Big Four sit, Celtics fall to Wizards, 95-94

191544.jpg

Big Four sit, Celtics fall to Wizards, 95-94

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WASHINGTON For weeks, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers has said playoff seeding means little to him if it comes at the cost of having a healthy roster heading into the playoffs.

Rivers backed his words up with his actions on Monday, opting to sit his Big Four - Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett - in a game that the Celtics needed to win in order to keep their hopes of securing the No. 2 seed alive.

Those hopes were dashed following a 95-94 overtime loss at Washington that locks the Celtics into the No. 3 seed where they will face the New York Knicks who clinched the No. 6 seed with Philadelphia's home loss to Orlando.

Game One of the first-round series between Boston and New York is expected to be Sunday at the TD Garden.

The Celtics had a chance to win the game in the closing seconds, but Carlos Arroyo's last-second jumper was off the mark.

We have seen Boston's core group have their struggles at times in closing out games.

It was more of the same with the team's second and third units.

"We made so many blunders down the stretch," Rivers said. "But they didn't do it because they weren't playing hard. It's tough for a coach to blame a team. They played extremely hard."

But they didn't always play smart, which was evident by the late-game turnovers, defensive breakdowns and inability to close out a Washington Wizards team that has been among the NBA's worst this season.

"You can play hard, but you have to play smart, too," Rivers said. "I thought we covered the first part of that. I didn't think we covered the second part of that very much."

However, having so many backups on the floor in one game allowed Rivers to get a better feel for who might be able to contribute who is not currently part of the Celtic's core group.

One of the better performers for Boston was Jermaine O'Neal.

Since he came back from left knee surgery, O'Neal has been a relatively solid defender.

On Monday, O'Neal had 15 points and 13 rebounds for his first double-double as a Celtics player. Boston also got a strong game from Jeff Green who also had his first double-double with the Green team, tallying 20 points and a career-high tying 15 rebounds.

"There were a lot of good things that came out of this game," Rivers said.

However, the Celtics did suffer yet another injury to a key performer, as Delonte West suffered a right ankle injury in the third quarter. West's early exit certainly had an impact on the game's outcome.

But for Boston, Monday wasn't about winning or losing.

It was about survival.

Prior to the game, the C's knew that a victory would have kept alive their chances of moving up in the playoff seedings ahead of the Heat. Although Miami had a one-game lead over Boston, the Celtics hold the tie-breaker so a win by Boston on Monday would have meant the Heat had to win at Toronto on Wednesday in order to secure the No. 2 seed.

Rivers admitted that the decision to sit guys against the Wizards was not an easy one to make.

"I usually don't seek out . . . it's gotta come from me, but on this one, I asked a lot of questions to our players, coaches, Danny Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations . . . so this was a tough one," Rivers said. "But it was the right decision. Because at the end of the day, for us it has to be about our team and what's best for our team, even over seeding."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

blakelydraft502_1280x720_678115395728.jpg

Blakely: Why Celtics should roll the dice on Bender

A. Sherrod Blakely joins SNC to give his NBA Draft preview, and explains why he thinks the Boston Celtics should roll the dice on 18-year-old Dragan Bender if they get the chance.

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

thon-maker.jpg

Gauging the stock of Thon Maker, the NBA draft's mystery man

BOSTON – There’s a certain amount of mystery surrounding most players when they enter the NBA draft.

And then there’s 19-year-old Thon Maker, the 7-foot-1 Sudan-born basketball player who successfully challenged the NBA’s rule restrictions placed on high school players entering the league.                                                  

Maker reclassified academically in 2015 but elected to stay at Orangeville District Secondary School in Orangeville, Ontario for an additional year which was later deemed a “post-graduate” year.

In doing so, he satisfied the NBA’s rules regarding draft-eligible players being one year removed from their graduating high school class as well as the league’s age requirement.

This will be the second straight draft where there will be at least one player who played their prep basketball in North American who did not play in college or professionally overseas prior to entering the draft.

Last season, the Dallas Mavericks selected Indian-born Satnam Singh in the second round with the 52nd overall pick. The 7-foot-2, 290-pound center played his prep basketball at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

To be in such select company alone makes Maker’s journey to the NBA unique.

But in this narrative, that becomes more of a footnote as Maker’s path towards pro basketball has already taken him to three different continents (Africa, Australia and most recently North America) in which he has played for at least five different institutions.

CSNNE.com spoke to two different scouts, a league executive and an NBA assistant who was among those to see him play during a Basketball Without Borders event in 2015.

Their opinions of Maker’s chances of playing at the NBA level are kind of like the places Maker has played basketball – all over the map.

“There is no way this kid should be in this year’s draft,” one Eastern Conference scout told CSNNE.com. “He’s nowhere close to being ready to play or make any kind of impact that will help a team anytime soon. He’s one of those two years away from being two years away kind of players. If you take him near the end of the second round, he’s worth it. But a first-rounder? I just don’t see it.”

Another executive with a Western Conference team offered a similar assessment of Maker.

“He’s going to have to show some things that we haven’t seen yet, in workouts,” the executive told CSNNE.com. “Every draft has a player or two that you draft because he has upside, but he’s a project. That’s Thon Maker; a project with upside, the kind of upside that you’re probably not going to really see or really be helped by for years down the road.”

A second scout added, “He’s not ready for the NBA. Not even close. But this league drafts on potential and because of that, somebody will take him. It may not be until the second round, but he’ll be drafted by someone.”

However, one current NBA assistant had a chance to see him play at a Basketball Without Borders tournament and came away with a very different opinion of Maker.

“You immediately saw the separation of talent, of God-given ability,” the assistant coach told CSNNE.com. “He’s a multi-faceted player, a willing learner.”

Originally from Sudan, Maker was discovered by Edward Smith whose guidance has taken Maker on a basketball odyssey across the globe with stops in Louisiana, Virginian and most recently, Ontario.

During each stop, Maker's potential was evident.

But most of his best work came against questionable competition, the kind of thing that tends to raise eye-brows among NBA decision-makers.

As impressed as the assistant coach was with Maker, he too wonders how the 19-year-old will fare against bigger, stronger, more seasoned competition.

"We'll find out soon enough," the assistant coach said. "He's in the draft now. His skills, the good ones and the ones that need some work, will be on display for all to see."

Maker burst on the scene as an internet sensation a couple of years ago with a YouTube video that drew immediate comparisons to former Celtic Kevin Garnett.

But as more folks began to watch him play, the flaws to his game became more pronounced.

He is a 7-1 wing player with a lithe frame whose physical strength leaves a lot to be desired. While he has shown a great work ethic according to most scouts, he doesn’t have a true feel for the game in large part because he is so relatively raw.

And maybe most telling is how he has been on the floor with other above-average competition and more often than not, has done little to stand out as one of the better players competing.

Throw in the fact that he bypassed college altogether and it stands to reason that collectively there are more questions about his game than answers right now.

In an interview with Draft Express shortly after announcing he would enter this year’s draft, Maker shed some light on his controversial decision.

“When I found out I had the opportunity to enter this year's draft it was a no brainer to me,” Maker told Draft Express last month. “I've always had the dream of playing in the NBA and I feel that I am ready.”

Maker added, “When I had the chance to enter the Draft, I started of thinking about College versus Pro. The NBA game, talent, spacing, rotations, terminology, clock and practice time is so much more different than college. I watch a lot of ball, both games and practices. I felt that if I could do this full time, it would be great. If I went to college I could not see myself not taking my academics seriously. I would want to take serious classes and do well in them. I would have to split time in my focus. My approach is to always go all out and try to be the best if I'm going to do something.”

That’s why his decision to turn pro is not something that he says he will not have a change of heart about.

Players who enter the draft can pull out as late as May 25.

But listening to Maker, that doesn’t seem to be an option he’s giving any thought.

“I'm all in,” he said. “If you're doing something you have to be confident in your choice. This process is not a game. I've played with NBA players before and their approach is business like, even though they are having fun out there.”
 
When pressed on whether he would consider withdrawing from the draft if he doesn’t like the feedback he’s hearing during the pre-draft process, Maker reiterated his position.

“As I said, I’m all in,” Maker said.

“He wants to be a star,” the assistant coach said. “He wants to be a star and I think he will be. I don’t want to put too much on the kid before he gets a chance to get out there and show what he can do. But as of right now, in my heart of hearts I feel the kid is going to be a special player.”