Celtics

Why Danny Ainge isn't buying Celtics' "gloomy and doomy" outlook

Why Danny Ainge isn't buying Celtics' "gloomy and doomy" outlook

The Boston Celtics' 2018-19 season has been a disappointment to date.

That's fair to say, as a squad picked by many to win the NBA's Eastern Conference enters Thursday as the No. 5 seed. With one more loss, the Celtics will be guaranteed their worst record since the 2015-16 season, when they lost in the first round.

But here's the catch with this group: The potential is still there. Kyrie Irving likes the Celtics' chances against anyone in the East, and if everyone is healthy -- they've missed Aron Baynes for big stretches and have had to be patient with Gordon Hayward as works back from ankle surgery -- it's not hard to see Boston making a deep playoff run.

To no one's surprise, Danny Ainge agrees.

"I feel like it's not as gloomy and doomy," Ainge said Thursday morning on 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Toucher & Rich" after the Celtics' 118-115 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers the night before. "I see a lot of really good things happening. 

"Gordon was one of those things as he was starting to come back. I mean, his presence makes a difference. Baynes has been out a lot this year, and his presence makes a difference."

Ainge then made an interesting point:

"Statistically, in a lot of ways we're better than we were in our 53- and 55-win seasons of the last couple years. And I believe that we are. So, time will tell."

The Celtics' 2016-17 and 2017-18 teams finished first and second in the East's regular-season standings, respectively, and both reached the Eastern Conference Finals, overachieving despite a lack of firepower.

But Ainge is right: This C's squad, while on pace for a significantly worse record, does outperform those groups in several key metrics. The '18-'19 Celtics boast a 4.8 net rating, fifth in the NBA and the team's highest net rating since 2010-11. They're averaging more points per game (112.7), are shooting better from the field (46.5 percent), are playing at a higher pace (99.7 possessions per 48 minutes) and are committing fewer turnovers (11.6 turnover percentage) than each of the previous two seasons.

Of course, those numbers don't mean much when you blow double-digit leads to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers in back-to-back games or lose to lowly clubs like the Chicago Bulls and Phoenix Suns.

But recent wins over the defending champion Golden State Warriors and pesky Sacramento Kings give us an idea of what Ainge is talking about: When things are going well, the Celtics can compete with (and beat) anybody.

We'll find out in just over two weeks if Boston can find the consistency to prove Ainge right.

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.

Pelicans' David Griffin explains how history with Danny Ainge could impact trade talks

Pelicans' David Griffin explains how history with Danny Ainge could impact trade talks

Want another fascinating subplot for the Boston Celtics' pursuit of Anthony Davis?

The man in charge of trading him used to work for Danny Ainge.

New Orleans Pelicans general manager David Griffin got his NBA start as a video intern for the Suns when Ainge was the head coach in Phoenix. The two have maintained a good relationship ever since, with Griffin actually crediting the current Celtics president of basketbll operations for helping him rise through the NBA ranks.

So, does that mean Ainge -- who has a history of fleecing fellow general managers with shrewd trades -- has the inside track of striking a Davis deal with his old pal?

Griffin candidly discussed the tricky situation Tuesday on ESPN's "The Jump."

"I think to some degree you’re mindful of what his tact is, right? You’re very mindful if you’re doing this, right?" Griffin said. "You’re very aware of what everyone’s tact is and the negotiating tactics and ploys that somebody might utilize -- you’re gonna be aware of that.

"Danny’s not unique in that way, that he’s got a very specific style. What makes the situation with Danny unique is, we have the kind of relationship where we can really call each other on all that nonsense, and just sort of (say), ‘This is what it looks like.’ I think because we have that ability it makes any conversation we would have along the way a fruitful one."

Griffin actually said earlier this month he'll try to keep Davis in New Orleans, but the expectation is the Pelicans will try to move the 26-year-old this offseason, with the Celtics among their top suitors.

That means Ainge should be making at least one call this summer to Griffin, who added this great line about his former boss"

"He called me 'Freak.' He still calls me 'Freak.' We make fun of each other rather often."

If you believe Griffin, though, it'd be all business between the two on the topic of a Davis trade.

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.

About Last Night: Stakes are high for NBA's 'Final Four' in East

About Last Night: Stakes are high for NBA's 'Final Four' in East

WHAT WE'RE TALKING ABOUT

Blakely: Here come the (free) agents of change 

Every team that’s still left standing in the East, has more at stake in their second-round series than simply moving on to the next round of the playoffs. 

All four of the teams remaining in the East have at least one prominent free agent-to-be whose play has been instrumental in getting them to this point and truth be told, may be playing their final games with their current team. 

Kyrie Irving once committed to re-sign with Boston, and later seemed to sway from that position to the point where nobody knows what he’ll do. 

Kawhi Leonard is far from a lock to return to Toronto after being traded there from San Antonio. 

Philly’s Tobias Harris and Jimmy Butler could be on the move as well, although it’s likely the Sixers will manage to retain at least one of them. 

So as much as this time of year is about winning games, there are a few organizations who, while certainly wanting to do that at a high level, are just as consumed by winning over top-shelf talent. 

Forsberg: God Dame!

OH MY GOODNESS, DAME LILLARD. 

This man didn’t just will his team back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. He didn’t just hit one of the most absurd game-winners in playoffs history to cap a 50-point night. Damian Lamonte Ollie Lillard literally waved goodbye to the Thunder in the immediate aftermath of his winning shot, making it one of the most bad-ass celebrations these eyes have seen.

Then the Blazers’ Twitter account came in from the top rope, tweeting, “Next question,” with a picture of the final score. 

Listen, Lillard was having himself a night but the Thunder went on a 30-6 run and opened a 105-90 lead with under eight minutes to play. It only set the stage for the absurd finish.

I’m not sure we appreciate Lillard’s game enough out here. Maybe it’s because the Blazers play out west and aren’t a marquee team with a bunch of national regular-season TV games. Regardless, Lillard has put up Kyrie-like numbers this season and we sometimes forget to include him in the conversation about the league’s best guards.

Last night was a reminder that Dame is a cold-blooded killer. In a series full of bad blood, he had ice water in his veins pulling up from 37 feet with Paul George directly in his face. 

While we’re here: What the heck does Oklahoma City do now? That’s three straight first-round exits in the post-Durant era and only four wins to show for their efforts in those series. Russell Westbrook keeps averaging triple-doubles, George was an MVP candidate for much of the 2018-19 season, and yet this team can’t even get out of Round 1 against a team it swept in the regular season.

We should also mention that Jusuf Nurkic’s “Got Bricks? Next Question” T-shirt was pretty savage as well.

Elsewhere, it was Yawn City watching the Raptors and Sixers polish off their series.. … I really thought the Spurs had upset potential against Denver but, when Jamal Murray is making shots and Nikola Jokic is spraying the ball around the gym, Denver looks more the part of a top seed. 

SO... THAT HAPPENED


NUMBER OF NOTE

34 -- Damian Lillard's point total in the first half -- more than Russell Westbrook and Paul George combined.

THEY SAID IT...

“It was quite a performance”

-- Portland head coach Terry Stotts, in the understatement of understatements when describing Damian Lillard’s 50-point performance that included a 37-footer with no time left.  

“We think we can win it all."

-- 76ers center Joel Embiid, as Philly tries to win its first NBA title since 1983

TUESDAY'S SCOREBOARD

  • Toronto 115, Orlando 96 (TOR wins series 4-1)
  • 76ers 122, Nets 100 (PHI wins series 4-1)
  • Nuggets 108, Spurs 90 (DEN leads series 3-2)
  • Trail Blazers 118, Thunder 115 (POR wins series 4-1)

WHAT WE'LL BE WATCHING

Blakely: Rest versus rhythm 

The Celtics aren’t overly concerned about getting too much rest between their first and second round series, and you know what? They shouldn’t be worried. 

The way they were playing in the first-round series against the Pacers, Boston was getting stronger as the series went on, building the kind of momentum that they would love to carry into the next round of play. 

Judging by the increased number of ice bags and heating pads you see players donning before, during and after games, there’s no question that rest will do the bodies of many Celtics players a lot of good. 

But will the downtime lead to some downright awful shooting or defense by the Celtics? 

Because they really need to hit the ground running and try and steal home-court advantage at the first opportunity they get. 

And that opportunity becomes much more real if the Celtics get the kind of rest they are sure to receive in the days between their first and second-round series. 

Forsberg: Bring on the Conference Finals 

Much like it simply felt inevitable that the Raptors and SIxers were going to win their series, there’s an even stronger sense of “Just get this over with!” as the Rockets and Warriors look to close out at home on Wednesday night.

We all want to see Rockets-Warriors. It’s the Conference Finals one round early. The Jazz put together a scrappy Game 4 win to avoid the sweep but we all know what’s coming this weekend. These teams need to take care of business because all these second-round matchups are far juicier than a lot of these Round 1 snoozefests.

Then again, with at least four more days until the Celtics and Bucks tip their series, we probably ought to savor whatever basketball we can get at this point.

WEDNESDAY'S SCHEDULE

  • Jazz at Rockets, Game 5 (HOU leads series 3-1) -- 8:00pm, TNT
  • Clippers at Warriors, Game 5 (GS leads series 3-1) -- 10:30pm, TNT

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.