Who gets the game-winning shot?

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Who gets the game-winning shot?

The best thing that we can say about last nights Celtics win is that a few weeks ago it would have been a loss. Basically, that was exactly the kind of game (non-Washington variety) that Boston made a habit of blowing in the early going. But on occasions like last night, their development is clear. Even if the process has been somewhat subtle.

The bottom line is that the Celtics didnt bring their A game against the Mavs. Not down the stretch, at least. The offense stalled, their defense sprang a leak (the leak was wearing a No. 9 jersey) and they failed to capitalize on so many essential opportunities. But at the end of the daynight(by the time it was over) morning, Boston capitalized enough. Enough to avoid a loss. Enough to ensure that all those extra minutes werent played in vain. Enough to move three games over .500 for the first time this season.

The Celtics now head out on the road for a three-game trip at Houston, at San Antonio, at Chicago with some serious momentum-building (or killing) potential. Of course, either way, its not the end of the world. The Celtics could lose all three or go 1-2 and (short of a horrific injury) there wont be any reason for panic. In the same breath, going 3-0 or 2-1 wont necessarily mean a thing. But it will keep this team trending in the right direction, and at this point, what else you can ask for?

(Oh, what's that? You want another big man? OK, good point. How about Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger for Marcin Gortat? Would you do that? I'm not claiming any sources on the deal, I just think it's an interesting question. As of Saturday (December 15), all of Boston's free agents are eligible to be traded. At the same time, they've got Avery Bradley on the verge of return. Suddenly, the C's have four shooting guards and only guy (I'm not counting Jason Collins) who's taller than 6-10, and that's KG who can't rebound like he used to, and does most of his damage from 17 feet.

Translation: The Celtics desperately need a big man. They have way too many shooting guards. Come on, Danny. Let's make some memories. Either that or you'll leave me with no choice but to initiate the "Bring Birdman To Boston" campaign.)

Anyway, let's forget about trade rumors for a second, and focus on the big picture.

Specifically, one aspect of the Celtics attack thats been non-existent to this point in the season. One that was on display last night (twice), has the potential to seriously screw with them moving forward.

THE FINAL POSSESSION

More specifically, a potential game-winning final possession. I'm talking less than 24 seconds left on the clock, with the Celtics either tied, down one or down two points. I'm talking one basket = victory. One miss = loss, or another overtime period for a team that's already played too many.

In situations like this, what should the Celtics do?

Before we answer that, let's take a quick look at they've done so far this year, in six previous "game-winning shot" opportunities:

(DISCLAIMER: The following videos are not recommended for those who enjoy good basketball, or for women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant.)
No. 1: November 7, against Washington

The score's tied at 88, with nine seconds left. The Celtics have possession at half-court, and inbound the ball to Rondo.

The play looks like it was called for Pierce, and even though the Wizards switched, Rondo still could have gotten him the ball. But he made the decision to try and win the game on his own, and that's fine. You just wish he'd try something other than a step-back three-pointer.

No. 2: November 25, at Orlando.

The Celtics grab an offensive rebound (!) with 19 seconds left in a 102-102 game, and reset the offense with the ballgameballgame in Paul Pierce's hands.

Nice defense by Afflalo. Tough look for Paul.

No. 3: December 7, at Philly

Rondo picks off an errant pass with three seconds left in a tie game. The C's inbound at halfcourt (to Rondo) with a chance to pick up a great win, on national TV, against a budding Atlantic Division rival.

This one was Rondo's from the start. As Doug Collins would say: "That play was called 'Give the ball to Rajon, and everyone get the & out of the way.'" And truthfully, there were only three seconds left, there wasn't too much Rondo could do there.

Except to maybe keep moving towards the hoop in order to maybe draw a foul, instead of settling for another off-balanced fade away.

No. 4: December 7, at Philly . . . TAKE 2

Same game. But now it's overtime. Now the Celtics are down one. And this time they inbound it to Kevin Garnett.

Action!

The play was called for Kevin, but he thought that Rondo had an angle on a lay-up. And he did. But whether it was a matter of the sprained ankle or just Rondo being Rondo, he didn't take the lay-up.

No. 5: December 12, against Dallas

This is last night. The game is tied at 96, with seven seconds left, and Boston inbounds the ball to Rondo in the backcourt.

The pick-and-pop to Pierce wasn't really there, but I don't think it mattered. It looked like Rondo was pretty damn set on taking that shot. Which, for the third time, ended up being a last second fade away jumper with a man right in his face. And this one barely made it to the free throw line.

No. 6: December 12, against Dallas . . . TAKE 2

Same game. But now it's overtime. The score is tied at 105, and the Celtics isolate Pierce with about four seconds left on the clock.

I guess this one worked a little better than Rondo's, seeing how Pierce's shot made it all the way to the charge circle. But again, not a great look.

So, there you have it. Six game-winning opportunities. Six off-balanced, well-defended jump shots. Zero makes. And that brings us back to the original question: In situations like this, what should the Celtics do?

Honestly, I don't want to make this about a power struggle between Pierce and Rondo, because I think both guys are better than that. In fact, I don't think the "Rondo or Pierce?" question is even all that important. The far bigger problem is that, no matter who it is, the Celtics are getting horrible looks at the end of games. They're not running plays. They're not taking it to the hoop In Rondo's case, maybe he's scared of going to the line? In Paul's case, maybe he can't beat guys off the dribble like he used to? They're just settling.

You also wonder how much that has to do with the fact that the Celtics have been tied in five of these six game-winning situations. When you're tied, the security of overtime takes away a lot of urgency. I don't think that's it's a coincidence that the only the time the Celtics have attacked the hoop (in theory) came when they were down a point in Philly.

That was the best "game-winning" play call that we've seen this season. It may have also been the only game-winning play call that we've seen this season. If not for Rondo slipping, or whatever, that could have gone on the "Doc Rivers Classics" highlight reel.

And for that, I don't think we should ignore the involvement of Kevin Garnett. KG can be a serious threat in these situations. He can extend the defense. He's a great passer. He's the one guy who has 0.00 percent ego when it comes to game-winning shots and will usually (especially in his later years) make the right "game-winning" decision.

But other than that one play in Philly, KG's been an after thought. He's not even in the picture.

Remember the shot he hit to beat the Knicks back in 2009?

I've still yet to see anyone stop this play. Every time the Celtics run it, regardless of the situation, it seems like KG gets that open jumper. At the very least, it always puts the defense on its heels. It creates some semblance of a strategy. It's also been in the Witness Protection Program.

Bring back the PierceKG Pick-and Pop!

Or just do something. Something else. Something at all. The Celtics have the best and most creative play-calling coach in the league on their bench. Doc Rivers stays up all night scribbling skeleton drills on his window like John Nash. It's time to transfer some of that creativity into the final seconds of action.

Either that, or petition the league to move the hoop up to the free throw line.

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

Return of Gerald Green could fill vital bench role for Celtics

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Return of Gerald Green could fill vital bench role for Celtics

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON –  Say what you want about Gerald Green, but his athleticism is the one thing you can bank on him delivering.

The 30-year-old Green doesn’t play above the rim nearly as much as he used to, but he does enough to where his presence will indeed be an upgrade for the Celtics this season.

But in terms of what his exact role will be, that will be worked out in the coming months as Green begins a second tour of duty with Boston (the Celtics drafted him with the 18th overall pick in 2005).

The ceiling for Green: Sixth or seventh man

Green’s return will in no way impact Jae Crowder’s status as the Celtics’ starting small forward. And Avery Bradley has nothing to worry about when it comes to Green competing for his spot as the team’s starting shooting guard, either. But Green’s experience will give him a chance to compete for minutes behind both coming off the bench.

At 6-foot-8, Green has the size and length to play both positions. And having played nine seasons in the NBA, Green has learned enough in that time to find ways to impact games in ways besides highlight-quality dunks.

Green is coming off a not-so-stellar season in Miami in which he averaged 8.9 points and 2.4 rebounds, while shooting 39.2 percent from the field and just 32.3 percent on 3s – both numbers below his career averages.

Part of Green’s drop in production last season (he averaged 11.9 points or more in three of the previous four seasons) had to do with the emergence of Justice Winslow, and Green’s own shooting struggles, which eventually led to him playing a more limited role in the Heat offense.

But in Boston, Green won’t be counted on to be a significant contributor in terms of scoring. Instead, he will be seen as a player who can be looked upon from time to time to provide some punch (offensively or defensively) from the wing. If we’re talking offense, Green can help both from the perimeter or as an effectively attacker of the rim.

The floor for Green: Active roster

As much as the attention surrounding Green’s game centers on what he does with the ball in his hands, it his defense that will keep him on the Celtics’ active roster all season. Although Miami sought scoring more often from others, doing so allowed Green to focus more of his attention on defense, which may wind up being the best thing for his career at this stage.

Coming off the bench primarily after the All-Star break, opponents shot 33.3 percent when defended by Green, which was more than 10 percentage points (10.9) below what they shot from the field (44.2) overall.

He was even tougher on opponents shooting 2-pointers against him. They were held more than 15 percentage points (15.5) below their shooting percentage from 2-point range when he was defending versus their overall shooting for the season.

But don’t be fooled.

Green can still score the ball and as he gets older, he’s finding more and more ways to do so.

While much of Green’s NBA success has come about with him attacking the rim, he has progressively improved his game as a catch-and-shoot player. In fact, 54.8 percent of his shot attempts last season were of the catch-and-shoot variety according to nba.com/stats.

That makes sense when you consider that he had an effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .491 when he took shots without taking any dribbles, which was better than Green’s eFG% when he shot from the floor and took at least one dribble.

Green’s second stint with the Celtics doesn’t come with nearly as much hype as there was when Boston selected him  out of high school with the 18th overall pick in 2005. Still, he has the potential to fill a vital role for the Celtics now, a role that could go far in determining how successful this season will be for himself as well as the Celtics.  

 

 

Phil Jackson: Knicks' biggest mistake was not trading for Jae Crowder in 2014

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Phil Jackson: Knicks' biggest mistake was not trading for Jae Crowder in 2014

BOSTON -- Phil Jackson will be the first to admit he has made some mistakes during his tenure in the New York Knicks' front office.

Among the miscues was a deal that would have landed them Jae Crowder.

"One of the first deals I engineered when I came back to New York was to trade Tyson Chandler and Raymond Felton to Dallas for Shane Larkin, Jose Calderon, Wayne Ellington, Samuel Dalembert, plus a second-round pick that the Mavs owed to the Celtics," Jackson told the website, www.todaysfastbreak.com.

Jackson later revealed that in conversations with Boston leading up to the 2014 NBA draft, he was given an option to either keep the second-round pick which was to be conveyed to Boston from Dallas, or take Jae Crowder and allow Boston to keep the second-round pick from the Mavs.

"I liked Crowder but I thought he wouldn’t get much of a chance to play behind Carmelo (Anthony)," Jackson said. "So I took the (second-round) pick which turned out to be Cleanthony Early.”

Ouch!

With Crowder left out of the six-player deal between New York and Dallas, the Celtics were able to engineer a trade with the Mavericks six months later that sent Rajon Rondo and Dwight Powell to Dallas in exchange for Brandon Wright, Jameer Nelson, draft picks and what many believed at the time to be a “throw in” player by the name of Jae Crowder.

Less than two years later, Crowder is the lone player acquired by Boston in that deal who remains on the Celtics roster.

And as we have all seen, Crowder is far from just a warm body on the Celtics’ roster.

The 6-foot-6 forward has emerged as a core member of this young, up-and-coming Celtics squad, a key to Boston going from being a team rebuilding just three years ago to one that’s poised to be among the top teams in the East this season.

And the play of Crowder has been a significant part of that growth.

Last season was his first as an NBA starter, and the 26-year-old made the most of his opportunity by averaging career highs in just about every meaningful category such as scoring (14.2), steals (1.7), assists (1.8), rebounds (5.1), field goal percentage (.443) and starts (73).

Meanwhile, Early has had a pair of injury-riddled seasons which have factored heavily into him seeing action in a total of just 56 games (9 starts) while averaging 4.3 points and 2.2 rebounds while shooting 34.6 percent from the field and a woeful 26.3 percent on 3s.

“While Cleanthony has missed lots of time in the past two seasons with us,” Jackson said, “He still has the potential to be a valuable player.”

That said, Jackson knows he screwed that deal up, big time.

Even with the potential Early brings to the game, Jackson concedes, “I should have taken Crowder."

 

Can Jerebko parlay playoff starts to a bigger role with Celtics?

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Can Jerebko parlay playoff starts to a bigger role with Celtics?

Every weekday until Sept. 7, we'll take a look at each player at the Celtics roster: Their strengths and their weaknesses, their ceiling and their floor. We continue today with Tyler Zeller. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – Considering all the different storylines that developed among the Celtics at the end of last season and this summer, it’s easy to forget that Jonas Jerebko was in the starting lineup.

With sporadic minutes in the regular season, Boston found itself trailing the Atlanta Hawks 2-0 in their best-of-seven playoff series.

So what did coach Brad Stevens do?

He shook up the starting lineup by inserting Jerebko. who helped Boston even up the series at two games apiece before the Hawks bounced back and ended the Celtics season after six games.

Those last four games against the Hawks – the only games Jerebko started all season - served as a reminder to many that the 29-year-old could still be an impact performer.

It was the kind of run to close out the season that Jerebko will certainly be focused on trying to build upon this season.

The ceiling for Jerebko: Starter

While he will likely begin the season as a reserve, Jerebko will certainly come into camp with a little more bounce in his step courtesy of a strong showing in the playoffs.

After averaging just 4.4 points and 3.7 rebounds in 15.1 minutes in the regular season a year ago, Jerebko became a major force in the playoffs for Boston.

In his first game as a starter, Jerebko had a double-double of 11 points and 12 rebounds as Boston won Game 3, 111-103.

He was even more impactful 48 hours later with another a second straight double-double (16 points, 10 rebounds) in yet another Celtics victory.

The Hawks made some adjustments in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series, but it wasn’t before Jerebko had put together the best postseason stretch of his career.

Compared to the regular season, Jerebko more than doubled his playing time in those final four games by averaging 31.3 minutes to go with 11.5 points and 7.8 rebounds.

Jerebko will be hard-pressed to return to that role at the start of this season.

Boston signed Al Horford to a four-year, $113 million contract, so you know he’s starting.

And Amir Johnson’s defense and ability to run the floor so effectively will likely result in him resuming a starting role, too.

That leaves Jerebko joining what looks to be a very talented and deep Celtics bench.

Even though he’s unlikely to start, Jerebko will get his share of opportunities to play.

At 6-foot-10, Jerebko has the size to play both power forward and center. And depending on the opposing team’s lineup, Jerebko has the potential play some small forward as well.

It was that versatility that made Stevens turn to Jerebko in the playoffs last season to replace Jared Sullinger, who signed with the Toronto Raptors in the offseason.

And while the idea of Jerebko as a starter seems a bit far-fetched at this point, he is yet another Celtics reserve who has proven himself to be ready to play and play well when given an opportunity to step on the floor regardless of what that role may be.

The floor for Jerebko: Seldom-used reserve

Despite a strong finish last season, Jerebko will once again have to fight and claw for any minutes on the floor. While the Celtics certainly were aided by his versatility, this season’s roster has a number of players who, like Jerebko, can play multiple positions at both ends of the floor.

NBA veteran Gerald Green is 6-8 and will play shooting guard and small forward. But depending on the lineup, it’s not a stretch to envision him playing some power forward. Ditto for rookie Jaylen Brown and starting small forward Jae Crowder sliding up one position.

Beginning the season on the rotation fringes is nothing new to Jerebko, whose role was very much up in the air when the Celtics traded Tayshaun Prince to Detroit prior to the 2015 trade deadline for Jerebko and Gigi Datome.

Gradually, Jerebko earned his minutes and proved he was indeed a valuable piece of what Stevens and the Celtics were trying to build here in Boston.

And now, with a season-plus of time with the Celtics under his belt, Jerebko finds himself once again being challenged to show that he’s more than just a body on the roster.