What regular season? It's all about the playoffs for these Celtics

What regular season? It's all about the playoffs for these Celtics

INDIANAPOLIS -- If the Boston Celtics had their way, this past regular season would be like those amnesia-themed soap opera storylines that just get dreamed away, as if they never happened. 

Pegged to finish first in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics had to finish the season strong just to get home court in the first round. 

Never happened. 

The once-stout defense that returned all the core players from last season’s squad got progressively worse as the season went on, only to level out in the final month or so. 

Nope. That didn’t happen either.

Players struggled to adapt to different roles instead of just rolling along and racking up a ton of wins. 

No idea where that came from.

Boston’s success in the postseason isn’t as much about flipping a switch, but instead starting anew without paying any attention to the issues and problems that resulted in a disappointing regular season. 

The Celtics hope to keep the dream alive Friday night in Game 3 of their best-of-seven series with the Indiana Pacers, a series in which Boston has jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. 

After a regular season to forget, the Celtics have done their part to keep the past in the past with a clear and undeniable focus on the playoffs -- a process that began well before the postseason.

“In a lot of ways it was not an easy year,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And yet we still managed to be a reasonable team that achieved some things.”

He’s right. 

Kyrie Irving is an elite scorer, and has been ever since he came into the league. 

But this season, he showed the ability to expand his game in ways few envisioned, especially on defense. 

He will never be confused with being a defensive stopper, but there’s no question Irving is in a better place at that end of the floor than we saw last season or prior to that in Cleveland. 

Irving had a defensive rating of 74.2 in Boston’s Game 1 win over the Pacers, which was tops among all guards who played at least 20 minutes. 

For most of this season, he has ranked among the team leaders in charges taken as well as deflections. 

Gordon Hayward has not only embraced his "sixth man" role on the team but also has steadily distanced himself from that gruesome ankle injury suffered in 2017, to the point where all the talk about him focuses on his play and not the injury. 

Boston’s bench has seen players come and go this season into and out of the starting lineup, but the group as a whole had been strong most of the season. 

The Celtics’ second unit allowed the fewest bench points per game (34.2) in the NBA while being ranked ninth in bench scoring (39.3 points per game).

In the playoffs, when rotations are shortened and the impact of the bench is lessened, we have seen a precipitous dip, as the numbers for Boston’s bench are down across the board. 

But that doesn’t diminish the impact that players off the bench like Gordon Hayward and Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris have meant to this series.


It was Morris’ 20-point performance in Game 1 that proved critical to Boston’s 84-74 win. 

And it was solid play by Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward in the second half of Boston’s Game 2 win that helped Boston rally for a 99-91 win

Collectively, it has led to the Celtics being where they thought they would be in this first-round series, up two-zip heading into Game 3 on the road. 

“Not what we had hoped, not what the outside had hoped but I think that (end of the regular season) gave us a reset,” Stevens said. “I think our guys are all excited about that.”

Because more than anything, Boston’s reset gives this team a chance to make the kind of playoff run that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. 

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NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

BOSTON -- For teams who have gone through a bit of buyer’s remorse after signing players this summer, Dec. 15 can’t get here soon enough. 

That’s the earliest teams can move on from deals they signed this offseason. 

Still, in conversations with various league officials and scouts, don’t expect to see much if any movement right away. 

“No one is in this huge rush to get from under a deal or anything like that,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “There will be a deal done here and there, but I don’t think you’ll see any blockbuster deals involving the guys who signed in the summer.”

One player I’m told to keep an eye on is ex-Celtics forward Marcus Morris, now with the New York Knicks. 

He’s having a career season and the organization loves the tough, rugged brand of basketball that he brings to the floor.

“But is he worth more to the Knicks on their roster, or as a trade chip,” a Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Boston. “What’s the value for a veteran with his talents, contract and toughness?”

That’s a question the Knicks almost certainly are asking themselves as they continue to mire in a rebuild that has them again among the worst teams record-wise in the NBA. 

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And with Morris on a one-year, $15 million deal, there’s no long-term risk in bringing him in the fold if a team isn’t sure what his role would be beyond the remainder of this season. 

If Morris were to be traded, it won’t be because he just wants to latch on with a playoff contender. 

“Like I said in the beginning, I love being in New York, win, lose or draw,” Morris told reporters recently. “I’m here to try and help turn this thing around. I’m not really looking to get traded, that’s just my personal opinion.

He added, “That’s my approach, but this is the NBA. I’d rather help turn this thing around. Melo [Carmelo Anthony] said it best: Some guys aren’t built for New York. I’m built for New York. I’d rather be here. I’d rather help.”


Thoughts and prayers go out to former NBA commissioner David Stern who underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. 

Stern was the longest-tenured commissioner of the league, having held the post for 30 years before passing the torch to Adam Silver in 2014. 

As important as the actual players have been in the growth of the NBA globally, Stern’s imprint on the game is undeniable with games now being not just broadcasted but actually played all over the world to sell-out crowds globally. 

One of the highlights of my career covering the NBA was getting a chance to sit down 1-on-1 with then-commissioner Stern in a 2015 preseason game in Milan, Italy, pitting the Celtics against EA7 Emporio Armani. 


Cleveland’s Kevin Love remains the most talked-about player likely to be on the move between now and the Feb. 6 trade deadline. 

He is in the first year of a four-year, $120.4 million contract extension which multiple league sources have indicated will make a deal involving Love tougher to come by than it should be for a player with his talents. 

But there are concerns about his health, with Love playing 60 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons. 

And with the number of years a team will have him on the books, weighing those concerns with what the Cavs are seeking in such a trade (at least one first-round pick) is going to make getting a deal done challenging to say the least. 

The team many believe will have the toughest time figuring out whether to pursue Love or not, is the Miami Heat. 

They have been one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, but still look to be one superstar talent away from firming up their place as an NBA Finals contender. 

However, it’s no secret that they have been doing their part to clear cap space to make a run at Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. 

However, the success of the Bucks and Antetokounmpo’s repeated desire to be in Milwaukee may lead them to try and pull the trigger on a K-Love deal which again, would only strengthen their position as one of the top teams in the East this season. 


Barring a change of direction (which you know is always, always possible with this franchise), the Knicks won’t pursue a new coach until the offseason. 

Taking that approach makes a lot of sense for the Knicks, a franchise that has made more than its share of head-scratching decisions in the past decade or so. 

Mike Miller is the interim coach and should have every shot at getting this team on track even when that seems damn near impossible for several reasons. 

If he can’t, the Knicks will go into the draft with another top-shelf draft pick. 

And on the coaching front, there will be the usual cast of characters to make the rounds (Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau to name a few) as well as potentially a couple of new faces from the assistant coaching ranks who should get consideration, too. 

The point is, there’s no need for the Knicks to rush in hiring a new coach. 

Because whoever is on the clock, whether it be now or next November, is going to have a hard time winning even when the bar for success is as low as it is now. 


Kawhi Leonard returned to Toronto for the first time since leaving in the summer and received the kind of reception you would expect from a guy who had been there for several years - not just one. 

In that one season, Leonard delivered the ultimate prize - an NBA title. 

And because of that, he will always be loved whenever he returns to Canada. 

But more than winning, Leonard was loved because he was genuine throughout the process of his time there. 

He never gave any indication that he was going to be back, nor did he absolutely rule it out (even though we pretty much knew he was intent on returning to the West coast). 

For him, it was business. 

I play.

I win.

I go where I want to go afterward.

The way Leonard and Raptors fans handled the situation, is a blueprint for superstars of the future to follow.

Fans are going to love you forever if you win. 

If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get some jeers mixed in with cheers upon that first trip back. And you promised them you wanted to come back and then have a change of heart… they have every reason to have a change of heart as well in how they feel about you as a player regardless of whether the reasons for your change are legit. 

And for fans, when a player comes through with the ultimate prize - an NBA title - there’s literally nothing they can do that can top that other than winning it again which would only add to their legacy. 

Enjoy the time you have a great player, knowing that if they’re in a contract year that season is all you can bank on. 


Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were known for their dunks and rebounds, but the assist they threw to Joel Embiid may become the ultimate game-changer for Embiid, the Sixers and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

After criticizing Embiid for not working as hard as he should be a dominant player, he responded with an absolute crushing performance in Philly’s win over Boston which snapped the Celtics previously-unbeaten streak of 10 home wins. Embiid finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a ton of added respect from many who saw him taking their words and using them to get better.

No one has ever questioned Embiid’s talent. 

But his commitment to being the best version of himself, time and time again, hasn’t been there. 

We’ll see if his performance in the win over Boston was just a one-off kind of thing or whether he can truly sustain playing at the elite level that a player with his talent is capable of doing. 

If he doesn’t do it consistently, it’s not like he didn’t know what he had to do after getting called out earlier by a pair of Hall of Famers. 


  • With a boatload of picks from the Russell Westbrook and Paul George trades, look for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be called upon to help facilitate a trade or two as the third team.
  • Denver, Phoenix and Portland are expected to be among the more aggressive teams on the trade front this season.
  • One of the more low-key deals done last summer, was the Celtics re-signing Daniel Theis to a two-year, $10 million deal. Finding a team with a starting center not on his rookie deal, making that kind of money is a steal in the NBA these days.
  • Dion Waiters was suspended a third time this season, by the Miami Heat. This suspension brings the total he’s losing this season to suspensions to about $1.4 million of his $12.1 million salary. League sources anticipate the Heat will become even more aggressive than they have been, in finding a trade partner



Celtics, Bruins did something they haven't done in nearly 20 years on consecutive nights

Celtics, Bruins did something they haven't done in nearly 20 years on consecutive nights

The Boston Bruins and Boston Celtics didn't have the best week.

The Bruins fell to the Washington Capitals 3-2 on Wednesday, and 3-2 to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Meanwhile, the C's fell to the Indiana Pacers 122-117 Wednesday and 115-109 to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.  The 0-4 stretch over consecutive nights is something the B's and C's haven't done in nearly 20 years. 

The Bruins losses - part of a five-game losing streak - dropped them to a 20-7-6, but they still have a comfortable lead in the Atlantic Division, while the Celtics sit fourth in the Eastern Conference at 17-7. 

Jaylen Brown, averaging 19.3 points a game, didn't play much of a role in the loss to Philly, tallying just eight points in 41 minutes. 76ers' Joel Embiid ultimately was a game-changer, scoring 38 points with 13 rebounds. 

The Bruins don't necessarily have the same issues as the Celtics, but their offense hasn't been able to muster much through the first two periods of play lately. The defense also hasn't been great, and the team as a whole appears to lack a sense of urgency. 

The Bruins are back in action Saturday night against the Florida Panthers and the Celtics don't play again until Wednesday when they visit the Dallas Mavericks. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.