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

Thomas excited for reunion with Green

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Thomas excited for reunion with Green

WALTHAM, Mass. -- When the phone rang this summer, Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas had to do a double-take when he saw the name on the caller ID.

It was Gerald Green, his ex-teammate in Phoenix.

Although they only shared a locker room for 45 games in Phoenix, the two became quick friends.

On the court they developed instant chemistry while coming off the Suns bench. And that bond spilled off the court as Green would later spend time with Thomas in the Seattle-Tacoma, Wash. area in the summer months.

They were cool with each other, cool enough to where Thomas knew it wasn’t in Green’s nature to pick up the phone and call just to say hi.

“Gerald doesn’t call anybody,” Thomas said. “When he called I knew something was up.”

Green said Boston, the team that drafted him in 2006 straight out of high school, was interested in bringing him back for a second stint with the club.

“I tried to put my two cents in and he got here,” Thomas said.

There were several factors that led Green back to Boston, with a chance to reunite with Thomas being high on that list.

Green, already in Phoenix at the time the Suns signed Thomas in 2014, was impressed with the way the 5-9 guard carried himself.

“He was a genuine guy, came in really humble,” Green said. “I saw the talent was there. I knew he had the potential to be one of the best point guards in this league.”

Thomas certainly made a case for such lofty praise with how he performed last season, good enough to earn his first all-star selection.

What really stuck out to Green was that Thomas’ mentality and approach to the game was almost a carbon copy of his own.

“When we stepped on the court we had the same mentality,” Green said. “By any means necessary, get a bucket and play harder than the next team; just try and push the first team, make the first team better every day.”

Thomas was coming off the bench, showing lots of potential and promise that he could carry a heavier load if given an opportunity to do so.

He averaged 15.2 points, 3.7 assists and 2.4 rebounds in 25.7 minutes off the Suns bench in 46 games. Even more significant was that when Thomas did play for the Suns, they were 26-20.

In the games without him, they were just 13-23.

Green was admittedly disappointed they traded away Thomas, believing that season would have had a very different outcome had they not sent him to Boston.

And just like Green recognized Thomas’ skills and how much his team could have benefited from keeping him around, Thomas speaks in glowing terms about Green and what his return to Boston means for the team.

“We needed someone like him; a guy that could shoot the ball, a guy that could space the floor; instant scorer whether he starts or comes off the bench,” Thomas said. “Where the he starts or come off the bench. He’s going to really help us.”

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

Horford, Johnson wasting no time in developing chemistry

WALTHAM, Mass. – When the news came out that Al Horford was going to be a Boston Celtic, Amir Johnson couldn’t wait to meet his new teammate.

He didn’t have to.

Johnson soon found himself on plane headed to Atlanta to not only work out with Horford, but also try and work out some of the kinks that tend to come up among new teammates in those early days of training camp.

“I took it upon myself when I saw Al was part of the team, I automatically wanted to go down to Atlanta and work,” said Johnson who added that he brought his daughter along for the trip and they went to dinner with Horford’s family during the visit. “I thought it was great just to get that chemistry going. I just wanted to get to known him, make him feel comfortable.”

It’s still early in training camp, but Johnson and Horford seem to be meshing quite well on the floor. 

“The chemistry’s definitely coming along,” Johnson said. “I know when Al wants to roll or pop, and just working my way around it. Al’s more of a popper and eventually he’ll roll. It’s up to me to read whether I stay up or work the baseline.”

Johnson has been in the NBA long enough to know that often the keys to success are subtle nuances that may be overlooked by fans and spectators, but players know are essential to them being successful.

Being able to not only understand a player’s game but figure out how to play well with them, are critical to teammates being successful.

Last season, Johnson was Boston’s primary rim-protecting big man which is a role the 29-year-old Johnson has been cast in the last few years he was in Toronto. Horford brings a similar set of defensive skills to the table which gives Boston a true 1-2 defensive punch along the frontline.

“It’s big time,” Johnson said. “We communicate to each other. It’s all about communication out there; just knowing he can hold it down and he trusts me to hold it down. It’s key.”

GREEN INJURY UPDATE

Gerald Green is expected to get a few more days to rest his hip flexor injury which he said on Thursday was feeling better.

The injury should keep the 6-6 wing from participating in the team’s Green-White scrimmage on Friday, but it isn’t considered serious.

Still, Green is eager to get back and return to full contact work which is why he is getting a steady diet of treatments during the day and returning in the evening for more treatments from the Celtics’ medical staff.

“It’s almost like a precautionary thing; make sure it doesn’t get worst,” Green said.

The injury occurred earlier this week but Green could not pinpoint exactly what he did to suffer the injury.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said. “I’m not 25 no more. Just try to come out there and go at full speed. Those are things I’ve got to learn now I’m in my 30s.”
Indeed, one of the many benefits of being older now is that Green sees the big picture of things better now, which is why he isn’t trying to rush back to the floor too quickly.

As a veteran, it’s a long season,” Green said. “You’re not trying to do too much to make it worst. Training camp is important, but being healthy at the beginning of the season is even more important.”

RUN, YOUNGSTERS, RUN

Near the end of Thursday’s practice, the Celtics had a full court game of 3-on-3 involving some of the team’s rookies and end-of-the-bench training camp invitees like Jalen Jones of Texas A&M. The 6-7 undrafted rookie had a dunk over Jordan Mickey, a 3-pointer and another strong, uncontested flush at the rim in a matter of minutes. He’s likely to wind up with Boston’s Developmental League team, the Maine Red Claws.

With Thursday morning’s session being the team’s fifth practice this season, head coach Brad Stevens thought it was a good idea to get some of the team’s younger players on the court.

“It was good to play some 3-on-3,” said Stevens who added that it was good for their conditioning since a lot of the running at this point involves trying to get the starters and the likely rotation players as acclimated and familiar with one another as possible. “We try to do that occasionally even through the season just to get everybody up and down.”

TURNOVERS? WHAT TURNOVERS?

Five practices in the books and there’s only one thing that really has stood out to the eyes of Isaiah Thomas.

It’s turnovers.

Apparently the Celtics haven’t committed too many thus far.

“We haven’t turned the ball over as much as teams usually do the first couple of days,” Thomas said. “We’re trying to learn the system, trying to get everybody familiar with what we do. But we’ve been playing well together. Guys are playing hard. Guys have gotten better, worked on their game.”

Ball-handling will be one of the areas to watch during the preseason as the Celtics look to find a replacement for Evan Turner (Portland) who has been one of the team’s best ball-handlers the past couple of seasons.

The Celtics were middle-of-the-pack last season with 13.5 turnovers per game which ranked 14th in the NBA.

Low turnovers often serve as a common trait among playoff teams. Just last season, eight of the top-nine teams in fewest turnovers committed, were in the playoffs.