|Celtics roundtable: Previewing remainder of season||02.20.15 at 10:58 am ET|
With the Celtics starting the second half of their season Friday night in Sacramento, the Green Street bloggers, Julian Edlow @julianedlow, Ben Rohrbach @brohrbach and Sam Packard @SPacShakur answer some key questions to preview the rest of the season.
SHOULD THE CELTICS TRY TO MAKE THE PLAYOFFS — AND CAN THEY?
Edlow: “As of Thursday morning the short answer was yes, in the lowly Eastern Conference the Celtics have a chance. Then mayhem broke loose at the trade deadline. Isaiah Thomas is a nice add for the C’s with his skill set and contract for the long term. But factoring in Miami adding Goran Dragic, Detriot adding Reggie Jackson, and news that Jared Sullinger is going to be sidelined with a stress reaction in his left foot, things have changed. It’s going to be another lottery season.”
Rohrbach: “I’ve been bouncing back and forth on this one, just as the Celtics front office likely has in recent weeks, but I’m coming around on the idea of making a playoff push. Danny Ainge was more of a buyer than a seller at the deadline, and Brad Stevens will continue working with whatever pieces are at his disposal to win enough games that their odds of receiving a top-three pick in the lottery would be miniscule. The confidence that Stevens — and whichever players remain next season and beyond — would gain in knowing how his system works is just as valuable as the difference between the No. 12 and 17 picks.
“As for whether the C’s can make the playoffs, after writing them off two weeks ago, I’m on board, so long as Jared Sullinger’s toe injury doesn’t keep him out too long. Their recent string of four wins in five games — including a stunning upset of the first-place Hawks — combined with the mess that has become of the Nets and the injury to Hornets point guard Kemba Walker leaves the C’s and Pistons with the best chance of finishing eighth behind the Heat. The Celtics have a lighter schedule and two fewer losses than the Pacers and somewhat control their own destiny with the most head-to-head meetings against the five aforementioned teams.”
Packard: “There are already 10 teams with worse records than the Celtics, and with the addition of Isaiah Thomas the roster is too talented to lose the requisite number of games for a top-five pick. Tanking is not a realistic option, so why not try something new and fun like winning as many games as possible?
“The Heat locked up the seventh seed by adding Dragic, but I do think the Celtics have a puncher’s chance at the eight. Their fate rests entirely on the health of Sullinger, who has been the team’s best player in the first half of the season. If he is out for an extended period of time, the Celtics will not have enough muscle on the front line to beat good teams late in games. Also, their biggest competition for the final playoff spot in the east, the Pistons, just got better by adding Reggie Jackson to replace the injured Brandon Jennings.”
WHICH PLAYER NEEDS TO PLAY BETTER?
Edlow: “Avery Bradley is the easy answer. He is in the first year of a contract that is due to pay him $32 million over four seasons and Boston isn’t seeing near the production it should be for the price it paid. For comparison, the newly acquired Thomas just signed a cheaper contract (four years for $28 million), however, Thomas’ 19.7 player efficiency rating nearly doubles Bradley’s (10.8).”
Rohrbach: “When motivated, Jared Sullinger is undoubtedly the best player on the Celtics, but he’s not always motivated, as evidenced by his two recent benchings and the fact he’s never really gotten himself into proper shape. Yet he outplayed Paul Millsap in the C’s recent victory against the Hawks. While his conditioning may not make great strides over the final two months, particularly with the toe injury keeping him sidelined for the foreseeable future, he can begin his improvement by stepping inside the 3-point line, where he owns one of the league’s worst percentages among players who attempt three per game, and planting his considerable backside in the post, where he’s shooting close to 60 percent and grabbing 10 percent of available offensive rebounds.”
Packard: “Kelly Olynyk. This is probably an unfair answer, because Olynyk has done a very good job coming off the bench; but with Sullinger on the sidelines for the foreseeable future, Olynyk is going to get meaningful minutes. He needs to improve drastically on defense, where he has been a liability. On offense, Olynyk should continue to be aggressive by attacking the basket and taking the open 3 when its available.”
|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.”
|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.
|Positive road trip gives hope to Celtics’ playoff odds||01.29.15 at 6:21 pm ET|
Last season the Celtics‘ record against the Western Conference on the road was 0-15. If there’s a positive way to spin that, it’s that Brad Stevens certainly left his team with room for improvements on the road for this season.
“It could go a bunch of different ways,” Brandon Bass said as the C’s prepared to depart for the six-game trip through three different Western Conference time zones. Yes, Brandon, it could have gone a bunch of different ways. However, I don’t think many predicted the Celtics would return home to almost three feet of snow with three more victories under their belts.
Finishing the trip with a loss in Minnesota left a sour taste in the team’s mouth, but the trip could have been far less successful in Stevens’ eyes.
“We had our moments where we played well,” the coach said of the road trip after returning home to practice on Thursday. “We won two 1-point games [back-to-backs in Portland and Denver] which could have gone either way. If we’re sitting here at 1-5 because those last two shots bounce in, do we feel worse about ourselves? Absolutely. Is it a lot less of a successful trip? Absolutely. But, because those bounces went our way, we feel better.”
With the unexpected success, the Celtics amazingly sit just two games back of the eight-seed in the Eastern Conference at 16-28. But the C’s haven’t just been getting lucky bounces in their own games lately, they’ve been lucky across the league.
The Pistons had been surging, and sit just a half-game back of Boston in the standings. But Brandon Jennings‘ achilles tear recently ended the point guard’s season, and may well keep Detroit from rolling into the playoffs after their turnaround in the post-Josh Smith era.
The Nets are currently sitting in the nine-seed, but Brooklyn has made it clear that they intend to sell, sell, sell as the deadline approaches. Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson are all on the table. If they can find a taker on even one of those players, especially Johnson, Brooklyn could remain looking in from the outside at the playoffs.
The eight-seeded Hornets have lost arguably their best player in Kemba Walker for a long period of time after the UConn product recently underwent knee surgery. Unless they make a trade that brings them back some high-end talent, it would be silly to think that they wouldn’t slip in the standings.
Finally, there’s the Heat. Miami has a grasp on the seven-seed, but with a record of just 20-25, and Dwyane Wade injured again, they are far from untouchable in the standings.
Enter the Celtics. Their goal (or at least Danny Ainge’s goal) might not be to make the playoffs this season. Ainge admitted it wasn’t a goal of his last season. But the Eastern Conference is shaping up in a way that they just may sneak right in, even with a losing record. This current Celtics unit has not been together particularly long — it’s been a season filled with moving parts — but as Stevens said on Thursday: “There’s no better team building activity than winning a close game on the road.”
If the C’s can pull out a couple more close games on the road, then who knows? We might be watching this team compete during the playoffs whether it’s in Ainge’s plans or not.
|Brad Stevens isn’t worried about ‘managing feelings’ anymore||01.17.15 at 9:33 am ET|
There comes a point in time where an NBA coach can’t worry about massaging the egos of his team. That time has come for Brad Stevens.
After another close-but-no cigar special Friday night at TD Garden, Stevens said that he’s seeing some signs of life from his now 13-25 squad. But not enough. The Celtics shot 60 percent in the first half, competed hard for three quarters and even led the Bulls by three at the half. But Boston, as it often has this season, ran out of gas in the fourth and fell, 119-105.
Asked if he’s concerned about his constantly changing roster and the impact it might have heading on a brutal six-game western road swing, Stevens was brutally honest.
“I’m not as worried about keeping them up,” Stevens said. “I think we need to get better off of that. I thought we didn’t have enough ‘ we weren’t as tight as we need to be against that level of talent. We were loose in our coverages and a little loose on the ball and it hurt us. They’ve got some great, great players that stepped up and made plays and really separated the game.
“But even when we were going back and forth I didn’t feel like ‘ I didn’t feel like it was sustainable at that rate, the way we were playing. So, yeah, I don’t know, hey’¦we’re employed to do everything we can, to have everything we have, and to manage the ups and downs throughout a season. Players and coaches. And it’s on us as individuals to be up and ready. And certainly you have to help some guys through that and help manage some of that but, you know, we can’t spend our time managing feelings right now; we have to spend our time getting better.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Brad Stevens credits Gerald Wallace for team chemistry amidst trades; 2 newcomers to be added on road trip||01.16.15 at 7:27 pm ET|
The Celtics have made nine trades on the season, four of them coming in just the last week. Brad Stevens has joked that he asks Danny Ainge to e-mail him the roster every morning just so he knows who he will be coaching. Evan Turner, who enjoys a good laugh, claimed that the C’s had to take attendance at practice this week to make sure all were accounted for. Bodies are flying in and out of the locker room. Stevens informed the media on Friday that the team will be joined in Los Angeles this weekend by both Tayshaun Prince and Shavlik Randolph.
But all kidding aside, Boston’s young coach feels as though 16-year veteran Gerald Wallace is as important as anyone throughout all the changes.
“I’m not too worried about chemistry in the locker room, and large credit for that goes to Gerald Wallace,” Stevens told reporters prior to Friday’s home game against the Bulls. “Because of the way he, at his age, has accepted his role and how he talks to the young guys. It kind of makes everybody else say, ‘I’m going to do what I can the right way every time.’ So I give him a lot of credit for that.”
Wallace is in a unique situation. The former All-Star is not in the C’s rotation at the moment, and when he is he plays minimal minutes, yet is still expected to lead. Not only by his coach, but by his young teammates.
“It’s a challenge for sure,” Jae Crowder admitted after Thursday’s practice about the team’s ability to remain focused. “I think that’s when guys like Gerald Wallace have to step up.”
Turner goes as far as to refer to Wallace as “uncle”, although he couldn’t resist taking a shot at his elder: “You got two types of uncles, there’s the cool ones and the ones that don’t want to be bothered, and he’s the latter.”
So the next time you see a shot of Wallace sitting on the C’s bench, remember that his role is not quite that simple. “G”, as he’s known around the league, is looked up to by Boston’s youthful locker room. That makes him a key contributor to this rebuild simply by example.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
|Hawks represent a “machine” Brad Stevens is familiar with: Could Boston model Atlanta’s success?||01.15.15 at 3:23 pm ET|
Back in 2007 the Celtics inspired the NBA when they put together what became known as the Big Three. Since then, the Heat accumulated their own successful trio, which LeBron James is now trying to replicate in Cleveland. Teams around the league are all scrambling to put together their own Big Three, but superstars are not easy to come by. Danny Ainge has found that out since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.
Meanwhile, after collecting an impressive victory in Boston without two of their top players, the Hawks are far from scrambling in search of stars. Sitting at 31-8, they’ve lost just two games since Thanksgiving. The first-place team in the Eastern Conference? It’s not the Bulls, the Wizards and certainly not LeBron’s struggling Cavs. That would be the Atlanta Hawks.
One key is balance. All five of the Hawks’ starters average at least 11.9 points, but it’s not just about scoring. They can all rebound the ball, starting with the front court duo of Al Horford and Paul Millsap. They can all distribute the ball, but the head of the monster is the crazy-quick Jeff Teague. Kyle Korver is “the most challenging player in the league that averages less than 13 points to prepare for,” according to Stevens. That can be attributed not only to Korver’s lights-out shooting from downtown, but the fact that if he’s doubled he knows how to pass out of it and if his man leaves him it’s an automatic 3-pointer. Then there’s Demarre Carroll, a do-it-all type player with the ability to drop 22 points like he did on the C’s when other starters sat out, despite being the least heralded of the five.
Bottom line is that it’s a tough group of players, but even tougher when you see how fantastic they all gel together. On top of that, Atlanta has seven players coming off the bench that all average over four points, so depth isn’t an issue. Depth is also something the superstar-less Celtics seem to have, but with such a young team they have been unable to find the same type of cohesiveness that the Hawks have.
“I think you have to look and redefine who the superstars are with our own eyes everyday, right?” Stevens said following the game when asked about how Atlanta wins without superstars. “And so I would argue that they’ve got a couple guys on their way. And I don’t know what qualifies a superstar, but I know this: Nobody in the league can keep Jeff Teague in front of them. Nobody. And [Dennis] Schroder — I’m not saying he’s a superstar yet, he’s a young kid –but nobody can keep him in front of them. And then they space it with shooters, so now it’s a basketball team, right? And Millsap’s been and All-Star, Horford didn’t play tonight, he’s been an All-Star, Korver didn’t play tonight, he’s a really good player. So they’ve got a great group and it fits well, and you might have a budding superstar in that group, right?
“The other thing that I’d say about them that stands out, jumps off the page, jumps on the page when you’re coaching against them, jumps off the page when you’re watching film: Big-time savy,” the coach continued to gush. “The game comes really easy to them. It’s slow on defense. They can see things coming. They play well together. They know the biggest threats. They react to the biggest threats. And offense, they stay spaced to make the right basketball play time and again. And I agree with you that the superstar thing and factor is a big part of this, but there’s something to be said about a group that just — it’s like a machine. They’re a machine. They’ve really got a good thing going already.”
Another thing that makes the Hawks so good is their coaching. With Mike Budenholzer at the helm, the team has taken on a new identity since his arrival in 2013, and this may be a machine that Stevens recognizes. Budenholzer coached under Gregg Popovich from 1996-2013, winning four championships in the process. The Spurs have been an organization that Stevens has practically been obsessed with since he’s been on an NBA sideline, now the Hawks might be joining that same elite class.
It seems like the Spurs/Hawks’ style is the type of play that Stevens is most interested in coaching, it’s ultimate team basketball, which might be played best in a superstar-less system. In other words, the Celtics greatest success may come from Danny Ainge searching for the perfect fits in Boston while his youngsters develop, rather than waiting for the next KG trade to fall into his lap. Ainge has been actively working the trade market of late, so he certainly isn’t waiting around, but he may want to take a look at the Hawks blueprint if he wants to taste the champagne again soon.
Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow
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