Kelly Olynyk

Best of the Decade: Which Celtics rookies had the best seasons?

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Best of the Decade: Which Celtics rookies had the best seasons?

BOSTON — The success of the Boston Celtics in the past decade by and large has come on the backs of veteran, established players. 

But there have been a few youngsters who were ready for prime-time play sooner rather than later, proving their worth by being solid contributors to the team’s overall success in their first season. 

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Here we take a look at the top six rookies for the Celtics since 2010. 

6. Daniel Theis

How acquired: Free agent signing in 2017

Rookie per-game stats: 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds in 63 games. 

Only listed at 6-foot-8 but playing center, Theis’ defensive versatility got him on the floor early. However, his rookie season was cut short due to a torn meniscus injury that robbed the Celtics of one of their better interior defenders coming off the bench whose play was seemingly getting better as the season progressed. 

5. Jaylen Brown

How acquired: No. 3 pick (from Brooklyn) in the 2016 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 78 games

Jaylen Brown caught the eye of many when as a rookie he scored 19 points in his first start against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with many of those points coming against LeBron James. Brown’s shooting was better than anticipated in his first year, making 34.1 percent of his 3’s and 45.4 percent of his shots from the field to earn a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. 

4. Kelly Olynyk

How acquired: The No. 13 pick (via trade with Dallas) in the 2013 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 70 games

While most remember Olynyk for his Game 7 heroics in the 2017 Conference Semifinals against Washington, the 7-footer had a strong first year for the Celtics. His ability to stretch the floor was important not only for his personal growth, but also Boston’s transition to having more space-creators on the floor with size like Olynyk.

3. Jared Sullinger

How acquired: The 21st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game status: 6.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 45 games

With a nice touch around the basket and the ability to knock down 3’s, Sullinger had all the tools to be a solid NBA player for years to come. While his health was a factor in him no longer being in the NBA, there’s no denying he made quite a splash in his first season with the Celtics. 

2. Marcus Smart

How acquired: Drafted by Boston with the No. 6 pick (from Brooklyn) in the 2014 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 7.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 67 games

It didn’t take long for Marcus Smart to establish himself as an above-average defender who brought an elite brand of toughness to the court. His shooting left a lot to be desired, but he excelled in the intangibles needed to win, which earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. 

1. Jayson Tatum

How acquired: Drafted by Boston with the No. 3 pick (from Philadelphia) in the 2017 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in 80 games

From Day One, the game has looked as though it comes easy to Tatum, whose scoring ranked among the franchise’s all-time leaders among first-year players. Tatum’s play earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team in addition to a third-place finish in the league’s Rookie of The Year voting. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which tips off Wednesday at 11:30 a.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 12 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Best of the Decade: Celtics' five greatest single-game performances

Best of the Decade: Celtics' five greatest single-game performances

BOSTON — As we continue to look at the best of the Boston Celtics this past decade, we turn our attention now to the best individual performances. 

There were a ton of options to choose from when putting this list together, like Terry Rozier's 26-point, nine-assist performance in Boston's Game 7 win over Milwaukee in 2018; or Glen “Big Baby” Davis’ 18-point performance in Game 4 of the 2010 NBA Finals that evened the series with the Los Angeles Lakers at 2-2, but also featured one of the more memorable moments of the past decade: Davis carrying Nate Robinson on his back following a Davis put-back basket. 

But what separated these five choices goes beyond the individuals having good games. 

There was something about their play that went beyond a good performance in an important game. 

They each elevated their play in a way that not only stood out at that moment, but has since stood the test of time because of its impact on the franchise or in the case of a couple on the list, their legacy as future Hall of Famers. 

5. Paul Pierce, Dec. 19, 2012 vs. Cleveland

The idea of having an all-Decades list of great performances by the Celtics and not having Paul Pierce on the list just didn’t feel right, even if most of his best performances came prior to 2010.

However, there was one night in the winter of 2012, his last season with Boston, when Pierce had a Hot Tub Time Machine moment and absolutely shredded the Kyrie Irving-led Cleveland Cavaliers to pieces. 

Pierce would finish with 40 points, his last 40-point game for Boston. What made the game stand out besides the points, was that he did it on 13-for-16 shooting which was the most efficient game Pierce had ever played and for one day, served as a reminder of what fans in Boston were blessed with seeing for more than a decade.

4. Kevin Garnett, Game 6, first round vs Atlanta (2012)

This was an elimination game for the Celtics, who held a 3-2 series lead after having lost an 87-86 nail-biter in Game 5 to the Atlanta Hawks. The last thing the Celtics wanted to do was get into a Game 7, winner-take-all scenario against an Atlanta team which had the fourth-best record in the East at home during the lockout-shortened season which was limited to 66 games played. 

It wasn’t Kevin Garnett’s best game as a Celtic, but on this night he was far and away Boston’s best player. Big shots, key plays defensively and dominance on the glass highlighted one of the last in a long line of many great performances by the future Hall of Famer. 

Garnett had a double-double of 28 points on 10-for-19 shooting, to go with 14 rebounds. He also racked up three steals, two assists and a game-high five blocked shots. 

But most importantly, he delivered when the stakes were high, which was a reminder to all that despite being near the end of his career, he too could still come up big when it mattered.

3. Kelly Olynyk, Game 7, Eastern Conference Semifinals (2017)

Of all the big-game performances we have seen this past decade in Boston, there may not have been a bigger surprise than the performance delivered by Kelly Olynyk in the decisive Game 7 of the Celtics' second-round series against Washington.

And remember, this was the series that provided the foundation for the short-lived Boston-Washington rivalry that included a bit of a kerfuffle between Olynyk and then-Wizards forward Kelly Oubre, Jr. 

Just as Oubre Jr. delivered an unexpected cheap shot to Olynyk in Game 3 of that series, Olynyk in turn delivered a few costly shots to Washington — mostly lay-ups and 3-pointers — in the decisive seventh game that ended with Olynyk scoring 26 points in just 28 minutes.

To put that in perspecive, Olynyk had scored 26 points in the three previous games combined. The big scoring game in the most pivotal game of the season not only earned the Celtics the win but just as importantly (for Olynyk anyway), it put him on the path towards a mega payday of $50 million over four years with the Miami Heat and will probably get him a free drink in New England by uttering the magic words “Game Seven.” 

2. Rajon Rondo, Game 4, Eastern Conference Semifinals (2010)

We have seen “Playoff” Rajon Rondo do his thing in recent years with the Chicago Bulls and the New Orleans Pelicans. But there’s nothing that compares to “Playoff” Rondo when he was with the Boston Celtics. 

He delivered repeatedly in the postseason, but few performances stand out like his Game 5 performance in the 2010 conference semifinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers. 

Rondo absolutely dominated the game in all phases of play, something you rarely see when LeBron James is playing. 

And the timing of Rondo’s big game was what made it stand out. Boston went into Game 4 facing a 2-1 series deficit, so the C's needed a win to avoid heading back to Cleveland facing elimination. 

Rondo finished with a triple-double of 29 points, 18 rebounds and 13 assists. 

It was indeed a historic performance by Rondo, who posted playoff numbers that night that had only been achieved by two others before him — Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain. 

Boston not only went on to win the series, but they would advance to the NBA Finals where they lost in seven games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

1. Isaiah Thomas, Game 2 Eastern Conference Semifinals (2017)

Players often go into the playoffs with an increased pressure to perform, but few go in coping with the kind of emotional turmoil and pain Isaiah Thomas was feeling in 2017. 

His sister Chyna died shortly before the playoffs began and Game 2 of the series with Washington fell on what would have been Chyna’s 23rd birthday. 

Thomas honored her memory with what will be remembered around these parts as one of the greatest individual performances ever put on by a Boston Celtic, leading the team to a 129-119 overtime win while scoring a career-high 53 points. 

“I was just so locked in that fourth quarter and overtime because I wanted to win the game so bad that I really didn’t know what I had (point-wise),”  said Thomas, who scored 29 points in the fourth quarter and overtime session. “I just knew that I had to keep being aggressive.”

And in doing so, he etched his name into the history books with the second-highest point total by a Celtic in a playoff game (John Havlicek, 54 points, April 1, 1973). 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which tips off Wednesday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Best of the Decade: Danny Ainge's Top 10 Boston Celtics trades

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Best of the Decade: Danny Ainge's Top 10 Boston Celtics trades

BOSTON -- You don’t earn the nickname “Trader Danny” by sitting around and doing little when it comes to making deals. 

The current patriarch of the Celtics franchise, Danny Ainge, has engineered more than his share of trades through the years. 

And while the results from those deals have varied, the one constant has been the trades making an impact. 

Here's a look at Ainge’s top 10 trades of this decade>>>