Celtics blow huge lead, still beat T'Wolves, 85-82

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Celtics blow huge lead, still beat T'Wolves, 85-82

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MINNEAPOLIS Oh no, not again!

The Boston Celtics came out dominating the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Then the game got close.

After that, they found themselves in an nip-and-tuck battle with a team that won't even sniff the postseason.

Sound familiar?

Too many times lately, the Celtics have found themselves having a hard go at it against teams that, for most of this season, have been going nowhere.

Fortunately for the Celtics, that 25-point lead they built - and eventually lost in the fourth quarter - didn't go to waste completely, as the C's (51-21) managed to escape with an 85-82 win.

Paul Pierce led all Celtics with 23 points, 12 of which came in the fourth. Kevin Garnett had his 25th double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Minnesota's Michael Beasley led all scorers with 28 points while Anthony Tolliver came of the Timberwolves bench and scored 16 points to go with a game-high 15 rebounds.

To open the game with such a dominate showing - Boston led by as many as 25 points in the first half - only to have to cling to dear life down the stretch, certainly proves that the Celtics still have a ways to go before they regain the form that led many to believe they were the best team in the East.

For now, they'll simply settle for a victory that snapped a two-game losing skid.

The C's tried their best to put on a brave face, doing all they could to give the look that everything was OK.

"Wins are great," said coach Doc Rivers.

Said Pierce: "It's good to play in close games. You realize in the playoffs, there's going to be a lot of close games. It's all about execution, being on the road."

But the more Pierce thought about the game and how the C's played, he soon delivered what we've come to expect from him - the Truth.

"We should have been more consistent throughout the game, could have been a double-digit win," he said. "But hey, we'll take it."

And that's what has to be disturbing about this team, right now.

Far too often, they seem complacent rather than overly competitive.

Rivers and his players chalk it up to the team just going through one of those funks that all teams, good and bad, go through during the season.

But their problems seem to be deeper than that, primarily because their problems don't seem to change from one game to the next.

In recent days, Rivers has used words like 'soft' and 'selfish' to describe his team's play at times.

Had they lost to the Timberwolves, which would have been a season-high third straight defeat, you could have added the word 'sad' to the list.

Although there's still time, Chicago (53-19) has the record and the game of late to claim the top spot in the East. And Miami (50-22) is finally figuring out how its three stars can co-exist and lead the team to victories over quality opponents.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are muddling their way to the regular-season finish line, producing the kind of results we saw a year ago.

But this team and their play should not be compared to last season's team, which advanced to the NBA Finals as a fourth seed.

A year ago, Rivers was limiting his core players to ensure that they were well-rested for the playoffs.

This season, the C's are simply losing games to bad teams.

And while Sunday's win is certainly a step in the right direction, the Celtics have to know that they have to step their game up significantly in the coming weeks if they are to have any shot at bringing home Banner 18.

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

A make-or-break season ahead for Kelly Olynyk?

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A make-or-break season ahead for Kelly Olynyk?

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 Kelly Olynyk. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON – The Celtics went into the playoffs last season well short of being at full strength. No player exemplified this more than Kelly Olynyk, a non-factor in postseason due to a right shoulder injury that required surgery in May.

He comes into this season facing a much stiffer route to playing time than his previous four seasons. While Jared Sullinger (Toronto) is gone, Boston brings in four-time All-Star Al Horford, in addition to returners Amir Johnson, Tyler Zeller and second-year big man Jordan Mickey, who is in line for a more expanded role this season.

Throw in the fact that Olynyk and the Celtics can reach terms on an extension before the start of the season (an unlikely occurrence because frankly it’s to both Boston and Olynyk’s benefit for him to be a restricted free agent next summer), and it’s clear just how important this season is to all involved.

Here’s a look at Olynyk’s ceiling as well as the floor for his game heading into this season.

The ceiling for Olynyk: Starter, Most Improved Player candidate

Kelly Olynyk has proven himself to be a much better contributor coming off the bench as opposed to starting. But no one will be shocked if Olynyk can play his way into a spot with the first group.  A 7-footer with legit 3-point range, Olynyk has shown flashes throughout his career of being a major problem for opponents because of his stretch-big skills.

And when teams have been a bit too eager in closing out or failed to box him out on a rebound, Olynyk has shown us all that “the bounce is real.”

He already ranks among the best big-man shooters all-time and needs just one made 3-pointer to join Dirk Nowitzki (1,701) and Andrea Bargnani (627) as the only 7-footers in league history with 500 or more made 3s.

In addition to making lots of 3s, Olynyk does it at a fairly efficient rate which can be seen in him shooting 40.5 percent on 3s last season which was tops among all NBA centers and made him one of just 20 players in the NBA to shoot at least 40 percent on 3s.

Although Olynyk’s defense has been considered among his biggest weaknesses, his defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions on the floor) of 97.7 was tops among Celtics players who logged at least 20 minutes per game last season.

If he can build off that, as well as continue to make teams pay with his long-range shooting, Olynyk could be one of the breakout performers this season for the Celtics and find himself on the short list of the NBA’s most improved players.

The bigger issue with Olynyk centers around his struggles holding position in the post as a rebounder. Because he’s a stretch big, you know he’s not going to haul in a ton of boards for you.

But he has to be better than last season when he grabbed 4.1 rebounds, which continued what has been a career regression in this area.

After averaging 5.2 boards as a rookie, he slipped to 4.7 in his second season and averaged a career-low 4.1 last season.

The floor for Olynyk: Active roster

Talk to anyone within the Celtics organization and they will not hesitate to point out the skillset that Olynyk has and how important he could potentially be for this team going forward.

Still, that’s part of the problem.

Olynyk has shown promise to be more than just a player in the rotation. He has the kind of skills that if he were to deliver them with more consistency, he would immediately become one of the team’s standout performers which would make Boston a much, much tougher team to defend.

But his game has been one marred by injuries and inconsistent play which, as you might expect, go hand-in-hand.

Even with what has been an uneven career, Olynyk has still managed to be a double-digit scorer in each of the past two seasons.

And his net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating) of +5.2 is tops among players logging 20 or more minutes, too.

But even if he doesn’t elevate his game defensively or become a more reliable rebounder for Boston, Olynyk won’t be suiting up in street clothes as a healthy scratch anytime soon.

Olynyk has too much talent, and when you look at this Celtics roster, he fits a clear and well-defined need.

Pace and space remain keys to what Brad Stevens is trying to do with the Celtics and Olynyk’s strengths are an ideal addition.

But as we have seen with Stevens in the past, he’s not afraid to take a player out of the starting lineup or regular rotation, and bench them from time to time.

Just as it won’t surprise anyone to see Olynyk play a more prominent role potentially as a starter, the same is true if he struggles and finds himself racking up a few DNP-CDs (did not play- coaches decision) either.

But Olynyk has too much talent to fall too far off the Celtics’ radar, especially when you look at this roster and realize there’s no other player quite like him in terms of combining size, skill and perimeter shooting.

 

 

 

 

 

     

Could the '80s Celtics have won eight championships?

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Could the '80s Celtics have won eight championships?

In this episode, we sit-down with one of the best basketball writers in the country, Jackie MacMullan. Jackie covered the Celtics for the Boston Globe for several years, and collaborated with Larry Bird on his auto-biography. 

Jim Aberdale, producer of CSN’s documentary on the ‘86 Celtics, talks with MacMullan about the bitter rivalry between the Celtics and Lakers during the 80’s, how the tragedies the Celtics faced following the ‘86 title were difficult to believe, and covering the Golden Age of the NBA.

Ceiling-to-Floor profile: Smart's defense gives him a shot at stardom

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Ceiling-to-Floor profile: Smart's defense gives him a shot at stardom

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 Marcus Smart. For a look at the other profiles, click here.

BOSTON --  As a member of the USA Select Team this summer, Marcus Smart had a chance to play with and against some of the NBA's best. 
 
Not surprisingly, Smart played physical defense.
 
He made a few shots, too. 

Smart delivered the kind of all-around performance in Las Vegas that left an indelible impression as to the potential he has to become one of the better guards in the NBA someday. 

But will that day be this season?
 
After all, Isaiah Thomas is an All-Star point guard and his backcourt mate Avery Bradley is a first-team All-NBA defender. Their presence has certainly limited some of the opportunities Smart has had to display his skills.
 
But that won’t keep him off the floor this season or from logging significant minutes as the Celtics look to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings.
 
Here’s a look at the ceiling for Smart’s game this season as well as the floor.
 
The ceiling for Smart: Starter, All-NBA defensive selection

 
Smart continues to make his mark on the NBA with his defense, combining some really nifty physical skills with an absolute bad-ass mentality towards locking up whoever he's assigned to defend. 
 
The 6-foot-4 Smart will tackle smaller guards like Matthew Dellavedova, or play a little bump-and-grind on the block with 7-footer Kristaps Porzingis. Stints defending elite scorers like LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are part of the job defensively for Smart, as well. 
 
Of course, Smart gets a heavy dose of praise for his physical play defensively, but so much of what he does centers around his hustle and overall effort.

In what was a season which Smart’s hustle play was recognized with a few All-NBA Defensive Team votes, one of the more memorable moments came when he was able to out-hustle San Antonio’s Tony Parker for a loose ball, leadin g to a Boston lay-up. 

But any tale about Smart’s effort defensively has to also include some mention of flopping, something he's been accused of from time to time. And on more than one occasion he's been guilty of this, without question.  
 
Still, with his aggressiveness and resume full of difference-making, high impact plays in his first two NBA seasons, there’s no reason to doubt Smart will become officially one of the league’s top defenders and occupy a spot on the NBA’s All-Defensive Teams sooner or later, and with that a potential spot as a starter.
 
For that latter point to happen, Smart’s shooting has to improve appreciably. Last season he shot 25.3 percent on 3s, with a career 29.6 percent shooting mark from 3-point range. 
 
With Evan Turner (Portland) no longer with the Celtics, Smart should have a few more opportunities to score now than he had in the past.
 
And while no deal is imminent, Bradley’s name was among those thrown around as possibly being on the move this season. If the Celtics decide to go that route, that, too, would open up an opportunity for Smart to become a starter. 
 
The floor for Smart: Rotation player
 
If Smart doesn’t make the kind of strides he and the Celts are aiming for this season, worst-case scenario is he will remain a player in the Celtics’ regular rotation. 
 
His versatility as a defender is just too valuable to leave at the end of their bench, regardless of how much he may struggle at times offensively.
 
If he continues to struggle, the more he’ll be seen as a one-dimensional (defense) player and with that, see his role -- and potential playing time -- more limited.
 
But coming off the bench, Smart has shown himself capable of holding his own as a defender against some of the backcourt scorers in the NBA. 
 
Lou Williams, the league’s Sixth Man of the Year in 2015, was a 33.3 percent shooter against Smar,t according to nbasavant.com. Other big-time scorers such as Westbrook (4-for-11, 36.4 percent), Kemba Walker (3-for-11, 27.3 percent) and high-scoring guard James Harden (3-for-10, 30 percent) have all had their share of struggles knocking down shots when Smart has been defending them.
 
Both Smart and the Celtics are optimistic that his shooting will only improve with time. But in case he continues to have problems, Boston can take solace in the fact that it has one of the more promising, up-and-coming defenders in Smart, whose play at that end of the floor is good enough to where minutes will continue to come his way regardless of what he contributes offensively.