Planting a seed with the Celtics


Planting a seed with the Celtics

By Rich Levine

They say that if not for home-court advantage, the Celtics would be NBA champs.

They say, that if the Cs hadnt wasted the regular season fighting injury, apathy and losing 32 games, thered be another banner up in the rafters, and another ring on everyones finger.

If only Game Seven was at the Garden, they say, you know we would have won!

They are the Celtics, and as a result of that Game Seven loss in last years Finals, the team entered this season ready to take on the world.

This year, there are no let-downs. This year, there are 82 Game Sevens. This year, every game matters, because, in the end, home court is ALL that matters. It burned us before, and we cant let it burn us again.

And for the first few months, that mentality served them well.

Starting in October, into November and right up until Christmas, the Celtics wore the scars, fed off the motivation, and willed themselves into a juggernaut.

Kevin Garnett looked fresher than he had since 2008. Shaq had transported back to 2006. Rajon Rondo was an MVP candidate. Big Baby was a contender for Sixth Man. Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were being run ragged, but looked no worse for the wear. Jermaine ONeal was hurting but that kid from Turkey was suddenly a serviceable NBA talent. Marquis Daniels was making good on his second chance to make a first impression. Nate Robinson had bought into the system, and the benefits were obvious.

Along the way, a carousel of potential let downs against teams like the Nets, Wizards, Bobcats and Sixers games this team would have surrendered at will last winter were virtual speed bumps on the Bostons road to the No. 1 seed. Yeah, there were a few avoidable losses, like that second game of the season in Cleveland, or that crazy Sunday in Toronto, but it wasnt the end of the world; the losses never got them down. Instead, they only re-ignited the fire. After the loss to the Cavs, the Cs won five straight. After the loss at Toronto, they won 14.

As the season went on, every once in a random while, Game Seven would always find its way back into the conversation. Doc, Paul or KG would mention it in passing, and remind you that they still hadnt forgotten, still felt that pain, were still playing for home court and werent stopping any time soon.

And you know what? After the overload of negativity that cursed them last winter, the re-affirmation of the Celtics regular season pride was pretty great. It was really refreshing. It appeared as if that one horrible loss had provided the antidote to the NBA doldrums, and as the Heat struggled with chemistry, the Bulls fought with injury and the Magic hit the reset button, you had to wonder if maybe, just maybe, this newfound determination might actually propel the Cs into the playoffs as the Easts undisputed favorite; with Boston established as the formidable host city.

Ah, those were good times, werent they?

The fans were happy. The whole city was happy. The Celtics were just about the happiest team in the history of organized sports. And because of that over-riding happiness, there was one little detail that we all fans, writers, players, coaches sort of misremembered. One that, given Bostons recent slide, seems worth mentioning:

Detail: Home-court advantage wasnt the reason the Celtics lost Game Seven.

Would it have made their lives a little easier? Yeah, of course. Im not saying that home-court wasnt A reason, but its not even in the Top 3. Would home-court have made up for Perk? Would home-court have nursed Paul and KGs knees, Rasheeds stamina and Rondos entire body back to health? Even if the game was at home, would you have ever asked for a better situation than being up 13 points with 20 minutes left?

Or maybe it wasnt a matter of misrememberance, maybe we just conveniently ignored it, because the motivation seemed to be working and there was no need to burst the Celtics bubble. After all, Danny Ainge had already corrected most of the real problems in the off-season. He brought back the core, created a monster front court, bolstered the bench. So, if the Cs still needed that extra motivation, and wanted to pretend that this was all about home-court, then all the power to them especially when it was working so well.

But the truth is that, given the circumstances, its doesnt make sense to base your season around the premise that home-court was the difference in the 2010 NBA Finals. If we were talking about the 2008 team, then yeah, they dont lose Game Seven in Boston. But last year?

Starting with the Cleveland series, the Celtics were 6-4 at home, and 5-5 on the road. The Lakers had already won at the Garden earlier in the series. Perk was still hurt. And again, most of all, regardless of anything, the Celtics were up 13 points with 20 minutes left. I dont care if youre playing a game of water polo against a team of Great White sharks, you dont blow a lead like that with a title on the line. And the Staples Center was not the reason the Celtics actually did.

And while it was OK to pretend that was the case when that mindset was actually helping the Cs win games, now seems like a good time to stop.

Now, KGs on the shelf. Shaqs been warped into 2014. Rondos banged up. Big Babys overworked, and his consistencys suffered. Jermaine ONeal has a knee injury that Doc joked (maybe) will bother JO for the rest of his life. Semihs MIA. They lost confidence in Nate. People are begging for Rasheed!

The Celtics are losing games that they shouldnt, while the Heat, Magic and Bulls are all catching stride, and, as a result, the chances of Boston walking away with the No. 1 seed are suddenly dwindling. Theyve come down to the field, and some have grown worried. Even Doc Rivers showed a considerable amount of concern after the C's Monday night loss to Houston:

"Ive got to somehow figure out a way of getting them to see the urgency of the whole season and not the single game," he said. "And to me, you can see them thinking about the individual game and not the ramifications of the entire season.

Some see it as a sign of weakness or a harbinger of horrible things to come, but I just see it as reality.

This team wasnt built for 82 games; they were built for 16 wins, late April through June. And treating them otherwise is dangerous. Pacing yourself for the playoffs is still the priority, not seeding regardless of what happened over the final 20 minutes of last season.

I'm not saying it's just "get to the playoffs, and go on another magical run." It's definitely not that easy. But it's not otherwise impossible. And not worth the risk of pushing your already injured team any harder than they need to be.

Let's pretend for a second that the C's get the fourth seed. First of all, when it comes to home court, the Heat dont have one. You really think the Celtics would worry about that crowd? As for the Magic, the Cs still control Dwight Howard better than anyone in the league, at home or away. And proved last season that they can take this team in their own house even if they did recently upgrade. And as for Chicago, you know, I think they might present the toughest test for Boston if theyre forced to start out on the road. But either way, this isnt supposed to be easy, and when healthy, theres still no team in the league better suited for the playoffs than Boston.

And now, its just about getting there. The one seed would be nice, but making it one piece is better, because while a healthy Celtics team can win on the road, a beat-up one wont win anywhere.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.


And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.

The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.

College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.

Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.

The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.



Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week


Gostkowski named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

FOXBORO -- Stephen Gostkowski is almost 34 years old, but in Mexico City he provided a reminder that he's not slowing down in his 12th NFL season. 

After going four-for-four on field goals -- including a team-record 62-yarder, a 51-yarder and a 40-yarder -- and making all three of his extra points, Gostkowski was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the sixth time in his career. 

During a press conference on Wednesday, Bill Belichick explained that someone in Gostkowski's situation probably isn't improving at this point in his career. But if he's maintaining a strong level of play, that's OK. 

"I don’t know how much real improvement you’re going to see from a player that’s been in the league 12 or 20 years in a case like Adam [Vinatieri] or somebody like that," Belichick said. "But, if the level they’re performing at is pretty good, if they can maintain that, then that’s certainly enough to help the team.

"Are there things that a player can do better? Yeah, sure, there always are technique things. I think Steve has really improved in some of his alternative kicks on kickoffs, as an example, instead of just kicking every ball as far as he can. He’s done a great job of that. I’d say it’s maintaining the timing and the overall leg speed and technique that makes kickers good at their job."