Celtics

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

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J.J. Redick: TD Garden loudest place to play

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J.J. Redick: TD Garden loudest place to play

If you're wondering why the Celtics are 10-0 at home this postseason, the fact that TD Garden is capable of overwhelming opponents might have something to do with it. 

Appearing on The Bill Simmons Podcast, 76ers guard J.J. Redick said that the energy of Celtics fans made the Garden a very challenging environment during the C's second-round meeting with Philly. He added that later start times -- an underappreciated aspect of a home advantage -- made it even harder. 

"They're unruly. Every guy on our team afterwards was like, 'That's the loudest place that [we've] ever played,'" Redick said. "I was a little worried [about the] later games. They were like 8:30 [p.m.] starts. I was like, 'Oh man, this is three and a half hours of drinking, when these guys get off work and come to the game.' That worried me. They were going to be extra loud. 

“My parents were at Game 5 and I went and saw them after the game before we got on the plane, and my mom was like, 'That’s the loudest arena I’ve ever been in,'" Redick recalled. "She’s been in some pretty incredible arenas, including Cameron Indoor Stadium for some pretty big-time Duke games, so for her to say that, it’s the truth. Their fans are nuts.”

Another fun Celtics-related anecdote? Redick, who spoke surprisingly highly of Marcus Smart, said his only particularly bad interaction with a Celtics player was with the ever-polished Jaylen Brown, whom he said called him a bitch and promptly apologized when the teams played on Jan. 11.

"When were in London, Jaylen was guarding me for that game and at one point in the second half -- I'm going to cuss on your show; I'm sorry -- but he called me a bitch and I looked at him and was like, ‘I don’t play that’ and he was like, ‘Oh,  OK, I’m sorry.’ That was my only [bad] interaction. We played them 11 times this year and that was my only negative interaction with anyone on their team.”

As series progresses, LeBron's getting tired of Celtics

As series progresses, LeBron's getting tired of Celtics

BOSTON -- One of the reasons the Celtics came into this series against Cleveland more confident than most teams was due to their depth at the wing position.
 
Boston has played a solid eight-man rotation in this series, and all but 6-foot-2 Terry Rozier has the size, length and athleticism to at least slow down LeBron James from time to time.
 
The plan from the very beginning was to wear down the perennial All-Star, something both sides acknowledged played a role in Boston's 96-83 Game 5 win.

MORE GAME 5

 
James had a strong double-double of 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. But he couldn't muster up enough in the fourth quarter to take over and dominate play, scoring just two points in the fourth while missing three of his four shot attempts.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was asked whether James looked tired.
 
"He looked a little tired to me, yes," Lue said.


 
 Boston's Marcus Morris reiterated Lue's sentiments about James.

"Yeah. I seen it," said Morris when asked if he saw James tiring as the game wore on. "We threw a lot of different bodies at him. He has to do a lot for that team. Everybody knows these games are coming pretty quick; games are coming fast."

Morris added, "At the end of the day . . . I'm tired. Everybody else is tired. You still gotta play. I would think he would get a little tired."
 
James, playing in his 15th NBA season, played all 82 regular-season games and led the NBA in minutes played (36.9) per game. Among teams still in the postseason, James is averaging a league-high 40.6 minutes per game in the playoffs.
 
Throw in the fact that he nearly always plays until mid-June -- he's been to the NBA Finals each of the last seven seasons -- and it stands to reason that at some point, fatigue would become a factor.
 
And the Celtics, to their credit, have not made it easy on him. We have seen James defend Boston's perimeter 1-2 punch of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, a pair of young, athletic wing players who have been aggressive going at James and his teammates.


 
One of the best conditioned athletes in the NBA, James acknowledged that there were moments in Game 5 when fatigue became an issue for him.
 
"I had my moments," he said. "But I think everybody at this point is tired or worn down or whatever the case may be."
 
That said, his stat line speaks to how James was still a dominant force for the Cavs.
 
"Still trying to make plays to help our team win," James said. "Put us in position to win. We had moments. We had an opportunity, but we didn't make enough plays."
 
The key for James is recovery time, something he and the rest of the players in this series haven't had much of lately.

DJ BEAN

 
After the three-day gap between Games 2 and 3, each of the remaining games in this series have been, and will be, played every other day -- something that probably benefits the younger Celtics more than James and the older Cavs.
 
But at this point in the season, while all acknowledge that having some level of fatigue is just a reality of where this series is now, no one's using it as an excuse. And certainly not James.
 
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm fine."
 

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