Celtics

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

Celtics have shown a knack for the comeback this year

BOSTON -- As I made my way towards the Boston Celtics locker room following their 100-99 win over Oklahoma City on Tuesday night, I walked past co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, who, as you might expect, was pleased with what he had just witnessed.
 
“That was a good one,” he said.
 
That’s one way to describe it.

HE CALLED IT . . . SORT OF

But explaining the Houdini-like way the Celtics seem to get out of some serious jams over and over again, and against really good teams, is indeed a head-scratcher for most.
 
It’s getting to the point where we’re running out of fresh adjectives to describe this team, which has a knack for the comeback.
 
“Improbable” doesn’t do justice to how Boston’s hit-the-lottery luck has played out so often on nights when it seemed on the doorstep of defeat.
 
And this town loves a good comeback story, whether it’s Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a Super Bowl win after being down by 25 points, or the Celtics spotting the NBA champ Golden State Warriors a 17-point cushion before rallying for a meaningful November win -- a rarity in the NBA.
 
But the obscure and unexpected have become standard in this seemingly alternate basketball universe that the Celtics play in, one that we have been bearing witness to all season.

I mean, look at their body of work:


 
DECEMBER 18: Down by one on the road at Indiana in the closing seconds of play in what appears to be a tough road loss, Terry Rozier steals and races down the floor looking like Deion Sanders in high-tops, for a game-winning dunk.


 
DECEMBER 28: Trailing the Houston Rockets by 26 points in the third quarter, they rally back and steal the win with not one, but two offensive fouls drawn in the last minute by Marcus Smart against perennial league MVP candidate James Harden.

JANUARY 11: In London, they erased a 22-point deficit and defeated Philly.


 
FEBRUARY 4: There was a buzzer-beater by Al Horford to beat Portland on Super Bowl Sunday.

And . . . well, you get the idea.

Boston has six wins by a single point this season, which is tied with Miami for the season lead and is one shy of tying the franchise record for one-point wins in a season. 

In addition, Boston has won 10 games this season in which it fell behind by 12 or more points. 
 
Winning so many games under less-than-ideal circumstances has not only padded the Celtics' win total, but also reinforced this team with a Teflon-strong mindset. They believe they're tthe ultimate practitioner of basketball necromancy, consistently finding a way to rise up from the basketball graveyard of defeat and win in dramatic fashion.

Like they did Tuesday night against the Thunder.

How can you bank on Carmelo Anthony, a career 81.2 percent free-throw shooter, missing a pair with less than nine seconds to play?
 
Or botching the play Brad Stevens drew up at the end of the game -- "We kind of messed [it] up," said Jayson Tatum -- but, rather than it leading to a turnover, instead becoming a game-winning 3-pointer by Marcus Morris with 1.8 seconds to spare? 

MORE CELTICS

 It was another crazy ending in what has been a season filled with bizarre finishes, jaw-dropping rallies and a never-say-it’s-over brand of basketball that has kept Celtics fans on the edge of their seats all season.
 
“It’s great to be in a situation where you’re down six with under a minute to play or whatever it was, and you find a way to win the game,” said Stevens. “That’s going to be pretty unique, but they just kept playing the next possession and we were fortunate that that shot went down. That was a heck of a shot by Marcus."
 
A heck of a shot?
 
Absolutely.
 
But in this bizarro world of Celtics basketball this season, it was predictable as the Thunder became yet another team to play Boston and leave wondering the same thing most Celtics fans do … “Did THAT just happen?

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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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