NBA.com

Winners of seven of their last eight and 10 of there last 13 the Celtics head to Cleveland for a Friday night match up with the beast of the east, the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs stand alone atop the Eastern Conference at 35-13 while Boston has mustered a 29-22 record, good for a third place tie with Atlanta. The Celtics have been winning games by putting up points, scoring over 100 points in 13 of their last 14 games, that ties them for fifth best in the NBA with San Antonio. Defensive intensity has also been a mainstay with the C’s giving up 100.3 points per game, not too shabby, and good for ninth best in the NBA, just behind Indiana and ahead of the Clippers.

Led by All-Star point guard Isaiah Thomas there is no doubt that the Celtics are on the rise and coming down the stretch run will hope to continue this push for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It should be noted however that the competition that Boston has recently played is not near what they will face Friday night. The Celtics have essentially taken care of business and won games they are supposed to win to be considered a contender in Eastern Conference. The most notable recent victories have come over the Pistons, Pacers and Bulls who, if the regular season ended today, would be in the playoffs.

Cleveland on the other hand is in a different class than recent Celtics competitors. They are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have had marquee wins over San Antonio and the Clippers. Changes for Cleveland since they beat the Celtics 89-77 in December include the presence of Kyrie Irving who did not play as he was still rehabilitating a fractured knee cap and Cavs new head coach, ex-Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue, after the surprise firing of David Blatt.

Its likely going to be a difficult environment for the Celtics playing in Cleveland in front of a Friday night packed house. Not to mention LeBron James and the Cavs will be looking to rebound from a loss to the Hornets in a game where they did not face their opponents leading scorer Kemba Walker. Instead they were torched by Jeremy Lin, that’s right Jeremy Lin who hung 24 points and eight dimes on Cleveland, sending them too defeat. Expect a fired up crowd and a Cavaliers team trying to fend off a second straight loss as the Celtics try to keep their string of winning ways alive at Quicken Loans Arena.

Key match ups to watch will be Isaiah Thomas, who is coming into the game scoring 21.4 points per game to go with 6.6 assists, and Kyrie Irving who is averaging 17.2 points per contest. However it is somewhat unlikely they will actually defend one another all the time as Brad Stevens will rotate Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley onto Irving to stifle his attack with their tenacious on ball defense. Another match up to watch will be Jae Crowder doing his best to slow down the LeBron James freight train and the carousel of Celtics bigs trying to rebound with Kevin Love, Timofey Mozgov and Tristan Thompson.

If the Celtics are able to score over 100 points, as they have been consistently doing, and are able to keep the Cavs off the offensive glass for easy put backs, they will have a shot of dethroning the King and his Cavs in their own castle. On the other hand, if the Celtics are forced to grind out a poor shooting performance like the game back in December they will surely struggle against the defending Eastern Conference Champs.

Its a potential playoff preview of two teams heading in the right direction, the Cavs under the new direction of Tyronn Lue, and the red hot C’s playing their best basketball under Brad Stevens. The Q Arena should be rocking on Friday night and Celtics fans will be able to see how this improved Boston team measures up against the likely number one seed in the east!

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Celtics

After one of the worst seasons in franchise history (25-57 in 2013-14), the Celtics went shopping for a new head coach and landed on a very talented Brad Stevens who was running a top NCAA program at Butler University. In his first year with the Celtics, the team showed improvement, ending up with a respectable record of 40-42 while squeezing into the playoffs.

Regardless of expectations from the fans, Stevens was surely looking for nothing more than continued improvement coming into the 2015-2016. With a little more than half the season in the books, it seems safe to say the Celtics have indeed made that next step forward. With a current record of 27-22, they are ranked #6 in the Eastern Conference with a reasonably good chance of making the playoffs. Continue reading Orlando Magic Snaps Boston’s 5-Game Winning Streak »

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nba-trade-rumors-atlanta-hawks

With the NBA trade deadline a mere three weeks away the hot stove is heating up, and rumors from Chad Mannix have linked the Celtics and Hawks in trade conversation regarding Al Horford and Jeff Teague. Although the Celtics have been involved in many rumors they have yet to make a deal. This particular option, if completed for both players, would put the Celtics on a win-now path with championship aspiration in the near future.

The positive attributes of Horford are renown around the NBA. He is proven winner, has averaged 14.3 points and 9 rebounds over his career, and would fill the vacancy at the center position that I covered here last month. This is not a knock on Amir Johnson, I love the way he plays, but Al Horford is a big improvement. He is 29 years old, is a presence on the glass, and can get a bucket in post when his team needs it. He is exactly what the Celtics are lacking. The negative aspect of a trade involving Horford is his contract. This is the final year of his current deal and he is expecting to get a significant salary in free agency this summer. If the Celtics were to pull the trigger on a deal for Horford, Ainge would either have the upmost confidence in the team’s ability to sign him to a contract extension or be sending a message loud and clear that the goal is to win this year.

Teague is an electric athlete and has shown the ability to both score the basketball and run an offense at the NBA level. The Wake Forest product, now 27 years old, has averaged 11.8 points and 5.1 assists per game over his career, and his current contract is worth $8 million per year for both this season and next. Not a bad deal for a really good point guard. The only problem with his addition to the roster is that he would join an already crowded back court. The guard position does not feel like a pressing need for the Celtics at this point, which makes this rumor puzzling unless the front office plans to completely reconstruct this lineup mid season.

Danny Ainge has shown the guts and willingness to make this type of deal and go all-in for a championship, but has shown patience with player development and ‘trusting the process’ with young guys. Is the goal to win a championship this year? If so, then this trade will certainly move the team toward that goal. Also, is the front office that confident in their ability to sign Horford to a contract extension after this season? Another essential consideration when weighing this deal. If not, then a one year window of return is not an optimal return. It all remains to be seen and or now Celtics fans can only wait anxiously. Ainge is a diligent general manager and will surely consider every and any possible option before making a decision. In the meantime, we should continue to foster the hope of a DeMarcus Cousins-Isaiah Thomas reunion in a green and white uniform.

 

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Avery Bradley

At a time when the Boston Celtics are playing good ball, they last thing they want to see is personnel issues that could disrupt what seems to be great team chemistry. That may have been a bit too much to expect as G Avery Bradley has come forward with apparent issues related to his current four-year, $32 million contract

Based on information provided by writer Matt Moore of the Boston Globe, Johnson is becoming increasingly more dissatisfied with the contract he signed back in 2014 when represented by sports agent Mitchell Butler. He signed the contract after four years with the Celtics when he spent a good deal of time on the sidelines due to various injuries. Continue reading Celtics’ Avery Bradley Unhappy With Current Contract »

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NBA.com/Celtics

The Boston Celtics will be represented at All-Star Weekend in Toronto in two weeks with their leading scorer Isaiah Thomas being selected as an Eastern Conference Reserve. Thomas joins a stacked group of guards including Dwayne Wade, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Jimmy Butler and DeMar DeRozan. NBA coaches vote on the reserve All-Stars which, some may say, adds to the merit of the selection as fans can tend to lean toward names and popularity (see Lakers representation below).

Thomas has been an on and off the court leader for a young Boston team. He has provided an offensive spark scoring 21.6 points per game and dishing out 6.6 assists per night showing he can be a play-maker as well as a scorer. Isaiah has made an impact in the win column with the Celtics going 46-31 since he arrived in the lineup on Feb. 22, 2015, many will remember a much more dismal record prior to his landing in Boston. Under coach Brad Stevens, Thomas has helped lead the Celtics to a 26-21 record, good for 5th place in a balanced Eastern Conference. Boston is in good position to jockey for a home playoff coming out of the All-Star break and down the stretch.

Quick, fearless, and deceptively strong are some of the adjectives you may hear when people talk about Thomas. He is able to knock down the 3-point shot but makes his money pushing the ball in transition, weaving through the lane to make plays for teammates or going hard to the tin to score at the basket and draw fouls. His teammates and the fans in Boston love him as he embodies the spirit of a rising Celtics squad.

Thomas’ teammates and opponents for the 2016 All-Star Game are listed below:

Eastern Conference All-Stars

Starters
Carmelo Anthony, New York
Paul George, Indiana
LeBron James, Cleveland
Kyle Lowry, Toronto
Dwyane Wade, Miami

Reserves
Jimmy Butler, Chicago
John Wall, Washington
Andre Drummond, Detroit
Chris Bosh, Miami
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto
Paul Millsap, Atlanta
Isaiah Thomas, Boston

Western Conference All-Stars

Starters
Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers
Stephen Curry, Golden State
Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio
Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City

Reserves
Draymond Green, Golden State
Klay Thompson, Golden State
Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers
James Harden, Houston
DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento
LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio
Anthony Davis, New Orleans

A star-studded field with both teams having plenty of fire power should make for the usual high-scoring event that will hopefully turn into a game in the fourth quarter as it has tended to the past few years. The talent level in the Western Conference is insane, the only thing that is likely to slow those guys down is Kobe’s number of field goal attempts (sorry Kobe, you are not retired so I can’t appreciate you yet).

Thomas can look forward to getting some minutes against the best in the west but its hard to imagine anyone can get excited about guarding the dazzling Steph Curry or the crafty Chris Paul on the perimeter and whoever is in the way of Russell Westbrook during the All-Star game is asking to end up a poster. Fortunately for Thomas, and probably for most of these offensive-minded players, the All-Star game is about 3-pointers, dunks and behind the back passes for at least three quarters, defense starts to seep in around the same time as the competitive nature of these individuals takes hold.

The Celtics are proud to be sending Thomas to the 65th NBA All-Star game in Toronto, no one deserves it more, if only I had the authority to give a Tommy Point he’d get two from me!

Congratulations to Isaiah!

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The Celtics Need a Center

January 7, 2016 at 10:11pm in Boston, Celtics, NBA
Brad Stevens

Last night at the Boston Garden the Celtics dropped a tough 99-94 loss to the Detroit Pistons. The C’s came out of the gate hot and held command of the lead for a majority of the game, but failed to execute and score over big stretches of the second half.  Although Isaiah Thomas did his best to will the team to victory despite a poor shooting night and some crucial misses at the free throw line, his late effort was not enough and the Celtics fell. The heart and grit of this group is displayed by their tenacious defensive intensity, but what the team lacks is a go-to scorer – someone they can give the ball to in the post and confidently say ‘go get me a bucket big man’. With an ace like that the Celtics could become elite team and a real contender in the Eastern Conference.

Trade speculation has been buzzing around big-time NBA centers including Dwight Howard, Brooke Lopez, and DeMarcus Cousins, and the Celts have been tied to almost all of the rumors. The question remains whether Danny Ainge is ready to make that kind of deal, which would undoubtedly require separating with some very valuable assets. Rumor has it that Ainge has expressed interest in such a deal, but has been unwilling to accept a trade that includes Marcus Smart or the Brooklyn Nets’ 2016 1st round draft pick that was acquired in the trade involving Pierce and Garnett. This is a fair assessment by Ainge as that selection has a chance of becoming a number one overall and Marcus Smart has shown tremendous promise. It is clear that Ainge does not consider Smart on the trade block, but that 2016 draft pick deserves some reconsideration.

The obvious top pick in this year’s draft class is LSU’s freshman phenom Ben Simmons. Anyone that watched he and the Tigers dismantle Kentucky on Tuesday got to see the superior talent level and athleticism that has NBA general managers salivating. After him on the in the top five of the mock draft board are Brandon Ingram (Duke), Kris Dunn (Providence), Jaylen Brown (California), and Ivan Rabb (California). Although all these players are certainly talented and may blossom into quality NBA starters, none of them seem to address the Celtics’ needs other than Simmons.

The chance of the Nets’ pick becoming #1 overall is 15.9% as of January 7th and the chance of it being in the top 3 is 46.9%. And keep in mind, every time the Celtics continue to lose to the Nets decreases that probability. Drafting Ben Simmons would be ideal for any team because the potential he offers, but acquiring him is far from a sure thing at this point for the Celtics and the lucky team that gets the number one overall will also need to demonstrate patience as the youngster develops.

It seems like given the circumstances and the current Celtics roster trading that Nets’ unprotected draft pick could be beneficial to the Celtics if it is dealt for the right guy. Of the three aforementioned centers on the market the easy name to cross of the list is the plague of the NBA – Dwight Howard. But both Brooke Lopez and DeMarcus Cousins are interesting and offer intriguing options that deserve some consideration. Here is a career comparison of the two.

Age Points per game Rebounds per game Assists per game Blocks per game Steals per game
Brook Lopez

27

18.0 7.4 1.3 0.6

1.8

DeMarcus Cousins 25 19.4 10.7 2.6 1.3

1.4

The two other important elements that need attention are health and character, which are both important when analyzing these two options at center. With DeMarcus Cousins the main concern is his attitude, as he has a history of clashing with coaches and quitting on his teammates. For Brook Lopez it is his injury history that includes foot and ankles problems that often become a chronic hinderance for many big men. Other than those two concerns both players statistical output have been fairly comparable over their careers, with DeMarcus having an advantage on the offensive end. 

The answer here is DeMarcus Cousins. He is younger than Lopez, has not had the scary injury history, and has shown flashes of defensive ability to go along with his offensive skill set. As previously mentioned the concern is about Cousins’ character, which is a valid source of anxiety and skepticism. But the leadership role on the Celtics that Isaiah Thomas has assumed, and his friendship with Cousins that was developed during their time playing together for the Sacramento Kings offers some optimism. This relationship could harness Cousins’ potential and influence him to buy into Coach Stevens’ system. Sure it is not an absolute certainty, but the presence of Thomas along with leaders like Jae Crowder and Avery Bradley could simmer Cousins’ attitude and allow him to blossom on in team-oriented environment.

With the addition of an elite center the Celtics would be a real contender in the Eastern Conference. Brooke Lopez’ health concerns are not worth giving the Nets back their first round draft pick despite his talents, but the promise of DeMarcus Cousins would be. In either case the deal would likely also include a second round draft pick or two, and a player like David Lee to balance each teams’ salary cap. DeMarcus Cousins offers a superstar offensive skill set with defensive potential if he is surrounded by a competitive team that he gels with. This acquisition could move the Celtics one step closer to their championship aspirations. Celtics fan are waiting patiently for this team to turn the corner and although a supreme college talent like Ben Simmons is promising, it will only serve to further delay the winning process. On the other hand DeMarcus Cousins is under contract through 2018 and could propel the club to the next level upon his first day in the green and white. If Ainge wants to win in the near future he will make this type of deal, if not Celtics fans will have to continue to wait patiently for the team to become a legitimate contender for the NBA championship.

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NBA.com

The Celtics will bring a confident squad onto the Garden hardwood for Tuesday night’s matchup with the Eastern Conference first place Cleveland Cavaliers. Boston is 3-2 in their last five games with wins over Charlotte, Chicago and New Orleans, however, it may be their recent losses that are the most telling. Boston has played the two best teams in the NBA, San Antonio last week and Golden State on Friday night. Both games ended with one more in the loss column but the young Celtics team showed a lot of character and poise despite defeat. In San Antonio the Celtics looked to be out of it in the fourth quarter before a late rally to close the gap that came up short and had them lose by three as the Spurs remained undefeated at home. The Celtics bounced back to beat the Pelicans on the road and then the Bulls at home before facing the Warriors at the Garden. As expected Boston played Golden State tough, fighting them tooth and nail to force not one but two overtimes.

One thing that can be said about the Celtics Friday night is they took every punch from the Warriors and kept on coming. Every time they got knocked to the mat by a great play or a Steph Curry three, of which he made six, they got back up, tried to have a good possession and continued to fight. It seemed as though they truly believed they were supposed to be playing with the Warriors, it didn’t matter if no one else had beat them, they had come to Boston to lose. Ultimately Golden State did what they had done to everyone else, maintained perfection and ripped the heart out of Celtics fans with a double overtime win that felt more like a steal after all that had happened between the fourth quarter and overtime. There is, however, no doubt that the C’s had chances to win the game in regulation and OT but were just unable to capitalize.

In the end of regulation Isaiah Thomas had a chance to win it with a couple tics on the clock but couldn’t connect as he was well defended by the long Shaun Livingston. Brad Stevens then drew up a great inbound play for the hot-handed Kelly Olynyk to screen then pop for the potential game winning jumper, unfortunately it was a bit rushed with 0.7 seconds on the clock and with that miss on to overtime they went. In the first overtime Thomas had a better look with a floater to win it that didn’t fall and in the second OT with the Celtics down by three Jae Crowder had a chance to tie it up but was also unable to hit the shot. Ultimately the looks were there, the Celtics were just unable to knock them down.

Although Boston did not pull out the victory they do know they can hang with the best two teams in the NBA and give them all they want. The next step for Brad Stevens’ team is to figure out how to finish those games and get the big victories. Lets face facts that a loss is never a good thing but with a team that appears to be gelling they have the opportunity to build from these losses. If anything, Boston can be confident now that they can play with anybody in the NBA, the key is the finish.

It appears the balanced attack is a solid approach but one does have to wonder without a go-to player is the pressure now going to be on Isaiah Thomas to take and make these shots? Is it his job to put the harpoon in and finish opponents? For better or worse the days of Paul Pierce are over, but when he was in Boston you could almost guarantee it was going to be The Captain and The Truth putting it up from the elbow or going to the rack to try and draw a foul during the final seconds of any close game.

Either way Boston is playing solid team basketball and should enter the matchup against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers Tuesday night with a great deal of confidence. The matchup will be a home game for the Celtics who currently sit at 14-10 in seventh place in a tight early race in the Eastern Conference. The Cavs enter the game at 15-7, good enough for first place in the east, (they would be fourth in the Western Conference behind Golden State, San Antonio and Oklahoma City). The Cavs have stumbled a bit of late going 2-3 in their last five games with wins over Orlando and Portland but loses to Washington, Miami and New Orleans. Cleveland recently got shooting guard/wing Iman Shumpert back from an sprained wrist however still do not have All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving in the line up who is expected to potentially make his season debut next week.

Another great feature to this game is that there is no love loss between these two teams. Boston is a young team gunning, albeit from a distance for now, for the Cleveland crown. The C’s have played them tough despite getting swept out of the playoffs in the first round last year on Cleveland’s way to the NBA Finals. The Cavs left the City of Boston bruised, battered and down one star player after Kelly Olynyk dislocated Kevin Love’s shoulder and ended his season as well as diminished their chances for an NBA title. Jae Crowder suffered an injury of his own at the (back)hand of J.R. Smith in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference playoff series last year. Crowder suffered a vicious blow that landed him on the ground with a sprained ACL requiring rehab as the league slapped Smith with a suspension. Both teams play physical and both teams play defense, there is a good chance bodies will hit the deck tomorrow night in Boston as these teams are hungry for a win. The Cavs will be trying to maintain first place and the Celtics trying to prove they are a legitimate contender in east.

LeBron James, who might be one of the most physical players, and is likely one of the most physically impressive specimens the league has ever seen, is entering the game scoring 26.4 points per contest to go along with 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists. The superstar floor general is also getting All-Star production out of Kevin Love who is scoring a shade under 18 points per game and ripping down 11.0 rebounds a night. The supporting cast of Mo Williams filling in for the injured Kyrie Irving as well as J.R. Smith are both averaging in double figures.

The Celtics will need to match the Cavs physicality, trying to keep the LeBron James locomotive out of the lane and off the fast break to avoid easy buckets at the rim, free throws and foul trouble. Another apparent force is the big Russian, no not Ivan Drago, the center Timofey Mozgov. Despite his limited action he is able to score at the rim, rebound and block shots and may see a lot of time if the Celtics try to play a smaller line up with more skilled big men. Boston will need to look for Jared Sullinger to be a beast on the boards and the rest of the rotation of bigs to do their part in the trenches boxing out to avoid easy second chance points. The Celtics don’t have to be perfect to beat the Cavs but they need to play smart, grind it out on defense and get good looks on offense as points may be at a premium in this one. Boston is led in scoring by Isaiah Thomas averaging 20.8 points per game and Avery Bradley pouring in 16.3 a night and continue with a deep and balanced team having seven players averaging 9.0 or greater points per game.

Celtics fans have a lot to be excited about as a confident C’s team welcomes the Eastern Conference establishment, Cleveland Cavaliers, to what will be a jam-packed Garden heavily supporting this never-say-die Celtics team. Although early in the season this one will have the feel of a potential future playoff series.

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