OFFSEASON

Celtics falter down the stretch, fall to Heat, 97-87

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Celtics falter down the stretch, fall to Heat, 97-87

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MIAMI In the first half, Jermaine O'Neal headed to the Boston Celtics locker room so that he had room to stretch his aching back.

He would have done it courtside, but Rajon Rondo, playing with a recently dislocated left elbow, needed some room to stretch his aching back.

And on the bench sat Shaquille O'Neal, whose right Achilles and calf injuries have limited him to 12 minutes played - that's total, not per game - in the playoffs.

Those injuries served as a microcosm of sorts for the kind of season this has been for the Celtics, a season that ended with Wednesday's 97-87 Game 5 loss to the Miami Heat.

Boston once again fought the good fight, but the Heat were too strong and too determined to dethrone the Eastern Conference champions in their weakened state. As a result, Miami advances to the Eastern Conference finals after winning the best-of-seven series with Boston, four games to one.

Throughout the series, the Celtics had problems closing out quarters.

Game 5 was no different, as Miami mounted a 16-0 run to end the game.

After the game, the Celtics locker room was virtual ghost town with most of the players - including Kevin Garnett - heading to the team bus prior to the media being allowed to enter the locker room.

"This is a tough pill to swallow," said captain Paul Pierce, who had just 12 points on 5-for-12 shooting from the field. "We had expectations beginning of the year. Right now, I'm just . . . really upset. I wish I could have played better tonight. Unfortunately, we came up on the short end of the stick."

Similar to Game 4, the Celtics spent most of the game with the lead.

But just like Game 4, things started to unravel for the C's in the final few minutes of play.

After a series of defensive stops by both teams, the Heat finally got a glimmer of hope that they could rally for the win after James Jones nailed a 3-pointer that cut Boston's lead to 87-85 with 3:43 to play.

"That shot was huge," said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who led all scorers with 34 points. "We were right there on the cusp, but we could not get over the hump. When he shot it, I was like, 'We need this one to go in,' and once it went in you could feel the momentum shift to our side, and then from there LeBron James went off and led us to the win."

James had 33 points, including the final 10 of the game.

Despite winning four of the five games, James praised the Celtics for a series that was a tough series.

"They pushed us every game, every second, every play, and every minute on the court," James said. "If we ever made a mistake, they made us pay for it."

Wednesday's loss not only brought a close to the season, but also raises concerns about the Big Three era in Boston, which began when Garnett and Ray Allen ajoined forces with Pierce prior to the 2007-08 season.

Since they teamed up four years ago, the C's have stood as the benchmark for Eastern Conference supremacy, a crown that will be passed on to the Heat or the Chicago Bulls, who are one victory away from meeting the Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Judging by the comments from coach Doc Rivers as well as other key players with the C's, there's a sense they'll try to regroup and make a run at Banner 18 with the same core group.

Rivers told reporters after the game that he's "leaning heavily to coming back" next season.

"I haven't made that decision, but I can tell you I probably will," Rivers said. "I'm a Celtic and I love our guys."

Allen has a player option to return next season, but he made his intentions clear following the loss as well.

"This has been my team," said Allen, who led all Celtics scorers in Game 5 with 18 points. "I have been full steam ahead with this team. I don't have any plans to go anywhere else."

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

OFFSEASON

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

After flurry of moves, Celtics still aren't done

You’re probably thinking the summer fireworks are finished after the Celtics brought back Tyler Zeller, added ex-Celtic Gerald Green, and signed rookies Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil. It’s true, these moves do lower the likelihood of a multifaceted trade, but it doesn’t totally extinguish the odds of something seismic happening.

The Celtics still retain their flexibility, since none of these deals have actually been finalized. Even after they are, they’d still have the pieces required to make a deal work for a superstar like Blake Griffin. It’s not hard to make a valid trade for one player, but it is difficult if it’s a multi-step process like a Russell Westbrook renegotiate-and-extend trade.

“This is not necessarily what the team will be,” a source told the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach. “There’s probably changes coming.”

Well, yeah. Changes have to come. The Celtics don’t really have a choice here.

Assuming Jaylen Brown is signed, they’ll have 18 players with at least partially guaranteed contracts. So at least three players will have to be exported before the season, since the NBA requires a maximum of 15 players on a roster.

Here’s a look at the Celtics’ current projected depth chart:

  STARTERS BENCH RESERVES ON THE BUBBLE
FRONT COURT Amir Johnson Kelly Olynyk Tyler Zeller  
Al Horford Jonas Jerebko Jordan Mickey Ben Bentil*
Jae Crowder Jaylen Brown* Gerald Green James Young
BACK COURT Avery Bradley Marcus Smart RJ Hunter John Holland*
Isaiah Thomas Terry Rozier Demetrius Jackson  

So, something has to happen. It’s just a matter of what. You can choose to believe the Celtics aren’t actually trying to make a blockbuster move. Or you can choose to believe the signals that have been firing off this month from the Celtics themselves indicating they’re “not done.”

It wouldn’t be difficult for the Celtics to get closer to 15 players by completing a blockbuster trade for a player like Griffin.
 
Perhaps some combination of veterans (Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, and Jonas Jerebko) with youth (Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, R.J. Hunter, and James Young) and draft picks (2018 Nets pick) could bring in Griffin and Paul Pierce.

Saturday’s moves make sense regardless of any transactions to follow.

Zeller is a bargain at just $8 million as a steadying presence on both ends of the floor. But, if Johnson were dealt, he’d be able to slide right up the depth chart as the team’s backup center.

Green shot 37.2 percent on spot up threes, per SportVU, over the past three years, so he provides spacing as a scorer who can catch fire. Considering Brad Stevens’ track record of sapping every ounce of talent out of each of his players -- hello, Jordan Crawford! -- it’s possible the Celtics will be getting the Green who scored an efficient 15.8 points per game just two years ago in Phoenix, and not the subpar Green who struggled to stay on the court last year in Miami.

If one or two of Boston’s young wings were dealt, Green, on a mere veteran minimum contract, would have an even easier path to playing time as a spark off the bench.

It’s difficult to read into the signings of second-round picks Jackson and Bentil, but either way the should both spend the season developing with the Celtics’ D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.

The Celtics haven’t made a move yet, but they also haven’t done anything to suggest they’re entirely done. These moves could be precursors to something significant, or not. But at the least they provide depth to an already impressive roster.

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

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Report: Celtics agree to deals with Zeller and picks Jackson, Bentil

On a busy Saturday for the Celtics, they have brought back center Tyler Zeller and agreed to deals with draft picks Demetrius Jackson and Ben Bentil, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported.

Earlier Saturday, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported that the Celtics will sign guard Gerald Green. 

Himmelsbach reports that Zeller's is a $16 million, two-year deal with the second-year not guaranteed. Jackson, the point guard from Notre Dame who was the 45th overall selection in the draft, has a guaranteed deal and Bentil, the forward from Providence who was the 51st player drafted, has a partially guaranteed deal. 

Steve Bulpett of The Boston Herald reported that the second-year of Zeller's deal is a team option and that Green agreed to a one-year deal at the $1.4 million veteran mininum based on his nine years of NBA service.

The 7-foot Zeller averaged 6.1 points and 3.0 rebounds in 11.8 minutes a game last season. 

R.J. Hunter, James Young, Bentil and John Holland are in position to fight for the final roster spot, Himmelsbach reports, pending more deals, which the Celtics are reportedly working on. A source told Himmelsbach, that while there are probably changes coming, "There is no big deal right now." 

Bulpett reported that Celtics' talks with the Philadelphia 76ers involving a deal for Sixers' big man Jahlil Okafor have, according to sources, grown "stale" and that the moves Saturday put 2014 draft pick James Young's roster spot in jeopardy.

With Green, Zeller, and No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown, the Celtics have has 15 guaranteed contracts and three partial or non-guaranteed deals. 

 

OFFSEASON

Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

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Report: Celtics to bring back Gerald Green with one-year deal

The Celtics will sign free agent Gerald Green, the guard they drafted with the 18th overall pick back in 2005, Sean Deveney of the Sporting News reported.

Green, 30, played for the Miami Heat last season and averaged 8.9 points a game. Deveney reports Green will sign a one-year guaranteed contract. 

Green has been well-traveled since being traded by the Celtics in the Kevin Garnett deal in 2007, the year he won the NBA All-Star Slam Dunk contest. He has played for seven other NBA teams and played two seasons in Russia. His best season was 2013-14 in Phoenix when he averaged 15.8 points a game for the Suns. 

Deveney also reports that sources around the league continue to indicate the Celtics are looking to make a trade for a "star-caliber type" player. Last week, he reported on their interest in the Clippers' Blake Griffin.