|Positive road trip gives hope to Celtics’ playoff odds||01.29.15 at 6:21 pm ET|
Last season the Celtics‘ record against the Western Conference on the road was 0-15. If there’s a positive way to spin that, it’s that Brad Stevens certainly left his team with room for improvements on the road for this season.
“It could go a bunch of different ways,” Brandon Bass said as the C’s prepared to depart for the six-game trip through three different Western Conference time zones. Yes, Brandon, it could have gone a bunch of different ways. However, I don’t think many predicted the Celtics would return home to almost three feet of snow with three more victories under their belts.
Finishing the trip with a loss in Minnesota left a sour taste in the team’s mouth, but the trip could have been far less successful in Stevens’ eyes.
“We had our moments where we played well,” the coach said of the road trip after returning home to practice on Thursday. “We won two 1-point games [back-to-backs in Portland and Denver] which could have gone either way. If we’re sitting here at 1-5 because those last two shots bounce in, do we feel worse about ourselves? Absolutely. Is it a lot less of a successful trip? Absolutely. But, because those bounces went our way, we feel better.”
With the unexpected success, the Celtics amazingly sit just two games back of the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference at 16-28. But the C’s haven’t just been getting lucky bounces in their own games lately, they’ve been lucky across the league.
The Pistons had been surging, and sit just a half-game back of Boston in the standings. But Brandon Jennings‘ achilles tear recently ended the point guard’s season, and may well keep Detroit from rolling into the playoffs after their turnaround in the post-Josh Smith era.
The Nets are currently sitting in the nine-seed, but Brooklyn has made it clear that they intend to sell, sell, sell as the deadline approaches. Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are all on the table. If they can find a taker on even one of those players, especially Johnson, Brooklyn could remain looking in from the outside at the playoffs.
The eight-seeded Hornets have lost arguably their best player in Kemba Walker for a long period of time after the UConn product recently underwent knee surgery. Unless they make a trade that brings them back some high-end talent, it would be silly to think that they wouldn’t slip in the standings.
Finally, there’s the Heat. Miami has a grasp on the seven-seed, but with a record of just 20-25, and Dwyane Wade injured again, they are far from untouchable in the standings.
Enter the Celtics. Their goal (or at least Danny Ainge’s goal) might not be to make the playoffs this season. Ainge admitted it wasn’t a goal of his last season. But the Eastern Conference is shaping up in a way that they just may sneak right in, even with a losing record. This current Celtics unit has not been together particularly long — it’s been a season filled with moving parts — but as Stevens said on Thursday: “There’s no better team building activity than winning a close game on the road.”
If the C’s can pull out a couple more close games on the road, then who knows? We might be watching this team compete during the playoffs whether it’s in Ainge’s plans or not.
|5 things we learned as Celtics’ road trip ends with loss vs. Timberwolves||01.28.15 at 10:31 pm ET|
When the Celtics left for a six-game road trip against a brutal Western Conference slate, many believed their season would fall apart. But while the C’s head home after a loss, the conversation has shifted to chatter regarding a playoff berth.
Boston didn’t play like a playoff team on Wednesday night, though, falling to the Timberwolves 110-98. Jared Sullinger was the Celtics‘ high scorer with 16 points and eight rebounds, but made just 6-of-16 shots and posted a team-worst plus-minus of minus-22. The loss drops the green to 16-28 on the season ‘ still only two games behind the Hornets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.
The Timberwolves won for only the eighth time in 45 games this season, led by Kevin Martin‘s 21 points off the bench. Martin was one of seven Wolves in double figures, including all five starters. Marcus Thornton (15 points) was effective for the Celtics off the bench, while Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Smart contributed 12 apiece.
For a complete box score, click here.
SOUR ENDING TO AN ENCOURAGING TRIP
The Celtics are heading back to Boston after going 3-3 during six games in three time zones. That’s a victory in itself. But ending it by losing to the worst team (record-wise) in the NBA with a chance to go 4-2 instead should sting. It puts all the playoff talk into perspective. This team still isn’t very good on the whole. But they showed plenty of promise in three huge road wins. Let’s face it, this team did something three times on this trip what they were unable to do once all of last season: Win a game in a Western Conference building.
|5 things we learned in a surprisingly close Celtics loss vs. Warriors||01.25.15 at 10:37 pm ET|
The Celtics have struggled to find a go-to scorer all season. Golden State, on the other hand, has cruised behind an MVP-caliber season from Stephen Curry. So, when the C’s visited a Warriors team coming off a game in which Klay Thompson poured in an NBA record 37 points in the third quarter alone, things were expected to get ugly.
Yet, the Celtics kept it competitive throughout the game despite eventually falling to the Warriors, 114-111. Jared Sullinger led the way for Boston with 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists. The loss drops the C’s to 15-27 and snaps a two-game win streak.
Evan Turner (19 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists) also had a strong game for the Celtics while Avery Bradley and Tyler Zeller each finished with 15 points. Both Kelly Olynyk (ankle) and Marcus Smart (death in family) did not attend the game. The Celtics kept Thompson from scoring 37 points in any quarter, but he did finish with 31 points to lead the now 37-6 Warriors.
For a complete box score, click here.
HANGING AROUND WITH THE BEST
The Celtics stayed hot coming off two of their biggest wins of the season. The C’s should have been down just four at the break, but a bailout call at the buzzer by the referees on Curry’s halfcourt heave led to three free throws and a seven-point halftime deficit (keep in mind that the game was decided by three points). The lead grew to 12 by the end of the third quarter, but the Celtics responded with a strong final frame. There are no good losses in the NBA, but considering the opponent, the C’s played one of their better games of the year.
|Jimmy Butler: ‘If I didn’t have [Joakim Noah] on my team I would hate him,’ understands why Kevin Garnett doesn’t like Noah||01.17.15 at 1:55 am ET|
Joakim Noah didn’t play in Friday’s win over the Celtics, but he still managed to find his way into the box score with a technical foul in street clothes from the bench. The call sparked one of the loudest ovations of the night from the TD Garden crowd — a fan base that has despised Noah dating back to his battles with Kevin Garnett when he was wearing green.
Noah’s cockiness was something that Garnett and Celtics fans have come to hate over the years. So in typical fashion, Noah took credit for the Bulls run against the C’s, claiming it was his technical that sparked his team. Jimmy Butler was asked about Noah’s claim after the game.
“No comment, man. Jo always thinks it has something to do with him. That’s your guy. Look at him over there,” said a smiling Butler gesturing towards a laughing Noah on the other end of the locker room. “Something’s wrong with him.”
So, is Noah the type of player that you only love when he’s on your team?
“Yes, I always say that,” Butler said emphatically before the second half of the question was even posed to him. “If I didn’t have Jo on my team I would hate him. So hopefully he’s on my team for forever because I really would not like him if I was going up against him.
“He just talks too much. He gets on my nerves. I don’t know,” he continued while both smiling and shaking his head thinking he may have gone too far. “I love him because he’s on my team, but if we end up playing towards the end of each of our careers if we go separate ways we will end up fighting. I guarantee it.”
Butler’s honesty came as a little bit of a surprise. So this seemed like the perfect time to see if one of Noah’s own teammates could see things from Garnett’s point of view during the many altercations the two shared while the Big Ticket was still in Boston (and even during his time with Brooklyn).
“Oh yeah, definitely,” Butler said. “I think that comes with the game, you know, two fierce competitors that want to win. [They’re] really great at their position. That’s what your going to get. Especially out of that one,” he finished while gesturing towards Noah once again.
Even though Butler is open minded enough to see things from Garnett and the Boston fans’ point of view, he is very grateful to have Noah on his side.
“Jo makes everyone around him play harder, dive on the floor, take a charge, because when you see how emotional he is you know that he’s really into the game,” expressed a now more serious Butler. “You want to go to war, you want to battle with a guy like Jo.”
Look, Jimmy Butler does not dislike Joakim Noah, “Jo’s my guy,” Butler said multiple times in the locker room. But Celtics fans may just find it refreshing to know that someone in the Bulls locker room can justify that he too would hate Noah if he were an opponent. KG might even find it a bit gratifying as well.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Brad Stevens credits Gerald Wallace for team chemistry amidst trades; 2 newcomers to be added on road trip||01.16.15 at 7:27 pm ET|
The Celtics have made nine trades on the season, four of them coming in just the last week. Brad Stevens has joked that he asks Danny Ainge to e-mail him the roster every morning just so he knows who he will be coaching. Evan Turner, who enjoys a good laugh, claimed that the C’s had to take attendance at practice this week to make sure all were accounted for. Bodies are flying in and out of the locker room. Stevens informed the media on Friday that the team will be joined in Los Angeles this weekend by both Tayshaun Prince and Shavlik Randolph.
But all kidding aside, Boston’s young coach feels as though 16-year veteran Gerald Wallace is as important as anyone throughout all the changes.
“I’m not too worried about chemistry in the locker room, and large credit for that goes to Gerald Wallace,” Stevens told reporters prior to Friday’s home game against the Bulls. “Because of the way he, at his age, has accepted his role and how he talks to the young guys. It kind of makes everybody else say, ‘I’m going to do what I can the right way every time.’ So I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Wallace is in a unique situation. The former All-Star is not in the C’s rotation at the moment, and when he is he plays minimal minutes, yet is still expected to lead. Not only by his coach, but by his young teammates.
“It’s a challenge for sure,” Jae Crowder admitted after Thursday’s practice about the team’s ability to remain focused. “I think that’s when guys like Gerald Wallace have to step up.”
Turner goes as far as to refer to Wallace as “uncle”, although he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his elder: “You got two types of uncles, there’s the cool ones and the ones that don’t want to be bothered, and he’s the latter.”
So the next time you see a shot of Wallace sitting on the C’s bench, remember that his role is not quite that simple. “G”, as he’s known around the league, is looked up to by Boston’s youthful locker room. That makes him a key contributor to this rebuild simply by example.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success?||01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET|
Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.
One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.
Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.
“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?
“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”
Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.
It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|5 things we learned as Hawks dominated Celtics||01.14.15 at 10:18 pm ET|
The red hot Hawks came into Boston on Wednesday and extended their winning streak to 10 games, and it wasn’t even close. Playing without Al Horford and Kyle Korver, Atlanta was unfazed and dominated the Celtics, 105-91 (click here for full box score).
Here’s five things we learned in a loss that drops the Celtics to 13-24 on the season:
THE HAWKS ARE REALLY GOOD
The Hawks have been silent assassins all season. Atlanta has lost two games since Thanksgiving and have been rolling over the competition in the process. Teams around the league have certainly taken notice, but so far it has yet to change what the Hawks have been doing.
Even without two of their best players, Horford and Korver, the Hawks brought their quiet confidence into Boston and played very well. With names like Mike Muscala, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore playing roles in the rotation and their starters all preforming like equally-talented All-Stars, the Hawks are onto something. Which begs the question: Could the Celtics build a “superstar-less” contender like Atlanta has?