Celtics prefer health to top seed

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Celtics prefer health to top seed

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

ATLANTA If you do the math, the Boston Celtics are still in the hunt for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, even after Friday's 88-83 loss to the Atlanta Hawks.

But they're free-falling, big-time. Friday's loss was their fourth in the last six games.

Doc Rivers has made no secret about wanting the top seed in the East.

Still, you don't get that feeling when you watch the way his team seems to continue to sputter along with stretches of strong play followed by periods of poor play.

"It's important to be healthy," said Rivers, whose team has now slipped to the No. 3 seed behind Chicago and Miami. "We would like to get No. 1 or No. 2. But we'd really like to be healthy."

This week has been vintage Celtics circa 2010-11.

Boston gets great news that Jermaine O'Neal, out since late January, was returning to the lineup following left knee surgery on Feb. 5.

On the night that he returns - Thursday at San Antonio - center Nenad Krstic suffers a right knee injury that kept him out of Friday's game at Atlanta, and will keep him sidelined for at least Sunday's game against Detroit.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, said that Krstic will have an MRI performed Saturday afternoon to better determine just how long Krstic will be out of action.

Boston is also hopeful that Shaquille O'Neal, out with an assortment of right leg injuries for weeks, will be able to play as early as Sunday.

The Celtics have not used the team's assortment of injuries as an excuse for them not achieving all that they want to this season.

And even with the playoffs around the corner and the missing bodies seemingly starting to impact their play in a negative sense, players remain committed to simply trying to work through their struggles and keep the blame for their poor play squarely upon their own shoulders.

"Either we can quit and go home, or we can continue to get better," said Kevin Garnett. "There's no history of quitting in this team, so we'll just move forward."

And if that means getting on a run that lands them the top seed in the East, great.

If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.

Because if the tradeoff for not having the No. 1 seed is a healthy roster, the C's like their chances.

"With us, it comes down to just being healthy," Glen Davis told CSNNE.com in an interview earlier this week. "That's it. We know when we're healthy, we're good enough to beat anybody, with or without home-court advantage."

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

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”