Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Thunder preview

OKLAHOMA CITY If you look at the Boston Celtics history on the road against the Thunder, you have to feel pretty good about their chances of winning tonight. Boston has won all three games in Oklahoma City since the team relocated from Seattle.

But history, while nice to reflect upon, won't do the C's a bit of good tonight. Not only do they face arguably the best team in the NBA, but they do with a depleted roster that's even more under-manned than usual.

How bad?

The Celtics' big man rotation consists of Kevin Garnett, Greg Stiemsma, JaJuan Johnson and . . . that's it!

Both Jermaine O'Neal (wrist) and Chris Wilcox (groin) were sent home to see doctors, putting their return to the team following the all-star break, in doubt. The C's are also without Brandon Bass (left knee), who said he'll return to the lineup sometime after the all-star break.

With so few big bodies available, the Celtics will be hard-pressed to avoid foul trouble.

Rivers said things are trending towards the C's needing to go out and add another big man soon.

But Rivers is quick to caution that free agent centers at this stage of the season, can not be seen as a savior or anything like that.

"Listen, if there's a big out there, there's a reason he's out there," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I hate to say that, but that's the truth."

Not surprisingly, Rivers will play some zone defense tonight, probably more than usual.

"We're going to zone, we're going to go small, we're going to go big, "

Huh?

"Oh, we can't go big," Rivers quickly reminded himself and the media. "We're going to do whatever we think is required to win the game. It's not going to be traditional at times, and it can't be. It's not like we have a choice."

Junkin' up the game, as coaches like to call it, will certainly be one of the Celtics' goals as they try to salvage what's left of their pre-all star break road trip against the Thunder.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Kevin Durant in full-blown attack mode. Although he's proven to be an excellent perimeter shooter, don't be surprised to see him look to drive the ball more to the basket in an attempt to not just score, but get the Thunder in the bonus early. Celtics coach Doc Rivers has no grand visions of stopping Durant. "If you try and make a special defense for Durant, he's still probably going to score 30," Rivers said. "At the end of the day with Durant, you do your defense. If he makes shots, he makes shots. If he doesn't, he doesn't." Durant comes into tonight's game as the NBA's No. 2 scorer, averaging 27.7 points per game

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Avery Bradley vs Russell Westbrook: With Rajon Rondo (suspension) out, Avery Bradley will once again get the starting nod. With teams doubling Paul Pierce and Ray Allen every time they touch the ball, Bradley will likely have a ton of good-looking shot opportunities. "I gotta help my team out any way I can," Bradley said. "If that's me being aggressive one night, or if that's me getting us in sets one night, I'll try and do whatever." Westbrook will be a handful, for sure. Not only has he improved his jump-shot, but his speed and power gets him to the free throw line a lot. Westbrook has been to the free throw line 188 times this season which ranks 10th in the NBA. "Westbrook is a foul magnet," Rivers said. "He gets into your body. I wouldn't be surprised if Avery was in foul trouble most of the game."

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett returns after missing two games to attend to a personal family matter. With the Celtics so short-handed in the frontcourt, whatever success they enjoy around the basket will likely be generated by Garnett the scorer, or Garnett the passer. And while his minutes will still be monitored closely, Celtics coach Doc Rivers said he plans to let him play a little longer than usual tonight. "We'll up his minutes by five minutes," Rivers said. "He's usually at 30. Today he'll play 35."

STAT TO TRACK -- One of the best shots the Celtics have of pulling off the upset, will be to generate points from the miscues made by Oklahoma City. For all that the Thunder do well, turnovers remain a major weakness. They commit 17.1 turnovers per game, more than any other team in the NBA. A lot of that has to do with point guard Russell Westbrook, who is committing an NBA-high 4.3 turnovers per game. Teammate Kevin Durant isn't too far behind, with 3.7 turnovers per game that ranks 7th in the NBA. They are the only team with two players ranked in the top 10 in that category.

Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

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Celtics make progress, but was it a successful season?

BOSTON -- Success comes in many shapes and sizes, and is not always seen the same by NBA players -- not even teammates.

That was certainly the case following Boston’s 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, which ended the Celtics season.

While the C's won more regular-season games (48) than they did a year ago and put up a much better fight in the playoffs than last April's four-game sweep at the hands of Cleveland, having it all end the way it did at home on Thursday clearly left a bitter taste in the mouths of most players.

Whether this was a successful season is open to debate.

But what’s abundantly clear for the Celtics is this team did indeed make progress from where it was a year ago.

“You go from 40 (wins), under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eeking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And so, yes, there’s progress.”

But as far as this being a successful season, that’s not nearly as cut and dry.

“Of course it’s only going to be one team to have a successful year and that’s when you hold that trophy up,” said  Jae Crowder. “So until we do that, it’s not a successful season. We are going to keep building, keep working.”

Marcus Smart had a slightly different opinion on the matter.

“I don’t look at it as a failure, for sure,” Smart said. “We did a lot of great things this season. We’re a young team. That’s good for us coming back. We have a lot of work to do, obviously, but I don’t look at the season as a failure. So I guess you can say it was a success for us.”

But looking at how this season ended, while disappointing, serves as a reminder as to how Boston remains a team with talent but plenty of room to grow.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right?” Stevens said. “One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in right now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there.

"And the next (task, which is becoming a legitimate championship contender) is tough. And that’s been communicated before to me and we’re learning a lot. We learned a lot through this playoff series, but one of the things that I’ve learned is we’ve got to get better. And you know what? That starts with me. I’ve got to get better, and then I think each of our players will look at that accountably as well and we’re all going to be better the next time we take the court.”

In doing so, they look to build off the progress made this season and inch closer towards having a truly successful season . . . which around here more often than not, means competing for an NBA title.

That’s why for Jared Sullinger, one of the few remaining players from the Big Three era of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen when deep postseason runs were an expectation and not a goal, he doesn’t see this season as being a successful one for the Green team.

“If we’re thinking making it to the playoffs is a successful season, then we’re going in the wrong direction,” Sullinger said. “If you look in this locker room, you see everybody’s down. We didn’t want it to end like that; we wanted to make a run. It’s tough losing like that.”

Sullinger added, “Last year we were glad to make the playoffs. This year, we wanted to make a run, we wanted to make some noise. Unfortunately, our noise got cut short.”

C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

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C you next season?: Future is unclear for several Celtics

BOSTON – There are few guarantees when it comes to the NBA and the Boston Celtics, but one thing’s for certain: change is going to come next season.

This is especially true for the Celtics whose season ended with a 104-92 Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sending the C’s home for the season with a second straight first-round exit.

“That’s just the business of the NBA,” said Isaiah Thomas who had a double-double of 25 points and 10 assists which were both game highs on Thursday. “One thing I do know, I ride with these guys until the wheels fall off; I mean this was a special group.”

But whether they stay together remains to be seen.

Among those who could be on the move is Evan Turner, an unrestricted free agent this summer.

He will be among the more heavily pursued Celtics this summer, in large part because of his versatility as both a playmaker and scoring guard off the bench.

Several teams will come hard after Turner, among them being the New York Knicks and the Orlando Magic who are desperate to add talented, proven veterans to their young rosters.

The second year of Jonas Jerebko’s contract becomes fully guaranteed if he’s still on the roster after July 3. Considering the way he played in the postseason as well as his steady presence during the regular season, the Celtics are more than likely to keep him around for next season.

Boston has a pair of restricted free agents in Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger. It is unclear what the Celtics will do with them because it remains to be seen what type of offers (if any) they receive from another team.

“This season didn’t go exactly how I would have wanted it to,” Zeller told CSNNE.com. “But I like it here, I like the coaching staff and the players. So we’ll see what happens this summer. But yeah, I’m definitely open to the idea of coming back next season.”

There’s a certain amount of uncertainty surrounding Amir Johnson who could potentially become a free agent this summer if the Celtics decline to pick up the second year on his contract which is worth $12 million.

When I asked Johnson if he felt he had done enough to have to his second year picked up by the Celtics he told CSNNE.com, “I hope so.”

Johnson added, “We never quit even when we were down big at the end of the game. I feel there’s stuff we can clean up and be better, from the coaching staff to the players to the front office. But there’s something about this team, we don’t have no quit in us. I feel like we can definitely go far if we just put the right pieces together.”

And as far as his future in Boston, “I definitely want to here.”

Only time will tell just how many of Boston’s potential free agents will be riding with the Green Team next season, or be swept away and wind up on another roster in what will surely be an offseason of change.