Blakely: Surreal how Celtics control their destiny to be tops in East

Blakely: Surreal how Celtics control their destiny to be tops in East

BOSTON -- This just doesn’t make sense.
We all knew the Boston Celtics would be a better team than the one that got bounced in the first round of the playoffs last year by Atlanta.
But admit it.
Few not on the Celtics payroll felt this team had a shot at finishing with the best record in the East.
Cleveland is too talented, too star-studded, too veteran savvy, too . . .  they got LeBron James for crying out loud!
And yet here they are with one game left on the regular season docket, and all they have to do in order to finish with the best record in the East is win one more game, against the Milwaukee Bucks, at the TD Garden.
There is a certain surreal feeling to what the Celtics (52-29) are on the cusp of accomplishing when you consider all that has not gone their way this season.
Avery Bradley is an All-NBA First Team defender and one of the best two-way players nobody talks enough about in this league. He missed 27 games.
Al Horford was Boston’s big-time offseason pick-up. He missed 13 games.
Go down the line and you’ll see just about every player who has a significant role on this team, missed long stretches of time with injuries and illnesses to the point where continuity wasn’t something they enjoyed – it was something they longed for, all season.

And yet here they are, just one win away from going into the playoffs with home court advantage in the Eastern Conference.
“We just want to control what we can control,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “At the end of the day, that’s all we can worry about.”
However, even Thomas has to step outside of the “stay in the moment” company line and reflect upon what has been an amazing journey that he and his teammates don’t want to see end anytime soon.
“It means a lot. It says a lot about this team. We’ve been through ups and downs, lots of injuries, haven’t been that healthy for the most part," he said. "We just kept going. No matter what the situation, we just kept going and continue to get better each and every day. And put ourselves in a good position at the end of the season.”

Obviously, Cleveland is still the favorite regardless of where they are seeding-wise to emerge as the Eastern Conference champion. And Boston is still among a handful of teams who are still viewed as spectators to what is still seen as the Cavaliers’ coronation-to-be as the team that will represent the East in the NBA Finals.
The Celtics won’t look that far down the road, even if they wanted to.
This team is programmed to focus on the task at hand. And when it’s over, then move on to the next job. That’s how they have approached games all season.
And to their credit, for the most part it has worked.
But the playoffs, it’s a completely different animal that the Celtics thus far have not been able to tame.
However, things are different now.
While this is Brad Stevens’ third straight year getting to the playoffs, this will be the first time where he and his players will have the weight of high expectations on their shoulders to advance.
His first year in the postseason, they got in as an eighth seed and were swept by Cleveland in the first round.
Last year, they finished in a four-team tie for third in the East. Once the tie-breakers were sorted out, they wound up as the fifth seed taking on a Hawks team that of the clubs they were tied with, Atlanta was easily the worst draw they could get.
The Hawks won that series in six games.
Even if the Celtics stumble and finish as the No. 2 seed, Boston will still be viewed as a team that should at the very least get out of the first round.
But talking with players, that’s not something they’re thinking about now.
They want to stick to the script which means staying in the moment, basking in the success of Monday’s win over Brooklyn which gave them a division title that nobody seemed all that enamored about except for Thomas who had never won one - or got to the playoffs for that matter until he arrived in Boston.

So he and his teammates are feeling good now.
And tomorrow, all attention will be paid to the Milwaukee Bucks who will be in town for the regular season finale for both teams on Wednesday.
The Celtics' approach to things doesn’t make for sexy headlines or bulletin board material for opponents and the media to run wild with.
But it works for Brad Stevens and his crew.
So why change?

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

File Photo

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“[Davis] was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Pelicans

And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”