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

978163.jpg

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

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

brad_stevens_tie_too_long_11-24-15.jpg

C's showed Patriots support in AFC semifinal game

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens has a tremendous amount of respect for New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and what he has built in Foxboro.

But it wasn't until Sunday’s playoff game between the Patriots and the Houston Texans did he actually see them play at Foxboro.

And while Stevens is from Indiana and is indeed an Indianapolis Colts fan, the Patriots have his support for a multitude of reasons.

“It was fun to watch,” said Stevens who attended the game with his father and his son. “When you talk about rooting interest, you root for who you know. I was definitely rooting for them. I hope they can go all the way. It was fun to watch.”

He wasn’t the only Celtic in Foxboro cheering on the Patriots who pulled away for a 34-16 win over the Texans.

Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas was there watching from a suite.

“It was a nice. They won. I got a lot of backlash for switching up,” said Thomas, a Tacoma, Wash. Native who grew up rooting for the Seattle Seahawks.

“It was good, just to be on that field and be around those guys,” Thomas said. “You can tell, they’re focused on winning a championship, winning the Superbowl. You want to be around those type of players.”

That goes for coaches as well, which is why Brad Stevens has maintained a good relationship with Belichick who has created the kind of winning atmosphere that all coaches want.

“One of the things they’ve’ created is sustainability and culture,” Stevens said. “Any coach wants to be in a position where over the course of time every single year you suit up, you got a chance. Because of the commitment of doing things the way they want to do it … they’ve created that. I can’t say enough good things about the job that he’s done. I’ve got a chance to watch him up close. You feel pretty inadequate when you walk out of that building as a coach.”

Stevens has also been impressed with the way the Patriots have handled injuries and situations where  a key player has been down.

“There’s been a ton of change in the roster and he just keeps churning out wins regardless of who is on the field. Obviously (Tom) Brady has been a constant through all of that. But at the same time, there have been a lot of changes at a lot of significant positions. They just do their job well. That’s the bottom line.

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

Celtics being cautious with Avery Bradley's return from Achilles injury

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Before Sunday’s practice, Avery Bradley was off to one of the side courts working on his catch, two-dribble, pull-up game.
 
And once practice started, Bradley was on the floor with the rest of his teammates, participating in both contact and non-contact drills.
 
While his return on Sunday was certainly a positive, there’s still some uncertainty as to whether he’ll return to action on Monday against Charlotte after having missed the last four games with a right Achilles injury.
 
While he has made steady progress since suffering the injury earlier this month, the Celtics are being cautious about his return, knowing how a return too soon could set him and the Celtics back significantly.
 
Bradley’s value to the Celtics is not even up for debate, but the Celtics have managed to find ways to win despite being without their top on-the-ball defender and number two scorer.
 
“We’ve gotten good practice with not being with our key guys this year,” quipped Stevens. “So it’s just the next guy has to be ready to go. A lot of guys can fill in, and not try and replace one guy with another guy but rather by committee.”
 
Marcus Smart, a player Stevens has often referred to as the team’s sixth starter, has filled in for Bradley with the first unit.
 
In the last four games, Smart has averaged 14.0 points to go with 4.8 assists, 3.8 rebounds, and 2.5 steals while shooting 40 percent from the field and 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
Terry Rozier has seen an uptick in his court time as well with Bradley out, resulting in him averaging 5.5 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.0 assists while shooting 60 percent (9-for-15) and 40 percent (2-for-5) from 3-point range.
 
Indeed, Bradley’s absence has afforded other Celtics an opportunity to step up and do so in a meaningful way that’s helping Boston win games.

Bradley has missed a total of five games on the season. Boston has managed to hold their own in his absence, posting a 4-1 record.

This recent Achilles injury has been the only setback of significance this season for Bradley.

We’re used to seeing Bradley improve from one year to the next, but this season has been nothing short of sensational for the sixth-year player.
 
His 18.0 points and 7.0 rebounds per game are both career-highs. He’s also shooting 41.7 percent on 3s which is also a new career mark for the 6-foot-2 guard.