OFFSEASON

Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

BOSTON So much of coaching has little to do with X's and O's. More often than most fans understand, coaches rely on instincts and hunches.

Sometimes they're on the money. Other times, not so much.

Friday's Game 4 matchup against Philadelphia falls under the latter for Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his staff, which rode the team's successful small-ball lineup down the stretch one game too many.

That group's struggles were among the factors contributing to Boston's Game 4 loss which now has this series tied at 2-2.

And as the Celtics gear up for tonight's Game 4 battle, deciding when to go with a small-ball unit will again be a gut check of sorts for Rivers.

The player most affected by Boston's small lineup for the C's is Brandon Bass, who is usually on the Celtics bench when Rivers decides to play a smaller quintet that includes some combination of three guards, Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center.

Bass has struggled shooting the ball most of this series, but had his best scoring night of the series in Game 4.

He finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, which is even more impressive when you consider he spent all but three seconds of the fourth quarter on the bench.

"Honestly, if we made one mistake we should have went back to Bass," Rivers said. "The first three games, our smaller lineup was better than our big lineup. Statistically in Game Four, the big lineup was better. The big lineup is what got us the lead. The big lineup is what, in the beginning of the third, got off to a good start. Both times when we went small, it hurt us. So that's something as a staff we have to recognize."

Knowing that both his usual lineup and his small-ball group have had stretches of strong play in this series doesn't make the decision of which to play any easier to make, either.

"It's a tough call," Rivers said. "We're going to have to make a call every game, it looks like. There's no right or wrong to it, but it's going to have to be a gut feeling. And I hope when we make it, it's going to be the right one."

Besides figuring out when to go big or small, here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to regain control of this series in a pivotal Game 5 matchup.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Sixers have wisely challenged Avery Bradley to become more a scorer, well aware that his shoulder injury has significantly impacted his ability to score. Bradley, whose status for Game 5 is up in the air, will have to continue being a difference-maker with his defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Celtics bench vs. Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen: Boston's second unit has had little to no impact in this series, while the Sixers bench - namely Young and Allen - have been arguably the two biggest reasons this series is tied at two games apiece. Young's ability to score and Allen's defense on Kevin Garnett have paid huge dividends for the Sixers thus far. Boston's backups have to contribute more than they have in order to lessen the impact of Philadelphia's dynamic backup duo.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- It has to be Kevin Garnett. The most dominant figure in this series through the first three games, the Sixers limited Garnett to just nine points while he connected on just 25 percent (3-for-12 shooting) of his shots in Game 4 - the worst shooting percentage Garnett has had as a member of the Celtics in a playoff game. You can expect the C'sa to use multiple sets offensively to try and get Garnett the ball deeper in the lane where he has been next to unstoppable in this series.

STAT TO TRACK -- Rebounding is always going to be a challenge for the Celtics, but a bigger concern for them has to be limiting their turnovers. In their two playoff wins over Philadelphia, Boston has averaged 10 turnovers that led to 10.5 points for the Sixers. In the two losses, the turnover numbers rise to 18 per game and led to 12.5 points for Philadelphia.

OFFSEASON

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

BOSTON -- With more salary cap space than they've ever had along with a slew of clear and well-defined needs, the Celtics are sure to be one of the busier teams when free agency begins on Friday.

And while the Celtics’ needs may be all over the place, there is one thing that head coach Brad Stevens and the rest of the Boston Celtics have made no secret about wanting to come away with this offseason.

“The need for increased versatility,” Stevens said.

Indeed, Stevens envisions the NBA becoming more of a position-less league going forward.

When you look at the Cleveland Cavaliers rallying from a 3-1 deficit to knock off Golden State, of course LeBron James was brilliant as well as Kyrie Irving. 

But one of the more stealth keys to that series that factored into its outcome, was the way Cleveland's 6-foot-9 power forward/center Tristan Thompson was able to hold his own defensively against two-time league MVP guard, 6-3 Stephen Curry.

His play was as clear an example of the value in having players with defensive versatility as you will find.

It also has value on the offensive end of the floor as well. 

That helps explain why LSU’s Ben Simmons was selected with the top overall pick, a player with power forward size (6-10, 240) with point guard-like vision.

And in many ways it speaks to why the Celtics decided to draft Jaylen Brown with the No. 3 pick instead of a playmaker like Providence College’s Kris Dunn or sharpshooters like Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield or Kentucky’s Jamal Murray.

Brown stands 6-7, weighs 223 pounds and has a 7-foot wingspan with elite athleticism and quickness getting to the paint. 

“Very few guys can move like Jaylen, can move at his size and at his length,” Stevens said. “So the defensive versatility is a big piece of that; that should be transferable right away.”

As for free agency, the same mantra – seek out versatile players – will remain in effect for Boston.

Of course Kevin Durant is at the top of the Celtics’ free agent wish list after Durant reportedly included Boston on the list of teams he will meet with in New York shortly after free agency begins.

In addition to the Celtics and his current team Oklahoma City, Durant is also planning to talk with officials from the following teams: Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami and San Antonio.

Along with Durant, the Celtics are also expected to express interest in Atlanta’s Al Horford; New Orleans’ Ryan Anderson; and possibly Golden State’s Harrison Barnes who will be a restricted free agent which often serves as a deterrent for potential suitors. However, Barnes could wind up being an unrestricted free agent if the Warriors feel as though they will land Durant.

Regardless of which free agents wind up in Boston, you can count on versatility being one of their strengths.

“I only look at the game in four spots; ball-handlers, wings, guys that can play that three-swing spot (some power forward as well as small forward) and bigs,” Stevens said. “The more versatile, the more position-less, the better. That overall provides more opportunities than it does not. That’s a positive when you talk about guys that can do different things at different positions.”

OFFSEASON

Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

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Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three first-round picks on international players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively, next season.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here . . . is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the international top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding  . . . now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-foot-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.