|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 as Jonas Jerebko leads Celtics in rout of Knicks||02.25.15 at 10:09 pm ET|
Gigi Datome is the new Gino Time.
The newly acquired Italian entered the game with 3:46 left in a 115-94 blowout victory against the Knicks, but it was his former Pistons teammate Jonas Jerebko who started the Celtics‘ dance party. The 27-year-old Swede scored 20 points for the first time in almost a year, draining four of the C’s 14 3-pointers on the night while adding five rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench.
Additionally, Evan Turner recorded the first triple-double of his career (10 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists). Isaiah Thomas added 19 points and seven assists during his first Boston appearance in a Celtics uniform. Jae Crowder (18 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists), Marcus Smart (16 points, 4 assists) and Avery Bradley (12 points) also reached double figures.
We’re three games into the Isaiah Thomas era in Boston, and it’s already apparent he’s the best player on this Celtics roster. Two minutes into his Garden debut, he buried his first shot attempt as a member of the C’s in their home building. It was a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 21-19 lead. A minute later, he connected on his second attempt — a driving layup. And that’s Thomas. No Celtics guard attempts as many shots at the rim (3.2 per game), and no Celtics player attempts as many free throws (4.7 per game). Likewise, he leads the C’s in both 3-point attempts (4.6 per game) and 3-point percentage (39.2). He is no Paul Pierce, but Thomas is the C’s most dynamic scorer since their former captain.
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||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).
|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 about Celtics at trade deadline||02.20.15 at 12:20 am ET|
In the words of Ron Burgundy: “Boy, that really escalated quickly.”
Just when we appeared to be headed for a quiet trade deadline, seemingly half the league began swapping players and picks around as if there wouldn’t be another opportunity for years. When the smoke cleared, a record 37 players were moved by the deadline, and that doesn’t even include the future draft picks that changed hands.
So in wake of everything that happened today, here’s five things we learned about the Celtics at the deadline.
Thomas’ name came up in trade talks when Boston was rumored to send Rajon Rondo to the Kings last season, then again when Danny Ainge was the first person to reach out to Thomas as free agency began last summer, and now, obviously, the third time was a charm for Ainge. This is not a coincidence, the Celtics have been after Thomas for a while.
The 5-foot-9 Washington product was the last pick in 2011’s NBA draft but has far exceeded expectations during his time in the league. Last year with the Kings, Thomas produced averages of 20.3 points and 6.3 assists. So far this season Thomas has averaged 15.2 points and 3.7 helpers, but in limited minutes off the bench while helping his Suns team hold down a playoff spot in the West.
If I had to venture a guess, I’d say the Celtics front office see Thomas as its point guard of the future. But if I’m wrong– and this is one of the best parts of Thomas’ contract — his deal always remains a tradeable asset. Due just $27 million over four years, there’s really no risk to brining Thomas on board.
MARCUS SMART NOW IS A SHOOTING GUARD
With Thomas in Boston, Smart now likely becomes the starting shooting guard, otherwise a backup combo guard for the time being. Smart had briefly been in control of the starting point guard role before the All-Star break, and did a good job with it. Smart still may backup Thomas at point guard while seeing a majority of his minutes off the ball, but it would be nice to see Smart get assigned a position and stick to it. With that said, Smart has adjusted very well no matter what role has been asked of him. I expect that trend to continue and Smart to have a strong finish to his rookie campaign — including small ball lineups with Thomas and Avery Bradley. The bottom line is that if he continues improving his shot and his relentless defense, Smart is going to be a very good pro. If he has one area he needs to improve upon, it’s in getting to the rim.
AINGE IS BEGINNING TO CASH IN HIS CHIPS
You might not be able to call the Celtics buyers at the deadline, but just think back on each of Ainge’s trades over the summer and throughout the season. They all accomplished one of two goals — the first being to add future draft picks and the second being to move unwanted long-term contracts for expiring deals.
This trade — although Thomas is a nice long-term asset — accomplished neither. Ainge actually finally shipped out one of his future assets (a 2016 first-round pick from the Cavs) in order to add a piece of the puzzle. The Celtics will gladly use their two first-round picks in June’s upcoming draft, but things are starting to get to the point where Ainge is ready to pull the trigger on moving picks for players when the right deal presents itself as it did with Phoenix.
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