Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The good news is that the Celtics said in their statement Thursday that Irving’s fractured patella is completely healed and his knee is “structurally sound.” That’s an encouraging sign. We’ve seen stars like Russell Westbrook, Dwyane Wade, and Jason Kidd bounce back from knee surgery and continue their careers as if nothing had happened. Irving himself wrote in an Instagram post that this is a test of perseverance and will. “The hardest thing to do sometimes is accept the uncontrollable things life throws at you,” Irving wrote. “This season was only a snapshot of what’s to come from me.”
We don’t know what’s to come for Kyrie (though the current outlook is positive), but we do know that the Celtics have put themselves in good shape to work through this setback. Hayward was filmed jogging the other day and says he’s made “solid progress” in his recovery. In the absence of Boston’s two superstars, Tatum been given the go-to scoring role and is blossoming as a result. Young players like Brown and Terry Rozier have elevated their play on both ends of the floor. Ainge is still sitting on a pile of high-value assets, like the Kings’ first-round pick in 2019 (or the Lakers’ pick this year, if it jumps into the 2-to-5 range), and a couple of other picks. Tatum and Brown will be entering their primes around the next time Boston could potentially create max cap space in 2020 and 2021, depending on what happens when Irving can become an unrestricted free agent in 2019. The Celtics will be a tough out this postseason even without Irving and Hayward, and, if they return at full health, they will be contenders.
There’s little else to say after the stunning news yesterday that Kyrie Irving needs another knee surgery and will not be able to play in this year’s playoffs after all.
This situation is definitely not what we expected when Kyrie and Hayward sat together at their introductory press conference last summer. Little did we know that the season would be bookended by their devastating injuries – Hayward in Game 1, and Kyrie announced the day before Game 79.
Without Gordon, the Cs have been competitive overachievers all season. Even without Kyrie, they’ve continued to win games that didn’t look winnable.
But now it’s as if this season is a sequel to the Kevin Garnett injury in 2009. KG hurt his knee in February that season, and we were told he’d be healthy in time for the postseason. Just before Round One began, however, we learned he would have to sit out the entire playoffs.
Without KG, the Celts – defending champs who had gone 62-20 in the regular season – were still highly competitive. They beat the Bulls in the first-round series that included two overtime games, one double overtime, and even a triple OT, and wasn’t decided until the final moments of Game 7. But then Boston couldn’t hold a 3-2 lead in the next series versus Orlando, and were eliminated in seven games. The absence of Garnett had finally caught up to them.
And, realistically, that’s probably the best we can now expect from the current Celtics: win a tight first-round series in which the youngsters find out what the playoffs are like, maybe/maybe not get past the second round, then at best fall to a healthier opponent in the conference final, when rotations are shortened and experience becomes more significant.
Ever since the Hayward injury, we deep down knew that there could be no title expectations this year. The 16-game win streak and the 53 wins overall gave us some hope that maybe – maybe – the Finals were possible. Until yesterday. Now we know for sure: Wait until next season.
Related: Boston Sports Journal: Robb: Irving surgery hurts short term, but hidden blessing for 2019 chances
On Page 2: Filling their roles
It’s time to name our seventh-annual Luke Walton All-Stars — role players and journeymen thriving in unexpected ways.
Aron Baynes, Boston Celtics
At a recent practice, Brad Stevens walked by Baynes shooting jumpers and casually remarked that he might bring Baynes off the bench in the next game. Baynes didn’t break from the rhythm of the drill. “Whatever we need,” Baynes said.
Everyone loves Baynes. He’s selfless, reveling in the dirty work, a peppy, jokey presence. He tries to win Boston’s warm-up exercises, and spews endless trash talk as players traverse the court with high-knees and long strides — not out of manic competitiveness, but just to keep people laughing amid the grind. “He raises the energy level of every room he is in,” Stevens says.
Next time you catch Boston, watch Baynes’ arms on defense. They are always outstretched. (He and Taj Gibson must lead the league in arm-extending.) That takes energy, and it matters.
Baynes shuffles his feet faster than you’d expect for a behemoth; Stevens occasionally lets him chase pick-and-rolls high on the floor. He’s immovable in the post, and he never fouls there. Only seven guys have drawn more charges. Boston’s top-ranked defense has been at its best with the Baynes-Al Horford big-man pairing.
“He is elite on defense,” Stevens says.
Before the season, Boston was squeamish about starting the Baynes-Horford duo, figuring it would cramp their spacing. Baynes made it work. He levels dudes on picks, and he’s a slick passer out of handoff sets.
The structure of Stevens’ offense has forced Baynes into a career-high number of long 2-pointers, and he has made almost half of them. If he keeps that up, he might be able to stay on the floor against the best postseason defenses — when it becomes harder to play traditional centers.
Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics
Theis turned down richer offers in Europe to chase his NBA dream, and arrived as an unknown: a 25-year-old big from the German league who could do a bunch of things kinda well. Would any of those skills hold up here?
Only one really did, but the combination of being average-ish at a bunch of things turned Theis into a playable big who fit a bunch of different lineups before suffering a season-ending knee injury last month.
Theis loves to slips screens — darting toward the rim before really setting them — and he cuts with enough force to suck alarmed defenders into the paint:
Stevens even designed out-of-timeout plays for Theis to act as a diving decoy, and unlock open 3s for teammates:
“He is our best rim-runner,” Stevens says. “We really miss him.”
Theis is a smart passer and tricky screener — must-haves for any big in Stevens’ offense. But he’s not an explosive finisher, and he doesn’t shoot well enough — 31 percent from deep — to warp defenses. Unless that number improves, Theis is a nice fourth or fifth big man.
So that’s cool. Very little was expected from Baynes and Theis when they arrived in Boston, probably because we knew very little about them. But read those descriptions above and it’s clear that both were perfect for this Celtics roster. In their own way, acquiring Baynes and Theis was almost as significant as getting Irving and Horford. Not in talent, obviously, but in fitting into Brad’s schemes and fulfilling certain roles. It’s gratifying to see their efforts recognized.
And, finally… Welcome Jonathan Gibson
Not expecting much, but Brad does have a way of getting the best from unlikely sources. At least we know the young man can score.
The Rest of the Links:
MassLive: Kyrie Irving out for the season: Four takeaways as Boston Celtics star will miss playoffs | Boston Celtics news: Kyrie Irving had ‘immediate relief’ from first surgery, team sought other options (reports)