Celtics

Celtics-Bucks preview: Regrouped C's want a different ending

Celtics-Bucks preview: Regrouped C's want a different ending

MILWAUKEE – It was only last week that the Celtics faced the Milwaukee Bucks at the TD Garden, a game that's remembered more for what happened the night before in Cleveland when Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury than the outcome, a 108-100 Celtics loss.

But tonight features a different Celtics team, one that comes in with a better focus than what we saw in the eight-point loss to Milwaukee. 

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Boston was less than 24 hours removed from Gordon Hayward’s season-ending injury, one that left saw them still in a state of shock.
 
That’s why tonight’s game between the Celtics and the Bucks would be a greater barometer as to where each stands in the race to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Bucks coach Jason Kidd has his team off to a 3-1 start, but he knows the Celtics team that his squad faced last week was in a very different state of mind than the confident bunch that has won its past two. 
 
“They’re going to be a little bit different team just because of what took place with Hayward and the injury there,” Kidd said. “They have some young, talented players over there playing at a high level.”
 
Jaylen Brown turned 21 on Tuesday and celebrated it with a 110-89 win over the New York Knicks in which he finished with a career-high 23 points. Also, rookie Jayson Tatum had a big game as well before finishing with a career-high 22 points.
 
And then there’s Kyrie Irving, a player Kidd has made no secret about being concerned with trying to limit his impact.
 
“Kyrie is one of the best players on the planet,” Kidd said. “And so, again, they’re playing well. They understand their roles. They were in shock that first time, after that injury.”

Hayward’s injury aside, the Celtics (2-2) know any shot they have at winning will hinge in some part on how well they defend the league’s top scorer, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
 
He comes into tonight’s game average a league-best 36.8 points per game and is seeking to score 30 or more points for the fifth game in a row.
 
Only one Bucks player (Marques Johnson) has ever had more than four consecutive games with 30 or more points scored.
 
Look for the Celtics to throw a number of different players defensively at Antetokounmpo, including Al Horford who has done an exceptional job defensively thus far despite being called upon to defend perimeter-oriented big men such as Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, to the powerful types like Sixers center Joel Embiid, to New York’s Kristaps Porzingis.
 
Despite having to try and limit players with an assortment of skills and strengths, Horford has managed to do more than just hold his own.
 
More often than not thus far this season, he has come out ahead which is evident him having a defensive rating of 93.3, which is tops among all Celtics who averaged at least 10 minutes played per game.
 
“A lot of names get thrown around, rightfully so, in the defensive talk around the league,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “There’s a lot of really good defenders but Al’s right up there, and doesn’t always get mentioned and that’s okay with Al. He’s okay with just contributing to winning whether he gets talked about or not.”
 

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

Danny Ainge has established a good track record of getting the best player available

The last couple of years have answered the question of whether Danny Ainge can draft. When making his first choice in 2016 and 2017, he was higher on his guy than most. In both cases, he was right. 

No major publication considered Jayson Tatum the best player last year; Ainge would have taken him No. 1 but was able to trade down because the Sixers were trading up for Markelle Fultz and the Lakers for some reason wanted to sign up for the Lonzo Ball life.

Jaylen Brown at No. 3 in 2016? You remember the boos, and you can understand why they happened. Fans were confused. If they'd been checking nbadraft.net like we all did, they expected him to be the ninth pick. 

Yet in both cases, Ainge and Co. were clearly right. Holding a high pick with no consensus option awaiting him, they wound up with the best player available. 

What's more impressive is that they've also done it later in the draft, and the further down the board you go to make your first pick, the easier it is to take a guy who won't amount to anything, let alone prove to be the best possible selection. 

That's what the Celtics did three years ago with Terry Rozier at No. 16. At the time, Bleacher Report Senior NBA writer Howard Beck deemed that selection the "biggest reach" of the draft; at the very least, the Celtics were heavily criticized for taking him where they did.

Go look at that draft and the players who were selected after Rozier. Would you rather any of those guys over Rozier? Maybe Josh Richardson? Maybe? Probably not, though? 

Now, here's where we need to note that the 2015 draft, for as good as it looks now for the Celtics, could have greatly derailed what's been an excellent rebuild. As the legend goes, Ainge intended to trade a whole lot to get from No. 16 to No. 9 in order to select Justise Winslow, who just had a worse third NBA season than Rozier. 

How badly did Ainge want to move up? According to ESPN's Chris Forsberg that summer, Ainge offered Charlotte "as many as six draft picks, including four potential first-round selections," only to have the deal rejected. Keep in mind that the Celtics still had three Brooklyn picks (which would turn into Brown, Tatum and Kyrie Irving) at that point. 

At any rate, the basketball gods saved Ainge from himself and he followed it up by making the right selection. The latter has happened three straight years now. 

Before that, the Celtics looked more human at the draft. Using 2010 as the cutoff (they didn't have a first-round pick in 2009, so 2010 seemed like a good place to keep it semi-recent), the Celtics have had their fair share of not-quite-misses-but-not-quite-home-runs. The Marcus Smart pick (No. 6 overall in 2014) could have been better spent on Dario Saric. Jared Sullinger (21st overall in 2012) could have instead been Draymond Green (No. 35). Three picks after the Celtics took JaJuan Johnson at 27 (via New Jersey), the Bulls took Jimmy Butler.

Of course, there's no more devastating "what if?" to play than looking back at 2013, when the Celtics got Kelly Olynyk at No. 13 (via Dallas), only to later learn they'd passed on the best player in that draft (Giannis Antetokounmpo). 

Yet that three-year run on not getting the best player has been sandwiched by stronger drafting. In 2010, the C's' selection over Avery Bradley at No. 19 proved to be the best pick they could have made. 

The Celtics are slotted to pick at No. 27 Thursday, a spot that promises very little, though they've got more than enough ammunition to move up. Even if they get whoever proves to be the best NBA player of the guys on the board, there's no promise that said player will have much of an NBA career. Their last three top picks have shown that if they do jump up, they'll get the right guy. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: What's the ideal draft night for the Celtics?

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: What's the ideal draft night for the Celtics?

1:26 - With the NBA Draft finally here, it’s still a mystery exactly what Danny Ainge's Celtics are going to do, whether it’s trade up or stand pat with the 27th overall pick. A. Sherrod Blakely reveals his pipe dream for the draft as well as his top five players the C’s could realistically end up taking at 27.

6:27 - Tom Curran, Michael Holley and Danielle Trotta debate if Eric Decker would be a good fit in New England after the veteran receiver said that he’d love to play for the Patriots.

9:26 - We went to you the fans in a Twitter poll to get the scoop on who is the most entertaining team in Boston and Tom Curran and Michael Holley discuss the results.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE