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.
“I think we gotta adjust, in some way, some fashion,” Crowder said before practice Thursday. “Something has to change. Whether it be a coverage, whether it be a lineup, whether it be anything, something has to change because those guys are comfortable at this point. The playoffs are all about adjustments.”
Head coach Brad Stevens tried a couple different lineup twists during Game 2, but didn’t commit to anything for Game 3.
Asked if he will make any changes, Stevens replied, “Yeah, maybe. Could be.”
When one reporter pondered whether the Celtics might switch their starting lineup, Stevens said, “I don’t know. Maybe. We’ll see.”
Boston’s players were booed off the court at TD Garden after dropping Game 2 on Tuesday, and the criticism of their bumpy start has poured in from all corners since then.
When the United Center’s bright lights eventually lit up on Thursday, they just revealed a solitary team in an otherwise empty arena. And forward Jae Crowder, for one, thinks this is exactly what this group needs.
“I’m very encouraged by us getting away and just being together with just us as a group, away from all the other distractions,” he said. “I think it will be good for us.”
It’s pretty clear that Brad will be tweaking the lineups. If he wasn’t, he’d probably have said so. If nothing else, he damn sure shouldn’t force himself to watch Amir Johnson get destroyed again by Robin Lopez.
Just as important, though, is what Crowder said about getting away from distractions. These Celtics lose their edge when they get too comfortable, but we’ve long known they are resilient when faced with adversity. They also won 23 road games this season, and could’ve had another in Chicago if not for a disputed last-second foul call. It’s not difficult to imagine them getting their act together and winning on the Bulls’ court tonight to get back in the series.
But something else has to happen, and that’s on Page 2.
ESPN Boston – Danny Ainge knows it’s possible to rally from 0-2 hole | CSNNE – Celtics-Bulls Game 3 Preview: C’s Need To Be ‘More Focused’ | Five Lineup Tweaks Celtics Can Make For Game 3 | Lopez Outperforming Horford, And In More Ways Than Just Scoring | CBS Boston – Celtics Face Daunting Odds In Quest To Dig Out Of 2-0 Hole Vs. Bulls | Herald – Reeling Celtics try to avoid historic ouster | ESPN – Dwyane Wade surprised Bulls won both games in Boston | Sports Illustrated – The Chicago Bulls’ Journey From Unstable To Unbeatable | Sporting News – NBA playoffs 2017: Robin Lopez clears way for Bulls to go up 2-0 on Celtics | Celtics.com – Bradley, Celtics Channel Inner Aaron Rodgers | Herald – Celtics notebook: Team goes into bunker mentality
On Page 2: The emotional challenge
The Boston Celtics say they can’t make any excuses for their 2-0 first-round series deficit to the Chicago Bulls, but according to Danny Ainge, the impact of the passing of Isaiah Thomas’ sister Chyna on the team has been palpable.
Thomas found out about his sister’s death from a car accident at practice on Saturday, one day before the team was scheduled to tip off its 2017 playoff run. Thomas played the next day with a heavy heart, putting up 33 points on 10-for-18 shooting, but the vibe around the team was somber.
“It was very challenging,” Ainge told Toucher & Rich on Thursday. “In Game 1, nobody knew how to act. There was no laughing or smiling. … Everybody on the team cares greatly about Isaiah, but I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a cloud over the team.”
It’s impossible to untangle the Boston Celtics’ slow playoff start from the emotions surrounding the team after the death of Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister.
“There’s been a lot going on these couple days since before the playoffs started with the whole Isaiah situation,” Smart replied. “That’s a lot of burden on his shoulders, and not just him, but we feel it too. That’s our brother, and when he goes through something we all go through it. I think you can see it even in Isaiah. He’s never missed six free throws (in a single game) in his career (like he did in Game 2).”
During the disastrous first two games of the series, the Celtics were slammed with justified criticism of their terrible play. But as we said in Wednesday’s Morning Dump, there was another reason for those losses besides just a failure to execute:
There’s also the delicate topic of Isaiah Thomas’ family tragedy. He has fought through it as best he can … but he must be physically and mentally exhausted … And while his teammates have been there for him, their emotions have surely suffered, too. How their frame of mind has affected the on-court results cannot be measured, but it is a factor.
Yesterday, Ainge and some of the players acknowledged their own difficult emotions regarding Isaiah. “No laughing or smiling” … “a cloud over the team” … “we feel it too.”
Those feelings absolutely contributed to the poor play. What we must hope for now is that IT returns from his trip home a bit refreshed and, even more important, that his teammates have a better sense of how to lift up their brother. If there was ever a time to be resilient, this is it.
Related: Herald – Bulpett: Drawing on experience, Danny Ainge thinks Celtics need to loosen up | ESPN Boston – Celtics’ Isaiah Thomas expected to be ready for Game 3 Friday | CSNNE – Stevens: Plan Is Isaiah Thomas Will ‘Fly Back Late’ Thursday Night
On Page 3: Voice of cruel experience
On Nov. 24, 2012, Kevin and Lynn McHale’s daughter Alexandra (Sasha to all) succumbed to complications from lupus. Then coach of the Rockets, Kevin took nearly a month away from his job in the weeks surrounding that date. His eyes were red and glassy at the morning shootaround when he returned to coach against the Celtics on Dec. 14.
Now a commentator for TNT, McHale felt familiar vibrations when he entered the Celtics confines before the start of this first-round playoff series against Chicago. He maybe couldn’t have guessed his old club would lose the first two games, but he sensed difficulty as the Celts tried to come to grips with their hurt for Thomas, his unspeakable pain and the impending Game 1.
“I saw Isaiah and I just went, like, whoa. I could see it,” McHale said. “It’s one of those things that you never, ever want anybody to go through. It’s a devastating pain, and it’s never-ending. It never really goes away, and there’s nothing you can ever say.
“There’s nothing I could say to him. There’s nothing you can say to anybody, because at the end of the day, the thing you want the most is for the person to come back, and they never will. So it’s impossible to deal with. I just . . . I just felt terrible for him.”
This is strong insight from Kevin about what Isaiah is going through. It’s inconceivable that Thomas has been able to not only play, but play well, while being crushed by the emotional pain that McHale describes. IT has more heart than any player in the NBA.
And, finally: Ridiculous
That’ll only intensify the critics of Danny Ainge who thought he should have addressed the team’s biggest weakness – rebounding – by adding a frontcourt player at the trade deadline.
And while coach Brad Stevens has done well in his three-plus seasons in Boston, bowing out in the first round as the top seed will certainly raise questions about whether he is as good as advertised.
Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said he’s okay with those being the two dominant storylines.
“It’s fair, but I don’t agree with them,” Ainge said on his weekly call-in to 98.5 the Sports Hub’s “Toucher & Rich” show. “But I haven’t written this series off yet, either.”
CSNNE – Ainge On His Critics: ‘It’s Fair, But I Don’t Agree With Them’ (with audio)
Everyone might be entitled to their own opinion, but Ainge’s opinion — of course — actually matters, since he is in charge of the hiring and firing. As Ainge is well aware, the Celtics have won 25, 40, 48 and 53 games in Stevens’ four years respectively. Few coaches could engineer that type of turnaround, even given the roster that improved every season. Stevens’ postseason record looks bad out of context, but placed in context, any questions about his job status seem laughable.
Ainge was also asked about his decision to stand pat at the trade deadline. While he told the hosts they could have that conversation when the season was over, he said he believes that the Celtics can still get back into this series with the roster they have — a confidence that could perhaps explain his desire to see how far the current team could go.
It’s ridiculous that a segment of fans and media would suggest that Brad and Danny be fired if the Cs lose this playoff series to the Bulls. And yet, it’s happened.
On one level, it’s understandable – with rising win totals come elevated expectations. However, people need to be realistic. The Celtics are still rebuilding and, although they’ve made huge progress, they are not yet contenders. Ainge has a plan, he’s going to stick to it, and he doesn’t care if you don’t like it. The trade deadline was two months ago, so stop complaining about the lack of moves (by the way, how’s that working out for Toronto?).
Brad’s 2-10 playoff record is being held against him, but we know why he hasn’t won more. In year two of the rebuild, the Celts unexpectedly earned a seventh seed and got swept by Cleveland. Who wouldn’t? Last year, a stupid tie-breaker cost them home court in the first round, and injuries to Bradley, Crowder and Olynyk were damaging. This year, they have played poorly, but there’s also the effects of the IT tragedy, as detailed above.
These are facts. If stating these makes me a “green-teamer,” so be it.
Ainge may think the criticisms are fair, but I don’t. The Celtics are in better position for the future than any team in the league. We just have to be patient.
Related: NY Post – Carmelo Anthony-to-Celtics scenario could pick up steam (Another NY sportswriter believes Ainge is going to solve all of Phil Jackson’s problems. Instead, how about if Danny arranges a three-team trade where Melo goes elsewhere and Porzingis comes to Boston?)
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