“Guys in here are trying to win,” said Jae Crowder, the only one left from the Dec. 19 Rondo deal. “A lot of people counted us out, so we have a lot of pride in this locker room, and the city has a lot of pride, so we want to keep playing for those guys, playing for ourselves and playing basketball the right way to give ourselves a chance.”
The Celtics own a similar record after the Rondo trade (10-16) to before it (9-14), but since the Green deal was finalized on Jan. 12, the C’s are 7-7, including the first three road wins against Western Conference teams of the Brad Stevens era. For better or worse, this hodgepodge of young talent and expiring contracts is playing to win.
But some within the Celtics locker room are waiting for the other shoe to drop, or at least it sounds that way.
“It’s been great,” said Marcus Thornton, who netted 16 points off the bench in Friday’s win over the 76ers, of the team chemistry since a series of trades also saw Brandan Wright come and go. “It’s still not over yet. Feb. 19 is still a long time from now, so we’ll see how that goes, too. For the time being, everybody’s just here playing.”
Feb. 19, of course, is the NBA trade deadline, and Thornton seemed awful familiar with that date. “No, I’m not thinking about that,” he countered. “Whatever happens, happens. I would like to stay here. Who wouldn’t? We’ve got a good thing going, but like I said, it’s not controllable. I can’t control it, so whatever happens, happens.”
So goes the battle for Brad Stevens and this band of merry Celtics, who staved off a 76ers comeback for another victory and pulled within two games of the Nets for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff seed.
“We’ve been good in those moments in really the most part of the month,” said Stevens. “And we had a little bit of an adjustment, obviously, after Rondo was traded and Jeff was traded, but in close games — or, you know, we’ve had to come back in a couple of these games — I feel like for the most part it’s been a positive in the last eight minutes of games. So, that’s encouraging from where we started the year.”
Growing, morphing, evolving, it’s all part of the process of these Stevens Celtics, whatever that may be.
It hasn’t been pretty, but the Celtics are riding a three-game winning streak.
They nearly blew a 26-point lead to a listless Sixers squad, but pulled out a 107-96 win on the strength of another 3-point barrage from Marcus Thornton. The veteran reserve connected on back-to-back triples to maintain a cushion after Philadelphia cut it to a one-possession game midway through the fourth quarter. The C’s (19-30) remain within striking distance of the eighth-place Heat (21-28), who visit the Spurs late Friday night.
Thornton (16 points) joined five other Celtics in double figures. Jared Sullinger led the effort with 22 points, eight rebounds and a career-high seven assists. Avery Bradley (18 points), Tyler Zeller (16 points, 9 rebounds), Brandon Bass (13 points) and Jae Crowder (11 points) rounded out the C’s double-digit sextet. Luc Mbah a Moute’s 18 points led a 76ers (11-40) squad that was without Michael Carter-Williams.
With Michael Carter-Williams out with a right toe injury and Tony Wroten (partially torn right ACL) sidelined for the remainder of the season, the Sixers started undrafted rookie JaKarr Sampson at point guard alongside 2014 second-round pick K.J. McDaniels in the backcourt, and the Celtics took advantage early. In a span of 77 seconds, Bradley made his first three shots ‘ including a 3-pointer ‘ on passes from Smart, Turner and Sullinger, giving the C’s an early 7-0 lead. Bass’ layup on their next possession pushed the lead to nine and forced a Philadelphia timeout.
A LITTLE HELP
Here’s something you may not have known: Despite dealing Rajon Rondo, the Celtics entered Friday’s game assisting on 62.4 percent of their field goals, ranking seventh in the NBA in that regard — behind only the playoff-bound Hawks, Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Wizards and Bucks. (Even more remarkable: The 76ers rank eighth.) In the first half against Philadelphia, the C’s recorded an assist on 17 of their 23 field goals (74 percent) and took a 60-42 lead into halftime. Evan Turner, who has led the Celtics in assists since Rondo’s departure, had five dimes by the break.
THE 76ERS AREN’T VERY GOOD
Even with Carter-Williams — the NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year — the 76ers are league’s three worst teams. How the Knicks and Timberwolves have won fewer games remains one of life’s great mysteries. Only one member of Philadelphia’s starting five played in the NBA last year, and that was Luc Mbah a Moute, who has played for four teams in the past 22 months and was a throw-in to the Thaddeus Young trade. The Sixers’ front office is actively attempting to lose games, and Carter-Williams’ absence makes that a foregone conclusion. What’s Phil Jackson‘s excuse?
Treating the 76ers like The Bride at the beginning of “Kill Bill Vol. 1,” the Celtics pulled a Deadly Viper Assassination Squad and inexplicably left the church before finishing the job, allowing Philadelphia off the mat. While the C’s shot 21 percent in the third quarter (4-19 FG, 1-6 3P), the Sixers stormed back to within six, shooting 47 percent in the frame and outscoring the hosts, 27-15. Luckily, Philly is no Uma Thurman.
DID IT 1-FOR THE ROOKIES
While the Celtics received contributions from up and down the roster, their two rookies struggled to find the bottom of the net. Marcus Smart (1-6 FG) and James Young (0-3 FG) made just one of their nine combined attempts and totaled just three points as a tandem. While Young’s 0-fer came in a dozen minutes off the bench, Smart played a team-high 37 minutes, contributing in other ways as a starter (8 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals).
When Marcus Smart was selected No. 6 overall in this past June’s NBA Draft, many believed it would be to replace Rajon Rondo. The rookie had a slow start to the season that included an ankle injury and even limited minutes at times when he was available.
Rondo was shipped to Dallas on Nov 18, and since then Smart has continued trying to earn the trust of his coaches and teammates. On Feb 3 all of his hard work paid off when Brad Stevens named him the starting point guard for the Celtics. Smart’s playing time has gone up in each of his last five games, but he has set a career-highs in minutes in each of his two starts at the point.
In 37 minutes on Tuesday in New York, the Oklahoma State product poured in 13 points while also grabbing four rebounds, three assists and two steals. The next night, in 41 minutes of action while hosting the Nuggets, Smart only managed four points, but had maybe one of his most impactful games. Despite his lack of scoring, the 20-year old racked up 10 boards, dished out eight assists, and plucked three steals in the process.
“I just try to come out there and play hard,” Smart said of his new starting role. “Not worry about all the other things and just let my game come to me and let the rest fall into place.”
“I’m trying to push the ball and keep the pace up. I’m trying to attack the defense before they get set,” he said of his job as a facilitator.
Development with the ball in his hands is great, but may take some time. For now, defense is Smart’s calling card.
“I think you feel so good and comfortable with him defensively in the game,” Stevens said of Smart following Wednesday’s game. “I thought he did fine offensively. He had eight assists to two turnovers. He didn’t shoot a high volume of shots. I can’t think of many times where he made many mistakes defensively.
“He’s playing pretty well — without impacting the stat sheet too much, which is a good thing,” Smart’s coach concluded regarding his impact.
Even Smart’s peers around the league are taking notice of his abilities.
“I think he’s pretty good,” Denver point guard Ty Lawson confirmed following the game. “He’s tough. He’s pretty strong. He’s going to be a good defender in this league.”
But what’s the biggest impact of the C’s lineup change so far? Marcus Smart is a winner. The Celtics are 2-0 so far when he starts at point guard.
The Celtics entered Wednesday’s game against the Nuggets on an interesting note. The C’s dropped two home games in a row after returning home from a successful Western Conference road trip, but then beat the surprisingly surging Knicks on the road on Tuesday.
It was a pair of Jared Sullinger free throws with just 22.8 seconds remaining that put Boston up 102-100, and following a steal by Marcus Smart, the C’s held onto the lead for good to claim a 104-100 victory. The win improves the Celtics to 18-30 on the season.
Avery Bradley and Marcus Thornton (who came off the bench) led the Celtics in scoring with 17 each. Three other Celtics scored 14 points, while Ty Lawson led the Nuggets with 23 points and eight assists. The loss drops Denver to 19-31.
Considering the Celtics’ record and the fact that the Patriots just won maybe the greatest Super Bowl of all-time with the game decided on the 1-yard line, this makes sense. After parading through town on earlier on Wednesday, members of the Patriots took to the court after the first quarter of the game to further celebrate the victory. It was by far the loudest ovation we’ve heard at the Garden so far this season, deservedly so. Cornerback Malcolm Butler, who had the game-winning interception, received the loudest applause after he was saved as the last introduction. Butler continued to receive chants from the crowd for the rest of the game. The Celtics are now the last major Boston sports team to win a title (2008) with the Bruins (2011), Red Sox (2013) and Patriots (2014) all winning since.
THE CELTICS CAME OUT HOT AT HOME
The season started with the Celtics often jumping out to big leads at home then blowing them late. More recently, however, the trend has shifted to the Celtics coming out flat and playing catchup all game. The C’s shifted back to their old ways on Wednesday and came out on fire, taking a 61-51 lead into the break. The home team shot 25-for-47 in the first half (53.2 percent) including 9-for-13 from downtown (69.2 percent). Thornton and Bradley led the way with 12 and 11 point respectively. Thornton connected on all three of his 3-pointers.
JARED SULLINGER DISCIPLINED
If you missed the story from before the game, Sullinger missed his second team walkthrough in just four days. Stevens took Sullinger’s starting role from him in both games, but did allow Sully to remain active off the bench. Sullinger’s excuse was that he was stuck in traffic on Storrow Drive from all the snow. After being in park for 45 minutes on Storrow Drive today, I believe him, but still no excuse when you’re in the NBA. Sullinger wound up playing a very effective 20 minutes in the end, scoring 14 points along with seven boards and four assists. Tyler Zeller got the start in his place.
MOVING MARCUS SMART TO THE STARTING LINEUP HAS BEEN A WIN-WIN
Smart has been a starter now for just two games, but both have been victories. The reason the move has been a win-win has not just been Smart’s success, but Jae Crowder’s new found success off the bench. After both scored 13 points apiece in Tuesday’s win over the Knicks, Smart and Crowder each had solid games again. Crowder scored 14 points in in 25 minutes and contributed six rebounds and had three helpers. Smart, on the other hand, was very well rounded. The rookie only had four points, but his contributions were felt in every aspect of the game. Aside from playing hounding defense, Smart tallied 10 rebounds, eight assists and three steals.
JAMES YOUNG HAD ANOTHER SNEAKY GOOD GAME
Young is dubbed as a scorer — and rightfully so — but he has been effective on the court since seeing his minutes go up against the Knicks. Young finished with five points, four boards and three assists in 17 minutes on Tuesday, but improved against the Nuggets. Stevens bumped Young up to 20 minutes in this contest, and despite not shooting well again, Young would up with eight points while also dishing three helpers and collecting a pair of rebounds. The sneaky part? Young had a team leading plus-14 in +/-.
Jared Sullinger skipped Celtics‘ walkthrough on Wednesday and forced Brad Stevens‘ hand to move Sullinger back to the bench. Sullinger started Tuesday night and scored 22 points in a victory over the Knicks. However, Sullinger was benched on Superbowl Sunday’s home game against the Heat for the exact same reason.
“Similar to Sunday, he was late for walkthrough,” Stevens said as he was greeted in the hallway by former Celtic Jameer Nelson. “I don’t want to make any excuses, he won’t make any excuses. He missed walkthrough.”
So has Sullinger’s issue been addressed by the team aside from the benching?
“Absolutely,” Stevens said. “It’s the second time in two years, it just happens to be the second time in [four] days. Again, I said it the other day, I don’t think it’s an issue. You’ve just got to be here. Our precedence is set.”
Stevens mentioned countless times that Sullinger is “accountable” for his actions.
Stevens also said that he would leave the decision on whether or not to fine Sullinger up to president of basketball operations, Danny Ainge.
As was the case on Sunday, Tyler Zeller will get the start, but Sullinger will be active for the game.
Jessica Camerato of basketballinsiders.com joins the show to talk about Marcus Smart, the starting lineup, and trade deadline.
[0:04:13] ... I'll I wouldn't practice and. What we all kind of just for BrandonBass is six wanna see him get treated contenders it doesn't have to explain in terrible basketball games. We can't bring them back ... [0:16:48] ... Marcus Thornton there has operated bass. And I wouldn't be surprised he TayshaunPrince they'll put Brad Stevens seems to be completely enamored by him and loves everything he does. Well you know he's one of those players are kind of just does everything right even at his advanced stage you know doesn't have that same math was as he had runners with the pistons. But he's still a great guy to have on the team because unlike GeraldWallace who never played basketball right. You know he's played well he's very good defender but he turned on a special office he always had the wrong thing but he relied on as apt criticism on both sides of the court. TayshaunPrince a little bit different. He relies on his length. But yes to be Smart about how he's using that blank so. I think he's the Seve is the vets sees the savvy vet like that if you could look it up in the dictionary they're TayshaunPrince does is he does everything correctly. And he played like it showed he got traded is pulling crunch time two days after ... [0:20:30] ... this year Horford is good Millsap is good Jeff Teague is good KyleKorver is having the best shooting year ever. I don't know why the wide that's all there at fall apart during the playoffs because Kyle KyleKorver is gonna come back to earth personal. At 35 years old you don't have your best season of your career you Ray ...