OFFSEASON

Celtics-Sixers Game 2 review: Sixers growing up

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Celtics-Sixers Game 2 review: Sixers growing up

BOSTON The Boston Celtics had another solid showing in the fourth quarter, but it wasn't enough as Philadelphia evened up their best-of-seven series with the C's at 1-1 following an 82-81 win. The Celtics outscored the Sixers by seven points in the fourth, but the C's usually stingy defense gave up a very un-Celtic like 25 points.

Beating the Celtics in a game that came down to the wire not only helps Philadelphia in terms of the series, but provides a nice jolt of confidence as they head home for Games 3 and 4.

"I think we're growing; we have a young team," said Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday. "We like playing against Boston. We think we match up well against them and even though they had a smart play at the end of Game 1, ya know we still had a chance in that game so that's definitely a confidence booster."

Philadelphia's ability to withstand the Celtics' fourth quarter defensive crush was a major factor in the game's outcome. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Paul Pierce can't move about as well as he would like to, courtesy of a sprained MCL in his left knee. However, he is finding other ways to make an impact for the Celtics. In Game 1, he missed eight of his 11 shots but still grabbed six rebounds and had six assists in addition to blocking two shots.
WHAT WE SAW: Pierce was about as ineffective as we've seen him in a playoff game, scoring just seven points on 2-for-9 shooting from the field. "Paul clearly is not 100 percent," said C's coach Doc Rivers. Even though Pierce wasn't moving nearly as well as he's used to and struggled to control the ball when he did penetrate into the lane - he had a team-high five turnovers - he wasn't about to use his knee as an explanation for his poor performance. "The knee was fine," he said, adding that he wore a knee brace during the game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Elton Brand: Both of these are more than overdue for a breakout game for their respective teams. Bass has been more hesitant lately to shoot, often a sign of a player whose confidence isn't quite where it was earlier. As for Brand, he's a victim of the Celtics' small ball lineup cutting his minutes, and emergence of rookie Lavoy Allen (12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in Game 1) and the solid play of Spencer Hawes (15 points, eight rebounds) around the basket. "EB (Brand) was struggling a little bit, and Lavoy was playing great (in Game 1)," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "I think the guys know that at this point in time, I have to go with the guys that are playing well." In Game 1, Brand had four ponts and one rebound in 15 minutes.

WHAT WE SAW: It looked as though Bass would dominate this matchup from the outset, as he knocked down his first three shots while Brand only made three shots (in five attempts) the entire game. However, things soon went south for Bass and the Celtics, as he went on to miss 10 of his next 12 shots and finished with 12 ponts on 5-for-15 shooting. As for Brand, he only had seven points, but he was among the Sixers defenders who helped limit Kevin Garnett to 15 points - almost half of what he had averaged in Boston's two previous games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Ray Allen did more for the Celtics in Game 1 than his 12 points might have indicated. His mere presence opened things up for Garnett around the basket, along with creating better driving lanes for Rajon Rondo (13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds). The Celtics were a plus-17 with Allen on the floor, far and away the best plusminus ratio of the 19 players for both teams to see action.

WHAT WE SAW: Allen was once again coming up with some big shots, but he wasn't able to deliver the dagger-like basket that the C's have grown so used to him providing. He finished with a team-high 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting.

STAT TO TRACK: Despite out-rebounding Philadelphia 45-41 in Game 1, the Sixers still had a decisive edge (15-6) in second-chance points. The Sixers ranked 23rd in second-chance points during the regular season, and are 10th (among 16 teams) in the playoffs. For the C's, Game 1 was indicative of their inability all season to capitalize on multiple-shot opportunities. The Celtics were dead-last (out of 30 teams) with 9.9 second-chance points per game, during the regular season. They haven't been much better in the playoffs, averaging just 8.7 second-chance points per game which ranks 14th (out of 16 teams).

WHAT WE SAW: Philadelphia controlled the boards most of the night and finished with a 47-36 advantage. The rebounds achieved a couple of things. First, it kept the Celtics from getting out and attempting to score in transition, evident by the Celtics having just six fast-break points. And the offensive rebounds - Philly had 11 of them - didn't necessarily generate much offense. But just as important, it meant the C's had to play defense for a longer stretch of time and that, over time, had to wear down those seasoned bones.

OFFSEASON

Celtics must address needs with free agency on the horizon

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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.

OFFSEASON

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

BOSTON – The Celtics are considered long shots at landing Kevin Durant during free agency, which begins next week.

Still, if they come up short this summer, league sources tell CSNNE.com that the Celtics will be on a “watch list” of sorts by Durant’s camp when the former league MVP is expected to hit the free agent market once again in the summer of 2017.
 
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Durant will have teams meet with him in New York beginning next week. In addition to the Celtics, his current team Oklahoma City will sit down with him, as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Durant can re-sign with the Thunder for as many as five years with the total value of his contract worth slightly more than $150 million.
 
However, by signing a one-year deal or a two-year pact with a player option for the second season, Durant would make a projected $25.9 million for the 2016-2017 season and can then hit the free agent market again in 2017 when the salary cap is expected to cross the nine-figure threshold.
 
And at that time, if he decides to stay with the Thunder, he can ink a five-year deal that, when combined with his salary in 2016-2017, would be more than $230 million over six years – that’s about $80 million more than he would get by re-signing a long-term deal with the Thunder now, and would more than double what he would make by signing a maximum-salaried four-year deal with another team.
 
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for him to sign a short-term deal now and better position himself for a bigger payday the following summer when his starting salary will likely be on the north side of $35 million.
 
For the Celtics, Durant going through free agency back-to-back years affords coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics one more opportunity to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings while still being a team that’s clearly in need of adding at least one additional All-Star talent to play with Isaiah Thomas.

In his three seasons as the Celtics coach, Stevens has improved the team’s win total each season.
 
However, they have failed to win a playoff series after having been knocked out in the first round each of the past two seasons.
 
While Durant is the team’s No. 1 priority on the free agent market, the Celtics will quickly pivot their attentions to other highly-regarded players as well with Atlanta’s Al Horford being among their targets.

Depending on how quickly Durant’s free agency gets taken care of, the Celtics might be able to turn their attention towards potentially re-signing Evan Turner, who was sixth in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.