Celtics

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
 
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.

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And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
 
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
 
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
 
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

KYRIE FOR MVP
It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.


 
TURNING DOWN THE HEAT
The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.
 

DUKE CONNECTION
College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.


 
JUSTISE WINSLOW
Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.
 

THREE-POINTERS
The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.

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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.

2019 NBA DRAFT

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. 

2017 NBA DRAFT

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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2013 NBA DRAFT

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. 

2011 NBA DRAFT

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.

Sports Uncovered: Inside Michael Jordan's two-word fax that altered NBA history

Sports Uncovered: Inside Michael Jordan's two-word fax that altered NBA history

"I'm back."

On March 18, 1995, Michael Jordan sent those words via fax to announce his return to the NBA after his stunning retirement in 1993.

But there's much more to the story of Jordan's comeback than a two-word fax.

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In the debut episode of NBC Sports' "Sports Uncovered" podcast series, NBC Sports Chicago will take fans behind the scenes to tell some never-before-heard stories about Jordan returning to the Bulls in 1995.

One example: Jordan's comeback actually didn't start in Chicago. The star forward secretly worked out with the Golden State Warriors over a span of two to three days to test whether he was ready to return after a year away from the game.

The short answer: Yes.

"We knew he was coming back then," former Warriors star Tim Hardaway said on the podcast. "He just took over our practice. He got five guys (who weren't) playing that much, and he said, 'Us seven will play you all’s seven in a scrimmage,' and it was like he never left."

Those workouts are only the beginning of the story. Through interviews with Jordan's agent, David Falk, former teammates Steve Kerr and Toni Kukoc and many more NBA stars, "Sports Uncovered" reveals the full narrative behind Jordan's NBA-altering return to Chicago.

The episode drops Thursday, May 28, and you can listen by subscribing to "Sports Uncovered" for free wherever you listen to podcasts. Check out the trailer below, narrated by host Mike Tirico: