Celtics-Knicks: Chance to right the shipMORE: Pedro comes home


Celtics-Knicks: Chance to right the shipMORE: Pedro comes home

In the two and a half weeks since the Celtics and Knicks last hooked up, things have gone really well and then horribly wrong for Boston. First, they followed up their emotional, part-of-your-balanced-breakfast brawl at MSG with three straight victories bringing their win streak to season-high six games. They followed that up with four straight losses; three of them against teams with a combined record of 41-86.

Along the way, the bench reclaimed its previous identity of not having an identity. Rajon Rondo's continued to fill the stat sheet with impressive yet empty numbers. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett hopped in the old Hot Tub Time Machine but set knob for 2018 instead of 2008. Avery Bradley got hurt again. Doc Rivers blew a gasket and delivered his now-infamous post-game rant: "Hide your kids. Hide your wives. Hide your husbands. Cuz we're tradin' everybody up in here!"

On the brightside, Jared Sullinger's been a revelation, at least relative to the nastiness that surrounds him. In fact, sources tell me that the Mayor's Office is already laying the groundwork on a 400-pound bronze sculpture of Sullinger's ass (aka The Widowmaker) for display on Causeway Street. Said Mayor Menino: "Jack Skullinger is a true hero, and will no doubt bring the Stanley Cup back to Boston. Oops, did you guys hear that? I got his name and the sport wrong. Oh man. I reeeeally hope this doesn't go viral . . ."

Anyway, the last two and half weeks haven't been all that sweet for the Knicks either. They're 2-3 since that wacky night at MSG, and neither of their wins (ironically, against the Pistons and Hornets) have inspired any confidence. On the other hand, their three losses have all come against fellow Eastern Conference contenders Indiana, Chicago and Brooklyn. In all, the Knicks have lost their last five games against teams currently in the Eastern Conference playoffs. However, thanks to their hot start, New York still sits atop the Atlantic Division, and only two games back of Miami for the No. 1 seed.

When the Celtics last saw the Knicks, Amare Stoudemire was less than a week removed from his season debut, and while he's managed to stay on the court in the days and weeks since, the jury's still out on how effective he'll be moving forward. At the very least, it's fair and equally depressing to say that we've seen the last of this guy:

But it's probably worth noting that Stoudemire arrives in Boston having posted season-highs (15 points, and then 17) in consecutive games.

The Knicks have also welcomed Iman Shumpert and his legendary fade back into mix. The 22-year-old, 6-foot-5 Shumpert is the closest thing New York has to Avery Bradley an amazing athlete, who's somewhat limited on offense but can dominate a game with his D. But lucky for the C's, Shumpert still isn't himself. Tonight will only be his third game of the season, and it takes longer than that to re-establish rhythm and confidence after missing nine months with a torn ACL.

But back to the Celtics. In a weird and frustrating way, there's something comforting about the fact that three of their last four losses have come against three of the worst teams in the league. Also, that their best performance, by far, came in their biggest test.

The truth is that if not for a bogus jump ball call, and a pair of unlikely last second shots by Kirk Hinrich and Marco Belinelli, the Celtics would have beaten the Bulls last Friday, and our perception of everything would be very different. I know it's not that easy, but in many ways it is. I also know that, in a perfect world, you never want to excuse a team for "playing down to the competition," but this isn't the first time we've seen this from the Celtics. The names and faces around them may have changed, but the core of Rivers, Rondo, Pierce and KG is notorious for playing down to the competition. It's unfortunately part of who they are.

But it's something we're willing to tolerate as long as Boston still manages to bring its best against the best. And while the Knicks are far from perfect, they certainly qualify as that kind of opponent. When you factor in the division, the conference, the New YorkBoston rivalry and the Honey Nut insanity of the last time these teams played, the Celtics have an enormous opportunity to ease some tension and at least temporarily right the ship.

Or take the free fall to another level and leave Celtics Nation crying in their cereal.

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

Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision


Bradley continues adapting, improves ball-handling and court vision

WALTHAM, Mass. – Just like Avery Bradley comes back each season with a new element in his basketball tool box, defenses have adapted to some degree to try and counter whatever Bradley is doing a better job at.

Before it was take away the mid-range shot and make him a 3-point shooter. Now it’s run him off the 3-point line by closing out hard and fast against him.

Well, running him off the 3-point line is actually playing into the hands of two areas of Bradley’s game that have seen significant growth during the offseason: ball-handling and court vision.

Bradley’s improvement in those areas has been evident in the preseason, something the seventh-year guard hopes to continue in the regular season opener on Wednesday against the Brooklyn Nets.

“I worked on my ball-handling a lot,” Bradley said. “Instead of doing all the Kyrie (Irving) stuff that trainers have people do, I tried to focus on just one or two moves, just perfecting a few moves that I can put into my game.”

What we’ve seen from Bradley is better sense of when to attack players with his ball-handling and when to use it as a set-up to get his teammates good shots.

He attributes both to the work he has put in and just becoming an older, more wiser player on the floor.

“I’m able to make plays for my teammates because I’m a lot more confident in my ball-handling, in my play-making and my decision-making," said the 25-year-old Bradley. "I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

While it may not seem like that big a deal that Bradley’s putting the ball on the floor more and attacking off the dribble, it’s actually really important for this Celtics team.

With Bradley now looking to attack off the dribble more, that means that the Celtics now have a starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – with each player comfortable and confident in their ability to take most defenders and their respective positions, off the dribble.

That makes Boston a significantly better team offensively in terms of being highly unpredictable and to a larger degree, tougher to contain.

“He’s a great defender, one of the best in the NBA,” Boston’s Amir Johnson told CSNNE.com. “But people sleep on his offensive game. He can hit the corner 3s, wing 3s, pull-up jumpers … he can pretty much do it all out there. Now that he’s looking to get to the rim more, that just makes him and our team really, much better.”

Indeed, Bradley sounds as though he plans to continue probing different ways to generate points for the Celtics.

One approach he’ll surely take is to do a better job of taking advantage of the mistakes defenses make against him, like players who try and chase him off the 3-point line.

“Me being  a better 3-point shooter should challenge me to think the game a little more,” he said. “If it’s drawing fouls … I know I should be drawing more fouls from the 3-point line. There are times when people are just running out of control at me at the 3-point line. I have to be smarter.”

Bradley added, “I worked on that this summer. It’s translated in practice, so now it needs to translate in games.”

Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery


Bradley supporting Olynyk as he returns from shoulder surgery

WALTHAM, Mass. – Avery Bradley had just returned to the Boston Celtics lineup after having had surgery on both shoulders, eager to put his injury-riddled days in the past.

Then-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue had suffered a similar shoulder injury a decade earlier in 2003, so he knew all too well what Bradley was going through.

“I remember Tyronn Lue took me to the side and said, ‘you’re going to struggle,’” Bradley recalled. “When he said it to me, I was like, ‘what is he talking about?’”

The words of Lue, now the head coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, were indeed prophetic. And now that current Celtics big man Kelly Olynyk is back to practicing after having surgery on his right shoulder, Bradley plans to be there for Olynyk the way Lue was there for him.

Bradley, who missed the first 30 games of the 2012-2013 season recovering from the injury, recalls struggling with his shot for the first couple of weeks.  

His first game back was Jan. 2, 2013. For the next two weeks, Bradley shot 40.6 percent from the field (28-for-69) and 28.6 percent (8-for-28) on 3s, both below his career averages in those respective categories.

Bradley is hopeful Olynyk doesn’t struggle as much as he did upon his return to the lineup from shoulder surgery.

But just in case, Olynyk knows he has a teammate who literally knows what he’s going through right now in trying to get back on the floor and play good basketball.

“It’s our job as his teammates to help keep him confident in himself,” Bradley said. “I told him, ‘you’re going to have your days when you come in and you might make shots. Then you’ll have your week where you don’t make a shot.’ You just have to stay confident.”

But Bradley admits it’s a lot easier said than done, especially when you’ve had success shooting the ball and now all of a sudden the shots that you normally make in your sleep keep you up at night wondering why they no longer going in.

“It just happens. The muscle memory, you have to get it back,” Bradley said. “It’s just reps; that’s what it took. It took like maybe a good month before my shot felt good again. It’ll probably be the same for Kelly; hopefully not. If it is, I’ll be there to make sure he’s positive and knowing it’s a process and he has to continue to get shots up.”

But there’s more to returning to the game when healthy.

While the body may be ready to go, the mind more often than not hasn’t totally cleansed itself of the injury.

“It’s still in the back of your mind, thinking it’s going to happen again,” Bradley said. “You may not want to drive it to the basket as much or box out the same way or be aggressive. But like I said, we have to give him that confidence and he has to do his work as well, staying in the weight room, making sure he’s strong. We’re here to help.”

And no one is offering the consistent assistance that Bradley has to his injured teammate.

“I’ve taken him to the side like five times already and I told him, ‘I’m here bro. Whatever you need,’” Bradley said. “I’m just happy that he’s back."