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.
Throughout the entirety of the Celtics season they’ve played similar to a person with a personality disorder. One minute everything is fine. The ball is finding the bottom of the net, passes are extremely crisp and seems like everyone has their dribbling down to a science. The literal next minute the offense becomes subject to multiple hijackings, bad shot selection and ball movement. Heading into the first round series versus the scrappy Indiana Pacers missing their superstar and lone offensive spark Victor Oladipo. I believed their chases to upset the more talented Celtics because Indiana, for their lack of individual athleticism, at least they played like a team. A tired old cliche for sure, but right nonetheless.
So why have they failed to even win a game thus far? Simple. They don’t have any answer for the likes of Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum, and eventually Jaylen Brown when he got going in Game 3. Are the Celtics dramatically better coached than they were in the regular season? No. The minutes distribution is better spread out. Upping Gordon Hayward and Brown’s minutes to 30 per game for the series after playing bit roles coming off the bench for the bulk of the regular season. But the same complaints I’ve had towards Stevens remain prominent. Brown absolutely had a ball in Game 3. Scoring a game-high 23 points on only nine shot attempts. In contrast, Morris attempted eight shots coming off the bench.
Why is this happening? How come Stevens cannot figure out how to simply feed the hot hand and cease turning to the frigid hand? It’s difficult to control every possession and to have players break out of bad habits they’ve developed over the years they spent in the professional ranks. Maybe coaching isn’t exactly to blame for why Brown isn’t more aggressive and willing to shoot, maybe it is Brown himself. Like Tatum the third-year forward from California State is mature, reserved and wise. A calming presence no doubt. In my three years of watching Brown play for Boston I’ve never thought to myself “Okay, you need to stop shooting now.” He knows when he doesn’t have his fastball on a particular night.
In contrast, Morris doesn’t know the meaning of the word “slump” a 2 for 11 game is all the same as a 8 for 10 outing. Both sides of the spectrum can be admired by the fans. Both equally hurtful to a teams high aspirations. I’ve been critical of Brown’s shot the first two games of this series, but that’s because I’m a pessimistic, miserable prick unable to listen to reason while I am in the middle of one of my freak outs. If you ever wondered what Boston sees in a potential future if they choose to build around The Jays, look at that game. We have issues with Tatum taking long-twos, but it’s not like they weren’t open shots. Indiana could not succeed in double-teaming because it was a given one of the other Celtics would leak out and nail the outside shot or sneak under the basket for the easy lay-in.
When he is going Jaylen Brown’s stroke is unbelievably smooth. Given a head of steam coming down full court he is a terror to guard. You can try to foul him but he may just pass you before you can.
We saw a semi-aggressive Brown in Game 3. He’s been so all series, only in different ways. Hustling on defense, gunning for loose balls and battling for rebounds against the likes of Myles Turner, Domantas Sabonis and Thaddeus Young. Game 3 was the first time his fingertips let loose some fire. If this is the Brown we are going to see in future games this playoffs then just book the Celtics ticket to the finals now because this team is dangerous when they can get that crucial third player involved. If only Brown would take the initiative.
Say if our worst fears are realized, everyone who can leave leaves. Kyrie Irving. Marcus Morris. Terry Rozier. Three huge pieces to this talented, but inconstant and dejected cast of players who was supposed to steamroll through the conference en route to the NBA Finals. All the 2019-20 Celtics are left with is Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Robert Williams, Gordon Hayward and hopefully two rookies from the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Clippers (top-14 protected) picks that can convey this year.
Why is this so bad? If the Hospital Celtics we’re low on staff, this year’s Celtics are an example when a team is subject to the old adage “Too many cooks in the kitchen” ringing true. Not one particular Celtic is the problem. It’s all of them. They simply do not mesh together. Everyone not named Kyrie or Horford are simply overqualified for their minimized roles. Even Terry Rozier, someone who’s floundered all season, is someone who’s able to cobble together solid stats when inserted as a starter – and at home.
What-if the worst case scenario is realized? The Celtics flame out like their similarly built ancestor ‘83 Celtics did and the dreams of obtaining Anthony Davis are dashed, how bad is it shaping up for the Celtics future?
To be honest? Not really. Al Horford is in the last year of his max contract and Boston’s enjoyed his services and will not shed many tears if he opts-in for his $30 million player-option. Once again, Horford proven himself to be the Celtics team MVP and their leader – no matter what Irving says.
The Jays are under team control for a very long time, both still on their rookie contracts and if Gordon Hayward returns to form in 2020 you can beat he’ll opt-out and re-enter the free agency market freeing up more capital for Danny Ainge & Co. to lock down the Jays long term.
What the Celtics desperately need right now is an injury. They need Morris to experience knee-tightness so the window can open for Brown to reclaim his spot in the starting lineup. Rozier needs to sprain his wrist, so Hayward can grow and become more assertive leading the second unit. Hayward’s been looking a lot better since the turn of the calendar year. He needs just one more nudge to get him that crucial step forward in his recovery.
The few bright spots this season’s shown is Smart is ready to start on a fringe 50-win playoff team and Tatum is the legit real deal, his only issues are his inability to grift for free throw shots and poor shot selection. What Boston needs is to get the Jays more involved, having them start over Hayward to begin 2019-20 is a great way to accomplish this.
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.
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.
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.
Written By: Vinny, @sailboatstudios
Reasons for the Celtics recent struggles are many. For one If was expected Jayson Tatum would hit the rookie wall one of these days; the grind of an NBA schedule is harsh on a rookie. Tatum’s played well past the thirty-seven games he worked in his lone season at Duke. In the first 37 games Tatum splits were a Rookie of the Year worthy 51.5/50/82.4%, averaging 14 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 1.6 APG and 1.6 Stocks (Blocks + Steals); since then: 42.1/30.3/82.5% splits, 12.7 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.4 APG, 1.8 Stocks. Add to the exhaustion, defense was never Tatum’s calling card, the Warriors on both occasions showed his vulnerability on zipper action and one-on-one situations.
As a team the Celtics hit their stride after October 24th, the team catapulted to No. 1 in defense posting a league-leading 101.1 DRtg; the Spurs, for the entire season, are second with 104.74. Opponents eFG% was at 48.6, well-below the league-average of 52.1%; opponent’s three-point percentage went capped out at 33.9%; compared to the league-average of 36.1%. This was why people tagged Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, until recently. The loss of Gordon Hayward didn’t only limit their offense severely, Irving and Horford together can only up Boston’s ORtg to 108, not even close to elite level, it also cost Boston a solid defender on the perimeter. Jaylen Brown is still too skinny to guard many athletic wings (Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo); Jayson Tatum is too young; Terry Rozier is undersized; and you can only scheme around these hinderances so many times until you finally get beat.
Soon the cracks started to show. Smart creating a laceration in his hand after punching a picture frame, derailed Boston’s elite defense to somewhere just below league-average. While a 105.2 DRtg, since the loss to the Lakers, isn’t horrible, the 240 points given up at home to Cleveland and the L.A Clippers right before the All-Star Break is. We can point to the simple subtraction of Smart, one of the best on-ball and team-defenders in the NBA, as the cause for this gigantic step back, but the pieces seemingly were in place to prevent the Celtics from missing Smart. The Clippers, Raptors and Cavaliers, scoring 361 points in the three games played against the Celtics, neither of them (besides Cleveland) didn’t have a body to bully starting shooting guard Jaylen Brown or even Tatum. Yet, they still ran rough-shot over the worn down Celtics. Al Horford, Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris and the aforementioned, high-effort Rozier were healthy for all those games. In all reality, this shouldn’t have happened. It’s not crazy to suggest all the Celtics need is some downtime to return to their previous form.
But even if that’s not the solution, it may lay on the bench, twenty-seven-year old center Greg Monroe’s been a solid 5 points, 5 rebounds per game in the four contests he’s suited up in green, since joining the team a week before All-Star Break. After logging in nearly twenty-minutes in his debut against Washington, his time dwindled to 10, 11 and 9 minutes in the final three-games. In those very games, established big forward/center Daniel Theis played nearly 28, 17, 11 and 10 minutes, seeing as he’s a better fit for the modern NBA and was on a good run since December 31st, 56.1%, 40.7% from three, and an offensive rating of 126.
But the following opponents for Boston are exactly why Ainge signed Monroe, Detroit, New York, Memphis, Charlotte, and Chicago. Teams with an established center and Monroe played and had some success against in the past. Like former teammate Andre Drummond, the nine games played Monroe hit 56%, averaged 14.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists and 2.5 stocks. Traditional back to the basket centers like Robin Lopez, Enes Kanter, Cody Zeller, Dwight Howard and Jonas Valanciunas are the ideal matchups for Monroe; even though Theis on his best night could create more havoc. But the slow-moving Monroe still proved his worth in a game against the Wizards, a team who’s frontcourt consists of Marcin Gortat, Markieff Morris and Ian Mahimi, Monroe snagged 6 boards and 5 points in the overtime victory.
Like Terry Rozier when Smart was sidelined was the most important two-week stretch of his career, defining his role in the rotation as a trustworthy contributor; Monroe can earn the same if he produces in five of the next six games after All-Star Break comes to a close.