Brad Stevens had the perfect model for his players to see Wednesday night. The Atlanta Hawks came in winners of nine straight, despite missing star big man Al Horford and sharpshooter Kyle Korver.

He thought maybe his team would see how Atlanta (31-8) is playing the game right now for their coach Mike Budenholzer and be inspired. He thought wrong.

Not three minutes into the game, Stevens had to call a timeout to remind his young team, still working to learn each other’s game, that he wants them to run basic offense.

“I thought our offense was pretty poor all night, and I think they’€™re obviously a difficult-enough offense to guard,” Stevens said. “But when you give them run-out dunks, it doesn’€™t help anything, and we just turned the ball over too much. Put too much pressure on ourselves to be good in the half-court defensively, and then to come back.

“We had cut it to nine and we were playing with some pretty good energy, but then at the end of the day they made us pay on a few different plays. And they do such a great job of ‘€“ they don’€™t over-dribble, you know? They attack, they space, they pass ‘€“ it’€™s beautiful basketball. They really move the ball well. And I thought we never really got into anything from a movement standpoint. We got pushed out a little bit out of our space and we fumbled the ball all around as a result of that.”

The Celtics responded in the first quarter and managed a 24-24 tie after 12 minutes. But the roof started to cave in when the shots didn’t fall in the second and they could never really recover from a 57-45 halftime hole. Still, it was the start of the game that stuck in Stevens’ craw.

“We got back-cut two or three times by then and in transition we got lucky,” Stevens said. “Should’€™ve been about 12-5. I was really disappointed with our first three minutes of the game.

“I’€™m usually not that disappointed in the first three minutes of the game. I thought it was poorly played on our part. I thought we were lucky to be at 6-5. But I think, again, that had a lot to do with the way they played. But we were doing things that you can’€™t do against anybody, but you can’€™t do against the Hawks for sure.”

With a starting lineup of Jae Crowder, Jared Sullinger, Tyler Zeller, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner, Stevens didn’t want to make the excuse of new faces learning each other against the best team in the East.

“No, I think it’€™s what we need,” Stevens said. “I think we need to play ‘€“ and I’€™m getting my wish ‘€“ we’€™re playing the very best of the best. We’€™ve got to be able to take, we’€™ve got to be able to understand that with all the things we didn’€™t do well it was a five possession game.

“And with all of the miscues we make ‘€“ and we have to learn the importance of attention to detail for us on every single possession; we have to learn the importance of taking care of the ball, and all those things. I mean, it’€™s easy; everybody knows it. You can recite all the things that lead to winning, but doing it is a different thing. And doing it with a presence all the time is what the good teams do. That’€™s what I ‘€“ I appreciate the way they’€™re going about things, the Hawks. I just, man, it’€™s a really good team. They just keep getting better.”

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia

While his team’s double-digit loss to the Hawks came as no surprise — even as Atlanta rested starters Al Horford and Kyle Korver — Celtics coach

Jared Sullinger

Jared Sullinger

While his team’s double-digit loss to the Hawks came as no surprise — even as Atlanta rested starters Al Horford and Kyle Korver — Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t pleased with his team’s effort almost from the opening tip.

“I was really disappointed with our first three minutes of the game,” Stevens said of a timeout that came just 2:38 into Wednesday’s 105-91 loss to the red-hot Hawks. “I’m usually not that disappointed in the first three minutes of the game. I thought it was poorly played on our part.”

Things didn’t get much better over the final 45 minutes, either, as Kelly Olynyk allowed dunk after layup after dunk inside, Tyler Zeller finished 0-for-4 from the floor and Stevens continued to dig deep into his rotation.

“Well, I thought our offense was pretty poor all night, and I think they’re obviously a difficult enough offense to guard,” added Stevens. “But when you give them run-out dunks, it doesn’t help anything, and we just turned the ball over too much.” (Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?)

With usual energy boosters Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart struggling to produce, the Celtics desperately needed a game-changer, but only Phil Pressey (7 points, 2 assists) on the end of the bench provided any punch.

Afterwards, an increasingly agitated Jared Sullinger was asked if he would like to be the guy who swings the C’s momentum, he responded, “Not really.”

At least he’s honest. You’ve got to give him that. Sullinger clarified his comments a bit, but it still wasn’t the inspiring speech you’d like to hear from the de facto best player on an ever-changing Celtics roster.

“I want to win,” said Sullinger, who had 14 points on 13 shots and nine rebounds. “I don’€™t want to have to be a guy that has to swing momentum. I want to be a team that comes out, plays hard, wins basketball games and leaves everything we have on the court. No need for a guy to swing momentum; we shouldn’€™t need to have to worry about that. We’re so young. We should be able to play hard as long as we can for the whole 48 minutes.”

So says the guy who’s limited to fewer than 30 minutes a night — and not for performance reasons. Regardless, simply playing hard doesn’t always translate into victories. If that were the case, Kevin Garnett would’ve never lost. In addition to effort, the game also requires execution.

“We’€™re playing the very best of the best,” said Stevens, whose team has three wins since Dec. 19. “We’€™ve got to be able to understand that with all the things we didn’€™t do well, it was a five-possession game. And we have to learn the importance of attention to detail for us on every single possession; we have to learn the importance of taking care of the ball, and all those things. I mean, it’€™s easy; everybody knows it. You can recite all the things that lead to winning, but doing it is a different thing. And doing it with a presence all the time is what the good teams do.”

And the truth of the matter is, the Celtics just aren’t a good team.

Blog Author: 
Ben Rohrbach

The red hot Hawks came into Boston on Wednesday and extended their winning streak to 10 games, and it wasn’t even close. Playing without Al Horford and Kyle Korver, Atlanta was unfazed and  still managed to dominate, 105-91 (click here for full box).

DeMarre Caroll and Jeff Teague led the way for the Hawks with 22 points apiece while Avery Bradley led all Celtics in scoring with 17, but failed to put points on the board in the fourth quarter.

Here’s 5 things we learned in the loss that drops the Celtics to 13-24 on the season:

THE HAWKS ARE REALLY GOOD

The Hawks have been silent assassins all season. Atlanta has lost two games since Thanksgiving and have been rolling over the competition in the process. Teams around the league have certainly taken notice, but so far it is yet to phase the Hawks.

Even without two of their best players (Horford and Korver), the Hawks brought their quiet confidence into Boston and played pretty well. With names like Mike Muscala, Mike Scott and Kent Bazemore playing roles in the rotation and their starters all preforming like equally-talented All-Stars, the Hawks are onto something. Which begs the question: Could the Celtics build a “superstar-less” contender like Atlanta has? Stay tuned for the answer in a followup post.

BRAD STEVENS‘ ROTATION IS DETERMINED 

Shortly after experimenting with playing 13 guys in a game, Stevens has decided on a rotation … for now. Well, trades have essentially decided the rotation, but the coach still has had minor decisions to make in the process. With Nate Robinson, Tayshaun Price and Austin Rivers all on the Celtics’ roster, but never expected to wear a green uniform, Stevens is left with 12 healthy bodies.

Phil Pressey and Gerald Wallace have been determined the odd men out (although Pressey played once Boston got down big), which means Stevens has settled on a more sensible 10-man rotation for the time being. Of course, with the way this season has gone, a trade could change the rotation at any moment. But until another trade does occur, it’s pretty safe to say that this is what the rotation will look like.

MARCUS SMART SHOULD BE THE STARTING POINT GUARD

With the recent direction this season has taken, this move just makes sense. Nothing against Evan Turner, he’s a good player (and probably the most fun interview in the locker room). But he’s not only playing out of position, but he has not separated himself enough from Smart to keep the job.

Trading away Rajon Rondo was handing the job to Smart to see what he can do with it; that’s why he was drafted. Smart’s jump shot has improved a lot of late, and now the only way to let him learn the point guard position in the NBA is by allowing him to play there more.

For comparison: Smart finished the game with a line of six points, five rebounds, five assists, three steals and two turnovers. Turner finished with three points, four rebounds, six assists, one steal and three turnovers. Both played 27 minutes, it’s time to roll with Smart.

MARCUS THORNTON PLAYED DESPITE TRADE RUMORS

Lately, DNPs for the Celtics mean that you are on the open market — just ask Jameer Nelson and Brandan Wright. Despite reports that teams around the league are interested in Thornton, he was in the lineup on Wednesday. This doesn’t mean the report is false, but based on Danny Ainge’s recent moves, it would suggest that a deal is not yet close on Thornton. On the positive side, Thornton had a strong game, so teams interested likely will remain intrigued. He totaled 10 points to go with three rebounds and two assists. Oddly enough, Thornton was a plus-11 in +/- on the night, a team high by far.

THE C’S CRUMBLED AGAINST HIGH PRESSURE DEFENSE

The Celtics came out of the locker room in the second half and allowed the Hawks to get three quick steals leading to fast breaks. That series pretty much summed up the Celtics’ night. The Celtics finished with 16 turnovers on the night, which isn’t good, but even more concerning is that 13 of them were steals by the Hawks. The C’s simply could not handle the pressure of Atlanta’s defense, something they are going to have to improve upon if they want to not get knocked out of games early as they did Wednesday.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

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 five.

How active have the Celtics been? Well, since the last post in this series, Ainge has flipped Jameer Nelson to the Nuggets for Nate Robinson, bought Robinson out to save about $1.2 million, and reportedly completed the framework for a deal to ship Austin Rivers to the Clippers for two expiring contracts and a second-round pick. Oh, and the last post in this series was Tuesday morning. So the C’s have been rather busy.

Now Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports is reporting that teams have been showing interest in Marcus Thornton, and by the way things have gone in the last week, that probably means he’s next to go. Thornton’s expiring contract makes him an attractive bench scoring option as a rent-a-player for other teams, but his $8.6 million salary makes it tough to find a match. Even more so when you consider all the effort Ainge has put into clearing cap space for next season in recent trades, meaning it’s unlikely Ainge would take any players he needs to pay next season in return.

Currently (not including Gerald Wallace), Ainge will be paying players all age 25 or younger next season. Each of those players are on relatively nice cost-controlled deals aside from Avery Bradley as well, so it would be tough to see Ainge sacrificing all of that hard work. Which means, of course, more draft picks and expiring contracts in return for Thornton:

RAPTORS GET: Marcus Thornton

CELTICS GET: Landry Fields, Greg Stiemsma and a future second-round pick

The Raptors already have a similar player in Lou Williams, but you can never have enough bench scoring. Admittedly, it was very tough to find a fit for Thornton, and even this one isn’t perfect. Fields and Stiemsma aren’t getting minutes for Toronto, though, so this would give them a proven scorer to insert into the rotation and try and get back into the hunt in the wide open East.

For Boston the trade is as simple as they all have been: get expiring contracts and add a draft pick, which this trade accomplishes. Toronto has their second-rounder in the upcoming 2015 draft, so Boston would be able to see the pick right away if the Raptors agreed upon it.

Another potential fit could be swapping Thornton for Kendrick Perkins, much like an earlier suggested Jeff Green trade, and having the Thunder throw in a second-round pick like the Raptors would in this deal.

It seems as though Ainge is determined to squeeze as much trade value out of any player on his roster that he doesn’t intend to keep beyond this season, so at this point, expect anything from the Celtics’ crafty front office.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

According to Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Celtics are reportedly shipping Jameer Nelson to Denver in exchange for guar

According to Marc Spears and Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports, the Celtics are reportedly shipping Jameer Nelson to Denver in exchange for guard Nate Robinson.

Just one day after making the Jeff Green deal official, Danny Ainge is back at it again. But as Tayshaun Prince is currently negotiating a buyout with Boston, it sounds like we can expect Robinson to do the same. Boston’s motive in the trade was simple, Nelson is under contract next season and Robinson is not. The deal allows the C’s to add even more cap room this summer to a number that was already expected to exceed $30 million. It’s a smart move by Ainge. With Nelson not a part of Boston’s long-term plan, just swapping him for a contract that will come off the books at the end of the season is another win for the Celtics.

Despite Robinson playing a role on the 2010 Celtics team that made it to the NBA Finals, it sounds like he will be unneeded this time around. Spears made reference that the Clippers may be interested in Robinson if he is bought out.

In six games with the Celtics, Nelson averaged 4.8 points and 5.5 assists. However, Nelson did not suit up for the last six games he was in Boston. The point guard was injured at first, but even when healthy, it’s safe to say Ainge was looking to flip Nelson all along considering his DNPs of late.

With Brandan Wright being moved to Phoenix on Friday, Jae Crowder already becomes the only player left that was aquired in the Rajon Rondo trade on Dec 18. Crowder had a career-high 22 points on Monday, so you would think he’s here to stay. But at the rate Ainge is moving, it seems no player is safe.

 

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

Marcus Smart has spent much of his rookie season battling through injuries. Lately, however, Smart has been quietly improving upon one of his biggest weaknesses — his jump shot.

It’s no secret that Smart needs to improve his 3-point shooting. I wrote about it — and why his lack of a shot means he should drive to the hoop more — earlier this season. Even Smart is aware of the criticism of himself, but that doesn’t mean he can’t fix it.

“That was the biggest knock on my game coming into the league was I couldn’t shoot,” Smart said following Monday’s win over the Pelicans. “Over the last 12 or 13 games I think I’ve been shooting the ball well and I’ve been in the gym every day.”

In Smart’s first seven games (five before his ankle injury and two while battling back and playing short minutes), he shot 6-of-28 from downtown for 21.4 percent. In his last 16 games, though, Smart has been much improved. The Oklahoma State product has shot 22-for-52 on 3-pointers, which is good for an impressive 42.3 percent over that span. To put that in perspective, that number would place Smart 11th in the league in 3-point percentage on the season, ahead of Stephen Curry (39.1 percent).

So what’s the cause for his improvement?

“Just trying to stay consistent with jumping straight up and down,” said Smart. “Not floating to the sides, left and right, just try to shoot the same shot. I’ve always known, ever since high school, what my problem was. It was just a matter of getting into the gym and working on it.”

Seems as though the work has paid off for the rookie recently, something his coach has taken notice of.

“He would probably say that he’s worked more deliberately and consistently than he’s ever done before,” Brad Stevens said at Tuesday’s practice. “That’s obviously an emphasis. We talked about it at the beginning of the year. We thought, coming in, that his shot was better than his percentages [Smart shot just 29.9 percent from deep in his final season in college], and we continue to think he’ll make shots.”

If Smart’s development wasn’t clear before Monday’s game, it is now. Up just one with under a minute left, Avery Bradley found Smart in the corner for a potential dagger. Smart knocked the 3-pointer down to clinch the Celtics‘ win without hesitation, something he likely wouldn’t have done just a couple of months ago.

Smart still could benefit from attacking the rim more. At his size — a 6-foot-4, 220 pound point guard — it certainly should be a bigger part of his game, especially since we saw him do it in college. But while he learns to find his way into the paint in the NBA, his new found jump shot is a great sign for Smart’s development going forward. If he can improve upon such a big weakness this early in his career, it makes you think that Marcus Smart has a whole lot of promise ahead of him.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

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 four.

Well, Danny Ainge is certainly doing a good job of trying to put this series out of ideas. Part one was built on a Rondo trade and parts two and three both featured Jeff Green, who is now a member of the Grizzlies. In the meantime, Ainge also found time to flip Brandan Wright to the Suns, and now begin talks with the Clippers about acquiring Austin Rivers — who was part of the return in the Green deal from the Pelicans. Needless to say, it was a pretty busy weekend for the C’s front office.

One obvious piece remains on this Celtics‘ squad that just doesn’t fit: Brandon Bass. There are limited options out there — the Cavs just added Timofey Mozgov and most of the buyers out West have found deals — but one destination stuck out to me.

BLAZERS GET: Brandon Bass

CELTICS GET: Thomas Robinson and Dorell Wright

As great of a teammate as Bass is, he just clearly is no longer of value to the Celtics. The Blazers on the other hand, could definitely use a boost off the bench of Bass’ caliber in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. In return, they give Boston two players that are hardly playing, but from Ainge’s point of view, he gets a free look at a former top-five pick on the last year of his rookie deal in Robinson.

Both Robinson and Wright come as expiring contracts (Wright wouldn’t figure into the rotation at all), so at worst Ainge lets both walk in free agency as he would with Bass. But if Robinson were able to flourish in his last chance to prove himself, Ainge may be able to find a hidden gem if he were to re-sign Robinson on a cheap deal. If the move paid off, Ainge would be adding another youthful asset that he likely otherwise would not have had access to (or a good enough evaluation on to go and sign).

Odds are that the former No. 5 overall pick would move on at season’s end, especially considering Boston seems to like Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller. But again, if that were the case no harm to Ainge, he simply would clear the cap space he would have anyways when Bass finished up his time in Boston. Nothing fancy here, just a simple trade that seems to make sense for both parties involved.

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow

After a tough road trip filled with trades, the Celtics returned home Monday to collect an impressive victory over Anthony Davis and the Pelicans. Jared Sullinger was a huge reason why. Sullinger finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds, stepping his game up against one of the top young talents in the league.

“I thought today’s a good example of his versatility,” coach Brad Stevens said of Sullinger’s big game. “When we had [Brandon] Bass in the game they usually matched up [Ryan] Anderson on [Sullinger], when we had Kelly [Olynyk] in the game they had to match up [Omer] Asik on [Sullinger]. And so when Asik’s on him he stretched it a little bit, and when Anderson was on him he posted. That’s why, in my opinion, a guy like Jared has to be able to do both if he’s going to be really good. I thought he did a lot of really good things tonight.”

While Sullinger really stood out in the box score, rookie Marcus Smart’s name would not pop if you only looked at the numbers. Smart’s contributions go beyond what’s on the stat sheet. He hit a 3-pointer out of the corner while falling down that clinched the game for the C’s — the most clutch shot of Smart’s career to date.

“He had nothing but zeros at halftime except for two assists and one turnover, and we talked as a staff, we thought he was terrific,” Stevens said of the No. 6 overall pick. “All that other stuff on a stat line isn’t where his impact can be the greatest, and he really made a huge impact, being his hands on balls, being active. I didn’t know coming into the game if he could guard [Tyreke] Evans and I thought he did a decent job on him — he’s a hard guy to guard, too. So he did a lot of great things. And obviously hit a big 3.”

Check out Sullinger’s postgame press conference below, but on a night when his Ohio State Buckeyes won the NCAA football national championship, Sully wanted to be brief so he could rush home for the second half.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow 

Blog Author: 
Julian Edlow