|Staring down the barrel of the Celtics season||03.30.15 at 5:01 pm ET|
The importance of the next three Celtics games cannot be overstated. Isaiah Thomas called Monday night’s visit to the Charlotte Hornets “a must win,” and really all nine of their remaining contests could command the same label. But, really, the next three could make or break their playoff chances.
After traveling to Charlotte, the C’s then respectively host the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday and Friday, marking a trio of head-to-head battles against teams jockeying for the Eastern Conference’s final three playoff spots. Here is the schedule for those five teams over the next five days.
- 6. Bucks (36-37): at Atlanta Hawks, vs. Chicago Bulls, at Celtics
- 7. Miami Heat (34-39): vs. San Antonio Spurs, at Cleveland Cavaliers
- 8. Brooklyn Nets (32-40): vs. Pacers, at New York Knicks, vs. Toronto Raptors
- 9. Celtics (32-41): at Hornets, vs. Pacers, vs. Bucks
- 10. Pacers (32-41): at Nets, at Celtics, vs. Hornets
- 11. Hornets (31-42): vs. Celtics, vs. Detroit Pistons, at Pacers
The starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller ‘ a five-man unit Celtics coach Brad Stevens has employed in 18 of his team’s 22 games after the All-Star break ‘ has been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions since the season resumed on Feb. 20, according to NBA.com/stats. That group has totaled 195 minutes together in that span ‘ nearly 20 percent of the C’s total playing time ‘ digging an average deficit of 2.6 points per game.
‘We have to punch first; we have to hit first,’ Isaiah Thomas said after the C’s dug themselves a 14-point hole in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. ‘I don’t know what it is. We’re waiting to get hit, and then it’s tough for us to get back in it. We have to change that as soon as possible.’
Meanwhile, every lineup featuring Thomas that has played more than 10 minutes together on the Celtics has outscored the opponent per 100 possessions, including a group of Thomas, Bradley, Turner, Bass and Zeller that has outscored opponents by a point per minute over one quarter’s worth of floor time together spread out over four separate games. So, it stands to reason the Celtics could benefit from swapping Smart for Thomas to start the first and second half.
Asked if he was implying his insertion into the starting lineup might help deliver that early punch, Thomas smiled. ‘I didn’t say that,’ he responded before wisely leaving roster decisions to Stevens.
‘If coach puts me in the starting lineup, I’ll be happy,’ added Thomas, a legitimate NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate. ‘If he doesn’t, it is what it is, but I definitely can help. That’s my game ‘ bring energy and make plays. So, if he calls my name and I’m in the starting lineup, I’m going to continue to play the game of basketball the way I know how and just do what it takes to win.’
Of course, moving Thomas might simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as few regular lineups sans the diminutive point guard have enjoyed much success. Stevens must consider whether Thomas’ presence would benefit the starting lineup more than his absence would detract from the bench.
|5 things we learned as Clippers snap Celtics out of playoff picture||03.29.15 at 8:42 pm ET|
If the playoffs started today, the Celtics would be on the outside looking in.
They lost their hold on the eighth seed in the East thanks to a 119-106 beatdown from old friend Doc Rivers and the Los Angeles Clippers. Despite another furious fourth-quarter comeback that nearly cut a 35-point deficit to single digits, the Celtics never led.
Meanwhile, Brooklyn’s victory earlier in the day gave the Nets (32-40) a half-game lead over the Celtics (32-41) for the eighth and final playoff spot. The seventh-place Miami Heat (34-49) also won and moved two games ahead of the C’s, who face fellow Eastern Conference playoff contenders Charlotte and Indiana in the next three days.
Isaiah Thomas (19 points) led six C’s in double figures against the Clips. Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (14 points), Brandon Bass (13 points), Gigi Datome (12 points) and Jonas Jerebko (10 points) were the others. Chris Paul (21 points, 10 assists) and DeAndre Jordan (15 points, 14 rebounds) both had double-doubles for L.A., and Blake Griffin (21 points, 9 rebounds) came close.
For a complete box score, click here.
The Celtics submitted arguably the worst defensive quarter of the Brad Stevens era in the opening 12 minutes. The Clippers scored 34 points on 60 percent shooting — including 3-of-5 from 3-point range — and established a 14-point lead after one. It marked only the second time under Stevens the C’s had allowed 34 points in a quarter. The last time, according to Basketball Reference, came Dec. 3, 2013, when the Celtics outscored the Milwaukee Bucks 39-37 in the fourth quarter of a 108-100 victory. For an encore, the Celtics gave up another 34 points on 50 percent shooting in the second quarter and entered the break trailing 68-47.
|Jae Crowder apologizes for Celtics’ ‘lackadaisical’ effort||03.26.15 at 12:12 am ET|
— JAE CROWDER (@CJC9BOSS) March 26, 2015
Things were so ugly in the Celtics‘ 93-86 loss to the Heat on Wednesday, Jae Crowder publicly apologized to Boston fans for the effort put forth by himself and his teammates.
Of course, Jae Crowder led all C’s with 16 points, barreled his way to 11 free throw attempts and grabbed seven rebounds in what seemed like a typically hardnosed 27 minutes from the forward. Along with Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome, Crowder was part of the last-ditch lineup Celtics coach Brad Stevens discovered in the fourth quarter. That group slashed a 22-point deficit down to six before running out of time, but Crowder wasn’t satisfied.
“We don’t show up for three quarters. I don’t understand it,” he said as the C’s fell to 31-40 — still in eighth place, but just a half-game out of 11th. “You can’t come out lackadaisical”
“That’s something we have to fix as a team, as a group,” added Smart, who scored four of his six points and swiped three of his four steals in a remarkable fourth-quarter defensive effort that came too late. “If we don’t fix that and figure that out quick, we’re gonna have some problems.”
|Goran Dragic ‘surprised’ Isaiah Thomas landed in Boston||03.25.15 at 11:54 pm ET|
Goran Dragic requested a trade from the Suns, so when Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough also dealt Isaiah Thomas minutes before the deadline, the news came as a bit of a shock.
“If I’m honest, I was a little bit surprised, especially because I asked for the trade,” said Dragic after his Heat beat the Celtics, 93-86. “But that’s how the NBA goes. It’s a business.”
Following Dragic’s Third Team All-NBA campaign in 2013-14, Phoenix acquired Isaiah Thomas on a four-year, $27 million contract in a sign-and-trade with the Kings — seemingly as insurance should restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe find a lucrative contract offer elsewhere.
Only the Suns then reached a five-year, $70 million deal to keep Bledsoe in Phoenix. In theory, the Suns entered this season capable of extending the two-point-guard attack that worked so well last season over a full 48 minutes, but reality eventually took over on the court.
“Unfortunately, we had three point guards at the same position and only one ball,” added Dragic, who scored a game-high 22 points Wednesday, “so it’s kind of hard to satisfy everybody.”
In the end, Dragic landed in Miami, where he’s excited about the Heat’s playoff potential, especially if they can ever get healthy, and Thomas found his way to Boston. While rumors spread that the two former teammates butted heads in Phoenix, both players squashed that notion.
Asked about the on-court dynamic between the two during their 46 games as a backcourt tandem, Thomas said, “It was nice. When we did play together, it worked. He’s a hell of a player.”
“I talked with Isaiah. He’s happy here. He was a great teammate. We had a good relationship,” added Dragic, who then offered a glowing scouting report on Thomas, who returned from injury on Wednesday. “He can score in bunches. He’s an offensive-minded player. If he’s hot, he can score 30 points easy. He has that quality to put his team on his shoulders, especially on offense.”
As for Thomas’ new backcourt mates, Dragic is also impressed and seems to think they complement him well. “[Marcus Smart] is aggressive like Avery Bradley. They’re really good defenders on the ball. … It’s always nice to have these kinds of players on your team, because you know they’re going to defend the whole game, and they’re going to cause a lot of problems for the offense.”
No Dwyane Wade, no Hassan Whiteside and no Chris Andersen should have been no problem for the Celtics, but the hometown team with newfound playoff aspirations submitted one of its worst performances of the season Wednesday night.
The Heat dominated the first three quarters en route to a 93-86 victory that would have looked a lot worse if not for a furious fourth quarter comeback by Boston. Wade, Whiteside and Andersen all were inactive due to injuries, but their absences had little impact on the outcome, as Goran Dragic’s 22 points led five Miami scorers in double figures.
The Celtics cut the deficit to six points in the final two minutes, but ultimately fell short of an improbable comeback. Jae Crowder (16 points, 7 rebounds) led the C’s in scoring. Avery Bradley (12 points), Phil Pressey (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (10 points, 8 rebounds) also reached double figures.
A win would have pulled the Celtics (31-40) into a seventh-place tie with the Heat (33-38), but instead they remain as the eighth seed — holding the tiebreaker against the Pacers (31-40) and leading the Nets (30-40) and Hornets (30-40) by a half-game each. For a complete box score, click here.
ISAIAH THOMAS RETURNS
Thomas missed eight games with a bruised back after taking a hard fall the last time the Celtics played the Heat. He was still wincing in the locker room before the game, but felt “good enough” to return to game action. His performance failed to reflect his confidence, as he struggled through his 20 minutes and finished 2-for-7 from the field. Late in the second quarter he took a charge and landed directly on his injured tailbone. He got up groaning and looked to be in serious pain. He returned in the second half but was no more effective. Thomas finished with four points, zero assists and three turnovers.
CELTICS DIG DEEP HOLE
The Celtics played a terrible first half, especially on the defensive end. The Heat capitalized on a wide array of open looks, shooting an outrageously high 60 percent from the field. In addition to a number of easy layups, Miami punished the Celtics from beyond the arc, converting 7-of-12 3-pointers. To compound their problems, the Celtics also turned the ball over 13 times and entered the locker room trailing 57-40.
For starters, I’m not saying Celtics coach Brad Stevens will or even should win the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor. Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr are the heavy favorites, and rightfully so, considering their Hawks and Warriors respectively perch atop the East and West.
Rather, this is the argument one could make for Stevens should anyone choose to do so.
There has been much discussion about the difficulty in evaluating a perceived increase in coaching influence around the league, but there are certain truths about a coach’s role we hold self-evident ‘ their ability to effect wins and losses, design effective offenses and defenses, and manage ebbs and flows of rosters often altered by trades and injuries.
With those in mind, let’s examine eight statistical measures as they relate to all 30 teams: 1) win percentage, 2) point differential, 3) offensive rating, 4) defensive rating, 5) net rating, 6) pace of play, 7) roster turnover and 8) total games missed by its members. The first five are objectively obvious, and the final three allow for subjective interpretation.
For example, no team slowed its pace more than the Lakers since last season, if only because of new coach Byron Scott’s grinding approach, no team turned over its roster more than the Cavaliers, as a result of King James and his court, and no team missed fewer man games during the 2013-14 regular season than the Thunder ‘ a stark contrast to this year’s edition.
So, let’s first look at how significantly each team changed from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
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