When the Celtics left for a six-game road trip against a brutal Western Conference slate, many believed their season would fall apart.

When the Celtics left for a six-game road trip against tough Western Conference opponents many believed this would be where their season started to fall apart. Well, the C’s are now heading home, and the conversation has shifted to chatter regarding a playoff birth.

Boston didn’t play like a playoff team in this one, though, as they fell to the Timberwolves 110-98. Jared Sullinger was the high scorer for Boston with 16 points and eight rebounds, but did it on just 6-for-16 shooting and was a team-worst minus 22 in +/-. The loss drops the green to 16-28 on the season.

The Timberwolves on the other hand picked up just their eighth victory of the season to improve to 8-37. Kevin Martin was the high man for Minnesota with 21 points off the bench. Martin was one of seven Wolves in double figures, including all five starters. Marcus Thornton was effective for the Celtics with 15 points off the bench, while Tayshaun Prince and Marcus Smart were also key reserves with 12 apiece.

For a complete box score, click here.

SOUR ENDING TO AN ENCOURAGING TRIP

The Celtics are heading back to Boston after going 3-3 during six games in three time zones. That’s a victory in itself. But ending it by losing to the worst team (record-wise) in the NBA with a chance to go 4-2 instead should sting. It puts all the playoff talk into perspective. This team still isn’t very good on the whole. But they showed plenty of promise in three huge road wins. Let’s face it, this team did something three times on this trip what they were unable to do once all of last season: Win a game in a Western Conference building.

ZACH LAVINE IS FOR REAL

Marcus Smart is the future in Boston and Andrew Wiggins is the future in Minnesota, but don’t overlook LaVine. Danny Ainge did his homework on the explosive UCLA product and brought him to Waltham for an audition. Many draft boards had the Celtics selecting LaVine with the No. 17 overall pick, but that wound up being James Young after the Timberwolves scooped up LaVine at No. 13. Getting the start at point guard due to injuries, LaVine showed the C’s what they were missing out on by pouring in an impressive 17 points on 7-for-9 shooting. He also rounded out his performance with six assists, four boards and three steals. Don’t be shocked to see LaVine shine in both the Rising Stars game and the Dunk Contest on All-Star weekend.

MARCUS SMART’S IMPROVEMENT FROM DOWNTOWN IS ASTOUNDING

I wrote about this a couple weeks back, but it needs to be readdressed. Smart knocked down his first four attempts from 3-point range against the Wolves. It has been amazing how quickly the rookie has shaken the label of being a poor shooter and turned into a consistent threat from deep. Smart finished with 12 points to go along with six helpers while facing off against fellow rookies Wiggins and LaVine. But unlike his counterparts, Smart won’t be playing in the Rising Stars game. The assistant coaches who vote on the players must not have taken notice of Smart’s improvements.

Now, time to give some props to the veterans that have anchored recent success for the bench and the starters during the trip out west.

TAYSHAUN PRINCE FOR SIXTH MAN

Never did I think I would type the following sentence. Tayshaun Prince has been a huge difference maker in his brief time in a Celtics uniform. After scoring 19 points in a victory against the Jazz, Prince came out hot again on Wednesday, going 4-of-5 from the field in the first half for eight points. It wasn’t all Prince in this one, though. Although he did finish with 12 points, the veteran has been leading the young bench throughout the road trip. Prince is a voice in the locker room after just six games.

BRANDON BASS FOR MVP

Prince was an unexpected surprise, but Bass we have known about for a long time. The difference? Bass is putting his stamp on the game as a starter. Like Prince, Bass shot 4-for-5 in the first half for eight points. The best word to describe Bass? Solid. As another local team (who happen to be playing in a pretty big game on Sunday) says: “Do your job.” That’s exactly what Brandon Bass does. He had a horrible second half and only scored two more points, but the team being 3-2 since Bass became a starter is no coincidence. The real question is how another team has not traded for Bass yet.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Against all odds, the Celtics own a winning record on their West Coast road trip.

Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

Against all odds, the Celtics own a winning record on their West Coast road trip.

For the third time in five games against Western Conference opponents over the past week, the C’s came out on top, holding off the Jazz 99-90. The Celtics improved to 16-27 on the season, moving within two games of the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Even more promising, they wrap up the road trip on Wednesday against the Timberwolves, owners of the league’s worst record.

Tayshaun Prince of all people led the scoring effort with 19 points on 10 shots off the bench. Fellow reserve Tyler Zeller added 14 points and seven boards while Jared Sullinger (9 rebounds) and Avery Bradley each contributed a dozen points. Gordon Hayward led the Jazz (16-29) with 26 points against his former coach at Butler.

“He’s just like me,” Stevens told reporters of Prince. “He knows what’s going on. He’s lived it all. They’ve got you down by 20 in a quarter, and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. You go up by 20 in a quarter, and it doesn’t look like his pulse has moved. He’s just playing. He’s playing the right way. He made us better today. He’s made us better with his presence already, and that’s been fun. It’s been fun for our young guys to have another older guy to kind of lean on and learn from.”

For a complete box score, click here.

SECOND TO NONE

Fielding a lineup of Marcus Smart, Marcus Thornton, Gerald Wallace, Prince and  Zeller to start the second quarter, the Celtics ignited a 30-7 run over the course of 7:32, transforming a 21-21 game into a 23-point lead. Proving he’s still a capable contributor, Prince highlighted the effort, scoring 10 of his 12 first-half points and adding three assists during the run. After trading buckets with the Jazz early, the Celtics never trailed again.

TURD QUARTER

As is so often suggested, basketball is a game of runs. The run giveth, and the run taketh away. And boy did the run taketh away in the third quarter. The Celtics went nearly six minutes without scoring a field goal in the frame. Meanwhile, the Jazz starters rattled off an 18-0 run that slashed a 22-deficit down to four.

FREE FALLING

Since Jan. 25, 2013, the Celtics haven’t finished perfect from the free throw line when attempting more than 15 freebies in a game. After making their first 16 free throws to start the game, Prince’s miss in the final minute kept the streak alive. Still, those free throws made much of the difference, as the C’s finished 21-of-23 from the line (91.3 percent) while the Jazz missed eight of their 19 tries (57.9 percent).

BENCH MOB

As Celtics coach Brad Stevens continues to search for the right rotation, the Boston bench proved more effective than the starters in Utah. Led by Prince and Zeller, the C’s bench scored 53 points on 20-of-35 shooting (57.1 percent). With Bradley (4-12 FG) and Evan Turner (2-7 FG) struggling to find their shooting stroke, the starters scored 46 points on 15-of-39 shooting (38.5 percent), suggesting the depth of Stevens’ rotation is proving effective in the February doldrums of the NBA season ‘€” particularly during their fourth game in five nights.

“You can’t come out the way we came out in the third quarter,” Stevens added postgame, “and I thought we were pretty locked in and engaged, but we looked like we were running in the mud a little bit with that group, so I went to the bench quicker, and I thought the bench really did it’s job both times pushing the lead out.”

ROAD WARRIORS

Credit Stevens for motivating an ever-changing Celtics roster in the wake of the Rajon Rondo trade. After losing 24 straight to Western Conference foes on the road, the C’s have shown considerable fight during their six-game West Coast trip, winning three of their first five contests and giving the Warriors more than they bargained for. Despite the turmoil, this Celtics team is developing. So, cue a Tayshaun Prince trade, I guess?

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

The Celtics have struggled to find a go-to scorer all season. Golden State, on the other hand, has cruised behind an MVP-caliber season from Stephen Curry.

The Celtics have struggled to find a go-to scorer all season. The Warriors, on the other hand, have been cruising behind an MVP-type season from Stephen Curry. So when the C’s visited the Warriors on Sunday evening — coming off a game in which Klay Thompson poured in an NBA record 37 points in the third quarter alone — things were expected to get ugly.

The Celtics managed to keep it competitive throughout the game despite eventually falling to the Warriors, 114-111. Jared Sullinger led the way for Boston with 26 points, nine rebounds and three assists. The loss drops the C’s to 15-27 on the season and snaps a two game win streak.

Evan Turner (19 points, seven boards, seven helpers) also had a strong game for the Celtics, as did Avery Bradley and Tyler Zeller who each finished with 15 points. Both Kelly Olynyk (ankle) and Marcus Smart (death in family) did not attend the game. The Celtics managed to keep Thompson from scoring 37 points in any quarters, but he did finish with 31 points to lead the now 37-6 Warriors.

For a complete box score, click here.

DEEP ROTATION DESPITE DEPLETED ROSTER

Even with two key rotation players in Olynyk and Smart missing, Brad Stevens still managed to play 11 players by the start of the second quarter on Sunday. Surprisingly Gerald Wallace got the call off the bench early in the game and Tayshaun Prince racked up 12 first half minutes. In the end, all 11 players played double digit minutes with Marcus Thornton playing the fewest at 14. Shavlik Randolph, the only other player in uniform, did not register any playing time.

HANGING AROUND WITH THE BEST

The Celtics stayed hot coming off of two of their biggest wins of the season. The C’s should have been down only four points at halftime, but thanks to a bailout call by the refs, Curry pushed the lead to seven after making three free throws for a shooting foul at half court (keep in mind that this wound up being a three point game). Considering the opponent, the Celtics have had much worse outings this season. The lead grew to 12 points by the end of the third quarter, but the Celtics responded with a strong fourth quarter. There are no good losses in the NBA, however, the Celtics player one of their better games of the year.

JAE CROWDER IS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS

I’m not trying to bash Crowder here, I like him and he’s a good player. He was a nice surprise to get back in the Rajon Rondo trade. He worked his way into the starting lineup on pure hustle by the time Jeff Green was on the move, and has stayed there ever since. Much was made of Crowder’s 22 point outburst against the Pelicans earlier this month, but since then the role player has come back to reality scoring in single digits in each game (six points on Sunday). Crowder is worth keeping around as a role player, but don’t get your hopes up if you were expecting more.

THE CELTICS NEED TO FIND THEIR DRAYMOND GREEN

Green is a lot like Crowder — a hustle player with a lot of versatility — but Green has taken his game to the next level (to the point where he will get All-Star consideration). Much like Jimmy Butler, Green just keeps improving every season and seems to have finally found his way. The Michigan State product not only makes his teammates better, but can defend all five positions and has become a consistent inside-out player on offense. Green had 14 points, nine rebounds and two assists to go along with three steals in the win over the Celtics, but his impact goes beyond the box score.

CHICKEN CURRY WILL BE SERVED FOR LUNCH TOMORROW

By now you’ve probably seen the SportsCenter commercial, but after averaging only 15 points against the Celtics in his career, Stephen Curry went off for 22 points and 11 dimes. We know what’s for lunch tomorrow.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

After failing to defeat a Western Conference opponent on the road in their previous 24 attempts, the Celtics won out West for the second straight night.

After failing to defeat a Western Conference opponent on the road in their previous 24 attempts, the Celtics won out West for the second straight night.

Evan Turner drilled the buzzer-beater the night before, and Avery Bradley provided the heroics on Friday, sinking a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 remaining and making a last-minute jumper to hold off Denver and secure a 100-99 victory. Completing the stoners’ sweep — earning wins over the Blazers and Nuggets on successive nights — the C’s improved to 15-26, moving within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed.

Bradley’s five points in the final 84 seconds gave him a team-high 18 points on the evening. Starting for the second straight night, Brandon Bass collected 18 points and nine points while Jared Sullinger added 14 points and eight rebounds, making up for the absence of Kelly Olynyk (ankle). Evan Turner (10 points, 6 assists) and Tyler Zeller (11 points, 6 rebounds) also reached double figures. Short-lived teammate Jameer Nelson led the way for the Ty Lawson-less Nuggets (18-25) with 23 points and seven assists.

For a complete box score, click here.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

In a wild finish, the ball ended up in Evan Turner‘s hands in the right corner, and with a single stroke of fortune he ended the Celtic

In a wild finish, the ball ended up in Evan Turner‘s hands in the right corner, and with a single stroke of fortune he ended the Celtics‘ road woes against the Western Conference.

After Jared Sullinger nearly lost the ball in the lane on the final play, he found his fellow Ohio State product beyond the arc, and Turner’s 3-pointer with one second remaining gave the Celtics a 90-89 lead in Portland. On the other end, the Blazers failed to get off a shot, and just like that the C’s 24-game road losing streak against teams out West ended.

The Celtics improved to 14-26 on the season, jumping from the league’s fifth-worst record to the NBA’s eighth-worst winning percentage approaching the midway point.

In his first start of the season, Brandon Bass recorded his only double-double of the year (13 points, 10 rebounds). Sullinger added 17 points and nine boards, and Avery Bradley scored a team-high 18 points. Damian Lillard led the LaMarcus Aldridge-less Blazers (31-13) with 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

For a complete box score, click here.

HOT START

Taking advantage of Portland’s tired legs on the second night of the Blazers’ back-to-back, the Celtics grabbed a 23-19 lead by the end of the first quarter. In an attempt to match Portland’s athleticism, C’s coach Brad Stevens inserted Bass into the starting lineup to replace Tyler Zeller. While Bass responded with a couple early buckets, it was Zeller who led the charge off the bench, scoring five points and grabbing a pair of rebounds in the opening frame.

DEFENDING THEIR HONOR

The Celtics entered Thursday’s game with the league’s third-worst defensive rating in January, allowing 108.8 points per game in their previous 10 games. Benefiting somewhat from those same tired legs, the Celtics held Portland to 42 percent shooting in the first half (18-43 FG). The Blazers, who rank among the NBA’s best from 3-point range, shot just 1-of-10 from distance in the first 24 minutes. As a result, the C’s took a 44-42 lead into the break.

TURNER-ING POINT

While the Evan Turner signing over the summer earned little praise, the former No. 2 overall pick has proven well worth his $3.3 million salary. Playing three different positions for the Celtics, he came in averaging 10.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 5.6 assists over 29.1 minutes in 14 starts this season, and his breadth of production against Portland was similarly impactful (10 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds). He’s signed for another $3.4 million next season and would be a nice complementary piece if the C’s could ever surround him with enough talent to contend for a playoff spot.

TURD QUARTER

After holding Portland to 10 percent shooting from beyond the arc in the first half, the Blazers connect on 7-of-9 3-point attempts in the third quarter, including 4-of-4 shooting from Wesley Matthews. Portland scored 21 of its 30 points from distance in the frame, turning a two-point halftime deficit into a 72-67 lead entering the fourth quarter. Showing impressive resolve for a team that had lost three straight, the Celtics again turned up the defense late, holding the Blazers to 4-of-23 shooting from the field (1-9 3P) in the final frame.

INJURY TO INSULT

A pair of Celtics went down hard in separate incidents during the fourth quarter, and while Bass remained in the game after a hard fall on his backside, Olynyk wasn’t so fortunate when he landed on Thomas Robinson’s foot. He suffered a sprained right ankle and did not return to the game. His status for Friday’s game in Denver is in serious doubt.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach