This preseason inspired a feeling Celtics fans have not had in a very long time, a belief better, happier days are here. There is no looming sense of dread if any obstacle happens to land in their road back to decency. This assembled cast of characters are even-keeled, cool, selfless personalities who mesh extremely well considering they don’t know one another all that well.
For all the bright spots, there is one murky figure that still resides. A reminder of what the franchise ultimately lost since his signing. The once rising star of Gordon Hayward undoubted cratered through no fault of his own (the fault lies with Kyrie Irving). Five-minutes into his Celtics tenure, his apprehended was supposed to usher in an era where Boston graduated a step above from scrappy contender status, to title favorites. Quite possibly, the 2017-18 Celtics are the greatest squad you’ll never have gotten to see full strength considering all they’ve accomplished losing Hayward – and later Irving to season ending injuries. I’ll go to my grave believing that was a championship team.
While the good vibes have seemed to also effect Hayward looking to recapture what made him an All-Star in Utah, his remaining in Boston reminds me of what should have been, but never will be. His contract is a hefty sum with two-years, a player-option for 2020-21. If he does return to his pre-injury form the Celtics likely will lose him to free agency this upcoming summer. Jaylen Brown‘s rookie contract will expire at the end of the season and Jayson Tatum is due for an extension at the same time. These pressing issues lingering on the horizon is why Ainge carefully constructed his title window for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons. Unforeseeable circumstances destroyed any chances of lasting success and Ainge is in a position many GMs are of running on the treadmill of not mediocrity, but constantly reshuffling the decks to sustain a good, but not great team. While the Toronto Raptors were in a similar position prior to trading for Kawhi Leonard, Masai Ujiri had to wait a long time for the superstar to become available on the market and had to endure multiple seasons of the Kyle Lowry/DeMar DeRozan duo getting emasculated annually in the playoffs.
The Raptors have just extended Lowry for another season and are probably looking to maximize their chances in a wide open conference despite lacking the caliber of star Leonard was that put them over the top. If Hayward resembles his old self, it’s smart to consider a simple swap of Hayward for Marc Gasol. The Celtics cannot reasonably hope to contend for a title against the likes of Joel Embiid with Daniel Theis, Robert Williams and Enes Kanter. The Raptors are deathly shallow at the wing and Hayward can become rejuvenated in a new city clearly still high off the fumes of their title.
The loss of Al Horford could be blamed solely on Irving’s antics. His grandstanding, preaching empty sentiments of leadership and promises to flip the switch in the postseason drove the reliable Horford into the arms of dreaded rival Philadelphia. It is likely that if Horford learned not only Irving was destined for Brooklyn, but he was being replaced by Kemba Walker that he’d return to the Celtics on a new contract. But timing is everything and that factor has rarely played in the favor of Ainge.
Gasol is sitting on the last year of his max contract worth $25 million. A straight up swap leaves just $606,000 to be filled in salary to make the numbers work. He’s slowed down a step and it showed during his half season in Toronto, averaging a unspectacular 9 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists line. But in the final 23 games after the All-Star Break, Gasol sported an offensive rating of 119.6 and a positive net rating of 17. It isn’t hyperbole to suggest Toronto doesn’t win the title without Gasol’s subtle contributions.
The in-house solutions aren’t very much solutions. Theis is limited athletically, Williams cannot so much beyond just block, and Kanter is, sadly, unplayable in most scenarios. It’s amazing Terry Stotts managed to coach around Kanter’s limitations on defense as well as he did.
Unless Hayward is a top-15 player by the All-Star Break, this is the trade every Boston fan should be praying to become reality.
“It’s true. All of it.” Stern words said by the late galactic hero Han Solo when Rey realizes all the legends she was told was in fact true as day. She reacts amazed, astonished. Such begins the whimsical, but treacherous ride into a bold new world. This is what life is currently like for Boston fans. Going into the playoffs the team looked ready to waive the white flag. Injuries waste potentially the last year of Marcus Smart and robs us of two prime All-Star seasons from Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving. It’s as if the Basketball Gods don’t want us to get this far.
Jayson Tatum wore some pretty nifty Laker gold color sneakers and that was his lone highlight of his night against Milwaukee, as the Celtics cruised to a 106-120 pummeling of the favored Bucks. The C’s now hold a 2 games to none lead over Milwaukee, each team will be off until Friday when the series will resume in Wisconsin at the Bradley Center.
Outside of Tatum’s low scoring of four-points on two-of-nine shooting, the Celtics played basically the perfect game. Jaylen Brown officially has his coming out party, knocking down jumper after jumper, finishing with thirty. Milwaukee made the mistake of going under every time the Celtics ran a dribble handoff (DHO) for Brown, willing to dare the second-year forward to shoot, he did and with great success. Bucks coach Joe Prunty did not adjust, and despite Brown developing himself as a fine deep threat, adhered to a seemingly outdated version of his scouting report.
Milwaukee went deep into their bench, unlike in Game 1, and found mixed results. Malcolm Brogdon again proved to be more ready for the playoffs than veteran guard Eric Bledsoe, notching 10-points in eighteen-minutes; Shabazz Muhammad come off the bench and was right hot out the gate, scoring 11-points in just twelve-minutes. But neither saw for the floor for very long. Sterling Brown didn’t log a single-minute until the fourth quarter when the Celtics already were way ahead. Tyler Zeller played only five-minutes and prospect Jabari Parker humiliated himself in the brief stint he had out there, giving zero effort on defense in a sequence after a missed shot, the C’s got back in transition, his assignment (Jaylen) was left open in the left corner for what seemed like forever, got a couple dribbles in before he drilled a three-pointer to stifle a Milwaukee rally. Parker finished with a miserable negative-15 and proved his critics correct that he isn’t ready for prime time.
Prunty continues to gift the Celtics by playing the wrong guys, not giving defensive, high-energy scorer Matthew Dellavedova more time, even with Tony Snell (again) scoring only two-points in twenty-two minutes. Quite ironic, given in Milwaukee’s season-opener against the Celtics, Delly was a key cog in the Bucks defensive identity, scoring fifteen-points and iced the contest with a 25-foot three. It’s baffling to see him out of the rotation.
To add insult to injury, Khris Middleton continued to shoot the lights out, picking up right where left off after a thirty-one point Game 1, scoring twenty-five points, but only receiving 14 attempts, converting on 11. Once again, Middleton and Giannis were the lone pulses of a dying Bucks team, combing for fifty-five points, while most of Milwaukee’s supporting cast floundered. But shooting was not the issue for Milwaukee, despite being down by as much as twenty, they managed to shoot 59.7% from the field. It’s the little matter of Milwaukee going seven-of-seventeen from the charity stripe and committing fifteen turnovers that played a big role in what could be a demoralizing defeat.
On the Celtics side of things, business was good. Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris continued to flourish. T-Ro scored 23, while Mook chipped in 18 off the bench, including two very important jump shots late in the final period when it looked like the Bucks were about to mount a last ditch effort run. Morris is clearly unfazed by the chaos around him, able to rise to the occasion when called on. It’s no wonder why he’s become such a critical part of Weird Celtics Twitter.
So, in the most unlikeliest of events, the shorthanded Celtics took it to the Bucks and now are in complete control of this series not many (including me) expected to win. Course, this is far from over. But the way the Celtics are moving the ball, getting every shot they’ve ever wanted, and how Milwaukee looks ready to be put out of their misery, you can’t help but get ideas of just how far this scrappy band of backups can go.
Al Horford continued to dominate in the post, and midrange, scoring 16 points off of 7-Of-11 shooting, putting in five rebounds and four assists. Greg Monroe and Shane Larkin helped a ton off the bench, scoring twenty-three points between them both, Monroe putting in four-rebounds, two assists and two steals.
This’ll be a series of statistical oddities and who’ll be the least sloppy team, at times Boston looked unable to avoiding shooting themselves in the foot. In the second-quarter, the Celtics committed five turnovers, four of them coming from backup guard Shane Larkin, aiding the Bucks to get off the ropes turning a twelve-point deficit to a three-point lead in the span of twelve-minutes. The thirty-to-fifteen run by Milwaukee can be attributed to the Bucks hounding the Celtics everywhere, denying ball entry to Jayson Tatum and stifling Celtic big Greg Monroe. Middleton and Giannis got hot and took control, Boston had no answer for either of them the entire day and were fortunate Milwaukee couldn’t get much of anything out of anybody else to help push them over the top, as the Celtics won Game 1, 113-107.
Boston’s 102-108 defeat on April 3rd, at the hands of Milwaukee was eyeopening. The Bucks took on a battered, shorthanded Celtics squad and couldn’t put them away, despite being in control for the entirety of the second half. Horford, Monroe, Brown, Tatum and Baynes were money from all over the court, combining for 80-points, what lost them the contest was Kadeem Allen and Semi Ojeleye scoring four-points apiece. At the time I believed if Terry Rozier was ready to go, the Celtics would’ve won the game going away. Rozier didn’t play because of an ankle, he came back the next night for Toronto and went 1-for-9 and outside of the Atlanta game, hasn’t looked right. As a starter, Rozier’s been wonderful, averaging almost 17 points a game as a starter.