Celtics

The winner of the Celtics-Cavs deal two years later is...

The winner of the Celtics-Cavs deal two years later is...

BOSTON -- When it comes to trades, we often associate the winner of the deal with which team wound up with the best overall player. 

When the Celtics-Cavaliers trade was made two years ago, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics were the winners by a mile. 

And now, on the two-year anniversary of the deal, the Celtics still come out on top…but not for the reason you might be thinking. 

In his time with the Celtics, Irving checked off most of the boxes in terms of being what the C's needed. 

But by the end of his time with the Green Team, Irving looked more like he had checked out and was mentally on to the next team.

Even with all the leadership issues Boston had under Irving’s watch, even with all the issues that led to more whining by this crew than winning, the Celtics did the right thing in making the trade for one reason and one reason only. 

Because the alternative to not doing that deal would have kept Boston on a treadmill of mediocrity, which is basketball purgatory.

Isaiah Thomas’ injuries were more severe than most thought, which meant that if Celtics kept their best player at the time, they would likely have been without his services for a while. 

Remember, after he was traded to Cleveland, Thomas did not suit up in a game for the Cavs until Jan. 2, 2018

And if not for the trade, there were going to be legit chemistry issues looming ahead with Jae Crowder and the rest of the team’s wings. 

Crowder came to Boston as a trade throw-in from Dallas, a player that few envisioned would blossom into the player he became with the Celtics. 

To his credit, Crowder worked his way into being a reliable two-way player who provided some much-needed talent and toughness for Boston. 

For him to have come as far as he did and then find himself battling for minutes off the bench with more players at his position than ever looking to gobble up minutes … both he and the Celtics deserved better than that. 

So, moving Crowder took all the guesswork out of who would be the odd man out between himself, Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward and incoming rookie Jayson Tatum. 

Still, the biggest win for Boston over Cleveland in the deal was hope. 

Irving is a dynamic talent, the kind that gave the Celtics every reason to believe that they could win an NBA title with him in the fold. 

As much as fans around New England loved Isaiah Thomas, there was always a belief that he could only take you so far as the best player on the team. 

As for the Cavs, the unprotected pick from Boston was seen as the trade equalizer if it would have been among the top three or four picks. 

Instead, the Nets became more of a grind-it-out team that won more than expected, which led to the pick from Boston (via Brooklyn) falling to eighth overall. 

Cleveland wound up selecting Collin Sexton. who had a good rookie season; good enough to earn a spot on the NBA’s  All-Rookie second team. 

He’s good, but he’s no Irving, which is why it’s hard to see a pathway in this deal that one could declare that the Cavs came away victorious. 

They traded away the best player in the deal. 

The two best players they acquired were traded away just a few months later after being picked up. 

And the draft pick wasn’t anywhere close to where it needed to be in order for it to truly have the kind of difference-making impact Cleveland was hoping for. 

So, as we reflect upon the Boston-Cleveland trade, we’re reminded that the winds of change sometimes sway away from one team on the night of the trade and toward the other a couple of years later. 

This ain’t one of those deals. 

Boston came away with the win on draft night. 

And now two years later, the Celtics still won the deal.

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Larry Nance complements Celtics defense after Cavs' blowout loss

Larry Nance complements Celtics defense after Cavs' blowout loss

The Celtics absolutely pulverized the Cavaliers Sunday at TD Garden, beating their former Eastern Conference rival by 46 points to improve to 3-0 in the preseason. 

Boston is going into this season looking for a fresh start after a turbulent 2018-19 season that ended in a second-round playoff exit and free-agent departures from Al Horford, Kyrie Irving, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris.

The preseason has been promising for this new version of the Celtics, and the main reason they've had two blowout wins over the last three games has been their defense. Boston currently holds the league's best defensive rating during the preseason (81.4), and while yes, it's just the preseason, players like Larry Nance Jr. have taken notice of how difficult the Celtics have made it for opposing offenses. 

“You know, they’re a pretty big team," Nance said after Sunday's game. "You know, obviously Brown, Tatum, Hayward on the wings is not easy. This is historically a really good defensive team, so I assume they’re going to be that this year.”

Without Al Horford and Aron Baynes, the defense was Boston's chief concern heading into this year. Their only way around their unproven front line was, as Brad Stevens put it earlier this week, was to put more pressure on the ball.

Through their first three games, they've done exactly that. Opposing offenses are shooting 36.5 percent on their field goals (1st in NBA), 24.8 percent on threes (2nd) and are turning it over 25.3 times per game (1st). 

The defensive question marks are still there in the frontcourt and it'd be naive to think the Celtics can sustain this level of stinginess on the defensive end into the season, especially against teams like Philadelphia, Denver and Milwaukee.

But hey, at least they're looking like they could be a top 10 defense this season instead of sowing their fatal flaws early in the year. 

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Celtics veterans embracing TackoMania -- and all the rookie good vibes

Celtics veterans embracing TackoMania -- and all the rookie good vibes

BOSTON — Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown exploded from their seats and screamed about as loud as anyone inside a delirious TD Garden. Behind them, Marcus Smart clambered onto their vacant bench chairs and threw his hands to the sky, nearly tumbling over in his giddiness.

“I was just trying to be the same height as Tacko [Fall],” cracked Smart, referencing the 7-foot-7 big man whose second slam of the night turned the Celtics bench into human popcorn.

Moments earlier, the Garden had roared with playoff-like intensity when Fall, formally signed to a 2-way contract Sunday morning, got behind a pair of defenders and delivered an emphatic two-handed slam. Kemba Walker, Boston’s All-Star offseason signee, wrapped one arm around the neck of Smart and the other around Jaylen Brown, then lifted his feet off the ground and swung with the joy of a young child.

On a night the Celtics led by as much as 54 en route to a lopsided 118-72 triumph over the visiting Cavaliers, the veterans on the bench seemed to enjoy rooting for the rookies maybe more than building the lead.

Yes, part of the hysteria was the inescapable pull of TackoMania. It was Smart who, when coach Brad Stevens called for Fall to enter, stood up beside him and repeatedly implored the Garden crowd to get loud as Fall headed to the scorer’s table.

But Smart said the reason for Boston’s unbridled joy in watching its youngest players succeed goes beyond just Fall. The Celtics have eight rookies competing for roster spots in camp and seven of them could make the final 17-man roster. The bigger picture: Some of those first-year players are going to have to contribute when games are tenser than a breezy preseason matinee.

"I learned as a young guy coming in, confidence is big,” said Smart. "And we’re trying to give our young guys as much confidence as they can handle, as much as they need, as much as we can give because we’re going to need them. We got a lot of new faces out there, a lot of young new faces. We need these guys to have as much confidence as they can because, when things get tight, we need that confidence to keep going.

“But we’re really excited for those guys.”

So with every Max Strus 3-pointer — and there were four of them — the veterans sprang to their feet in support. Every time Tremont Waters channeled his inner-Isaiah Thomas while probing his way to the hoop for a leaning finger roll, the veterans snapped their towels in excitement.

"That’s what it’s about. That’s what a team is about,” said Smart. "Everybody succeeds. Those guys have worked hard, so it’s only right for us to go out there and cheer those guys on, because they do the same for us.”

The camaraderie of the rookies is palpable on this squad. It’s also manifested itself in a shared work ethic and a desire to improve, which hasn’t been lost on Stevens.

“[Strus], Javonte [Green], Tacko, Waters and obviously the guys we drafted, [Romeo] Langford and [Carsen] Edwards and [Grant] Williams, that's as good of a group of rookie workers as I've ever been around,” said Stevens. "They work. They all can play and they all have a good impact on our environment, which is important.

"Those guys — those guys grind. They are hard workers.”

Given the departures this summer, the Celtics will have to lean on those rookies. Williams and French import Vincent Poirier will get minutes in a new-look frontcourt, while Edwards has proven himself capable of scoring from the instant he comes off the bench. Injuries will only open more avenues for these young players to see court time in their first NBA seasons.

The younger players appreciate the way the veterans are trying to instill an early confidence.

"It’s a team game, so we’re all in it together,” said Strus, who signed a partially guaranteed deal Sunday and then put forth his best in-game case for earning the 15th roster spot. "We work together every day, non-stop. We all look out for each other and we cheer for [the veterans], they cheer for us, and it’s great to have that camaraderie on this team.”

It’s almost too easy to point to this start-of-the-year chemistry and suggest how different it is from last season when there, at times, seemed to be a divide between the “young guys,” and more established veterans. But these Celtics have worked hard to avoid comparisons between this year and last, and their actions this season are simply an understanding that everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction if this team is going to outkick the already tempered expectations.

There’s still an excitement at what this team can become and some of that will be dictated by how much younger players improve, and how much they can handle from the jump. Impossibly, players like Walker and Brown have flown quietly under the radar this preseason because some rookies have taken much of the spotlight, which amuses Stevens.

"Everybody’s flying under the radar except for Tacko,” cracked the coach. "So, that’s OK. We’ll take that.”

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