Trust in the system, move beyond hero ball

Yesterday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies was in a word, ugly. Despite getting a 35-point, 8-assist night from Thomas, the team still went down hard behind a late Memphis surge.

The team went into the fourth quarter 76-68, with a good chance to grab the road W, but instead surrendered 33 points to the Grizzlies.

Not only were the Celtics out-rebounded, they just could not get their offense going. The C’s only made 6 of their 21 shots in Q4, a putrid 28.6%. Thomas (3/4 FG) and Bradley (2/4 FG) were the only consistent scorers, and let’s not even start with David Lee’s 0 for 6 in his 7 minutes of play (Q4 box score).

After the game, Avery Bradley sounded like the voice of reason, and kept a lid on things. “I won’t say I’m troubled, but the only reason I’m not is because I know it’s correctable. I feel like we need to keep our composure, and in the second half move the ball more.”

Bradley also pointed out one thing that has been a slightly worrisome trend: the penchant to move away from team basketball.

“I feel like the ball doesn’t move in the second half. It’s almost like everyone kind of plays hero basketball and we stop playing team basketball, and that’s not how the Celtics play. We’ll get back to it. I’m not worried about it.”

We have seen occasions when pressure mounts, and the need for points drives the team away from playing the way it needs to. The passing grinds to a halt, the ball gets stuck and we get treated to a fine display of 1-on-1 basketball.

Results justify the means, but the fact is that the team isn’t good enough to play isolation basketball.

Players need to move, the ball needs to flow, and they know it. 61.8% of the team’s field goals are assisted, a decent mark by any measure (Warriors 69.1%, Spurs 62.9%) but there is still a need for trust in team basketball.

We simply cannot afford to play hero ball. You can’t make a case for isolation ball, not when the defending NBA champions make more assists, even with an elite-level isolation player like Stephen Curry.

Trust.

“I know everyone wants to win and play hard for one another. But I know that if we move the ball, we have a better chance at being successful every single time down on the offensive end, and we understand that, we’ll start playing the right way again.”

You know it, AB.

5 takeaways from the Warriors loss

So, we very nearly got the win, and lost it in double overtime. Is there a medal for moral victories, for being able to hang with the Warriors for this long?

Having missed most of the game live, I went back and caught the full game on replay (gotta love League Pass). Here’s the box score for reference.

Have to say, the team has taken a serious step forward in growth this season. We’re not fully there yet; defensive rotations stutter at times, ATO plays look wonky, and there’s the occasional hero ball (hello there 7-for-22!), especially when the ball stops moving. BUT, we’re making huge strides as far as defense is concerned, and like all of us know by now, it’s got to be a 48 minute operation with all hands on deck. A few lapses could have us earning another loss easily.

First off, top props to Bradley for the first quarter onslaught, and to guys like Crowder, KO, Lee, Turner, Sully and Lee for doing their part. Young too, but more on that later.

1. We got slaughtered on the glass

Box out, people. If we can’t defend our own rebounds, we don’t deserve to win.

The Warriors out-rebounded us this game, 67-51. The differential in defensive rebounding was +10 to Golden State, and they got 17 offensive rebounds.

SEVENTEEN.

I like the number 17 when it refers to the number of championship banners, not the amount of offensive boards we surrendered in a game.

Sidetracking a little, I’m thinking of coach Steven’s spoken preference towards small ball. That in turn calls for a lot of aggressive gang rebounding, something Golden State has been able to accomplish even with their small ball lineup of death.

We have to get this rebounding thing right, before our small ball becomes a real weapon.

2. Transition defense did not exist

21 fast break points for the Warriors, plenty of ill-defended (or even undefended) layups were made.

We can’t afford to give points away like that.

3. The Warriors are a scary outfit

Captain Obvious here, but the point was just highlighted once more this game.

Brandon Rush looked comfortable out there as a starter, and Livingston/Barbosa were playing their roles to perfection. Despite missing two key players in Thompson and Barnes, the Warriors still looked pretty good. Good enough to close the game out anyway.

And of course: Draymond Green who clinched a 5×5 (24 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 5 blocks) while chucking 3-pointers, defending guards and forwards with equal ease.

I guess it’s different if Green was the missing player, but seriously, solid contribution from the reserves.

4. Still loving the good times with Mike and Tommy

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I’m not sure how many more seasons we got, but from the bottom of my heart, thanks to you two fine gentlemen for all these years of commentating, it’s been a lot of fun listening to you.

Hey, what can I say? I’m a C’s fan, and I love listening to Celtics homer talk, raging on lousy whistles and the like.

5. Bradley is still getting killed by whistles while playing elite defense

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Yep. That’s a foul, come on. I feel like AB’s earned a reputation over the years for getting quick whistles on his aggressive defense, which in turn has made him less effective.

Nothing we can do about it, but it just frustrates me when he gets quick whistles and loses playing time.


P.S. James Young actually looked better than I thought he would be

He gave good effort on defense and on moving the ball the right way during offense this game.

The numbers look decent too. 5 points on 2/3 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in nearly 20 minutes of play? It’s not All-Star, but I’ll take it.

Keep it up Young!

To wrap things up, here’s a moment I thought was pretty fun: IT snatching a rebound away from Bogut, and dishing it out to AB for a quick three.

Onwards to the next game.

Sullinger & Thomas help C’s by the Davis led Pelicans.

The Celtics would be looking to bounce back after a tough loss to the Spurs & close out this 5 game road trip 3-2.

Anthony Davis started the first quarter with 6 straight points for the Pelicans but Isaiah Thomas & Boston were able to keep up the pace taking a 13-10 lead as Davis picked up his 2nd foul early. Anderson & Holiday wouldn’t let the Celtics capitalise without Davis on the floor as 13 points between them had the game tied at 25 apiece.

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The Pelicans had extended the run & had a 32-27 lead when Davis returned to the floor. 3 straight Boston baskets by Olynyk had the game tied again at 38-38. The defence led to offence as Isaiah exploded for 10 points across the final 5 minutes of the half, including 2 3’s that led Boston to a 53-44 lead at the half. Thomas had 19 points on 8-9 shooting while Sullinger kept up his solid season with 10 rebounds.

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The Pelicans started the 2nd half with an and 1 basket through Gee which started a trend of fouls for the next few possessions as New Orleans would shoot 5 free throws in the first 4 minutes. That however didn’t stop Boston from scoring as they had extended the lead to 19 after three straight 3 point baskets from Bradley, Thomas & Crowder. Crowder extended the lead into the 20’s after getting fouled on a 3 point attempt. The Pelicans closed the quarter on a 14-8 run to cut the Celtics lead down to 14.

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The Pelicans cut the lead to 10 before Crowder hit a 3 that sparked a lighting quick 10-2 run by Boston. With less than 5 minutes to play the Celtics had extended the lead to 20 points on the back of 19 rebounds & some stellar defence by Jared Sullinger. The rest of the quarter was just a formality as the Celtics would answer every Pelicans attempted run to take a 111-93 win & finish this tough road trip with a 3-2 record.

Key performances:

Jared Sullinger: 20 rebounds, 11 points, 3 assists & a team high +32
Isaiah Thomas: 22 points (9-13 & 4-4 from 3) 5 assists & 1 steal
Kelly Olynyk: 21 points (8-13, 2-5 from 3 & 3-3FT) 3 assists & 2 steals
Jae Crowder: 17 points
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2015/16 player previews: Kelly Olynyk

Kelly Olynyk had an impressive off-season with the Canadian national team and looks ready to be a large part of the Celtics rotation this season.

Although Olynyk hurt his knee in late August playing for his country, he bounced back and played some huge games as they attempted, but ultimately failed, to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Olynyk had the best game of his career against Venezuela, as he dominated and finished with 34 points (11/13 from the field) and 13 rebounds. Olynyk’s efficiency had all Celtics fans excited for what may be in store for the upcoming season.

Obviously Olynyk isn’t going to make 11/13 shots every night, but his improved offensive game gives the Celtics another option and keeps the opposition guessing.

A huge part of his role this season will be to space the floor for his scoring guards. Olynyk will need to create open spaces for Isaiah Thomas to operate in, and this will be made easier if Olynyk can prove to be a consistent threat that needs to be treated with respect on the offensive end.

Being able to give Thomas, Avery Bradley and Evan Turner room to create their own shots and also being ready to shoot when open is huge for the Celtics moving forward. After his summer experiences, Olynyk looks ready to perform for the Boston Celtics in his third season.

You won’t be seeing Olynyk on opening night against the Sixers though, as he is serving a one-game suspension after that incident with Kevin Love.

2015/16 player previews: Evan Turner

Evan Turner had a really good season for the Celtics in 2014/15. He was a playmaker, scorer and played every game.

Even after a consistent season, many Celtics fans don’t really see a future for Turner in Boston. They believe he is just taking minutes away from the younger players who need to get court time, but to that I say he has earned his minutes just as much as the next guy.

Turner produced multiple game-winners last season with clutch buckets against the Hawks and Trailblazers.

Turner is the most versatile player on the team, and because of that he will get minutes this season. He may not see as much court time as last season (almost 28 minutes per game) because of the loaded backcourt and the fact that Jae Crowder will be getting plenty at small forward.

Last season Turner played some quality minutes at the point and impressed; his height (6’7″) worried his smaller opponents. This season there is added competition with the addition of Terry Rozier, along with Marcus Smart and Isaiah Thomas returning.

This doesn’t mean that Turner won’t be an important player for the Celtics though, as he is such a creative playmaker and can create his own shot better than most on the Celtics roster.

2015/16 player previews: James Young

It is often forgotten just how young James Young really is. Entering his second season in the NBA he has only just turned 20 years old.

His athleticism is scary good, and although he struggled with his shot in his rookie season, as many shooters do in the league, he shone when assigned to the D-League.

Obviously the jump from the D-League to the NBA is huge, but it was important for Young to get some court time and confidence last season instead of being stuck deep on the bench with Boston.

Young played in 31 NBA games last season and shot only 35.3% from the field and 25.8% from beyond the arc.

Over the course of the preseason it appears that rookie R.J. Huner has overtaken Young in the battle for minutes at the two-guard spot. For Young to take steps forward this season and force Stevens to give him minutes he will need to improve his defence and be ready to knock down shots when called upon. Staying ready is extremely important for Young.

Even if Young struggles again this season I won’t be calling for the Celtics to give up on him. He has too much talent and in reality would only be in third season at college level if he had stayed at Kentucky.

2015/16 player previews: Jared Sullinger

The weighting game. What was a bit of light entertainment during Jared Sullinger’s rookie season has now been going on too long. Everyone had similar thoughts; he’d drop the weight as he matures into his body and works hard. This still hasn’t eventuated and it is now threatening his place within the organisation.

Sullinger just can’t seem to shed the pounds that would turn him into a much more agile and dangerous player.

Sullinger can be an absolute monster on the boards, and when healthy he is near unstoppable. But that has been the issue; he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If Sullinger can finally get through a season without a serious injury that forces him to miss time, he will be an important part of the Celtics puzzle.

In the Celtics final game of the 2015 season, game four in the first round of the playoffs, Sullinger dominated and poured in 21 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. More of that in the upcoming season would be more than acceptable!

Sullinger had two very encouraging games to round out the preseason against the Knicks and Sixers. He finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 6 assists(!) and 3 blocks against the Knicks. The next night he followed that game up with a solid 6 points and 14 rebounds against the Sixers.

Brad Stevens has said that he would like to play four big men a night, which you would think leaves Sullinger on the outer with the likes of David Lee, Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and Kelly Olynyk in front of Sullinger.

But if Sully can take that late preseason form over to the regular season, he will force Stevens to give him minutes.