Although they did not play their best basketball, The Celtics (32-41) defeated the New York (14-59) Knicks 96-92 Friday night in Madison Square Garden. Isaiah Thomas led the Celtics scoring with 18 points, while Jae Crowder (17 points) Brandon Bass (16) Evan Turner (15), and Avery Bradley (10) also finished in double-figures. Andrea Bargnani scored 25 points for the Knicks in the loss.
The Celtics gained a game on the Miami Heat, but remain only a half game ahead of the Nets for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The C’s begin a stretch of five games in seven nights against the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday night in Boston.
CELTICS LACK “SECRET STUFF”
After a woeful effort against the Heat on Wednesday, the Celtics needed to get off to a strong start. Instead, the C’s struggled to create open shots and looked generally lazy on the defensive end of the floor. Luckily for the Celtics, they were not playing a formidable opponent and only finished the quarter down by a point 22-21. To start the third quarter, the Celtics squandered their eight-point lead by quickly giving up a 7-0 run. During the second half of the season, the starters have not performed nearly as well as the bench. Brad Stevens may consider changing the rotations down the stretch.
CROWDER CONTINUES TO PLAY WELL
In addition to his usual excellent defense, Crowder did a great job tonight of pushing the pace after turn overs and defensive rebounds. On offense, Crowder’s first thought has been attack the basket, which has served him well recently. Crowder grabbed nine boards tonight and made seven of eight of his free throws. Since Isaiah Thomas went down with the back injury, Crowder has been the most consistent player on the floor for the Celtics, averaging 13 points and 6 rebounds per game. Speaking of Thomas.
THOMAS BACK TO FORM
Physically, Thomas looked drastically better than he did on Wednesday night in Boston. He did a better job of creating separation and looked more explosive when attacking the rim. Although he looked better from a physical standpoint, early on Thomas struggled to find his stroke, opening the game 1 for 7 from the field. He warmed up a little bit in the second half, finishing with 17 points, including going eight for nine from the free throw line.
Add Commissioner Adam Silver to the long list of people who are very impressed by the coaching of Brad Stevens In an interview with Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman air during the second quarter, Silver said that Brad Stevens is ‘one of the best young coaches in the league.’ Silver was very impressed by Stevens quick transition from college to the pros, noting ‘there’s some legendary failures of some Hall of Fame college coaches who’ve come in. I would say Brad had broken the mold from that standpoint.’
SHARING THE ROCK
In an interesting statistical note, nine different players made the Celtics first nine field goals. Jonas Jerebko broke the streak by hitting two shots in a row early during the second quarter.Of those nine players, eight finished with five points or more, as only Tyler Zeller was unable to score another basket.
Things were so ugly in the Celtics‘ 93-86 loss to the Heat on Wednesday, Jae Crowder publicly apologized to Boston fans for the effort put forth by himself and his teammates.
Of course, Jae Crowder led all C’s with 16 points, barreled his way to 11 free throw attempts and grabbed seven rebounds in what seemed like a typically hardnosed 27 minutes from the forward. Along with Phil Pressey, Marcus Smart, Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome, Crowder was part of the last-ditch lineup Celtics coach Brad Stevens discovered in the fourth quarter. That group slashed a 22-point deficit down to six before running out of time, but Crowder wasn’t satisfied.
“We don’t show up for three quarters. I don’t understand it,” he said as the C’s fell to 31-40 — still in eighth place, but just a half-game out of 11th. “You can’t come out lackadaisical”
“That’s something we have to fix as a team, as a group,” added Smart, who scored four of his six points and swiped three of his four steals in a remarkable fourth-quarter defensive effort that came too late. “If we don’t fix that and figure that out quick, we’re gonna have some problems.”
Goran Dragic requested a trade from the Suns, so when Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough also dealt Isaiah Thomas minutes before the deadline, the news came as a bit of a shock.
“If I’m honest, I was a little bit surprised, especially because I asked for the trade,” said Dragic after his Heat beat the Celtics, 93-86. “But that’s how the NBA goes. It’s a business.”
Following Dragic’s Third Team All-NBA campaign in 2013-14, Phoenix acquired Isaiah Thomas on a four-year, $27 million contract in a sign-and-trade with the Kings — seemingly as insurance should restricted free agent Eric Bledsoe find a lucrative contract offer elsewhere.
Only the Suns then reached a five-year, $70 million deal to keep Bledsoe in Phoenix. In theory, the Suns entered this season capable of extending the two-point-guard attack that worked so well last season over a full 48 minutes, but reality eventually took over on the court.
“Unfortunately, we had three point guards at the same position and only one ball,” added Dragic, who scored a game-high 22 points Wednesday, “so it’s kind of hard to satisfy everybody.”
In the end, Dragic landed in Miami, where he’s excited about the Heat’s playoff potential, especially if they can ever get healthy, and Thomas found his way to Boston. While rumors spread that the two former teammates butted heads in Phoenix, both players squashed that notion.
Asked about the on-court dynamic between the two during their 46 games as a backcourt tandem, Thomas said, “It was nice. When we did play together, it worked. He’s a hell of a player.”
“I talked with Isaiah. He’s happy here. He was a great teammate. We had a good relationship,” added Dragic, who then offered a glowing scouting report on Thomas, who returned from injury on Wednesday. “He can score in bunches. He’s an offensive-minded player. If he’s hot, he can score 30 points easy. He has that quality to put his team on his shoulders, especially on offense.”
As for Thomas’ new backcourt mates, Dragic is also impressed and seems to think they complement him well. “[Marcus Smart] is aggressive like Avery Bradley. They’re really good defenders on the ball. … It’s always nice to have these kinds of players on your team, because you know they’re going to defend the whole game, and they’re going to cause a lot of problems for the offense.”
No Dwyane Wade, no Hassan Whiteside and no Chris Andersen should have been no problem for the Celtics, but the hometown team with newfound playoff aspirations submitted one of its worst performances of the season Wednesday night.
No Dwyane Wade, no Hassan Whiteside and no Chris Andersen should have been no problem for the Celtics, but the hometown team with newfound playoff aspirations submitted one of their worst performances of the season.
The Heat dominated the first three quarters en route to a 93-86 victory that would have looked a lot worse if not for a furious fourth-quarter comeback. Wade, Whiteside and Andersen were all inactive due to injuries, but their absences had little impact on the outcome, as Goran Dragic’s 22 points led five Miami scorers in double figures.
The Celtics cut the deficit to six points in the final two minutes, but ultimately fell short of an improbable comeback. Jae Crowder (16 points, 7 rebounds) led the C’s in scoring. Avery Bradley (12 points), Phil Pressey (11 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) and Tyler Zeller (10 points, 8 rebounds) also reached double figures.
A win would have pulled the Celtics (31-40) into a seventh-place tie with the Heat (33-38), but instead they remain as the eighth seed — holding the tiebreaker against the Pacers (31-40) and leading the Nets (30-40) and Hornets (30-40) by a half-game each. For a complete box score, click here.
For starters, I’m not saying Celtics coach Brad Stevens will or even should win the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor. Mike Budenholzer and Steve Kerr are the heavy favorites, and rightfully so, considering their Hawks and Warriors respectively perch atop the East and West.
Rather, this is the argument one could make for Stevens should anyone choose to do so.
There has been much discussion about the difficulty in evaluating a perceived increase in coaching influence around the league, but there are certain truths about a coach’s role we hold self-evident ‘ their ability to effect wins and losses, design effective offenses and defenses, and manage ebbs and flows of rosters often altered by trades and injuries.
With those in mind, let’s examine eight statistical measures as they relate to all 30 teams: 1) win percentage, 2) point differential, 3) offensive rating, 4) defensive rating, 5) net rating, 6) pace of play, 7) roster turnover and 8) total games missed by its members. The first five are objectively obvious, and the final three allow for subjective interpretation.
For example, no team slowed its pace more than the Lakers since last season, if only because of new coach Byron Scott’s grinding approach, no team turned over its roster more than the Cavaliers, as a result of King James and his court, and no team missed fewer man games during the 2013-14 regular season than the Thunder ‘ a stark contrast to this year’s edition.
So, let’s first look at how significantly each team changed from 2013-14 to 2014-15.
While Stevens belongs in the NBA’s upper echelon of coaches based solely on these measurements, he still doesn’t stand a chance against a crop of Coach of the Year candidates that includes Budenholzer, Kerr and most impressively Bucks coach Jason Kidd.
While it is difficult to evaluate Cavs coach David Blatt’s influence, since much of Cleveland’s turnaround can be credited to the additions of a four-time MVP and three-time All-Star to the roster, Kidd’s ability to transform a team that finished with the league’s worst record last season into an Eastern Conference playoff seed by picking up the tempo and dramatically improving the defense is undeniable, particularly with a roster that remained relatively unchanged at its core until Milwaukee swapped Brandon Knight for Michael Carter-Williams.
Meanwhile, Kerr took an already talented team to a completely different level both offensively and defensively, while Budenholzer benefited from a mostly unchanged ‘ albeit healthier ‘ group of players who have improved on both ends in their second season in his system. Both deserve tremendous credit for constructing a pair of squads that may each win 60 games.
But season-to-season adjustments aren’t their only responsibilities. Coach of the Year should also take into account how their teams have progressed within that particular campaign. As such, let’s take a look at how significantly each team developed, using the 2015 All-Star break (coinciding with the trade deadline) as a jumping off point to evaluate each team’s evolution.
Admittedly, it was impossible for the Warriors and Hawks to dramatically improve their win percentage over the past month, since they owned remarkable records at the All-Star break, so any examination of these numbers must recognize it’s easier for teams that started the season horribly to demonstrate improvement. Just look to the Lakers, Timberwolves and 76ers.
But simply dismissing the success of the Jazz, Celtics and Thunder since mid-February would be ignoring Stevens’ process-oriented coaching philosophy aimed at improving possession to possession, game to game, and ultimately playing your best basketball at season’s end.
While Utah’s defensive growth can in part be explained by the organization’s decision to deal Enes Kanter, handing the rim protection reins to Rudy Gobert’s eight-foot wingspan, and OKC’s resurgence can largely be credited to a transcendent stretch of basketball from Russell Westbrook (and the arrival of Kanter?), to what do we credit Boston’s renaissance?
With all due respect to Quin Snyder and Scott Brooks, Stevens has been thrown to the sharks and asked to swim upstream against a tidal wave of upheaval. Only one team’s 15-man roster has missed more man games this season, and that’s the Minnesota Timberwolves, owners of the second-worst record in the NBA. Just four teams have seen as many roster changes: the Heat, who added Goran Dragic’s Third Team All-NBA skills to the mix, the 17-win 76ers and a pair of lottery-bound clubs (Suns and Pistons) that have regressed since the All-Star break.
Meanwhile, the C’s lost their leading scorer (Jeff Green), playmaker (Rajon Rondo) and rebounder (Jared Sullinger) to two trades and a season-ending injury, replacing them with Jae Crowder, Jonas Jerebko, Gigi Datome and Isaiah Thomas, who promptly missed two weeks with a back injury. There is no other explanation for their current status as the Eastern Conference’s eighth seed outside of these try-hard Celtics buying into Stevens’ system.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the case for Brad Stevens as the NBA’s Coach of the Year. He won’t win the Red Auerbach Trophy, of course, and probably doesn’t deserve to over Budenholzer and Kerr, but he certainly deserves consideration on everybody’s ballot.
Brow Buff's Sam Packard and Ben Kichen break down Marcus Smart's unfortunate ball tap, debate leadership in the Celtics locker room, and rehash the great Kevin Love to Boston rumors.
[0:01:31] ... taking. They could take him to a seven games I feel like IsiahThomas could steal a game. I home court advantage you win the two games at home or Isaiah steals one on the road. ... [0:04:37] ... ball Hitler. Absolutely especially that part is Smart out because he punched MattBonner balls more ball talk more. You know what let's. But go right there so last week whispers markets mark clearly. Cleaners date punched. MattBonner in the ball in the middle play. This is absolutely indefensible it made him look like a complete ticket. Is this why ... [0:06:19] ... they're two completely different situations. One's in game frustration with regards to MattBonner the other one is a potentially racist sand just. Spewing some vial vitriol that you so. But it does still raise some ... [0:07:36] ... becomes a bit of a bigger story than it actually should be. GeraldWallace came out and kind of ripped him afterwards. Pretty much saying grow up dude. And he's absolutely right it's actually nice to see GeraldWallace contributing. As a cause I member of the coaching staff here that's when he is a mentor to these young guy Tulsa. Everyone in GeraldWallace's basically just totally. Embraced his role as OG on the team and just like this is how you play in the NBA ...
If the NBA and NHL playoffs were to start today, then the Celtics would be off to Atlanta for a first-round series while the Bruins cleaned out their lockers. Not many people in Boston saw this being the case on March 24.
But let’s have some fun here. If the Celtics do make the playoffs, what’s their ceiling? We can all likely agree that if the Celts draw LeBron James‘ Cavaliers in the first-round that they stand no chance. Maybe they steal a game, but LeBron would prove to be too much. Boston could probably give the Hawks a good run and make it a series, but likely still fall in five or six games despite making Atlanta sweat.
What’s changed in the East over the past month is the fact that the Bucks are no longer locked into the sixth seed as they seemingly were just a month ago. Going into the All-Star break, Milwaukee had withstood Jabari Parker’s ACL tear and compiled a 30-23 record — becoming the first team to double their previous season’s win total (15) by the All-Star break in the following season. Since then? Frankly trading away Brandon Knight completely crippled them. Despite still holding onto the sixth seed by the skin of their teeth, the Bucks are just 4-13 since the break. Their 34-36 record means they are just three games ahead of the Celtics and a game and a half ahead of the Heat (who sit in control of the seven spot).
In their final 12 games, the C’s face seven opponents with losing records and five with winning records. If they can win seven or eight of those games (including two huge must-wins over the Bucks and games against the Heat and Pacers), the sixth seed is in sight. To further help Boston’s cause, Isaiah Thomas is expected to return on Wednesday for the important matchup against Miami, and ideally the rest of the playoff push.
The C’s clearly wouldn’t own home court, but would a matchup against the third seeded Raptors, or potentially Derrick Rose-less Bulls be something these resilient Celtics couldn’t overcome? Personally, I’d like their chances.
The Raptors have lost 11 of their last 16 games, and look like they’ll be limping into the playoffs. They are also coming off a season in which they were upset on their home floor in game 7 of the first-round by Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett‘s Brooklyn squad. The Bulls may be a tougher opponent than Toronto, but with Rose’s future as uncertain as any player in the league, the feisty Celtics would surely have a shot at an upset here if Chicago were to climb into the third seed.
I don’t want to take the fun out of Brad Stevens‘ first playoff race by raising expectations. Like I said, we never expected this to be the case from the beginning. So for now, enjoy these final 12 games. But if the C’s can get hot for this home stretch — with some help from Miami and Milwaukee — we could be watching a Celtics team that gets hot at just the right time go from making a little more noise than we thought this season to a whole lot more noise in the postseason.