OFFSEASON

Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Hawks Game 5 review: What we saw . . .

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics' first crack at sending the Atlanta Hawks home for the summer didn't succeed as the Hawks held on for an 87-86 win.

When you look at the C's historically, Tuesday's outcome wasn't a total shock.

Under Doc Rivers, the Celtics are now 9-13 in close-out games.

On the road, they're 2-10 in such games.

As much as Tuesday's loss falls in line with what the C's have done in the past, there's no masking the fact that this was a game that was there for the Celtics to take.

Based on how the previous three games had gone, the Hawks' confidence was fading fast.

But Boston allowed Atlanta to have life in the second quarter, allowed them to pull ahead before a Rajon Rondo-led rally made it a tight game again. And down the stretch, Boston simply squandered one opportunity after another to get the win.

"It's a make or miss league," said Paul Pierce, who made seven shots and missed 10. "We had our opportunities down the stretch. They played with a lot of energy and a lot of pride. They had their backs to the wall and won a close one."

Boston's inability to make the clutch baskets down the stretch ultimately sealed their fate and was indeed one of the main factors in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys discussed prior to the game, and how they ultimately played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Rajon Rondo has been able to shred the Hawks apart in bite-size chunks that the Celtics are simply devouring. If you're Atlanta, you have to find a way to get the ball out of his hands. Don't be surprised if the Hawks look to apply more full court pressure to Rondo, with the hopes of getting the ball out of his hands and into the hands of Avery Bradley who doesn't handle the ball nearly as well as Rondo. Not only does this take the ball out of the C's best play-maker, but it also kills time on the shot clock which makes it tougher for the Celtics to execute the way they want to offensively.

WHAT WE SAW: Rondo's game was symbolic of how the Celtics played as a team - brilliant for some stretches, bad for others. He was the main reason why the Celtics were able to erase a double-digit deficit in the third quarter and give the C's a fighting chance to steal the victory. He had 13 points and 12 assists, but shot just 6-for-17 from the field.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This has been a surprisingly lopsided matchup thus far - but not how you expected it to be. Pierce has dominated Johnson, plain and simple. Sure, Pierce has had plenty of help defensively. But here's the thing: The Hawks are one of the league's top-5 teams defensively and Pierce has lit them up throughout the series. As for Johnson, he has yet to have a signature, big-time performance for Atlanta - the kind of thing your best scorer can't allow to happen. Four games into this series, and there are at least five players (Pierce, Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and for Atlanta, Josh Smith and Jeff Teague) who have had a bigger impact than Johnson. Another rough night for him, and he and the Hawks will have the entire summer to think about why he disappeared when they needed him most.

WHAT WE SAW: This matchup was a literal standstill, with Pierce scoring 16 points on 7-for-17 shooting and Johnson tallying 15 points on 6-for-17 shooting. More telling was the impact each made while they were on the floor. With Pierce in the game, the C's were minus-13. With Johnson? The Hawks were plus-2.

PLAYER TO WATCH: For a guy who missed all but 11 games of the 2011-2012 season, Al Horford (12 points, five rebounds) looked pretty good. Not surprisingly, he was pretty fired up once he got on the floor (he hit Greg Stiemsma with an elbow mere seconds after checking into the game, and was called for an offensive foul) and his timing was off early on, but his availability can do nothing but help the Hawks keep their fading playoff hopes alive.

WHAT WE SAW: Without question, Al Horford was the biggest impact player in this game. His 19 points and 11 rebounds only tell part of the story of how he single-handedly kept the Hawks' season alive. Clinging to an 87-86 lead, his defense in the game's closing seconds forced Rajon Rondo to lose the ball out of bounds and with that, sealed a must-win game for Atlanta to keep their season alive. "I tried to make a play but got caught on the baseline," Rondo said. "Give Al credit. I just didn't come up with the shot."

STAT TO TRACK: You had to bank on Kevin Garnett dominating the series with whoever he matched up against at the center position for the Hawks. But this has been ridiculous. Put it this way. Garnett has had two games in which he scored 20 points. Jason Collins has scored a TOTAL of 12 points and aside from Game 1, has not presented much of a fight defensively in limiting Garnett's effectiveness. The return of Al Horford should close the gap at the center position for Atlanta. But even with him back, look for Garnett to still win this matchup - and with that, the C's to likely close out the series tonight.

WHAT WE SAW: The change with Horford at center paid huge dividends for the Hawks in ways besides him just scoring. Atlanta was plus-8 on the boards, which was one of their best rebounding efforts against the Celtics in this series. He also had three blocked shots, which equalled the output of the entire Celtics team. "He was a superman for us down the stretch," said Hawks coach Larry Drew. Said Horford: "You're fighting for your life out there. I wanted to bring energy to the team tonight. We needed to win this game."

OFFSEASON

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

  STARTERS BENCH RESERVES ON THE BUBBLE
FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
 
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

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Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

On a busy Saturday for the Celtics, they have brought back center Tyler Zeller and agreed to deals with draft picks Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported.

Earlier Saturday, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported that the Celtics will sign guard Gerald Green. 

Himmelsbach reports that Zeller's is a $16 million, two-year deal with the second-year not guaranteed. Jackson, the point guard from Notre Dame who was the 45th overall selection in the draft, has a guaranteed deal and Bentil, the forward from Providence who was the 51st player drafted, has a partially guaranteed deal. 

Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald reported that the second-year of Zeller's deal is a team option and that Green agreed to a one-year deal at the $1.4 million veteran mininum based on his nine years of NBA service.

The 7-foot Zeller averaged 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11.8 minutes a game last season. 

R.J. Hunter, James Young, Bentil and John Holland are in position to fight for the final roster spot, Himmelsbach reports, pending more deals, which the Celtics are reportedly working on. A source told Himmelsbach, that while there are probably changes coming, "There is no big deal right now." 

Bulpett reported that Celtics' talks with the Philadelphia 76ers involving a deal for Sixers' big man Jahlil Okafor have, according to sources, grown "stale" and that the moves Saturday put 2014 draft pick James Young's roster spot in jeopardy.

With Green, Zeller, and No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have has 15 guaranteed contracts and three partial or non-guaranteed deals. 

 

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

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Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

The Celtics will sign free agent Gerald Green, the guard they drafted with the 18th overall pick back in 2005, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported.

Green, 30, played for the Miami Heat last season and averaged 8.9 points a game. Deveney reports Green will sign a one-year guaranteed contract. 

Green has been well-traveled since being traded by the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal in 2007, the year he won the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest. He has played for seven other NBA teams and played two seasons in Russia. His best season was 2013-14 in Phoenix when he averaged 15.8 points a game for the Suns. 

Deveney also reports that sources around the league continue to indicate the Celtics are looking to make a trade for a "star-caliber type" player. Last week, he reported on their interest in the Clippers' Blake Griffin.