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.
So on Saturday, after watching his team fumble away a 19-point second-half lead and find itself down 7 with under seven minutes to play against the Charlotte Hornets, Celtics coach Brad Stevens issued a bit of an order.
“Coach said in the huddle, ‘Don’t think there’s not going to be playoff games like this. Just figure out a way to win,'” Celtics point guard Isaiah Thomas told reporters in Charlotte.
“At this point in the season, it’s just about figuring out ways to win,” Thomas said. “When [Stevens] said that, it was real though. The playoffs are going to be different types of games where you just got to figure out a way to win. [Saturday] was one of those games. They took all the momentum from us. We made a couple of plays on both sides of the floor and got a win.”
“You want every 17-point lead to stay that way, but very rarely does it,” said Stevens. “It’s a long game. People go on runs. Usually you can stem the tide when it gets to a certain point. We weren’t able to do that, but we’re going to face adversity throughout the next few weeks, and we have to be able to respond, so that was good.”
You might not realize it, but we’re a bit spoiled as Celtics fans.
We spend every day staring into a magnifying mirror, picking out every little flaw and clogged pore of a 51-win team that briefly held the top seed in the East. But if we step back a little, we’ll see that what we’re looking at looks pretty good. Not many fans get to argue about “how” they should be winning games. It’s actually a nice place to be.
Last night in Charlotte, the magnifying mirror showed us a team that struggles to hold on its huge leads. The “blowout averse” Celtics turned a comfortable game into a nail biter. I looked terrible in the moment.
But then these guys responded to the Charlotte run with a run of their own, winning going away and coming within a win of locking up the second seed in the east. They won. They figured it out. As much as we want to fight each other over social media about how the Celtics should win, this is no longer a beauty contest.
Survive and advance is the March Madness cliché but it applies pretty nicely to these Boston Celtics. They are not close to a perfect team. They were never supposed to be a perfect team this year. This is year four of a rebuild that has rocketed to pseudo-contendership faster than expected.
This flawed team is going to enter the playoffs against some similarly flawed but tough competition. The Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls, and Miami Heat, all in line for a potential showdown with Boston, have their own potential for success. There will be more than one analyst out there that picks against Boston.
So Boston, with is deficiencies in tow, will have to figure out ways to beat one of these teams four times. The familiarity of a playoff series creates a different brand of basketball than we, or the guys on this team, are used to.
The slog of playoff basketball can be reduced to a sheer force of will. The “we wanted it more” cliché drifts closer to reality when the deciding play becomes a chase-down block out of nowhere. The lazy rotations on defense lead to much easier baskets. Imprecise picks lead to crippling turnovers. Any telegraphed pass might as well just go onto the scoreboard as two points for the other guys. The team that has more energy, more precision, and more awareness to see the trends on the floor in real-time will ultimately win that playoff game.
And then they have to do it all again two nights later, making new adjustments in the process because now your opponent knows the tricks you just pulled and will spend the off day figuring out ways to iron out those wrinkles.
When Brad Stevens tells his team to figure it out, it’s partly a reminder that it’s on them, in the moment, to see what mistakes defenders are making and exploit them. Every good coach has plays to go to in certain moments, but it’s always up to the players to get out there and make those plays work. Or, very often in a playoff series, see how that other team is defending a play they also have seen you run. Who can think two or three moves ahead and figure out what mistake is being made where, and who can figure out how to exploit that first?
These will not often be pretty games in the playoffs. The Boston Celtics will have to figure it out very often if they are going to advance.
If they don’t?
Well, a lot of people are going to have to answer some very tough questions. As successful as this regular season has been, falling flat in the playoffs puts all those magnifying mirrors in a (not so) fun house. Every flaw will be magnified, dissected, criticized, and debated. The once-clear options moving forward become muddied with fresh doubts about past decisions.
All the plans, all the non-trades, non-signings, and other similar decisions have led the Celtics to this moment.
Figure it out, Celtics, and just win games. However it happens, just make it happen and the rest will take care of itself.
Page 2: Isaiah Thomas had one of the best scoring seasons in Celtics history
Unless Isaiah somehow scores 50 in the next two games (if he even plays in both), he will finish with the fifth-most points in a single season in franchise history. He just passed Paul Pierce’s 2001-02 season, and now only trails a pair of Bird and Havlicek seasons.
Let’s just look at how amazing this is for a moment.
Firstly, he passed Pierce’s total having played 74 games this season, eight fewer than Pierce. If he played 82 and scored at his average, he would probably have had the top scoring season in team history.
Secondly, remember Danny Ainge got Isaiah Thomas for Marcus Thornton and the Cavs first round pick. The Celtics took Thornton from the Nets because Brooklyn wanted cap space… so when we thank Brooklyn for all those picks, let’s toss in a nice “oh by the way” and thank them for indirectly helping us get Isaiah as well. Brooklyn has been a gold mine for Boston’s rebuild.
And finally, let’s just give the Little Guy his props for constantly working and grinding to get himself to this level. I’ve talked so much about how situation matters, and it definitely matters to Isaiah, but a player also has to be in a position to capitalize on it.
Boston has given him the freedom to do what he does and some good players to maximize his talent (Horford as a pick-setter and facilitator is a big deal, and the floor-spreading ability of Horford, Avery Bradley, and Jae Crowder help immensely). In return, Isaiah has turned in a sterling offensive season. His fourth quarter heroics have been all the rage, but his overall offense has been consistently amazing.
So congrats to Isaiah Thomas for an amazing year. It’s been a lot of fun to watch.
Related links: Globe: Record pace not Isaiah Thomas’ speed | MassLive: Thomas climbs to 5th on single season scoring list
The Dallas Mavericks are going to honor Tony Romo in an unusual way… by letting him suit up and sit on the bench for the Mavs season finale.
It’s a nice thing for them to do. It’s also an amazing opening for great jokes.
Really, these things write themselves.
The rest of the links: