Celtics

Tonight will be as close as you’ll get to seeing Williams with the Celts

Tonight will be as close as you’ll get to seeing Williams with the Celts

LOS ANGELES – A few weeks ago, the idea that Lou Williams would be on the trade market didn’t seem all that far-fetched.

The Los Angeles Clippers weren’t winning and at the time, looked like a team in need of some serious re-tooling.

Then came a 50-point explosion by Williams and as the wins start to pile up, the Clippers (23-23) now find themselves just a half-game out of the eighth and final playoff spot.

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And Williams, who leads all reserves in scoring this season with a career-high 23.3 points per game, has been a major player in the team’s resurgence which has seen them win six of their last eight games.

So for Celtics fans, tonight’s game will be about as close as you’ll get to seeing Williams.

But that won’t stop the rumors, even when all indications at this point indicate that the Clippers aren’t interested in trading away their top scorer.

Still, the Williams rumors underscore what’s becoming a more glaring need for the Celtics -- additional scoring.

They have managed to get by this season with an offense that has been re-tooled on the fly courtesy of Gordon Hayward’s ankle injury.

But what we’re seeing now is the gradual effect of not having Hayward, a versatile wing player who was named an all-star a year ago this time when he played in Utah.

Seeing him walking around in Los Angeles which will be is new training ground for another week or so, is good for him as well as his teammates.

And yes, it ratchets up the talk of a potential return to action this season even as Brad Stevens tries to temper expectations in reminding folks that Hayward still has a long way to go in his recovery process.

No question if he’s able to come back prior to the playoffs, it’ll give the Celtics exactly what they need – a difference-making scorer with experience.

But the Celtics know they can’t bank on him being ready to go by then, no matter how hard he pushes his body to get back on the floor as quickly as possible.

And so Boston will continue to walk that awkward walk of planning for a Hayward-less postseason and pursue potential trades for players like Memphis’ Tyreke Evans to help short-term, while embracing the possibility no matter how remote it may be, that the team they envisioned at the start of training camp may in fact be whole by the time the playoffs arrive.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers.

MR. (NOT SO) IRRELEVANT

Isaiah Thomas is the gold standard for players taken with the 60th and final pick of the draft. But Tyrone Wallace is on the right path to making a name for himself. Selected by Utah with the 60th pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Wallace is currently on a two-way contract with the Clippers’ G-League affiliate, the Agua Caliente Clippers. But more important, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward from Cal is a starter for the Clippers. He’s averaging 11.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 50 percent from the field and 40 percent from 3-point range. Wallace is the only player in the common draft era (1966-present) to score at least 10 points in their first three NBA games.

HISTORICAL NIGHT FOR JORDAN

For DeAndre Jordan, tonight will be the 715th game he has played as a member of the Los Angeles Clippers which will tie a franchise record, joining Randy Smith at the top of the franchise’s list of all-time leaders in games played. However, what makes Jordan’s inclusion more impressive is that he has done it in just one stint with the Clippers with this being Jordan’s 10th season with the franchise. Smith had two different stints (1971-1979; 1982-1983) with the Clippers.

FOURTH QUARTER SCORERS

Tonight’s game will feature two of the NBA’s best at scoring in the fourth quarter. The Clippers’ Lou Williams averages 23.3 points per game, with 7.5 coming in the fourth quarter that trails only LeBron James in fourth-quarter scoring (8.1) per game this season. Meanwhile, the Celtics counter with Kyrie Irving whose 6.4 points in the fourth is tied for eighth in the NBA.

AL HORFORD

In the closing seconds of Tuesday night’s loss, Al Horford took a blow to the face that clearly shook him up briefly. He did not return. “He got hit in the face and I didn’t want to risk it,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said after the game. Horford had no issue with Stevens’ decision. “I got hit and coach probably did the right thing, just making sure I was fine and kept me out for the end of the game,” Horford said. It is unclear if the Celtics will undergo concussion testing for Horford who has missed games in each of his two seasons in Boston, due to concussion-like symptoms.

MID-RANGE GAME

The Celtics have made a more concerted effort to try and generate more offense on mid-range shots this season. According to NBA.com/stats, the Celtics average 15.2 mid-range shots per game which ranks 17th in the NBA. That’s an increase over last season when they averaged 14.2 mid-range shots per game which ranked 28th in the league. While the Clippers are eighth in the NBA in scoring at 107.8 points per game, they don’t look to get buckets from the mid-range after that often. For the season, the Clippers are averaging 11.6 mid-range shots per game which ranks 27th in the league.

Celtics forward Jaylen Brown elected NBPA Vice President

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Celtics forward Jaylen Brown elected NBPA Vice President

Boston Celtics forward Jaylen Brown told the Undefeated's Marc Spears in 2017 that he’s “always had his eyes set” on one day being the president of the National Basketball Players Association, and he took a huge step toward that goal Monday.

The NBPA announced Monday that Brown was elected as a vice president. Milwaukee Bucks guard Malcolm Brogdon and Charlotte Hornets center Bismack Biyombo also were elected as NBPA vice presidents, joining veterans Pau Gasol, C.J. McCollum and Garrett Temple as VPs. All six of these players will serve three-year terms on the NBPA's executive committee. 

“Malcolm, Jaylen and Bismack have all shown a great commitment to the union since they arrived in the league,” NBPA President Chris Paul said in a statement. “I have no doubt they will bring a fresh perspective and passion to the Executive Committee and I am excited to start working with them.”

Brown is the youngest NBPA VP at just 22 years old. He's one of the smartest and most forward-thinking players in the league, and should excel in his new role. 

The NBPA also has a new First Vice President. Golden State Warriors forward Andre Iguodala was elected to that role for a four-year term. He replaces Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, whose four-year term expired.

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All eyes on the future, but it's time to savor the Celtics' journey

All eyes on the future, but it's time to savor the Celtics' journey

All-Star weekend turned all of us into detectives. We pored over everything Anthony Davis said (Boston was never not on his list!). We monitored Kyrie Irving’s every move (he’s walking off at halftime with AD! He’s the only one sticking around for Kevin Durant’s MVP presentation!) All while we screamed, “What does it all mean!?”

Here’s the big takeaway from this vantage point: We’ve become so consumed about what the future holds for the Celtics that we’re ignoring what’s in plain sight.

The Celtics' 2018-19 season certainly hasn’t gone to plan. Still, Boston has been one of the better teams in the NBA since late November. The team closed out the pre-All-Star portion of its schedule with a pair of quality wins, including a Kyrie-less win over a Philadelphia team it could likely see again in the postseason.

And yet all the focus seems to be on what might happen in July.

Listen, we get it. The possibility of Boston adding a bonafide top-5 NBA talent this summer is undeniably tantalizing. But sometimes it simply feels like, because of Boston’s rocky season, we’ve lost sight of what’s still possible this season, all while daydreaming of what’s ahead.

Maybe more importantly: How the next three months play out could be vital in how exactly the future of this franchise looks. The next 24 games, and what follows in the postseason, might ultimately dictate the direction that these Celtics take.

Which is to say that, while it’s undeniably more fun to dream of what might be, let’s remember to savor the experience. Celtics coach Brad Stevens so frequently reminds his player of that message because it’s so easy to get distracted from the next game, the next quarter, the next play.

The final two months of the regular season should be fascinating. The Celtics will emerge from the All-Star break tied for the fourth spot in the Eastern Conference with the Philadelphia 76ers, and a three-team race for spots 3-5 looms. Boston holds the head-to-head tie-breaker over Philadelphia, having won the first three meetings of the season, but Indiana, in the aftermath of Victor Oladipo’s season-ending injury, has lingered in the hunt for a premium position as well.

Consider this: ESPN’s Basketball Power Index has the three teams separated by less than a single game in win projections, with current win projections of Boston at 52.6, Indiana at 52, and Philadelphia at 51.8. Which means every single game the rest of the way matters, particularly for a Boston team with a propensity for stumbling against inferior competition (see: home losses to the Knicks, Suns, Magic, Lakers, Clippers). 

Fortunately for Boston, they have one of the toughest remaining schedules (that’s odd to type). It’s a slate that includes trips to play Eastern Conference frontrunners Toronto and Milwaukee before the end of the month.

On the heels of Boston’s quality win in Philadelphia, we’ll get an even better idea of where this team stands in relation to the East’s best. Both the Bucks (adding Nikola Mirotic) and Raptors (adding Marc Gasol) beefed up at the trade deadline, while Boston was forced to sit on its hands to keep assets for the potential Davis pursuit this summer. The Celtics did so, though, confident that they had room to grow as a team and the recent returns from players like Gordon Hayward and Jaylen Brown confirm that possibility. 

In fact, that might just top the watch list for these post-break Celtics: Can Boston play its best basketball when everyone is healthy? The Celtics should have Irving back on Thursday night in Milwaukee and, while the “Is Boston better without Kyrie?” questions were rather obnoxious, it is fair to wonder if the Celtics are capable of going to another level if they can get all their players healthy and playing to their potential in concert. That hasn’t happened this season but with Hayward coming off an encouraging three-game stretch and Boston’s backups seemingly started to embrace those roles, it will be fascinating to see if Stevens can harness it all.

If he does, the Celtics might just look like the championship-caliber contender we all expected them to be. If the struggles persist, it will only put a bigger spotlight on this team’s inability to get everybody on the same page at the same time.

There are intriguing dates throughout March, including a Sunday afternoon showdown with the Rockets and a trip to play the Warriors two days later as part of a long West Coast trip. A three-game homestand later in the month culminates with old friend Isaiah Thomas returning to TD Garden with the Denver Nuggets, where he’ll finally get his tribute video, some 22 months after he last played a game in green. Two of Boston’s final seven games are against the Pacers, which could determine exactly which way the seedings tip.

So much of what this team accomplishes the rest of the way could dictate exactly how the summer plays out. If Boston stumbles its way to the finish line, settles for the fifth seed, and bows early in the playoffs, is the team more likely to push hard to add Davis this summer? If the Celtics rally together and make a playoff push to the NBA Finals, does that make the team more willing to hang onto their young talent instead of paying a steep price to add a more proven piece?

Ultimately, no amount of Irving hobnobbing with elite NBA talent is about to change whether Davis lands in Boston. That hinges more on whether Boston is willing to put Jayson Tatum in a deal, or whether a team such as the Knicks can get some lottery luck and earn a chip that allows them to get in the bidding. It doesn’t really matter whether Boston is on Davis’ list of preferred destinations. The Pelicans will make the move that’s best for the future of their franchise and Boston’s job of selling Davis on a future here begins the moment he’s actually wearing a green jersey.

Remember, too, that much of convincing Irving to stick to his word about re-signing here could hinge on Boston’s postseason success, and this team showing that it offers the best chance at chasing his title goals moving forward.

Yes, July is going to be fun. But it's time to savor the journey there.

Take a step back and this Celtics season has been fascinating. The slow start. The recent surge. All the little bouts of drama in between. These Celtics haven’t been very good at powering through adversity and they can’t let small stretches of poor performance snowball as they have at times this season.

Irving has to continue to grow as a leader. Gordon Hayward has to continue to be more aggressive. Tatum, Brown, and Terry Rozier have to embrace their different roles while understanding that their biggest reward will come with the playoff success of the Celtics as a whole. Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris will need to be playing at a high level when the playoffs roll around.

No one knows what the summer will bring. Few could have predicted two years ago when the Celtics took a conference finalist and strapped TNT to it, overhauling the roster even before the jaw-dropping trade that delivered Irving in late August. Half the NBA is going to be a free agent this summer and it’s impossible to even guess how it will all sort out.

It’s fun to think about but the product on the court right now deserves your attention, too. This team hasn’t always been fun to watch but that will only make the season more remarkable if they can put everything together when it matters most.

Savor the journey. The summer isn’t going anywhere. And we shouldn’t be in any hurry to fast forward through the next three months.

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