Celtics let opportunity slip away vs. Sixers

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Celtics let opportunity slip away vs. Sixers

The same thing happened against the Hawks.

It was the night before Game 1, and over in Chicago, Derrick Rose tore his ACL, ending his season and placing the Bulls in serious danger. Back in Boston, the Celtics hadnt even taken the court for Round 1, but the conversation had already moved past Atlanta and on to the second round.

Can the Sixers beat Chicago? Either way, with Rose out of the picture, are the Celtics now a legitimate threat to move on to Miami?

Roses injury was the break that Boston was waiting for. The latest in a series of late season dominoes to fall in their favor and inject hope into a lost season. There was a time when the mere thought of the Conference Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus press conference, but with one injury, the Conference Finals became the expectation. The seas had parted, and in our eyes, all the Celtics had to do was dance down the middle, through the Hawks and whomever else.

Destination: Miami.

The next day, the Celtics laid an egg in Atlanta, and woke us from the perverted dream. Suddenly, Derrick Rose the Bulls the Sixers nothing mattered. The Cs had a battle on their hands, and spent the next five games and a whole bunch of energy and effort fighting for their playoff lives.

They eventually took down the Hawks in the first round, the Sixers in Game 1 of the second and then, it happened again.

It was the night before Game 2, and down in Miami, Chris Bosh strained his abdomen. When the dust settled, and the Heat classified him as out indefinitely we fell right back into the dream.

Another round, another major domino. Of course, Chris Bosh isnt Derrick Rose (hes barely Carlos Boozer), and his injury was nowhere near as serious. But whether hes significantly less than 100 or altogether absent, the injury presented a legitimate threat to Miamis chances.

Back in Boston, the conversation moved past Philly and onto the Conference Finals.

"Can the Celtics beat the Heat?" became "The Celtics can beat the Heat!"

There was a time when the mere thought of the NBA Finals was more laughable than a Mickael Pietrus dance party, but now it was the expectation. Or at the very least, a legit possibility. The seas were parting again, and all Boston had to do was follow their Basketball Moses down the middle.

Destination: NBA Finals.

Last night, we were all hit with another wake up call.

Suddenly, Bosh the Heat the Pacers the NBA Finals nothing matters. The Celtics have another battle on their hands. Now, they're without home court advantage against a young team that's brimming with confidence. Now, we're back to obsessing over Paul Pierce's knee, Rondo's late game decision-making, whether KG can carry them every night. From looking into the future to worrying whether there will be a future at all. It's Atlanta all over again.

And just like with Atlanta, the most frustrating part of all this is the knowledge that the Celtics are the better team.

It would be one thing if we still had that mindset from earlier in the season. When the second round was the ceiling. When the Celtics didn't have a chance. When we'd made peace with the futile end of the Big Three era and were prepared to watch them go down peacefully. Back when we had no expectations, a night like last night wouldn't have hurt so badly.

But now, things have changed. With the Celtics, and all around them. To this point, the playoffs have been like a sequel to Angels in the Outfield Leprechauns in the Backcourt (working title). We've watched the Basketball Gods strike down other teams, give KG wings and make believers out of everyone. Destiny's basically called a team meeting and is screaming in the Celtics ears: "It's right here, guys! I'm doing this all for you! Why do you have to make this so much harder than it has to be?"

But they still don't get it. Like Game 1 in Atlanta, and especially Game 5 in Atlanta, last night the Celtics missed another huge opportunity to help destiny along. To take advantage of their unbelievable good fortune and put themselves in the best position for another unlikely, yet entirely realistic trip to the NBA Finals.

But now as opposed to yesterday, and thanks to last night that potential trip to the NBA Finals, even the Conference Finals, is the farthest thing from our mind.

The Celtics once again have their hands full, and will spend a whole lot of effort and energy fighting for their playoff lives.

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

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Waltham, mass. – Kelly Olynyk is in a good place right now. 

He’s playing a key role on one of the top teams in the NBA, doing more than just stretch the floor with long-range jumpers and 3-pointers. He has been a solid positional defender most of his time in the NBA, but lately he has become one of the team’s best rebounders … really!

But more than anything, Olynyk is in the best shape of his career both mentally and physically, delivering strong play in several categories.

“When he plays aggressive and with confidence, that’s when he’s at his best,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. 

And lately, the best of Olynyk has been in steady rotation for the Celtics who will host the Phoenix Suns tonight. 

Olynyk attributes his recent strong play to seizing his opportunity to help the Celtics in what has been a season-long area of weakness. The fourth-year big man is a threat to score from 3-point range whenever he’s on the floor. Because of that, teams are overly concerned about his long-range shooting which has allowed him to be an effective driver into the paint and finisher around the rim. 

He has also benefited by being healthy, something he could not say was the case on the eve of the Celtics’ postseason run last season which ended in the second round to the Atlanta Hawks. Olynyk was hampered by a sore right shoulder injury that limited him in the playoffs against Atlanta, and later required surgery which sidelined him for the start of this season. 

But those pain-filled days where he gave more thought to his shoulder rather than shouldering a greater load for the Celtics, are behind him now. 

“It’s something that I had to deal with and I had to get surgery,” Olynyk said. “Now it feels better than it has. I feel strong, confident, ready to roll.”

Boston has won five of its last six games, and the play of Olynyk off the bench has been among the reasons for the team’s latest run of success. In those six games, Olynyk has averaged 10.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting a team-high 64.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range in 20.5 minutes per game – all better than his season average in those respective categories. 

And among Celtics players who have averaged double-digit minutes in that span, Olynyk has a team-best rebounding percentage of .170 in addition to an effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .689 which is also tops among Boston players during their last six games.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t surprised to see Olynyk playing as well as he has now that he’s injury-free.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than playing with clear minds and fresh legs,” Stevens said. “I just think that, and not being injured is a big part of that.”

For Olynyk, part of the challenge he has had since coming to the NBA was finding that balance between being aggressive and assertive, while making sure he got teammates involved when the opportunity presents itself.

“There’s definitely a fine line between being aggressive, forcing things, over-aggressive and create and open things up for others,” Olynyk said. “It’s kind of a balance, kind of like a yin and yang; just go out and play basketball the way you know how to play it. That’s what’s going to make you the best version of yourself and your team the best version they can be.”

Olynyk’s teammates encourage him often (Avery Bradley and Thomas are probably the two most consistent in his ear) to be more assertive, but they recognize he tends to be hesitant far too often for a player with his skillset.

“When he’s second-guessing and … shot-faking when he should have shot, just not being the aggressive player that we need him to be … we don’t need him to be like that,” said Thomas. “We believe in him. He just has to remain confident at all times. When he’s confident and aggressive, he’s a hell of a player.”

Five takeaways: East top seed well within Celtics' reach

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Five takeaways: East top seed well within Celtics' reach

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