Portland catch fire as they down Boston in thriller

The Celtics would continue their West Coast road trip against the Portland Trailblazers. A quite important game for Boston if they want to have home court first round of the playoffs after the Lakers beat the Heat yesterday. Boston would be boosted by the return of Jae Crowder.

The Celtics jumped out to a quick 5-0 lead before McCollum got the Blazers on the board. Thomas’s 6th point of the quarter had the Celtics leading 12-4 but back to back 3’s by Portland got the momentum swinging on their side. Portland went on to hit another 3 triples in a row to take a 25-19 lead. Olynyk continued his hot 3 point shooting, scoring 2 of them in quick succession before a steal & another basket by Kelly had him up to 8 points. The Celtics finished the quarter on a 7-2 run to take a 31-30 advantage into the 2nd.

Evan Turner started the quarter with 4 points, a steal, which was already his 4th of the game & a block that led to a Crowder 3 as Boston went up by 8. Portland answered with their own 9-2 run to force a Boston timeout. Vonleh tied the game at 41 apiece after Crowder went 1-3 from the line, continuing Boston’s struggles this game (8-14 at this stage). Boston answered with an 11-0 blitz, going 4-4 from the line during the run. For the 3rd time this quarter, a timeout sparked a run, as Portland, courtesy of Aminu & Plumlee, went on a quick 5-0 run. The Blazers finished the quarter with 6 straight free throw attempts as Boston took a 58-54 lead into the break.

Avery Bradley started the 3rd quarter on fire, scoring 8 of Boston’s first 10 points as the Celtics went on top by 10. Aminu knocked down his 3rd & 4th triples of the night to keep Portland close but another basket by Avery had Boston back up 11. Portland again closed the quarter much better than Boston, finishing the quarter on a 10-2 run as Boston’s lead was cut to 2.

Aminu started the 4th with another pair of 3’s before Henderson also scored 6 straight as Portland started the 4th on fire. The Blazers were able to stop Boston & keep scoring themselves as a 21-6 start to the 4th had them leading 89-102 with just over 7 minutes left. 4 quick points by Boston had the lead back into single digits as Portland took a timeout. The Celtics continued the run & an offensive rebound off a missed free throw led to an Isaiah 3 that had Boston within 2. McCollum put Portland up 5 but another 2 free throws by Isaiah & Boston went to Hack-a-Plumlee who split the free throws. The Celtics then got 2nd chance points on back to back trips to take a 1 point lead after a Jae Crowder 3. CJ scored to put Portland back on top before an Isaiah turnover led to another 2 for Aminu. Portland held on in a thriller, beating Boston 109-116.

Kelly’s Playing Olright

The expectations on most rookie big men must be set reasonably low as players transition from the tempo of the college game into the faster pace of the NBA. However, this isn’t always the case when those rookie bigs are drafted in the top 15 of their class.

Kelly Olynyk displayed a high basketball IQ from the word go, especially when he was named player of the tournament for the 2013 Summer League in Orlando. However, the pace of real NBA games meant Olynyk had trouble finding his feet over the first few months of the season proper.

The turnaround in Kelly’s game over the past two months or so can be put down to something rather simple: confidence. This added confidence can be attributed to several factors. A familiarity with Coach Stevens’ system and his teammates (especially Phil Pressey), an understanding of the tempo of the game and his opponents, and just being comfortable knowing his own game is good enough at this level.

Tommy Heinsohn noted that Olynyk’s selection to the Rising Stars game at All-Star weekend may have helped him feel like he truly belongs at this level.

He is no longer hesitating with the ball in his hands, instead taking the shots that are available to him straightaway, demonstrating a higher arc on his jump shots too. If the shots aren’t there, he simply illustrates a very smart passing game to find an open teammate. Olynyk runs the floor very well for a big man, and his ability to finish around the rim is very impressive. In February he averaged 8.4 points per game, substantially improving on averages in December and January of 6.1 and 6.3 points per contest.

Since his return from a toe injury, Kelly has posted averages of 16 points at 53% field goal percentage, 6 rebounds and 1.5 assists in 22.5 minutes of court time over those 3 games.

Not only is Olynyk putting up better numbers and looking comfortable in offensive sets, he is also playing with an added aggression which has seen a spike in his rebounding numbers. Over the months of December and January, Olynyk averaged 3.6 and 3.8 boards per contest respectively. In February, those numbers jumped to 6.5 rebounds per game. This is no coincidence, as he actively pursues rebounds and positions himself a lot better than he used to.

It also seems as though Kris Humphries’ tutelage has been working on Olynyk, as he looks to have added some size and muscle since the start of the season.

Danny Ainge has now drafted Jared Sullinger and Kelly Olynyk over the past two offseasons, with both big men showing enormous potential to be something special for the Celtics going forward. As Kelly continues to improve, it’s exciting to think about what the future holds for this young and promising team.

– Michael (@mickyt34)

A Study In Green: Jason Collins

In this week’s addition to A Study In Green, we talk about former Celtics centre Jason Collins. Let’s see how Collins’ time with the Celtics panned out.

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The Good

Collins’ strength may not appear on the stat sheets but in his time with the Celtics, he was able to demonstrate his ability as an effective defender who was able to set hard screens for the other scorers.

Although Collins has shortcomings as a player, he is universally regarded as a fantastic teammate. A great role model towards the younger players, he is the kind of guy who plays hard in practice and relishes the opportunity to mentor younger guys.

The Bad

Collins is far from the best player in the NBA. In 32 games for the Celtics, which included 7 starts, he averaged 10.3 minutes per game, 1.2 points per game and 1.6 rebounds per game. In addition, Collins would also find himself in early foul trouble in many of the games he played.

He was never really able to find a spot in the Celtics under Doc Rivers’ rotation and was subsequently traded, along with Leandro Barbosa, to the Washington Wizards for Jordan Crawford.

The Verdict

There isn’t much to say about Collins’ time at the Celtics. To sum up, it was an uneventful tenure. In a Celtics team that lacked height, Collins did provide a presence in the paint and on the defensive post.

There have also been questions of whether Collins could possibly be a Celtic again next season as he would come cheap and provide great leadership. This now seems unlikely since the Celtics have signed Brazilian centre Vitor Faverani and a coach who is keen on going forward with a young team. Being on the wrong side of 30, it will be hard for Collins to find a team in the NBA.  However, any team could benefit from Collins’ presence as he could provide a veteran defensive post presence in limited minute.

What did you think of Jason Collins’ time as a Celtic? Would you want to see him back for the Celtics? Why or why not?