Notes on the Celtics' winning streak

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Notes on the Celtics' winning streak

Well, that was fun.

In all, the Celtics win streak lasted seven games, and just about 14 days.

It began with Boston at 20-23, the eighth seed in the East, and closer to the lottery (two games) than they were the seventh-seeded Bucks (3.5 games).

It ended with Boston at 27-24, the seventh seed in the East, and now closer to hosting a first round series (three games) than they are to missing the playoffs all together (4.5 games).

Over the course of the streak, the Celtics played five overtime periods. The won 15 individual quarters, lost 12 and tied one. They beat the Heat. They beat LA twice. They got past the Kings, the Magic and the Raptors. They outlasted Denver in an instant classic. They pretty much saved their season. Or if that's too much, they rejuvenated it. They made basketball in Boston fun again for the first time since the Eastern Conference Finals.

Along the way, there were milestones . . .
Kevin Garnett became the 13th player in NBA history to appear in 1300 career games. He became the 16th player to score 25,000 points. For good measure, he surpassed Sleepy Floyd to jump into the all-time top 50 in career assists. Assists! The six-foot-12 Garnett now has 5184 career dimes; 13 more and he'll pass Kenny Anderson. (Although unfortunately, KG will need much more than that to hold his spot in the Top 50. He's currently only four assists ahead of Chris Paul, 53 ahead of Tony Parker and 103 ahead of LeBron.)

Moving on, Doc Rivers picked up his 400th career win with the Celtics. He's only the third coach in team history to reach that total. With 26 more, he'll leapfrog the little-known Tommy Heinsohn (427) for second place. Then, he'll need only 368 more to surpass Red Auerbach's franchise record 795.

Not to be forgotten: Fab Melo scored the FIRST two points of his NBA career, and extended his impressive streak of consecutive days without concussing himself on a door frame.

Along the way, there were awakenings . . .
Paul Pierce messed around for two triple doubles in two weeks, after recording only one in the previous seven years. Pierce averaged 18.9 points, 10.1 rebounds and 7.3 assists a game during Boston's win streak. Look at that again. OK, now one more time. His 71 rebounds are the most he's had over a seven-game stretch since the first seven games of the 2006 season. He recently recorded 10 rebounds in three straight games for the first time since November of 2005.

Garnett averaged 17.9 points and 9.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists a game. He was the guy from last spring, as opposed to the old man of this fall. He and Pierce combined to do numerous things that we were sure THIS TIME FOR REALLY SURE they were not still capable of.

Jeff Green averaged 14 points a game. He took and made an assortment of big time shots, and did so with confidence. He guarded LeBron; he guarded Kobe. And while he wasn't perfect, he was competitive. He never looked afraid. More importantly, he never looked a guy who just didn't give a damn. If nothing else, Green once and for all established himself as the Celtics best in-game dunker since his cousin Gerald.

Jason Terry finally started playing like Jason Terry . . . and acting like Jason Terry. He averaged 13.3 points a game, and finally looks like the fearless gunner we watched all those years in Dallas. He's rediscovered the JET swagger, and you can already see it infesting the locker room. Green's definitely adopted that edge. Same with Courtney Lee. And in both cases, it's done wonders for their game, and the overall chemistry of the team.

Avery Bradley's still Avery Bradley. Out there getting the crap beaten out of him every night, and seemingly loving every second of it. He averaged nine points, 3.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and 1.3 steals during the streak, but more than numbers, Bradley is about attitude. He's about a singular focus every time he takes the floor, regardless of the opponent, and an inability to operate at anything less than full speed.

It's fair to wonder if that mentality might eventually catch up with Bradley. In some ways, you can argue that it already has. But for now, it's exactly what the Celtics need. It's part of a much bigger picture.

Along the way, there were questions . . .
Mostly, are the Celtics better without Rajon Rondo?

But the truth is that I'd rather challenge Nikola Pekovic to a 15-round oil wrestling match than delve into that right now. If there was nothing else to talk about, then sure, it might help pass the time. But the previous 700 words suggest that's not the case.

Are the Celtics better without Rondo? Who knows. All I know is that they went on one hell of a run without him. They also did it without Jared Sullinger, by the way. Why isn't anyone asking if the C's might be better without Sully? And what if they go on another run now, in the aftermath of Leandro Barbosa's season-ender? Will that mean that this whole time it was Rondo, Sully AND Barbosa at the heart of the Celtics problem? (I'm just joking. Please no angry e-mails. Those really hurt my feelings.)

And now that the streak is over, there's a little bit of regret. . .
I mean, the Celtics blew it last night. They blew an extremely winnable game to an extraordinarily bad team. The streak should be at eight right now. This postmortem shouldn't even be a glimmer in my eye. The Bobcats? They had a four point lead with less than 1:30 left and blew it against the Bobcats? Yes. Yes they did. And that's a shame. It's missed opportunity. A waste of Pierce and KG's legs. Coming off eight straight wins, the vibe at the Garden would have been off the charts on Wednesday against Chicago.

Of course, it will still be a great atmosphere. Even with last night's choke job, how can anyone be disappointed with what this team has shown and given back to Boston over the last two weeks?

Quick trivia: How many win streaks of seven or more games did the Celtics record in the 10 years before KG, Ray Allen and Gabe Pruitt showed up in Boston?

That's a ridiculous question, so I'll just give you the answer: TWO.

Two seven-game winning streaks in 10 years, and in both cases Boston lost the eighth game.

Quick trivia II: How many win streaks of seven or more games did the Celtics record in the FIVE years after KG arrived?

The answer is nine. Nine winning streaks of seven or more games, and among them was a 19-game, a 14-game, and a 12-game streak. At some point along the way, crazy win streaks became somewhat normal, and less astounding than we were accustomed. But there's no question that this latest seven-game run Boston's first since 2010, and the 10th overall in the Garnett Era was appreciated with every step, and will be remembered long beyond this season.

It'll be remembered for the drama of two multiple overtime victories. For knocking off both the Heat and Lakers, in dramatic fashion, on national TV, in front of the Boston crowd. For the emotions involved with losing a starting point guard . . .

And then a promising young rookie. And now a scrappy veteran guard, who's done for the season and maybe his career.

We'll remember the way the team came together in the face of more adversity than any group should have to deal with, and at the very least, we'll use that memory to stay sane over the All-Star break and remain optimistic for the second half of the season.

Hey, it was a great run.

An unlikely run.

An unforgettable run.

A season-saving run? I don't know.

A season-starting run? I kind of like it, but I'm pretty sure the Lakers have already trademarked that concept.

Either way, it was a ton of fun, and it's too bad that it's over.

Seriously, guys. The Bobcats?

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.