Celtics

Celtics' Big Three facing last chance at greatness

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Celtics' Big Three facing last chance at greatness

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON For most, Father Time slowly creeps up and whisks you away when you least expect it.

To that end, the Boston Celtics should feel fortunate.

Their basketball mortality is literally right in their face - better known to you and I as the Miami Heat.

There is little doubt there will come a time when the NBA will be ruled by the Heat.

Miami's Big Three are too talented, too motivated to be denied much longer.

But the Celtics and their talented triumvirate of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen have some say in when the Heat reign will begin.

And that is why Game 3 is so pivotal.

For the Celtics, a win gets them back into a series that seems to be slipping from their grasp with each passing moment.

A loss would put them in a 3-0 hole, the kind of ditch no team in NBA history has ever climbed out of to emerge victorious.

More than that, it would unofficially signal the end of the Celtics' Big Three era.

Regardless of whether there's a lockout next year, regardless of whether the Celtics have a roster that includes all three next season, their Big Dog status in the NBA will no longer be valid.

Too many teams have emerged with younger, more athletic squads that now have the benefit of experience in their quest to be among the NBA's best.

While most draw parallels between what the Miami Heat are trying to do and what the Celtics did in 2008 - the first year of the C's Big Three - Garnett doesn't see the situation being the same between his Big Three and Miami's talented threesome.

"Two totally different situations," Garnett said. "Different variables. There are some similarities, but totally different."

Maybe so, but the larger-than-life expectations placed upon Boston's Big Three in 2007, are very much alive and well with this younger, sleeker 2011 model that resides in Miami.

Boston's Big Three have taken great pride in being able to handle the ups and downs that come with the lofty expectations placed upon them.

They are each great players, who came together to achieve collective greatness.

It's a noble pursuit, for sure.

And while they all would agree that they have faced great challenges both individually and as a collective unit, this one has to rank among the greatest.

This is the first playoff series they have been in where you can't look at a single head-to-head matchup they're in, and say that they have the advantage.

In fact, you could argue the only matchup that's relatively close has been Kevin Garnett's duel with Chris Bosh.

Ray Allen has always been viewed as the third member of Boston's Big Three, despite being the one who has arguably hit more late-game, backbone-breaking shots while playing for the Green team.

He'll be the first to tell you that the Celtics have yet to play their best, or even an average game thus far.

And while he knows there are many who have already counted the Celtics out of this series, it wouldn't be the first time when they have had their share of skeptics.

"It's fun to me; just looking at the situation," Allen said. "We found different ways to rise from the ashes, so to speak. Winning championships is never a clear cut formula how to do it. We talk about having resolve all year. We've proven we have it. Now we're just in a playoff situation where we have to prove that we have it."

If they do in fact manage to rally back and win this series, it will add yet another impressive chapter to the Celtics' Big Three run.

Still, Boston emerging from this series will only delay the inevitable, as Father Time - and the Miami Heat - close in quickly.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

BOSTON – When it comes to bouncing back from defeat, the Celtics don’t have a ton of experience with that this season.
 
As impressive as their 16-game winning streak was, a truer sense of where this team is at lies in how they respond.

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Their first chance to bounce back comes tonight against the Orlando Magic (8-10) who will put Boston’s team cohesion to the test.
 
With so many new players to the roster this season, it has been somewhat surprising how well players have come together. It was instrumental to Boston’s winning streak, which was the fourth-longest in franchise history.
 
“It’s two things,” said Al Horford. “A lot of credit to coach [Brad Stevens], really setting the emphasis on the things that he expects from our group. And then credit to our younger guys and our guys in general, to pick up those concepts and play for each other out there on the defensive end. That’s what we try to do every night.”
 
When you talk about Boston’s young players, it begins with the rapid improvement of second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.
 
“I just think that they’re starting to see, to understand the game more especially on the offensive end,” Horford said. “I think they’re starting to identify reads. It’s a process. They’re going to keep learning; it’s a long season. But that’s the one thing, from the beginning of the season until now, I feel like they have the ability to read plays and make plays for themselves and others.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game at TD Garden: 
 


STREAKING MAGIC
The Magic are on a bit of a streak, but not the kind any team would like to have. They come in having lost six in a row. The Magic have struggled to knock down 3-point shots and rebound in that span. They're ranked among the league’s bottom 10 in both categories.
 

THE PAINT GAME
Boston has had its problems scoring in the paint this season, averaging 38.5 points, which ranks 27th in the NBA. But that might change tonight against a Magic team that has been among the worst limiting points in the paint all season. Scratch that. They are the worst, giving up a league-high 51.0 points in the paint this season.
 

WICKED TOUGH SCHEDULE
Boston’s 16-game winning streak was impressive, especially when you consider their schedule which included their past eight games being played in a 16-night stretch with a game every other day. It’s not so much the challenge of so many games close together, but the inability to have any time to practice. “For a young team like ours, practice is really important,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “But the schedule is what it is. You play every game as best you can, practice when you can practice and go from there.”
 

BACKUP POWER LOW
The Celtics got 34 points from their bench in Wednesday’s loss at Miami, an improvement over what the second unit has been able to deliver most of this season. They come into tonight’s game ranked dead-last in the NBA in shooting (33.5 percent) and next-to-last in 3-point shooting (27.7 percent). Scoring-wise, they average 28.6 points, which ranks 24th in the league, but log an average of 18.8 minutes which ranks 14th in the NBA. So why do they get major minutes? Because more often than not, they find a way to come out ahead of their second unit brethren. For the season, Boston’s bench has a plus/minus of +1.6 which ranks eighth in the league.
 

REBOUND SUCCESS
One of the biggest concerns for the Celtics coming into this season was rebounding. So far, so good. The Celtics average 47.2 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. To put that in perspective, if Boston maintains that average, it would be the franchise’s highest rebounding average in 40 years (49.8, 1977-78).
 
 
 

Blakely: An early look at some early exits

Blakely: An early look at some early exits

BOSTON – Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. will undergo back surgery that’s expected to keep him out for the rest of this season, giving him a college career that will likely consist of two points in two minutes of action.
 
Projected as a potential No. 1 overall pick in next June’s NBA draft, his injury sent shock waves throughout the college basketball landscape as well as among NBA executives, who now must weigh the injury in their evaluation regardless of how well he recovers or even he aces the physical tests he’ll surely undergo leading up to the draft.

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You can count the Celtics among those to pay close attention to what’s happening with Porter Jr., a player that may be available to them in June courtesy of the first-round pick from the Los Angeles Lakers (via Philadelphia) that Boston received as part of the Markelle Fultz-Jayson Tatum trade.
 
As talented as Porter Jr. is, he won’t be the only high draft pick counted on to make an impact at the next level.
 
In this week’s Starting Five, we’ll take a look at the top five college freshman (most of whom are expected to turn pro and be in the draft in June) as well as MVP candidates; the top backcourts; the top rookies and my top five teams on the rise.

TOP 5 COLLEGE FRESHMEN
1. Marvin Bagley III, Duke: Has a double-double in four of Duke’s six games this season, averaging 19.0 points and 10.0 rebounds per game.

2. DeAndre Ayton, Arizona: Has impressive numbers, but back-to-back losses by the Wildcats? Not a good look for this future lottery pick.

3. Michael Porter Jr., Missouri: Depending on how his recovery/workouts/physicals go, no shocker if he winds up as the No. 1 pick when all is said and done.

4. Collin Sexton, Alabama: Big-time scorer, Sexton is a tough, tough cover in the half court or in transition.

5. Mohamed Bamba, Texas: 7-footer with a 7-9 wingspan, think Rudy Gobert with better athleticism.


TOP 5 NBA BACKCOURTS 
1. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, Golden State: NBA champions two of the last three seasons, Curry and Thompson are the gold standard all NBA backcourts are measured against.
 
2. Chris Paul and James Harden, Houston: The sample size is small, but the three games since Paul’s return have been by an average of 26 points per game which speaks to how well this all-star backcourt has come together.
 
3. John Wall and Bradley Beal, Washington: Wall’s end-to-end speed coupled with Beal’s elite shooting has made this one of the game’s most deadly backcourt duos.
 
4. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan, Toronto: They’re the next best thing backcourt-wise to Wall/Beal in the East, but Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown are right on their heels.
 
5. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, Portland: You don’t hear a ton about these two because Portland has been a good-but-not-great program that doesn’t garner a ton of attention. But don’t be fooled. Lillard and McCollum are two of the league’s most dynamic scorers.
 
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES
1. James Harden, Houston: A prolific scorer, Harden leads the NBA in scoring (31.1 points) and assists (9.8) per game while boasting the best record in the West.

2. Kyrie Irving, Boston:  The best player on the team with the best record who has been at his best in the clutch – that’s Kyrie Irving this season.

3. LeBron James, Cleveland: The Cavs are starting to roll up the wins and it is once again due to LeBron James doing LeBron James things.

4. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee: The MVP front-runner the first couple of weeks of the season, the Greek Freak is still a load for teams to deal with.

5. Kristaps Porzingis, New York:  Among the NBA’s top-5 in scoring and blocked shots, Porzingis’ biggest achievement has been leading a far more competitive Knicks team than what we’ve seen the past couple of years.
 

TOP 5 ROOKIES
1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia: A triple-double in the making, his statistics combined with Philly winning make him a no-brainer if he can stay healthy.

2. Jayson Tatum, Boston: His numbers are solid, but he moves to the forefront of those being considered because of his two-way play and his team’s success.

3. Donovan Mitchell, Utah: His 14.3 points leads all rookies who average less than 30 minutes played per game.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers: Only Simmons is averaging more points among rookies than Kuzma (16.8 points per game).

5. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago: The Bulls are bad, but Markkanen’s inside-outside is impressive regardless of how his team has fared this season.
 

TOP 5 TEAMS ON THE RISE
1. Cleveland: With Boston’s loss, the Cavs have the longest current winning streak which stands at six wins in a row.

2. New Orleans: Currently with the seventh-best record in the West, the Pelicans have won seven of their last 10 games.

3. Indiana: Only Cleveland has been hotter than the Pacers, winners of four in a row.

4. Philadelphia: Joel Embiid has the Sixers three games above-.500, trending towards entering league MVP conversation.

5. San Antonio: After 4-4 start, Spurs are 7-3 since and very much in the thick of things out West.