|Brad Stevens: ‘We’re still inconsistent on both ends of the floor’||03.04.16 at 9:05 pm ET|
Maybe Brad Stevens had a premonition. Or maybe he could just read the schedule over the next two days.
Before getting on a plane to take on the Cavaliers Saturday in Cleveland, the Celtics had a game to play against the Knicks. Whatever the reason, Stevens’ team came out flat in the first half against New York, a team that exactly the opposite record of the 37-25 Celtics. They allowed New York to shoot 52.3 percent in the first half while they shot just 42.2 percent. Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis combined for 28 points on 12-of-23 shooting from the field.
The Celtics trailed by as many as 11 in the first half and 58-53 at the break. The second half didn’t start much better. Five straight points for the Knicks, including a wide-open three for Porzingis and the Knicks led, 63-53.
Before the game, Stevens was asked about the areas of growth this season. Stevens cautioned that his team still had some maturing to do.
“I don’t know. I think we’ve gotten better execution-wise, gotten better offensively,” Stevens said, before adding, “We’re still inconsistent on both ends of the floor to the point where we need to be when it’s all said and done. I think the biggest thing is we’ve maintained a general optimism. There’s a positive vibe through thick and thin. The guys support one another. The greatest growth is in the day-to-day process of doing those things to build the trust when you need it most.”
The Celtics won a game on Wednesday night against the Blazers by 23 and the box showed the Celtics shot just 40.2 percent, making just 43 of 107 shots.
“I looked at the stats the other day and I was surprised we shot as poorly as we did from the field because I felt like we had a lot of good possessions,” Stevens said. “I think we’re having good possessions but I think we’re also getting some conversion points make it look a little bit better than it is. If you get a steal and you convert on the other end. You can play 2-on-1 or 1-on-0, that’s a heckuva of an offensive possession. That makes the numbers a little bit better than they are.”
Down 65-55, the Celtics went on a 14-2 run to take a 71-67 lead and the Garden crowd came to life almost instantly.
“There’s no question [home crowd has] been great for us the entire time I’ve been here,” Stevens said. “Obviously, the fans have embraced this group. It is a fun group. The way they play I laugh sometimes because we do some pretty haphazard things. Even I’m entertained over there sometimes and have no idea what’s going to happen.”
Brad Stevens may just be three years removed from the college game but he has long known the value of resting his players later in the season.
After Wednesday’s 23-point win over the red-hot Blazers, Stevens gave his team the day off on Thursday in advance of Friday’s home game against the Knicks.
Some may have read that as a reward, similar to victory Mondays in the NFL. But Stevens said it was more about pacing his team and tapering his players for the stretch run ahead.
“I think one of the things, I was never a huge practice guy late in the year,” Stevens said before Friday’s game against the Knicks. “I never practiced much more than an hour, an hour and 15 [minutes] once we got into late January, February, March. It’s about being as good as you can be with the time you have. Hey, we’ve made a big priority to give our guys as much rest as possible. We haven’t shot around in the morning. We did it once all year here at home and every other time we’ve come at 4 [p.m.] just so that you have an accumulation of rest. Is that right, wrong or indifferent? I don’t know. It’s something that we believe that again, fresh legs are important for these guys.”
There are always signs coaches look for when assigning more rest and freedom to the players. After the last several practices, many players have stayed and worked on shooting and other drills with the staff.
“One of my former bosses used to say that the sign of a team that’s really invested is they’re staying and shooting afterwards, and I believe that,” Stevens said. “I think when you stay and shoot, when you put your work in, that’s a really good thing. When you have a lot of energy in that and you’re not just going through the motions, that’s a good sign.”
There’s another good sign for Stevens’ Celtics as they head into the final 20 games. Thanks to a few injuries (Kelly Olynyk aside), the starting lineup and bench rotations have stayed pretty consistent, with Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller providing valuable minutes off the bench.
“Yeah, there’s some good things with that. Hopefully, by now, these guys know we’re not going to be riding emotional rollercoasters,” Stevens said. “We’re just going to try to get better. We’re just going to try to move forward, regardless of outcome and regardless of result.
“We can talk about things that we’ve done from a corporate-knowledge standpoint, things that we’ve tried to do, different ways we’ve tried to guard Carmelo Anthony or [Kristaps] Porzingis or whatever the case may be. You can quickly refresh that and then tweak appropriately. At least you have that backing. It doesn’t guarantee you’re going to play well but it does make the time you have to spend together less. It makes the time on the court less. As you’re getting in preparation, the more time we can prepare with clear mind and fresh legs, the better to me.”
The Celtics enter Friday as one of the hotter teams in the NBA. They’ve won five of seven out of the All-Star break and stand 37-25.
The problem is that the team they’re chasing in both the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference is just as hot. The Raptors, like the Celtics, head into action Friday with a 12-game home winning streak and they’re 41-19 on the year. That’s six games ahead in the loss column with just 20 games remaining.
The Celtics do have two games left with the Raptors, one in Toronto on March 18 and one at the Garden five days later. Still it’s a long shot for Boston to think it could catch the Raptors and beat them out for the division and the No. 2 seed when the Raptors have their sights set on catching Cleveland for the top spot in the East. They come into Friday’s game just two games behind the Cavaliers.
Does Stevens and his staff think about the standings?
“Not a ton. Obviously, we’ve got an idea, a general idea,” Stevens said before Friday’s game with the 25-37 Knicks. “But I don’t know specifically the amount of games separated by all the teams. I think the biggest thing is, from standpoint, we have 20 games left and 41 days left in the regular season and we’ve just got to try to get a little bit better every day. That’s about the extent of it. We don’t talk about it a ton. The players might but we certainly don’t as a staff.”
Then Stevens repeated his mantra of the last five weeks.
“Hey, we’re four games away from ninth. I don’t know. I think the biggest thing to do is stay in the moment and try to play as well as we can against the Knicks,” Stevens said. “I have no idea about all that stuff. There’s a lot of factors that go into that, how other teams are playing and everything else. I’m not good enough to worry about the other 29 teams.”
To Stevens’ point, the Wizards are currently 30-30 and in ninth place, on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Celtics are still just one game ahead of the Heat (35-26) in the loss column and three games clear of the fifth-seeded Hawks (33-28).
|R.J. Hunter sent packing for Maine||at 11:46 am ET|
R.J. Hunter is headed north for playing time and to work on his shot.
The rookie guard out of Georgia State was assigned Thursday to the Maine Red Claws of the D-League.
He hasn’t scored since Dec. 27 when he converted one of two free throws against the Knicks, going scoreless in the eight games he’s appeared. He’s missed his last 14 field goal attempts over his last 10 games since last making a shot against Charlotte on Dec. 23.
Hunter has seen action in just eight of Boston’s last 31 games, averaging just over three minutes a game when he gets on the court. Hunter has appeared in 28 games overall for the Celtics, averaging 2.4 points and nine minutes a contest.
The move north should help him get valuable playing time.
“I think we just use Maine as a great opportunity for all of our players to get better,” Brad Stevens said before Friday’s game when asked about Hunter. “The coaching up there with [head coach] Scott [Morrison] and his staff is outstanding. They spend a lot of time with those guys. They often do a lot of individual work on practice and game days with those guys. They do a lot of film breakdown and they’re running all of our stuff on both ends of the floor.
And so it’s basically an opportunity to play a game in our system just two hours north, and it makes a lot of sense. The one thing we’re trying to be cognizant of is they’re healthy. They’ve got a ton of guys. They just added a couple of guys. We probably won’t be sending up three at a time like we’ve done before. But it could be as many two depending on the health of our team here.”
Hunter has played in five contests for the Red Claws this season and is averaging 16.6 points, 4.6 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.4 steals in 35.9 minutes per game over that span. He recorded a season-high 28 points, three rebounds, six assists and two steals in 38 minutes of action against the Texas Legends on Dec. 31, 2015.
The Celtics selected Hunter with the 28th overall pick in last year’s draft. On July 27, he signed his rookie scale contract with the Celtics. After averaging just 2.8 points per game over his first eight NBA games, Hunter showed some promise, scoring 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting off the bench against the Hawks on Nov. 24 before going into a rookie slump.
|Celtics hope Kelly Olynyk can ‘up his activity’ next week||03.02.16 at 9:17 pm ET|
The waiting game continues for Kelly Olynyk and the Celtics.
The 7-foot stretch forward/center who injured his right shoulder in the final game before the All-Star break against the Clippers is still in a holding pattern, as is the team, something coach Brad Stevens indicated before Wednesday’s game against the Blazers.
“Last that I’ve heard is we’ll be re-visiting that on Monday with a chance that he’ll up his activity Monday, whatever that means,” Stevens said.
Immediately after the trade deadline on Feb. 18, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge indicated that tests on Olynyk’s shoulder revealed no serious damage and no need for surgery.
He suggested Olynyk, diagnosed with a bruised shoulder, would be out a minimum of two weeks.
With Olynyk, who traveled with the team on their 3-game road swing, not returning to basketball activities yet, that estimate appears to be overly optimistic.
The timing was very unfortunate for Olynyk and the Celtics. Before injuring the shoulder in the first half of the Feb. 10 game at the Garden, Olynyk had become a key part of the Celtics offense, pulling the opposing big out from the post with his 3-point shooting. Olynyk was leading the C’s in 3-point field goal percentage, hitting 41.3 percent of his attempts.
But the flip side of that, of course, is that it forced the Celtics to find other options in their offense, something they’ve done well since returning home from the 1-2 trip through Utah, Denver and Minnesota.
The learning curve that started down under in Australia has turned back to Boston for Marcus Thornton. And now he’s waiting on the Celtics to add another stop on his hopeful path to the NBA.
The 45th overall pick in last year’s draft by the Celtics is back in the states after his first professional season spent abroad with the Sydney Kings of the NBL in Australia.
The all-time leading scorer at William & Mary had his struggles this season, as did the team that won just six of its 28 games in league action. The guard shot just 37.7 percent from the field and only 28.1 percent from 3-point range. He did average a healthy 29 minutes a game and 12 points a contest in playing all 28 games.
With his season done, he returned home on Monday night to take in the game against the Jazz.
“He came over to the game the other night and sat in my office for a while and talked,” coach Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “It was a great learning experience for him. It was his first opportunity to compete as a professional. They have didn’t have the year he wanted to have or they wanted to have. But the good part about playing in Australia it gives him a chance now to pick up and join our D-League team. It’s a great opportunity for him and it’s a great opportunity for extended minutes standpoint for him. Also for us, for him to be in our system up in Maine.
“We can’t do any of that without calling somebody up or doing a contract. We haven’t had any discussions about the extra roster spot.”
Once they get the paperwork done, Stevens is very confident that Thornton could get some good work accomplished with the Red Claws.
“He’s a guy like many of our other young players that up there on our team that have some real strengths and some things that they really need to work on to be ready to play at this level,” Stevens said. “He’s got some ultimate bursts with the ball. He’s got the ability to score the ball off pick-and-rolls and off screening actions as we discussed this summer. It’s just a matter of finding more rhythm of doing that at the professional level.”
At William & Mary, he was one of only six players nationally to shoot 45 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free throw line. He was also the first player in school history to be named Colonial Conference Player of the Year and was team MVP for three straight seasons.
Entering last year’s draft, Thornton graded out as one of the fastest players at NBA Draft Combine and was taken by the Celtics with the 15th pick of the second round. He played in the Summer League for Celtics, scoring a personal-best 21 points in game against the Heat. In eight games in the Summer League, he shot just 27 percent and averaged 5.1 points in 11 minutes per game.
When LaMarcus Aldridge left for the Spurs before this season after nine strong seasons in Portland, many thought the Trail Blazers might be going through a bit of a rebuilding phase.
And when they started this season 23-26, even with the great efforts of Damian Lillard, those predictions seemed to be pretty much spot on. The Blazers were a good young team with lots of growing to do. But a funny thing happened, they got good almost overnight.
They’ve won 10 of 12 heading into Wednesday’s game and players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Noah Vonleh and Mason Plumlee have picked up the slack for Aldridge and complemented the likes of C.J. McCollum and Lillard quite nicely. At 24.9 years, they have the fifth-youngest roster in the NBA. Only Boston, Utah, Philadelphia and Milwaukee are younger.
And now, like the Celtics did last year at this time, they are starting to step up their game in time to make a serious playoff push.
“It’s not that big of a surprise,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s game. “They’ve already got a guy in Lillard that is very accomplished at a young age in this league and a guy in McCollum that didn’t average a ton [of points] but sure put a lot of fear into people when he played. It’s not a shock what he’s doing. And what they’ve surrounded them are guys that are really athletic and all have a chip on their shoulder. Kind of sounds like a familiar tale to some of the things we’re dealing with here.
“Our guys work really hard. They’re young, they’re hungry to prove, and for whatever reason, some of them have been other places where it didn’t work quite as well or fit quite as well. And you see the same thing in Portland and all those guys are playing at their best level and that’s what has to happen when teams are going to maximize themselves. Coach Stotts and his staff have done a great job.”
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