Celtics

Are the Celtics built to flip a switch in the playoffs?

Are the Celtics built to flip a switch in the playoffs?

The Boston Celtics have taken their fans on a surreal roller coaster ride of emotions this season, one filled with exhilarating highs often followed by head-scratching lows. 

But through it all, Kyrie Irving more than any other Celtics player believes when the time comes and the games are upgraded in value significantly - better known as the playoffs - he has shown no doubts that Boston will be ready, willing and capable of getting to the NBA Finals. 

"In the playoffs, when we can plan for a team, prepare for a team, I still don’t see anybody beating us in seven games,” Irving recently told reporters.

So, they can just flip a switch like that, huh? 

Irving’s confidence in the Celtics being able to get to the Finals stems from Boston’s success against the Eastern Conference's top-shelf squads this season.

Against the top four teams in the East (Milwaukee, Toronto, Indiana and Philadelphia), the Celtics are an impressive 7-4. 

They hope to continue along those lines tonight when they travel up North to take on the Toronto Raptors.

MORE CELTICS

This will be the fourth and final matchup between these two during the regular season series which Boston leads 2-1. 

If Boston wins tonight, they will take the head-to-head series which could come into play if the two finish with an identical record.

While Irving’s confidence in being able to right the ship in time for the playoffs makes sense for him, it’s not going to be quite as easy for his teammates.

Even with last season’s success in the playoffs, folks forget one of the keys to how Boston performed in the postseason a year ago entered around them finishing out the regular season strong, winning in eight of their last 12 games. 

And that success, that confidence spilled over into the postseason with a number of Celtics players getting their first shot at playing a pivotal role in the team’s postseason aspirations which ended with a trip to the Eastern Conference finals losing to Cleveland in seven games. 

Irving wasn’t available at that time, missing the team’s entire postseason run as he recovered from a surgical procedure to removed infected screws in his left knee that were put in place following a left kneecap injury in 2015. 

All of the Celtics recognize the playoffs are indeed around the corner, but the focus has to be on the moment at hand - facing the Toronto Raptors. 

Because if this team will successfully turn it on during the playoffs, they have to start building towards that now. 

That doesn’t mean they have to go on some sort of torrid tear per se. But they do have to start playing better to develop the kind of good habits you absolutely have to have in order to have any kind of legitimate shot at postseason success. 

Last year’s team dealt with key losses both at the start (Gordon Hayward) and at the end (Irving) of the season. 

But in between that period of time, we knew a couple things about that team. 

They would play to the final horn, regardless of how deep a ditch they had to climb out of in order to have a shot at winning. 

And when games were close, they were clutch - and it wasn’t just Irving delivering the goods, either. 

This season the Celtics are 3-5 in games decided by three points or less. 

Last year?

They were 11-8 with the 11 wins tied with Indiana for the most wins in the league by three points or less. 

Winning close games. Playing tough defense. 

Those were the two defining qualities of last season’s Celtics team, a team that by and large looks almost identical to the team on the floor now in terms of personnel. 

MORE FROM A. SHERROD BLAKELY

But when it comes to this team’s identity … they have not played anywhere close to the consistency of last season’s squad which is why their identity on so many levels is radically different now. 

Instead of playing solid defense night-in and night-out, that solid defense has been sporadic.

And the ability to win close games hasn’t been a strength of this team, with the latest blown opportunity coming at Milwaukee last week when they rallied to lead late in the fourth quarter but failed to come up with a necessary defensive stop in order to fully swing the game’s momentum in their favor. 

Which brings us back to flipping the switch when the playoffs arrive. 

No one questions whether the Celtics have enough talent to do so. 

They have proven themselves repeatedly that when they face the best, that’s when they are at their best. 

But the playoffs require that mindset and that ability to be on a certain level of consistency, something this Celtics team has shown very little of with any kind of regularity which is why the idea that this team can just turn it on for the playoffs is hard to see coming to fruition. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Ex-Celtic Marcus Morris opens up about free agency decision

Ex-Celtic Marcus Morris opens up about free agency decision

Free agency didn't come without controversy for Marcus Morris.

The former Celtics forward agreed to a two-year, $20 million contract with the Spurs on July 7, but backed out of that deal to sign a one-year, $15 million contract with the Knicks instead. San Antonio reportedly was "pissed" about the change of heart, and Morris fired his agent Rich Paul shortly thereafter.

In an interview with The Athletic, Morris opened up about his tumultuous offseason and awkward situation with the Spurs.

“I have a good relationship with those guys and I have so much respect for [head coach] Pop [Gregg Popovich], [general manager] RC [Buford] and [assistant GM] Brian Wright,” Morris told The Athletic. “The first thing that I did when I knew I would be going another direction, I called and made sure they knew. There was no shade. There’s no disrespect. I had great conversations afterward, and as long as I feel that I’m clear with them and gave them my truth, I feel good about moving forward.

“I was under the impression that I didn’t have anything left. I thought at the time that the Spurs deal was all that I had. The process wasn’t what I expected and it didn’t go the right way.”

It appears there was no ill will on Morris' end, but it's understandable for there still to be some sour grapes on the Spurs' side.

Before choosing New York over San Antonio and firing his agent, Morris also turned down a more lucrative offer with the Clippers. L.A. reportedly offered Morris a three-year $41 million deal at the start of free agency, but he opted to "make the best decision for him and his family."

Morris will hope for a smoother free agency process when he hits the market again next summer.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Al Horford says Celtics' tampering suggestions are 'ridiculous'

Al Horford says Celtics' tampering suggestions are 'ridiculous'

Al Horford said it’s “ridiculous” if the Boston Celtics are upset about any sort of tampering that occurred last month after Horford opted out of the final year of his deal.

Horford, appearing on the Dan Patrick Show on Monday, said he was aware of an ESPN report that suggested the Celtics had “stomped their feet” about what they considered tampering with Horford before the start of free agency. But Horford, who declined a $30.1 million option before signing a four-year, $109 million offer with the Philadelphia 76ers, dismissed it.

"I just think it’s -- what can I say? — it’s ridiculous,” said Horford. "It is what it is. Danny [Ainge] -- I love Danny. Danny was really good to me. I know he’s definitely frustrated that things didn’t work out with us.”

Horford opted out in mid-June and initial reports suggested he was eager to work towards a new long-term deal with Boston. Later that same day, however, reports shifted to suggest that Horford was seeking a four-year deal that Boston wasn't offering to that point.

While tampering seemed pretty evident across the league this summer, the Celtics could be upset that, before the start of free agency on June 30, it became clear that Horford had at least one mystery suitor ready to throw big money at him over four years. That took away any leverage Boston had and made it tougher for them to negotiate a deal they felt comfortable both in terms of years and money with Horford.

Last week after introducing Kemba Walker, Ainge said that he was unsure if Horford would have made the same decision if he knew Walker was coming to Boston.

"I don’t know if Al makes the decision he makes if he knows that Kemba is coming, as an example,” said Ainge. "I have no idea if that makes -- but that’s how free agency is, sometimes you gotta make decisions before you know other certainties. But I’m not worried about that. We just have two new guys that have chosen to come play for us that really want to be here and we wish them well. I’m grateful for Al and Kyrie choosing to come play in Boston and grateful for all that they gave us.”

Earlier in his interview on The Dan Patrick Show, Horford said opting out of the final year of his contract and departing Boston was no easy choice.

"It was a very difficult decision, just looking at everything that had gone on with the season, my time in Boston, it wasn’t a decision that was taken lightly by me,” said Horford. "We thought things were going to work out a certain way with Boston and they didn’t, and, yeah, I had to start looking at the next step. But it was not easy.”

Asked what went wrong with the 2018-19 Celtics, Horford suggested expectations weighed the team down.

"We had a lot of high hopes for our group,” said Horford. "I just think that we never were able to gel like we needed to, coming together as a group, and playing at the level consistently that we needed to play.” 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.