|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.
|Hot Celtics might not only make playoffs, but have chance to advance||03.24.15 at 6:17 pm ET|
If the NBA and NHL playoffs were to start today, then the Celtics would be off to Atlanta for a first-round series while the Bruins cleaned out their lockers. Not many people in Boston saw this being the case on March 24.
Of course, the 31-39 Celtics still have 12 games to play, and while they currently sit in the East’s eighth seed, they are by no means a lock to make the playoffs. According to John Hollinger’s playoff odds on ESPN.com the C’s hold a 48.6 percent chance of landing in the postseason. If you want to see what the remainder of the regular season entails for all the teams competing for the final spots in the East, Ben Rohrbach gave us a pretty good look last week.
But let’s have some fun here. If the Celtics do make the playoffs, what’s their ceiling? We can all likely agree that if the Celts draw LeBron James‘ Cavaliers in the first-round that they stand no chance. Maybe they steal a game, but LeBron would prove to be too much. Boston could probably give the Hawks a good run and make it a series, but likely still fall in five or six games despite making Atlanta sweat.
What’s changed in the East over the past month is the fact that the Bucks are no longer locked into the sixth seed as they seemingly were just a month ago. Going into the All-Star break, Milwaukee had withstood Jabari Parker’s ACL tear and compiled a 30-23 record — becoming the first team to double their previous season’s win total (15) by the All-Star break in the following season. Since then? Frankly trading away Brandon Knight completely crippled them. Despite still holding onto the sixth seed by the skin of their teeth, the Bucks are just 4-13 since the break. Their 34-36 record means they are just three games ahead of the Celtics and a game and a half ahead of the Heat (who sit in control of the seven spot).
In their final 12 games, the C’s face seven opponents with losing records and five with winning records. If they can win seven or eight of those games (including two huge must-wins over the Bucks and games against the Heat and Pacers), the sixth seed is in sight. To further help Boston’s cause, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return on Wednesday for the important matchup against Miami, and ideally the rest of the playoff push.
The C’s clearly wouldn’t own home court, but would a matchup against the third seeded Raptors, or potentially Derrick Rose-less Bulls be something these resilient Celtics couldn’t overcome? Personally, I’d like their chances.
The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games, and look like they’ll be limping into the playoffs. They are also coming off a season in which they were upset on their home floor in game 7 of the first-round by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett‘s Brooklyn squad. The Bulls may be a tougher opponent than Toronto, but with Rose’s future as uncertain as any player in the league, the feisty Celtics would surely have a shot at an upset here if Chicago were to climb into the third seed.
I don’t want to take the fun out of Brad Stevens‘ first playoff race by raising expectations. Like I said, we never expected this to be the case from the beginning. So for now, enjoy these final 12 games. But if the C’s can get hot for this home stretch — with some help from Miami and Milwaukee — we could be watching a Celtics team that gets hot at just the right time go from making a little more noise than we thought this season to a whole lot more noise in the postseason.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|5 things we learned as Evan Turner’s triple-double cuts down Nets||03.23.15 at 10:03 pm ET|
With their grip on a playoff spot slipping, the Celtics snapped a three-game losing streak in convincing fashion, defeating the fellow Eastern Conference postseason contending Nets 110-91 in Brooklyn on the second night of a back-to-back.
The Celtics won on the back end of a back-to-back for the eighth time in nine tries and improved their record to 31-39, which combined with losses by the Pacers (30-40) and Hornets (30-39) vaults them back into the East’s eighth seed. The Nets dropped to 29-40, and while they remain only a half-game back of the C’s, Boston’s victory gives them a 3-1 head-to-head tiebreaker for the season. Four and a half games separate the Bucks (34-36) in sixth and Brooklyn in 11th.
Avery Bradley led all Celtics with 20 points, and Evan Turner submitted a triple-double (19 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds). Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller each added 18 points, Brandon Bass netted 12 and Jonas Jerebko finished with 10. Seven different Celtics grabbed at least five rebounds.
For a complete box score, click here.
Brad Stevens is obviously a historian of buzzer-beaters.
His Butler Bulldogs almost pulled out the most dramatic last-second shot in NCAA tournament history when Gordon Hayward’s bank shot from half-court went off the front rim and out in the 2010 NCAA tournament final.
More recently, he’s seen Evan Turner do the trick for and against his team many times. There was the game-winner against his Celtics for the Sixers last season at TD Garden in a 95-94 Philly win. Later that season, Turner did it again against the Nets. That late-game magic may have been one of the reasons Danny Ainge wanted to bring Turner to Boston this season.
It’s worked pretty well. Three times this season, he’s beaten the buzzer at the end of regulation. Twice it won games, and once it sent the game into overtime. Against two of the top teams in the NBA, it provided the winning margin, as the Celtics beat the Trail Blazers and Hawks this season.
So naturally, with Sunday’s game against the Pistons tied, 88-88, at the end of regulation, Stevens looked to ET for another otherworldly end to a game.
“We just wanted to do a little misdirection for Evan to drive and let him create space,” Stevens said. “I thought if he gets that shot off, that’s his shot. I felt good about it to be honest, it didn’t end well because it got knocked out of his hand or maybe it even slipped out of his hand; I haven’t seen the replay. I thought he had separation and I thought he was going to get a good look and when the clock was winding down I felt pretty good about our chances.”
As it turned out, fate was not on Boston’s side Sunday night. Turner couldn’t get a clean shot off because he could never get a grip.
“Part of the ball just slipped out of my hand and I knew Reggie [Jackson] was going to try and contest it. I tried to put a little arc on my shot. When I came up with it, it just slipped. He drew up a good play. Kelly did what he was supposed to do down there. I felt confident but the ball slipped. I felt confident going to the right baseline and doing a pull-up. I’ve done that shot a million times but unfortunately the ball slipped and we couldn’t [regroup].”
Marcus Smart may insist that his shot to the groin of Matt Bonner Friday night was an accident. But the NBA didn’t see it that way. His coach didn’t see it that way and, as it turns out, his teammates didn’t exactly see it that way.
His teammates, who have found Smart to be a fiercely loyal and hard-working colleague in the NBA trenches, had to take the court Sunday night against an inferior Pistons team in a game the Celtics needed at home. But due to his one-game suspension for Friday’s inopportune low blow, he was not available.
The Celtics blew a pair of 10-point leads in the second half and lost in overtime, 105-97, to the Pistons.
How will Smart respond tonight in Brooklyn?
“I don’t know,” answered Evan Turner, who scored a team-high 23 points, with six rebounds and eight assists. “I’m not in Marcus’ head. Obviously, as a team, he owes us one. I think we’re all motivated.”
Gerald Wallace made it clear after the game, in a speech to his younger teammates, that everyone needs to focus better in the final 13 games. Wallace is pretty sure Smart will be on board when he returns against the Nets.
“I’m pretty sure he’ll be competitive,” Wallace said. “I know he’ll be ready to play. Questioning his spirit is never a question for me.”
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