Not a winning effort

197883.jpg

Not a winning effort

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

BOSTON After six weeks of uninspired basketball, the playoffs were supposed to serve as an immediate wakeup call for the Boston Celtics. But when the curtain went up on Sunday, the Cs merely hit the snooze bar, and spent the better part of the night stuck in a familiar nightmare.

Their All-Star point guard was inconsistent. Their Hall of Fame shooting guard struggled to find rhythm. They were sloppy with the ball and wasted key possessions. Their bench was non-existent, and at many keys moments, so was their defense.

The truth is that for most of their Game One battle with the Knicks, the Celtics were the same team thats struggled since the deadline. The playoff alarm sounded, and they couldn't be bothered. And had any number of things played out differently over the final quarter hell, the last 21 seconds Boston would be a very different place this morning. Bruins fans wouldnt be the only ones lining up at the Zakim Bridge.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Sure, it wasnt pretty, but style points dont count for much in the NBA playoffs. Regardless of how they got there, Boston still achieved what fellow contenders like the Lakers, Spurs and Magic couldnt. Their homecourts still intact. Momentums on their side. Meanwhile, the Knicks are stunned, and left to wonder if they just let their best chance to steal the series slip away.

Now, Bostons seemingly in control, but as much youd love to get lost in Allens heroics and Carmelo Anthonys failures and celebrate the Celtics win with no strings attached, its also hard to ignore the gory details of their performance:

Although he played better in spurts, Rajon Rondo didnt break out the way everyone expected, or dominate in the way he needs to. The playoff spotlight didnt bust Jeff Green out of his shell, or bring out Big Babys familiar magic. There were still long stretches when the team looked like it was put together that afternoon. The Cs have lost confidence in Nenad Krstic, still have no answer for Amare Stoudemire and are now counting so heavily on Jermaine ONeal who despite an unbelievable performance, still hasnt shown that his body can survive the rigors of playoff hoops.

The fire, chemistry and cohesiveness that we all assumed would return with the start of the playoffs wasnt completely there, and at the end of a long, hard-fought night, the Celtics still only proved that theyre good enough to barely beat the Knicks at the Garden. And that was never even in question.

Despite any general pessimism heading into the postseason, beating New York was always the expectation. The problems, questions and fears were about Miami and Chicago. And despite Sundays win, those fears still very much exist. Boston can take solace in its 1-0 lead its certainly better than the alternative but it did very little to raise expectations or soothe fears that Banner 18 is slipping away.

At least for today.

But moving forward there obviously is reason for optimism.

In an ideal world, the postseason switch was supposed to be an easy remedy to Celtics problems. They were going to just show up at the Garden, see hordes of media, the playoff decals on the court and snap back into shape. But in retrospect, that attitude probably didn't do justice to what the NBA Playoffs are all about.

In reality, you don't just show up playoff ready. You don't just step onto the court, a year later, and snap right back into that mentality. You have to live it. You need to struggle. We saw it all around the league. Game Ones are a crap shoot. All bets are off. Everyone's feeling it out.

Players need to independently remember: "Oh, that's right. I forgot how different this is." Teams, if they're going to succeed, need to collectively have that moment when they come together and realize: "OK, this is for real now. Let's make this happen."

Last year, the Celtics didnt officially arrive in the playoffs until Kevin Garnett shoved Quentin Richardson in front of Miamis bench. That was the moment when the Celtics switch officially flipped, and they never looked back.

On Sunday night, only a few feet from where that season-changing altercation took place, Ray Allen drained a dagger that Celtics fans can only hope will have the same effect.

Boston was at the brink of disaster. Not that a 1-0 is remotely insurmountable, but for all this team has gone through, the way they'd played up to that point and the overriding tension surrounding the franchise after trade, it's hard to imagine them responding well to a Game 1 loss. Especially one lost in that fashion. It would have been bad.

Instead, Ray Allen happened, and now the Celtics are up 1-0.

Now, the Celtics have had their moment. They've gone through the playoff ringer, and should come out awake and ready to play on Tuesday.

If not, at this point, its hard to imagine what might do the trick.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

MORE ON CELTICS-SIXERS

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”