OFFSEASON

Celtics stumble in loss to Hawks, 88-83

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Celtics stumble in loss to Hawks, 88-83

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

ATLANTA It was only fitting that the final made basket was by the Atlanta Hawks, and it came on an offensive rebound put-back.

It was that kind of game for the Boston Celtics, whose struggles in the second game of back-to-backs continued with Friday's 88-83 loss to the Hawks.

After a 6-2 start in the second game of back-to-backs, Boston (52-23) has now lost eight of its last nine such games.

"It's the same prescription for us in back-to-backs," said coach Doc Rivers.

The game's control seemed to change in the third quarter when the Celtics built a 12-point lead.

Boston had ample opportunities to increase the margin, but failed to get it done.

Big mistake by the Green team.

"We had a chance to go from 11 up to 18 up in my opinion," Rivers said. "We took horrible shots on one end, and get lax on the other end and it became a game."

Just like that, the Hawks not only had trimmed Boston's lead down to just six points.

But even more important they had momentum, which is a tough thing to shut down, even if it's on the road in a arena that had arguably as many of your fans as the home team's followers.

The improved play by the Hawks in the third quarter carried into the fourth, which began with Atlanta going on a 20-7 run that set the stage for Boston losing for the fourth time in its last six games.

Atlanta center Zaza Pachulia had 15 points and 10 rebounds, including a pair of clutch free throws with 36 seconds to play.

"Zaza Pachulia, the substitution of him changed the game," Rivers said. "He was the toughest dude on the floor."

Pachulia's ability to generate multiple possessions with his hustle, effort and ability to get loose balls - and even make balls loose like the time he snatched the ball out of Kevin Garnett's hands on a play that ultimately led to a foul by Paul Pierce.

"That was a great move by them," Rivers said. "We had a chance in the third quarter to stretch the game. We didn't. They got back in the game. Now the back-to-back comes into play."

Following the loss, Pierce was the first Celtics player to speak to the media.

And while there were plenty of plays and moments on Friday in which the Celtics simply did not play well, the third quarter stood out among the others in his mind.

"I thought we settled," he said. "We took a lot of jumpers there, and we could have pushed the lead to about 15, I think. Because we were getting stops all night."

But those defensive stops weren't enough, evident by the Atlanta's ability to to outscore the Celtics, 18-2, in second-chance points.

"We have to be a better rebounding team, especially if you play great defense for 19, 20, 22 seconds and the ball goes up, you gotta be able to get those rebounds," Pierce said. "That really bit us in the butt tonight."

While Pachulia's play was key, he wasn't the only Hawks backup making an impact.

Jamal Crawford who is once again among the NBA's top sixth men, had a team-high 20 points off the bench for the Hawks.

"The game ball goes to both Pachulia and Jamal Crawford tonight," said Hawks first-year coach Larry Drew. "Both guys came off the bench and did what we look for from them to do when they come in the game."

And the Celtics players, both starters and backups, continue to play both well and woeful in spurts.

While it's certainly one of those things that happens over the course of a season, Boston's struggles seem to be more pronounced in the second game of back-to-back sets of games.

"Back-to-back is part of the NBA," said Garnett. "It has been since I've been in the league, so that's no excuse. Either we can quit and go home, or we can continue to get better. There's no history of quitting in this team, so we'll just move forward."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@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.