Celtics

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

Curran: Why do Celtics want a player who quit on his team?

It’s in Danny Ainge’s DNA to be in on everybody at every moment.

And because he’s willing to constantly tinker, barter, wheedle and maneuver, the Celtics will likely enter the 2018-19 season as odds-on favorites to be the best team in the Eastern Conference.

But there comes a time when you have to stop flip, flip, flipping your houses. Just settle in and live in one for a while. The Celtics owe it to themselves to allow the team Ainge and Brad Stevens conjured from relative dust to play together.

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Especially when it comes to Kawhi Leonard.

The lion’s share of the local conversation surrounding Leonard since it came out Friday that he wants to be traded and no longer wants to be a “Spur for life”  has revolved around what he can do for the Celtics and what Boston should give up to get him.

He’s a “top-five player.” He’s a “Durant stopper.” The Celtics have more than enough to go get him.

He also just quit on his team, has a year left on his contract before he can flee, and purportedly wants to play in Los Angeles.

I don’t get it. How does a guy go on wildcat strike for almost an entire season, never even attempt to publicly explain what his particular problem was, and still have that messy little detail brushed away like it isn’t a red flag?

Our guy Sherrod Blakely is one of those saying caveat emptor when it comes to Kawhi, but with the draft bearing down and the fact the Celtics reportedly had Kawhi interest back at the trade deadline, we are going to hear more and more spitballing about why adding him is a great idea!

All we have are intimations of what went sideways for Leonard in San Antonio. The quadriceps tendinopathy that limited him to nine games is just the root of the problem. The Spurs dodged, ducked and parried the issue all year. Leonard eventually went to get a second opinion in February. He’s pissed at Spurs GM RC Buford. He’s pissed at the medical staff. He’s all set with his Spurs teammates who tried to convince him in March to rejoin the team during a players-only meeting.

It may all just boil down to Leonard deciding he was going to protect his No. 1 asset -- his body -- as he approaches free agency after next season. That’s no sin. You don’t have to look any further than the case of Isaiah Thomas and his hip injury for a cautionary tale about playing through pain and the massive financial loss that decision can lead to.

But if you’re going to make the decision to sit and collect your paycheck while your teammates are thinking you’ve deserted them and not say anything to explain, then you have to accept that you’re going to forfeit trust.

Which is what Charles Barkley said this week. “I blame Kawhi for a lot of his stuff,” Barkley told ESPN. “If he wants to leave, he’s got to come out and say he wants to leave. . . If he wants to leave, just say, ‘Hey, I’ve had enough of San Antonio’, don’t use the doctor's excuse . . . I think that is cowardly using the doctor's excuse. He is upset at the Spurs’ misdiagnosis . . . 

“Do you think the Spurs doctors really wanted to make a mistake on arguably the second- or third-best player in the world?” Barkley asked. “They might have screwed up, I don’t know the answer to that question. But the notion that they tried to do this and alienate one of the two or three best players in the world is laughable.”

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Aside from not knowing when (or if) Leonard is going to be willing to play again are the factors that exist in Boston.

Their best player, Kyrie Irving, is up at the end of next season. If Kyrie isn’t involved in a deal to land Leonard then the Celtics are looking at a scenario where they could potentially lose both players after next season. And they will have given up a huge asset (the Kings pick in next year’s draft, Jaylen Brown, etc.) for the privilege of leasing Leonard who, it’s been reported, just wants to get to LA. At that point, maybe Irving looks around and sees a Celtics team that doesn’t have near the upside it did just a year earlier.

Any team that puts together a package for Leonard will be flirting with the unknown. And it’s naïve to think plenty of teams aren’t going to shrug and say, “Who cares? It’s Kawhi Leonard. Two-time Defensive Player of the Year. This is a player you bet on.”

Those teams that don’t have as much to lose as the Celtics. Boston can’t afford to be wrong on Kawhi Leonard. 

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Gordon Hayward punctuates his return home with a sweep of Pacers

Gordon Hayward punctuates his return home with a sweep of Pacers

INDIANAPOLIS -- Before tip-off, Gordon Hayward had a chance to spend some time with his wife Robyn and their daughters who were happy both with seeing daddy play and the chocolate bunnies they received for Easter. 

They were just a small part of the large caravan of family, friends and supporters in the building for Hayward, dating back to his time as a basketball/tennis star at Brownsburg (Ind.) High School which is just a half hour drive down Interstate-65 to the Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. 

Hayward was home in every sense of the word on Sunday, and that comfort level on the basketball floor would prove to be just what the Celtics needed to pull away from the Indiana Pacers and put this series on ice in what turned out to be just the sixth sweep of a seven game series in franchise history. 

It was Hayward leading the charge for Boston which pulled away in the second half for a 110-106 Game 4 win.

He would lead the Celtics with 20 points off the bench, doing so on a ridiculously efficient 7-for-9 shooting which also factored into him having a team-best plus/minus of +13. 

“This is his city,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “And I’m glad he had the chance to put on a performance like that in a close-out game.”

But it wasn’t just the shot-making by Hayward that stood out. 

He played with a heightened level of aggressiveness that gave the Pacers fits, whether it was driving to the basket for a dunk, using his dribble-drive game to create space for a mid-range jumper, passing to a teammate who was open due to the attention he or Kyrie Irving were drawing, or him just being physical with Indiana’s players defensively. 

It was the kind of performance that the Celtics have felt Hayward was more than capable of having prior to him suffering a season-ending injury in 2017.

The road back from that injury has been a rocky one filled with ups and downs along with trials, tribulations and triumphs.

But on a night like this, one in which the Celtics got out of the first round of the playoffs for the fourth straight season, all of those long days and nights for Hayward not knowing when if at all he would resemble his pre-injury self, paid off when it mattered. 

“It’s been a long process to get back to where he probably feels as good as he does now,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens who also coached Hayward at nearby Butler University. “And we knew that going in, 20, 40, 60, 80 (games) … every 20 games is going to be a little bit better.”

And while he has had higher scoring games as a Celtic, you would be hard-pressed to find one with the stakes as high as they were on Sunday and him delivering the way that he did all game.

Hayward was particularly good in the latter stages of the game, scoring nine of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.

“He was big at the end of the game tonight, for sure,” Stevens said. 

Actually, Hayward’s performance was a reminder of sorts as to what he delivered shooting-wise in the latter stages of the regular season. 

In the month of February, Hayward averaged 11.9 points while shooting 51.3 percent from the field. 

Pretty good … until March rolled around and he kept his scoring average steady (11.8 points per game) but improved his shot-making by connecting on 55.6 percent of his shots, only to be outdone by April when he resembled all-star Gordon Hayward by averaging 18.3 points while drained 65.0 percent of his shot attempts.

On the rise, indeed.

And that work on Hayward’s part towards improvement reached its zenith on Sunday with the 29-year-old coming through in a big way on the biggest stage of the season. 

The fact that he did so in front of so many family, friends and supporters was not lost on Hayward.

But the game was particularly special to Hayward because he was able to share that moment with his wife and their daughters. 

“Seeing them before the game … was amazing,” said a beaming Hayward after the Celtics win. “I know that they don’t necessarily know what’s going on. They probably don’t care that we swept the Pacers. They were happy they got some chocolate bunnies this morning and they got a chance to see me out on the court.”

Indeed, Hayward was home in every sense of the word. 

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Round 2, here come the Celtics

Round 2, here come the Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS -- As fans made their way into BankersLife Field House, some came wearing summery shirts with flamingos and palm trees.

It would be in many ways a sign of what was to come as the Boston Celtics sent the Pacers vacationing for the summer with a 110-106 win.

The Celtics swept the first-round series against the Pacers, becoming the first team this season to advance to the next round of the playoffs.

And by doing it in just four games, this Celtics team became only the sixth in franchise history to pull off a sweep in a best-of-seven series, and the first under sixth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Boston could not have begun the game any better, scoring the game’s first eight points before Pacers head coach Nate McMillan had seen enough and called a time-out.

During the time-out, the Jumbotron showed Indiana all-star Victor Oladipo who suffered a season-ending injury in January.

The time-out, his presence, it doesn’t matter.

Moments after the Jumbotron sighting, Indiana came out and played better and eventually did enough damage to lead 23-21 after the first quarter.

But the second quarter looked eerily similar to the first as Boston opened with an 8-2 run only for the Pacers to come back and eventually take a slim 49-47 lead into the half.

As the two teams went back and forth, there was an undeniable flatness about the usually-vocal Pacers fans who had the kind of energy you expect in a preseason game and not a playoff one.

The second half saw the Pacers faithful come alive as their team opened the quarter by scoring five of the quarter’s first seven points.

But the Celtics, as we’ve seen time and time again in this series, put together a strong third quarter to go into the fourth ahead 73-72 following a pair of free throws by Marcus Morris.

The fourth quarter saw the Celtics make just enough plays to escape with the win and with it, move on to the next round of the playoffs while the Pacers as well as their flamingo, palm tree-wearing fans are now officially on vacation.

Here are the standouts in Game 4 of the Boston-Indiana first-round series.

MVP

Gordon Hayward: He played with a steady level of aggression that we had not seen at any point in this series. There were drives to the basket, aggressive play defensively and overall, Hayward doing a lot of little things that really stood out. He was Boston’s go-to guy when it mattered most in the fourth quarter as he finished with 20 points on 7-for-9 shooting.

MOST IMPROVED

Terry Rozier: This has been a tough series for Rozier, who came into Game 4 shooting 5-for-18 from the field and 3-for-11 on 3’s. On Sunday, Rozier tallied 11 points while connecting on 4-for-6 shooting from the field.

Al Horford: He had a double-double game for Boston, but they can’t afford to have him struggle like this in the next round when he has so many open to lightly contested shots. Still, Horford made a number of key plays whether it was defense or passing in the second half that would play a role in Boston getting the win, finishing with 14 points, 12 rebounds and five assists.

SIXTH MEN

Domantas Sabonis: Other than an occasional tug on Marcus Morris’ shorts or a nudging of Terry Rozier into a Pacers shooter to create a foul, Sabonis played a clean, hard-fought, well-played game before finishing with 14 points and eight rebounds.

Marcus Morris: He closed out the series similar to how it began - knocking down big shots. Morris would finish with a near double-double of 18 points and eight rebounds.

MR. NOT-SO-GREAT

Wes Matthews: It’s never good when a guy brought in to help with shooting, goes 1-for-7 in the biggest game of the season. But that was indeed the stat line on Wes Matthews which included him missing four of his five shots from 3-point range.

TURNING POINT

With Indiana ahead 82-81, the Celtics force a turnover as Terry Rozier gets the ball up court and into the hands of Jayson Tatum for a likely dunk. Indiana’s Corey Joseph, trailing on the play, fouls Tatum with the contact that included a blow to the head resulting in a Flagrant-1 penalty. Boston would not trail for the remainder of the game.

UP NEXT: The Celtics move on to face the winner of the Milwaukee-Detroit series which the Bucks lead 3-0.

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