way I look. I’m tired of looking on camera and just seeing how I look, seeing how I play during extended minutes. Conditioning’s going to be a big factor, but it’s just going to be hard because all I can do is ride the bike. So we’re going to find ways to get me in the best shape as possible.
“Getting in shape is going to be the biggest thing just because stuff like this can reoccur. You don’t want it to reoccur, [I’ve] just got to get in better shape.”
So does Sullinger regret not taking his conditioning seriously enough in the past?
“I got in better shape,” he said about his last offseason. “It’s just there’s another level to it. There’s always another level [of getting in shape] for everybody. I’ve just got to take it to another level now. This year I came back in better shape, but obviously it wasn’t good enough. And now I’ve just got to get back to the grit and grind, the usual, to kind of break my body down just to build it back up.”
Sullinger will remain in Boston for the remainder of the season and continue working with team trainers and studying film with an eye on next season.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Isaiah Thomas: ‘Excited’ to make home debut with Celtics||02.25.15 at 7:28 pm ET|
Isaiah Thomas was only traded to the Celtics last Thursday, but he has made a huge impact since arriving. He helped keep the C’s in a close battle with the Lakers before being ejected on a questionable call, and then was the difference maker down the stretch in a big win over the Suns — the team that traded Thomas away.
Wednesday, before the Celtics squared off against the Knicks, Thomas spoke to the media at the TD Garden for the first time since the trade. So what was the first thing on his mind while arriving at the Garden after playing in Phoenix?
“It’s cold in here. It’s cold everywhere in Boston, I came to realize,” Thomas said with a grin.
As for some advice from his teammates on playing in Boston, the 5-foot-9 guard had a bit more to offer.
“Shavlik [Randolph] was saying it’s going to be different from everywhere you’ve played in your NBA career,” he said. “I’m excited about it. I’ve played here as a visitor so I know a little bit about the crowd and how energetic they are and how supportive they are. So I’m excited for it.”
Excited was the best word to describe the demeanor of the new Celtic.
“Oh, I don’t know … I’m just excited,” he said again when asked what he thought his reception would be upon getting in the game. “I don’t know. They might cheer for me … hopefully. I’m excited to get my home debut and hopefully we can get a win.”
As for Thomas’ role with the C’s, coach Brad Stevens says he expects to continue to bring Thomas off the bench for the foreseeable future. But Thomas sees himself as a player that can adapt.
“I can fit in with anybody,” Thomas said. “You give me a ball and a basketball hoop, that’s where I’m comfortable at — and you can probably say the same thing about all these guys in this locker room. They’ve made the transition easy, the coaches have made the transition easy, everybody has. So it’s easy to fit in when guys accept you.”
As for coming off the bench specifically? Thomas kept it short and sweet.
“Whatever [Stevens] needs me to do.”
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|5 things we learned in dramatic Celtics victory over Suns||02.23.15 at 11:47 pm ET|
In a blowout turned thriller, it was Thomas who had the most frustration to vent after being traded by the Suns and then being ejected from his first game as a Celtic. He led the C’s (21-33) over the Suns (29-28), 115-110, Monday night in Phoenix.
Thomas had a late 4-point play, followed by an acrobatic finish at the rim that essentially sealed a Boston win after Phoenix had cut the deficit to just a single point in the fourth.
Avery Bradley had a game-high 23 points for the Celtics, while Thomas had his second 21-point game off the bench in as many games as a member of the Celtics. Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight led the way for the Suns, scoring 21 and 20 points respectively.
For a complete box score, click here.
In a pick-and-roll league like the NBA, having a player like Thomas is crucial. The Celtics now have an offensive threat — a player that draws double teams because he can come off of a pick and make a quick decision to pass, shoot or drive to the rim. At 5-foot-9 he’s small in stature, but his value to the Celtics going forward is enormous. Not to overreact to someone who figures to be just a piece of Boston’s future success, but if Thomas’ skill set is so obvious in just a couple of games with a depleted squad, just wait until he’s not the focal point of the opposing defense. You can see why Danny Ainge has been chasing Thomas these past couple years. He was an absolute game-changer down the stretch of the only game we’ve had the pleasure of watching him finish in green. Aside from his 21 points and seven assists, Thomas led his team by a wide margin in plus/minus, finishing as a plus-21 in his 27 minutes of play.
CREDIT AVERY BRADLEY
In WEEI.com’s recent Celtics roundtable I wrote that Bradley was the one guy that needed to improve his play. Maybe he’s been reading Green Street during his down time on the road trip? Bradley has been fantastic of late. He came out and set the tone early with 14 first quarter points, and then had a huge steal and 3-pointer late to help seal the victory. And he did it all while hounding the athletic backcourt of Bledsoe and Knight — finishing with six steals to go with his 23 points (8-for-14 from the field).
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