|Irish Coffee: Should Jae Crowder start against LeBron James?||04.20.15 at 12:36 pm ET|
Game 1 went pretty much according to script for the Cleveland Cavaliers, whose big three combined for 69 points, 13 assists and five offensive rebounds in a 113-100 victory. And while the Celtics did a decent job of containing LeBron James, they enjoyed much greater success with Jae Crowder defending the four-time NBA MVP than starting wing Evan Turner.
So, should Celtics coach Brad Stevens consider starting Crowder over Turner in Game 2? Based on the evidence from their first showing in Cleveland, Stevens must at least play Crowder with greater regularity opposite James in the superstar’s 40-plus minutes.
LeBron played a total of 42 minutes in Cleveland’s Game 1 victory, and Crowder only shared the court with him for roughly half of that time period (20.2). Now, consider this number: The Celtics were 38.7 points per 100 possessions better with Crowder opposite LeBron than with their hard-nosed forward on the bench, according to NBA.com/stats.
In 20.2 minutes with Crowder on the floor, LeBron was a minus-7 against the C’s, finishing 3-for-8 from the field (0-for-4 from mid-range) to go along with four assists and four turnovers. In 21.8 minutes with Crowder on the bench, James was a plus-10, going 5-for-10 (5-for-5 in the paint) with three assists and one turnover. Granted, that’s a limited sample size, but the eye test bears out a similar discrepancy.
Let’s first examine each of LeBron’s eight shot attempts with Crowder on the floor.
|Tale of the Tape: Boston Celtics vs. Cleveland Cavaliers||04.18.15 at 8:00 am ET|
So, Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman picked them to win their first-round series against the Cavaliers in six games, president of basketball operations Danny Ainge responded, “Well, he had some pretty good evidence,” and we all had a good laugh about the C’s 40-to-1 odds to win the series.
Truth is, the Celtics aren’t going to push this series beyond five games, right? … Right? … I mean, it’s not like Brad Stevens has a history of taking Cinderella to the big dance or anything … RIGHT? OK, I’m going to talk myself into this thing if I don’t look at some cold hard facts real soon, so let’s do this.
The Cavs weren’t really the Cavs until acquiring Timofey Mozgov, J.R. Smith and Iman Shumpert in early January, adding the defense and 3-point shooting that helped LeBron James achieve legendary status in Miami. And the Celts weren’t really the Celts until acquiring Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome at the Feb. 19 trade deadline, adding the scoring punch and lineup flexibility that helped Stevens achieve wizardry status. So, in the interest of fairness, any tale of the tape for these two teams should start with a completely arbitrary date between their current story arcs. Let’s say Feb. 3.
[Editor’s Note: Just kidding. Feb. 3 totally isn’t arbitrary. It’s the date that makes Boston look best agains Cleveland, because otherwise a tale of the tape between them would be like asking the late great Manute Bol to pose for a photo alongside Muggsy Bogues. And who would do such a thing?]
Here we go. All of the per-game and advanced statistics below were culled from NBA.com/stats.
|An oral history: How Brad Stevens’ Celtics earned a playoff date with LeBron James’ Cavaliers||04.15.15 at 2:16 am ET|
JULY 9, 2014
In what seemed on the surface like a minor move, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge sent a $10.3 million trade exception — acquired for dealing Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets in 2013 — to the Cavaliers for Tyler Zeller, Marcus Thornton’s expiring contract and Cleveland’s 2016 first-round pick.
Ultimately, the trade transformed the NBA, allowing the Cavs to free up enough cap space to bring LeBron James back home. From a Boston perspective, the reward of a young center project and a couple more tradable assets was worth the risk of altering the Eastern Conference’s balance of power for the foreseeable future.
AUGUST 21, 2014
‘A lot of people might say that we can’t be this, we can’t be that,’ Celtics guard Avery Bradley — fresh off signing an oft criticized four-year, $32 million contract extension — told a group of bewildered reporters from a basketball camp. ‘I feel like with the coach that we have, we can be anything that we want to be. We just have to listen to [Brad Stevens] and buy into what he’s trying to do, his plan for us. I feel like we have a chance to make the playoffs and make a lot of noise this year if we listen to Brad.”
AUGUST 27, 2014
During a tour through Asia, Celtics captain Rajon Rondo declared himself ‘in great shape’ after his return from ACL surgery. ‘I want to win another championship,’ he told Hoop China, before adding, ‘You can’t have a great team every year.’ When asked if sixth overall pick Marcus Smart could eventually start for the Celtics this season, Rondo replied, ‘No. He’ll play a lot of minutes, but starting as a rookie at the guard position is probably impossible or one of the toughest things you can do.
SEPTEMBER 23, 2014
Asked by one reporter at the C’s annual preseason charity golf outing to name his favorites in the East this season, Ainge listed the Cavaliers, Bulls and Wizards.
‘You left off the Celtics,’ another media member countered.
‘I did. Yes, I did. Good observation,’ said Ainge, pausing, and then adding, ‘but I do believe the extraordinary is possible.’
SEPTEMBER 29, 2014
Amid widespread speculation that Rondo had broken a bone in his left hand at a trampoline park, the Celtics point guard addressed those rumors at media day, assuring everyone the injury resulted from a slip in the shower. In his 12-minute session, Rondo professed his love for both Boston and Stevens, confirmed his desire for a max contract and conceded again, ‘I know this isn’t a championship team.’
SEPTEMBER 30, 2014
‘We have one point guard healthy that has NBA experience, and that’s Phil Pressey,’ Stevens said as training camp opened. ‘And that’s not a lot of it. I’m not as worried about [the point guard position] because I think people are going to put you in a box for your position, and I’m just not going to do that. I’m not going to worry about it. [Evan Turner‘s] a ball handler, he can make plays, he’s smart. And then I think that keeps our other guys in the positions that they’re most comfortable.’
OCTOBER 2, 2014
Zeller drew rave reviews from his new teammates as the biggest surprise in camp. ‘He just runs the floor,’ Stevens said. ‘He’s a very unselfish player, he’s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”
|Irish Coffee: The case for Isaiah Thomas as Sixth Man of the Year||04.10.15 at 12:02 pm ET|
When I tried to make a case for Brad Stevens as the NBA’s Coach of the Year, I couldn’t talk myself into it, even though he most certainly belongs on the short list of candidates. But making an argument for Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year is easier, because he deserves the award.
Thanks to his 34-point effort in Wednesday night’s victory against the Pistons, the Celtics improved to 16-11 since the trade deadline deal for Thomas, climbing to seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings. Prior to his arrival at the All-Star break, the C’s owned a 20-31 record and sat 10th in the East.
Conversely, the Suns started 29-25 with Thomas coming off the bench and owned the eighth seed in the brutal Western Conference at the All-Star break. Since the trade deadline, when Phoenix also swapped Goran Dragic for Brandon Knight, the Suns are 10-15 and have all but clinched 10th place in the West.
Plenty of factors have contributed to the Celtics rising and the Suns setting since the Thomas trade. Phoenix soon lost Knight to a season-ending heel injury, while the additions of Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome have also improved the C’s depth. But there’s no denying Thomas’ impact in both cities.
Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of evaluating how each Sixth Man of the Year candidate impacted two separate teams’ playoff chances, since none of the other top contenders swapped rosters this season, but we do have a season’s worth of statistics to compare a field I’ve whittled down to six — Thomas; usual suspects Lou Williams (Raptors), Jamal Crawford (Clippers) and Manu Ginobili (Spurs); reigning First Team All-Defensive wing Andre Iguodala (Warriors); and rookie forward Nikola Mirotic (Bulls).
|5 things we learned as Isaiah Thomas, Celtics motor past Pistons||04.08.15 at 9:46 pm ET|
Playing their final game against a lottery-bound team, the Celtics badly needed a win to remain in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, and Isaiah Thomas — now recovered from the back injury that sidelined him for two weeks last month — carried them to a 113-103 victory against the host Detroit Pistons.
Thomas scored a season-high 34 points to go along with six assists, leading the C’s to their fourth win in five games. Combined with a loss by the Nets (36-42), the Celtics (36-42) assumed the seventh seed in the East with the head-to-head tiebreaker against Brooklyn.
The Indiana Pacers (35-43) and idle Miami Heat (35-43) remain a game back of the Celtics, who face a home-and-home series this weekend against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who clinched the second seed on Wednesday night and would currently host the C’s in a first-round playoff matchup.
Against Detroit, Jae Crowder (17 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points), Kelly Olynyk (12 points) and Avery Bradley (11 points) all reached double figures, as 10 different Celtics reached double figures. For a complete box score, click here.
From the outset, the Pistons’ frontcourt tandem of Greg Monroe (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Andre Drummond (22 points, 14 rebounds) proved a problem for the undersized Celtics. In the opening 5:34, Monroe and Drummond each scored six points on four shots apiece — all in the paint — forcing Celtics coach Brad Stevens to call his first timeout. Detroit bruised its way to an early 14-8 advantage and made the C’s to rethink their lineup early. Monroe, of course, becomes an unrestricted free agent when the Celtics have money to spend this summer, although his inability to stretch the floor with a jump shot may not fit Stevens’ pace-and-space system.
Rather than match size with size, Stevens instead replaced Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller with Jae Crowder and Kelly Olynyk, asking Monroe and Drummond to defend out to the 3-point line. As a result, the Celtics closed the first quarter on a 22-2 run and led 30-16 after one. Naturally, Sixth Man of the Year candidate Isaiah Thomas helped key the run, scoring or assisting on 13 of those 22 points. By game’s end, the Celtics benched outscored their counterparts, 73-31.
|5 things we learned as Bucks trample Celtics||04.03.15 at 9:56 pm ET|
Allowing 36 points in the third quarter, the Celtics essentially removed themselves from the running for the Eastern Conference’s sixth seed, dropping a 110-101 decision to the Bucks at home on Friday night.
The final two playoff spots in the East remain in play, but this latest loss did the Celtics (34-42) no favors, as they remain behind the Brooklyn Nets and Miami Heat in the race for seventh and eighth.
Jared Sullinger briefly returned against the Bucks (38-38), Isaiah Thomas scored a team-high 23 points to go along with six assists, Avery Bradley added 17 points and Jonas Jerebko (17 points, 5 assists) submitted arguably his most impressive performance in a Celtics uniform, but it wasn’t enough.
Local product Michael Carter-Williams helped Milwaukee’s cause with eight points, seven assists, five rebounds and five blocks. For a complete box score, click here.
The Celtics handed the 10th annual Red Auerbach Award — given to the player who best embodies what it means to wear the green — to a beaming Avery Bradley prior to tipoff. And the fifth-year guard took the role rather seriously, scoring the team’s first nine points to establish an early 9-6 advantage. Playing all 12 minutes of the first quarter, Bradley was omnipresent defensively, wreaking enough havoc to help hold the Bucks to 40 percent shooting in the frame and take a 25-21 lead after one.
BUCKING THE TREND
The Celtics led by only two at halftime, but appeared in control of the flow of the game, and when Tyler Zeller immediately gave them a 54-50 edge after the break, it seemed like we were in for more of the same — a game C’s team holding off a series of surges from the visitors. Then, the Bucks rattled off a 28-8 run that transformed a four-point advantage into a 78-62 deficit late in the third quarter. Ersan Ilyasova and Zaza Pachulia combined for 20 of Milwaukee’s points in a run that changed the game.
Things got so bad in the third quarter that Celtics coach Brad Stevens turned to Jared Sullinger, who was surprisingly activated hours before the game after missing the previous 24 contests with a stress fracture in his foot. Sullinger said prior to the game he had lost 20 pounds during his absence in an attempt to answer C’s president Danny Ainge’s public criticism of his conditioning. In three minutes of work, Sullinger missed both of his field goal attempts, committed two fouls and finished a minus-7. How much he is able to help the Celtics in the final six games of their playoff push remains a question.
Despite digging themselves a 15-point hole, the Celtics refused to go down without a fight, as has been their custom all season. Somehow Gigi Datome always seems to find himself at the heart of the C’s fourth-quarter comebacks, and while he didn’t score as the C’s slashed the deficit to four early in the fourth quarter, his insertion into the lineup immediately coincided with the 17-8 run. It must be the hair. Or his ability to spread the floor, crash the boards and play competent defense. But the Celtics never inched closer than four, and anybody who complained about the officiating might have a point.
MARKING KHRIS MIDDLETON
Bucks wing Khris Middleton will be an interesting free-agent case study. He’s exactly the type of player the Celtics covet — a potentially undervalued asset capable of playing three positions. Stevens loves Swiss Army types whose versatility allows him to toy with matchups in any number of ways. So, while teams fight over fellow restricted free agents Kawhi Leonard, Draymond Green and Jimmy Butler — all expected to remain with their current teams — is there a chance Ainge could pry Middleton from Milwaukee?
The Celtics would have to overpay, but they might be willing to do so in order to land a guy they believe fits their system. In addition to averaging 13.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.5 steals while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point range and 85 percent from the free-throw line in 30 minutes a night, Middleton ranks among the league’s elite in defensive real plus-minus, defensive win shares and defensive rating. He finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists in the Bucks victory.
|Celtics’ Avery Bradley receives Red Auerbach Award||at 7:57 pm ET|
Prior to Friday’s game against the Bucks, the Celtics named Avery Bradley as the 10th recipient of the annual Red Auerbach Award, given to the player or coach who best represents what it means to be a Celtic on and off the court.
A regular participant in the Shamrock Foundation’s charitable efforts, Bradley promptly scored the C’s first nine points against Milwaukee, surpassing 1,000 points in a season for the first time in his five-year career. Appearing in 72 of Boston’s 76 games, he has averaged 14.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists this season.
“Avery Bradley received this award because he embodies what it means to truly be a Boston Celtic,” Celtics co-owner Stephen Pagliuca said in a statement. “He continues to prove that not only can you be a great basketball player, but you can also be an amazing role model in the Boston community off the court. We are proud to have someone like Avery as a part of our organization, as he exemplifies exactly what it means to be a part of the Celtics franchise.”
The Celtics rewarded Bradley with a four-year, $32 million contract this past summer. He joins select company as the 10th recipient of the Red Auerbach Award since 2006: Paul Pierce (2006, 2013); Al Jefferson (2007); Kevin Garnett (2008, 2012); Ray Allen (2009); Rajon Rondo (2010); Doc Rivers (2011); Brandon Bass (2014); and Avery Bradley (2015).
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