Celtics

The Edge of Glory

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The Edge of Glory

Kevin Garnett grabbed the rebound off Dwyane Wades last second, desperation three-pointer and hurled it down court to a wide-open Keyon Dooling.

Before Dooling even caught the ball, the game was over, the Celtics were one miraculous step closer, and the questions were already swirling:

OK, so what's the story? Are we still just happy to be here? Are they still just a scrappy bunch of underdogs? Still merely defying the odds? Still playing with house money?

Or can we finally stop talking about how far the Celtics have come and turn the focus to how far they might go?

Its the same fence weve straddled since this team advanced past Atlanta. That feeling of wanting needing more, while never losing sight of the fact that what we have is already more than we ever imagined. That feeling of complete, unconditional love. Of sitting here this morning like proud parents, watching highlights on a loop, not even changing the channel when Stephen A. Smith starts to speak. Of shaking our heads at everything the Celtics have done, scratching our heads at how theyve done it and saying things like: "Who would ever thought they'd be here? Isn't this just unbelievable? What a story! What a team!"

All while knowing that in so many ways, they've accomplished nothing.

Or not enough.

Not yet.

It hurts to say, only in that it takes away from this morning's celebration, but its true. The Celtics have come too far to keep limiting our expectations with comparisons to their regular season struggles. Theyre no longer the lovable underdogs, but once again a team of champions with championship hopes that should be held to championship standards. Sure, we have no idea how theyve done it.

The fact that theyve beaten Miami three straight times and now sit one win away from the NBA Finals? It makes no sense.

But were far beyond making sense of this journey. Were past obsessing over the ugliness of a game like last night, and all the familiar struggles that may ultimately doom this team.

Who cares that the Celtics spent three and half quarters basically begging for a 3-2 deficit? When it mattered, Boston was better: Rondo took over in ways that only Rondo can with unscripted perfection and split second decisions that couldnt have been more precise if he'd stayed up all night cramming. Paul Pierce closed his eyes, found 2003 and treated LeBron James like he was Al Harrington. Ray Allen, one of the greatest, deadliest foul shooters in NBA history was back on the Celtics side. Mickael Pietrus equal parts 2008 James Posey and 2005 Tony Allen channeled the former and gave us the best-case scenario. Kevin Garnett basically devoured Wally Szczerbiaks pretty little face on national TV. Doc Rivers continued to dominate Erik Spoelstra from the sidelines the same way he wouldve in an early-90s game of one-on-one.

Now, the Celtics are up 3-2.

And given all they've gone through, there's every reason to celebrate.

After all, this is the same team that showed up out of shape. That limped into the All-Star break. That was nearly broken up 10 different ways at the deadline. That should have been derailed by injuries. That lost Game 1 (and their point guard) in Atlanta. That was pushed to the brink by Philadelphia. That lost the first two games in Miami and came within one wide-open Dwyane Wade three-point attempt of effectively losing this series. Now, they're one game one HOME game away from the NBA Finals.

It's a great story. It's been a unbelievable journey. But as we were reminded last night, the journey no longer matters. At this moment, the details of how they got here pale in importance to the mere fact that they are here. Results are what count. Results are the difference between 2008 and 2010. Between a feel good story that everyone will eventually forget, and an achievement that will live on forever. And to reach that level of success, the Celtics still have so much work to do. On Thursday, on Saturday and beyond. They may be at the goal line of greatness, but Demarcus Ware and Mario Williams are standing in the way. They may have nearly escaped the shark tank, but there's one foot still dangling in the water, and the sharks are effing furious.

We can talk about how much proud we are of this team right now, about the unconditional love and respect we have for who they are and what they've accomplished, but we can't deny how let down and disappointed we'll be if they don't take care of business. We can pretend this is all gravy, but deep down, we know it's not enough.

And the Celtics know it, too.

Last night in Miami, when Garnett's baseball pass finally landed in Dooling's hands, the wily vet took one little power dribble and initiated the ultimate form of last second basketball celebration. You know what I'm talking about. And if you were watching and if you're still reading this, let's just assume you were watching then you definitely thought it was coming.

Dooling wanted nothing more than to take that ball and fire it into the air.

After that little dribble, he crouched down, dipped the ball and looked about ready to take out the scoreboard. Then in a split second. He stopped.

He pulled back. Jammed the breaks on his leap, and let the ball slip innocently out of his hands. Sure it went up in the air, but only by way of natural momentum, and by the time the ball landed, Dooling was already jogging back to the locker room with his head down. Completely composed. All business. Fully aware of the reality of Boston's situation.

That while last night was great, it wasn't it enough.

That despite everything the Celtics have already accomplished, it's nothing compared to what they'll have to do next.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

The streak is over! The streak is over!

We now return the Boston Celtics to their regularly scheduled pursuit of success without the growing pressure that comes with a historically relevant winning streak.

The 104-98 loss at Miami on Wednesday night brought an end to what had been one of the more unlikely winning streaks we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time.

Boston reeled off 16 straight wins, many of which were the come-from-a-double-digit-deficit variety. In the end, the Celtics’ winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in this storied franchise’s history.

“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said following the loss. “But we do have a lot of resolve.”

That resolve will surely be challenged with the Celtics taking Thanksgiving off, only to return and play three games in the next four nights beginning with Orlando on Friday, followed by a road game at Indiana on Saturday and a home date against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Here are five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak.

KYRIE FOR MVP?

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving during the offseason, there was a sense that his presence would be a plus in some capacity, at some point. But few envisioned Irving would not only have a relatively seamless fit with the Celtics, but deliver in such a way that would catapult them to the top of the NBA standings and in doing so, establish him as one of the early front-runners for the league’s MVP award. This season, Irving is averaging a team-best 22.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field but most important, the Celtics (16-3) have the best record in the NBA.

WANTED: BENCH SCORER

If you are a fan of good defenders, you probably love the Boston Celtics’ second unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are both ball-hawking defenders who can make some miserable times for opponents when they are on top of their game. Daniel Theis provides great energy on the glass and defensively. But the second unit needs a jolt offensively. Because as good as they can defend collectively, the Celtics have to have at least one starter on the floor most of the time because the bench doesn’t have an adequate collector of buckets that they can rely on consistently. Marcus Morris looks like an ideal choice for that role, but the left knee soreness that kept him out for eight games seems to be flaring up from time to time. Whether they address this with a trade or possibly with a player bought out, the lack of a second-unit scorer is very much an issue for this team.

BROWN EMERGES AS TWO-WAY TALENT

The plan was for Jaylen Brown to be an elite, shut-down defender this season. He has shown himself to be a good defender this season, but what has really made him stand out is the growth in his game offensively. The second-year wing has scored 20-plus points in three of Boston’s last four games. Doing that along with continuing to play good defense has him looking like one of the NBA’s promising young two-way talents.

TATUM’S GROWTH A SILVER LINING IN HAYWARD INJURY

You never want to see the Boston Celtics or any team for that matter, lose a player for the season let alone one who meant as much as Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. But if there is a silver lining in his ankle injury which is expected to keep him out all season, it is the opportunity it created for Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been arguably the best player from last June’s draft class, playing major minutes with a major role for the team with the best record in the NBA. The opportunity to play around 30 minutes a game would not have been there for Tatum if Hayward didn’t get hurt. The challenge for Tatum going forward is to stay consistent, because now that teams have seen him for almost a quarter of the season, you can expect they will make some adjustments in how they defend him as well as try to attack him when he’s defending.

WE TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE

During Boston’s 16 game winning streak, the Celtics played the last eight games in 16 nights. That’s a game every other night for more than two weeks. In that time, there’s little to no time for practice which has been a factor in Boston not being quite as sharp in the last few games, as they were at the start of the streak. After Thanksgiving, Boston plays three games in four nights with a pair of days off to follow before they return to action. There’s a very good chance that the Celtics will use one of those two days to practice, something this team desperately needs to clean up some of the minor mistakes that were big problems in their loss to the Heat on Wednesday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE