If there was one person in the building not surprised by the brilliant adjustment made by Celtics coach Brad Stevens on the game-winning inbounds play from Marcus Smart Wednesday night, it was Gordon Hayward.
He was, of course, a star player for Stevens at Butler University when the Bulldogs went to back-to-back national title games, losing to Duke and UConn. Hayward was also the man who scored what appeared to be the game-winning basket with 1.7 seconds left, giving Utah an 84-83 lead.
Then the Celtics called timeout. They wanted Smart to inbound the ball. But the rookie was having all sorts of problems getting the ball. Another timeout. Then Stevens diagrammed a play to get the look that would free Tyler Zeller at the rim, if Smart could get the ball in.
“They switched the play before when Marcus couldn’t get it inbounded with Hayward and (Derrick) Favors,” Stevens said. “So, we wanted to try to get that switch again, so we just ran a little action to get that switch again and then (Rudy) Gobert was on the ball so he wasn’t at the rim. So we were hoping to slip and catch it a little bit cleaner and lay it in, but, you know, that was the goal ‘ and it ended up being okay.”
Was Stevens surprised that Gobert was on the ball?
“That’s a hard call, and I think that with Marcus Smart taking it out and Gobert on the ball it’s hard to deliver a good pass,” Stevens said.”If Gobert tips it the game’s basically over, unless it tips right to us. So it’s easy to second-guess that stuff but I won’t because I saw how long Marcus had to throw over just to get the pass to where it was. It’s another reason why we had to throw the ball in the air, though.”
Zeller caught the ball, gave a quick pump fake and delivered the game-winner as time expired.
‘It was a great pass,” Hayward said of the Smart entry pass from midcourt. “That’s what Coach Stevens does. He’s excellent in those situations of coming up with a play, I know it better than anybody. It’s a great play, great design, they knew we were switching. The pass had to be perfect to get over Rudy (Gobert) and Rod (Rodney Hood) and it was and then he (Zeller) made a good finish too. Credit them with their finish too, but that’s not where we lost it though, we should have been better.”
While Zeller was remarkably calm after the winning shot, Stevens couldn’t resist showing off his incredibly dry sense of humor.
“He just wanted to enjoy 1.7 seconds at the rim and being the biggest guy, I think, for once,” Stevens said. “He fumbled it a little bit, but we always say with 1.7 you have two dribbles. So we know there’s time to fumble the ball, regain yourself, and get it back up.
“He’s a very businesslike person, he is an everyday guy, he works really hard, he has a good sense of humor and he’s a good guy. But with some guys you might be concerned about them hitting a last-second shot and how they’re going to react the next game; I’m not concerned with him.”
It wasn’t a fun game to watch most of the way through, but it turned into a thriller late as the Celtics faced the Jazz Wednesday at the TD Garden. Gordon Hayward hit a jumper over Tyler Zeller with just 1.7 seconds remaining to give Utah an 84-83 edge, but it was Zeller that would get the last laugh. Brad Stevens drew up a play to perfection and Marcus Smart hit Zeller under the hoop for what turned into the game winner at the buzzer. The shot went under review, then the Garden erupted at the refs announced that the Celtics were coming away with an 85-84 win.
Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were the game’s two high scorers with 21 and 18 points respectively — both coming off the Boston bench. Avery Bradley was the Celtics’ only starter to reach double figures with 13. Trey Bruke and Derrick Favors led the way for Utah with 16 points apiece. The Celtics are now 24-35 after the win, while the Jazz drop to 24-36 on the season.
Yes, both teams did play in different cities last night, but 34-33 at halftime is not a common sight in the NBA. Typically a cold start will get better for both teams. But after the Jazz took a 19-18 lead into the second quarter, the teams combine for only 30 more points in the half — leaving the Celtics with a one-point edge at the break. Despite turning the ball over just once, the C’s managed their 34 points on 32.6 percent shooting (including 16.7 percent from downtown). The Jazz weren’t much better, shooting a mere 37.1 percent, but attempted 11 less shots than Boston (46-35).
Despite leading at the half, Brad Stevens’ club was clearly struggling offensively, so he opted to make a move. Jae Crowder — who has been making a huge impact recently off the bench — started the second half over Brandon Bass. Crowder was the C’s lone bright spot offensively in the first half, tallying 13 points on 6-for-8 shooting. Crowder wound up going scoreless in the third frame, but the slack was picked up elsewhere.
AVERY BRADLEY CARRIED THE LOAD WHILE HURT
Bradley returned to the locker room in the first half with what the team deemed to be a left elbow contusion. He returned, but scored only two points in the half. Coming out of the break was another story, as Bradley scored all 11 of the Celtics points in the first six minutes of the third, before handing the torch over to the C’s new finisher.
ISAIAH THOMAS CLOSED AGAIN
It was Zeller who hit the game-winner, but Thomas came up huge for Boston late, scoring 19 of his 21 points in the second half. As he does so often, Thomas dominated the final frame, scoring 10 points while pacing the Celtics offense throughout. Thomas played only the fifth most minutes on the team with just over 26, which begs the question: When will Thomas get more minutes? Coming off the bench may be the right role for Thomas, but after proving how lethal of a scorer he is, it’s a matter of time until we see him on the floor more.
KELLY OLYNYK RETURNED (KIND OF)
After missing 18 games with a badly sprained left ankle, Olynyk was back in the lineup on Wednesday for the first time since Jan. 22. Olynyk saw just over seven minutes of action (all in the first half) and went scoreless in his return. “I thought Kelly was fine, but the way the game was going I felt like [Jonas] Jerebko was active and all over the place,” Stevens said following the game.
Obviously, Stevens did not give Olynyk much of a chance on the floor, but the forward looked a step behind and is going to have to earn his minutes to get back in the rotation. Clearly Olynyk has not yet returned to 100 percent.
Marcus Smart has been recognized for his efforts to keep the Celtics in the playoff hunt through a crazy trade season in Boston.
Smart and Minnesota Timberwolves sensation Andrew Wiggins were named Wednesday the Kia NBA Eastern and Western Conference Rookies of the Month, respectively, for February.
Smart ranked third among East rookies in scoring (9.8 ppg), assists (4.3 apg) and steals (1.64 spg) for the month. He also was fourth in rebounding (4.5 rpg) and averaged a conference-rookie-high 32.6 minutes in 11 games for the Celtics, whose 7-4 record was tied for fourth best in the East.
The 6-4, 220-pound point guard set single-game career highs in rebounds (10), assists (nine) and steals (five) during February. Smart scored in double figures in six of his final seven games of the month.
Smart’s playing time increased significantly following the Dec. trade of Rajon Rondo to Dallas. He continued to impress even as Danny Ainge brought in Isaiah Thomas in a deadline deal with Phoenix. Wednesday against Utah marked Smart’s 16th start of the season.
As for Wiggins, the rookie out of Kansas won the West award for the fourth consecutive month and helped the Timberwolves to a 5-6 record, their best mark in a full calendar month this season. The 6-8, 199-pound forward led all rookies in scoring (16.8 ppg) and minutes (38.7 mpg), and he shot 45.7 percent from the field and averaged 4.8 rebounds.
On Feb. 23, Wiggins scored 30 points in a 113-102 loss to the Houston Rockets, his third 30-point game of the season, matching the Minnesota rookie record set by Isaiah Rider in 1993-94.
Here are just some of the highlights of the month for Smart:
Feb. 1 vs. Miami: Dished out a career-high nine assists and had only one turnover in an 83-75 loss to the Heat.
Feb. 4 vs. Denver: Grabbed a career-high 10 rebounds and added four points, eight assists and three steals in a 104-100 victory over the Nuggets.
Feb. 20 @ Sacramento: Scored 16 points and contributed five rebounds and a career-high five steals in a 109-101 loss to the Kings.
After a three-game win streak and a hard-fought loss to the Western Conference-leading Warriors, the Celtics began answering questions this weekend about possibly playing in the playoffs.
Well, nothing tempers expectations like a 31-point blowout by the surging Cavaliers.
LeBron James scored a game-high 27 points, and Cleveland dominated from start to finish in a 110-79 victory against the visiting Celtics on Tuesday night. The loss marked the second straight for the C’s (23-35), who fell two full games behind the Nets for the eighth seed in the East playoff race.
Brandon Bass‘ 15 points led an anemic Celtics offense that finished 35 percent from the field. Meanwhile, five more Cavs joined LeBron in double figures: Kyrie Irving (18 points), Kevin Love (12), J.R. Smith (12), Timofey Mosgov (10) and Tristan Thompson (10).
The 31-point loss marked the Celtics’ worst of the season. The C’s haven’t been blown out many times this season, as they’ve shown the ability to keep games close throughout the season. This time, though, the effort just wasn’t there, especially on the defensive end. The Celtics will not have long to dwell on their poor performance, as they host the Jazz on Wednesday night.
Thomas played his first bad game as a Celtic, scoring only 11 points in just under 20 minutes. He continued to attack the rim, but was repeatedly stifled by the Cavs’ long defenders. Thomas also missed all three of his attempts from 3-point range and finished 4-of-13 from the field.
THE KING STAYS THE KING
After LeBron missed two key free throws at the end of Sunday’s loss to the Rockets, some dared question the legitimacy of his reign. On Tuesday, King James proved why he deserves not only the throne, but another MVP trophy. LeBron dominated in all phases of the game, but really excelled shooting from the outside, hitting a number of ridiculous jumpers. Jae Crowder, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart all tried to contain James, but none of them had the answer.
NO FAST START
After scoring 38 points in the first quarter on Sunday against the Warriors, the Celtics were looking to get a repeat performance from their offense on Tuesday. No such thing occurred. The Celtics jumped out to an early 9-5 lead, but only scored seven points in the final nine minutes of the quarter. The offense struggled to create space and often settled for long jumpers. One possession even featured a Crowder iso at the top of the key; it was ugly. It only got worse from there.
SAY HELLO TO LUIGI DATOME
The Italian Stallion, rocking the rare No. 70 jersey, played a season-high 15 minutes. Datome collected seven points and five rebounds. He probably felt comfortable on the court, as he was surrounded by some familiar faces — fellow benchwarmers Shavlik Randolph, Gerald Wallace and Phil Pressey, who all saw significant playing time.
Newly acquired Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas captured the NBA’s Eastern Conference Player of the Week honors, becoming the first Boston player to earn the award since Jared Sullinger last season from Feb. 3-9, 2014.
Thomas edged Hawks forward Paul Millsap, Hornets teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Mo Williams and Pacers guard George Hill for the award. Damian Lillard, who averaged 26 points, 5.7 assists and 4.7 rebounds from Feb. 23 to March 1, earned Western Conference Player of the Week honors.
Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who submitted the first winning month (7-4) of his career in February, was nominated for Eastern Conference Coach of the Month, but lost out to Pacers coach Frank Vogel for the honor.