Blakely: Cavs series should cement Celtics decision to keep No. 1 pick, draft Fultz

Blakely: Cavs series should cement Celtics decision to keep No. 1 pick, draft Fultz

BOSTON – Danny Ainge isn’t ready to commit (publicly at least) as to what he will do with the number one overall pick in June’s NBA draft.

I get it.

He needs to see what it’s worth to other teams not to mention he and his staff have to do their due diligence to make sure whoever they select is the right guy, the right fit, for the culture they are trying to build with this franchise.

But after watching the beatdown administered by Cleveland on Friday night, I am more convinced than ever that if the Celtics keep the number one pick there’s only one choice that makes sense.

They have to draft Washington’s Markelle Fultz.

If there’s one thing we know about the playoffs.

The deeper you get into it, the more your flaws come to the surface and eventually prove to be your undoing.

Take Isaiah Thomas.

He has had a phenomenal season, and was deserving of a spot on the all-NBA second team this season.

But as we got deeper into the playoffs, his 5-foot-9 frame became a bigger issue.

Trapping and blitzing a 5-9 playmaker is a hell of a lot easier than someone who is six or seven inches taller and has the wingspan of a power forward; a player like Fultz.

And when Thomas didn’t return to the lineup with a right hip injury in the second half, the Celtics were then without their only true player who can create his own shot off the dribble.

After having lost Games 1 and 2 at the TD Garden in blowout fashion, sitting Thomas for the remainder of this series might be the best and wisest course of action.

His absence exposed the fact that Boston does not have another player who can create their own shot with a high level of proficiency.

And because of that, the Cavaliers’ defense wound up looking a lot better than it really is.

They were among the worst teams defensively during the regular season, and “improved” to middle-of-the-pack status near the end of the season.

In the playoffs, they have been winning with great offense through the first two rounds.

But against the Celtics, you would think they had a team of Kawhi Leonards or something the way they absolutely stone-walled Boston at every turn.

Which brings me back to Fultz, who is far and away the most explosive scorer coming into the NBA next season and has been atop most draft boards for most of this season.

He’s 6-foot-4, 195 pounds with a 6-10 wingspan.

With that kind of length accompanied with his skillset, he has the potential to come in and make a difference.

But what he does as well as anyone who has come into the league in the last few years, is score the ball from all ranges on the floor.

It’s rare for a player to have his court vision with the ability to score in a multitude of ways and be so young.

He is exactly what the Celtics need going forward if they are to someday soon be in a position where they can compete with the Cavaliers.

Because what we have seen after the first two games of this “series” isn’t competition.

It has been more of a coronation of Cleveland’s soon-to-be return to the NBA finals, with the Celtics being nothing more than basketball roadkill along the Cavs’ journey.

The sting of this loss, and this series for that matter, should motivate the returning Celtics next season. Because of their youth and the unexpected success of this season, expectations will be high next season for them to return to the Conference finals or at least be among the top three or four teams in the East.

But Boston has to add at least one significant impact player in the offseason, with Utah’s Gordon Hayward sitting high atop their wish list.

However, the addition of Hayward would obviously help but it alone wouldn’t move the needle enough to where they could come close to looking the Cavs eye-to-eye if the two met again in the postseason next year.

Boston needs a playmaker who can score, find teammates and maybe most important, give Boston a player besides Thomas who can create their own shot off the dribble or get the ball in the hands of teammates for easy shots based on his ability to attack a defense and force them to collapse.

Fultz won’t come in from Day One and be that player.

Few rookies ever do.

But the upside and potential he has shown despite being just 18 years old – he turns 19 later this month – is enough to where he has a shot of being able to help in a meaningful way come playoff time.

We have seen in this series with Cleveland just how Jaylen Brown’s improvement from the start of the season until now, has adequately prepared him to be a player to watch next season.

And while Fultz will certainly have some pressure to perform because of his draft status, he will likely be given more time than most number one overall picks to assert himself as a big-time player in this league based on the depth Boston has in the backcourt.

The beating Boston has taken from Cleveland is a reminder that the Celtics have to continue adding elite talent, regardless of the position.

And as they inch closer towards the draft, this series against the Cavs should cement in their minds that for their needs going forward, there’s really only one choice to make with the number one overall pick.

It has to be Markelle Fultz.

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

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Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.