NBA Playoffs: Celtics still have championship recipe, even if they have to improvise on ingredients

4 Comments

Garnette_Game.jpgThe Celtics won it all two years ago, you know.

They were hungrier then, and healthier, too. James Posey-er, even. But that team, with a Rajon Rondo that wasn’t quite this impressive and absolutely depressing depth at center. Paul Pierce was more prolific then, Kevin Garnett was more productive then, Ray Allen was more consistent then. But for all the talk of how far this team has fallen since their championship season, would you like to guess how many spots they’ve dropped in defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions)?

Four. The Celtics went from the most intimidating defense in the league to simply being the fifth best, regardless of how their season numbers may be distorted by KG’s injuries.

There’s absolutely, positively no way that this team should be considered the favorite to win the title. In all honesty, their odds shouldn’t even be handicapped. That doesn’t mean that under the right conditions and with a few lucky breaks they couldn’t stumble their way to the top of the Eastern Conference and will themselves to the title.

The Celtics struggles this season are distinctly different from the Lakers, if only because L.A.’s problems seem rather self-imposed. They’re mental mistakes, effort issues, and admittedly a few injuries to go along with them. In Boston, there’s a lot of natural decline, but these guys still care. Paul Pierce still thinks he’s the best in the world, and this is his chance to prove it. Garnett still thinks that every piece of hardwood in the United States belongs to him, and you shouldn’t be able to set foot on it without him working you. Ray Allen is still be a brutally efficient three-point shooter, and can go white-hot for stretches at a time.

Boston’s season doesn’t speak for itself, because when the sample size is reduced (like it is in the playoffs, from 82 to, at most, 28), all kinds of odd results may unfold. All Boston needs to do is have a few productive stretches at the right times, and exploit their match-up advantages as they unfold. Doc Rivers never got enough credit for his coaching with the 2008 Celtics, but if Boston goes on any kind of extended run it will be a testament to not only his motivational ability, but his knowledge of the game’s X’s and O’s as well.

Then there’s Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s PER has jumped from 15.6 to 19.4 since the title run, and last year in the playoffs Rondo proved that regardless of his competition, he’s consistently one of the best players on the floor. He’s a defender capable of stopping a defense at its point of attack, and developed some impressive versatility in his ability to both score and set up his teammates. His drastic improvement since 2008 is something that’s largely overlooked, but making the jump from decent young point guard to legit All-Star is nothing to scoff at. Rondo can make a huge difference in any series on both ends of the court, and if he takes another step up like he did against Chicago in the playoffs last year? That’s fearsome.

Boston’s competition in the East is better than ever, but they’ll waltz into the postseason with zero external expectations. Don’t think for a second that they won’t be using that to their advantage. All Boston needs is to refine their focus, catch a few (insanely) lucky breaks, and show that they’re still capable of playing championship-caliber defense. All any team can ask for is a shot at this thing, and even though the Celtics may be taking a shot in the dark, it’s something.

Kyle Lowry plays through injury in All-Star game, out for Raptors now

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors and Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors in action during the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kyle Lowry participated in the 3-point contest. He played nearly 18 minutes in the All-Star game.

But when the Raptors played the Celtics in their first game after the break, Lowry never saw the court.

He was sidelined with a right wrist injury suffered in Toronto’s final game before the break.

Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet:

He can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened and didn’t even feel it during the game, but when Lowry woke up the next morning he knew something was up.

“Honestly, I thought I’d slept on it wrong — I thought it would go away,” Lowry said. “It was a little sore, but I paid no attention to it.”

Unconcerned at the time, Lowry didn’t tell anyone but his wife about the wrist pain, and took off for New Orleans where he participated in both the NBA’s three-point contest and all-star game this past weekend. He received some treatment in between his all-star appearances and iced his wrist on and off, but he still saw little cause for alarm.

“I thought over the break it would rest up and heal up,” Lowry said. “But it constantly stayed bothering me.”

“That’s a blow — that’s a huge blow for us,” Raptors head coach Dwane Casey said Friday evening after announcing the injury. “I don’t know how long he’s going to be out. But, no, it’s not a one-day thing.”

This is bad — bad for the Raptors and bad for Lowry’s reputation.

Lowry might have wanted to show his toughness by not running to the doctor for every bump or bruise. But this will also raise questions about whether he prioritized the shine of All-Star Weekend over the grind of Toronto’s season. Lowry is not a trained medical professional, so it’s understandable he misdiagnosed his injury. But he makes his living using his body, and his employer provides trained medical professionals to handle these types of things. Lowry’s bet that his wrist would heal over the break clearly backfired.

And now the Raptors pay the price. They traded for Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker to make a push, but that’ll be much tougher without the the team’s best player. Toronto beat Boston without Lowry, but the Raptors are still fourth in the Eastern Conference. Passing the Wizards for third is paramount to avoiding a second-round matchup with the Cavaliers and getting a clearer path back to the conference finals.

Every game matters now for Toronto, and wherever blame falls, Casey nailed the outcome: Lowry’s injury is a huge blow.

Brandon Ingram posterizes Taj Gibson on alley-oop (video)

3 Comments

The Lakers wouldn’t trade Brandon Ingram for DeMarcus Cousins, because they believe in Ingram (or because they couldn’t get on the same page about a deal, but let’s go with a belief in Ingram).

The Thunder traded for Taj Gibson because he provided, among other things, stellar rim protection.

One of those worked better than the other on this play.

Gordon Hayward dunks on Giannis Antetokounmpo, Thon Maker (videos)

Gordon Hayward (20), del Jazz de Utah, intenta un enceste ante Thon Maker (7) y Michael Beasley (9), de los Bucks de Milwaukee, en el duelo del viernes 24 de febrero de 2017, en Milwaukee. (AP Foto/Benny Sieu)
AP Foto/Benny Sieu
3 Comments

Are we obligated to call Gordon Hayward “deceptively athletic”?

The Bucks have something special in Giannis Antetokounmpo, and they think they have something special in Thon Maker.

But Hayward jammed all over those two in the Jazz’s 109-95 win last night.

First, he got Antetokounmpo:

Then, he got Maker:

Report: Lakers working toward buyout with Jose Calderon; Warriors, Rockets interested

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 18:  Jose Calderon #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts to a called foul during the second half of a game against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center on November 18, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Lakers took on the salary of Jose Calderon this year so they could get a couple second-round picks from the Bulls (Chicago got him from New York in the Derrick Rose trade), but even with the previous regime in Los Angeles the aging point guard was never part of the future.

As was expected, the Lakers are now talking about buying out the Spanish national and letting him head to a playoff team for a stretch run, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Sources told ESPN that it’s not yet a certainty Calderon will secure his release from the Lakers in the coming days, but the sides are indeed discussing the options as Wednesday’s playoff eligibility deadline nears….

Sources say that Calderon, if he winds up hitting the open market, would instantly become a target for both the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets.

Cleveland may also have interest if their plan to land Deron Williams when he is bought out by Dallas goes awry.

Calderon, 35, was not part of the Lakers’ regular rotation, playing in just 24 games. He can still knock down a shot if he has space and can set his feet, and he still has a high hoops IQ and can see the floor, but his athleticism has faded, and that can leave him exposed. Particularly on defense.

Players are being waived now so they clear in time for teams to sign them by March 1, after that said players are not eligible for playoff rosters.

There are better players to hit the waiver wire in the coming days — D-Will, Andrew Bogut, Matt Barnes — but Calderon is going to land somewhere. He’d be a solid third point guard and veteran presence for a playoff run.