During the Celtics’ first 13 games, they have 4 back-to-backs, which means that 8 games are involved in back to backs by November 19th. Last year, part of the reason that the Celtics exceeded expectations last year was that they were awesome in back-to-backs due to their depth.
Tonight, Boston takes on the ever-confusing Bulls in Chicago, and it’ll be a good test for the C’s to determine how they fare against an Eastern Conference team that they clearly should beat. Even if the C’s are on the road in the latter half of a back-to-back, they don’t have an excuse for losing to a team like the Bulls.
In fact, the Celtics are on the road for the latter half of all 4 back-to-backs by November 19. They play in Cleveland, Indiana, and Detroit in each of the next 3, all of which will represent tough matchups for the C’s. But tonight’s is the easiest of the quartet of games, and they have to get off to a good start in back-to-backs tonight. (The Detroit matchup looks like it could be easier on paper than a healthy Chicago, but the C’s face the Pistons the night after playing the Warriors in Boston, which will surely leave the Celtics tired.)
I’m not stupid enough to call the 1st or 2nd night of the season a must win. That’s Trent Dilfer’s job. But I am very eager to see tonight’s game, because it’ll be a great litmus test for the Celtics going forward.
Earlier today, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics re-signed Tyler Zeller to a 2 year, $16 million deal with a team option for the 2nd year. On the surface, the deal seems like a fair-but-not-very-meaningful one. The Celtics used their remaining cap space on a quality backup in Zeller, which is fine given that there are no more worthwhile free agents out there and Zeller’s new deal doesn’t tie up any 2017 cap space.
When examining the contract a little further, though, the deal is tremendous. What’s at the top of every Celtics fan’s wishlist right now? That’s right, a blockbuster trade. When trading for a superstar, the Celtics will need to match salary in order to trade for one of the top guys on the market. Given that they don’t have any huge expiring contracts on mediocre player a la Theo Ratliff in 2007, making it hard to math salaries without giving up an asset that the C’s otherwise wouldn’t have to (such as Amir Johnson and his $12 million salary).
If the C’s wanted to trade for Jimmy Butler and his $17.5 million salary, for example, they couldn’t get the job done by only giving back Avery Bradley, RJ Hunter, Terry Rozier and a bunch of top draft picks to put the deal over the top. (The picks would be the centerpiece of that trade, of course.) The C’s could make that deal by throwing in another small salary, but what if they wanted to take back another player from the Bulls or another team in a 3 team deal? Or what if they wanted to give the Bulls the option of attaching a bad contract to Butler in order to get more assets from the Celtics?
Now that the Celtics have Zeller signed for $8 million this season, they can toss in another expiring contract. And Zeller has some added value as an expiring deal, because he’s still a productive player who is on a reasonable deal for the 2017-2018 season, if some team chooses to pick up his option. Any team that might acquire Zeller from the C’s would probably love the option to give a productive center $8 million to hold down the front court.
Worst case scenario? Zeller gives nothing to the Celtics, who cut him, trade him as part of a larger trade, or trade him for nothing to one of the many teams with cap space. There’s zero downside to Tyler Zeller’s new contract, which is why Danny Ainge made a fantastic move.
I care about the Boston Celtics for two reasons. First, I love Boston sports teams, and rooting for them is an integral aspect of living in this city. Second, I love watching basketball, and the NBA is the best basketball league on the planet.
That’s why it sucks that tonight is more important than any single game that the Celtics played all season, with the possible exceptions of April 1 in Oracle Arena and Games 3 and 4 against the Hawks. It was a huge statement for the Celtics to become the first team to win in Oakland during the regular season since January 2015, and it was imperative for the C’s to hold home court in Games 3 and 4 and tell the world that they wouldn’t roll over, even with a missing Avery Bradley and a hobbled Kelly Olynyk.
Tonight’s NBA Draft Lottery will determine the fate of the Celtics’ franchise over the next decade far more than just about any game the C’s could play. Get one of the top 2 picks, and suddenly the Celtics have all the pieces to contend within a few years, whether through player development or trading assets. If they don’t, Operation Contend Again stalls.
Celtics fans do need to realize, however, that the C’s are not screwed if they wind up with the 6th pick tonight, which will probably happen according to Celtics’ lottery history. The plan to rebuild simply gets stalled, not halted in its tracks. They still will draft in the Nets’ spot for each of the next 2 years after this one, and they still will have the Grizzlies’ pick in 2019, 2020, or 2021 when Memphis probably sucks. That’ll be a valuable asset within 1-3 years. Most importantly, they still have a good young core and one of the best young coaches in the league who will only get better after a 48 win season.
But tonight is super important. I’ve been nervous since I woke up Monday morning, 36 hours before the ping pong balls are revealed. Only the NBA draft lottery can make fans feel this way without the sport actually being played.
You knew that Avery Bradley was out with a pulled hamstring (which cost the Celtics the win in my totally-not-at-all-biased opinion), but there’s more sad news on the injury front. Kelly Olynyk is down with an injury to the same shoulder that caused him to miss a chunk of the season. YAYYY!!!!
Marcus Smart will start in Bradley’s spot, which we all expected once we saw Bradley go down. Evan Turner wasn’t on point in Game 1, which probably bodes well for tonight since he’s not exactly consistent, at least with his shooting stroke. Jared Sullinger and Amir Johnson will both play a ton of minutes tonight, naturally. An underrated stroke of luck that the Celtics have been given involves the schedule, as the C’s had/have 2 full days off before Game 1, 2, and 3. If the C’s were playing on an every other day schedule, Game 3 would be tomorrow, which would make it less likely that Olynyk would be able to play. At it stands, he has a much better shot of coming back for the Celtics’ first home playoff game on Friday.
Marcus Smart will be the biggest X-factor in tonight’s game. The good news for C’s fans is that Smart finally showed what he’s capable of in Game 1. He did everything — including shooting from deep — well on Saturday, and Smart defenders got a little bit of vindication.
The bad news? Smart will have to somehow improve on his Game 1 performance tonight. Not only can he not regress at all, but he has to build on his previous play, which will obviously be a huge challenge for an inconsistent, shooting-challenged, 2nd year 22 year old. He has the heart and the balls to get it done, though, and even if the C’s get bounced in this series way faster than we all expected, we’ll learn a lot about whether or not the Celtics have a franchise player already on the roster.
I have no doubt that you’re all aware that, technically, the Celtics could still sneak into the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference. If Cleveland decides to play all of their guys tonight against Atlanta and Washington goes full throttle on Wednesday against the Hawks, the Celtics could get the 3rd seed back by beating Charlotte and Miami.
I hope that happens, and I’ll be pulling hard for the Cavs tonight. But let’s get a little more realistic. The Celtics are very, very unlikely to get the 3rd seed, which relegates them to the 4th, 5th, or 6th spots. Getting the 4th seed would obviously be the best move for the Celtics… or would it?
The 2015-2016 Celtics season has been all about measuring how close the Celtics are to being a contender. They can’t win it this season, but they’ve also made tons of strides since last season’s trade deadline that has put them on the fast track to contenderhood. If this season doubles as a barometer for the Celtics, isn’t it most important for us to see just how far into the playoffs to go?
If that’s the case, then it might be better for the Celtics to get the 6th seed rather than the 4th. Such a drop would necessitate the Celtics beating Atlanta without homecourt advantage, which is a tall task, considering that the Hawks are a tougher matchup for the C’s than the Heat or (definitely) the Hornets. Yet, if the Celtics beat the Hawks in the 3-6 matchup, they would be in a much better spot in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, facing the Toronto Raptors rather than the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Raptors would be the perfect playoff test for the Celtics. How far can ateam go when it’s built around perimeter defense? And how much can the Celtics’ perimeter D carry them in the postseason against a great team? Against the Raptors, with Lowry and DeRozan, we would find out the answers to those questions, and we would learn how the Celtics measure up to the Raptors on the biggest stage. The conventional wisdom about the Raptors, which I agree with, is that they’re the best team who can’t win it all this season. (The Clippers could also claim that title.) Therefore, the C’s need to jump ahead of the Raptors to have a shot at banner #18, and a Raptors-Celtics series would present the perfect opportunity for us to see how far the Celtics are from that level.
Imagine if the Celtics got to the Conference Finals. Suddenly, they would be a perfect free agent landing spot, and every superstar who wants to get traded (BOOGIE!!!) would tell his agent to put the Celtics on his trade list. Sure, they would lose to the Cavs, especially because the NBA and the ghost of David Stern would give LeBron and the Cavs every call if it got to a Game 7 in Cleveland. But that would be a fun ride, and it would speed up the Celtics’ ascension that is already going 100 MPH.
In the end, I’d rather have the Celtics get the #4 seed because the Hawks are that much better than the Heat or the Hornets. The Hawks are by far the worst matchup for any of the 3-6 teams, and I don’t want the Celtics to get the unlucky draw. I’m realistically hoping for Celtics-Hornets at the 4-5 series (regardless of whether the C’s are the 4 or 5 seed, because the Hornets are not on the Celtics’ level). I’m ok with Celtics-Heat as 4-5 as well, but all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t mind it if the C’s drew the Hawks at the 3-6 matchup and stayed on the Raptors’ side of the Eastern Conference bracket.
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.
By now, you know that we have to keep track of the Nets, Suns, and Timberwolves win totals because the Celtics own the Nets’ 1st round draft pick. Also, we have to focus on the win totals for the Mavericks, Trail Blazers, Rockets, and Jazz because of the Mavs’ draft pick that the Celtics got in the Rajon Rondo heist. Tonight is far more important for the Celtics than just the game against the Raptors because of those ever important draft picks.
First, the Lakers play the Suns in Pheonix tonight. The Suns are horrendous, hence they don’t get a ton of chances to win basketball games. Tonight is one of the nights that they not only should win, but need to win for the C’s. They beat the Lakers last weekend in Los Angeles, and the Lakers played last night and the Suns didn’t. Also, D’Angelo Russell might not play because of a bruised shin that he suffered last night, and if he does play, he likely won’t play his best basketball. No excuse for the Suns to lose this one.
In Portland, the Blazers host the Mavs. Neither team played last night, but the Mavs are without Chandler Parsons due to his knee injury. Portland is a very tough place to play, as the Blazers are 21-12 at home this year. The Mavs are just 15-18 on the road this season, and I’ll be pissed off if Dirk Nowitzki pulls yet another game out of his keister.
Don’t just pay attention to the Celtics and Bruins game that are in progress. Those games are obviously the most important ones to watch tonight, but make sure that you pay attention to Lakers-Suns and Mavericks-Trail Blazers. You should never care about a pair of Western Conference games that involves non-contenders as much as you care about these games.
The Mavericks’ draft pick that the Celtics own lies in a weird spot right now, which only adds to the importance of Dallas’ final 12 games.
Earlier today, it was reported that Chandler Parsons will likely miss the rest of the season due to knee surgery. Dallas is now hanging on by a thread, as they’ve lost 7 of their last 9 and have watched Deron Williams, Raymond Felton, and Zaza Pachulia’s performances take huge hits in the past few weeks. Now that Parsons is out, Dirk has to carry his team to the playoffs at age 37.
As of the morning of March 23, here are the Western Conference standings for the team in the same tier as the Mavs.
6. Portland Trail Blazers 36-35
7. Dallas Mavericks 35-35
8. Houston Rockets 35-36
9. Utah Jazz 34-36
We need the Blazers to stay ahead of the Mavericks and the Rockets and Jazz to jump them. If that happens, the Mavs obviously are the 9th seed in the West, but why does that make such a difference in where they pick? If the Mavs are in the 14th slot at the draft lottery, there’s no advantage for the Celtics if their pick makes a jump into the top 3, because the pick is protected 1-7.
But here’s the thing. If the Mavs make the playoffs, they’ll likely have the 15th pick, as the 8th seed seems more likely for them than the 6th or 7th. If the miss the playoffs, however, the pick will probably rise to 12. The 9th and 10th seeds in the Eastern Conference should finish ahead of the Mavs, as the Pistons sit at 37-34 and the Wizards are 35-35. The Pistons have won their last 3 and the Wizards have won their last 5, and both of those teams have arrows pointing up as opposed to the Mavericks’ arrow pointing in the opposite direction.
Let’s say the Celtics got the 15th pick and really wanted to move up to the 12th spot in the draft. Such a jump would cost the Celtics at least a 2nd round pick, and it might cost more if Danny Ainge really wants a certain player, considering he offered 4 picks last year to move from 16 to 9.
The difference between the 15th and 12th pick is more significant than it seems, especially if the C’s try to trade the pick. Let’s say the Celtics get the 3rd pick from the Nets and the 24th pick from their own (if they can get the 3 seed in the East). What if Danny Ainge wants to trade up from 3 to 2 and get either Simmons or Ingram. Doesn’t it look a lot better to offer the 12th pick along with the 3rd and some other asset for the 2nd pick overall, rather than offering the 15th?
Over the next 3 weeks, the most important games for the Mavericks are tomorrow night at Portland, Friday April 1 vs. Houston, and Monday April 11 at Utah. That April 11th game is imperative, as the Jazz and Mavs will likely be fighting for the 8th seed down to the wire, and the Mavs will have played at LAC the night before while the Jazz will have played at Denver the night before. I’ll never root for the Jazz more than I do that night.
Their luck was going to catch up to them at some point.
Before last Friday’s game against the Rockets, the Celtics had won 17 of their last 22 and 14 straight home games. While I’ll still declare that the Celtics are a much better team than most people realize, it was always clear that they were still playing way above themselves during that stretch. Now, the basketball gods are evening things out a little bit.
The Celtics got blasted tonight, as the 4th ranked Celtics defense (in terms of defensive rating) was no match for the mighty Oklahoma City offense, especially with Jae Crowder out with a high ankle sprain. Kevin Durant had 28 points, 9 assists, 7 boards, and an absurd +30 plus/minus in only the 30 minutes he played before the game was out of hand. The only reason the Celtics lost by “only” 21 was that the game was out of hand early and the Thunder played their garbage time guys. This is how bad the game was: Oklahoma City played 38 year old Nazr Mohammed for 2 minutes tonight, prompting everyone across the league to ask, “Nazr Mohammed is still in the league??!!”
The advanced stats demonstrate just how important Jae Crowder is to the Celtics, but you don’t need them to realize how much the Celtics him. Durant’s stat line shows that Boston had absolutely nobody to put on KD.
Crowder’s injury worries me and should worry you, because I’m more than a bit skeptical that he can return from a high ankle strain in 2 weeks. If he was out a pair of weeks, then he would be back in time for the Clippers game in L.A., but if he’s out longer, he could miss consecutive games against the Clips, Blazers, and Warriors on the West Coast.
The Celtics are in a rough spot, no doubt about it. They’re now tied for 4th in the East with the Hawks and sit half a game back of the Heat. With all that being said, if the Celtics fall all the way to the 6th seed in the East, they would still be a very dangerous team in the playoffs. They’ll have Crowder back, and they would likely play the Heat or the Hawks in round 1, two teams who don’t have anything resembling a good crowd to boost their home court advantage. They’d be on the other side of the Eastern Conference bracket as the Cavs.
The Celtics are not screwed. They’ve hit a bum in the road, but as always, we have to take a step back and look at the big picture with this team. Crowder may be out, but at least they have him locked up at $7M per season for the next 4 years, right? Their salary cap books, draft picks, and organizational wherewithal still puts them in a hell of a spot going forward.
The Celtics and Bruins both played the teams that lead the Eastern Conferences in their respective sports, the C’s barely bested the Knicks on Friday night, the Ducks beat the Kings to take over the lead of the Pacific Division, and the Lakers beat the Warriors in one of the biggest regular season upsets in NBA history.
But none of those were the most important game of this weekend. At least not for Boston sports fans. The most important game of the weekend was the high scoring affair between the Timberwolves and Nets on Saturday night, in which the Timberwolves beat the Nets in Minneapolis 132-118.
If you’ve been following the Celtics at all this season and you have a pulse, you know that we are rooting hard for the Nets to lose every possible game. However, you might not realize just how important the Timberwolves are to the Celtics at this point. Due to their win Saturday Night, the T-Wolves have 20 wins on the season to Brooklyn’s 18. Had the Nets won on Saturday, they would both be sitting at 19 wins.
With 19 games to go for both teams, a 2 game difference is quite a crucial one, given how horrible these teams are. The Nets sit at 4th worst in the league, and the T-Wolves sit at 5th. Ever since the Suns beat the Nets on February 25th, it’s become very unlikely that the Nets will finish worse than the putrid Suns, which rules out the 3rd best chance at the #1 selection for the Brooklyn pick that the Celtics own. However, the next worst team is a full 3 games better than the T-Wolves (and it’s the Pelicans, who have actually remembered how to play basketball recently), meaning that the Celtics will almost surely have at worse the 5th best chance at the #1 slot. That makes the difference between the 4th worst and 5th worst records all the more consequential.
The T-Wolves made it that much harder for the Nets to rise above them, which helps the Celtics out tremendously. It was a vital game for the Celtics, and unlike the less important Celtics-Cavs game taking place simultaneously, this one worked out for Stevens & Co. As if the Timberwolves haven’t given enough to the Celtics over the years.