BOSTON - The Celtics weren’t looking to make excuses after their elimination from the playoffs Thursday night.
That said, there had to be a pretty big “if” going around the locker room throughout the series. There certainly was among Celtics fans.
If . . . Avery Bradley was healthy, the Celtics may have won the series.
Health as a whole was a big problem for the Celtics. Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, and Kelly Olynyk were all banged up.
But Bradley injuring his hamstring in Game 1 greatly changed the series, taking away Boston’s best on-ball defender (and one of the league’s best on-ball defenders). Bradley could also be counted on to hit the outside shot, opening up the floor for teammate Isaiah Thomas.
Without Bradley, the Celtics were forced to bring Evan Turner off the bench to start in his place. That took away the bench’s best offensive weapon.
Not having Bradley isn’t the only reason the Celtics lost the series, but it has to be considered a big factor.
“Yeah that hurt us a little bit. That’s a key part of what we’re about,” Jae Crowder said. “We tried to fight through it and the next guy tried to step up. But of course we missed him. We missed him a lot and we missed what he brings to the team. It sucks that it happens, but injuries are a part of it. He had one that he couldn’t fight through and we just tried to step up for him. But at this time of the season, a lot of guys hurt, and his was so unfortunate for us that it kept him out and it hurt us.”
The Celtics’ loss was the Hawks’ gain. Guys like Kyle Korver were able to get free easier at times. Korver averaged 12.2 points per game and made three three-pointers a game (shooting 45-percent from the three-point line, five percentage points higher than in the regular season). Korver is well aware how important Bradley is to the Celtics.
“He’s a really good player. It’s been incredible to watch his offense catch up to his defense,” Korver said. “When he has it going I look at him as a great shooter. He’s so quick on the dribble handoffs and they run a lot of stuff for him. He’s really improved as a shooter and obviously his defense has always been great. It’s unfortunate that he got hurt, it does feel like they have a lot of guys similar to him; feels like they draft a new one every year. He’s a really good player and that definitely hurt them.”
It had to be tough for Bradley to watch from the bench as his team struggled, but that will hopefully only make him hungrier to win next season, with perhaps another former Texas Longhorn by his side in the starting lineup.
WALTHAM, Mass. – R.J. Hunter no longer has to worry about summer days spent with his nose inside a textbook (or tablet) while taking summer school classes.
But make no mistake about it.
The Celtics rookie knows he has a lot to learn in what will be an important offseason in his growth as an NBA player.
There were many things to like about Hunter, who was selected by Boston with the 28th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft.
But like most rookies, Hunter’s play was an up and down affair throughout the season.
He appeared in 36 regular-season games, averaging 2.7 points and 1.0 rebounds in 8.8 minutes per game. In the playoffs, he appeared in five games and averaged 1.0 points, 1.2 rebounds in 8.2 minutes.
He had flashes of big-time talent like the 12-point performance against the Atlanta Hawks in November. But those type of games were few and far between as that would serve as his only double-digit scoring game of the season.
“It was up and down, but a lot more ups than downs,” Hunter said following his exit interview on Friday. “I was further along than I thought I would be. It’s kind of cool to see what I have to work on for the summer and not have summer school or any other summer obligation. I think it’ll be a fun summer.”
The big thing for Hunter this summer is to, well, get bigger.
He came into the NBA amid concerns that his lithe frame would not withstand the physical rigors of the NBA.
And while there’s no question Hunter had his problems at times defensively due to not being stronger, he seemed to know where he needed to be and what to do most of the time when he was no the floor.
That’s why for him to solidify himself as a viable option for the Celtics next season, it’s important that he put in the time to improve his overall strength.
Hunter said he will be doing that throughout the summer with half of his time spent here in Waltham.
“That takes time and a lot of dedication,” Hunter said. “But I’m definitely up for it.”
In addition to strengthening his body, he’ll also look to improve his understanding and knowledge of the game through studying video.
Among those he will study is Atlanta Hawks guard Kyle Korver, a player Hunter said he has been watching video of all season.
“You look at how hard Kyle Korver cuts all game long,” Hunter said. “It’s things like that. It’s about getting conditioning, getting stronger and doing a lot of preparation before the shot.”
Hunter said this will be the first time he has watched video in the summer months.
“That should put me two or three steps ahead to when the season starts,” he said.
Which would then put Hunter in strong contention to see his role next season expanded, especially when you consider his strength – shooting the ball – is arguably the biggest weakness on this Celtics’ roster.
WALTHAM, Mass. – Evan Turner will have a number of teams in pursuit of him this summer, all presenting different opportunities to win along with much fatter salaries than what he was looking at two years ago.
But Turner is hoping for his free agency to be a short process that ends with him returning to Boston.
“It [free agency] starts July First, hopefully it’s over July First,” Turner said.
When asked about his preferences for a team next season, Turner has a couple items that stack up near the top of his list – and money wasn’t one of them.
“I want to go somewhere and have an opportunity to win,” he said. “Money’s cool, but I don’t want to sit there getting our brains beaten in and doing all that. I want to go somewhere ideally where the staff and front office [are] big on winning. Hopefully it’s back here. Other than that, winning and great fit are going to be the most important things.”
Regardless of where Turner winds up playing next season, he has positioned himself for a significant pay raise after accepting Boston’s two-year, $6.7 million contract he signed in 2014.
Several teams will make a run at Turner with most likely to offer him a contract with an annual salary of at least $10 million.
“It’s going to be way better than it was two years ago,” Turner said of his free agency. “It should be cool. I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t know really what I think about during the day, but I know it’s not that. I’ll once again stay out of trouble until then and try to keep bettering myself and growing.”
It is that approach to the game that has served Turner well during his two seasons in Boston.
When the Celtics signed the former No. 2 overall pick, there were plenty of questions as to how he would fit in considering how things didn’t work out in Philadelphia or Indiana.
But in time, Turner proved himself to be a valuable asset for the Celtics with his ability to score off the bench as well as be a facilitator offensively.
His play off the bench this season was so strong that he was among the top vote-getters for the league’s Sixth Man of the year award, won by Los Angeles Clippers guard Jamal Crawford.
And while the decision as to whether he’s back will ultimately come down to his camp and the Celtics coming to terms, there will be at least one member of the Celtics organization – coach Brad Stevens – who will be pushing for a deal to get done so that his favorite player in the fourth quarter of games remains with the team.
“It’s definitely huge to be out there in deciding moments,” Turner said. “Once again, you try your best to not let your team down, not let your coach down.”
Still, even with the Celtics having a clear interest in him returning and Turner’s desire to remain with the team, Turner knows getting a deal done won’t be an easy thing to do.
“It’s a lot of stuff going on now,” Turner said. “I understand it and I understand what’s going to occur with the Celtics and the draft picks and the young guys they want to develop and get a superstar, I comprehend it.”