From lottery to 50 wins in four seasons, Celtics’ rise impresses many

From lottery to 50 wins in four seasons, Celtics’ rise impresses many

BOSTON – Brad Stevens’ first season was over and, as expected, the  Celtics were among the feeble 14 – teams that don’t qualify for the playoffs.
There were many in Celtics Nation who feared that would the first of a string of non-playoff seasons for Boston, the kind of fate most teams that hit the reset button the way Boston did tend to experience.
And then a year later, the Celtics were in the playoffs.
Last season, there was Boston once again livin’ that playoff life.
The fact that they’ve once again qualified for the playoffs this season isn’t all that surprising.
But them being the team with the best record in the East with just a couple weeks left to play … shocker!
“Didn’t see this coming,” one league executive told CSNNE.com. “There’s enough time for them to slide, but I don’t think it’s happening. They play together, for each other as well as any team in the NBA right now. That’s why they’re going to be a tough out, regardless of whether they are the number one seed or not.”
An NBA scout of a potential first-round opponent had similar comments about the Celtics.
“They’ve been underrated all season in my opinion,” he said. “They don’t have a bunch of guys who can go out and get you 30 points a night like Golden State or Cleveland. But they got one guy like that in Isaiah Thomas, and like eight or nine guys that can get you 15-25 points on any given night. There aren’t a lot of teams that can say that, and actually have the talent to back it up.”
And for them to be where they are in such a relatively short period of time, has made this journey all the more amazing.
Those unsure that this team could ascend to where they are now runs the gamut, from fans, media, even team ownership.
“I felt before the season that maybe we were being overrated,” Wyc Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics, told CSNNE.com. “That we were maybe a Top 10 team in the league and the top few in the East, maybe. But it still felt like a longshot.”
Grousbeck added, “They’ve grown into themselves. They’re playing better than I probably thought.”
That unexpected rise takes on even greater prominence when you see how they stack up to teams that following the 2013-14 season were also lottery teams.
In the three-plus seasons since, Boston and Cleveland are the only teams that have made multiple trips to the playoffs.
They also rank among the winningest teams in that span, with the Celtics having won 163 games and the Cavs 192.
Of course, Cleveland’s significant improvement came about with the return of LeBron James prior to the 2014-15 season.
Boston’s growth has been a bit more organic, cultivated under the watchful eye of Stevens, who has built the team into one that functions at its best when significant contributions come from an assortment of players, as opposed to just a couple of superstars, which has helped them win 50 games for the first time under Stevens.
“When we got here four years ago, we were a long way from that.” Celtics forward/center Kelly Olynyk told CSNNE.com. “It’s hard to win 50 games in this league. The core we have now and the way we play and our system … the character that coach [Stevens] has instilled in us and the way that we play together, it’s huge and shows our potential. Hopefully we can build on it and keep moving forward.”

ON THE RISE: Of the lottery teams in Stevens' first year, the Celtics are the only one in the Eastern Conference to improve their win total every year. Take a look: 

TEAMS 2013-14 '14-15 '15-16 '16-17 TOTALS
Boston 25 40 48 50 163
Cleveland     33 53 57 49 192
Denver 36 30 33 36 135
Detroit 29 32 44 35 140
LA Lakers     27 21 17 22 87
Milwaukee 15 41 33 40 129
Minnesota     40 16 29 30 115
New Orleans 34 45 30 33 142
New York     37 17 32 29 115
Orlando 23 25 35 27 110
Philadelphia 19 18 10 28  75
Phoenix 48 39 23 22 132
Sacramento 28 29 33 30 120
Utah     25 38 40 47 150


Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

Blakely: Why Celtics should feel pretty lucky on St. Pat's

It’s hard being an NBA fan and not thinking about the Celtics on St. Patrick’s Day.

All that green, the shamrocks and the libations that so many of us enjoy even more today than most days, it’s pretty cool and certainly something – well, for me at least – to be thankful for.

The Celtics, yeah, they got a few – quite a few - things to be thankful for as well.

So what better day to point a few of them out than the unofficial holiday of the Celtics, St. Patrick’s Day.


When Danny Ainge drafted Terry Rozier three years ago, I admit I wasn’t a believer. You had guards, Danny Ainge. What do you need another one for? Draft Sam Dekker from Wisconsin, or UVA’s Justin Anderson. Hey, that kid Bobby Portis from Arkansas looks pretty good, too.

Ainge and the Celtics took a look at all those guys and came away convinced that Rozier was the best fit for what the wanted both in the short and long-term from that draft.

While Rozier has not emerged as a star, he has shown us all more than enough to know that he’s a pretty damn good player.

And throw in the fact that the dude was born on St. Patrick’s Day - as was Ainge - how can this guy not have a little bit of luck on his side?


LeBron James’ timing has been impeccable when it comes to leaving for greener pastures. So, when Kyrie Irving let the Cavs know he wanted out of Cleveland, it took a minute to sink that they were about to be LeBron’d by someone other than LeBron. But in making his desire to be traded, Irving was giving the Cavs an opportunity to get something in return for shipping him out to who knows where. The Cavs eventually wound up with a couple of draft picks, with one being a coveted first-rounder via Brooklyn in June’s NBA draft along with a trio of players headlined by Isaiah Thomas who was still on the mend from a hip injury.

The injury took longer to heal and the Cavs wound up trading Thomas and ex-Celtic Jae Crowder to teams out West.

Today, Cleveland is treading water as a middle-of-the-pack club that has shown very few signs of late that they will be nothing more than first-round fodder for some team with deep playoff aspirations and a roster ready to make that happen.

And Irving?

He was named to his fifth All-Star team and has spent most of this season playing for a Boston team that until recently held down best record in the East and currently sits in the No. 2 spot.

Irving is dealing with a sore left knee that has limited him recently to not playing, but it doesn’t appear to be an injury that will significantly impact what he does in the postseason for a Celtics team that, despite all their injuries, still holds out hope of making a strong postseason run.


Whenever you ask Brad Stevens about his decision to leave Butler for the Celtics in the NBA, he makes it clear from the outset how difficult a decision it was for him and his family.

Just imagine if Stevens had won a national title instead of having a pair of national runner-up finishes to his name? Leading a mid-major like Butler to an NCAA title, which would have meant slaying UConn or Duke in the process? Stevens would have been more than just a big deal on the Butler campus. He would have been seen as a basketball god who would have had an even tougher time walking away from what he had helped build at Butler.

So Celtics fans, be thankful for Duke and UConn because without their national title game wins over Butler, there’s a very good chance that Brad Stevens would not be coaching the Celtics now.


Remember back in 2013 when Danny Ainge had the serious basketball man crush on Duke’s Justise Winslow, a player that he was willing to trade plenty of draft picks (reportedly as many as four first-round picks) to acquire the rights to draft?

Ainge suspected the Miami Heat would select him with the No. 10 pick, so Ainge tried to swing a deal with the Charlotte Hornets who were in the No. 9 slot.

Charlotte liked Winslow, but they were more smitten with Frank Kaminsky. Because of that, they wouldn’t do a deal with the Celtics.

Not doing that deal allowed Boston to have the kind of assets to eventually acquire Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Irving, moves that have collectively led to Boston’s surge towards the top of the NBA standings despite having the fifth-youngest team in the NBA.

Winslow, selected by the Heat with the 10th overall pick, has come nowhere close to being the impact player Miami was hoping they would get. And while Kaminsky has had some decent stretches, he too has been a bit underwhelming. Meanwhile, Boston kept its 16th overall pick and used it to select Rozier who as it turns out, has arguably been the best player among the trio.

Having a good scouting staff is important, of course.

But a little luck every now and then doesn’t hurt, either.




Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.