Brad Stevens – Baptism by Fire

With half of the season in the history books, we look at how Brad Stevens has performed in his first NBA season so far.

Celtics Hire Brad Stevens as Head Coach – Press release from the Boston Celtics, July 3rd, 2013

Living in Australia and following the NBA almost religiously meant that the college game has never really been high on my priority list (except in a season like the current where Boston look to be a lottery player).  So when the Celtics announced that they had signed Brad Stevens, my reaction was – who?  I thought that the next Celtics coach was Brett Brown, one of Pop’s main guys in San Antonio, and an ex-Australian Boomer national coach.  It wasn’t until further information and stories regarding his decorated college career started coming out, coupled with one of the first things he did as head coach that got me giddy about the signing.  I was impressed with coach Stevens at his introductory press conference – showing maturity beyond his years, poise, and an abundance of knowledge.

How would that equate in his transition from the college game to the pros though?  This is what everyone asked, and rightfully so after the failed Rick Pitino experiment that left so many Celtics fans (including myself) extremely bitter.  After a long line of college-to-pro coaching failures, there were certainly doubts about Stevens’ ability to be able to coach at the NBA level, with major differences both in-game rules/timing and player personnel.

Like Rick Pitino, Brad Stevens was one of the best college coaches going around prior to signing with Boston. The difference between the two situations was that Pitino was given the keys to run the franchise to the ground and coach, whilst Stevens can just focus on coaching and let Danny Ainge take care of personnel.  The relationship between the GM and coach is extremely important for any basketball franchise – why get players that would not fit into the coaches style and vice versa?  Championship #17 came with Danny and Doc collaborating perfectly together through a rebuild, now Danny is hoping for the same magic with Stevens as they share the same philosophy on scouting talent: using advanced stats and analytical data to best determine a players worth and how they can be used.

Brad+Danny

Coach Stevens’ inaugural NBA season has been anything but smooth as he has had to deal with a multitude of issues, which include:

The Piling Losses
The Celtics are on track to lose more games this season than what Stevens would have lost in 6 years at Butler – ouch.  This is all part of the ‘plan’ given the way that the roster is constructed.  Still, at only the halfway point of the season, the team has already endured 3 losing streaks with 4 or more games and that has to take its toll with both the coaching panel, and the players.  Stevens however, has been extremely patient with his young ball club, and preaches growth from each player game by game rather than living and dying in the W-L column – an approach that the players have embraced.  Despite the lack of top end talent on the roster, the players have played extremely hard for him – just look at a game recap from any of their losses where the common theme is the resiliency and fight that this team has.

Imbalanced Roster
The roster that Coach Stevens inherited was quite simply put, a mess.  He had 4 power forwards that deserved minutes, with the only true centre being a rookie and an unknown import. He also had 5 shooting guards that deserved minutes, with the only one true point guard being an undrafted rookie.  The logjam at the shooting guard position caused some friction with Courtney Lee, Keith Bogans and even MarShon Brooks, who all at different times in the season, voiced their displeasure to the media regarding their lack of playing time.  On top of all this, Rondo – the best player and final link to the Celtics’ last championship – sat out the first half of the season.

By empowering his young players and showing confidence in them, we have seen some of our youngsters take a giant leap forward, showing both improved play and leadership qualities.  His calm demeanour is something that his players certainly value highly.

Stubborn Veterans
One of the main questions asked after the hiring of Stevens was announced was how would he get along with Rondo?  Known for being extremely stubborn, being linked in altercations with both coaches and even former team mates, media pundits wondered out loud whether Rondo would will be moved.  Almost immediately after Stevens joined the Celtics, he reached out to Rondo by visiting his summer camp – by Stevens’ willingness to reach out to Rondo, they have forged a great relationship with Rondo going as far as saying that they are ‘best friends’.

To date, Stevens has proven himself more than capable of the task at hand, surprising the league with a surge early in the season that saw the Celtics atop the Atlantic division.  Even after a large win or loss, the players know that they cannot get stuck on the one game for very long, which is something he has drilled in to each and every person.

“You’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from both sides” – Brad Stevens, December the 9th, 2013 after beating the Knicks by 41 @ Madison Square Garden.

In a season that has seen so much change, Brad Stevens has proved to be the correct man to rebuild the Celtics – with both Stevens and Ainge at the helm, I have no doubt that the team is in great hands and will return to glory sooner rather than later.  What do you think of Brad Stevens?  Has he lived up to expectations so far, or has he been a disappointment, do you think he is the next great coach?

Here’s a bonus video on my personal favourite Brad Stevens moment of the season.  This is his reaction after Jeff Green hit a miracle 3 pointer with 0.6 of a second left against the defending champs in their own building.

- Dave

The Bus To Banner 18

Danny Ainge is a smart man. He is always a few steps ahead of other GMs around the league. For this reason, all Celtics fans should have total confidence in where he is taking this team.

Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen moves made to create cap space and gather even more draft picks, leading to the departures of Courtney Lee, Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks. All signs are pointing to the future, as Ainge is shaping the roster to be prepared for the 2014 offseason and beyond.

“We have a long way to go. There’s a lot of good positive things that are happening with our team and a lot of good development with a lot of our young guys. We have some good veteran guys who have set great examples, hard-workers for our young guys. And I feel like we’re figuring out who we want on the bus.” – ESPN

Who will be on the bus that leads this team back up the conference standings and all the way to banner 18?

On The Bus

Rajon Rondo

Put all trade rumours aside, this man is going nowhere. The newly appointed Captain of the Celtics has proven over his rehabilitation that he is fully committed to Boston. He put in countless hours with the trainers, travelled with the team to support his teammates and be the leader, and was also recognised for his community work in the month of December.

Even putting all of this aside, Rondo is an All-Star point guard determined to find his open teammates rather than shoot the ball. This calibre of point guard is becoming more important and harder to find in the NBA, and Danny Ainge would only consider moving Rondo if they received a star of the game in return.

Rondo’s existing contract will be up after the 2014/15 season, but there are already whispers of a contract extension for Mr. Triple Double in the wake of his return to the floor. Expect #9 to be the co-pilot to Coach Stevens through this period.

Jared Sullinger

It’s hard to believe the big man is only in his second season. It’s even harder to believe how well he has been playing when he had an interrupted preseason as he recovered from back surgery. All signs point to continous improvement. Sully has shown great character to put aside an offseason indiscretion that could have easily derailed many athletes, and his commitment to keep improving should see Sullinger remain in green for a long time.

Phil Pressey

The question Celtic fans keep asking is: How did this guy go undrafted? The calming influence Pressey plays with shows maturity beyond his rookie status, and the good news is he will only improve with more experience. Having great court vision allows Pressey to find his open teammates, while his ability to dish out on-target assists is reminiscent of another point guard on this roster.

A contract that could see him with the Celtics for three seasons on low money indicate the confidence Ainge showed in Pressey from the outset, and after trading away Jordan Crawford to give him more minutes, all signs point to Pressey being on the bus for the future as a great foil to Rondo.

Kelly Olynyk

Summer League. This is where rookies can showcase their potential, and Olynyk was better than all of his teammates and opponents in the 2013 Summer League. As is the case with many big men finding their way in the NBA, there have been growing pains as Olynyk’s physicality and rebounding ability have come into question, which is all part of being a rookie.

He has shown flashes of brilliance, and an occasional ability to light up the scoring sheet already in his short career. His calm demeanour underneath the basket and high basketball IQ have been highlights of Olynyk’s game thus far. The only way Kelly will be out of Boston would be in a blockbuster-type trade as a trade chip, which is all speculation at this stage.

Waiting At The Depot

Avery Bradley

Bradley has had a very consistent season on both ends of the court. He has proven his ability to knockdown mid-range jumpers off the dribble, off screens and the catch and shoot, keeping his opponent honest defensively.

This improvement on the offensive side of the ball has been good for the Celtics this year, but Bradley will head into the 2014 offseason as a Restricted Free Agent. It will be interesting to see how much teams are prepared to offer Bradley. The financial side of basketball may become too much for Ainge to keep Bradley on board. Watch this space.

Kris Humphries

Remember when Boston fans had reservations surrounding this man playing for our team? With Rondo? What a difference 6 months makes. Humphries has been a true professional in his entire time with the Celtics. He began the season warming the bench and logging DNP’s, but he kept his mouth shut and worked his way into the rotation, then as the first big off the bench, to become the starting centre on this team.

Leading via hard work is crucial for a veteran, as it sets a great example for his young teammates. His upbeat personality and hustle on the floor actually have Celtic fans and reporters reconsidering Hump’s future with this team. Originally, the general consensus was to trade away Humphries and his expiring contract before February’s trade deadline. Now we are wondering whether Ainge may decide to bring him back next season. Things will become much clearer next month.

Jeff Green

As we saw against Washington, Ironman is capable of big scoring nights. When he plays with aggression, he is one of the best small forwards in the league. The problem for Uncle Jeff lies with his inconsistency. Some nights he can be unstoppable, other nights he is barely sighted.

It is this inconsistency that has brought his name up in trade rumours in the past week, and why he was mentioned when the Rockets were shopping Omer Asik in December. Green would be a great foil on a contending team, but more likely as a role player than a starter. It remains to be seen whether Green will stick with the Celtics in the long run.

Vitor Faverani

El Hombre Indestructible started the season in great fashion, posting big numbers in points and boards before crashing back to earth. Now buried on the bench, Vitor is with the Celtics on a cheaper contract, and should stick with the team unless he is part of a trade package.

Jerryd Bayless

Acquired only two weeks ago in a trade for Courtney Lee, Danny Ainge holds Bayless in high regard. Capable of posting big numbers off the bench, he is a proficient ball-handler and is still relatively young for his experience. A free agent at season’s end, Balyess has spoken of his desire to stick with the Celtics beyond this year.

Gerald Wallace

While there are many people who would be incredibly happy to see Crash leaving Beantown, it is very unlikely due to his awful contract. While he can provide leadership to this young team, Wallace has called out his teammates publicly on numerous occasions and it is something that has worn pretty thin with fans. Unless a rival GM goes temporarily insane, the Celtics will be stuck with this contract until it expires at the end of the 2014/15 season.

Joel Anthony

The two-time NBA champion came to Boston with draft picks to relieve Miami of luxury tax issues last week. A solid veteran presence, Anthony’s game is based on defending and rebounding. He holds a player option of $3.8 million for next season, and from a financial perspective it would make sense for Anthony to pick up this option. Luckily Anthony is a professional who will always support his team regardless of his personal situation.

Brandon Bass

It’s becoming increasingly likely that this hard worker won’t remain with the Celtics beyond this year. With Kris Humphries providing a veteran presence to Sullinger and Olynyk, it’s hard to see where Bass can fit into this team’s future. On a reasonable contract, Bass would be a nice complementary piece to a contending team. While his service to the team over the past three seasons has been solid, and at times undervalued, it would appear his days may be numbered.

End Of The Line

Keith Bogans

An expiring contract and being excused indefinitely due to being upset with a lack of playing time? All signs point to the relationship between Bogans and the Celtics ending very soon.

It will be interesting to watch the next month unfold for Danny Ainge and the Celtics. After the success of Shavlik Randolph’s 10-day contract last season and the surprise play of Chris Johnson this week, it’s no surprise if Ainge continues to plug holes in the roster along the way.

Things will become much clearer after the trade deadline passes. Holding a $10 million exception and an abundance of draft picks to exchange, we will be keeping a keen eye on who will find themselves a seat on the Celtics’ bus to banner #18.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Is Lee the first Domino to fall?

In a season where it was widely expected that the Celtics would be active in the trade market, the first in-season move has been made. The Celtics have traded Courtney Lee to the Memphis Grizzlies for Jerryd Bayless (and Ryan Gomes from OKC who was immediately waived). What can we tell from this move? Was this a basketball decision or a financial decision? Does this make the Celtics buyers, or sellers? Is this the first domino to drop for this Celtics team?

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks

Firstly, this absolutely was a financial move. Courtney Lee has 2 years and approximately $11 million ($5.225 million per season) remaining after this season on his current contract, whilst Jerryd Bayless is in the final year of his contract with $3 million owing to him this season. It is well documented that with this trade, the Celtics will trim off future money with this deal. As it currently stands, the Celtics will have approximately $40 million in cap space heading into next season –a little under $50 million if you count the first round picks and cap holdings– so this leaves us with a lot of room to resign either Bradley/Crawford, or even both if desired, giving some wiggle room to sign lower level free agents. The Celtics prior to the trade were a mere $500K away from the tax line – crossing this line would see the Celtics pay luxury tax, which for the current team is something they will avoid like the plague. Because the Celtics sent more in salary than they received, they were able to step away from the ledge a little – this could prove handy in future trades as it gives the team more flexibility to take a little more salary back if necessary to make numbers work.

From a basketball standpoint, both players are averaging similar numbers, with Bayless averaging 8ppg in 21mpg, and Lee with 7.4ppg in 17mpg. The biggest statistical difference with these players is efficiency – with Lee entering his prime at 28, he’s enjoying his most efficient season as a pro, averaging 44% from beyond the arc, and 16ppg per 36 which are both career highs – whilst Bayless is shooting at a terrible 37.5% field goal with an even worse 28% from 3 point land. While Lee is the better player in this trade, he is earning more and his contract runs longer than Bayless’, so this was a basketball move for Memphis, recognising that they need more shooters to spread the floor and a financial move for Boston, recognising that they need to shed themselves of long term salary to continue the rebuild.

jerryd

Credit to @Lil_Kaino for the artwork.

In a previous article asking whether or not the Celtics would be buyers or sellers, it seems that the Celtics are going to be sellers this season as Lee has been better than Bayless this season on both ends of the floor. This will be the first of many similar moves in the season for the Celtics to gain financial freedom. The Celtics have an abundance of veterans on the team that could find themselves relocated by the February trade deadline, which include:

  • Brandon Bass – He has been having one of his best seasons as a pro and has a reasonable contract (1 year, over $6 million remaining after this season). Bass has been one of the most consistent performers in this Celtic team, unfortunately he is playing a position that the Celtics are stacked in, especially with the need to develop the younger talent in Sullinger and Olynyk who both are PF. As his name has already been in the trade rumours this season, expect Ainge to move Bass during the course of the season.
  • Kris Humphries – As mentioned previously, Hump has been playing some outstanding ball for the Celtics lately. He came over strictly as an expiring contract (over $12 million coming off the books) but has since become an important piece to the team. He runs hard, can knock down jump shots, and he attacks the boards hard. Unless Ainge includes Hump into a deal to get an all-star, or future picks, there’s a possibility that Hump may actually stay – purely because his contract coming off the books next season maybe be more valuable than what Ainge could get back.
  • Jordan Crawford – One of the biggest surprises this season has been the emergence of Jordan Crawford. He has surprised the whole league with his stellar play at point guard in the absence of Rajon Rondo. With Bayless on the team now, they share a similar skill set – because the Celtics cannot trade a freshly acquired player for 3 months, this could possibly make Crawford redundant once Rondo returns. Danny bought low on Crawford last season and if he has a chance to sell high on him, I would expect him to take it (for the record, I would take Steez over Bayless any day of the week).
  • Jeff Green –  Green is not necessarily the trade spotlight, but he is a player that a lot of teams would/have shown interest in acquiring.  With his shoot/slash game, size and ability to defend, and the fact that he is on a reasonable contract, Danny wouldn’t just let him go for a salary dump as he is worth more than that – we would have to get a player back that is clearly an upgrade to Jeff.
  • Gerald Wallace – Danny would obviously love to move Wallace and that horrendous remaining 3 years/$10 million contract that he is on. Reality is, unless we are giving up a first pick, or a star such as Rondo, there is no incentive for any team to take him.
  • Keith Bogans/MarShon Brooks – Bogans would be included in a trade purely to make up numbers, just like he was in the Nets/Celtics trade as there is simply no demand for him. For MarShon however, this trade could benefit him as he has moved up the SG depth with Lee traded. Hopefully he gets some burn with the Celtics so they can proper evaluate him to see if he is a future piece, or trade bait.
  • Rajon Rondo – It wouldn’t be much of a trade article if we don’t talk about Rondo being traded, would it? As stated, the Celtics would absolutely rather build around Rondo rather than trade him. Ainge would have to be blown out of the water by an offer, which would have to include the following: a young star/future picks/expiring contracts – coupled with the other teams’ willingness to take Gerald Wallace’s poisonous contract off our hands.

Look for the Celtics to be active in the trade market, especially when it gets closer to the trade deadline and other teams are under pressure to land veteran help.
Courtney Lee by all accounts looked to be a great teammate and competitor and us Celtic fans appreciated his play and determination. He should fit in great at Memphis as a shooter and defender – we wish him all the best.

Lee is the first domino to fall, who’s next?

Leave your opinions below.

- Dave Mikhael @big_dave31

Winds of change: Are the C’s buying or selling?

“We are not tanking, that’s ridiculous.  This is the Boston Celtics” – Danny Ainge

dannyainge

When Pierce and KG were traded to the Nets (for picks and spare parts), it seemed inevitable that the Celtics were going to “tank” in the ‘13/’14 season.  With a lopsided roster and their superstar point guard rehabilitating, it only made sense to perhaps mail it in this season in hopes of landing a high lottery pick in the deep 2014 draft.  The Celtics were supposed to be sellers this season, looking to offload any of their veterans to teams that are playoff bound for picks/salary relief.  With a quarter of the season done, the Celtics has been one of the biggest surprise teams in the league, currently sitting on top of the Titanic Atlantic division.  With the way Brad Stevens has the Celtics currently playing, this poses a question for Danny Ainge during this season: are the Boston Celtics buyers or sellers at the trade deadline?

After the horrid October/November schedule where the Celtics played a crazy 19 games (11 away) in 32 days with a first year NBA coach and without Rondo, they came out still standing at a surprising 7 wins and 12 losses.  After the top 2 teams, the Eastern conference is in a steep nosedive – couple that with the surprising surge the Celtics are on as of late without their best player in Rondo and you have a team that may very well contend for a low playoff spot.

A low playoff seed is where the Celtics don’t want to end up as it means most likely getting bounced out of the first round by either Indiana or Miami, and getting a pick in the mid to late teens.  Danny has never been a person to make a decision going on current form, every move is made solely for the betterment for the future of his team – he shook the foundation of the team to its core back in 2003 when he traded Antoine Walker fresh after the Celtics’ back to back playoff appearances.  He was convinced that the current roster was not championship material, so he went about to acquire assets and rebuild.   This roster is obviously not a championship contender, but, Ainge has a lot more pieces/assets to work with this time around.

There are a lot of teams that are looking for that one piece to give them a boost and the Celtics have a lot of players that fit that mould.  This is where Danny can come in as a seller.  Veterans such as a Brandon Bass, who is playing excellent basketball on a reasonable contract, would be a great pickup for many teams that are looking at either a starting or backup power forward, same could also be said about Courtney Lee at the shooting guard position.  There is also the most attractive asset on this roster – Kris Humphries’ $12m expiring contract – Kris Humphries has stepped right up lately and shown the league that he is not just a walking contract, he can be a valuable contributor too.

Why would Danny look to move these guys?  For vets like Bass and Lee, it could mean the following: freeing up court time to develop younger talent playing the same position, freeing up future cap room if we get a shorter deal in return, possibly land more draft picks to use or barter with or even getting back a younger player with potential upside.  For vets like Kris Humphries and even Keith Bogans to a lesser extent, the lure of an expiring contract could bring back prospects or a draft pick from a team desperate to get out of a crippling contract.  I haven’t bothered mentioning Gerald Wallace as it would be a miracle for us to shed his albatross of a contract without giving up anything major.

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If the Eastern Conference continues to stink, at what point do teams start dismantling their roster in hopes of sinking into a top lottery pick?  If Boston continues on their current upward trend whilst gaining Rondo back from injury, with all the chips they have, the Celtics could very well become buyers.  There are a few teams where the Celtics could take advantage of their situation:

  • A team that is underachieving and has a superstar that is coming up to free agency.    Think New York Knicks with Carmelo Anthony, or the Timberwolves with Kevin Love.  If these teams are convinced that their star is going to leave them high and dry in free agency, they could look to move them proactively to get some compensation back for them – imagine the James Harden trade, where OKC did just that and sent him to Houston.
  • A lowly team in the middle of the pack looking to blow it up and start from scratch.  We have already seen Toronto do this by trading Rudy Gay and making everyone except for Jonas Valančiūnas available, the Bucks or even the Hawks could be another team looking to blow it up and start from scratch.
  • Borderline contenders with assets looking for immediate help.  A team like Houston, for example, who have a big asset such as Omar Asik who they can offload for the correct package could help both us and them.

Danny Ainge has done an excellent job in gaining a number of assets, which gives him the flexibility of going many different ways.  Whether it is buying or selling, I am certain that he will be extremely patient, and will wait for exactly the right package/players that he wants.

Ultimately, I think Danny sticks with the current roster for the most part – and looks to offload some of the veterans not in the future plans for some financial relief or lower draft picks.  Having said that, with Danny Ainge you can never say never – if the right superstar is made available for the right price, expect Danny to be all over it.

What do you think Boston should do this year?  Buy, or sell?

Lee Off To A Good Start

Another bright spark to start the Celtics season has been the re-emergence of a confident Courtney Lee. Acquired in a complicated trade during the 2012 offseason, expectations were high on a player many claimed could fill the void of #20 alongside Jason Terry at the shooting guard position last year.

While Lee managed to find some form over a stretch in January and February next to Avery Bradley as the duo of Pitbulls, C-Lee found himself bouncing from the starting line-up to a reserve role numerous times in the regular season, eventually finding his way into Doc Rivers’ doghouse as the season drew to a close. This resulted in ‘DNP – Coach’s Decision’ next to Courtney’s name in the playoff series against New York on a couple of occasions.

Lee possesses many skills that are desired from a professional basketballer; a respectable defender, a good 3-point shot, mid-range jumper, and the ability to handle the ball and finish around the rim. Last season, he played more of a passive role in the Celtics offense, often found standing in the corner to create more space for Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett to operate in.

Now, it has become more evident that coach Stevens wants Lee to be a bigger part of the team at that end of the floor, running plays to allow him to be freed up by screens. This has resulted in open looks from downtown, shots off the dribble, and drives the basket.

While the statistics don’t light up the page at a superstar level,  Lee has fulfilled his role as a consistent scorer off the bench so far in the early part of the Celtics 2013/14 campaign. His confidence to shoot the ball when open has been a noticable difference, and we have seen more of the player Boston fans were hoping for last year. Through the first 9 contests, 8.3 points per game and a field goal percentage of 57% have illustrated Lee’s ability to put up points for the team at an efficient rate.

Lee told ESPN this week he rectified a flaw in his shooting stroke over the 2013 offseason

“I don’t know where it came from, I was swinging the ball from my left side to my right when I shot,” said Lee. “In the years before, I never did that. I had to get back to working on not doing it.”

“I’m back to playing with confidence,” he said. “Taking my shots, playing within the flow, pretty much back to playing the way I was playing before I came to Boston last year.”

Finding himself in a very different situation this year, Lee has been making the most of it thus far. Having been a fan of him since his rookie days in Orlando, I believe Lee can play a role in the resurgance of the Celtics, and can be a big part of the future next to the promising brigade of Rondo, Green, Sullinger, Olynyk, and others. Hopefully this strong play won’t result in a trade, but rather a strengthening of his role with the team going forward.

Let us know what you’ve thought of Lee’s play so far in the comments below.

- Michael (@mickyt34)

Stat check: BOS@MIA 10 Nov 2013

Credit Mujeeb aka @PakkAttackk

Credit Mujeeb aka @PakkAttackk

What a great Sunday! I’ll own up and say that a win was not what I’d expected today, but what a way to go.

Here’s a look at the numbers from the box score for this wonderful victory. So, the Heat lost, despite having:

  • A higher field goal percentage (57.7% v 51.7%)
  • A higher three-point percentage (50% v 47.6%)
  • More assists (26-24, +2)
  • Less turnovers (10-12, -2)
  • More free throw attempts (34-12)

A difference of 22 free throws, that’s a big swing all right. We should also note that the Heat shot horribly at the free throw line today, making only 67.6%. One more free throw would have made the difference. By one more free throw, I mean this:

Thanks Wade, we really needed this.

On the other hand, the Celtics had a near-magical win because they:

  • Took more shots (46-41, +5). This came from getting attempts at second-chance points.
  • Second-chance points came about because they outrebounded the Heat (39-31, +8), more notably on offensive boards (11-4, +7). I’m loving the fact that we’re trying so hard on offensive rebounding this season, and that it hasn’t detracted too much from transition defense. Kudos to the top Celtic rebounder, Jared Sullinger for never settling, and always hustling to get the extra rebound. Loved his play since last season, loving it still.
  • Made more three-pointers (10-5 advantage, +5). Jeff Green was calmly sinking threes at a steady clip (5/8), and Jordan Crawford made some huge last second bombs from way deep that saved some possessions. Steez is seriously turning into a last-second bailout option whenever we run out of steam; he simply pulls up and lets it fly with supreme confidence. Bradley also made a big three pointer that kept the team in the race. Winning this column was critical to the win, when you consider the fact that the Miami Heat are the team that attempted 22.06 three-pointers per game and made 49.6% of them last season (10 attempts today) (reference). Ray Allen’s not going to be only shooting 0/1 from downtown the next game either, you can bet on that.

Non-numbers related:

  • Point guard switch. Avery was finally taken off the spot, allowing him to get back to the 2 guard spot. While not perfect or All-Star level, Jordan Crawford/Phil Pressey have been solid in scoring, minimising turnovers and making the right plays most of the time.
  • Interesting how Vitor was benched in favour of playing Olynyk.
  • Pitbulls, surging! Avery had 8 of 14 shots, Courtney 3 of 4, combined for 23 points. While not LeBron/Wade-esque, I liked the way they played on offense, getting to the rim on layups and not just settling for jump shots. Avery in particular, finished a very impressive layup over James in transition, an attempt I thought would end up being erased.
  • Grit and grind. For not giving up. For pushing the ball up for transition baskets. For all the hustle and relentless attempts to stop easy layups (LeBron’s double-clutching excluded.)
  • The winning inbound play when it mattered. Credit to coach Stevens for drawing it up, and to Gerald Wallace for lobbing that perfectly over Birdman. And finally, to Iron Man Jeff Green for swishing it over King James, picture-perfect.

Credit Kaine Underwood (@Lil_Kaino)

Like how Sam Amico said it:

Perhaps we’ll sink back into an awful rut soon after, and everyone will be starting up the “LET’S GO WIGGINS!” chant once more. But for now, it’s encouraging to see how the team’s putting some wins together with determination, some solid defense and rebounding, relentless transition offense, and a goodly dose of much-needed scoring.

Stay positive, and keep grinding!

Game 6 of 82: Boston Celtics defeat the Magic in Orlando and win second straight.

The Celtics hold off Magic to win it 91-89.

In the 1st quarter, a slow start to the game by both teams had it tied 4-4 with 9:00 left. Great ball movement by the Magic led to a 3 but then a quick fire 6-0 run put Boston on top 10-7 with 7:50 left. The Magic responded with an 8-0 blitz to lead 15-10 at the first timeout with 5:34 remaining. Out of timeout, the Magic continued the run and extended the lead to 19-10 with 4:29 left. Jordan Crawford stopped the ice cold streak with an offensive rebound and put back to make it 12-19 with a little over 3:00 left, The Celtics had not scored since 7:57 in the period, and Celtics trailed 24-17 at the end of the 1st. The Celtics only shot 7-27 (26%), the Magic shot 48%. Kelly Olynyk had 2 points, 5 rebounds (4 offensive).

To start the 2nd the Celtics went on a 6-3 run to cut the Magic lead to 4 with 10:17 remaining, before Orlando recouped the lead once more to 10 with a pair of free throws with 8:58 left. A 6-0 blast by Courtney Lee forced a Magic timeout with 6:08 left, 6 point Magic lead. Lee scored 9 of the last 11 Boston points to bring the Celtics within 5 with 4:37 left. Jeff Green scored his first basket which sparked a 6-0 Boston run that ended on the back of a massive slam by Green to make it a 3-point game with 2:22 left. Jordan Crawford converted an and 1 with 0.8 seconds left and made it 46-49 at the half, Celtics trail. The Magic had a lot of free throw attempts but missed 7 in the half. The Celtics ended the quarter on a 21-12 run as Courtney Lee made a big quarter scoring 11 of Boston’s 29 points on 4-6 shooting from the field and 3-4 from the line. Olynyk had 6 points with 6 rebounds (5 offensive).

The 3rd quarter started with more offensive rebounding for the Celtics but they could not finish at the rim, which did not help things while Orlando made theirs at the other end. The Celtics answered with an 8-0 blitz and took the lead 54-51 with 8:39 left. AB then knocked in a trey, then a lovely runner by J-Craw put the Celtics up 59-55 with 6:42 left. It went a bit quiet for a couple of minutes, going 61-56 with 4:28 left. Magic cut it back to 1 before another Jeff Green dunk followed by back to back layups by Sullinger had Boston in front 69-62 with 1:51 left, but the Magic responded with an and 1. The Celtics outscored the Magic 25-19 in the quarter to take a 68-71 lead into the last. Sullinger had 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, Bass had 12 points and 5 rebounds.

The 4th started very slow, but the Celtics were the first to score through Courtney Lee to push the lead to 5 with 10:37 left. The Celtics extended it to 7 before the Magic went on a 7-0 run to tie it up with 7:31 left. Avery responded with a 3 point play to make it a 3 point game with 7 minutes left. With 5:53 left it was a 1 point Celtic lead. Avery Bradley made another 3 point play to make it 81-77 with 5:48 left. Nelson hit his second 3 of the quarter to make it a 2 point game with 3:28 left. Celtics responded and pushed the lead to 6 with 2:32 left. Avery Bradley fouled Afflalo on the 3 and he made the resulting free throw, a comeback 4 point play bringing things back to a 2 point game with 1:38 remaining.  A wonderful play out of the timeout with Olynyk gave the Celtics a 4 point lead with under a minute left. Afflalo converted an and 1 to make it a 1 point game with 26 seconds in the game. Bass, once again took charge  and knocked down 2 clutch free throws to give the Celtics a 3 point lead with 10 seconds left. Afflalo made a deep 2 to make it a one point game with 4.6 seconds remaining. Avery went 1 of 2 from the line, Oladipo missed a 3 and the Celtics hold off a late charge by the Magic to win it 89-91.

Notable Statistics

  • The Celtics shot 36% from the field compared to the Magic’s 40% but took 12 more shots than them.
  • Orlando missed 10 free throws, the Celtics only missed 5.
  • Magic had 20 turnovers. The Celtics had 11.
  • The Celtics grabbed 3 more offensive rebounds than the magic.
  • Both teams shot a shocking 6-34 from 3 combined

Notable Players

  • Brandon Bass finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds
  • Avery Bradley had 14 points and 8 rebounds
  • Jordan Crawford had 13 points and 5 assists
  • Jared Sullinger finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists
  • Courtney Lee had 13 points on 5-9 shooting and 3-4 from FT (11 in the 2nd quarter)

Preseason report: What do we know about these Celtics?

There were many questions surrounding the Celtics after a series of moves in the summer that saw them go from a savvy veteran team that were a few pieces away from the top tier, to a full rebuild.  The roster looked unbalanced, with a glut of SG’s and PF’s, but with no true (healthy) PG and center.  There were also questions around our new coach, who is the youngest coach in the league at 36 and has no NBA experience.

Now that preseason is wrapping up, some of those questions can finally be answered. Different thoughts came to mind whilst watching the games unfold – I have grouped different players in those thoughts:

“Damn! He’s got game!”

There were three players that I thought have been playing at a cut above the rest: Jared Sullinger, Gerald Wallace and Jordan Crawford.

Their top play has been somewhat surprising as all of them had their questions marks coming into the season – Jared Sullinger being out of shape and having a rocky off-season with legal issues, Gerald Wallace trying to bounce back after a poor season in Brooklyn and Jordan Crawford who the Celtics were reportedly trying to move to whoever would take him.

Jared Sullinger:  After having back surgery and missing more than six months of basketball, there was talk that Jared may not even be ready to go by the start of the season.  Not only is he playing, he has probably been the best player on the Celtics’ roster for the preseason, averaging a team high in both points (11+) and rebounds (5+) in just about 20 minutes of play per game.
For what he lacks in height and athleticism, he makes up for with instincts and basketball smarts.  The Celtics are simply a better team when Sully is on the floor.  He has a soft touch around the hoop against larger opponents, and is now dragging his opposing big out of the key with his improving mid-range jump shot, which opens the lane up for our guards/forwards to penetrate.  Defensively, Sully has become very good at being in the correct position to take a charge just like Big Baby, which is crucial as he is not tall/athletic enough protect the rim.

He needs to work on his three-point shooting as he has been taking long distance shots and connecting on a below-average 22%.  Sully has also admitted that he is still out of shape as well, meaning that there is definitely room for improvement.  Being still very young, Sully can also be prone to foul trouble as the referees still give him some ‘rookie calls’. If he can address his weight and 3 point shooting as the season unfolds, we could have a star player in the making – he already has the brains, now he just needs his body and skills catch up.

Gerald Wallace:  Wallace was an afterthought of the blockbuster trader over the summer.  The general consensus was that he has a large, immovable contract and that we would not really contribute too much.  Somebody forgot to tell him that – from the first game of preseason, he lived up to his nickname ‘Crash’, throwing his body over the floor, and into the stands.  He will easily be a fan favourite of a fan base that values effort and hustle.

He started preseason off red hot from the field but has since cooled off, averaging just under 10ppg.  Gerald is at his best when he is attacking the hoop – there was no surprise that one of the most effective lineups for the Celtics featured Wallace with Sully and Olynyk, where the two bigs spread the floor for Wallace to get to the rim.

We know what Wallace will give this team when healthy – everything he’s got.  If there is anything he needs to work on, it might be his shot selection.  He is not known as a 3-point shooter, so, teams will leave him open, he needs to attack the hoop rather than settle for that 3.

Jordan Crawford1

Jordan Crawford:  Crawford was the forgotten man on the Celtics’ roster after the trade was completed.  Fans just assumed that Crawford would be traded to make way for MarShon Brooks, as rumors swirled around about the how the Celtics were willing to part with Crawford for nothing.  His performance in these preseason games may just be the most surprising – known as only a scorer, Brad Stevens had the insight to put Crawford at the point guard position.  There has been talk of his ability to create offense for others, but, no one thought he would be able to handle the point guard duties due to his crazy unpredictable style of play.

He has come into this new era as a different player – he’s willing to pass the ball, he makes the correct decisions on the court, and his shot has even improved.  He is shooting a little under 50% from 3 point land, an impressive feat considering many of his shots bailed out the team with buzzer beating bombs.  His assist numbers are around the 3apg mark, but, this only tells a part of the story as he is moving the ball quickly, and was involved in many hockey assists (passes that lead to an assist).

‘Steez’ needs to work on maintaining this level of play. His shots may not always fall, but if he is taking the correct shots while creating for his team mates, he could very well see himself as the starting point guard come the regular season.

“He’s been better than expected”

Vitor+Phil

The two players that stirred these thoughts for me were Phil Pressey and Vitor Faverani, simply because no one really expected them to do too much.
Prior to training camp, we heard little of these guys – both were signed with the team for depth at two extremely shallow positions:  point guard and center.  They now both have a legitimate shot at making the regular season rotation.

Phil Pressey: Being in the mix for backup point guard duties after a strong training camp, he mysteriously did not see any minutes in the first pre-season game. He did however, get his chance in the second game after Jordan Crawford missed the game with a personal matter.  He made his presence known with a near flawless game – 13 points, 3 rebounds, 7 assists, 2 steals and 0 turnovers.  He also led the team on a near-impossible come back, erasing a 23 point deficit in the 4th Quarter that fell just short for the W.

He has proven himself to be an extremely effective ball handler for the Celtics, giving the game what it needs and not forcing anything.  Averaging only 1.3 turnovers per game has showed that he has learned a great deal from the Summer League, where his biggest knock was that he was turning the ball over too much.  If he can keep this up, he will surely be in the rotation come regular season.

Vitor Faverani: When Danny signed a relatively unknown 25 year old Brazilian center who had been playing in Europe (fresh off releasing another Brazilian 7-footer that didn’t work out), expectations were not really high.  After some research on Vitor, fans found out the following: his nickname is “El Hombre Indestructible” and that the scouting reports indicated that he is a skilled offensive player with question marks on the defensive side of the court.  Prior to playing, he spoke a good game, but many were unsure how his skills would translate.  The more he plays, the more questions are answered: he has shown range in his jump shot (hitting a shot clock-beating 3 pointer), he has great hands (catching difficult passes on the break, or on the roll), gets up and down the floor, and loves finishing with power.

His defense though, has been a pleasant surprise as he has been able to neutralise opposing bigs, play nice transition D and even at times, been the most vocal on the floor – no easy feat for someone who is still learning how to speak English.

Look for Vitor to play a more pivotal role on the team as the season progresses and he settles in even more – but, as it stands, this looks to be a great signing by Danny.

“He has been solid.”

New Celts on old Celt

These guys have been solid contributors for the Celtics, and have not really over or under-performed.  There are a couple of “Celtic veterans” that have played how we have expected them to (both with improvements) in Brandon Bass and Avery BradleyKris Humphries, after an off-season of Celtics fans trying to come to terms with seeing him in green, has been a solid contributor, along with rookie Kelly Olynyk – who has learned that the Summer League doesn’t count for much against the ‘real’ NBA talent.

Brandon Bass: The Celtics know what they are getting out of Bass.  He is money in the mid-range, and athletic when attacking the rim.  His defense has drastically improved since he was traded to Boston, and he looks to continue that trend with the new-look Celtics this season.  Coming out of training camp, members of the team spoke about how Bass has been more vocal on defense, trying to lead the youngsters by example.

He has not had a spectacular preseason offensively –  shooting at a low 43.5% from the field, but he has picked up the rebounding work, grabbing 6.3 boards per contest.

Bass has drifted in and out of the lineup so far as coach Stevens tries to find the right combinations to use.  Whether or not he comes off the bench at the start of the regular season remains to be seen – but starter or not, Bass will be featured heavily in the regular rotation throughout the season.  Bass could be a potential trade piece at mid-season for a contender that is looking for a stretch 4 that can guard small/power forwards.

Avery Bradley:  When Rondo went down with a knee injury last year, it was left to Avery Bradley to pick up the pieces at point guard.  At times in the 2012/13 season, he looked like he was struggling, and he ultimately lost confidence in himself – this affected him both on the offense and the defensive end with the likes of Raymond Felton torching him in the playoffs.  When coach Stevens took over the team, he stuck by this sentiment by keeping Bradley as the interim point guard.  Bradley worked on his shot and his dribbling in the off-season to better prepare himself for this role, but, once again, seemed to struggle mightily at times.

Bradley is at his best when he plays off the ball – catch and shoot, back door cuts and slashing – it serves him better in defense as well as he has the energy to harass the opposing guards over the whole court.  Coach Stevens must be seeing this as well, as he has started to give the point guard duties to Jordan Crawford and Phil Pressey.  In preseason game number 4 vs the Knicks, the first game Avery was taken off these duties, he responded with 13 points from 11 shots in only 24 minutes.
Avery’s defense is always going to be the strongest part of his game, but, he has shown a much-improved jump shot, from both 3 point land and the long 2.

Kelly Olynyk:  After a Summer League MVP performance showing his offensive polish (post up, face up, catch & shoot and on the fast break), it was easy to get carried away with Kelly Olynyk’s ability.  As expected, he has slightly come back down to Earth during the preseason as he is now facing NBA talent on a nightly basis.

His shooting percentage has dropped down to 43.8%, but, the quality he’s shown that has everyone talking is his ability to pass the basketball.  Being a point guard in his high school years before growing into a 7-footer has been a blessing for Kelly as he is able to do things a 7-footer typically cannot do – put the ball to the floor, initiate/finish fast breaks and create offense for himself and/or others.

His defense was his main concern coming across from college, but so far in the preseason he has been impressive with his lateral movement and his positioning.  Kelly’s biggest concern is his rebounding numbers that he has put up so far, averaging only 2.8 rebounds a game which, for a 7-footer, is simply not good good enough.

He has cemented a spot in the rotation on his offensive prowess and defensive improvements alone, but he needs to help the team out in the rebounding department if he is to see a starting role/major minutes within the regular rotation.

Kris Humphries:  After the fans’ initial disappointment of Hump being in green, stories started filtering in about his off-season workouts and how he has dedicated himself to getting better after a disappointing 2012/13 campaign with the Nets.
Being only 2 years removed from back to back double-double seasons, the Celtics are hoping he can recapture that form.  He has come out in the preseason with an improved jump shot with extended range all the way out to three point land.  He has been played very sparingly so far with only a touch under 16 minutes per game, so his numbers are not eye-popping, but, Celtics know what they have in Hump – a big with extended range that hustles for rebounds and can run the floor well.

His interior defense has been average at best as he has been forced to play out of position at the center position, leaving him undersized against some of the centres in the league.  He will, however, be part of the main rotation, possibly as a starter – with a large expiring contract however, look for Danny to possibly shop him, especially when it is closer to the trade deadline.  He has the makings of becoming a fan favourite in Boston, especially if he can get close to those rebounding numbers from 2 seasons ago.

“He’s been very disappointing..”

There were two Celtics that were expected to step it up this year after the veterans were traded – they have not been close to the expectations set upon them.  Jeff Green and Courtney Lee both have the athleticism to be great 2-way players, they have shown flashes of being great players for the Celtics, but, they both have failed to set the world on fire during this preseason.

You need to pick it up

You need to pick it up

Jeff Green:  I think he has been the most disappointing player on the Celtics’ roster throughout the preseason.  He finished off last season averaging 20ppg in the playoffs, he was aggressively attacking the hoop, hitting threes, and even guarding Melo.  After Paul Pierce was traded from the team, the general thought was that Pierce was going to pass the scoring baton to Green, and Green would just take off and run with it – this has not quite happened.

Green was at his best when he was attacking the hoop, his explosiveness combined with his size allowed him to get to the hoop at will, finishing with either a thunderous dunk, or an athletic layup.  Throughout the preseason we have not seen this part of Green.  He has been settling for the corner 3 and long 2 point shots, and has basically gone away from what he was most effective at.  I know it’s *only* preseason, but, for the man that was to be the Celtics’ leading scorer, it is worrisome that he cannot get himself going.  His level of interest did not look to be high over the first couple of games, but, it seems he is starting to get frustrated over the lack of numbers he has produced.  A part of the problem may possibly be that the plays designed for Jeff may not be putting him in the best possible position to score.

Hopefully he can turn the corner, if not, he may find himself losing minutes to Gerald Wallace.

Courtney Lee: Courtney Lee has continued his disappointing campaign in Celtic green.  The Celtics signed him for his athleticism, his ability to hit the 3, and his good defense.  After a full season, we are still waiting for that 3 point shot – after an off-season of telling the media that he is working hard to be the player he once was, the early signs are not good.  He is in the low 30% in both 2 and 3 point field goal percentage good for under 7ppg in 25mpg.

His confidence seems to be his greatest undoing, after missing a couple of jumpers, his hesitation in shooting almost means the shot will miss before it even leaves his hands.
Lee’s defense has been still at the standard the we have expected from him, but, I can see Lee fighting for court time with Brooks for that 4th guard spot, depending on what the team needs, offense or defense.

“Didn’t see enough of them”

There has been limited time for Keith Bogans and MarShon Brooks.  Bogans sprained his thumb and will be out indefinitely, while he was on the court, he more or less gave what was expected – veteran presence, and a bit of defense.

Brooks on the other hand was quite a surprise, he has only been logging 10 minutes per game, with the majority of this coming in garbage time opportunities.  There is no doubt he can score the basketball, he has been disappointing however, in moving the basketball – it seems that he has been more or less a black hole in offense, not moving the ball unless he was in absolute trouble and needed to kick it out.  Let’s see if he can learn from his mistakes and crack Coach Stevens’ top 8-10 players for the regular season.

Out of the camp invites, Chris Babb, who is a certified 3 and D player, has shown the most promise.  If he is to make the 15th spot on the roster, he will need to show more in the remaining games.  The other invites have barely played.

If the preseason is any indication on how this year’s Celtics are going to play, we may be in for a bumpy ride.  They are exciting at times, and possess the athleticism to play an uptempo game, but with so many new faces, there will be a steep learning curve once the games that matter get underway.  One thing is for certain however – these kids will play their butts off. Unfortunately, it just may not be enough to produce wins.

A Study In Green: Courtney Lee

In this week’s edition of ‘A Study In Green’ we turn our focus to Courtney Lee.

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The Celtics acquired Courtney Lee in a sign-and-trade with Houston in July 2012. At that time, it was seen as a big step forward in trying to replace Ray Allen. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to find consistency and confidence throughout the season.

The Good:

It wasn’t all bad for Lee. When Rajon Rondo went down with that season ending knee injury, Lee stood up in the 6-game winning streak that followed. Over that streak, Lee was able to average 10.6ppg. His best game over that stretch came against Orlando, where he put up an impressive stat line of 14 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and 2 steals.

Although Courtney wasn’t really able to find his feet with the team on the court, he looked to mesh well and become good friends with many of them off the court, especially Jeff Green and Avery Bradley. This is good for Lee’s future in Boston, with those two looking like being huge parts of the Celtics rebuild. I just hope next season, Lee is able to mesh better with them on the court.

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The Bad:

Towards the end of the regular season, Lee fell out of Doc Rivers’ rotation and hardly saw any game time. Personally, I thought this was a bad move from Doc, and don’t think that I’m only bashing Doc now that he has packed his bags for Hollywood. Yes, Lee wasn’t producing what we had all hoped, but I still don’t think he was playing badly enough to fall behind Jordan Crawford and to a lesser extent Terrence Williams. Williams did show glimpses, but I think Lee should’ve been getting more minutes than T-Wil.

To highlight just how little time Lee spent on the floor in the Playoffs, consider this: he played only 39 minutes and 9 seconds of 293 first round Playoff minutes against the Knicks.

(Ed: Let us not forget how hesitant Lee looked at times on offense. While this would have been a visible effort from finding the balance between deferring to Truth and Ticket and finding his own offense, he did succeed in making me cough blood on countless transition attempts, when he would pull the ball back into half-court offense instead of attacking.)

The Verdict:

Courtney Lee has 3 years and upwards of $15 million left on his contract. I hope he is still around next season to show us that he is still worthy of that contract. With a new coach, comes a new opportunity and a clean slate for Lee. I truly believe that Lee can find his shooting stroke and be a threat from beyond the arc next season.

What were your thoughts on Courtney Lee’s season? Do you think the Celtics should keep or trade him?

Can the Celtics rely on youth strength?

A lot has been made about Boston’s need to restructure and revitalise the team, following big-name departures this summer but it seems their youth ranks are determined to prove themselves to new head coach Brad Stevens and meet the expectations of Celtics fans across the world.

With stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, plus coach Doc Rivers on the move this summer, many sports betting fans who bet on basketball assume this team are ready to start trading. Yet the threat of being swapped for bigger and better talent hasn’t gone down well in the Celtics ranks.

“We’re in the NBA for a reason,” Jeff Green defiantly told ESPN this week. “We might not have the star power as other teams, but we’re here for a reason. We’ve been put on this team to play basketball and I feel like we can play with anybody in the league. It’s only five-on-five.”

Green’s admission that he and his teammates don’t boast the superstar qualities of other NBA sides may surprise some people. Usually sports stars are more media savvy and deflect such testing subjects. Yet clearly talk of rebuilding the team has hit a nerve with Green and the pack, and you can see why.

Basketball betting fans on Bet365 know the Celtics weren’t exactly reliant on Garnett and Pierce, with Green, Courtney Lee and Rajon Rondo all chipping in their experience. Granted, we came to call on youth once or twice but both Jared Sullinger and Avery Bradley stepped up when required and we managed a winning season off the back of a team punching above its weight.

Well, why can’t we have another winning season with the same core of guys? Kelly Olynyk’s arrival looks good and, as has been voiced on this site already, maybe it’s better if we conserve our resources, take stock for a year or two like Oklahoma and pile up the draft picks.

This team isn’t capable of winning the championship, but then again neither was last season’s. Give Stevens a few years with this team and see if we don’t make headway into the playoffs. The boss has proved himself a great player developer at Butler, and so fans shouldn’t look back in despair but forward with promise for the future.

[A sponsored post from Bet365.]

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