Bests & Worsts of the Celtics season
Bests & Worsts of the Celtics season
Danny Ainge didn't quite take a sledgehammer to the Celtics roster this past season, but this roster was indeed a fixer-upper all season.
At 25-57, they lost more than twice as many games as they won.
But every now and then they reminded us that on any given night or even two - Yes, I'm talking about you, Miami! - any team can get smacked around and beaten.
Still, as the season dragged on, the Celtics sunk deeper and deeper into this basketball abyss known as the Eastern Conference.
And yet even in the darkness that defeat brings on, the Celtics could clearly see a glimmer of light ahead.
It's called the NBA draft.
And the Celtics have a chance - like a 10.3 percent chance, which isn't great but doesn't totally suck eithe - of landing the best player in the land who will likely be plucked from this draft's Big Three of Jabari Parker, Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid.
But before we get too giddy about the draft and all the possibilities awaiting the Celtics next season, let's take a moment to reflect on the best and worst from this past season, with the former hopefully serving as the foundation for future success ... like next season!
BESTS: One down...
Brad Stevens put us all on alert that he was not a student of Tank-a-nomics, which seemed to be the cool season-long course for really bad teams to take.
Stevens was more into positioning his team to have a shot at victory, evident by them leading in the fourth quarter of their first four games - all losses.
But Stevens' crew finally broke through their late-game collapses against Utah on Nov. 6 with a 97-87 victory.
That was the night that we first got a look at "Steez" aka Jordan Crawford, as a starter (never thought I'd ever see that in print and not cringe!) while a not-so-happy-at-the-time Gerald Wallace became a valuable reserve off the bench.
Players were noticeably excited about getting Stevens his first win of the season.
Not so much.
"You know," Stevens said following the victory, "I'm going to celebrate for a whole 12 minutes and then I'm going to start watching Orlando (Boston's next opponent) and trying to figure them out."
That's our Brad Stevens.
No matter how many times I've watched the shot go in, it still seems like one of those XBox 360-type game-winning shots that just doesn't happen in the real world. Jeff Green's game-winning, buzzer-beating 3-pointer at Miami on Nov. 9 has to be one of the greatest, craziest, there's no-way-in-hell-he's-gonna-make-this-shot, shots that the NBA has ever seen.
Quick rewind: The Celtics were trailing 110-108 with 0.6 seconds left. Gerald Wallace, the Hall of Famer (at least when it comes to making in-bounds passes) threw it from one side of the court to the other with just enough touch as to avoid LeBron James' greedy mitts and land ever-so-softly in the hands of Green who was already in launch-and-shoot mode.
The shot went in, Celtics fans went crazy and we quickly returned to the "why can't you make that every night, Jeff?" portion of our programming.
Return of Rondo
Leave it up to Rajon Rondo to announce his return to the Celtics lineup in a very cryptic way. On Jan. 14, he tweeted, "29,233,380 secs" which as it turned out was the time between him having surgery on his torn right ACL and tip-off against the Los Angeles Lakers on Jan. 17.
Rondo's return was anything but a success for the Celtics who lost, 107-104. Rondo, whose minutes were restricted, had eight points and four assists in 19 minutes.
"I felt pretty good," Rondo said afterwards. "When I got back in the second quarter I got pretty winded, but that was expected. Other than that, I didn't feel like I was limited to anything tonight."
The Celtics remained overly cautious with Rondo for the remainder of the season, which included him not playing in any back-to-back games.
Jan. 26, 2014. The date had been circled in big, bright red permanent marker for many as the night of all nights to be at the TD Garden. It would be Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's first return to the Garden since both were traded.
Video tributes have been the norm for just about every returning player from the 2008 championship team. But this one was special. This was the Captain, The Truth, back in the house in a different uni with a different team, for the first time like, ever. And Garnett, arguably the most important piece in restoring Celtics pride around these parts, was in the building as well.
"I was probably about five seconds from shedding (tears), five seconds I'll admit it," Pierce said. "No words can really describe the shower of love here."
Both players fought back the emotions of the evening and later, fought off a late surge by the Celtics to escape with an 86-79 win.
It was fitting that it ended with Kevin Garnett coming up with a key defensive play in the closing seconds to seal the victory.
And when the final horn sounded, there were more hugs, more emotions spilling on to the floor.
In watching the connection between Pierce and Garnett with their former teammates and Celtics Nation, it became apparent to anyone in the building that these two are Green Teamers for life.
"We'll always bleed green as long as we're playing basketball and as long as we're living," Garnett said. "Even when they bury us six-feet, this is what it's gonna be."
WORSTS: Dressed (down) to the 9s
There were stretches of bad play all season, but the calendar flipping seemed to bring on the team's first real crisis. The Celtics strung together nine straight losses, the most consecutive defeats since the dreaded 2007 season. They would follow that up with another nine-game losing streak later on, but the first one really threw the guys for a loop.
For two weeks (Dec. 31 - Jan. 13), the Celtics were the worst team in the NBA. In that same span, fellow bottom feeders Philadelphia and Utah each won three games. Even the woeful Bucks got a win during those couple of weeks.
It was the first stretch in which the effort that had been such a strong presence in earlier losses, was starting to show signs of waning.
"We're not getting what we want and I'm sick about that," Stevens said after a loss at Oklahoma City. "But at the end of the day, laying down is not an option. Doing things and continuing to go after it every day is what you do when things are tough."
Rajon Rondo's decision to stay in Los Angeles and celebrate his 28th birthday (without the explicit permission of the team, apparently) with family and friends instead of traveling with the Celtics to Sacramento for a game it had already been decided he would not play in, created a mini-firestorm in February.
For many, it raised questions as to Rondo's ability to lead this franchise and whether it would make Danny Ainge more inclined to move the four time All-Star at the trading deadline or this summer.
Ainge has repeatedly said he has no intention of trading Rondo, but admittedly won't close the door totally on that happening.
And Rondo has made it clear on several occasions that he wants to stay in Boston, but adds that he understands this is a business and Ainge will do what he feels is best for the organization above any player - including himself.
And as far as Rondo's thoughts on the whole Birthdaygate episode, the man of few words had even less to say on that particular topic.
"I haven't really read much about it," he said. "I heard a lot of comments. Nobody knows the story, so [the media] keep making up every story you guys possibly can."
When asked what's the story, Rondo tersely responded "It's my business; it's my choice."
Maybe the biggest shocker all season was seeing Brad Stevens being ejected. But of course, Stevens didn't leave until he had a chance to wave goodbye to the opposing coach at the other end of the floor.
Who does that?
Stevens does, even after he was tossed with 35.7 seconds to play in a 105-98 loss at Sacramento on Feb. 22, along with Gerald Wallace.
It's unusual for a coach to get tossed on just one technical foul, let alone a coach who doesn't curse, swear or yell at the official.
But apparently Stevens said the magic words to official Marc Davis who has a history of run-ins with the Celtics.
He was the official that Rajon Rondo bumped into during the 2012 playoffs that led to Rondo being suspended for one game.
And in Doc Rivers' last season in Boston, Rivers submitted video of crucial plays in a loss to Chicago that Rivers felt the officials (Davis among them) got wrong in a 100-99 loss.
The Celtics appealed Stevens' technical, but league officials allowed it to stand.
But as one player noted, "he [Stevens] didn't get his money's worth. That's the worst part about it."
Trying to cope with Rajon Rondo's return from a right torn ACL injury was just the first of many injuries the Celtics were navigating their way around this season.
Vitor Faverani showed promise as a rookie big man, but a season-ending knee injury cut his season short.
And a routine check-up for Gerald Wallace soon led to him having season-ending foot and knee surgeries at a time when Wallace seemed to be playing his best basketball.
In keeping with this injury-riddled season, Boston closed out the season with both of its starting bigs Kris Humphries (knee) and Jared Sullinger (ankle) out, as well as backup guard Jerryd Bayless (knee).