This morning felt like on of our teams had just won a crucial series. The magnitude of last night’s game was much greater than we expected it to be, and as the game went on, fans were realizing that an upset of the Warriors in Oakland would be a humongous victory for the Celtics. And it was.
However long this Celtics core is together, last night’s win will be one that defines them. If this core wins a championship in the next 5 years like we all hope (and expect), then we’ll look back on last night as the game that put them on the map as a true title contender. They still won’t win it this year, but we all know unequivocally, now more than ever, that their arrow is pointing up more than any other team in the league.
Let’s review what we learned about the specific pieces that the Celtics have that will take them to the promised land.
Smart shut up all of his doubters last night, which was far too many people around these parts for the past few weeks. Yes, his shooting is a mess right now and needs to improve dramatically if Smart is going to become a franchise player, but last night, Smart showed the world on the biggest stage of what he’s capable of when everything clicks for him. Marcus was ferocious on defense, contributed on the stat sheet, and even ran the offense a few times when Isaiah wasn’t the captain. Brad Stevens trusted him enough to play all 12 minutes of the final quarter, and I’m guessing that we’re all comfortable with trusting in Brad Stevens’ judgment.
Going forward: Smart proved that he’s not just a glorified complimentary piece who could double as a lucrative trade asset, but rather a franchise cornerstone.
IT has the heart of a lion, which he has never displayed better than he did in the 3rd quarter last night. Went toe to toe with the best shooter in the world without blinking. I felt completely at ease that Isaiah Thomas was the alpha dog for the Celtics on the offensive end last night against the best team in the league, and I didn’t think I’d ever say that so confidently.
Going forward: Those who have said that Isaiah can’t be a core player on a championship team because of his size and defense are idiots. He can absolutely be a prominently featured player on the Celtics team that takes home banner #18.
Turner is one of the best Swiss Army Knives in the league. The Celtics were playing against the best Swiss Army Knife in the leauge, Draymond Green, but Evan Turner showed the whole league that his versatility is invaluable. Turner played 37 minutes last night, most on the Celtics and tied for most in the game, and the dude has BALLS. Nailed the mid range jumper with 1:15 to go and hit the 2 game winning free throws without the slightest bit of worry on his face.
Going Forward: It has been assumed since Turner signed with the C’s in 2014 that the team would let him go at the end of his contract to free up more minutes for their young studs, but now, we would all love to keep him. Turner will probably price himself out of the Celtics’ plans, but if they make their move to contenderhood this summer and had cap space left over, I would love if they spend (or maybe even overspend) on Turner.
Sullinger may have also priced himself out of the Celtics’ offseason moves, as he will be a restricted free agent. Sully did everything the Celtics needed from him last night, including trash talking with Draymond Green. Sully told Danny Ainge that he was right in taking another chance on him after last year’s weight issues. Sully will be a valuable part of a contending team within a few years. He’s the Celtics’ best rebounder, and his ability to get the boards is crucial.
Going forward: I have no clue how close Sullinger’s free agency offers will be to his maximum contract starting at $21 million next season. I doubt he’ll get to that number, but he’ll now get at least $13M and more likely $16-17. I’m not sure if the Celtics want to pay that, but the good news is that his trade value even as a sign-and-trade candidate this summer is higher than it was at the end of last year. But I’d love if the Celtics found a place for him going forward.
Bradley loves playing against the Warriors and Stephen Curry, and that ability to step up against the best is a tremendous sign for him going forward. Bradley was in Curry’s jersey all night, and he still found a way to contribute offensively. Bradley deserves those 1st team All Defense props that his teammates are giving him, and he’s an invaluable player for a contender to have.
Going forward: Bradley also proved himself to be a franchise cornerstone and not just a nice asset. You need guys like Bradley to win, especially with the perimeter talent around the NBA now.
- Brad Stevens: Stevens might be the 2nd best coach in the league. That’s how good he is, and he doesn’t get enough credit when people talk about who the Celtics’ best asset is. I still say that it’s Smart, but Stevens is right up there.Going forward: Wyc Grousbeck and Danny Ainge are experts at creating a fantastic work environment and organization. I trust them to know that Brad Stevens is the perfect guy to coach the team going forward. He has 2 years left on his contract, and the Celtics should extend him this summer for top dollar. I hope he runs the Celtics for as long as Bill Belichick will run the Patriots.