Celtics

Celtics look to close gap on proven success, potential greatness

Celtics look to close gap on proven success, potential greatness

BOSTON -- There’s no debating how this season thus far has been one in which the Boston Celtics have come up short of both their own expectations as well as those outside of the locker room. 

Even the most optimistic Green Teamer, like co-owner Wyc Grousbeck, has acknowledged the gap that exists between their proven body of work and their potential

“I think the players that we have on the court have the capability of getting to the (NBA) Finals," Grousbeck said, via The Boston Globe. "We also have the capability of losing in the first round."

That is an amazingly wide gap, but it speaks to both the promise and uncertainty of these final days of the regular season and their value to a team like the Celtics who are in a three-team race for playoff spots 3, 4 or 5 with Boston (38-25) currently riding in the backseat in the fifth spot. 

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Friday’s 107-96 win over the Washington Wizards snapped a four-game losing skid as well as giving Boston its first post-All Star break win. 

And the positive steps taken in that game, Boston hopes to build upon tonight against a Houston Rockets club that is once again led by perennial league MVP contender James Harden. 

It would be easy to focus on the Rockets (37-25) and their four-game winning streak, the gradual return of Chris Paul from a season’s worth of injuries and all the challenges one of the top teams in the Western Conference present. 

But this game more than anything else, is about the Celtics and whether they can continue to rebound from a sluggish start, a so-so middle and close out the regular season with a flurry of success against some of the league’s better teams with the Rockets being among them. 

Indeed, Celtics players now find themselves finding a balance between closing out the regular season playing with a heightened sense of urgency, knowing that they’ll be starting from Ground Zero in a few weeks when the postseason starts. 

“It’s important to build habits now,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Everybody now is trying to put their best foot forward. Optimistically, we still feel we have a chance to do what we want to do, to be honest. I’m still on board with the ship. We just have to get it together, that’s it.”

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Of course that’s easier said than done, particularly when you look at the Celtics’ schedule which ranks among the more difficult ones in the NBA. 

According to tankathon.com, the Celtics have the 12th-toughest remaining schedule in the NBA.

That schedule includes upcoming games against Houston later today, followed by a four-game West coast trip against Golden State, Sacramento and both Los Angeles teams. 

Golden State and the Los Angeles Clippers are both teams in playoff position currently, while the Kings and the Lakers are just on the outside of the playoffs in the 9th and 10th spots in the standings, respectively. 

And while the talk of the Celtics’ struggles remains a dominant topic of discussion, Brown doesn’t see much value in discussing the matter at this point. 

“Everybody knows and everybody has seen the ups and downs and how we’ve struggled,” Brown said. “So I’m not going to speak on it.”

Instead, Brown and his Celtics understand that talk at this point is to be frank, pointless. 

Their ability to string together strong possessions and not prose, is what will ultimately give them the best shot at achieving the lofty goals they set for themselves at the start of the season. 

And while the potential for those dreams to become reality doesn’t present itself until the playoffs, there are several Celtics players who have recently pointed out that the foundation for being a great playoff team begins with how they close out these remaining 19 regular season games. 

“Like I was telling JT (Jayson Tatum), we can’t hit that switch when we get to the playoffs,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We need to hit that switch now. Have some camaraderie, some consistency going into the playoffs.”

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Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Classic Celtics: C's outlast Michael Jordan's Bulls in 1986 playoff thriller

Want to witness one of the greatest individual performances in NBA history? Just tune into NBC Sports Boston on Sunday night.

Our "Classic Celtics" series -- which featured Game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals on Friday night -- continues Sunday with a throwback: Game 2 of Boston's 1986 NBA playoffs first-round series with the Chicago Bulls.

That April 20, 1986, game at TD Garden was a defining moment for then-23-year-old Michael Jordan, who went off for an NBA postseason-record 63 points.

But Celtics fans can appreciate Jordan's masterful performance knowing that Boston outlasted Chicago 135-131 in double overtime and swept the series en route to an eventual NBA title.

The broadcast begins Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, and as an added bonus, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge -- who scored 24 points in this game while defending Jordan -- will join Brian Scalabrine to provide real-time commentary throughout the game.

Other reasons to watch:

- A vintage performance from Celtics star Larry Bird, who scored a team-high 36 points to go along with 12 rebounds and eight assists.

- The 1980s Celtics at their peak: Bird, Ainge, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Bill Walton all scored double figures.

- Jordan hitting two free throws in the final seconds of regulation to force the first overtime.

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NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

NBA Rumors: Execs expect Gordon Hayward to opt in to $34 million Celtics contract

Gordon Hayward was enjoying his best season as a Boston Celtic before the 2019-20 season came to a screeching halt due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Through 45 games, the 30-year-old forward was averaging 17.3 points, 6.5 rebounds and 4.1 assists while shooting 59.3 percent from the field. Hayward's performance was setting himself up for a solid contract if he were to opt out of his contract and hit free agency this summer.

That scenario doesn't appear likely, however.

According to Heavy.com, NBA executives expect Hayward to exercise his $34 million player option.

'It’s too much money to pass up,' one general manager told Heavy.com. 'He could get a longer deal if that is what he really wants. But I don’t think the Celtics want to give it to him, they have a lot of young guys to pay and the starting (salary) number on whatever the contract is will not be close to $34 million. He can opt in this year and then take a big contract next year. When you look at what he has done since his injury, he has only gotten better. He could get better next year and be ready for the summer of 2021.'

That doesn't exactly come as a surprise. Hayward may get a nice contract if he were to hit the open market this year, but it certainly wouldn't be anywhere near that eye-popping $34 million figure.

It makes far more sense for Hayward to take his money and test the market in 2021 if he and the Celtics don't agree on an extension before then. The 2021 free agent class will be much deeper, and teams will have more cap space to give Hayward a sizable long-term deal. That is, if he can duplicate the kind of success he's enjoyed so far this season.