Celtics Talk Podcast: Has 'Playoff Kyrie' actually arrived? Chris Broussard talks Celtics-Bucks and upcoming offseason

Celtics Talk Podcast: Has 'Playoff Kyrie' actually arrived? Chris Broussard talks Celtics-Bucks and upcoming offseason

Chris Broussard of FOX Sports joins Kyle Draper, A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg to talk Celtics-Bucks after our C's trio recaps the Pacers series and looks ahead to Milwaukee.

1:42 - Kyle Draper, A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg give their takes on the Celtics' performance in their four-game sweep of the Indiana Pacers. Has this team reached it's full potential yet and what does that mean for their upcoming series vs. the Milwaukee Bucks?

4:03 - It seemed like for the final quarter of the season Kyrie Irving had mentally moved onto the playoffs. Now that the Celtics are there, has Kyrie backed up that mentality or does he need to bring it to another level vs. the Bucks?

7:41 - The guys talk about who impressed in the first round other than Kyrie and look ahead to the possible return of Marcus Smart.

13:07 - The Celtics will have to deal with Giannis Antetokounmpo and figure out a way to shut him down if they want to move on. Chris explains why he thinks it's up to Al Horford and Semi Ojeleye to get that done.

17:55 - Chris Broussard from FOX Sports joins the conversation to give his prediction of the series -- it's not exactly pro-Celtics.

23:17 - Moving onto the upcoming offseason, Chris Broussard discusses why Kyrie's performance in the upcoming series dictates what he will do in free agency this summer.

26:54 - Broussard talks about the potential of Anthony Davis coming to Boston, how much Kyrie staying would influence that and how involved executive vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans David Griffin will be in the situation.

32:49 - Finally, Chris Broussard gives his takes on where some key players might land this offseason including Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler and more.

LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE:

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.


 

Semi Ojeleye's wall-rattling workouts have readied him for Giannis Antetokounmpo

semi_vs_giannis.png
NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Semi Ojeleye's wall-rattling workouts have readied him for Giannis Antetokounmpo

BOSTON — Boom.

It sounded like a sledgehammer was hitting behind Al Horford's locker stall inside TD Garden and Boston’s veteran big man can feel the reverberations as he puts on his shoes. But Horford just smiles and shakes his head.

“I have a lot of faith in those concrete walls,” said Horford.

Boom.

These loud thuds became a familiar white noise in the Celtics locker room after games this season. But, by late April, it felt like the noise was getting louder. Marcus Morris’ stall is a safe distance from the epicenter but even he couldn't help but notice the decibel level. 

“Shem, god damn,” said Morris. 

Boom.

Further across the room, Terry Rozier heard the noise but always figured it was just part of the perpetual construction happening around the Garden. Gordon Hayward, who is as far from the pounding as possible, was more aware of what was happening in the adjoining weight room. 

"That dude is a machine, man,” said Hayward.

Boom.

Eventually, the rhythmic pounding subsided. Then it started up again. It was audible as Celtics players answered questions about that night’s game. A media relations staffer would sometimes stand near the door between the locker room and weight room, aiming to muffle the noise by pulling the door closed whenever players and coaches passed through.

Boom.

Finally, after the locker room had all but cleared out, the door swung open and a sweat-covered Semi Ojeleye, still in his game shorts and tank top with headphones over his head, emerged.

Those booms were a medicine ball that Ojeleye had repeatedly launched into a wall as part of a CrossFit-like routine that Celtics rehab and performance coordinator Zach Markowitz had designed for Ojeleye on nights he doesn’t get into game action.

It used to be that Ojeleye would only engage in these postgame workouts on the road, yearning for some way to burn off pent up energy and avoid the drudgery of sitting in a hotel room. But as the “Did Not Play — Coach’s Decisions” piled up on a Boston roster loaded with talent this season, Ojeleye decided to add a postgame workout to the mix before departing TD Garden.

"Zach just kinda puts this stuff together. It’s kinda like some CrossFit-type stuff, so we do some rotations with med balls and kettlebell swings and bike work,” said Ojeleye. "It’s a lot of different stuff but trying to get some dynamic work in because you’re not getting that game action.”

Jaylen Brown hears the nightly thumping and finds himself concerned only by the force he figures is needed to make the locker room shake the way it does when Ojeleye starts his medicine-ball routine.

“I don’t know what his deal is, why he’s so angry,” Brown said while trying to muffle a sly smile. “I get it, he’s probably like, ‘Man, f— it, I wanted to be out there [in the game].’ He’s just throwing that medicine ball and he’s probably got a picture of Brad Stevens next to him.”

At this point, Brown starts laughing and repeatedly declares he’s just kidding. No, he marvels at the way Ojeleye has handled his situation.

"Semi is a true professional. And nothing short of it,” said Brown. "He handles every situation the right way. When he gets in and when he jacks himself up, he’s ready, mentally engaged. He is a true professional. I’ve learned a lot from Semi, you know what I mean? And I’ve been in the league longer than him and I’ve learned from Semi, just waiting on his situation, his level-headedness, his matureness, his work. He’s a great asset to this team and the organization.”

READY AND ABLE

No one who’s ever gotten a glimpse of what Celtics Twitter dubbed Ojeleye's “thick, jacked frame” has ever doubted his dedication to the weight room. But his relentless desire to stay ready despite never knowing when his next opportunity will come has endeared Ojeleye to just about everyone in the organization.

“He’s definitely the hardest working guy on this team,” said Hayward, who often shoots before and after practice with Ojeleye and is no stranger to his weight room exploits.

Echoed Horford: “That’s the kind of guy you want on your team. If I could have Semi Ojeleye on my team for 15 years, I’d be very happy, just because he’s so professional and he works extremely hard.”

Ojeleye logged a mere 594 minutes in 56 appearances this season. That’s nearly half of his total floor time from his rookie season, when injuries increased his opportunities.

Ojeleye played a mere 28 seconds in Boston’s first-round series against the Indiana Pacers. But that’s about to change. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has routinely called on Ojeleye in matchups against the Milwaukee Bucks, tasking the brick-wall big man with the impossible task of making potential league MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo work for his points. And Stevens has full confidence in Ojeleye in that situation.

"Semi’s always the most reliable guy ever,” said Stevens. "You just know exactly what you’re getting every day with his work ethic.”

WHAT'S IN A NAME?

Jesusemilore Talodabijesu Ojeleye’s page on Basketball Reference lists six nicknames, starting with the familiar Semi (pronounced Shemmy), then adding, Muscles Jesus, The Ox, Thor, The Ojeleye Factory, The Man Made of Granite. Needless to say, the 24-year-old wing is well regarded for his muscular frame. Teammates tell tall tales of his workouts while assistant coaches lament the amount of time they’ve spent just trying to find him a gym on the road.

But in a league where young players with DNPs are often the first to sneak out the door and into the night, Ojeleye’s dedication to putting in postgame work is the reason all of his teammates think he’s going to eventually be a star in this league.

"I think it’s the hardest thing in sports to do, to mentally try to maintain some sort of focus and discipline and still be a professional, not knowing if you are going to get 2 minutes, 5 minutes, no minutes, 15 minutes,” said Hayward. "I think for most guys, you kinda know when you’re going to go in the game, how many minutes you’re going to get. Sometimes, in some systems, you know the shots that you’re going to get each game, different things like that and you can really prepare. 

"But in [Ojeleye’s] situation, you just don’t know. And that’s tough. Like I said, it’s very impressive, the professionalism he has at such a young age.”

There’s a line of thought that, if the Celtics weren't so well stocked at the wing position, with an ability to mix and match with the likes of Hayward, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Marcus Morris, that Ojeleye would be a more consistent contributor. He almost certainly will be a rotation player in future seasons. But the fact that he doesn’t sweat his current uncertainty and simply stays ready for the next opportunity is why teammates gush about him and revel when he does get into games.

"As much as he would want to play more, I’m sure, he understands his role and he’s always prepared,” said Horford. "That’s difficult to do. It’s always nice to see him be rewarded with getting to play.”

For his part, Ojeleye admits it can be tough playing the waiting game, but he’s unfailingly positive about his situation.

"I just try to reframe that as it’s a blessing to be here,” said Ojeleye, who is more likely to post scripture to his Instagram story than any of the blinged-out rock star-like photos that young NBA players tend to spotlight. "There are some days when it’s tough, you’re like, ‘Man, I wish I could get my rhythm and know when it was going to happen.’ At the same time I think you have faith that it’s going to happen, then you do what you can by putting in the work and that kinda makes it easier, it helps me focus on the positives.”

KEEPING IT 100

Ojeleye laughs when asked to put a number on the total number of medicine ball throws in a typical postgame session. “Let’s say 100,” he offered. Reporters like to joke that he must be working out with a vision of defending Antetokounmpo in mind, but Ojeleye chuckles at that suggestion as well. 

“I’m just listening to music and really it’s -- I feel like, during the game, I didn’t get that work in. I didn’t help my team. So I’m trying to catch back up. Just trying to prepare for the next opportunity.” 

This summer, as part of TD Garden’s ongoing renovations, the Celtics' tiny outdated locker room is scheduled to expand. That will include a relocation of the team’s weight room. So it won’t be an issue if, as some teammates expect, Ojeleye ends up launching a medicine ball straight through the dividing wall this season.

Teammates very much enjoy those booms that echo through the locker room.

"The beast, he’s preparing,” said Horford. "He’s waiting to be unleashed.”

And Horford isn’t tipping the game plan when he notes that the unleashing is upon us. The Celtics have enough talent now that it would seem more likely that Hayward or Morris would elevate to a starting role in Boston’s small-ball lineups but it’s fair to expect a heavy dose of Ojeleye and Aron Baynes as the primary big-man defenders off the bench.

“I think this series, [Ojeleye will] probably get an opportunity here,” said Horford. "His ability to space the floor and make an open shot, but then also to defend. And he defends Giannis, and defends at a high level -- he’s a great weapon that we have.”

THE BUCK STOPS HERE?

One of the more common Ojeleye nicknames that you won’t find on Basketball Reference is the “Giannis Stopper.” It’s slightly exaggerated because, well, no one has figured out how to stop Antetokounmpo, particularly during this 2018-19 campaign when he’s made an emphatic case as the best two-way player in the NBA.

And, yet, it’s undeniable that Stevens deployed Ojeleye in a starting role in Games 5-7 of last year’s playoff series against the Bucks. He trusts Ojeleye to make things difficult, though player and coach would be among the first scoff at the suggestion of any sort of “Giannis Stopper.” Heck, “Giannis Slower” might be too much.

The Celtics have typically fared well when Ojeleye is on the court with Antetokounmpo.

The pair logged 41 minutes together on the court during the Celtics-Bucks regular-season matchups this year. Antetokounmpo’s net rating with Ojeleye on the floor was minus-4.5, then spiked to plus-7.4 in the 66 minutes he played without Ojeleye on the court. Now, that’s a bit misleading because the Bucks had an offensive rating of 108 in the minutes Ojeleye was on the court and that actually plummeted to 97.1 without him, so the variance was more on the defensive end.

The luxury for the Celtics is simply being able to deploy another stout body capable of taking some of the wear off Horford. Even if Antetokounmpo scores, Ojeleye can make him work, offer resistance near the basket, and give you another batch of fouls to keep Boston’s top rotation guys on the floor in key spots.

These are the moments that all those medicine ball tosses were building towards. And you can bet Ojeleye will be ready.

After talking one off day at the Celtics practice facility, he promptly disappeared into the weight room. Soon after, the walls to the adjoining media relations office started rattling. 

Boom.

Everybody nearby had the same response to the rhythmic thuds. There goes Semi again.

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.

Five storylines heading into Boston's second-round series against Milwaukee

Five storylines heading into Boston's second-round series against Milwaukee

BOSTON --  There are some NBA playoff matchups that you really have to search far and wide to come up with good storylines.

This Boston-Milwaukee second round series?

It ain’t one of them.

Moments after the Bucks completed their four-game sweep of the Detroit Pistons, their star player Giannis Antetokounmpo didn’t mince words when it came to facing the Celtics, who eliminated the Bucks in the first round of last year’s playoffs.

“We definitely owe them something from last year,” Antetokounmpo said. “We’re going to play hard and it’s going to be fun games to watch.”

Milwaukee’s desire to exact revenge against Boston after the Celtics eliminated them in seven games a year ago, is one of the many story lines that will be followed closely in this series, which begins this weekend.

Here are a few more …

What are the Celtics gonna do with Giannis Antetokounmpo?

There’s an extremely short list of players who are going to dominate play regardless of what teams try to do defensively, an exclusive club that can claim Antetokounmpo as one of its members.

In each of the three regular-season meetings, the Celtics used nine different players defensively on Antetokounmpo, with a different player defending him for the most possessions in each game.

Second Spectrum data shows that Semi Ojeleye defended him a team-high 24 possessions in Boston’s 117-113 win over the Bucks on Nov. 1.

But in their two subsequent matchups on Dec. 21 and Feb. 21, it was Jaylen Brown and Al Horford, respectively, leading the way.

Mixing up who defends Antetokounmpo will once again be Boston’s strategy to limit him, with an occasional double-team or blitz designed to get the ball out of his hands.

With Boston starting a double-big lineup of Horford and Baynes, look for Horford to begin the game defensively against him.

What’s the deal with Scary Terry?

Easily one of the coolest developments to come out of last year’s playoff run -- and the Bucks series specifically -- was the evolution of the Scary Terry Rozier movement that went from being some really cool T-shirts and a talking point for talking heads such as myself, to a shoe and apparel deal for Terry Rozier with Puma.

He became a big deal because he was getting big-time minutes filling in for an injured Kyrie Irving. And in the process of filling in, he began to fill up the stat sheet and highlight reel with some impressive moves, like this one which led to a well-documented beef between Rozier and Bledsoe that went on throughout the series.

But if you’re expecting that kind of smack-talk this time around, it’ll be in the small drip form as opposed to the floodgates of trash talk we saw last season.

Rozier is coming off the bench now, playing fewer minutes and that in itself lessens the impact he’ll likely make.

Meanwhile, that whole playoff series has been a major motivation for Bledsoe, who has shown himself to be a much better player now and one of the reasons Milwaukee finished with the best record in the NBA.

But you know at some point in this series, those two will get into it and that’ll re-ignite the Scary Terry following who are going to be well-represented in this series if for no other reason than to mock Bledsoe.

Kyrie Irving is a first-round killer. But what has he done in the next round?

It is well-documented how successful Irving has been in the first round; and by success, I mean the dude hasn’t lost a game, let alone a first-round series .... ever!

Well, he has been pretty damn successful in the second round, boasting an impressive record of 12-2.

In those 14 games, he has averaged 19.9 points, 5.4 assists and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 42.3 percent from the field and 46.9 percent from 3-point range.

Of course, when it comes to Irving and postseason success, you always have to remember that prior to this month it all came with LeBron James by his side.

But as we saw in Boston’s first-round sweep of Indiana, Irving is intent on making an impact this time of year because truth be told, he doesn’t know anything differently.

Which team has the stronger bench?

Giannis Antetokounmpo and Kyrie Irving will garner most of the headlines in this series.

That’s what superstars do, of course.

But the play of their benches will be just as vital to which team moves on to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Boston’s second unit is led by Gordon Hayward, whose play of late has been more akin to his final days in Utah. The Celtics’ second unit also includes Marcus Morris and Rozier, with the latter playing some of the best basketball of his career when these two teams met in the playoffs last year.

The Celtics’ edge in terms of second-unit success might hinge on the availability of Malcolm Brogdon, out with a plantar fascia injury that’s likely to heal enough to where he can see action in this series.

He has been at his best against the Celtics, averaging 13.7 points, 7.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists in Milwaukee’s three games against Boston this season with a plus/minus of +5.3.

Brogdon appeared in 64 regular season games this season, and became the eighth player in NBA history to shoot better than 50 percent from the field (50.5 percent), 40 percent from 3-point range (42.6 percent) and 90 percent from the free throw line (92.8 percent).

But even without Brogdon, the Bucks’ backups have been good during the playoffs.

According to hoopsstats.com, which tracks a slew of NBA-related stats, the Bucks average 37.3 points per game off the bench in the playoffs, ranking third among the 16 teams in the postseason. Boston (32.8 points) isn’t too far behind.

In addition to scoring, Milwaukee’s bench averages 21.0 rebounds in the playoffs which is tops among all 16 teams in the postseason.

How big of a deal is it that Bucks head coach Mike Budenholzer used to coach Al Horford?

While it can’t hurt that the Bucks’ head coach is well-versed on the strengths and weaknesses of Horford, it likely won’t do him or the Bucks much good in this series.

The things that Horford does well -- read defenses, stretch the floor with his shooting, run pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop with Kyrie Irving -- are things that everyone knows Horford does at an elite level.

Because as much as Budenholzer can tell his players what Horford will do in certain situations, that doesn’t account for Horford’s ability to play his game despite the efforts of most teams defensively.

In the two games Horford played against Milwaukee this season, he has averaged a double-double of 19.5 points, 11.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists while shooting 38.9 percent from the field and and 35.3 percent from 3-point range.

Keeping those scoring and rebounding numbers up won’t be easy for Horford, who will spend a good chunk of the games trying to defend Antetokounmpo. And at the other end of the floor, he will likely be guarded by Brook Lopez, who is one of the better defensive-minded bigs in the NBA. In the two games Horford played against the Bucks this season, Lopez defended him more than any other Milwaukee player in both games for a total of 64 possessions of which Horford scored 23 total points on 9-for-20 shooting, along with six assists.

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.