Celtics

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.

T-ROZZAY CAN PLAY Y’ALL

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?

CLEVELAND’S LOSS, BOSTON’S GAIN


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.

BRAD STEVENS


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.

BOSTON’S BREAKTHROUGH FUELED BY FAILED DEAL


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.

 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 
 

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- From the time Boston drafted Jayson Tatum last June, there was a certain connectivity with him and Jaylen Brown.

While their games differ, there are some common threads that from the outset bonded them in a way that stood out. 

Well, as we get deeper into the postseason, the Celtics' youthful 1-2 punch is beginning to stand out as two budding stars who are only getting better with time.

The C's return to Boston after a 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, which tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 will be played at TD Garden on Tuesday and Game 6 back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

But in every game, win or lose, there are lessons to be learned. Especially for young players like Brown and Tatum. 

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For them, the takeaway is clear. 

There is a certain gear they have the ability to shift into that makes them pretty damn unstoppable. 

We saw that in the second half when for long stretches, they flip-flopped between being the best Celtic on the floor. 

Boston trailed 65-45 in the third quarter, then closed out the quarter with a 22-10 run with Brown and Tatum combining for 18 points during the Celtics spurt. 

The Celtics eventually took a brief lead in the fourth quarter on a Tatum jumper with less than a minute to play, but ultimately came up short following a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5.1 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning basket.

No one is looking for silver linings this time of year. It’s all about wins and losses now. 

But that doesn’t take away from the need for growth, something Brown and Tatum --- who combined for 55 points (34 from Brown, 21 from Tatum) on Sunday -- are doing plenty of in this series. 

Boston would have loved to have had Kyrie Irving for this playoff series. But his absence has afforded all the members of this Celtics team to get some much-needed playoff seasoning that wouldn’t be nearly as abundant if Irving (recovering from knee procedure) were on the floor now.

There are a number of Celtics who have benefited from this, but few if any have had their learning curve accelerated as much as Brown and Tatum. Brown, in his second season, has scored 30 or more points in two of the four playoff games, the most recent being the 34-point effort on Sunday in Game 4.

And then there’s Tatum who put together one of the strongest rookie seasons ever by a Boston Celtic, a major accomplishment considering Boston’s storied past.

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He got it going in the second half on Sunday, scoring 18 of his 21 points. 

“I knew I had to be more aggressive,” Tatum said. “I had to pick up my play; just try to help out more.” 

And as this series continues to play out, both will continue to be looked upon for production which as we’ve seen, they are more than up to the challenge. 

But big numbers don’t mean much if they aren’t attached to a victory, something that eluded the Celtics in Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4. 

Boston will be back on familiar ground in Game 5 at the TD Garden, a game that the Celtics need in order to officially put the Bucks on the brink of playoff elimination. 

And make no mistake. The Bucks have their sights on trying to limit all the Celtics players, but they’ve seen enough to know that containing Brown and Tatum will be critical for Milwaukee to do what neither team has done thus far which is to win on the road. 

“They’re guys that have played with confidence not only throughout the season, but since the beginning of the season,” said Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty. “They’re definitely people we have accounted for. As you get into a series, you’re always talking about what guy’s tendencies are. These two have played very well and we have to anticipate that.”

Prunty’s comments speak to what the Brown-Tatum tandem has done in this series. 

But their play serves as a snapshot of two young stars who, like the Celtics franchise, seem to be getting better with time. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE