Why Gordon Hayward Will Never, Ever Succeed In Boston

This preseason inspired a feeling Celtics fans have not had in a very long time, a belief better, happier days are here. There is no looming sense of dread if any obstacle happens to land in their road back to decency. This assembled cast of characters are even-keeled, cool, selfless personalities who mesh extremely well considering they don’t know one another all that well. 

For all the bright spots, there is one murky figure that still resides. A reminder of what the franchise ultimately lost since his signing. The once rising star of Gordon Hayward undoubted cratered through no fault of his own (the fault lies with Kyrie Irving). Five-minutes into his Celtics tenure, his apprehended was supposed to usher in an era where Boston graduated a step above from scrappy contender status, to title favorites. Quite possibly, the 2017-18 Celtics are the greatest squad you’ll never have gotten to see full strength considering all they’ve accomplished losing Hayward – and later Irving to season ending injuries. I’ll go to my grave believing that was a championship team.

While the good vibes have seemed to also effect Hayward looking to recapture what made him an All-Star in Utah, his remaining in Boston reminds me of what should have been, but never will be. His contract is a hefty sum with two-years, a player-option for 2020-21. If he does return to his pre-injury form the Celtics likely will lose him to free agency this upcoming summer. Jaylen Brown‘s rookie contract will expire at the end of the season and Jayson Tatum is due for an extension at the same time. These pressing issues lingering on the horizon is why Ainge carefully constructed his title window for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Unforeseeable circumstances destroyed any chances of lasting success and Ainge is in a position many GMs are of running on the treadmill of not mediocrity, but constantly reshuffling the decks to sustain a good, but not great team. While the Toronto Raptors were in a similar position prior to trading for Kawhi Leonard, Masai Ujiri had to wait a long time for the superstar to become available on the market and had to endure multiple seasons of the Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan duo getting emasculated annually in the playoffs. 

The Raptors have just extended Lowry for another season and are probably looking to maximize their chances in a wide open conference despite lacking the caliber of star Leonard was that put them over the top. If Hayward resembles his old self, it’s smart to consider a simple swap of Hayward for Marc Gasol. The Celtics cannot reasonably hope to contend for a title against the likes of Joel Embiid with Daniel Theis, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter. The Raptors are deathly shallow at the wing and Hayward can become rejuvenated in a new city clearly still high off the fumes of their title. 

The loss of Al Horford could be blamed solely on Irving’s antics. His grandstanding, preaching empty sentiments of leadership and promises to flip the switch in the postseason drove the reliable Horford into the arms of dreaded rival Philadelphia. It is likely that if Horford learned not only Irving was destined for Brooklyn, but he was being replaced by Kemba Walker that he’d return to the Celtics on a new contract. But timing is everything and that factor has rarely played in the favor of Ainge. 

Gasol is sitting on the last year of his max contract worth $25 million. A straight up swap leaves just $606,000 to be filled in salary to make the numbers work. He’s slowed down a step and it showed during his half season in Toronto, averaging a unspectacular 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists line. But in the final 23 games after the All-Star Break, Gasol sported an offensive rating of 119.6 and a positive net rating of 17. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest Toronto doesn’t win the title without Gasol’s subtle contributions. 

The in-house solutions aren’t very much solutions. Theis is limited athletically, Williams cannot so much beyond just block, and Kanter is, sadly, unplayable in most scenarios. It’s amazing Terry Stotts managed to coach around Kanter’s limitations on defense as well as he did. 

Unless Hayward is a top-15 player by the All-Star Break, this is the trade every Boston fan should be praying to become reality. 

Celtics Improbable Home Magic

“It’s true. All of it.” Stern words said by the late galactic hero Han Solo when Rey realizes all the legends she was told was in fact true as day. She reacts amazed, astonished. Such begins the whimsical, but treacherous ride into a bold new world. This is what life is currently like for Boston fans. Going into the playoffs the team looked ready to waive the white flag. Injuries waste potentially the last year of Marcus Smart and robs us of two prime All-Star seasons from Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. It’s as if the Basketball Gods don’t want us to get this far.

No matter what this ragtag group of late draft picks and role-players ended Giannis Antetokounmpo’s season prematurely and now lead the best 1-2 punch in the conference 2 games to zilch. At home the Boston Celtics are indestructible. The mystique of the old Boston Garden carried over to the new TD Garden(Still the FleetCenter to me). The Celtics can’t seem to stay dead when they play in front of the Beantown faithful. Terry Rozier is at an All-Star level of good at home, 22.8 points in six games, 50.5% from the field. Versus 11.7 points on 27.8% shooting on the road. It’s somewhat smoke and mirrors but Boston enjoys home-court advantage throughout this series, even if Philadelphia ties this series up by Monday, I’d still feel confident in Boston going into a pressure packed Game 5.
Embiid faltered late, possessions featuring him bogged down to one-on-one everybody else standing around. Either Embiid makes the basket or misses, if it wasn’t for the early advantage Philly gained on second chance points (18-12) the Sixers would not have jumped out to a 22-point lead by the second quarter. Horford shut down Embiid forcing the dynamic center to settle for long range shots, of which he finished 1 of 6. Coming off the Miami series where he and Simmons imposed their will, it’s a drastic shift from those two being on God mode to the minuscule effect they’re having now.
Al Horford succeeded in dragging Embiid out of his work zone opening the lanes up to rim drives from T-Ro, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. What’s shocking is the Sixers were outscored by eight when Embiid was on the floor. The veteran Horford got the first step on Embiid numerous times, including the skillful layup off the feed from T-Ro. Embiid still has lots of learning to do. Perhaps the restrictions he’s been on for the season make him vulnerable in high pressure situations when the intensity is ratcheted up a level.
Embiid wasn’t even the best player for the Sixers in Game 2. J.J Redick and Robert Covington carries Philly’s offense. Rookie sensation Ben Simmons did not convert a single field goal attempt, his lone point coming from the charity stripe in the first quarter. Brad Stevens learned from coaching against Giannis for seven-games transition defense is tremendously important. Philly scored only thirteen points in the fast break, ten in preceding Game 1. While Simmons says his did of a Game was “self inflicted”, may be right, it doesn’t negate the Celtics walling off B.S comfort zone near the basket begging him to shoot every-time he touches the ball. Maybe at home, away from the disruptive confines of Boston Simmons can regain his prowess. It’s certainly possible.
But none of this is possible without Al Horford solidifying himself not just worth his max contract but making a strong candidacy for the Hall of Fame. Ripping off a postseason run reminiscent of Bill Walton of 1977 and Pau Gasol of 2010. Horford is everything to this Celtics team, there’s so much truth to the fact he does more “beyond the box score.” A sentiment usually ridiculed by those in the toxic Boston sports media.
Bill Walton, ‘77 Postseason:
18.2 PPG, 15.2 RPG, 5.5 APG, 50.7 fg%, 19.7 P.E.R, .162 WS/48, ORtg N/A
 
Pau Gasol, ‘10 Postseason:
19.6 PPG, 11.1 RPG, 3.5 APG, 53.9 fg%, 24 P.E.R, .224 WS/48, 126 ORtg
 
Al Horford ‘18 Postseason:
18.4 PPG, 8.9 RPG, 3.6 APG, 61.4 fg%, 23.3 P.E.R, .228, 129 ORtg
Players who’ve averaged more than 18 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists and a block in the playoffs are usually the shot blocking lane clogger kind of center (David Robinson and Ralph Sampson) and dynamic forwards (LeBron, Barkley, Durant). But for a non-traditionalist big like Horford, someone who wishes he shot the three ball sooner in his career, it’s quite the accomplishment given the duration of the Celtics run and what he was saddled with this start.
Do the Celtics have enough magic in them to continue this improbable run on Saturday nightat the Wells Fargo arenain Philadelphia? Eh. I doubt it. But with home court advantage it is not inconceivable the Celtics Win this series in 7 and have a date with LeBron in a East-Finals rematch.
And then… I don’t know what I’ll think.

Bucks-C’s: Jaylen Brown Arrives; BOS Lead Series 2-0

Jayson Tatum wore some pretty nifty Laker gold color sneakers and that was his lone highlight of his night against Milwaukee, as the Celtics cruised to a 106-120 pummeling of the favored Bucks. The C’s now hold a 2 games to none lead over Milwaukee, each team will be off until Friday when the series will resume in Wisconsin at the Bradley Center.

Outside of Tatum’s low scoring of four-points on two-of-nine shooting, the Celtics played basically the perfect game. Jaylen Brown officially has his coming out party, knocking down jumper after jumper, finishing with thirty. Milwaukee made the mistake of going under every time the Celtics ran a dribble handoff (DHO) for Brown, willing to dare the second-year forward to shoot, he did and with great success. Bucks coach Joe Prunty did not adjust, and despite Brown developing himself as a fine deep threat, adhered to a seemingly outdated version of his scouting report.

Milwaukee went deep into their bench, unlike in Game 1, and found mixed results. Malcolm Brogdon again proved to be more ready for the playoffs than veteran guard Eric Bledsoe, notching 10-points in eighteen-minutes; Shabazz Muhammad come off the bench and was right hot out the gate, scoring 11-points in just twelve-minutes. But neither saw for the floor for very long. Sterling Brown didn’t log a single-minute until the fourth quarter when the Celtics already were way ahead. Tyler Zeller played only five-minutes and prospect Jabari Parker humiliated himself in the brief stint he had out there, giving zero effort on defense in a sequence after a missed shot, the C’s got back in transition, his assignment (Jaylen) was left open in the left corner for what seemed like forever, got a couple dribbles in before he drilled a three-pointer to stifle a Milwaukee rally. Parker finished with a miserable negative-15 and proved his critics correct that he isn’t ready for prime time.

Prunty continues to gift the Celtics by playing the wrong guys, not giving defensive, high-energy scorer Matthew Dellavedova more time, even with Tony Snell (again) scoring only two-points in twenty-two minutes. Quite ironic, given in Milwaukee’s season-opener against the Celtics, Delly was a key cog in the Bucks defensive identity, scoring fifteen-points and iced the contest with a 25-foot three. It’s baffling to see him out of the rotation.

To add insult to injury, Khris Middleton continued to shoot the lights out, picking up right where left off after a thirty-one point Game 1, scoring twenty-five points, but only receiving 14 attempts, converting on 11. Once again, Middleton and Giannis were the lone pulses of a dying Bucks team, combing for fifty-five points, while most of Milwaukee’s supporting cast floundered. But shooting was not the issue for Milwaukee, despite being down by as much as twenty, they managed to shoot 59.7% from the field. It’s the little matter of Milwaukee going seven-of-seventeen from the charity stripe and committing fifteen turnovers that played a big role in what could be a demoralizing defeat.

On the Celtics side of things, business was good. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris continued to flourish. T-Ro scored 23, while Mook chipped in 18 off the bench, including two very important jump shots late in the final period when it looked like the Bucks were about to mount a last ditch effort run. Morris is clearly unfazed by the chaos around him, able to rise to the occasion when called on. It’s no wonder why he’s become such a critical part of Weird Celtics Twitter.

So, in the most unlikeliest of events, the shorthanded Celtics took it to the Bucks and now are in complete control of this series not many (including me) expected to win. Course, this is far from over. But the way the Celtics are moving the ball, getting every shot they’ve ever wanted, and how Milwaukee looks ready to be put out of their misery, you can’t help but get ideas of just how far this scrappy band of backups can go.

GAME NOTES:
Al Horford continued to dominate in the post, and midrange, scoring 16 points off of 7-Of-11 shooting, putting in five rebounds and four assists. Greg Monroe and Shane Larkin helped a ton off the bench, scoring twenty-three points between them both, Monroe putting in four-rebounds, two assists and two steals.

A Series Of Statistical Oddities

This’ll be a series of statistical oddities and who’ll be the least sloppy team, at times Boston looked unable to avoiding shooting themselves in the foot. In the second-quarter, the Celtics committed five turnovers, four of them coming from backup guard Shane Larkin, aiding the Bucks to get off the ropes turning a twelve-point deficit to a three-point lead in the span of twelve-minutes. The thirty-to-fifteen run by Milwaukee can be attributed to the Bucks hounding the Celtics everywhere, denying ball entry to Jayson Tatum and stifling Celtic big Greg Monroe. Middleton and Giannis got hot and took control, Boston had no answer for either of them the entire day and were fortunate Milwaukee couldn’t get much of anything out of anybody else to help push them over the top, as the Celtics won Game 1, 113-107.

Bucks coach Joe Prunty mangled his team, again, he didn’t play Giannis at center, until he took John Henson out after thirty-seven Minutes, finally turning to the lineup for the entirety of overtime. But it wasn’t just that. It was not substituting Tyler Zeller in to go against Greg Monroe in the fourth quarter, a matchup Zeller feasted on in their April 3rd regular season matchup. Desperate for Al Horford, Stevens rode the 31-year-old hard all night, deciding to sub him in next to Monroe with 7:51 left in the regulation; the frontcourt is one of Boston’s worst, accumulating a negative net rating of 15.7. Yet, Prunty failed to make Boston pay in any capacity. Prunty didn’t turn to Zeller, didn’t go small, didn’t even give Jabari Parker a chance to take advantage of the traditional lineup in the forty-eight seconds the Celtics played Monroe with Horford.
Boston also enjoyed an overwhelming surplus of bullshit scoring courtesy of Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. Since Irving was lost, Boston’s offensive rating is a below-average 103.3, worse than the New York Knicks, of all teams. It’s safe to assume, the Celtics are going to deal with games in this series where they’re going to get nothing from either Mook or T-Ro. Mook made a complete bullshit 22-foot step-back fadeaway two, at the very end of the shot clock (https://on.nba.com/2HEzM1y). When Mook makes that shot, it just isn’t your night.
Marcus Morris played exceptional defense, guarding Giannis for 28 possessions, holding him to eight-points, and holding Khris Middleton to three-points in the fourteen-possessions he spent guarding him. Terry Rozier did a tremendous job on veteran guard Eric Bledsoe, who couldn’t have bought a basket from him. Forty-three-possessions, 5 points, two turnovers, 2-of-7 shooting, Bledsoe was an absolute disaster for the Bucks, who benefiting from 2nd-year guard Malcolm Brogdon (16 points) playing in his place. Likewise, Tony Snell was an abomination, scoring a measly two-points in thirty-three minutes of play. Amateur, but promising shooting guard Sterling Brown logged only two seconds, Prunty did not trust his young guys at all and it cost him a chance steal home-court advantage from the Celtics.
Despite Henson’s impressive six blocks, the veteran center only snagged five rebounds on the defensive glass and helped Boston win the battle on the boards, Boston scoring 22 2nd chance points to Milwaukee’s 5.
Even with all of that, the Bucks still had a chance to win this game in overtime. After a beautiful Jayson Tatum finger roll (https://on.nba.com/2J1aE4i), the Celtics lead 108-105, 1:22 left t, Prunty called timeout. Middleton drove to the baseline, finding an open Brogdon, as Rozier left his man to help on defense, he missed and Giannis grabbed the running rebound, dishing it to a driving Bledsoe, who gave it to a WIDE (WIDE) open Middleton who (thankfully) missed as well. Rozier out hustled Giannis for the critical rebound, T-Ro iced the game with seven-points from then charity stripe and the Celtics galloped out of their home building buzzing with confidence.
Will the Bucks continue to shoot themselves in the foot? Can the Celtics continue to rely on Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier erratic scoring? How much will we see the Giannis at center lineup? The answer to the last question, may very well decide the series.

Giannis Will Soar Over The Battered Celtics

Boston’s 102-108 defeat on April 3rd, at the hands of Milwaukee was eyeopening. The Bucks took on a battered, shorthanded Celtics squad and couldn’t put them away, despite being in control for the entirety of the second half. Horford, Monroe, Brown, Tatum and Baynes were money from all over the court, combining for 80-points, what lost them the contest was Kadeem Allen and Semi Ojeleye scoring four-points apiece. At the time I believed if Terry Rozier was ready to go, the Celtics would’ve won the game going away. Rozier didn’t play because of an ankle, he came back the next night for Toronto and went 1-for-9 and outside of the Atlanta game, hasn’t looked right. As a starter, Rozier’s been wonderful, averaging almost 17 points a game as a starter.

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown can carry the offense, they’re going to be the main source for points. If Giannis holds either of them to below twenty-points, Milwaukee will win this running away. It’s almost the wrong time for substitute coach Joe Prunty to play Giannis at center given how lethal he can be guarding Boston’s two forwards. As shooters, Tatum and Brown are awesome. If you are asking either of them to make a critical pass, find the open man, they cannot do that. Passing isn’t their strong suit and we seen Stevens experiment with playing playing Tatum at point guard, to little success. Rozier is a playmaker, but not a point guard in the traditional sense. The straw that’ll stir the drink is Al Horford, he’s done it before and knows how to do it. In the four-games against Milwaukee, Big Al posts 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists and an astronomical 139 offensive rating. If Boston miraculously wins this season it’s because Al Horford is awesome.
Sneaky fringe All-Star Khris Middleton averaged 20 points this season on 46/35/88 splits, a modest statistical achievement, including 51.7% on twos. Despite that, Giannis and Middleton are only marginally better as a frontcourt tandem than Brown and Tatum.
Giannis/Middleton: 110.7 ORtg, 5.2 Net, 58.5 TS%
Brown/Tatum: 108.5 ORtg, 8.4 Net, 56.8 TS%
The problem is, Giannis is the best player out of those four. On the other hand, this Bucks team, while talented, has the dirtiest basement of any of this teams captained by a super-duper star. Through 71 games Eric Bledsoe’s been solid, but hardly the game-changer we all hoped he’d become for Milwaukee. Last year’s rookie guard Malcolm Brogdon’s offensive rating was higher (112) than Bledsoe’s (109) and despite his ability to play off-ball, hasn’t risen his game playing next to Giannis.
Milwaukee is a team consisting of solid spot-up shooters; 21.4% of their total points this season came from that playtype, which they run more than twenty-three other teams at 21.5 frequency rate. On “Cuts” the Bucks rank seventh worst in in the 17.2 percentile. But in isolation the Bucks are at an elite (or near-elite) 79.3 percentile. Middleton, Snell, Bledsoe are the silent killers of this deeply flawed Bucks team. And while they remain defensively challenged, Boston doesn’t have the tools to make them pay.
If Kyrie were healthy I’d take Boston over Milwaukee in a heartbeat – and it wouldn’t even be close. Prunty isn’t a good coach, falling into the same failures as predecessor Jason Kidd committed during his time there. But Giannis is a year older, wiser and Boston does not have a body on the floor that can defend him in any capacity.
My Prediction: Bucks in 5.