With the 2015 All-Star break upon us, it is time to take a look at the Boston Celtics, what they’ve accomplished so far, and the hopes of a possible 2015 playoff push.
As it is, the Celtics are lucky enough to not have a player participating in the main event of the All-Star game. Okay, maybe lucky is not the right word, as fans of the Celtics would no doubt love to see one of our guys playing on Sunday. As of now, a time to rest and prepare for the final two months is much needed.
Second year center Kelly Olynyk had been selected to play in the Rising Stars Challenge, but with Olynyk still bothered by a sprained right ankle, the decision not to play was pretty straight forward. Olynyk has not played since January 22nd, but is expected back soon.
The Celtics ended the “first half” of the season with a momentum building victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night. It was their 7th win in their last 12 games.
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When asked about the All-Star break, Coach Brad Stevens had this to say. “I said this, ‘Don’t lose the momentum of what we’ve worked for, but get off your feet and get some rest.”’
Stevens has certainly made strides in his second season. After dealing with a whirlwind of trades, including those of top players Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, Stevens has found a way to to utilize his younger players.
With Olynyk injured, Stevens implemented a smaller starting lineup. Jared Sullinger, all 6 feet 9 inches of him, is often listed as the starting center. This has opened up the floor on offense for the Celtics, taking advantage of their jump shooting, but also drawing their opponents big men away from the hoop, allowing the Celtics to find more shots within the key.
Coach Stevens, with his college coaching background, has emphasized team play. In a NBA world of superstars and one-on-one play, it is refreshing to see the teamwork coming out of Boston. These young Celtics seem to embrace it. The Celtics are averaging 101 points per game, good for fifth in the Eastern Conference. As a team, they are fourth in the league with 24.5 assists per game. This number may seem inflated because it still includes Rondo’s numbers, but in the last six games they are averaging 23.7 assists as a team.
More indication that this young team is embracing the idea of “team” is that Sullinger is the leading scorer at 14.4 ppg. Avery Bradley is close behind with 13.4 while Olynyk averaged 11.1 before his injury. The fact is, especially with the 3-pointers dropping, any player on this team can go off for 20 points or more.
In fact, over the last 12 games, five to seven players have consistently scored in double figures. Sullinger and Bradley are in this group, while Marcus Smart, Tyler Zeller, and Marcus Thornton are all contributing heavily. Since his move to the bench, Thornton is averaging 12.2 ppg.
While the offense has thrived this year, the Celtics defense has struggled. Before the current 12 game stretch, the Celtics were allowing their opponents to score 104 ppg.
The last 12 games have been a different story. During this stretch they have only allowed 96 ppg. Keeping up the strong defensive play, especially with the smaller lineups, will be key to making the playoffs this year.
Yes. That word. Playoffs. A very reasonable prospect for this year’s edition of the Boston Celtics. As of now, the Celtics sit a mere 1.5 games back of the 8th seed for the playoffs. With the way they have played as of late, and with the uncertainty of teams near them like the Pacers and Heat, the playoffs are a very realistic possibility.
Though I don’t see them tanking on purpose, GM Danny Ainge may help ensure a lotto pick by trading away players like Tayshaun Prince, Brandon Bass, or Thornton before the February 19th trade deadline. With a collection of picks already in hand from previous trades, it is time for Ainge to bet on the playoffs.
The Celtics have a favorable schedule heading into the homestretch. It is entirely possible for the team to win 35 games this year. That’s a ten game improvement over last year. That’s impressive for a coach who is in only his second year of coaching professional basketball. The perfect reward would be a chance to extend their season.
Striving for the playoffs this year would provide valuable experience to this young team. Imagine, no matter the outcome in the playoffs, the lessons these young Celtics could carry forward in their basketball career. The taste of getting to the playoffs would only fuel the Celtics fire to get back there next year.
Make that playoff push this year, Mr. Ainge. Show that winning is still valued for the Boston Celtics franchise. Playing for, and possibly clinching a playoff berth, will show free agents that this team is closer to greatness than previously thought. Then the Celtics can move towards eventually raising that 18th banner to the rafters.
Not this year, no, but in the hopes of many fans: Better sooner than later.
At least that’s the bet I’m placing.
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