For a change, the Celtics make it a little easier on themselves

For a change, the Celtics make it a little easier on themselves

BOSTON — Celtics guard Kyrie Irving knew his presence had been requested for a walk-off interview that would detail his game-winning layup in the closing seconds of Friday’s triumph over the Indiana Pacers but, before he obliged, he stood near the end of the Boston bench for a moment congratulating teammates as they headed for the locker room. 

Finally, he started towards the camera before spotting a couple more teammates making their way from the other end of the floor. Again, Irving rushed over to dap them up before finally launching into his interview.

It was clear that this one felt good for Irving and the Celtics.

And that should be your big takeaway from Boston's 114-112 win over the Pacers: The Celtics won a high-stakes game with a playoff-like feel against a quality opponent they’ll see a LOT of the new four weeks, all while putting themselves in the rare position to actually make their lives a teeny tiny bit easier in the postseason.

It was far from perfect but, much like in the playoffs, a win is a win is a win. This was one of those gotta-have-it type games that the Celtics haven’t always shown up for this season. And, after trading haymakers with these gritty-as-hell Pacers, coach Brad Stevens put the ball in Irving’s hands in the final seconds and let him win it.

“Kind of like a pre-feel-out game, if you want to call it for the playoffs, but homecourt advantage was at stake and, I know we see them again one more time, so we’ll see how that goes and just keep on getting better for the rest of the regular season,” said Irving, who scored a game-high 30 points on 11-of-22 shooting. 

Irving didn’t have a particularly crisp fourth quarter but it was obvious where the ball was going in the closing seconds. He took a handoff from Al Horford near a crowded sideline and still managed to waltz to the rim, the threat of a kick out preventing the Pacers from truly clogging his way.

“We just wanted to give him space on that side of the floor and let him be him,” said Stevens.

Sometimes it’s that simple. Though nothing about the previous 47 minutes, 59.5 seconds was particularly easy. The Celtics jumped out to an early lead then, keeping with 2018-19 team policy, they let the Pacers right back in the game.

Indiana would surge ahead a few times in the second half in a game that featured six lead changes and 10 ties. Boston nearly coughed the game up when the Pacers blitzed an Irving handoff in a tied game with 38 seconds to go. The ball rolled free and Indiana couldn’t quite corral it quick enough, forcing Nate McMillan to call a timeout with 27 seconds to go. 

Darren Collison’s pull-up over Irving was a little long and Jaylen Brown hauled in the rebound, allowing Stevens to draw up the final sequence.

“We just had to be resilient,” said Irving. "They do a great job mucking up the game. …  We did a great job tonight of just playing with that pace and playing with that physicality to match theirs.”

The Celtics got more good returns from the Al Horford/Aron Baynes two-big starting lineup that they’ll likely lean heavily on when able in this playoff matchup. Boston’s starting 5 of Irving-Horford-Baynes-Jayson Tatum-Marcus Smart owned a net rating of plus-51.7 in 13 minutes together. That included a defensive rating of 86.2. Those are absurdly good numbers.

The Baynes/Horford two-man combo had a defensive rating of 90.7 over 19 minutes. Over the last two games, that combo has a plus-14.4 net rating with a defensive rating of 92.6 over 38 minutes. 

Said Horford: “[Baynes] makes a big difference for us.”

What’s wild is that a week ago, we were all sitting here wondering if Baynes might be able to return for Round 2 of the postseason, assuming Boston got that far, after he suffered what the team initially termed a Grade 2 ankle sprain in Philadelphia.

Instead, Baynes’ ankle magically healed — he missed just one game — and on Friday night he logged a season-high 33 minutes while putting up his first double-double of the year (13 points, 13 rebounds). He thanked Boston’s medical staff for keeping him upright. 

Who knew Baynes would emerge as the Celtics’ savior? For a Celtics team that’s defense had eroded wildly over the past two months, a healthy Baynes has made a world of a difference. Still, in a league that loves small ball, the Celtics won’t always be able to lean on the Horford/Baynes pairing but Stevens has pledged to deploy it when able.

These small glimpses of what’s effective might be more meaningful than the wins and losses, though there’s little disputing the benefit of the win. The Celtics put themselves in the driver’s seat to secure the fourth seed, pulling even with Indy in the standings, while taking a 2-1 series lead (that maddening late-game loss in Indy in November biting them a bit now) with a final head-to-head meeting looming next week at their place.

If the Celtics simply keep pace with Indy and win that final meeting, they will earn the No. 4 seed and homecourt advantage in the first round. Boston must balance that quest with a persistent desire to rest bodies, particularly with a quick turnaround with Saturday’s back-to-back in Brooklyn.

Maybe home court should matter after what we saw Friday. The Pacers are going to be scrappy and make Boston work. The absence of Victor Oladipo looms large and should seemingly keep the Celtics as favorites in the series regardless of location but, well, every little bit helps.

Especially for a Celtics team that has made everything difficult for itself. It did the same thing Friday but, this time around, they made sure it didn’t get away from them in the end. Progress!

That was a quality win, regardless of aesthetics. The sort of win they can cling to and draw from in a postseason rematch. There are still many strides to be made to be the sort of contender they were billed to be entering the season but the fact remains: This time of year, a win is a win is a win.

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Basketball Hall of Fame's 2020 induction ceremony moved to 2021 due to COVID-19

Basketball Hall of Fame's 2020 induction ceremony moved to 2021 due to COVID-19

The Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame typically inducts its new class every August, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year's ceremony will be pushed back to next year.

The Hall of Fame's board of governors chairman, Jerry Colangelo, confirmed the news to ESPN's Jackie MacMullan.

Here's more from MacMullan: 

Colangelo said the original dates of enshrinement weekend, Aug. 28-30, and the proposed alternate dates of Oct. 10-12, are "just not feasible" in light of the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 in the U.S. and has rendered large gatherings taboo. The board of governors will convene on June 10, he said, to explore spring dates.

Colangelo also noted the 2020 and 2021 Hall of Fame classes will have their own induction ceremonies.

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"We won't be combining them," Colangelo told MacMullan. "The Class of 2020 is a very special class and deserves its own celebration."

He's definitely right about the 2020 class. It's a particularly special one, mostly because of the NBA legends who were voted to be inducted.

The class is headlined by Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett and the late Kobe Bryant. It's arguably the greatest Hall of Fame class in history, one that includes three of the top 15 to 20 players of all-time who combined to win 11 NBA championships and four league MVP awards.

While it's disappointing that fans will have to wait until next year to see the 2020 class enter the Hall of Fame, delaying the ceremony absolutely is the right decision to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Have Danny Ainge's NBA Draft day trades worked out for Celtics?

Have Danny Ainge's NBA Draft day trades worked out for Celtics?

Another NBA draft, another bevy of first-round picks for the Boston Celtics. Been there, done that, I know. 

If the NBA draft were today, the Celtics would be on the clock three times with picks No. 17, No. 26 and No. 30.

Having so many first-round picks seems like a good thing, right?

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Not so much when your roster already has a large share of players relatively new to the NBA like the Celtics. 

More than half of the Celtics current roster (eight players) are still on their rookie deals, and that doesn’t include two-way players Tremont Waters and Tacko Fall. That’s why the likelihood of Boston trading at least one of their three first-round picks this year seems very likely. 

And while trading first-round picks is always on the Danny Ainge à la carte menu of draft-day options, the results have been mixed in recent years.


The Celtics traded the No. 20 pick (Matisse Thybulle) to Philadelphia in exchange for two picks: No. 24 (used to select Ty Jerome) and No. 33 (Carsen Edwards). 

Jerome was immediately shipped out to Phoenix as part of the trade package which also sent Aron Baynes to the Suns. So this trade was essentially Thybulle for Edwards.

It’s still early, but Thybulle has been the best player involved in this trade. 

He has elite, All-NBA defensive potential, the kind of player who would have formed a hellacious backcourt defensively if you paired him up with Marcus Smart. 

NBA.com stats show that Thybulle limited opponents to just 37.4 percent on shots at least 15 feet from the rim. 

To put that in perspective, Smart, who was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive First Team last season, held opponents to 38.4 percent shooting from 15 or more feet away from the rim. 

Meanwhile, Jerome and Edwards played limited minutes and struggled for the most part when they got on the floor. 


The Boston Celtics finally got the number one overall pick in the draft … only to trade it away!

Boston traded the top overall pick (Markelle Fultz) to the Sixers in exchange for moving down two spots to select Jayson Tatum along with adding a future first-round pick that was used in 2019 to select Romeo Langford. 

While not much time has passed since this draft went down, it has clearly been one that the Celtics won by a decisive margin. 

And remember, the Celtics didn’t have to be bad in order to wind up with the top overall pick.

It was part of the team’s blockbuster deal in 2013 with Brooklyn that allowed the Celtics the right to swap first-round picks in 2017. 

The 22-year-old Tatum is already an All-Star, displaying the kind of game that will soon have him in the league MVP conversation based upon the rate at which his game has been improving. 

He is averaging a team-best 23.6 points per game this season, along with 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.4 steals — all career highs for the third-year forward. 

Not only has Fultz not played anywhere close to the level of Tatum, but Philly’s top pick in 2017 has already been moved on to another team after being acquired via trade by Orlando. 

Fultz has fared better with the Magic with career highs this season in points per game (12.1), assists (5.2) and shooting (47.3 percent). 

But his improved play still lags behind the overall impact made by Tatum. 

As for Langford, he saw limited time as a rookie primarily because of injuries. But as the season progressed, Langford’s defense earned him increased playing time and maybe just as important, more trust from head coach Brad Stevens. He has appeared in 26 games while averaging 2.6 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. 

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When the Boston Celtics moved up three spots to the No. 13 spot via trade while sending the No. 16 pick to the Dallas Mavericks, there was some talk that the move was being made to make a run at Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Instead, the Celtics picked Kelly Olynyk while Antetokounmpo, now the reigning league MVP, was Milwaukee’s pick at No. 15 — one spot before Boston’s slot prior to flipping picks with the Mavericks.

The Mavericks used the 16th overall pick from Boston to acquire Lucas Noguiera, who wound up being traded by Dallas to Atlanta (Dallas was focused on creating additional cap space by flipping the pick), before eventually landing in Toronto where he played four seasons. The 7-foot Brazilian center has returned to playing internationally, having not been on an NBA roster since 2018.

Boston was among the teams that whiffed on taking Antetokounmpo, obviously. 

But considering who the Celtics made the trade with to acquire Olynyk, this would qualify as a trade that worked out better for Boston than their trading partner. 


Coming off a second-round playoff loss to the Miami Heat, the Celtics looked very much like a veteran team in desperate need of an influx of young talent — particularly in the frontcourt.

Picking near the end of the first round, the Celtics swapped the No. 25 pick (MarShon Brooks from nearby Providence College) for Brooklyn’s No. 27 selection which was used on JaJuan Johnson. 

This trade didn’t work out for either team, although Brooks enjoyed a much more fruitful NBA career. 

Making matters worse, the Celtics were one of the many teams that whiffed on Jimmy Butler in this draft, as the five-time All-Star wound up being selected by Chicago with the 30th overall pick of the first round. 

Johnson played just 36 games in the NBA, all with Boston, before being traded to Houston (and waived before the start of the 2012-2013 season) as part of a three-team trade.

The 6-foot-10 forward has spent the bulk of his career playing internationally with his most recent stint coming with Bahçeşehir Koleji of the Turkish Super Basketball League. 

Brooks has played five seasons in the NBA for five different teams, including a 10-game stint with the Celtics. 

After averaging a career-high 12.6 points per game as a rookie with the Nets, Brooks struggled to latch on with any team beyond a season or so before ultimately taking his talents overseas. 

Like Johnson, his best years professionally have come while playing internationally. He spent this past season with the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association.