OFFSEASON

Celtics-Hawks Game 6 Review: C's help hobbled Pierce

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Celtics-Hawks Game 6 Review: C's help hobbled Pierce

BOSTON Paul Pierce was not even close to being the Paul Pierce that the Boston Celtics know and love.

But the Captain - all the C's for that matter - did what they had to do to get the win, 83-80.

And with it, the Celtics move on to the second round of the playoffs where they will face seventh-seed Philadelphia. Games 1 and 2 will be in Boston on Saturday and Monday, respectively.

Pierce still finished with a respectable 18 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but it was clear that the sprained MCL injury in his left knee was bothering him enough to at the very least, throw off his timing.

"That's the beauty of this team," Pierce said. "When you got four guys, Kevin (Garnett), myself, (Rajon) Rondo and Ray (Allen), it's never on one person's back. We all take pressure off each other. And it was just a beautiful thing to watch and be a part of."

Said Rivers: "Paul just gave us everything he had, but didn't have a lot."

Among the things Pierce was able to provide was someone attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line - something he did very little of in Boston's two previous games in which he shot just one free throw compared to shooting 30 in the C's first three playoff games against the Hawks.

On Thursday, Pierce went to the line eight times which was pretty close to the number of free throw attempts (9.3) he averaged in Celtics victories prior to closing out the series on Thursday.

Pierce getting to the line was indeed a contributing factor in Bostons' series-clinching win. Here are some other keys highlighted prior to the game, and how those keys actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston will look to shore up its defense against the Hawks' 3-point shooting. A big part of this will have to do with the C's doing a better job of rotating out to the Hawks' shooters. In the second quarter of Boston's Game 5 loss, Atlanta connected on four consecutive 3-pointers that in hindsight, gave the Hawks the kind of confidence that they rode for the rest of the game.

WHAT WE SAW: Atlanta's 3-point shooting once again gave them a chance at victory as they connected on 7-of-15 attempts. Marvin Williams and Joe Johnson did the most damage from 3-point range against Boston as they combined for six of the team's seven 3s.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Josh Smith: This has been a really tough matchup for Bass, but he's starting to figure out how to deliver offensively in a similar fashion displayed during the regular season. Bass has scored in double figures the last two games, which includes 14 points - the most he has scored in this series - in Boston's Game 5 loss. As for Smith, the sprained left knee injury that has bothered him for the bulk of this series still hasn't prevented him from being a double-double machine that the C's have yet to find an answer for containing.

WHAT WE SAW: Smith got the best of Bass in this battle, although Bass did a much better job than previous games in keeping Smith from going bonkers on the boards. Smith had 18 points but grabbed just nine rebounds - the first game in this series in which he did not snatch double digit rebounds. Bass did a decent job defensively (he had two blocked shots) and rebounding the ball, with six - only Garnett who grabbed a game-high 14 rebounds had more boards among the C's players, than Bass.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Al Horford was the best player on the floor in Game 5 when it mattered most - the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much that he scored 19 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as much as it was the timing of those points, that hurt the Celtics so much. His play has improved from one game to the next, but you have to wonder is he ratcheting up his play too quickly and thus making himself more vulnerable to some type of physical setback.

WHAT WE SAW: Horford had stretches of impressive play, but he was never able to manufacture the excitement and energy he brought to the floor in the Hawks' Game 5 win. He finished with 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting, with nine rebounds.

STAT TO TRACK: Even though Ray Allen is coming off the bench now, he's still playing starter-like minutes. So you know it's only a matter of time before he delivers a vintage Ray Allen, starter-like game. He has had some good games as a reserve, but has failed to surpass the 20-point barrier in 11 straight games - the longest such streak he has had with the Celtics. Considering the magnitude of tonight's game and the fact that he has yet to surpass the 20-point mark, it wouldn't be all that shocking if his shot-making propelled the C's to a win tonight and with it, moving them on to the next round of the playoffs.

WHAT WE SAW: Ray Allen's shooting never really came into play much, as he finished with 7 points while missing six of his second shot attempts.

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.