Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

BOSTON -- Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and is not always seen the same by NBA players -- not even teammates.

That was certainly the case following Boston’s 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which ended the Celtics season.

While the C's won more regular-season games (48) than they did a year ago and put up a much better fight in the playoffs than last April's four-game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, having it all end the way it did at home on Thursday clearly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most players.

Whether this was a successful season is open to debate.

But what’s abundantly clear for the Celtics is this team did indeed make progress from where it was a year ago.

“You go from 40 (wins), under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eeking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And so, yes, there’s progress.”

But as far as this being a successful season, that’s not nearly as cut and dry.

“Of course it’s only going to be one team to have a successful year and that’s when you hold that trophy up,” said  Jae Crowder. “So until we do that, it’s not a successful season. We are going to keep building, keep working.”

Marcus Smart had a slightly different opinion on the matter.

“I don’t look at it as a failure, for sure,” Smart said. “We did a lot of great things this season. We’re a young team. That’s good for us coming back. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I don’t look at the season as a failure. So I guess you can say it was a success for us.”

But looking at how this season ended, while disappointing, serves as a reminder as to how Boston remains a team with talent but plenty of room to grow.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right?” Stevens said. “One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in right now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there.

"And the next (task, which is becoming a legitimate championship contender) is tough. And that’s been communicated before to me and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I’ve learned is we’ve got to get better. And you know what? That starts with me. I’ve got to get better, and then I think each of our players will look at that accountably as well and we’re all going to be better the next time we take the court.”

In doing so, they look to build off the progress made this season and inch closer towards having a truly successful season . . . which around here more often than not, means competing for an NBA title.

That’s why for Jared Sullinger, one of the few remaining players from the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when deep postseason runs were an expectation and not a goal, he doesn’t see this season as being a successful one for the Green team.

“If we’re thinking making it to the playoffs is a successful season, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Sullinger said. “If you look in this locker room, you see everybody’s down. We didn’t want it to end like that; we wanted to make a run. It’s tough losing like that.”

Sullinger added, “Last year we were glad to make the playoffs. This year, we wanted to make a run, we wanted to make some noise. Unfortunately, our noise got cut short.”

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

Irving, Brown out again for Celtics tonight vs. Thunder

BOSTON – The injury report remains the same for the Celtics who will enter tonight’s game against Oklahoma City with a roster that remains shorthanded.

In addition to Gordon Hayward (left ankle) who has been out all season, joining him on the inactive list tonight are Jaylen Brown (NBA concussion protocol); Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness); Marcus Smart (right thumb sprain) and Daniel Theis (out for season after left knee meniscal tear surgery).

Only Irving and Brown are expected to return in the near future. Theis had his season-ending surgery last week, the Celtics continue to insist Hayward won't play this season and Smart has a shot at returning at some point in the playoffs as early as the latter stages of the first round or early in the second.


Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

MORE - OKC not taking shorthanded C's for granted

Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”