10/29/2014: Game 1

Celtics 121 Nets 105

Rajon Rondo woke up from a nap one hour before regular season tipoff and declared himself health enough to play. Brad let him play, but capped him at 30 Minutes. It didn’t deter any greatness, as Rondo went 6-9 from the Field (1/3 from Three) for 13, 12, and 7 with a Steal and a Block.

The feeling all along was that he would play. Being that it’s his contract year and he’s missed significant minutes due to injuries, he didn’t really have a choice. Rondo plays with pride in every sense of the word. He doesn’t let an injury hold him back any longer than it needs to. Danny Ainge continues to say– with great confidence– that this will be a career-year for Rondo. If he plays anything like this on a nightly basis, that’s pretty darn good. (He did miss all four of his free-throw attempts, which is completely unacceptable)

This win was by no means a one man effort. Eight Celtics scored in double figures:

  • Jeff Green had 17, 6, 3, and 2 Steals on 4/10 Shooting. The shooting isn’t pretty, but he was 2-3 from Three and was 7/9 from the Free-Throw line. It’s the aggressiveness that’s extremely encouraging. This is what Brad– and Doc before him– have been trying desperately to get out of Jeff, and it looks like it might finally be clicking.
  •  Jared Sullinger: 14, 4, 2 and 2 Blocks on 5/9 Shooting(1/3 from Three). Inactive on the boards, but the 2 Blocks is a nice stat. And there’s nothing to dislike about the efficient offense. He took five fewer shots than Olynyk, so how shots get distributed between them is going to be something to pay attention to going forward. This was a bit of a quiet game for Jared after a flashy preseason, but he didn’t need to takeover. Especially with seven other guys providing good offense.
  • Kelly Olynk: Team-high 19 Points (8/14; 1/2) with 6 Rebounds, 2 Assists and a Steal. He had a highlight-worthy buzzer beater at the end of the 3rd to put the Cs up 101-72. A baseline spin on Brook Lopez into an awkward sideways fade away that could only be described as Bird-esque. Scroll to 1:45 here to see for yourself: . This was a great game for Olynyk, and a great way to start the season in his sophomore campaign.
  • Avery had 15 Points on 7/13 (1/3). He had goose eggs in every other major category, which is likely why he was the only starter with a negative +/- PER Differential.
  • Marcus Smart had a great NBA debut with 10 Points (3/7; 1/4) 2 Rebounds, 2 Assists, and 4 Steals. He’s going to spoil Cs fans with that defense. Believe me, multiple-steal games are going to be frequent going forward. As long as he continues to shoot it efficiently, he is a realistic candidate for rookie recognition awards.
  • Marcus Thornton had 10 Points (4/6; 1/2) and 1 Block. Nothing crazy, this is what he does. He comes in and scores.
  • Finally, Evan Turner was superb with 10, 7, 5, 1, and 1 in 24 Minutes on 5/9 Shooting. I’m really loving his presence on the team. He does a little bit of everything, and tonight he did it with great effort. Don’t get used to juiced statlines like this one, but he should continue being a consistent contributor.

The Celtics shot 55.7% from the Field to Brooklyn’s 48.8%, taking only eight more shots than the Nets. The big difference came down to ball security. As a team Boston Turned it Over 13 times, while Brooklyn was a bit more careless with 21. Both teams shot it well, but Boston shot it especially well. They spread it around, and everyone had something to give. What’s more, the Cs had 28 Assists and the Nets only had 20.

So, 55% from the Field and 28 Assists means Rondo’s impact on ball movement is that important. He runs the offense and makes things happen. I don’t know that last year’s Celtics ever put up anything close to 121 Points. They did, however, play great defense, so it will be crucial to find a balance between the two.

The Celtics looked great. They can establish a little momentum to start the season, though their November schedule is a bit daunting on paper. To continue playing great basketball, they will collectively have to build upon what they accomplished as individuals in this game.

Next up is Houston on Saturday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer who thinks about the Celtics like Stephen Hawking thinks about space. See his reactions after every game right here on HeresTheDealLikeShaquille. 

10/23/2014: Preseason Game 8

Celtics 100 Nets 86

The Cs closed out preseason with a bang.

Avery and Jeff got pulled after playing the first 8 and 9 minutes respectively. Marcus Smart (who started) and Kelly Olynyk each played 16. The guys who played upwards of 20 minutes were: Sullinger, Bass, Wallace, Zeller, Pressey, and James Young.

  • With 15 Points and 17 Boards, Sullinger’s streak of dominance continues heading into the regular season. The consistency with which he’s pulling down monster boards has got to be satisfying for him. Jared’s positioning himself to be an All-Star candidate with his recent play. It’ll be interesting to see how the next six days affect him. Fortunately, Brooklyn is the opponent for the third contest in a row, so familiarity will help (Oh and what’s good, KG?). At the very least, Rondo has got to be pleased with what he sees.
  • Gerald Wallace turned in a +19 PER performance- tied for team best with Olynyk and Smart- with 12 Points 5 Assists and 3 Steals on 6-8 Shooting. This performance is especially encouraging for a number of reasons. Earlier this month, Wallace told reporters he feels healthier than he did last year. Not too long ago this guy was an All-Star. Don’t let his statistical drop off tell the whole story. Analytics don’t measure heart. Gerald dives for every loose ball, shoots it efficiently, and turns in performances like this one from time to time. If he can contribute consistent minutes at the 3 and 4 spots, he’s going to be a useful piece off the bench this season.
  • James Young was +14 in 26 Minutes, even though he only shot 2-8 from the Field (1-4 from Three). He did have 4 Rebounds, an Assist and a Steal. He’s going to need to work on his consistency, especially from Three, where he can begin to carve a niche for himself. One of my favorite things about James is his basketball IQ. In a recent Q & A, Brad Stevens said James consistently does three things when the ball is in his hands: he passes it, shoots it, or drives. His quick decision-making and hustle (he’s only 19!) are going to be his calling cards this season. He has a tremendously bright future ahead of him, but he’ll have to take the least bumpy path along the way.
  • Lastly, Dwight Powell had 4 Points, and 1 Block, Rebound, Assist, and Steal apiece. For the vast majority of you who know nothing about Dwight Powell, he was drafted out of Stanford in the 2nd Round (45th Overall) by the Charlotte Hornets and later dealt to Boston with a bunch of scrubs for Keith Bogans’ non-guaranteed contract (a classic salary cap oriented trade). He made enough of an impression that the team dealt reserve big man Joel Anthony to Detroit for Will Bynum, who will likely be cut so that Powell can get that roster spot.
  • Any questions? In the big picture this season, Dwight Powell is not really in the picture. But his play was such that Brad Stevens had to have him. I like that kind of endorsement. Assuming Bynum is indeed cut (we’ll know for sure very soon), Powell becomes the third rookie on the roster.

Great to see the team put in the work tonight. Especially with regards to Wallace and Young. Due to recent injuries, both have been forgotten in recent discussions. Gerald and Jeff are mentors for Young as a Small Forward. As the season moves along, Young will usurp Gerald’s minutes. For now, it’s learn-as-you-go, which is fine. We’re a deep team. Wallace and Young fall by the wayside in favor of Turner, Smart, Thornton, and Zeller off of the bench, but if they make the case for minutes, that’s a problem I’m sure Brad wouldn’t mind having.

Regular Season starts next Wednesday, October 29. Brooklyn in Boston.

Homer Johnsen is a fan and a freelance Celtics Beat Writer for the Department of the Redundancy Department. His reaction pieces are posted after the games, right here on HeresTheDealLikeShaquille. 

10/19/2014: Preseason Game 7

Celtics 95 Nets 90

First things first, this game was an experimental 44 Minute contest. The NBA is thinking about the wear and tear of 82 forty-eight minute games on a player’s body. Ideas include shorter quarters or cutting the number of games in the preseason or season, that latter of which I support. Eighty-Two games is a lot.

Boston ended the first half down 11, but stormed back, ending the Third Quarter up by 8 on a 14-2 run. They capped it off with an exciting, rare Brandon Bass Three-Pointer in the final seconds. Brooklyn retook the lead briefly, but the Cs defense stayed feisty and enabled enough offense to get ahead and never look back.

The cliche is, “Play each game better than your last one.” If this is the case, Jared Sullinger set some pretty ambitious goals for himself after dropping 21, 8 and 5 on Thursday. It didn’t matter. He went above and beyond on Saturday with 21 Points and 19 Rebounds. He was 7-15 from the Field, and sharp 3-5 from Three. This was his game; everyone else was just playing in it.

Brandon Bass had 16 Points in nineteen Minutes. Jeff Green dropped 14. And Marcus Thornton had 10 Points and 2 Steals. So the uncharacteristic defense continues.

The other big highlight was Marcus Smart’s +16 PER by way of 13 Points, 4 Assists, 2 Rebounds and 3 Steals on 3-8 from Three. He had 5 Fouls in 27 Minutes, but more encouragingly, he only had 2 Turnovers, after 4, 6, and 4 again in the previous three games.

If Smart continues to make the most of his minutes, his role on the team is going to become a major topic of discussion. It’s really no coincidence that the big story right now is that Rondo might be back by Opening Night. Obviously his will power can’t be doubted: he played with a useless arm against the Heat in 2011. He got injured and finished a game after suffering what turned out to be a major ACL injury. He even beat his projected recovery time for that one too. But he’s no fool either, and he knows he’s not doing himself any favors letting Marcus get all of these reps.

Whether or not he does actually want to stick around, this situation is never a good one. If, somewhere down the line this season Smart stands out as starting Point Guard in this league, someone is going to get traded. We’ve known this all along, but it doesn’t jive with all the positivity Rondo has been exuding. Or maybe I’m just being pessimistic. Ideally, if things went well, they wouldn’t have to trade anyone and could just ride that Point Guard gravy train to the end of the line. That of course is unlikely because Rondo is a Free Agent at the end of the year, meaning he could be lost without any compensation if he isn’t dealt by the deadline.

Obviously Smart has a ways to go, but if Rondo makes it through February still wearing a Celtics uniform, the world is his in the offseason. Literally. That kind of freedom is so good, “The World Is Yours” plays on a loop as background music everyday until the next contract is signed.

Forgive me for bantering. Just a little food for thought.

Final thoughts on the game: The Celtics won despite shooting 37.8% to Brooklyn’s 45%. And once again, they shot the ball at a high rate, putting up 90 shots to Brooklyn’s 71. The game is changing and pace is the vehicle. Good defense leads to turnovers, which leads to shot attempts. When the Celtics are fully dialed in on defense, they’re very fun to watch. Especially Marcus Smart, who was just bullying Brooklyn’s guards with his tenacity. It’s contagious, and if they can establish a trend and stick to it, they can be a very good basketball team.

Next up Game 2 of 3 against Brooklyn. The preseason finale.

Homer Johnsen is the Master of Ceremonies at the Celtics Dog-And-Pony Show, which happens after every game, right here on HeresTheDealLikeShaquille.

Quick Hit From Forsberg #1

“Confidence as a whole,” Rondo said on the team website when asked about the biggest difference in the Celtics since last season. “Our defensive schemes are a lot better. And we all believe in Coach Stevens and what he is doing. Last year, we weren’t all on the same page.”

Chris Forsberg does a commendable job covering the Cs on ESPN. He’ll likely be re-posted again.

Via http://espn.go.com/blog/boston/celtics/post/_/id/4715120/gamebook-rondo-remains-positive?ex_cid=espnapi_public

10/16/2014: Preseason Game 6

Celtics 111 76ers 91

Great bounce back after two tough losses. Ten players saw upwards of 10 minutes and every last one contributed something. This was an excellent display of team basketball.

I’ll preface these stats with a quick reminder: this is the same Philadelphia 76ers team that went 19-63 last year. Their Top draft picks are injured and still overseas, respectively (save for their 2nd Rounders K.J. McDaniels and Jerami Grant). What I’m trying to say is, they aren’t going to be much better this year, so as nice as a twenty-point Celtics victory is, keep in mind the Sixers suck. And yes, it’s still the preseason:

  • Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger led the way.
  • Avery was instant offense with 20 points on 7-12 shooting (6-9 from Three). He had no Steals, Blocks, or Assists, but he did manage to snag a Rebound.
  • Sully on the other hand put in an All-Star performance 21, 8, 5 and 2 Steals on 8-10 Shooting (4-6 from Three).
  • Kelly Olynyk had 14, 8, and 4 with 3 Steals and 3 Blocks on 6-11 Shooting (2-5 from Three).
  • Jeff Green gave a nice effort, going 7-15 from the Field for 18 Points.
  • Evan Turner ran the Point and got the team’s first 10 Assist game of the preseason.
  • Tyler Zeller had 14 Points and 7 Rebounds on 6-9 shooting, which makes him 12 for his last 15.
  • My favorite stat line of the night goes to Marcus Smart: 0-4 with no Free Throw attempts in 28 Minutes, but with 6 Assists, 2 Rebounds and 3 Steals (thought he turned it over 4 times).  He ended the night with a +5 PER.

It’s a treat to see games like this one. Every guy getting minutes makes the most of his floor time, one way or another. It’s also why Jeff Green coalescing with the rest of the team is so exiting. Sure, he’s frustrating as hell from a fan’s standpoint. But when he was 4th Fiddle to Pierce, KG and Rondo in 2013, he played some of his most efficient basketball to date. As of right now, he’s surrounded by enough adequate talent to just play his game and let it come naturally. And when Rondo comes back? Fuggedaboutit.

Forgive my rambling. To hammer home the main point, we’re seeing a crackling team chemistry taking shape before us, and this victory should be a nice confidence booster with two games against Brooklyn left in the preseason.

Who’s up next? That’s right, Brooklyn. On Sunday.

10/15/2014: Preseason Game 5

Toronto 92 Boston 89.

Jeff Green made his debut in typical Jeff Green fashion, going 3-12 from the Field for 9, 5, 1 and a Steal. Sully also had a rough night shooting, going 2-11 for 4 Points. Avery kicked in 13 on 6-11, while Evan Turner continues to impress with 11, 7, 6 and Steal on 4-9 shooting. Marcus Thornton had another one of his new-breed games, going 6-9 for 17 points and 3 Steals.

Story of the game, though? Tyler Zeller going a perfect 6-6 from the Field. 13 Points, 4 Rebounds, 3 Assists and 3 Blocks. Talk about a performance.

For a loss, there are a lot of positives to take from this game. Jeff Green was underwhelming, but he played 31 Minutes, so he’s ready to go. The points will come in time. Maybe even more importantly, the rest of the team was uninhibited by his presence on the floor. The guys who have been hot thus far continued to shine, and maybe Zeller busting out of his shell is related to Green in one way or another.

It looks like Evan Turner has made his case to stay in the starting lineup until Rondo returns. He’s played great every game this preseason, and if he and Green figure out how to coexist then it works just fine. Marcus Smart came off the bench as a result of Green’s arrival and put up an efficient 11, 6, 3 and 3 Steals on 3-8 Shooting (though he turned it over 6 times!!). Turner’s play is a promising sign for fans, but it’s only reinforcing the notion that he is a starter in this league. His downward spiral at the end of last year is largely attributed to getting traded to Indiana where he was forced to come off the bench. Should we be so lucky, he can stay hot as a 6th Man alongside Smart and Thornton.

It’s great that Brad Stevens has used this preseason to answer some lingering lineup questions. This game was a classic preseason game in that the outcome is a bit of an afterthought from a coaching standpoint. Sure, Stevens likely had things he liked and didn’t like about the game, and they’ll be addressed accordingly. But with Green’s return, Zeller’s performance and the ever-intriguing backcourt logjam, there is lots of food for thought here.

Next up is Philly.

10/11/2014: Preseason Game 4

Knicks 96 Boston 80

In keeping with my closing thoughts from the last post, let’s just say this type of follow-up was not exactly what I had in mind.

The only real difference in last night versus tonight was Kelly Olynyk rested. It was only the 2nd game of the preseason for the Knicks, and as you already know, their first was a twenty-point loss to the Celtics. So it’s only fitting that they settle the score in Round 2.

Sully stayed hot with 15, 7, and 2 on 6-7 Shooting (3-4 from Three). Bass had 12 Points on 4-9 Shooting. Turner had 11, 4, 3, and 2 Steals, and converted 8-10 Free Throws. Marcus Thornton kicked in another double digit effort with 15, albeit on 5-15 Shooting. And Tyler Zeller had a solid 7 Points and 5 Boards.

As a team, the Cs shot an atrocious 37.5% on the night (Marcus Smart went 1-5). The Knicks out-defended the Cs in Blocks and Steals. But the key stat was this: Boston committed 20 Turnovers to the Knicks’ 19. The Knicks only allowed 17 Points Off of Turnovers, while Boston allowed 28. Transition D killed them. But they were also out-rebounded 38-30, and the Knicks put up 14 more shots as a team, good for 52.6%.

This was an ugly defeat. But luckily the the Knicks have fresher legs and were able to keep Boston on their mind since Wednesday. So ultimately, this loss shouldn’t sting too bad.

For next game, my bet is Sullinger, or someone of his/Olynyk’s stature on the team sits. I like this one-at-a-time system, if that is indeed what Brad has going here. With three days of rest upon them, look for Jeff Green to make his preseason debut Wednesday, and hope for a James Young return.

Next up is Toronto.

10/10/2014: Preseason Game 3

Celtics 109 Raptors 116.

The story of the game is Boston allowing Toronto to outscore them by 13 in the fourth quarter. But other than Marcus Smart’s forgettable 1-7 Three-Point shooting, the team played well statistically. Jared Sullinger had 10, 8, and 7 with 2 steals. Evan Turner had 12, 6, and 4. Brandon Bass went 5-6 from the field and dropped an uncharacteristic 5 dimes. And Marcus Thornton continued to shoot the lights out, going 4-6 from Three.

First loss of the preseason. We were up by six points going into the 4th quarter, but Toronto wanted it more. Stevens told reporters that as an observer in the 4th, he saw some instances of hero ball, without naming names. He also expressed relief that this type of loss happened sooner rather than later, as it should serve as a precise lesson to be learned in time for the regular season.

This type of loss is a crash course in responding when the heat is on. During crunch time, the Celtics were in Toronto without momentum, and the crowd against them. If defense is going to be the identity of this team, game atmospheres like this one should become familiar.

How they respond to a night like tonight is likely different from a blowout loss. But we’ll have a clearer image soon enough.

Next up is New York tomorrow in Connecticut. Expect different lineups.

10/8/2014: Preseason Game 2

Another 20 point victory. I could get used to this. Thankfully it’s preseason, so I’m doing a good job (for now) keeping my ego in check. Or trying to anyway.

First thing: we shot it way better tonight than we did against Philly. Up 14% actually, to 48.8% from the field. What’s more, the defense was more of the same. As a team, 14 Steals and 3 Blocks helped contribute to 28 New York Knicks Turnovers, and a subsequent 33 Points Off of Turnovers for the Cs.

Sully was lights out, going 9-12 from the field and 3-3 from three, good for 23 Points. Kelly Olynyk’s only Field Goals were Three-Pointers, going 3-5, and 3-4 from the Free Throw line. Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart each had 11 Points and 2 Steals on 50% shooting. Smart also added 6 Assists and 4 Rebounds to his stat line. Fans should be relieved to see Smart shoot it efficiently after going 0-fer against Philly. He even went 2-4 from Three tonight, which is most exciting. So long as his defense is constant, he’s demonstrated through two games that he can play Point Guard in this league right now.

Marcus Thornton also stayed hot, going 5-10 from the Field, though he only converted one of his four three-pointers. Nevertheless, he also had 3 Steals, which I might dryly add is the first time ever (but I’m not even going to bother looking that up). The point is, Thornton is playing with a lot of energy, and it’s only the preseason. Maybe it being a contract year has something to do with it, but who knows? So long as he can stay productive like he has, he could be a key player on this Cinderella team.

Between Thornton, Bass and Turner, I found myself wondering about this ragtag group of guys with expiring contracts. Up until this very moment, I found them all equally expendable. But as a helpless sports fan who knows the pain of heartbreak, I want them to stick around. I’ll admit I felt similarly when Jordan “Steez” Crawford was in the last year of his deal in 2013-14 right before we shipped him off. This was Courtney Lee’s final stretch in Boston too. That team, before the shaking up began, could have been a fringe playoff team in the East. But this team is better, more cohesive as a unit, and led by the budding coaching prodigy of the recent memory. The way these guys play D, get out on the break and compete with quick pace inevitably reminds me of Brad Stevens’ Butler teams. They’re drinking his Kool-Aid- more so than last year. Scrappy is a good word the style of play.

My final nickel-and-dime is that it seems as if Stevens’ intent since arriving last July has been to establish “The Butler Way.” A risky move for the youngest coach in the league with no NBA experience. But the combined youth and effort that comprises this team truly makes them look like a Final Four team, and I mean that in the best way possible. They look like the change we are seeing in basketball.

Next up, we’re in Toronto on Friday.

10/6/2014: Preseason Game 1

The boys looked great tonight.

Offensively, they were ugly. Especially in the first quarter, shooting around 20%. But they still put up shots in high volume. That, combined with solid defense kept them down only five. They evened it up in the 2nd quarter and took it over in the 2nd half.

Initial observations:

Avery Bradley opened the game by putting up five shots in just around 2 and a half minutes. He stroked a couple nice threes and his offensive game looks polished. He wasn’t the most efficient scorer tonight, but he gets a pass for it being preseason. The fact of the matter is, his aggressive play speaks to his new contract in Boston. As the starting Shooting Guard, Bradley is going to be as assertive as ever on the offensive end this year.

Marcus Smart had a sequence in the 2nd half where he had back-to-back steals on 76ers possessions, with one resulting in a long assist to Avery Bradley for a lay-in. He went 0-8 from the field and hit both of his two free throws. But on the upside he had 3 steals and 4 assists. He took the open shots when he had them and was aggressive putting the ball on the floor. My gut tells me Smart is not going to be an efficient shooter this year, but from what I saw today, he’ll provide everything else, stellar defense notwithstanding. With Rondo out for now, Smart is capable of contributing worthwhile minutes at the point (he played 27 minutes tonight).

Evan Turner was the MVP: 15 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists and a steal on 5-11 shooting in 31 minutes. Good for a team best +19 PER. I really like him sliding between SF and PG, and I think he had a few spot minutes at SG too. It will be interesting to see how Jeff Green and eventually Rondo affect his play. Turner was flat out stellar today. If he can keep it up (a) coming off the bench, and (b) alongside the likes of Rondo, Green, Smart, Bradley, etc., he’s going to be an absolutely lethal weapon for this team. We won by 20 albeit against Philly, but without our two best offensive contributors. The outcome could have likely been more lopsided had things been different.

Olynyk started at Center and pulled down 9 boards, which is good considering rebounding was an area of improvement for him. But more importantly, it seems as if he is being groomed into more of a Center. I’m certainly down with the idea of Sullinger and Olynyk as the starting bigs, but only if Olynyk can hang with the Dwight Howard’s and Tyson Chandler’s in the league. Tyler Zeller was underwhelming offensively, but ended the game at 10+ PER in 18 minutes. I’ll be paying particular attention to Olynyk, Sullinger and Zeller; specifically who is on the floor with whom, and when.

One of the most exciting players to watch was James Young. I’ve been anticipating watching him because he is an enigma; he is incomparable to any one player. He showed nice range with a 3-pointer and made a really nice contested layup in transition. Announcers Mike and Tommy agreed he will likely see the floor this year, though his minutes will be few and far between. He can play, and had everyone gushing over his super quick shot release. The biggest takeaway though, is that after just one game, I’m convinced his ceiling is higher than what people associate with 17th overall, and that he has the potential to be an All-Star in this league. I’m laughing to myself for how bold this declaration is, but he looks good.

Next up is the Knicks on Wednesday October 8.

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