Maybe Shavlik Randolph should abuse his teammates before every game.
During warmup drills, Randolph smacked Kelly Olynyk with an elbow to the face. Olynyk’s eye quickly swelled to the size of a golf ball, and trainers were doubtful he would even be able to play. Deciding to forego a protective mask or goggles, Olynyk opted to play and ended up leading the Celtics to a 100-87 victory against the visiting Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night.
Olynyk and Tyler Zeller led the Celtics with 19 points apiece, while Evan Turner (13 points, 12 assists, 11 rebounds) submitted his third triple-double of the season. Avery Bradley (11 points) and Jae Crowder (10 points) also scored in double figures. Despite only shooting 22 percent from the 3-point line, the Celtics controlled the game for all four quarters, not relinquishing a lead they took four minutes into the game. George Hill led the Pacers with 21 in the loss.
The Celtics (34-41) moved two games ahead of the Pacers (32-43) with seven to play, and they now own the head-to-head tiebreaker with a 3-1 series victory this season. The C’s trail both the Brooklyn Nets (34-40) and Miami Heat (34-40) by a half-game for the seventh and eight seed.
Starting opposite 7-footer Roy Hibbert, Zeller dominated the first half, scoring 17 of his 19 points. Zeller opened the game by hitting his first four shots and drawing two early fouls on Hibbert. With Hibbert on the bench for the majority of the half, the Celtics dominated the paint, outscoring the Pacers 26-12.
During the pregame shootaround, Randolph finally made a an impact on this Celtics team. During one-on-one drills, Olynyk caught Randolph with one of his patented pump fakes, leading Shavlik to elbow Olynyk directly above the left eye. Randolph noted that he had never hit someone that hard before, saying Olynyk “looked like Rocky from right before Rocky asked Mickey to cut him.”
THOMAS STRUGGLES TO FIND STROKE
Since returning from a gruesome back injury, Isaiah Thomas has shown flashes of brilliance, but has yet to find his jump shot. In the last four games, Thomas is only shooting 31 percent from the field and an abysmal 21 percent from beyond the arc. Wednesday was no different, as the pint-sized point guard only scored eight points on 2-of-10 shooting. If the C’s are going to secure the final playoff spot in the East, they are going to need Thomas to start scoring consistently from the outside.
Playing against his former team, Turner recorded his third triple-double of the season, amassing 13 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. Perhaps even more impressively, he committed just one turnover. Turner joined Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Larry Bird as the only Celtics with three or more triple-doubles in a single season.
INDIANA DOESNT HAVE SECOND LEG TO STAND ON
With Wednesday’s loss, the Pacers fell to 4-12 on the second night of a back-to-back. By comparison, the Celtics are 10-5 in the same scenario, including wins in nine of their last 10. Now in possession of the tiebreaker with a 3-1 series victory this season, the Celtics essentially lead the Pacers by three games with seven to play and probably knocked Indiana from playoff contention.
If you want a sleeper for the job, it could be Avery Johnson. I’m also hearing some Brad Stevens chatter. This will be a fun one. ‘ Seth Davis (@SethDavisHoops) March 31, 2015
The University of Texas, which recently fired head men’s basketball coach Rick Barnes, has reportedly joined the growing list of Brad Stevens suitors. Of course, the University of Texas has also joined the growing list of institutions Danny Ainge will laugh at before hanging up the phone.
Brad Stevens is under contract through 2019 at a bargain average annual rate of $3.7 million. Unlike collegiate sports — where contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re written on — the Celtics would have to agree to let their coach out of the deal, and let’s be clear: That ain’t happening.
For starters, as Yahoo’s Dan Devine noted, Texas athletic director Steve Patterson cannot send an unprotected first-round pick back to the Celtics, as the Clippers did in exchange for Doc Rivers.
@brohrbach I don’t think Texas has any first-round picks to trade.
As Grantland’s Zach Lowe pointed out – and Ainge nearly conceded — the Celtics may not have a single player who projects as a starter for a title contender, and yet they currently own the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed. The only star on this Celtics roster is Stevens, and Ainge knows it. Dream all you want Longhorns. I’m sure, as respected CBS Sports college basketball scribe Seth Davis reported, Texas would love to hire Stevens — in much the same way I heard some chatter in my home office this morning about how I was going to pay George R.R. Martin to pen this blog.
Just like there’s some Eva Mendes chatter if I have a gf opening RT @brohrbach: LOL “some Brad Stevens chatter” in regard to Texas opening. ‘ John Karalis (@RedsArmy_John) March 31, 2015
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to this chatter I’ve been hearing in my own head about how Tom Brady‘s life experience is basically the same as my own. It’s far more realistic.
The Celtics got knocked out of the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed on Sunday when they got blown out on their home floor by the Clippers. Monday in Charlotte offered the C’s a chance to draw even with the Nets who currently sit in the spot the Celtics had been holding down. But the Hornets are battling for a playoff birth just like the Celtics, so it wasn’t going to be easy.
The Celtics came out hot, and in the end showed more heart despite a late run from the Hornets, coming out on top, 116-104. Boston improved to 33-41 on the season while knocking the Hornets down to 31-42 in the east’s tight playoff race.
Avery Bradley had a game-high 30 points to lead six Celtics in double figures. Kemba Walker led the way for Charlotte, netting 28 of his own to go along with 12 assists.
Bradley was already having a solid game when he led the C’s with 11 first half points. But then AB went off for 15 in the third quarter alone to blow the Celtics lead up to 85-69. Bradley finished the game with 30 points on 12-for-23 shooting, while ripping down eight boards.
MARCUS SMART ATTACKING THE RIM
Smart had a great overall game, but the best part was they he didn’t settle for jump shots. Smart’s biggest knock this season has been that he lets too many 3-pointers fly when he should be using his size for a guard to get into the lane — especially since he has the athleticism to finish. Smart did that on Monday, shooting 4-for-7 from inside the arc and getting to the line for four free throws. Aside from his 14 points, the rookie also had six rebounds, four assists, three steals and a monster block running back to protect the rim on a fast break.
We haven’t seen much of Wallace this season at all, but the veteran played a major role in getting Boston out to their lead in the first half. Playing in the city in which he was once named an All-Star, Wallace set the tone for the young Celtics in the first half despite only scoring two points — although they came on a LOUD ally-oop that I don’t think any of us though he still had left in him. Wallace pulled down four rebounds and had to steals to go along with his dunk in 12 first half minutes, but his presence on defense and ability to draw fouls on the Hornets carried important value. Wallace only got three more minutes in the second half, but as this team continues to fight for the postseason, have a vet like Wallace on the floor could be a big help. Wallace’s final line was for four points, five rebounds, two thefts and a helper despite missing all four of his free throws.
The Celtics needed to get a good start to the week. This win over the Hornets that ties them for eighth in the east is a good start, even more so considering that they showed they were the hungrier team with Charlotte in a similar position to Boston. The games only get more important as the week goes on. The Green will have the Pacers and Bucks at home on Wednesday and Friday respectively — both teams that are battling for playoff position with the C’s.
BACK-TO-BACK? NO PROBLEM
Back-to-backs are dreaded in the NBA, but maybe not if you’re Brad Stevens and the Celtics. The C’s have now come out on top in nine of their last 10 games on the second night of back-to-backs, including six consecutive.
The importance of the next three Celtics games cannot be overstated. Isaiah Thomas called Monday night’s visit to the Charlotte Hornets “a must win,” and really all nine of their remaining contests could command the same label. But, really, the next three could make or break their playoff chances.
After traveling to Charlotte, the C’s then respectively host the Indiana Pacers and Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday and Friday, marking a trio of head-to-head battles against teams jockeying for the Eastern Conference’s final three playoff spots. Here is the schedule for those five teams over the next five days.
If the Celtics were to sweep all three games ‘ and that’s quite an “if” ‘ there’s a very real chance they could hold the East’s seventh seed, trail the Bucks by one game for the sixth seed (with another game and a chance to win the season series against Milwaukee in the final game of the season) and own head-to-head tiebreakers against both the Pacers and Nets by week’s end. That’s kind of a big deal.
In the next few days, the sixth-seeded Bucks play lose-able games against the Hawks and Bulls, as do the seventh-place Heat opposite the Spurs and Cavaliers. On Tuesday, the Nets host the Pacers, who in turn host the Hornets on Friday, so those head-to-head battles should help keep Brooklyn, Indiana at Charlotte at bay ‘ as long as the Celtics can take care of business in their next three games.
Of course, the Hornets, Pacers and Bucks all have chances to take the tiebreaker from the Celtics with a victory against Boston this week, as Charlotte and Milwaukee would win the season series and Indiana would own a superior conference record. So, conversely, should the C’s get swept this week, there’s also the very real chance they could be in line for the No. 9 overall pick by Friday and staring down the barrel of a six-game season with two games apiece against the Cavaliers and Raptors.
So, it’s kind of a big week. The season is on the line, one way or the other. No pressure or anything.
The starting lineup of Marcus Smart, Avery Bradley, Evan Turner, Brandon Bass and Tyler Zeller ‘ a five-man unit Celtics coach Brad Stevens has employed in 18 of his team’s 22 games after the All-Star break ‘ has been outscored by 10.9 points per 100 possessions since the season resumed on Feb. 20, according to NBA.com/stats. That group has totaled 195 minutes together in that span ‘ nearly 20 percent of the C’s total playing time ‘ digging an average deficit of 2.6 points per game.
‘We have to punch first; we have to hit first,’ Isaiah Thomas said after the C’s dug themselves a 14-point hole in the first quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Clippers. ‘I don’t know what it is. We’re waiting to get hit, and then it’s tough for us to get back in it. We have to change that as soon as possible.’
Meanwhile, every lineup featuring Thomas that has played more than 10 minutes together on the Celtics has outscored the opponent per 100 possessions, including a group of Thomas, Bradley, Turner, Bass and Zeller that has outscored opponents by a point per minute over one quarter’s worth of floor time together spread out over four separate games. So, it stands to reason the Celtics could benefit from swapping Smart for Thomas to start the first and second half.
Asked if he was implying his insertion into the starting lineup might help deliver that early punch, Thomas smiled. ‘I didn’t say that,’ he responded before wisely leaving roster decisions to Stevens.
‘If coach puts me in the starting lineup, I’ll be happy,’ added Thomas, a legitimate NBA Sixth Man of the Year candidate. ‘If he doesn’t, it is what it is, but I definitely can help. That’s my game ‘ bring energy and make plays. So, if he calls my name and I’m in the starting lineup, I’m going to continue to play the game of basketball the way I know how and just do what it takes to win.’
Of course, moving Thomas might simply be robbing Peter to pay Paul, as few regular lineups sans the diminutive point guard have enjoyed much success. Stevens must consider whether Thomas’ presence would benefit the starting lineup more than his absence would detract from the bench.
In 154 career appearances as a starter ‘ mostly on the Kings from 2012-14 ‘ Thomas has averaged 17.2 points (57.9 true shooting percentage), 5.5 assists (2.3 turnovers) and 2.7 rebounds as his teams have outscored opponents by two points per 100 possessions in his 32.6 minutes per game, according to Basketball Reference. In 121 career appearances as a reserve since 2011, he has produced 13.4 points (56.8 true shooting percentage), 3.6 assists (1.9 turnovers) and 2.1 rebounds as his teams have played opponents to a virtual standstill in 23.0 minutes per game. In other words, his production hasn’t fallen off in the slightest when given increased playing time as a starter.
Meanwhile, the Celtics reserves actually weren’t all that bad before Thomas arrived in Boston, outscoring opponents by one point per 100 possessions’ a figure that ranked 11th among the league’s benches prior to the All-Star break. Those numbers have respectably improved to a positive net rating of 4.3 points and sixth place for the C’s reserves since Thomas came to town.
Considering the evolution of Jae Crowder along with the additions of Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome have also contributed to the Celtics bench’s improved performance, it might be worth making a reserve out of Smart, whose splits this season suggest he has been more effective off the bench.
Starter (29 games): 10.1 points (45.3 true shooting percentage), 5.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists (2.0 turnovers) and 2.0 steals per 36 minutes (minus-1.3 net rating)
Reserve (29 games): 10.8 points (52.9 true shooting percentage), 5.3 assists (1.7 turnovers), 3.9 rebounds and 1.7 steals per 36 minutes (plus-2.6 net rating)
A bench of Smart, Crowder, Datome, Jerebko and Olynyk isn’t such a bad group, as each member of that quintet is among the eight current Celtics with a positive net rating. Fellow reserves Thomas, Gerald Wallace and Phil Pressey are the other three with an on/off number above zero, which might be more of an indictment on the C’s starting lineup than anything previously mentioned here.
If the idea is to match the opponents’ best five with your own and see whose left standing at the end, it’s hard to argue Thomas hasn’t been the C’s most important player, so maybe it’s time Stevens lets Floyd Mayweather’s pal throw the first punch when they step into the ring against the Hornets.