|5 things we learned in Celtics’ win over Nuggets||02.04.15 at 10:01 pm ET|
Sandwiched between a successful West Coast trip and a wire-to-wire road victory against the Knicks, the Celtics lost a pair of home games to the Rockets and Heat. But with Malcolm Butler, Robert Kraft and a host of Patriots on hand at TD Garden on Wednesday night, the C’s delivered their first home victory in more than three weeks.
A pair of Jared Sullinger free throws with just 22.8 seconds remaining gave Boston a 102-100 lead, and Jae Crowder’s ensuing steal helped seal a 104-100 victory against the visiting Nuggets. The C’s improved to 18-30 on the season, moving within two losses of Miami for the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Avery Bradley and Marcus Thornton led the Celtics with 17 points apiece. Tyler Zeller, Crowder and Sullinger each added 14 points. Zeller replaced Sullinger in the starting lineup after the 22-year-old showed up late for the second time in four days. Ty Lawson led Denver (19-31) with 23 points and eight assists.
For a complete box score, click here.
|Jared Sullinger benched for second time in 3 games||02.04.15 at 6:22 pm ET|
After Jared Sullinger missed a pregame walkthrough on Wednesday, Celtics coach Brad Stevens benched his starting power forward for the second time in three games. Sullinger also sat out the start of Sunday’s loss to the Heat for showing up late to a walkthrough.
“It’s the second time in two years,” said Stevens, who “absolutely” addressed the issue with Sullinger. “It just happens to be the second time in [four] days. Again, I said it the other day, I don’t think it’s an issue. You’ve just got to be here. Our precedence is set.”
Sullinger recorded just seven points and three rebounds in 19 minutes off the bench in Sunday’s loss to Miami. Reinserted into the starting lineup in Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, he collected 22 points, nine rebounds and six assists in 36 minutes. Sullinger finished with 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 21 minutes as a reserve in Wednesday’s victory against the Nuggets. Tyler Zeller started in his place.
Addressing reporters about the incident, Sullinger blamed “traffic” for his late arrival – an understandable excuse given the Patriots’ Super Bowl parade. Except, his C’s teammates showed up on time, and Comcast’s Kyle Draper reported that Sullinger was instead pulled over and cited for a traffic violation.
“Everybody in this locker room was probably late one time,” a defiant Sullinger said prior to the game. “Things happen. You can’t let it affect you. We’ve still got a game. Just because I was late [to walk-through], doesn’t mean I was late to the game. We’ve still got to play a game. Our main objective is to win, whether I start, whether I get benched, whether I not dress at all. We just want to win basketball games.”
Stevens will leave the decision on whether to fine Sullinger up to Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge.
“I don’t want to make any excuses,” the coach said of Sullinger. “He won’t make any excuses.”
|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