|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.
|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).
|Celtics fall to Kings in back-and-forth affair||02.21.15 at 12:36 am ET|
Playing shorthanded without Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk, the Celtics gave a strong effort, but ultimately fell to the Kings, 109-101 on the road Friday night in the C’s first game following the All-Star break (click here for the complete box score).
The Celtics were in the game the entire way, even leading 16-2 to start the game, but then ended up by trailing by five at the half. The Kings couldn’t pull away in the second half, but a lot of that had to do with the Kings turning the ball over 24 times, which kept the Celtics in it all game long.
Avery Bradley led the C’s with 28 points. Also having a solid game despite the loss was Tyler Zeller, who finished with 22 points filling in for the Celtics’ lack of size.
DeMarcus Cousins led the way for the Kings with a game-high 31 points.
The Celtics will continue their West Coast swing by taking on the Lakers Sunday night.
|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.
|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?
|Celtics go ice-cold in matinee loss to Bulls||11.28.14 at 3:25 pm ET|
Another big first half lead. Another would-be win turned into a loss as the Celtics were outscored 24-11 in the fourth quarter and fell to the Chicago Bulls, 109-102, Friday afternoon in a matinee contest at TD Garden. Jimmy Butler hit four key free throws while the Celtics went ice cold from the field as Boston fell to 4-9 on the season. The Bulls, who outscored the Celtics, 55-42 in the second half, gained a measure of revenge for Boston’s stunning win in Chicago earlier in the month.
Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 rebounds while Avery Bradley added 18 points. Rajon Rondo finished just two points, three rebounds and one assist shy of a triple-double but missed two key free throws late as the Celtics lost for the fifth time in six games.
“I felt good coming into the game,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about, We scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
The game was highly entertaining, with plenty of back-and-forth.
Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose (hamstring) both overcame nagging injuries to start the game but it was an aggressive Celtics‘ dose of Bradley and Sullinger that proved to be painful for the visitors early on. Bradley hit his first three shots while Sullinger connected on three of his first four as the Celtics built a 16-point lead (54-38) midway through the second quarter.
But the Bulls finished the first half on a 16-6 run to cut it to 60-54 at the half. Brandon Bass came off the bench to score 11 points and haul in six rebounds to power Boston while Pau Gasol had 11 points to lead the Bulls.
The Bulls continued their charge in the third quarter, Rose connected on a three just four minutes into the third to tie the game, 68-68. Jimmy Butler’s 15-foot pull-up jumper gave Chicago its first lead since 6-4, capping a 16-8 run to open the second half.
The Celtics regained a measure of control late in the third quarter, going on a 15-6 spurt. Bradley scored the final 10 points in the run for Boston, which led 83-76 on Bradley’s layup with 1:54 left in the period.
The Bulls closed the Celtics‘ lead to 91-85 heading into the fourth quarter. Boston would shoot just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) in the final 12 minutes, scoring just 11 points.
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|Marcus Smart returns to practice, Avery Bradley tries to focus on being aggressive||11.26.14 at 4:37 pm ET|
The Celtics‘ main focus during their practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be on preparing to battle a tough Bulls team when Chicago arrives in Boston for a Black Friday matinee. However, a share of the spotlight will be on Marcus Smart’s return to practice, with the hope that he can suit up after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle.
“It’s just a matter of him getting back out here, and it’s more about conditioning than it is about anything else right now,” offered Brad Stevens. “Just because he hasn’t done anything on the court physically, as far as five-on-five in the last three weeks, or whatever it’s been.”
One thing the team certainly will not do is rush Smart, especially after Avery Bradley attempted to return prematurely from an ankle injury just last season.
“I don’t know [if Bradley can offer Smart any help on returning],” Stevens said. “Again, I trust our medical team and medical staff, and I think that Marcus and Avery, I’m sure, will share that discussion and talk about that. We don’t want anybody to come back before they’re physically able, because, obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”
Bradley knows he put himself in a bad spot last year, so his advice to Smart was simple.
“It’s tough. This is his first year. Obviously he wants to help our team out and he’s a little disappointed that he hasn’t been able to every single game,” Bradley said. “He’s back, but one thing everyone’s been telling him is just make sure that your body feels good, listen to your body.”
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