Celtics

Blakely: Despite gut-wrenching loss, it's all good for Celtics

Blakely: Despite gut-wrenching loss, it's all good for Celtics

NEW ORLEANS -- There was an undeniable collection of emotions inside the Boston Celtics’ locker room following Thursday’s loss at Chicago, one that left the Celtics collectively sick to their stomachs.
 
Gut-wrenching defeats have that kind of effect.

CELTICS 104, BULLS 103

But win or lose, the Celtics have not been the kind of club to let outcomes marinate on their minds too long.
 
Unfortunately, they don’t have a choice this time, not with the next opportunity to play coming in a week.
 
But as frustrated and disappointed as they were with the Bulls loss, the Celtics are mindful of the big picture.
 
They hit the All-Star break with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference (37-20), winning 11 of their last 13 games.
 
And while Isaiah Thomas has been a one-man wrecking crew to opponents, as well as to longstanding Celtics scoring marks, we have seen the emergence of different players at different times stepping up in very different roles than we had seen previously.
 
It has made Boston one of the best storylines in the NBA this season outside of Golden State adding Kevin Durant.

Adding to the drama, the Celtics are a week away from the trade deadline. While nothing is imminent, Boston has lots of assets in the form of players and draft picks to get just about any deal done for any player that’s made available.
 
But Danny Ainge has made it clear he’s not willing to mortgage the future of the franchise on a player for 25 games, one who doesn’t make them appreciably better in the short or long term.
 
There are few players who can put Boston over the top in the East, let alone be made available through trade.
 
Ainge hasn’t ruled out having his team after the break look identical to the one we’ve seen thus far, and frankly, that’s not a bad thing.
 
Remember, Avery Bradley has missed almost one-third of the season dealing with an Achilles strain injury. His expected return right after the break will in some ways be like adding a new player in terms of getting him back up to speed where he’s executing at both ends of the floor the way he’s used to.
 
Jaylen Brown has been sidelined for a couple of games with a hip injury. He too will be back soon.
 
The team’s success with a relatively young core of players; Stevens’ plug-and-play system that has worked so well; Isaiah Thomas’ emergence; high draft picks in the coming years.
 
No matter how you look at it, the Celtics are a team that’s in good shape to not only compete with the elite teams in the East now, but potentially blaze a path that will keep them on the Eastern Conference short list for many years to come.

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

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Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

Marcus Smart says he's 'strong enough to get back out there'

MILWAUKEE – With Boston’s 104-102 Game 3 loss to Milwaukee, the Celtics are guaranteed a return trip to Milwaukee for Game 6 later this week.

At that point in the series, both team’s depth will be an issue.

Boston’s depth hasn’t been great, but it potentially could be better if Marcus Smart is cleared to play following a right thumb injury suffered last month.

The 6-foot-4 guard will have a check-up on Tuesday and if he’s cleared to resume practicing with the team, that would pave the way for him to be available to play in Game 6 on Thursday.

“That’s the plan. We’re still on the same track,” Smart said.

Smart has been working diligently with the training staff since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”

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In the meantime, Smart has been walking around with one type of splint to help insure that he doesn’t accidentally bump his thumb and potentially do damage to it. That splint is different than the one he will play with upon getting cleared to return to action. While the idea of playing with a splint may not seem ideal, Smart said he’s comfortable shooting with it.

Before playoff games 2, 3 and 4 of this series with Boston, Smart has been on the floor prior to the game working on his perimeter shooting, dribble-drive, pull-ups, free throws and pretty much anything he does shooting-wise during a game. Smart has also worked on his conditioning, lateral quickness drills and other work to help strengthen his core, all done with him returning sooner rather than later. 

But ultimately, it is Smart's comfort level with his right hand and the splint that he'll play with, that will determine what kind of impact one can expect once he returns to action. 

“It feels like it’s nothing there,” Smart said of playing with the splint. “To have that comfortability in my dominant hand, my shooting hand, that’s a good feeling to have.”

Smart, who has distinguished himself as Boston’s top perimeter defender, has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season. The fourth-year guard averaged 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds this season while playing 29.9 minutes per game.

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