|Brad Stevens, Sisyphus and a Celtics season in flux||02.12.15 at 1:51 am ET|
It’s been exactly one month since the Celtics finalized the Jeff Green trade — completing a series of deals that also sent Rajon Rondo packing — and yet they’re playing their best basketball of the season. After losing three straight immediately following their leading scorer’s departure, the C’s have won seven of their last 12 games to enter the All-Star break trailing the Hornets and Heat by only one loss for the Eastern Conference’s final two postseason spots.
Despite a 20-31 record, the Celtics are in the playoff conversation. Seriously.
“It’s always been a conversation, since Day 1,” said Marcus Thornton, whose 14 points helped ground the Hawks on Wednesday night. “I believe we can make it, and I believe we can make noise, too, so it’s on us to make that happen.”
Except, some of the current C’s weren’t here when the season began — namely rotation players Jae Crowder and Tayshaun Prince — and not all of them are expected to be around when the team reconvenes for the second half in Sacramento some 24 hours after the league’s Feb. 19 trade deadline.
So, Jared Sullinger can decry all he wants, “It’s the All-Star break; that’s the last thing on our mind,” but the harsh reality is this team that appears to be just hitting its stride could look completely different in a week.
“I’m going to use that time to take off and kind of forget about basketball a little bit,” Thornton said when asked about an eight-day vacation leading up to the trade deadline, “but wherever I’m at, I’m ready to go.”
|5 things we learned in Celtics’ amazing Hawks upset||02.11.15 at 10:05 pm ET|
Brandon Bass called it.
As the Celtics exited a timeout trailing the first-place Atlanta Hawks by one with 6.3 seconds remaining, the veteran forward turned to his teammates and said, “E.T.’s going to win it with a floater.” Sure enough, Evan Turner‘s runner swished through the net for an 89-88 win, capping an 18-point comeback against a team with just 10 previous losses.
“I think it says a lot for us as a team,” said Turner. “We were able to come back against the best team in the league, down . We shot like 30 percent, but once we try to put together a whole game — put together the defensive and offensive game — we’ll be all right. It’s a great win, and it’s always better to go in on a break on a win and not a loss.”
Indeed, the Celtics (20-31) pulled within one loss of the Charlotte Hornets (22-30) and Miami Heat (22-30) for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern Conference with a 7-5 record in their final 12 games before the All-Star break.
Having won three of their last four games, the Celtics looked to stay hot in their final game before entering the All-Star break. Unfortunately for Brad Stevens & Co., the first-place Hawks stood in their way.
Turner’s game-winner gave him 12 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in the victory against Atlanta. Jared Sullinger added 17 points and 15 rebounds. And Marcus Thornton contributed 14 points off the bench. Al Horford led the Hawks (43-11) with 22 points and 12 rebounds.
For a full box score, click here.
|Kelly Olynyk discusses returning from ankle injury||at 7:37 pm ET|
Kelly Olynyk will be missing his 11th consecutive game due to a right ankle sprain when the Celtics take on the Hawks at TD Garden on Wednesday — the C’s final game before the extended All-Star break.
“Yeah, it was a pretty good one,” Olynyk said of the injury while half-smiling to reporters. “I saw a little bit of it [on replay], it was pretty bad.”
“We have another week off, it just makes more sense to hold off,” offered the Gonzaga product on why he would be sitting out Wednesday’s game.
So when will Olynyk be cleared to play?
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “[I’ve] just got to see how everything progresses. It’s kind of ambiguous but that’s how it is.”
The Celtics will be out West following the All-Star break, their first game is Feb 20 when they take on the Kings in Sacramento.
|Trades worth the Celtics’ while: Part 6||at 1:27 pm ET|
A major theme of the rebuilding Celtics has been that no player is safe from being traded for the betterment of the team ‘ something Danny Ainge has shown the willingness to do throughout his career (and now once again by trading Rajon Rondo). Here are some trades that make sense for the mess that is the Boston Celtics. Again, these specific trades are not rumors, simply ideas. This is part six.
After a flurry of trades, Danny Ainge’s phone has finally cooled off. At least for the last couple of weeks. But now the trade deadline is a mere eight days away, so expect things to begin to heat back up.
If you take a look around the league (which to me means skim through the ESPN trade machine for an hour), it makes sense that the Celtics haven’t been able to piece together any more moves that accomplish the goal of selling unneeded parts for future draft picks. Most teams that are considered buyers have either already made their moves to add help, or simply don’t have the contracts or assets that would match what Boston is trying to do.
However, there are still buyers out there.
The Hawks are back in Boston on Wednesday, and despite continuing to run away with the Eastern Conference, Atlanta still has many doubters. The Hawks just traded rookie Adreian Payne to the Timberwolves in order to add a 2017 first-round pick — a pick that figures to be used to add more firepower for this season. Furthermore, Atlanta has also been rumored as a potential landing spot for free-agent guard Ray Allen.
But with the Hawks still under the cap, here’s a move that could help them build their bench:
HAWKS GET: Brandon Bass
CELTICS GET: Elton Brand and a future second-round draft pick
*Brand would have to waive his trade clause
This deal makes perfect sense for both sides, but would probably need to wait until Atlanta knows if they will be making a bigger move first. Coming off a month where the Hawks entire starting lineup won Conference Player of the Month (which is absolutely remarkable), it’s now time to build their bench. The addition of Allen — or any other guard around the league that they can lure with their newly acquired first-rounder — would sure-up Atlanta’s backcourt, but they still need help off the bench in the form of a big. Bass is that guy.
Because the Hawks are under the cap, they are able to swap Brand’s $2 million expiring contract for Bass’ $6.9 million expiring deal without any problems. Boston would most likely buy Brand’s contract out, saving them money for the rest of the season, while Bass provides the perfect spark for the Hawks. In addition, Ainge tosses another second-rounder in his pile … you never know when all of them may come in handy.
|Marcus Thornton on Boston: ‘I’d like to stay here’||02.07.15 at 12:24 am ET|
“Guys in here are trying to win,” said Jae Crowder, the only one left from the Dec. 19 Rondo deal. “A lot of people counted us out, so we have a lot of pride in this locker room, and the city has a lot of pride, so we want to keep playing for those guys, playing for ourselves and playing basketball the right way to give ourselves a chance.”
The Celtics own a similar record after the Rondo trade (10-16) to before it (9-14), but since the Green deal was finalized on Jan. 12, the C’s are 7-7, including the first three road wins against Western Conference teams of the Brad Stevens era. For better or worse, this hodgepodge of young talent and expiring contracts is playing to win.
But some within the Celtics locker room are waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least it sounds that way.
“It’s been great,” said Marcus Thornton, who netted 16 points off the bench in Friday’s win over the 76ers, of the team chemistry since a series of trades also saw Brandan Wright come and go. “It’s still not over yet. Feb. 19 is still a long time from now, so we’ll see how that goes, too. For the time being, everybody’s just here playing.”
Feb. 19, of course, is the NBA trade deadline, and Thornton seemed awful familiar with that date. “No, I’m not thinking about that,” he countered. “Whatever happens, happens. I would like to stay here. Who wouldn’t? We’ve got a good thing going, but like I said, it’s not controllable. I can’t control it, so whatever happens, happens.”
Thornton owns an $8.6 million price tag this season, joining fellow veterans Tayshaun Prince ($7.7 million) and Brandon Bass ($6.9 million) as attractive expiring contracts. The Celtics are winning games because of that trio, and Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge might prefer they help another team in that regard.
So goes the battle for Brad Stevens and this band of merry Celtics, who staved off a 76ers comeback for another victory and pulled within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.
“We’ve been good in those moments in really the most part of the month,” said Stevens. “And we had a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, after Rondo was traded and Jeff was traded, but in close games — or, you know, we’ve had to come back in a couple of these games — I feel like for the most part it’s been a positive in the last eight minutes of games. So, that’s encouraging from where we started the year.”
Growing, morphing, evolving, it’s all part of the process of these Stevens Celtics, whatever that may be.
|5 things we learned as C’s extend winning streak to 3||02.06.15 at 9:52 pm ET|
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Celtics are riding a three-game winning streak.
They nearly blew a 26-point lead to a listless Sixers squad, but pulled out a 107-96 win on the strength of another 3-point barrage from Marcus Thornton. The veteran reserve connected on back-to-back triples to maintain a cushion after Philadelphia cut it to a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. The C’s (19-30) remain within striking distance of the eighth-place Heat (21-28), who visit the Spurs late Friday night.
Thornton (16 points) joined five other Celtics in double figures. Jared Sullinger led the effort with 22 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Avery Bradley (18 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points, 9 rebounds), Brandon Bass (13 points) and Jae Crowder (11 points) rounded out the C’s double-digit sextet. Luc Mbah a Moute’s 18 points led a 76ers (11-40) squad that was without Michael Carter-Williams.
For a complete box score, click here.
ON THEIR GUARD
With Michael Carter-Williams out with a right toe injury and Tony Wroten (partially torn right ACL) sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Sixers started undrafted rookie forward JaKarr Sampson alongside 2014 second-round pick K.J. McDaniels in the backcourt, and the Celtics took advantage early. In a span of 77 seconds, Bradley made his first three shots ‘ including a 3-pointer ‘ on passes from Smart, Turner and Sullinger, giving the C’s an early 7-0 lead. Bass’ layup on their next possession pushed the lead to nine and forced a Philadelphia timeout.
|Marcus Smart earning trust as starting point guard||02.05.15 at 5:40 pm ET|
When Marcus Smart was selected No. 6 overall in this past June’s NBA Draft, many believed it would be to replace Rajon Rondo. The rookie had a slow start to the season that included an ankle injury and even limited minutes at times when he was available.
Rondo was shipped to Dallas on Nov 18, and since then Smart has continued trying to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. On Feb 3 all of his hard work paid off when Brad Stevens named him the starting point guard for the Celtics. Smart’s playing time has gone up in each of his last five games, but he has set a career-highs in minutes in each of his two starts at the point.
In 37 minutes on Tuesday in New York, the Oklahoma State product poured in 13 points while also grabbing four rebounds, three assists and two steals. The next night, in 41 minutes of action while hosting the Nuggets, Smart only managed four points, but had maybe one of his most impactful games. Despite his lack of scoring, the 20-year old racked up 10 boards, dished out eight assists, and plucked three steals in the process.
“I just try to come out there and play hard,” Smart said of his new starting role. “Not worry about all the other things and just let my game come to me and let the rest fall into place.”
“I’m trying to push the ball and keep the pace up. I’m trying to attack the defense before they get set,” he said of his job as a facilitator.
Development with the ball in his hands is great, but may take some time. For now, defense is Smart’s calling card.
“I think you feel so good and comfortable with him defensively in the game,” Stevens said of Smart following Wednesday’s game. “I thought he did fine offensively. He had eight assists to two turnovers. He didn’t shoot a high volume of shots. I can’t think of many times where he made many mistakes defensively.
“He’s playing pretty well — without impacting the stat sheet too much, which is a good thing,” Smart’s coach concluded regarding his impact.
Even Smart’s peers around the league are taking notice of his abilities.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson confirmed following the game. “He’s tough. He’s pretty strong. He’s going to be a good defender in this league.”
But what’s the biggest impact of the C’s lineup change so far? Marcus Smart is a winner. The Celtics are 2-0 so far when he starts at point guard.
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