Boston Celtics

Fans expect Celtics to play up to expectations


Fans expect Celtics to play up to expectations

By A. Sherrod Blakely

WALTHAM Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers loves Celtics Nation. Their passion, the fact that they want nothing but the best - and will let you know in emphatic fashion if you come up short - is exactly what makes this basketball-crazy region so unique.

Rivers understands all too well the second-guessing that has come about since the team traded away Kendrick Perkins, a deal that both Rivers and Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, have said was difficult but necessary for them to move forward.

The only way to silence those critics is to go forth with a strong showing in the playoffs which begins Sunday night as the Celtics host Game 1 of their first-round matchup against the New York Knicks.

Boston has been on a roller coaster of sorts since the Feb. 24 trade, evident by their glass half emptyhalf full record of 15-12 in the post-Perkins era.

As much as the struggles have helped to bring a team together that's very much a work in progress, it has also served as a reminder for Rivers just how passionate fans are around here during the good and not-so-good times.

"I know the big picture," Rivers told on Saturday. "And the fans are no different than me. I'm a fan of the Celtics in some ways, and I expect us to win. So when they're frustrated, I can guarantee you that there's no fan that can get more frustrated than I am already. I actually don't mind that. Even when we were bad, I said that. At least they care. I'd rather have that, then the apathy and the indifference and 'you suck,' and don't even come to games."

But there are some fans who have not quite let go of the team's decision to trade Perkins, a player who has been pivotal in the success of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In a season that has been filled with its share of grey areas, support for the Celtics, in Rivers' mind, is a black and white issue.

"You're either a fan or not," he told reporters earlier this week. "I've always said that. There's nothing wrong with being disappointed in wins and losses."

That's a given in any professional sports market. But in New England, a market driven by some of the most passionate fans in sports, it's not that simple.

These fans are educated enough about their teams to know when they are playing at a level consistent with their talent.

And the Celtics know, based on their roster, they should have a better overall record than 56-26.

However, this season has been easily the most unique and to a large degree, most challenging of the Big Three era.

When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined Paul Pierce in 2007, there really was only one way to go - up.

The only question at that time wasn't whether they would win a championship, but could they do it in their first season together.

After steamrolling through the regular season, the Celtics had the best overall record and were the odds-on favorite to win it all.

They lived up to the lofty expectations and brought home Banner 17.

And the fan's response?

Nice. Now go get Banner 18.

A knee injury to Kevin Garnett sidetracked their plans to repeat, and a Perkins injury weighed heavily in the C's Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals last year.

With the Celtics loading up on veteran talent this season, anything short of winning it all will again be a disappointment.

"That's what our fans have come to expect from us," Ainge told "And we expect that from ourselves. That's why you play the game, or you should play the game, to be a champion. We have a team full of guys who believe that."

But there are times throughout the season when the Celtics, like many NBA teams, seem to not play at a level consistent with what you need in order to win a championship.

He'll occasionally deliver the good-isn't-good-enough sermon. In case they don't get it, he has Celtics Nation coming in with the chorus.

However, intertwined within those goals is reality.

And for Rivers, that's where things get kind of tricky for fans.

They expect greatness, but don't necessarily factor in the ups and downs that go into it, and aren't always patient enough to see the process through to its end before judging a deal or a player rotation, a bust.

"We did make a lot of changes, and that takes time," Rivers said.

And for fans who don't understand that?

"If you don't get that, I can't help you," Rivers said. "If you want to jump (off the Celtics bandwagon), I'm not going to be there with you."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis


30 teams in 30 days: Grit-and-Grind days are over in Memphis

We’ll take a look at all 30 teams in the next 30 days as they prepare for the 2017-2018 regular season, which is when the real fireworks begin! Today's team: The Memphis Grizzlies. 

Memphis is no different than any other NBA team when it comes to making changes.
It’s an inevitable part of the NBA.

There are changes, and then there’s losing Zach Randolph and Tony Allen to free agency.
They didn’t lose the face of their franchise.
They lost its backbone.
And when you throw in the departure of Vince Carter, the Grizzlies are getting younger and more athletic and maybe just as significant, further removed from the physical, rough-and-tough brand of basketball they played for years.

You’ll have to go to YouTube to see Grit-and-Grind anymore.
Still, this isn’t all that surprising when you consider they brought in a new coach last year, David Fizdale, who came from Miami but also spent time on the bench as an assistant in Atlanta and Golden State.

Those teams played a more position-less, free-flowing brand of basketball compared to the Grizzlies.
So what we’re starting to see now is a Memphis team that will eventually look and hopefully play, more akin to what their coach envisions.
While the DNA of this team has changed dramatically, the Grizzlies will still be among the teams battling for one of the last playoff spots in the West this season.
They return Marc Gasol who still ranks among the best centers in the NBA. They also have point guard Mike Conley Jr., who unfortunately still holds the title for the best veteran player to not be named to an NBA All-Star team.
He’s coming off his best season as a pro when he averaged career highs in scoring (20.5 points per game) and shooting (45.9 percent from the field, 40.7 percent on 3’s) along with 3.5 rebounds, also a career benchmark.
In addition, Conley’s 6.3 assists per game were just 0.2 assists away from tying his career best in that category.
But for Memphis to surprise many and extend its playoff run to eight years in a row, the Grizzlies’ inside-outside tandem of Gasol and Conley, will need help.
A healthy Chandler Parsons would be a huge boost.
One of the more versatile wing players in the league, injuries have left Parsons a shell of the player that he once was.
He has had each of his past three seasons end prematurely due to injuries, so it’s hard to imagine Memphis will be banking on him to be healthy enough to make a major impact on the team this season.
They added Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans, both from Sacramento, to the roster this season.
Both come into training camp competing for a starting job.
The Grizzlies also have high hopes for 6-9 forward Rade Zagorac, a second-round pick in 2016 acquired from Boston who spent an additional year overseas before coming over to the NBA.
The new faces will be critical to the success of Memphis in those post Grit-and-Grind era.
Key free agent/draft/trade additions: Ben McLemore (Sacramento); Tyreke Evans (Sacramento).
Key losses: Zach Randolph (Sacramento); Tony Allen (New Orleans); Vince Carter (Sacramento).
Rookies of note: Rade Zagorac; Ivan Rabb; Dillon Brooks.
Expectations: 33-49 (fourth in the Southwest Division, 11th in the West).



Blakely: Light up a birthday cigar for Red

Blakely: Light up a birthday cigar for Red

BOSTON -- He stood just 5 feet and 10 inches off the ground, but make no mistake about it.
Arnold “Red” Auerbach, the architect who shaped the Boston Celtics into a dynasty of the likes the NBA has not seen before or since, was a basketball giant who still casts a tremendously large shadow over the league.


Today marks what would have been Auerbach’s 100th birthday, a milestone worth noting for a man who did so much for the game.
Auerbach, who passed away on October 28, 2006, did more than make the Boston Celtics a household name.
His up-tempo brand of play made the Celtics -- and the NBA, for that matter -- must-watch basketball at a time when the league was still establishing itself.
But the true measure of Auerbach’s worth goes far beyond the 16 NBA championships (nine as a head coach, seven as an executive) or the countless Hall of Famers who played for him.
His greatest accomplishments can be seen in the lives he impacted, the players who got to know him beyond as a head coach, and the opponents who had little choice but to respect him for what he accomplished.
“As I reflect on when I was playing . . . I completely trusted Red Auerbach,” Bill Russell said in an earlier interiew. “That he would not do anything at my expense to make himself look better. I had that trust and it was a bond. So whenever he said something to me, I took it that he was trying to help. And that’s very difficult to get with players and coaches.”

Russell shared a story about Auerbach wanting to talk to him after a team dinner shortly before the start of the 1958-59 season.

“So we go up to his suite and [Auerbach] says, ‘Listen, tomorrow morning, when we start practice I’m going to be all over you,’ ” Russell recalled. “ 'Don’t pay any attention to it. If I can’t yell at you, I can’t yell at anybody. I’m yelling at you, but it’s not really aimed at you. It’s for the other guys.' ’”
Russell went along with it, but he acknowledged it wasn’t easy.
“So the next day, it’s like I gave him an unlimited budget and he went over it,” said Russell who immediately broke out into laughter.”
A few years later, Auerbach thanked Russell for allowing him to do that.
“I said, ‘Red, I came this close to attacking you,' ” quipped Russell.
Auerbach’s players weren’t the only ones who held him in high esteem.
“Red Auerbach helped the Celtics to win, immeasurably,” Los Angeles Lakers great Wilt Chamberlain said prior to his death in 1999. “I’ve never been a huge Red Auerbach fan. He was the adversary and sometimes he really ticked me off. [But he] was able to do things with his team that no other coach didand he helped to make them the best franchise in sports. Just like [John] Wooden did for UCLA . . . Red did so in spades in basketball professionally.”
The NBA logo himself, Jerry West, also had high praise for Auerbach.
“He was one of the first coaches that commanded a lot of attention,” said West, now a consultant to the Los Angeles Clippers. “The thing that was most noticeable in my mind was how hard he got the players to play for him every night. His players played so hard, it was unbelievable. His teams played a very aggressive kind of game, both offensively and defensively. They played with a confidence that was hard to believe sometimes. You’d have some guy come down and shoot one on four. He encouraged that style of play. He wanted an open game. He knew how to play with the officials. His demeanor on the sideline was very interesting. He knew how to motivate his players and he was just one of those people, sometimes they’re hard to describe how they get the most out of people. He had a skill very few coaches have been able to emulate.”
Added former Celtic Bill Walton: “There is no franchise that has contributed more to the NBA than the Boston Celtics. And to me, that all comes from Red Auerbach. Red’s ability to identify the talent to put the team together.”
But as much as Auerbach embraced the spotlight that shined so brightly for so many years on him and his players, it was those quiet moments to himself, when the final ashes of yet another victory cigar have smoldered down, that were times to reflect on what was an amazing basketball journey that took this scrappy kid from Brooklyn to the highest of heights in professional basketball.

“The best moment was when you win your first championship,” Auerbach recalled in an interview prior to his death. "And after the game I went home, I sat in a room, a chair, ‘you’re one lucky S-O-B,' talking to myself. 'Imagine a guy like you, what you did, your background, you’re the coach of the greatest basketball team in the world. How good can it get? You’re one lucky guy.' ”
But Celtics fans and the NBA are the really lucky ones who have benefited greatly from this 5-foot-10 basketball giant.
“His legacy," said West, "will be there forever."