Blakely: Celtics playoff winners and losers
Which Celtics improved their stock this postseason?
BOSTON – Another season is in the books for the Celtics as they continue their upward trajectory to what they hope will be a serious title run in the near future.
This team played through all kinds of adversity, the kind that isn’t limited to just what happens on the court.
The unexpected death of Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister sent the two-time All-Star, as well as his teammates, into a vortex of uncertainty as to whether they could even make it out of the first round, let alone be among the final teams left standing.
Still, they continued to battle their way through the first two rounds before losing to the Cleveland Cavaliers in five games.
The great part about this postseason run was that it lasted long enough to where the full body of work of big games is a good sample size to work with.
We saw the best in some players and the not-so-great in others.
Here’s a look at the winners and losers for Boston in the postseason:
WINNERS: Avery Bradley
Nobody’s stock seemed to grow more in the playoffs for the Celtics than Avery Bradley. With Isaiah Thomas (right hip) out, Bradley showcased a better all-around game than expected. We all know about his spot-up shooting and his ability to score off crisp cuts to the basket. But Bradley put the ball on the floor and beat players off the dribble for layups, a rare sighting prior to this postseason. While it’s definitely not one of his greatest strengths, it served as another indicator of just how much Bradley continues to grow into being one of the NBA’s best two-way players.
Looking at Boston’s depth coming into this season, it didn’t look good for Brown to get quality minutes. But what folks didn’t know until he arrived is just how focused he is on getting better, and how willing he has been to embrace the process of earning minutes – not having them given to him which is the case for most high draft picks. His play, particularly as the Celtics got deeper into the postseason, showed the promise that has both the Celtics and Brown optimistic about his play in the near future. Every part of his game, from his ball-handling to his shooting to his defense, has made tremendous strides as the season progressed. And his progress has Boston excited about the direction of a franchise that will eventually include Brown among its leaders.
Things got off to a bit of a rocky start early in the season for Horford, whose impact was limited early on due to a concussion that kept him out for nine games. But like most of the Celtics, he seemed to get better and better as the season went along. He was particularly impressive in the Celtics' second-round series against Washington. Horford is a player who is all about substance, not stats. “He impacts winning,” said coach Brad Stevens. He’s right. The more you watch him play, the clearer it becomes that he’s constantly trying to make the best play possible as opposed to just good ones. That never-ending pursuit of basketball perfection is what drives him to be such a difference-maker for the Celtics. And with him signing a four-year, $113 million contract this summer, don’t look for Horford to be going anywhere soon. And while his naysayers may cringe at that thought, he’s not playing to be the most popular or the best player statistically. He plays to win, which he has done a lot of in his 10 NBA seasons – all of which included a trip to the playoffs.
LOSERS: Amir Johnson
No starter had a rougher go of things than Johnson, who is not expected to be back with the Celtics next season. Despite appearing in 14 of Boston’s 18 playoff games (nine starts), Johnson averaged just 2.6 points per game in 10.1 minutes. While most of what Johnson has done for the Celtics has gone unnoticed, far too many games his presence was either minimal or non-existent. That’s among the reasons why we saw Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk at times fill in for him as one of the starting big men.
The second-year guard worked his way into being a regular in the rotation and experienced the usual ups and downs young players battle through in order to grow as a player. Isaiah Thomas’ right hip injury was Rozier’s chance to really establish himself not only to benefit the Celtics but also increase his stock in the eyes of the coaching staff. But the second-year guard struggled most of the playoffs, averaging just 5.0 points while shooting 37.0 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from 3-point range. In Game 5, Rozier was just 4-for-13 shooting which included him missing six of his seven uncontested shots. He’s a good player, certainly better than what we saw in the playoffs. But as the Celtics look to strengthen their roster, it’s far from a given that Rozier will be part of the plan going forward.