Celtics-Heat Game 2 reflections: This one hurts

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Celtics-Heat Game 2 reflections: This one hurts

Well, this one hurts.

Despite every other emotion thats currently running through your veins the anger, frustration, hatred, depression, helplessness, resentment its all born out of the same simultaneously simple yet complex sensation: Pain.

This hurts. This is painful. And it will be for a while.

It hurts because of how it happened. It hurts because of when it happened. It hurts because of where it happened and whom it happened against.

It hurts because for the second time in three insanely important games, the Celtics were needlessly without their captain the man weve come to recognize as one of the greatest Celtics of all time when it mattered most.

It hurts because they wasted a legendary performance by their future captain. Wasted it. Rajon Rondos 53-minute, 44-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound, three-steal and three-turnover masterpiece may be the gutsiest thing youve seen on a basketball court in years. It may serve as another absolute and undeniable mark of his greatness. Does it make you feel a little better about the future? Yup. Does it leave a satisfying egg on the face of every over-dramatic moral compass who questioned Rondo's commitment after Game 1 against Atlanta? Yup. But right now, its also a meaningless footnote. Its irrelevant.

Last night hurts because it masked another textbook LeBron James breakdown. For all his predictable screaming and taunting at the end Game 1 and despite his impressive stat line in Game 2 Bron was shaky and scared down the stretch. He made only one basket in the fourth quarter and overtime, and missed four key foul shots along the way. When the game was on the line, he was a different person that other person lacking the confidence of Stacey King never mind the King. On the last play of regulation, with the score tied at 99-99, James cleared out for an isolation against Rondo a defender who was giving up seven inches, at least 100 pounds and running on whatever comes after fumes. Had he taken it to the hoop, James was guaranteed one of three outcomes:

1) The defense collapses leaving multiple teammates wide open along the perimeter.

2) A game-winning dunk or lay-up.

3) Two foul shots, with the Heat needing only one for a win.

He pulled up for a 21-foot fade away.

Had the Celtics come out on top, James latest display of kindergarten toughness would be in the spotlight; another example of the undisputed best player in the NBA being overwhelmed by the moment. After his antics in Game 1, that spotlight and criticism were never more deserved, and couldn't have been anymore satisfying.

It hurts because the referees were a factor. No, Im not blaming them for the loss. Im just saying that the image of Rondo getting raked across the face with 1:35 left in overtime of a tie game with the season essentially on the line makes everything worse. Not only because it was clearly a foul. Not only because at that time, there wasnt a player on the court who deserved the call more than Rondo. Not only because we have to use words like deserved to analyze a part of the game that should be completely objective. Not only because, on the other end, James was sent to the line 24 TIMES. But because once, just once, youd love to grieve over a heartbreaking loss without a referee-fueled what if.

I know. I know. Theyre human. But arent we all? And what happens when normal humans repeatedly fail so miserably at their jobs? Do they not get disciplined, even fired? And what do you think happened to James Capers after last night, after a blatant blown call at the most crucial moment on the game's biggest stage? A pat on the ass and a "Gettem next time, champ"?

Last night hurts because you dont know how many 43-minute outings Ray Allen has left in the tank; because after a game like that, you don't know how much any of them have left. It hurts because Doc Rivers has clearly, and even worse, justifiably given up on his bench. It hurts because you were forced to withstand the sight of Wally Szczerbiaks enormous teeth tweeting cheap shots at KG.

It hurts because 94 percent of teams that go down 0-2 in the NBA playoffs go on to lose. And while you'd never put it past these Celtics to fall into that six percent, you can't escape the nearly insurmountable hill they're now forced to climb. It hurts because not only did they blow a chance, but likely their best chance to steal a game in Miami. It hurts because you believed that they could win. Not just that game, but also the series. Before Game 1, the chances were slim. After Game 1, they were non-existent. But Game 2 brought you back. Somewhere along the line you stopped protecting yourself from reality, completely let your guard down and unconditionally believed. That makes this morning that much worse.

Like always, the pain will eventually fade. At 8:30 tomorrow night, the Celtics will take the court again and start chipping away at the aftermath of Game 2. Of course, the memories will never completely disappear, but the emotions will be replaced. They'll give us more reasons to believe, find different ways to make us hurt. By halftime of Game 3, this will all be a distant memory.

But for now, these feelings aren't going anywhere.

A great game. A horrible loss. A missed opportunity.

So much pain.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

Celtics report card: Isaiah Thomas gets high marks

BOSTON -- The first quarter of the NBA season is about over for the Boston Celtics, a team that like so many in the league is far from a finished product.
 
When you look at where this team is versus where they could be if not for a slew of unfortunate injuries to key players, there’s a sense within the organization that they have weathered the early season storm and are in good shape going forward.
 
And while there’s plenty of fodder that would help explain away some of the team’s early season issues, the bottom line is the Celtics have been an inconsistent bunch at times regardless of who has been healthy enough to play.
 
Still, they Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season, third in the Eastern Conference and by all accounts are nowhere close to being as good as they should be this season. Which is why the evaluation of this team has to be about their sum parts as well as their individual success. 

And with this group returning so many key performers from a year ago along with adding Al Horford to the mix, expectations were realistically high.
 
So naturally, how close they have come to achieving those expectations is a factor in both their collective and individual grades as well.
 
Here’s a grade breakdown for the Celtics’ guards, wings and bigs at the quarter-way mark of the season.
 
GUARDS’ OVERALL GRADE: B
 
ISAIAH THOMAS: Showing last season’s all-star appearance was no fluke, Thomas has made a strong case to be considered among the top guards in the NBA. His 26.3 points per game ranks ninth in the league, and he’s at his best in the fourth quarter (his 7.9 points which trails only Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard) – a trait that often separates good players from great ones. He’s the star of this team, without question. GRADE: A-

AVERY BRADLEY: The season began with Avery Bradley putting together a legit campaign to be a first time all-star. He’s still playing at a relatively high level, but he’s no longer deeply entrenched in that conversation in part because the Celtics haven’t won more games and his numbers have tailed off. After averaging 18.5 points and 8.6 rebounds through the first 10 games, Bradley’s numbers since then have been 16.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game. But to Bradley’s credit, this was yet another season in which he came back and showed tremendous growth in a specific facet of his game. That would be rebounding. The 6-foot-2 guard is currently the Celtics’ leader with 7.9 rebounds per game. GRADE: B
 
MARCUS SMART: He is the Celtics’ best defender not named Avery Bradley, and before his career is over he will be named to one of the NBA’s all-Defensive teams. His shot-making remains sporadic, although he has shown a knack for hitting big 3s late in games. Shooting struggles aside, his defense and much-improved playmaking have been good for the Celtics this season. GRADE: B- 
 
TERRY ROZIER: He was so impactful this summer and in training camp, it created expectations that he could easily slide in and fill the void left by Evan Turner who signed a four-year, $70 million deal with Portland during the offseason. Rozier has a ridiculously high assists-to-turnover ratio, but he doesn’t make as many impactful plays as the Celtics would like. The second-year guard hasn’t been bad out there, but the difference-making talent he showed earlier has not materialized yet. GRADE: B-
 
DEMETRIUS JACKSON: My initial thought was the sample size is too small to give Jackson a grade. But looking back at the three games he has played in for the Celtics as well as those stints in the D-League, Jackson has a bright future in this league. To his credit, he has made the most of his opportunities to play whether it’s with the Celtics or the Maine Red Claws. Still, he hasn’t done enough to knock any of the team’s more seasoned guards out of the rotation … yet. GRADE: B-

WINGS’ OVERALL GRADE: B-
 
JAE CROWDER:
This is one of the tougher players to grade (see Al Horford). I absolutely love the fact that Crowder is such a jack-of-all-trades kind of player who is all about helping teams win. But the fact that he has missed eight games has to be factored into his grade thus far. Aside from missing games with injuries, there’s a lot to love about Jae Crowder and his role on this team: B+

JONAS JEREBKO: Aside from Isaiah Thomas, Jerebko is probably the most improved player who was on the roster a year ago. He doesn’t take many shots, but when he does he makes them at a ridiculously high rate. And his overall effort defensively and on the boards has solidified a spot in Brad Stevens’ regular rotation. GRADE: B+
 
JAYLEN BROWN: There are always off-the-charts expectations when you’re a high draft pick, and Brown is no exception. But he joined a playoff-ready team which means getting on the floor as a rookie has not been easy. Brown has shown tremendous athleticism and a willingness to learn, but like most rookies he hasn’t been as consistent as he needs to be and does more thinking than just playing when he’s on the floor. But he has shown progress on that front of late.  GRADE: B-

GERALD GREEN: Having signed a veteran’s minimum contract at a time when the salary cap exploded should have been the first sign that Green wasn’t going to make much of an impact. He has a very simple job with this team and that’s to be an adequate defender and a shot-maker. Unfortunately, he has struggled on both fronts in his second tour of duty with the Celtics to the point where he has not played in eight of Boston’s last 11 games. GRADE: C-
 
JAMES YOUNG:
He barely beat out R.J. Hunter for the final roster spot and frankly, hasn’t done much since. From the time he arrived in Boston until now, there’s no question he’s a better player. But the former first round pick still hasn’t done enough to secure a spot in the rotation. And barring a couple injuries, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. GRADE: C-
 
BIGS’ OVERALL GRADE: C+
 

AL HORFORD: There was a tremendous amount of hype surrounding Boston signing Al Horford in the offseason. And to the surprise of many, the Celtics have been exceptional when he has played. But that’s the problem. He has missed half of the still-young season primarily due to a concussion. There’s an old saying that one’s availability can be their best ability. And with Horford missing so many games, those absences have to be factored into his grade thus far this season. GRADE: B+
 
AMIR JOHNSON: If there’s one player whose impact can’t be measured in statistics alone, it’s Johnson. His job is to defend at a high level, score once in a while, and grab a few rebounds when he’s not sealing off his man so that Avery Bradley and the rest of the team’s guards can come in and scoop them up. There’s no glory in what he’s tasked with doing other than the knowledge that it’s important to winning. And to some degree his impact on games is limited due to him playing limited minutes because of Boston’s desire to spread the floor with long-range shooters – something that’s definitely not a strength of Johnson’s game. GRADE: B-
 
KELLY OLYNYK: Olynyk missed the first six games while recovering from offseason shoulder surgery. He has had some really impressive moments (19 points vs New York; 16 the following night at Indiana), but far too often he doesn’t make the most of what sets him apart from most players and that is being a 7-footer with legit 3-point shooting range. He has been solid, but he’s not having the kind of breakout year the Celtics could really benefit from this season. GRADE: B-
 
TYLER ZELLER: There were some who were surprised the Celtics signed Zeller to a 2-year, $16 million contract (team option on second year), but that’s actually below the going rate these days for a backup center. Zeller today isn’t all that different than he was when the Celtics acquired him via trade a couple years ago. And that’s kind of the problem. He’s looking to shoot the ball more facing up and from the perimeter, but that’s very much a work in progress. To his credit, he stays ready and when he does get a chance to play he usually gives good effort. But effort can only take you so far. GRADE: C
 
JORDAN MICKEY: Viewed by many (self-included) as a draft-night steal for the Celtics, Mickey’s growth has been OK but not great. He has great instincts defensively as a shot-blocker and his offensive game is definitely trending upwards. But he doesn’t do enough of the little things to get on the floor with consistency just yet, which is why his most recent D-League stint probably won’t be his last this season. But again, he still has legitimate upside and in time should get more opportunities to help. GRADE: C

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.