Celtics

Celtics Mailbag: Resetting expectations and the importance of seeding

Celtics Mailbag: Resetting expectations and the importance of seeding

The Boston Celtics had their seven-game winning streak snapped Tuesday night in Houston during an eyesore of a game filled with whistles and free throws.

In the bigger picture, the Celtics remain on a 57-win pace and are positioned to challenge the Raptors for the coveted No. 2 spot in the Eastern Conference — assuming Toronto ever loses again. 

We start this week’s Celtics Mailbag by resetting expectations for Boston’s hoopsters with nearly two-thirds of the season in the rearview mirror and the All-Star break approaching.

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Earlier in the season, it felt like the Celtics' bar was set at the conference semifinals. Lately it seems more like conference finals, if not the NBA Finals. Do games like Tuesday’s loss in Houston change that?

We’ll dive a little deeper into that Rockets mess later, but let’s just say that we look at that contest a lot like opening night in Philadelphia in the sense that it was much too jagged of a game to truly pull any hard conclusions. 

Zoom out, and the Celtics rank fifth in the NBA in offensive rating and third in defensive rating 53 games into the 2019-20 season. Boston is third in both net rating (plus-6.8) and point differential (plus-6.9), trailing only the conference-leading Bucks and Lakers in both categories. 

ESPN’s Basketball Power Index ranks Boston fourth overall, and behind only the Bucks in the East. That computer model gives Boston a 37 percent chance of making the East finals and a 9.4 percent chance of making the NBA Finals.

Essentially, despite all their injuries, the Celtics project as a legitimate contender out of the East. Despite only scratching the surface of their potential, Boston lingers among the league’s elite.

Much of Boston’s postseason success, however, could ultimately hinge on seeding.

If the playoffs started Wednesday, Boston would be the No. 3 in the East and draw a first-round matchup with an Indiana team that could be especially dangerous once Victor Oladipo shakes his rust and the Pacers start playing to their own potential.

Even a first-round victory would still send Boston to Toronto for a second-round matchup against the defending champs, who are currently riding a 15-game wining streak. That’s a daunting path just to get to the East finals, where a potentially 70+ win Bucks team could be waiting.

All of which makes Boston's final 29 games of the season particularly important. Not only do the Celtics need a good run of health to identify roles and figure out how their pieces work best together, they'll also be jockeying for seeding. 

Boston currently sits 2.5 games behind No .2 seed Toronto and two games ahead of No. 4 seed Miami. BPI projections have the Raptors finishing second in the East but the Heat a distant fourth, though it's fair to wonder if their trade deadline activity could help push their win total a little higher.

Working against Boston: The Celtics have the eighth-hardest remaining schedule in the NBA. The Raptors have the 20th-hardest, while the Heat have the 28th-hardest.

A trip to Toronto in late March and a couple games versus Miami in April will go a long way to sorting out the seeding, and that could go a long way towards deciding how the East shakes out.

Now, to the mailbag.

THE ROCKETS GAME 

I would have preferred to not watch players shoot free throws for three hours. — @Jate57

Thank goodness I only have to watch them play the Rockets one more time this year. — @BSolomonsHood

I usually roll my eyes when people complain about watching the Rockets, but Tuesday night was BRUTAL. We’re admittedly curious to see if Houston’s super-small-ball approach is sustainable — we think it is in the regular season but are less bullish about the playoffs — but if it means watching James Harden and Russell Westbrook live at the charity stripe, we’ll be content to monitor this experiment from the postgame box score.

Refs were never gonna let Boston win that game … period. — @KG10247201

It’s too easy to look at a 42-25 disparity in free throws and suggest the referees dictated this game. We’d make the case that Boston’s putrid half-court offense hindered this team far more than the whistles. So did the team’s propensity for biting on pump fakes and stumbling into shooters.

The Celtics actually got a fair amount of fourth-quarter whistles and nearly fouled out Harden but he’d already done his damage during that third-quarter scoring barrage. The Rockets shot 28.9 percent beyond the 3-point arc and the Celtics bailed them out with their fouling ways. Yes, some calls were ticky-tack and we get Marcus Smart’s frustrations, but the Celtics rank 24th in the NBA in opponent free-throw attempt rate so this isn’t a one-off issue.

Why do we keep playing guys that are not 100% healthy and then watch them re-injure themselves? — @cabdulmassih

We can’t sit here and lament Boston never having all of its horses and then stomp our feet when guys try to tough it out. Brown looked plenty spry knocking down a barrage of corner 3s that helped the Celtics hang around. What’s more, the calf bruise he suffered late wasn’t connected to his ankle ailments. That said, the All-Star break undoubtedly will be helpful in letting many of these bumps and bruises heal. 

THE BUYOUT MARKET

Just heard your soundbite on Felger and Mazz and I want whatever drugs you're on. Come on, dude, to say that the Celtics couldn’t get Marvin Williams because of Vincent Poirier's roster spot is so ridiculous. — @Aperez8261

Are you an idiot? We couldn’t get Marvin Williams because we didn’t want to part with Carsen Edwards or Poirier? What a joke! Felger is right about Danny Ainge, and all of you who cover the team. God forbid we get rid of those suck bags. Keep drinking the green Kool-Aid, you moron. — @ogduckboy

Twitter has to be the only place where you can routinely start a conversation with a stranger with, “Are you an idiot?” A couple of things this idiot would note:

1) I didn’t hear the bite they played but I’m guessing it’s from the conversation we had Monday on Boston Sports Tonight, when I was asked who the Celtics would most likely waive if they desired to add a buyout player. While identifying Poirier and Edwards as likely candidates, I made the point that you'd better be convinced that the player you’re adding is going to be part of your rotation before you go giving up on young players. We fully admit  the jury is still very much out on what Edwards or Poirier will develop into, but if you’re going to trash all the time and energy you’ve already invested, you should at least make sure the rental player you add is going to contribute. We were fully on board with moving a depth piece at the deadline to add to this bench so we are far from anti-buyout -- but only if it’s for an impact pickup.

2) Marvin Williams chose to the go to the Bucks because Milwaukee might win 70+ games and is the clear favorite in the East. He went to Milwaukee despite Kemba Walker’s recruitment. His decision had nothing to do with Boston’s willingness to cut from the end of their roster and had everything to do with wanting to play for a surefire contender.

EVERYTHING ELSE

Why hasn’t anyone told Tatum that he needs to shave?  The worst looking beard in the NBA. — @peteroneilma

Woah, woah. There’s some terrible facial hair in the NBA. The poor guy just got his beard to connect this summer. Can we let him grow it out a bit and figure out what’s next? I’m guessing he’ll be plenty cleaned up for his closeups at All-Star weekend.

Brad Wanamaker reminds me of Eddie House. — @priley212

Wanamaker is to transition buckets what House was to open 3-pointers. But steady bench players are always a luxury, particularly given the youth at the end of Boston’s roster.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Clippers-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Why is Gordon Hayward not participating in players' NBA 2K tournament?

Why is Gordon Hayward not participating in players' NBA 2K tournament?

When a report surfaced Monday night that the NBA is launching an NBA 2K tournament pitting players against each other, Boston Celtics fans all had the same thought:

Gordon Hayward isn't just going to participate in this. He's going to dominate it.

The Celtics forward, after all, is probably the NBA's most avid video gamer, with his own sponsor (HyperX Gaming) and numerous blog posts about his love for gaming .

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But when ESPN's "The Boardroom" revealed the 16 players who will compete in the tournament Tuesday, Hayward was nowhere to be found.

What gives? Does No. 1 overall seed Kevin Durant have a vendetta against Hayward? Is Hayward too good to concern himself with these casual gamers?

In all likelihood, there's a simpler answer: Hayward doesn't really play 2K -- or any sports video game, for that matter.

Here's Hayward in a 2011 interview with ESPN:

"The one thing I've never been into are the sports games. I don't know, I just don't like playing those as much. I bought 'NBA 2K11' just to see myself. It was creepily similar and it's cool to say that you're in a video game, but I'm just not into it that much. I'm more into first-person shooters and real-time strategy games."

That's still the case today, apparently. Hayward lists seven "favorite games" on his HyperX Gaming page, and only one of them (FIFA) is sports-related: Fortnite, League of Legends, Overwatch, Hearthstone, FIFA, Destiny and Clash Royale.

In that context, it's obvious why Hayward wasn't one of the 16 competitors selected, especially considering how many other players are obsessed with 2K.

That said, we would have liked to see at least one Celtic make the cut here; after all, Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum both starred in a trailer for NBA 2K20 last August.

The tournament kicks off this Friday on ESPN, giving sports fans at least something to watch (aside from "Classic Celtics," of course) while the NBA is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Classic Celtics: Kemba Walker helps C's mount huge comeback vs. Bucks

Classic Celtics: Kemba Walker helps C's mount huge comeback vs. Bucks

Here's how much time flies: It was only about five months ago that Boston Celtics fans were really introduced to Kemba Walker.

NBC Sports Boston's "Classic Celtics" series (which featured Boston's 1986 playoff thriller against Michael Jordan's Bulls on Sunday) rolls on Wednesday with Walker's fourth game as a Celtic -- and it was an awesome one.

That Oct. 30, 2019, contest against the Bucks saw Walker drop 32 points in his second game at TD Garden, helping the Celtics storm back from a 19-point deficit to win 116-105 and hand Milwaukee one of its 12 losses on the season.

Our re-broadcast of Celtics-Bucks begins Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET, and longtime Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman will join Brian Scalabrine at points throughout the game to reminisce about Walker's epic performance.

Other reasons to watch:

- Walker scoring 13 of his 32 points in the fourth quarter as Boston rallied late to stun the Bucks.

- Jayson Tatum hitting a clutch 3-pointer late in the game -- and earning a high five from C's legend Paul Pierce on the sideline.

- Giannis Antetokounmpo racking up 22 points and 14 rebounds, but Boston admirably holding the Bucks star in check during the second half.

The action all starts at 7 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Boston. You can also watch the game in the MyTeams app and online at NBCSportsBoston.com.

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