Game One preview: Will C's capitalize on last year's playoff experience?


Game One preview: Will C's capitalize on last year's playoff experience?

It’s not an everyday topic of conversation, but there are times when some of the Boston Celtics players from last season think about the quick, four-game exit they had out of the playoffs.

“We were just happy to be there,” Jae Crowder told CSN’s Abby Chin.

It wasn’t until they were on the brink of elimination against Cleveland did the Celtics start to show the kind of fight, the kind of grit needed to compete against the better teams in the East.

To go through something like that -- as painful as it was at the time -- may turn out to be the best thing for the Celtics in the long run. They are a young, up-and-coming team that gained the kind of experience last season that no amount of regular-season games or practices can simulate.

And we’ll find out in the coming days if that experience will, in fact, pay off now as their first-round playoff series against the Hawks kicks off tonight at Atlanta’s Philips Arena.

Although Amir Johnson wasn’t with the Celtics last season, he understands the value and growth that comes about from making multiple trips into the postseason.

“You just get a better idea of what to expect, and how playoff basketball really is different than regular-season basketball,” he told CSNNE.com. “It’s more physical, more intense. Every play matters; it could be the one that gets you that win.”

Players aren’t the only ones who benefit from being in the postseason.

Brad Stevens is atypical in comparison to most NBA coaches. He had never been a player or an assistant in the NBA prior to being hired in 2013 after six stellar seasons at Butler University, which he led to a pair of national runner-up finishes.

Whenever coaches from the college ranks make the leap to the pros, there are lots of questions and concerns as to whether they can replicate the success at the pro level. In some instances they’re coaching players older than they are, which is a sharp contrast from the pimple-faced teens they were used to.

But Stevens has quickly earned the respect of his players, young and old.

“He draws up great plays. That helps,” quipped Evan Turner. “Brad’s a good coach. He knows what he’s doing out there. We believe in him.”

And while Stevens showed tremendous growth as a tactician this season, it remains to be seen if those same traits carry over to a best-of-seven series.

If there’s a blueprint for the Celtics to follow in their growth curve, it would be that of the Atlanta Hawks.

The Hawks' Mike Budenholzer came into the league as a head coach the same year as Stevens, although the team he inherited had a playoff-caliber roster while the Celtics were at the ground level of the franchise’s rebuilding process. In his first season, Budenholzer got the Hawks into the playoffs as an eighth seed. In the first round, they were eliminated in six games by top-seeded Indiana.

The following year they were back in the playoffs with the best record in the East and advanced to the conference finals.

A slow start, injuries and adjusting to life without DeMarre Carroll (he signed with Toronto in the offseason) all factored heavily into them coming into the playoffs as a fourth-seed this season. They struggled to the point where there was serious talk about breaking up their core group, which includes Paul Millsap, Jeff Teague and Al Horford (who will be a free agent this summer).

But Budenholzer, who doubles as the team’s president of basketball operations and is a disciple of San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, decided to keep the band together.

It was a good call on his part as the Hawks began playing better (they had the seventh-best winning percentage after the All-Star break) and have shown the ability to play well at both ends of the floor at an elite level.

Atlanta’s Effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .516 was the sixth-best in the NBA. And defensively, the Hawks held opponents to a league-low 43.2 percent shooting.

And then there’s the experience factor, which certainly favors them over Boston.

“I think we’re in a good place,” Budenholzer told reporters. “My gut says we’re a good team. We have a core group of players, whether you combine the last two years or just look at this year, that has shown themselves to be very competitive."

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

AP Photo

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

BOSTON -- As I made my way towards the Boston Celtics locker room following their 100-99 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, I walked past co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, who, as you might expect, was pleased with what he had just witnessed.
“That was a good one,” he said.
That’s one way to describe it.


But explaining the Houdini-like way the Celtics seem to get out of some serious jams over and over again, and against really good teams, is indeed a head-scratcher for most.
It’s getting to the point where we’re running out of fresh adjectives to describe this team, which has a knack for the comeback.
“Improbable” doesn’t do justice to how Boston’s hit-the-lottery luck has played out so often on nights when it seemed on the doorstep of defeat.
And this town loves a good comeback story, whether it’s Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl win after being down by 25 points, or the Celtics spotting the NBA champ Golden State Warriors a 17-point cushion before rallying for a meaningful November win -- a rarity in the NBA.
But the obscure and unexpected have become standard in this seemingly alternate basketball universe that the Celtics play in, one that we have been bearing witness to all season.

I mean, look at their body of work:

DECEMBER 18: Down by one on the road at Indiana in the closing seconds of play in what appears to be a tough road loss, Terry Rozier steals and races down the floor looking like Deion Sanders in high-tops, for a game-winning dunk.

DECEMBER 28: Trailing the Houston Rockets by 26 points in the third quarter, they rally back and steal the win with not one, but two offensive fouls drawn in the last minute by Marcus Smart against perennial league MVP candidate James Harden.

JANUARY 11: In London, they erased a 22-point deficit and defeated Philly.

FEBRUARY 4: There was a buzzer-beater by Al Horford to beat Portland on Super Bowl Sunday.

And . . . well, you get the idea.

Boston has six wins by a single point this season, which is tied with Miami for the season lead and is one shy of tying the franchise record for one-point wins in a season. 

In addition, Boston has won 10 games this season in which it fell behind by 12 or more points. 
Winning so many games under less-than-ideal circumstances has not only padded the Celtics' win total, but also reinforced this team with a Teflon-strong mindset. They believe they're tthe ultimate practitioner of basketball necromancy, consistently finding a way to rise up from the basketball graveyard of defeat and win in dramatic fashion.

Like they did Tuesday night against the Thunder.

How can you bank on Carmelo Anthony, a career 81.2 percent free-throw shooter, missing a pair with less than nine seconds to play?
Or botching the play Brad Stevens drew up at the end of the game -- "We kind of messed [it] up," said Jayson Tatum -- but, rather than it leading to a turnover, instead becoming a game-winning 3-pointer by Marcus Morris with 1.8 seconds to spare? 


 It was another crazy ending in what has been a season filled with bizarre finishes, jaw-dropping rallies and a never-say-it’s-over brand of basketball that has kept Celtics fans on the edge of their seats all season.
“It’s great to be in a situation where you’re down six with under a minute to play or whatever it was, and you find a way to win the game,” said Stevens. “That’s going to be pretty unique, but they just kept playing the next possession and we were fortunate that that shot went down. That was a heck of a shot by Marcus."
A heck of a shot?
But in this bizarro world of Celtics basketball this season, it was predictable as the Thunder became yet another team to play Boston and leave wondering the same thing most Celtics fans do … “Did THAT just happen?


Kevin Garnett predicts Marcus Morris' game-winner right before it happens

Kevin Garnett predicts Marcus Morris' game-winner right before it happens

Kevin Garnett was paying close attention to Tuesday night's thriller between the Celtics and Thunder.

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On KG's Area 21, the former Celtics great watched as Boston rallied in the game's final minute to make a stunning comeback. Right before Marcus Morris drilled the game-winner, Garnett called it by saying, "The Morris twin will end up shooting this or something because he like 'yeah I'm about the moment'"

Not a bad call. Morris certainly was "about the moment" Tuesday night as he has been multiple times this season.