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


 
 

WATCH: Kyrie Irving mic'up for Rising Stars Challenge

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USA TODAY Sports Images

WATCH: Kyrie Irving mic'up for Rising Stars Challenge

Boston Celtics superstar Kyrie Irving was coaching the USA team in Friday night's Rising Stars Challenge to close the first night of All-Star Weekend in Charlotte. That included coaching his teammate, Jayson Tatum, who dropped 30 points in the winning effort for the Americans, and dropping some memorable gems during the TNT broadcast.

Asked if he felt some "Red Auerbach vibes" pacing the sideline, Irving joked all that was missing was a cigar. Asked about any coaching pointers, Irving laughed that he was hoping the players got in a defensive stance at least once or twice.

USA went on a run toward the end of Irving's appearance, and that's when he really got going:

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Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Tatum shines, helps lead Team USA to 161-144 win

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Before the season began, Jayson Tatum was viewed by many on the cusp of being a star.

When you think about how an actual star is formed, the parallels are clear.

Solar system-type stars involve light elements being squeezed under intense pressure.

Jayson Tatum played his best basketball as a Celtic during the playoffs when the pressure to perform was at its apex.

That star-creating pressure creates a nuclear fusion reaction that’s explosive.

☘️ CELTICS AT ALL-STAR WEEKEND

Tatum averaged 18.5 points in the playoffs which included a stretch in which he had 20 or more points in seven straight games.

But the stardom many envisioned for the second-year wing, hasn’t quite materialized how they thought it would.

Tatum has been a very good player this season, improving in a number of critical offensive categories.

But the 6-foot-8 forward has not quite elevated his play to superstar status ... yet.

So does that make his play this season disappointing?

Of course not.

Tatum’s focus and the Celtics’ focus for him has been from the outset, to improve upon last season.

And one of the first steps towards becoming a star in this league, is to become a star from within your own draft class.

Selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum has indeed lived up to the lofty billing his draft status warrant.

Looking at players from his draft class, Tatum stacks up favorably in just about every significant statistical category.

And those skills were on display Friday night in the Mountain Dew Rising Stars Challenge pitting the top first- and second-year players from the USA (Team USA) against the top international first- and second-year players (Team World).

Tatum as you might expect stood out, tallying 30 points on 12-for-24 shooting with nine rebounds, three assists and two steals in Team USA’s 161-144 win.

“Last year I was little nervous,” said Tatum who played in the Rising Stars Challenge as a rookie last season. “This year I wasn’t nervous at all; I knew what to expect.”

Team USA, coached by Celtics star Kyrie Irving, was led by Kyle Kuzma (Los Angeles Lakers) who had 35 points.

The leading scorer for Team World was Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers) who had 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting along with five rebounds and six assists.

While the competitive juices weren’t flowing anywhere close to what you see in an NBA regular season game, Tatum’s final stat line in many ways reflects his place among the top young players in the NBA.

And when you throw in his big-game experience in the playoffs, Tatum’s place among the best and brightest young stars is established.

Tatum has played in more games (138) than anyone from his draft class. And his 3-point shooting (40.6 percent) is also tops among the players he entered the league with in 2017.

In addition, Tatum’s a top-five performer from the 2017 draft class in other key categories such as total minutes played (4,245; second); total points scored (2,068, third); rebounds (767, fifth); and field goal percentage (46.5 percent; fourth).

So Tatum’s place among the top players in the NBA is indeed a work in progress. But games like the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday night serve as a reminder that Tatum is on the short list of NBA players with star-on-the-making potential.

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