Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Before taking on the Jazz at TD Garden, coach Brad Stevens discussed how inconsistent the Celtics have been on the defensive end this season and why it’s important for him to make the proper adjustments going forward. 

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full on Tuesday, facing one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Jazz lead the league in fewest points allowed (94.5), are currently fourth in the Western Conference and riding high on a four-game winning streak. 

Stevens broke down stretches throughout the season where he’s seen his team defend poorly and why going to a ‘small-ball lineup’ against particular teams hurts them on the defensive end. 

“Sometimes when we go small, we’re really small so we’ve had to adjust that,” Stevens explained. “First seven games we were atrocious, defensively — which would actually be a compliment to how we were. And then the last seven [games] we haven’t guarded late, the middle 20 we were third in the league. So, we gotta be great, we gotta be great on that end if we wanna improve. Hopefully, we can be better at that as we head into this month and a half before the All-Star break because we don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better.”

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full in the low post, facing one of the league’s most impressive big men in Rudy Gobert. Utah’s defensive juggernaut is second in the league in blocks per game (2.60) behind Anthony Davis (2.62) and fifth in rebounding (12). 

“He’s so big,” Stevens said about Gobert. “If he catches the ball on a roll and even if you’re there and he’s inside six [or] five feet of the basket, there’s a good chance you and the ball are both going into the basket together. He’s great at lobs. He’s gotten better, I think at finishing in traffic from what I’ve seen.

“He’s a good offensive rebounder. And then they have a bunch of guys that can really shoot the ball so he gets looks because you’re worried about the 3-point line. He’s a really good player and he’s having a great year.”

Another player who’s having a great season for the Jazz is their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 22.4 points a game while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

Stevens, who had the pleasure of coaching Hayward in college at Butler, talked about the strides Hayward has made throughout his basketball career when he was asked if he was impressed by how successful his NBA career has been. 

“We actually thought that he had a chance to become an NBA player,” Steven said. “Once you get to this level, you know, there’s only so many guys that can be in the top-50 or top-30 players in the league so that seems like a long shot for anybody that comes into college at 18, particularly, like I said yesterday — a skinny tennis player. But he’s made great strides, he’s gotten better every year. From his senior year at Brownsburg through how ever many years now he’s been in Utah. His continuous improvement has put him in a great spot. He’s had a tremendous year too.”

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

Jan 21, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge before a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena. Mandatory Credit: Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will look to make another big trade sometime in the near future (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

No one knew it at the time but Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge made the biggest steal of his tenure in Boston when he traded for Isaiah Thomas in the final minutes before the 2015 NBA trade deadline.

On February 19, 2015 — a day that was marked the busiest NBA trade deadline day in 25 years — the Celtics acquired Thomas from the Suns in exchange for Marcus Thornton and the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 first-round pick.

For the Celtics, a team that was teetering between squeezing into the playoffs and entering a second consecutive draft lottery at the time, the deal pushed the ball forward in their rebuilding phase. It was clear Ainge wanted to see the Celtics blossom into a playoff team sooner rather than later, even if it meant a first-round sweep against the conference leading Cavaliers.

However, Ainge had his eyes on Thomas way before 2015’s trade deadline. He observed the young prospect before the 2011 NBA Draft and reached out to Thomas moments after free agency opened its doors in the summer of 2014.

“Danny Ainge was the first person to call me at 12:01 a.m.,” Thomas said back in 2014.

Instead of inking a deal with the Celtics, a team with the crowded back court of Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart at the time, Thomas signed a four-year, $27 million contract with the Suns. It was a modest deal but Thomas was still trying to prove himself as a back up point guard at that time. Today, that’s a bargain to say the least as Thomas has reached new heights as one of the league’s elite scorers.

After Friday’s historic performance, he is now fifth in the league in scoring — averaging 27.7 points a night and it only cost Ainge a late 2016 first-round pick that turned into Scal Labissiere and Thornton — a backup shooting guard who’s currently with the Wizards averaging 8.4 points a night.

Both pieces were acquired by the Cavaliers for the $10.3 million exception created by trading Paul Pierce to Brooklyn.

While Ainge will go down in history as the genius who constructed the ‘Big 3’ by trading for Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett in 2007 which resulted in a championship in 2008, the Thomas trade in 2015 bridged the gap into the new era. The emergence of Thomas — who made his first All-Star team last season — led to the biggest free agency signing in Celtics history — Al Horford — and pushed the ball even further as the C’s remain relevant in the east behind the Cavaliers and the Raptors.

And Ainge pulled it off by using one of his stockpiled draft picks and a throw-in player. What a heist.

Unlike 2007, Ainge didn’t have to give up a No. 5 overall pick like he did for Allen or trade away half of his roster like he did for Garnett. Instead, he traded for a player who was signed to a team-friendly deal and on the verge of becoming a bonafide star.

After trading Rondo in 2014, it looked like Ainge was heading towards finding his next superstar through the draft. Instead, Ainge used the 2014-15 season to build a core that started with Avery Bradley, continued with the addition of Jae Crowder (via Rondo trade) and Thomas and topped off by the signing of Horford this past summer. 

Now, we await Ainge’s proverbial checkmate move. The deal that will undoubtedly place the Celtics in championship contention. But how will he pull it off?

Franchise-changing players aren’t always available via free agency every summer and NBA teams appear to be buyers rather than sellers now a days. 

After various suspensions and incidents on and off the court throughout his career, one would think DeMarcus Cousins has overstayed his welcome in Sacramento, but think again. Instead of moving Cousins, the Kings have spent the past seven years hiring and firing coaches in hopes of becoming a playoff team while trying to keep Cousins pleased. Current head coach Dave Joerger is Cousins’ sixth coach in seven years.

Seems like the only way the Kings will part ways with Cousins is if he ultimately demands a trade. If or when that does happen, Sacramento will probably spin the revolving door one more time and hope their newest coach can convince their star to stay put. 

Last summer, it looked like Ainge was on the verge of forming another Big 3 when a picture of him and Tom Brady heading into a meeting with Kevin Durant emerged on social media. Seemed like the Celtics brass weren’t going to let Durant walk out of that meeting until he signed on the dotted line. 

However, the thought of taking down LeBron James and the champion Cavaliers alongside Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and the Warriors was too tempting for Durant to pass up. 

So now it’s on to Plan B.

If there’s one thing we know about Ainge — he sure knows how to make a surprising move right when you think he’s out of options. The Celtics president of basketball operations was rumored to be one summer away from trading Pierce after he signed a three-year extension in 2006. Instead, Ainge traded for Allen in the 2007 NBA Draft — which led to Garnett waiving his no-trade clause and accepting a blockbuster deal to become a Celtic. If Ainge wasn’t able to pull off both trades, he would have most likely moved Pierce and started from scratch.

10 years later, Ainge find himself in a similar predicament. 

The clock is ticking. With Thomas, Bradley and Marcus Smart all due for a pay increase in 2018, Ainge will have to plot his next move accordingly to preserve a strong back court while not allowing one of the aforementioned guards walk without getting anything in return. 

The Celtics will most likely not be able to sign all three but one of the three guards that stands out the most is Thomas — one of the league’s brightest superstars. But in order to cement themselves into NBA’s elite status, Ainge’s biggest move of the Brad Stevens era will have to come soon. 

Much like what Ainge did with Pierce in 2006, we may end up seeing Thomas sign a three-year deal before the start of the 2017-18 season — buying Ainge a little more time to find his next superstar. However, the pressure is on Ainge to utilize his assets to make another franchise-changing move.

Horford and Crowder are the only Celtics signed passed 2018. It’ll be interesting to see what Ainge will pull off before next month’s trade deadline and throughout the summer as he attempts to construct his second championship-caliber team in 14 years.

Blog Author: 
Josue Pavon

Anna Horford has the pulse of her brother’s team.

The sister of Celtics’ forward Al Horford is pleading with Danny Ainge to prioritize getting some help on the inside instead of going after scoring, suggesting a center would be a better addition than Indiana forward Paul George.

Anna Horford has the pulse of her brother’s team.

The sister of Celtics’ forward Al Horford is pleading with Danny Ainge to prioritize getting some help on the inside instead of going after scoring, suggesting a center would be a better addition than Indiana forward Paul George.

George is one of a multitude of stars from around the league the Celtics have reportedly shown interest in, with Pacers teammate Monta Ellis possibly being involved in a potential deal. George has one year left on his contract, with a player option for 2017-18.

Anna might ultimately get her wish when it’s all said and done, with DeMarcus Cousins, Nerlens Noel and even Anthony Davis being mentioned as potentially available via a trade.

Horford might also have a change of heart, which already seems to have happened after seemingly urging the Celtics to go after an outside presence just a few weeks back.

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Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

It’s not every day that you score 52 points, hit nine three-points and come two points shy of tying Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA record for most fourth-quarter points (31).

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

OK, maybe it took the Celtics guard scoring 52 points in his team’s 117-114 win over the Heat Friday night to jump-start the conversation. And scoring a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter — coming two away from Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA mark, set in the Hall of Famer’s 100-point game — certainly should allow for another night in the spotlight.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Thomas said after the performance. “It’s crazy.”

But for 2016, this was the Celtics’ David Ortiz. Thomas was the alpha dog. The guy who kept talks of competing beyond the regular season finale a reality.

Right now, as we sit here, there are three athletes who have established themselves as legitimate superstars during this calendar year. Tom Brady. Mookie Betts. Thomas. (You can make the case for Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Brad Marchand, but each feel like they fall short of the others.)

But on virtually every day but the one he nets 52, Thomas is usually on the outskirts of such a conversation. Why?

Maybe it’s because some haven’t got past the fact this was a guy who was the very last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Or perhaps it is because Danny Ainge only needed journeyman guard Marcus Thornton and a pick in the 2015 draft to get him from the Phoenix two seasons ago.

Yet the real reason we still don’t want to immediately identify Thomas as a no-questions-asked foundation piece is something he brought up after getting doused with ice by his teammates in the Celtics’ locker room.

“I do,” said Thomas when asked if he felt there is a hesitation to lump him in with the league’s superstars. “The only reason say that is because I’m 5-9. That’s why they don’t about me like they do the other guys. But I’m fine with it.”

Once again, it’s easy to bring this up now. It was the first time a Celtic had scored 50 or more points since Paul Pierce netted half a century in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006. Only Larry Bird and Kevin McHale scored more points in a single game while wearing a Celtics uniform. And the nine three-pointers tied a club record, with Antoine Walker having managed the total twice.

“It just felt like I was out there by myself, like I was in the guy working on my game,” Thomas said. “I was just throwing up everything and it was going in. It was a special feeling.”

This, however, is bigger than just one night.

Thomas — who is now fifth in the NBA in scoring — has the skill and personality befitting those we hold above the rest. Last postseason, he was the one who called out his teammates after nobody could pry Atlanta’s triple-team away from him. Time and time again, it is the guard who has let the Celtics’ complementary players still win with their complementary skills. And Brad Stevens can be a good coach who wins in the NBA, because even the best coaches in this league need players who can score.

And all of this while paying him just more than $6 million this season and next before he finally is eligible for free agency after the 2017-18 season.

Thomas is keeper. That is one thing the Celtics should feel confident of heading into the new year.

“For me it feels normal,” he said. “When I score and I put the numbers up that I do, I give credit to my teammates and this organization for believing in me. It feels normal. Everything I’ve always done in my whole life I’ve worked that hard for it. It’s never felt like, ‘I’m 5-9.’ When I’m out there I feel like I’m 6-4. It’s just the same as everybody else. Tonight was different. But everything else, it feels somewhat normal.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas has earned superstar status. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas deserves a different kind of conversation.

OK, maybe it took the Celtics guard scoring 52 points in his team’s 117-114 win over the Heat Friday night to jump-start the conversation. And scoring a franchise-record 29 points in the fourth quarter — coming two away from Wilt Chamberlain’s NBA mark, set in the Hall of Famer’s 100-point game — certainly should allow for another night in the spotlight.

“It doesn’t seem real,” Thomas said after the performance. “It’s crazy.”

But for 2016, this was the Celtics’ David Ortiz. Thomas was the alpha dog. The guy who kept talks of competing beyond the regular season finale a reality.

Right now, as we sit here, there are three athletes who have established themselves as legitimate superstars during this calendar year. Tom Brady. Mookie Betts. Thomas. (You can make the case for Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, Rob Gronkowski, and maybe Brad Marchand, but each feel like they fall short of the others.)

But on virtually every day but the one he nets 52, Thomas is usually on the outskirts of such a conversation. Why?

Maybe it’s because some haven’t got past the fact this was a guy who was the very last pick in the 2011 NBA draft. Or perhaps it is because Danny Ainge only needed journeyman guard Marcus Thornton and a pick in the 2015 draft to get him from the Phoenix two seasons ago.

Yet the real reason we still don’t want to immediately identify Thomas as a no-questions-asked foundation piece is something he brought up after getting doused with ice by his teammates in the Celtics’ locker room.

“I do,” said Thomas when asked if he felt there is a hesitation to lump him in with the league’s superstars. “The only reason say that is because I’m 5-9. That’s why they don’t about me like they do the other guys. But I’m fine with it.”

Once again, it’s easy to bring this up now. It was the first time a Celtic had scored 50 or more points since Paul Pierce netted half a century in a double-overtime loss to Cleveland on Feb. 15, 2006. Only Larry Bird and Kevin McHale scored more points in a single game while wearing a Celtics uniform. And the nine three-pointers tied a club record, with Antoine Walker having managed the total twice.

“It just felt like I was out there by myself, like I was in the guy working on my game,” Thomas said. “I was just throwing up everything and it was going in. It was a special feeling.”

This, however, is bigger than just one night.

Thomas — who is now fifth in the NBA in scoring — has the skill and personality befitting those we hold above the rest. Last postseason, he was the one who called out his teammates after nobody could pry Atlanta’s triple-team away from him. Time and time again, it is the guard who has let the Celtics’ complementary players still win with their complementary skills. And Brad Stevens can be a good coach who wins in the NBA, because even the best coaches in this league need players who can score.

And all of this while paying him just more than $6 million this season and next before he finally is eligible for free agency after the 2017-18 season.

Thomas is keeper. That is one thing the Celtics should feel confident of heading into the new year.

“For me it feels normal,” he said. “When I score and I put the numbers up that I do, I give credit to my teammates and this organization for believing in me. It feels normal. Everything I’ve always done in my whole life I’ve worked that hard for it. It’s never felt like, ‘I’m 5-9.’ When I’m out there I feel like I’m 6-4. It’s just the same as everybody else. Tonight was different. But everything else, it feels somewhat normal.”

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Isaiah Thomas netted a franchise-record nine three-pointers Friday night. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

It is the most uncomplicated team in recent memory. When it comes to the Celtics, the reality is simple: they are one player away.

This has nothing to do with the Celtics’ 117-114 win over a bad Miami Heat team, back-to-back games, or not having Avery Bradley for Friday night’s game.

What transpired against the Heat without Bradley — who missed his first game with an illness — was a familiar refrain. The Celtics needed scoring, so Isaiah Thomas scored. In this case, the production was in the form of 52 points and franchise-record nine three-pointers.

(For a complete recap, click here.)

Al Horford also offered his complementary output. But as has been the case for most of the last two seasons, the mish-mash of good-but-not great was good enough to beat a team like Miami, but not enough to get over the hump against the conference elite in Cleveland.

Thomas could do whatever he wanted against this collection of Heat, especially in the fourth quarter when he netted 29 points (another franchise record) to help the guard finish the fourth-highest point output for a single game in Celtic history.

But try this strategy against any team with a record better than 10-24? Good luck.

Sure, Bradley and his 17.9 points a game would have helped. But without the guard, and even with Horford, this was a reminder of the pain that will ultimately be waiting in the postseason. The kind of pain that the Celtics became all-too-familiar with last April against the Hawks when Thomas finished off his season bemoaning triple-teams.

So, will this dynamic change before the Celtics really have to be judged against the best of the East?

It’s not like legitimate Top 3 guys can be added without some discomfort. In the case of DeMarcus Cousins (whose game would be a perfect fit), the uneasiness comes with both the player’s demeanor, and the cost to bring him in.

And really to reel in any available player similar to Cousin’s caliber, the Celtics be ready to give up that Brooklyn pick. It is one that is looking better and better every day thanks to both the college prospects who might be available and the Nets’ record. (Brooklyn is 1/2 game out of tying Philly for the NBA’s worst record.)

Perhaps Danny Ainge wants to ride this out. But the problem is if he does there really doesn’t seem to a lot of hope for internal solutions.

Jae Crowder. Marcus Smart. Gerald Green. Jonas Jerebko. Terry Rozier. To think that any of of this group is going to offer the kind of consistent production needed to change the conversation isn’t realistic.

Perhaps the best hope is Jaylen Brown, the rookie who once again showed flashes in his 15 minutes against the Heat. Brown finished with just six points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor, but with some increased confidence and playing time, he possesses the type of game of that can solve some problems.

Or maybe Brown becomes the kind of player teams will actually prioritize when looking to talk trade with the Celtics.

Isaiah (who, by the way, didn’t have a single assist) needs some help. Until then, the Celtics will have to live on the edge they’ve found themselves the last two nights.

Blog Author: 
Rob Bradford