Celtics

Playoff winners and losers after disappointing end to Celtics' season

Playoff winners and losers after disappointing end to Celtics' season

BOSTON -- We have seen enough players in the past make their mark — and a few extra dollars in the process — by putting together a strong postseason body of work. 

That’s not how things went down for most of the Boston Celtics, whose season came to a crashing halt Wednesday night when the Milwaukee Bucks eliminated the Celtics in five games. 

It was a series that statistically and based upon the eye test, was lopsided because of Milwaukee’s ability to put together multiple surges in the last four games that eventually wore down a Boston team that had a lot less fight in them than most thought. 

And that in itself resulted in a number of underwhelming performances that doomed any hope they had of making a third straight trip to the Eastern Conference Finals or farther this year. 

But as bad as they were as a team, there were a couple of individuals whose play in the postseason and the season as a whole, will likely do more good for them this summer than not. 

Let’s take a look at the Celtics' winners and losers from this year’s postseason. 

WINNERS 

Marcus Morris 

There was a point early in the season when Marcus Morris was in the neighborhood of that rarified 50 percent shooting/40 percent shooting from 3-point range/90 percent shooting from the free throw line that only a handful of players have ever done over the course of a season. 

Morris wound up falling well short of that, but he still managed to finish with a strong season with a number of career marks set in the process.

And once the postseason rolled around, Morris was once again one of the few bright spots for Boston. 

To his credit, Morris managed to make his mark on the Bucks series both as a starter and a key reserve. 

He would finish the Milwaukee series averaging 14.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent from the field (25-for-40) and 55.0 percent (11-for-20) from 3-point range. 

And the timing of Morris’ breakout season couldn’t be better, as he becomes an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

What teams love about Morris is his toughness, something that shined brightly during his time in Boston. But what he showed this postseason was his ability to elevate his play when the games mattered most, doing so within the role he was expected to play, a role that he showed tremendous growth in as the season progressed as well as in the playoffs. 

And while he’s likely to get big-money offers to play elsewhere next season, there’s no question he connected with Celtics Nation and acknowledges this team let them down with their play this season. 

“I felt as though we owed Boston to be better,” Morris said. “They stayed with us through this tough year.”

Jaylen Brown 

Among the many players from a year ago with a dramatically different role this past season, Brown was among the more consistent Celtics players for months. He provided some much-needed offensive punch, whether it be as a starter or coming off the bench. And what many forget about Brown is he’s just 22 years old which is speaks to how quickly he has evolved as a player, and maybe more important how he still has plenty of room to improve upon a body of work that’s trending in the right direction. 

And he too has come contract issues to sort out this summer, the first in which he will be eligible for an extension. We have seen the Celtics in recent years allow the deadline to get an extension done lapse, which then results in players becoming restricted free agents the following summer. Don’t be surprised if a similar path awaits Brown, who acknowledged following Boston’s Game 5 loss that he wants to have a chance to talk with the Celtics brass this summer about his future and a potential contract extension. 

Regardless of whether he gets a deal done or not, Brown showcased an all-around game this postseason that serves as a clear reminder of just how talented he is and maybe just as significant, how bright a future he has in the NBA. 

LOSERS

Kyrie Irving 

This was the time of year that he built up to being his time to shine. Instead, he struggled in a way that we had never seen him do in the playoffs, his first postseason go-around without having LeBron James as a teammate. 

After breezing through the first round with a four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers, the Milwaukee Bucks delivered a similar beatdown by sending Irving and the Celtics out of the postseason in five games that included the Bucks winning the last four in a row. 

Now the struggles that Irving had shooting the ball won’t impact his money. Whether it’s Boston, the New York Knicks, the Brooklyn Nets, it doesn’t matter. Irving is going to get a max-salaried contract.

But how he is perceived took a major blow in the Milwaukee series, and it had nothing to do with his impending free agency or any conflicting comments on his part. 

The issue was all about basketball, something he did not do well against the Bucks. 

Irving talked about how the Bucks had a player basically tagged to him the whole game with double teams constantly coming at him in waves, and he credited them for having a great gameplan for how to limit him. 

He’s right.

The Bucks did a really good job defending him, and made it far tougher for him to score than the Pacers or most NBA teams for that matter. 

But here’s the problem.

Even with the Bucks defense playing as well as it was, Irving still managed to get a slew of good shot attempts, the kind that he has made a career out of making. But in this series, most of those shots were off the mark and that seemed to create a domino effect on the rest of the team as they too struggled to make the most of open and uncontested shots. 

And while losing is never a good feeling, the vibe after last night’s game was significantly different than it was a year ago when Irving was a spectator to the team’s surprising run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. 

This season was one that ended with a failure to accomplish their own personal goals but also those so many set out for them prior to the season. 

I know Irving and some of his teammates don’t particularly care about public opinion of them, in part because that opinion often has a lot of basis in stuff that has nothing to do with the game itself. 

But this is different. 

He wanted the baton of leadership, and had a team full of talented players willing - some doing it begrudgingly while others not so much - to follow the path he would blaze for them. 

But in the end, they all got smoked out as that path they thought would lead them to the Eastern Conference Finals or NBA Finals, proved to be a dead end. 

And now, we wait to see if Irving will take his talents elsewhere next season or whether he’ll return and try to make amends for a disappointing postseason with several Celtics not getting it done, himself included. 

Terry Rozier 

There wasn’t another Celtics player more candid following the Game 5 loss about the issues plaguing this team all year, than Terry Rozier. You just had the feeling that he was keeping a lot of this bottled up and finally felt free to release it all once the season was officially over. 

Indeed, Rozier said a lot of things following the Game 5 loss but the most telling words came when I asked him about his restricted free agency status and the Celtics having the right to match any offer he gets. 

“No comment,” he said. 

Look, Rozier did not do himself any favors in this postseason run.

Outside of Boston’s Game 1 win over Milwaukee, he was a non-factor on so many levels. Scoring-wise, he shot just 22.2 percent in Games 2-5. 

But in his defense, he played limited minutes in all but Game 2 against the Bucks, which is when he logged 24-plus minutes of court time with a lot of those minutes coming after the game had all but been decided. 

Looking back at his entire nine-game postseason run this year, Game 2 against the Bucks was the only game he played in the postseason where he was on the floor more than his 22.7 minutes per game season average, which may be part of the bull@#$% Rozier said he had been dealing with this season.

“I learned a lot,” Rozier said. “It was tough, dealing with all the talent we had, different guys wanna be in the limelight, already in the limelight, (expletive) like that. It’s been a lot. I feel like we can all step back. The time is right now, we go on vacation and just relax and reflect on the season and learn from it. It’s nothing you can do about the season now. It’s over with.”

Gordon Hayward 

Maybe the only bigger disappointment in the playoffs beyond Kyrie Irving for the Celtics, was the play of Gordon Hayward. 

A major match-up strength for Boston coming into the Milwaukee series, Hayward never got into any kind of flow as a scorer or passer against the Bucks. 

Unfortunately for Boston, Hayward’s play looked a lot more like what we saw from him back in November and December when he was still a shell of the All-Star we came to know prior to arriving in Boston. 

After scoring 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting in Game 1 against Milwaukee, Hayward was just 7-for-27 in the last four games - all Boston losses - while averaging just 6.0 points per game in that span. 

His struggles didn’t appear to be physical. 

More than anything, it appeared as though he was missing a lot of shots that we saw him make in the previous series against Indiana and to a lesser extent, near the end of the regular season. 

It’s inexplicable why he struggled so mightily, although a chunk of the credit for that has to go to the Bucks defense, which didn’t allow him much free space to pull up and shoot. And when he did have some freedom, like Irving, many of his uncontested shots were also off the mark. 

But the one difference with Hayward is that unlike Irving, he’s one of the few Celtics likely back with the team next season. 

Hayward has two years remaining on the four-year, $127.8 million contract he signed in 2017. And while there was a report out of Cleveland that the Cavs might have some interest, multiple league sources told NBC Sports Boston that the Celtics have no interest in moving Hayward right now in part because they like the direction his game is going after a devastating ankle injury at the start of the 2017-2018 season, in addition to there not being a huge market for him and his contract which will pay him $32.7 and $34.1 million in the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 seasons, respectively. 

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Breakfast Pod: After apparent departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, what's next for the Celtics?

Breakfast Pod: After apparent departures of Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, what's next for the Celtics?

The draft is a few days away and NBA free agency opens at the end of the month, but it seems like the Celtics have undergone a transformation the past few days.

1:17 - Chris Forsberg joins the BST crew to discuss the surprising reports that Al Horford will not return to Boston next season.

7:43 - Jackie MacMullan stops by Early Edition to talk about the reports that Kyrie Irving is ghosting the Celtics as well as how Gordon Hayward may have played a role in the Celtics chemistry struggles.

13:20 - Brian Scalabrine calls into BST to give his thoughts on the Celtics potentially losing both Al Horford and Kyrie Irving this summer.


LISTEN & SUBSCRIBE:

Marcus Smart seems ready to take over starting point guard duties from Kyrie Irving

Marcus Smart seems ready to take over starting point guard duties from Kyrie Irving

It's a near certainty at this point that Kyrie Irving is leaving the Celtics to sign elsewhere, and even though it's not official yet, Marcus Smart seems ready to take over the starting point guard duties. 

In a season marred with inconsistencies from the Celtics on the court, Smart was a steadying presence on both sides of the floor. He was named to the NBA's First All-Defensive Team and shot a career-high 36.4 percent from three to go along with his all-around contributions on offense. Smart started 60 games for the Celtics as an off-guard this past season after he was used primarily as a sixth man in the previous two seasons.

With Irving's likely departure and Terry Rozier's upcoming restricted free agency, it may seem like the Celtics have an obvious hole to fill at starting point guard. Not so fast. Smart has shown he is more than capable of being the lead ball handler for Brad Stevens and the Celtics could certainly use as much of his infectious energy as possible at this point. 

What could be the most important part of Smart's tweet is that on a night where the Celtics were suddenly at a real risk of losing Irving and Al Horford at the start of free agency, Smart gave Celtics fans something to smile about. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.