OFFSEASON

Celtics stop Bucks in record-setting win, 87-56

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Celtics stop Bucks in record-setting win, 87-56

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Boston Celtics are not the same team defensively since the Feb. 24 trading deadline.

But for those who believe the C's defensive foundation was rubble-bound, take note of how the Celtics crushed the Milwaukee Bucks, 87-56, on Sunday.

It wasn't just another victory, which also snapped a two-game losing skid.

The Celtics delivered the defensive hammer with the kind of power and force we haven't seen from them all season.

"That's about as humiliating a defeat as you'll ever see," said Bucks coach Scott Skiles.

Rather than ease into the game, the Celtics starting five choose to put on the defensive clamps which made for an easy win.

"They got us on our heels and took our competitive fight away from us," Skiles said. "We pretty much gave into it."

It was a much-needed blowout for a team whose starting five has - lately at least - struggled to gain a firm grip at the outset of games.

Those problems of the past two games were nowhere to be found against the Bucks.

"It's nice," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, referring to his first unit getting off to a good start. "When they do, we're a better team, obviously. That's what we're banking on right now until we get right. When they start out slow it puts us in a huge hole, because now you're dependent on a second unit that hasn't been together very long."

Boston did have a familiar face return to the lineup on Sunday.

Having missed the previous four games with a left knee injury, Davis came off the bench to score nine points along with grabbing seven rebounds.

But the story of the night was Boston's defense, which gave up a franchise record-low 56 points. The previous record was set against the Hawks -- who, ironically, were based in Milwaukee at the time, prior to moving to first St. Louis and then Atlanta -- in 1955.

Other records of note established by the Celtics on Sunday included:

franchise-low in points given up in a half (22);

franchise-low in points given up after three quarters (38)

franchise-low in fewest field goals allowed (22).

Also, the 56 points scored were a franchise record-low for the Bucks in the shot-clock era.

Even though the Celtics played a record-setting brand of defense, Rivers wasn't convinced his team deserves all the credit. The Bucks were in the second night of a back-to-back stretch, having played Saturday at home against Philadelphia.

"I really thought this was one of those scheduled losses for Milwaukee," Rivers said. "It was very similar to the game we had against Phoenix on Jan. 28. The Bucks played a game, and . . . then lost an hour going backwards from the Central time zone to the East. Then they lost another hour with the time change from Standard time to Daylight Savings Time. And then we started the game at 6 o'clock instead of the normal 7:30 starting time. I just thought . . . they were tired. We took advantage of that, and that was great. But a lot of it had to do with their schedule."

Schedule or not, the Celtics came out with the kind of focus and attention to detail on defense that we hadn't seen recently.

"It was definitely encouraging to just put together a four-quarter game of defense," said Paul Pierce. "I definitely thought we did that tonight."

Even more impressive was how very little changed for the Celtics defensively when they went to their bench.

Rivers elected to take Rajon Rondo out about midway through the first quarter, with the Celtics ahead, 10-4.

He had Carlos Arroyo finish out the quarter which ended with the Celtics going on a 10-5 run.

Boston continued to stifle the Bucks with a suffocating defense that took away everything the Bucks wanted to do.

And the struggles by Milwaukee started with point guard Brandon Jennings.

He had eight points and just one turnover, but there was never a point in the game where it seemed comfortable.

And his lack of comfort seemed to be contagious to the rest of the Bucks.

"We were so passive," Skiles said. "You could tell their plan was to jump on our point guard early, jump on our guard, get up into them, and see if we had any sort of response to it, and we didn't."

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

OFFSEASON

Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

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Yabusele, Zizic may not be able to play in Summer League for C's

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics turned quite a few heads when they used two of their three first-round picks on international players.

They were part of a record-setting night for international players, with 15 being selected in the first round – the most ever in NBA history.

But like many international draft picks, it is far from a given that you’ll see either Guershon Yabusele and Ante Zizic, who were selected with the 16th and 23rd picks, respectively, next season.

While it’s not uncommon for teams to draft international players in the first round and do so with the plan being to keep them overseas for another year or two, the potential hold-up for Boston’s two international picks has more to do with coming to terms on a buyout amount with their current teams.

“We’ve had initial discussions with their representatives,” said Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, when I asked him about it during the team’s press conference to introduce the newest Celtics on Friday. “We have not concluded anything yet. We’re still in that discussion. And I’m not sure about summer (league).”

While it remains an option, a league source told CSNNE.com that it’s unlikely that either player will participate in either of Boston’s summer league squads which will play in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

Ainge agrees that there are a number of positives one can take from drafting an overseas player in the first round.

But the decision by Boston to draft Yabusele and Zizic in the first round had a lot to do with one thing – talent.

“The reason that these two guys are here . . . is because they’re good players,” Ainge said. “The fact that they have people that want them on their teams on the international top level competition, tells you how good players they are. They could easily find jobs overseas at the top level. They’ve earned that reputation. They’re both very productive. Guerson very productive and Ante very good rebounding  . . . now we’re trying to figure out the best way they can help us for their development. We’re working with their representatives on that plan.”

Yabusele, a 6-foot-8, 275-pound power forward, averaged 11.5 points, 6.8 rebounds in 28.7 minutes with Rouen Metropole Basket in the LNB Pro A league in France. While appearing in 34 games last season, he grabbed 10 or more rebounds 11 times while tallying eight double-doubles.

Zizic, a 6-11, 250-pound center, distinguished himself as one of the better players in the Adriatic League this past season. He was voted by fans, media and coaches as the Adriatic League’s Top Prospect after averaging 12.7 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game in 24.8 minutes while shooting an impressive 60.7 percent from the field.

OFFSEASON

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

If not this year for Durant-to-Celtics, then next?

BOSTON – The Celtics are considered long shots at landing Kevin Durant during free agency, which begins next week.

Still, if they come up short this summer, league sources tell CSNNE.com that the Celtics will be on a “watch list” of sorts by Durant’s camp when the former league MVP is expected to hit the free agent market once again in the summer of 2017.
 
The Vertical’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Durant will have teams meet with him in New York beginning next week. In addition to the Celtics, his current team Oklahoma City will sit down with him, as well as Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs.
 
Durant can re-sign with the Thunder for as many as five years with the total value of his contract worth slightly more than $150 million.
 
However, by signing a one-year deal or a two-year pact with a player option for the second season, Durant would make a projected $25.9 million for the 2016-2017 season and can then hit the free agent market again in 2017 when the salary cap is expected to cross the nine-figure threshold.
 
And at that time, if he decides to stay with the Thunder, he can ink a five-year deal that, when combined with his salary in 2016-2017, would be more than $230 million over six years – that’s about $80 million more than he would get by re-signing a long-term deal with the Thunder now, and would more than double what he would make by signing a maximum-salaried four-year deal with another team.
 
That’s why it makes a lot of sense for him to sign a short-term deal now and better position himself for a bigger payday the following summer when his starting salary will likely be on the north side of $35 million.
 
For the Celtics, Durant going through free agency back-to-back years affords coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics one more opportunity to continue their ascension up the Eastern Conference standings while still being a team that’s clearly in need of adding at least one additional All-Star talent to play with Isaiah Thomas.

In his three seasons as the Celtics coach, Stevens has improved the team’s win total each season.
 
However, they have failed to win a playoff series after having been knocked out in the first round each of the past two seasons.
 
While Durant is the team’s No. 1 priority on the free agent market, the Celtics will quickly pivot their attentions to other highly-regarded players as well with Atlanta’s Al Horford being among their targets.

Depending on how quickly Durant’s free agency gets taken care of, the Celtics might be able to turn their attention towards potentially re-signing Evan Turner, who was sixth in the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.

OFFSEASON

Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

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Celtics' Isaiah Thomas continues recruitment of Durant with tweet

With the Celtics reportedly in the running in the Kevin Durant Derby, C's guard Isaiah Thomas is continuing his recruiting pitch with this playful tweet.

Thomas said in a radio interview earlier this week that the Celtics "definitely have a shot" at landing Durant and a few months ago, Thomas' essay in the Players Tribune is perhaps his best sales job of all.