Celtics

Marcus Morris intrigued by adding brother, doesn't want him on East rivals

Marcus Morris intrigued by adding brother, doesn't want him on East rivals

BOSTON — Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris is open to the idea of his twin brother, Markieff, filling Boston’s newly created roster vacancy if he’s bought out after being dealt to the New Orleans Pelicans before Thursday’s trade deadline.

But Morris also knows there might be better opportunities out there, and he's simply hopeful it’s not with an East rival. 

"Hopefully my brother don’t go to one of those places,” Morris said Thursday night after acknowledging how deadline moves bolstered East rivals Milwaukee, Toronto, and his native Philadelphia. 

“We still trying to figure out what he’s going to do. If he’s cleared [to return to play after a neck injury], then I’m definitely going to have the conversation with him. I’d rather him go to the West.”

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Would Morris lobby Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge to add his brother?

"Good question, man. It just dependent on how he feels, because I know he wants to play,” said Morris. "He’s a guy that can contribute 25 minutes per game in this league and we’re kinda -- we’re loaded. So I’m not really sure how that might play out, could be hard.”

But his brother would certainly choose family over opportunity, right?

"I hope he’s going to be happy wherever he goes, it’s good that he gets to choose where he wants to play, choose his future,” said Morris. “Whoever gets him is -- he’s been training very hard and he’s been getting ready. Whoever gets him is getting a seasoned vet, great player, great contributor to a team. I’m excited wherever he goes.”

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Morris is hoping he can break the news whenever that decision comes down.

"It’ll be exciting to see where he goes but, before [ESPN reporter Adrian Wojnarowski] and all them know, I’ll be the first to know,” Morris said to laughter. "Maybe I’ll leak it.”

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No simple fix for Celtics but clear something has to change

No simple fix for Celtics but clear something has to change

BOSTON — One of the more curious aspects of the Boston Celtics’ maddening 2018-19 season has been Brad Stevens’ penchant for letting his team play through its struggles.

That’s long been Stevens’ philosophy but it’s been amplified by Boston’s inconsistent ways, both in the micro (in-game, when opponents go on big runs) and macro (sticking with lineups, rotations despite underwhelming recent returns). 

It reflects the unwavering confidence that Stevens has in his players but, in the absence of results, it’s fair to wonder if this team simply needs a shorter leash than those past teams that Stevens could let fight through what ailed them.

We’ve seen instances of Stevens being more aggressive with his timeouts lately in hopes of quelling the staggering amount of 12-0 type runs that opponents seem to routinely launch. But Stevens has remained reluctant to alter his starting lineup (outside of injuries and rest, at least) and it’s fair to wonder if time is running out on any potential experimentation that could have been done before the postseason arrives.

After Sunday’s latest eyesore of a loss to the San Antonio Spurs, Stevens was asked directly about the lineup and maintained that it’s something he thinks about often but also suggested that any lineups he’d like to explore are further limited by player availability.

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Stevens was asked if there had been any thought to going back to the original starting 5 — Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford — which would offer Boston its most skilled and versatile five-man group, albeit one that struggled mightily out of the gates of the season.

"I think about that every day. But I don’t know if it’s the original starting lineup,” said Stevens. "I don’t know if it’s better rotations. I think you’re always thinking about [lineup tweaks]. And, inevitably, you can make a case for everything. And you could go through every game this year and make a case and look at it because we have a lot of guys that are fairly alike. 

"The one thing as we move forward, we are going to need, based on our matchup, to settle on the best things for each series. I don’t know that that will be our starting lineup that we’ve been starting. But I’m more worried about the last 42 minutes than the first 6, so I do think that’s another factor in that.”

There’s a lot to digest there. Let’s start with Boston’s current preferred stating 5 that features Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris with Irving, Tatum, and Horford. That original lineup flip in late November spurred some of Boston’s best basketball of the year and, especially as Hayward and Brown started to thrive in bench roles, seemed to offer the sort of great potential that encouraged Stevens to endure these bumps.

But as the Celtics have fizzled since early February, so too has that starting group. Boston’s starting 5 has logged 162 minutes together in 12 appearances since the All-Star break — no other lineup has played more than 26 minutes together in that span — and own a gruesome net rating of minus-6.7 in that span, which includes a defensive rating of 112.1 (or 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse than Boston’s season rating). The Celtics are 5-7 in those games.

Stevens has routinely noted that the first six minutes of games are not a concern for him. Maybe they should be. Since the All-Star break, the starting 5’s net rating in first quarters is minus-7.9 over 70 total minutes, which includes an anemic offensive rating of 96.8. While it’s undeniable that decent starts don’t always ensure Celtics success — see all the double-digit leads the team has kicked away recently — it simply feels like this team is overdue to explore tweaks that might force it outside the malaise that exists now and potentially restore the level of defensive intensity that’s gone missing.

The notion of shuffling Morris and/or Smart back to a bench role shouldn’t suggest they are at fault for the team’s inconsistencies, in much the same way that Brown and Hayward shouldn’t have been the fall guys earlier in the year. Morris is marred in an obvious shooting slump that, much like many of his teammates, has bled into his defensive consistency. They need him playing at a high level in the postseason, regardless of role. But as Brown and Hayward make strides with their own play — particularly with a much-needed dash of aggression towards the basket — it’s simply interesting to wonder how the team might respond to a re-infusion.

As Stevens is quick to point out, we all obsess too much over who starts games. What matters is how it all works together. But it’s clear, right now, that this current iteration has sputtered and something needs to give.

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Sometimes teams just need a change. There seems little harm in experimenting when you consider the wheels have already come off and this team is grinding down the Mass Pike with sparks flying from both axles. What complicates matters is that there are only eight games remaining and Stevens must balance finding rest for his players before the postseason grind starts. 

True as ever, this team never quite makes anything easy on itself.

It was interesting to hear Stevens acknowledge that he’s likely to tweak lineups when the postseason arrives. This isn’t all that unexpected, not from a coach who famously deployed the likes of Gerald Green and Semi Ojeleye in must-win playoff games in recent seasons.

Some of Boston’s best basketball recently has come with two-big lineups. It’s a tiny sample size but, since the All-Star break, Horford and Aron Baynes own a net rating together of plus-39.7 in 26 minutes of floor time, with a glitzy defensive rating of 93.1. 

It speaks again to Baynes’ impact, particularly for a Boston team that has lost a bit of its defensive identity while Baynes has navigated an injury-plagued season.  It feels like Baynes is going to be quite important to Boston in the postseason, particularly considering the bigs they might encounter.

Finding other two-man units that inspire confidence recently is tricky, though it’s worth noting that the Hayward-Tatum (plus-19.7, 176 minutes since Feb. 1) and Hayward-Irving (plus-13.6, 191 minutes since Feb. 1) pairings have both been stellar during Boston’s funk. It seems to scream for Hayward to rejoin the first unit to see how that group reacts to his presence.

Based on his play, Brown deserves to elevate as well but, if considering his bench impact at the moment, it’s understandable if he stays in a backup role.

Ultimately, there are no easy answers here. It’s fair to wonder if Boston’s problems are more mental than necessarily who’s on the court. As Stevens pointed out after Sunday’s loss, he’s never coached a team that’s solely reliant on whether it makes shots to dictate its intensity level. 

“I don’t want to be a team, and I’ve never been a part of a team, that was solely reliant on whether you make shots or not,” said Stevens. “And, right now, in the last month, that’s our deal. We’re just relying on whether we make shots. 

"Instead of being a buckle-down, get stops, find a way to win. Nothing better than winning when you’re 5 for 35 or 7 for 35 from 3. That means you’ve figured out what’s important and you’re going to play to that every night.”

Stevens needs to figure out what groups give this team the best chance to restore its identity and play consistent two-way basketball. There’s no obvious, quick-fix solution but this team cannot continue to hope that the arrival of the postseason will trigger the urgency that the regular season has so clearly lacked.

Something needs to change, or the results will stay the same.

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Tides of change crashing down on the Celtics - even when it comes to stepping up vs quality teams

Tides of change crashing down on the Celtics - even when it comes to stepping up vs quality teams

BOSTON -- There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to trying to make sense out of what happened to the Boston Celtics in Sunday’s drubbing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. 

It was a loss that’s concerning on many levels, but none might be more alarm ring-worthy than head coach Brad Stevens’ assessment of the Spurs loss being part of a disturbing trend associated with this team. 

“We’re getting exposed by good teams,” he said. 

The playoffs are around the corner and guess what? 

Boston will be playing nothing but good teams. 

In the meantime, Boston has eight games left in the regular season.

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There will be opportunities for them to regain that big-game swagger that has been a character trait of Brad Stevens-coached teams which has factored into them getting to the playoffs each of the last four seasons. 

In Stevens’ second year with the Celtics, those games down the stretch proved vital to Boston getting into the postseason as the eighth seed after winning each of their last six games. 

But had that team fallen short of the postseason, that would have been OK because that Celtics team wasn’t supposed to be a playoff squad so quickly. 

That team hit the end-of-the-year stretch playing with house money. 

This squad?

More like a house of cards that’s seemingly on the verge of getting blown to smithereens at any given time, even more so of late when facing good, playoff-caliber teams. 

Those are the teams that for years, Boston has managed to play up to their level and at a minimum compete against to ensure that whoever wins will come away having felt they earned the victory. 

But lately, the Celtics don’t seem to have that same mojo against the best teams that we saw earlier this season. 

There’s never a good time for that, obviously. 

But if you were to pinpoint the worst time to be falling into that abyss of bad play … it would be right about now on the cusp of the playoffs. 

Based upon recent games against quality, playoff-caliber opponents, there are plenty of reasons for even the most optimistic Celtics fan to have their doubts about this team and how it will fare in the playoffs. 

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Eight of Boston’s last nine games against teams in playoff position at the time of their matchup, ended with a Celtics loss. 

And if you break those eight losses into two subgroups — the first four and the last four — you’ll notice some disturbing trends. 

In the last four losses to teams in playoff position at the time they played (San Antonio, Philadelphia, Denver and the Los Angeles Clippers), the average margin of defeat is 14 points. 

The four games prior to that against teams in playoff position at that time (Houston, Portland, Toronto and Milwaukee), the margin of defeat was 10 points per game. 

And the level of collapse on Boston’s part has increased as well.

In the first four, Boston played with a lead for 21 minutes, 44 seconds, which breaks down to 5:26 per game. 

In the last four, Boston led for 57 minutes, 58 seconds, or 14:29 per game. 

Even if you took out Boston’s loss at Philly, a game that the Celtics were in front of for 40 minutes, 49 seconds before losing, the average time of their lead for the other three would still be significant.

And make no mistake about it. 

The Celtics know all too well that they need to get better against all teams, but especially the good ones — the kind of team they will face in less than a month in the postseason. 

“Certainly we want to play our best basketball against the best teams,” said Boston’s Gordon Hayward. “We’ve shown throughout the course of the season to be able to do that. We’ve had some tough ones recently. It’s not anything to dwell on; I think try to learn from it and get ready for the next one. We have to finish out the season strong and then you’re on to a clean slate.”

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