<![CDATA[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.
“It’s like they gave me a Christmas gift. They sent me away. So I thank them. But I don’t use it as motivation. I wasn’t really here long enough to be able to, I guess, use that as motivation. I treat it like another game.”
A local reporter likened his prominence with the Celtics to his last year in Sacramento when he averaged 20.3 points and engaged the community.
“It’s bigger,” said Thomas. “Boston’s bigger and better than everything in the NBA. It’s something I’ve never seen before, and I’m just embracing it.”
[…] “It’s hard to explain unless you experience it. I had a talk with Paul Pierce about that a few weeks ago, and it’s hard to explain unless you’re in Boston and you see it.”
Yes it is, Isaiah. Yes it is.
As much as this boosts my civic pride and makes me want to parade around my empty apartment in a Larry Bird jersey clapping “Let’s Go Celtics!” to the dying plant on my window sill, this isn’t just some “Bahston’s bettah than yah city” cheerleading.
What Isaiah Thomas continues to embrace is a culture that speaks to players unlike most other cities. The Lakers, for all their floundering at the moment, still have “it.” Chicago, for all THEIR floundering (which will continue as long as John Paxon and Gar Forman remain involved… but I digress) has “it” too, but to a lesser degree.
But here’s what makes Boston so different…
Boston’s a cold, angry place in the winter. Fans here are starting from a different place than those fans in LA. We don’t have palm trees, beaches, Hollywood, or even another NBA team that plays in the same building to distract us in Boston. There’s no Lonzo Ball playing nearby as an alternative for our disposable income. So while Los Angeles has the historic Lakers, their casual fans can go elsewhere at these dark times, leaving the lower bowl to be filled with self-absorbed higher-ups and wanna-be A-listers who’d rather be seen than see the game.
This isn’t to say Boston’s fans are better, per se, than the Lakers fans. Our die-hard, life-long alter egos across the country are just as passionate as their teams as we are of our. But the advantage the Celtics have is they’re the only game in town for basketball fans. We’re not going to watch Boston College no matter WHO they have on their roster. If we want to watch basketball, it’s going to be at the Garden. We’re going to trudge through snow or cold so we’re gonna be moving around, popping a few brews, and ready to be entertained.
Chicago’s also cold and miserable in the winter, but they’ve only got the Jordan years to sustain themselves historically. It’s a hell of an era to have, but it’s still basically all they’ve had. So a player can feel the pull of playing in the same colors Jordan did… and that really does mean something… but there’s no steady stream of HOF’ers patrolling the hallways and practice facilities like they do in Boston or LA.
So Boston is different. Even our superstars were different. Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird, Paul Pierce… mostly no-nonsense guys who came in, did the work without much flair, and just won basketball games. They fit US for the most part… gritty workers with mean streaks and questionable social skills (well, at least when it comes to me and Chuck).
Isaiah is in that mix now. A guy no one seemed to want coming to a city and fan base itching to keep this duck boat parade going. He gets all this stuff and man, he’s embracing it like no one we’ve seen before. Player after player comes through town and player after players says the same thing about playing here… it’s surprisingly different from playing anywhere else. Only playing here will open your eyes to it.
Page 2: Boston’s defensive lineup of death… a.k.a. how injuries can sometimes be good things
There on the floor together were Avery Bradley, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jae Crowder, and Al Horford. They are five players who pride themselves on defense, five players who probably take more pleasure ripping the ball from an opponent than they do scoring against one.
“We knew with that lineup, we should probably get the job done,” Crowder said.
[…] “At the start of the year Jaylen probably wasn’t as ready as he is now to play in those moments with those groups, and that’s a testament to him and his work and his study,” Stevens said. “But this is why we’ve said all along that if we’re going to be the best version of ourselves in April, he’s got to be improving, because he has the body and physicality and versatility to guard.”
In a sense, Bradley’s injury actually accelerated Brown’s education, as he was thrust into a more prominent role in which he has thrived. At various times, all five of these players have been on the floor to help finish a game, and their defense was always a big reason for their presence.
One of my favorite things to say is “sometimes the worst things that happen can be the best things to happen.” By that I always mean that the reaction to a negative event can very often lead to something quite positive. It’s not universal, but it happens most of the time if you look negative events as opportunities.
So the negative in this case was Avery Bradley’s prolonged absence due to an Achilles tendon injury. While we were wondering what was taking so long, whether this was more serious than the team was letting on, or if it was some kind of cover for trade talks, Jaylen Brown was slowly getting better at the game of basketball.
The positive here is that we now see Jaylen Brown has learned enough to be a productive player for this team. He can play, and defend, the 2, which is a new wrinkle that probably wouldn’t have been discovered this season had Bradley’s injury not forced Brad Stevens’ hand. And sometimes even the best coaches need a little bit of luck to spur some decisions.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, this necessity helped Steven invent what could be their defensive lineup of death. Now that Brown has figured out how to stay with his guy, he can switch onto other guys, as can everyone else on the floor in that lineup, even for a short time.
Bradley’s Savion Glover-esque footwork can keep him in front of any offensive player. Smart’s strength and tenacity make him impossible to back down. Crowder is a rare combination of size and strength that allow him switch EVERYTHING in pick and roll situations.
if you want the real reason the Celtics value Crowder so much, it’s his versatility. In a playoff environment, Crowder’s ability to defend point guards, small forwards, power forwards and small-ball centers is irreplaceable.
Horford’s intellect allows him to recognize situations and make the right plays. But it’s Jaylen Brown that now ties it all together defensively. His emergence has filled a gap that allows the Celtics to rest Isaiah Thomas in key stretches and smother a team defensively until it’s time to put them away with IT’s fourth quarter sorcery.
An underrated element to this whole thing is Marcus Smart’s ability to handle the backup point guard role. The hit the Celtics take offensively with Thomas on the bench isn’t as bad because Smart’s developed nicely into a good point guard who can pass extremely well and penetrate. He’s actually even drawing more fouls now, which is a huge plus. With Crowder, Bradley, and Horford spreading the floor, it allows the Celtics to continue to run their offense without sacrificing TOO much.
Brown’s shooting has also been a pleasant surprise in this. 33% this season isn’t bad for a guy whose shot was his most glaring weakness. And while Brown is just 1-6 from 3 to start this month, he just spent February shooting 45.5%.
Let me put that another way…
JAYLEN F’ING BROWN SHOT FORTY FIVE AND A HALF PERCENT FROM 3 FOR AN ENTIRE MONTH!!!!
It would be silly to expect that to continue, but it’s promising. The kid is coming along and his growth is allowing Brad Stevens to throw lineups out there that don’t rely on Gerald Green (whose injury also helped push Stevens into this direction) or James Young.
Will this continue into the playoffs? Will Jaylen get spooked into overdoing it and cost the team when it counts in a couple of months? We’ll have to wait and see how the rookie reacts. Until then, he’s been able to surprise us with a couple of things that could help the Celtics solidify the 2nd seed in short order this month.
Commissioner Adam Silver is promising to make the All Star game competitive again, and he’s open to all ideas:
“I just think this is one where we just have to reset,” Silver continued. “Chris’ suggestion was let’s get back with maybe the same group we negotiated the collective bargaining — Michael Jordan on the owners’ side, Jeanie Buss, Wyc Grousbeck, James Jones, Kyle Korver and LeBron [James] and others — let’s all get back together and figure out a way to do this.”
Silver and Paul tossed around potential ideas like having team captains select starters instead of fan balloting, or instituting a 4-point shot to enhance the All-Star Game.
“It is an All-Star Game, and you are out there to have fun,” Silver said. “You hear people talking about 4-point shots, something that’s not about to happen in the NBA but maybe in an All-Star Game; maybe there’s a few spots on the floor where it is a 4-point shot, maybe there’s a half-court shot in the last minute that is 10 points. I don’t know. Maybe those are crazy ideas.
“I encourage people [to email] Adam@NBA.com,” Silver added. “We will change it by next year. It shouldn’t be playoff intensity, but the guys should be playing.”
Can you imagine the barrage of half court shots that would happen if that was a 10 point shot, even for a minute? How many fans would have to get their noses broken by an errant bomb before that idea gets put to bed?
I don’t want to mess with the game of basketball too much, but it’s an All Star game and if we want to get nuts with it, I have an idea.
Since defense is the issue, I propose that defensive plays contribute to a bank of “points” that a team can cash in against their opponent. It’s almost a video-game approach where achievements unlock power-ups.
So let’s say each block, steal, or forced turnover contributes points to the bank. Then maybe the team can cash in three of those points to remove a point from the opponent’s score. Or they cash a few in to earn a couple of free throw attempts at the end of the quarter. Something that’s not intrusive, but it encourages some defensive play. Maybe breaking up an alley-oop counts for two points. Taking a charge can count for three.
I’m just spitballing there. I don’t want to have guys get hurt taking charges either, but I do want to watch some basketball without things getting too weird. I’m open for a 4-point spot too. That could be fun. But I’m very interested in some kind of reset that doesn’t have teams threatening to score 200 points in a game.
I’m also open to lineup tweaks. Expand the roster to 15, have fans, coaches, and media all involved in voting for all 15 spots, and then let the players have their say by letting the top vote-getters on each side be captains that pick the starters. Player voting is a mistake because too many voted for themselves or their teammates to make it fair. But if you negate the type of ridiculous fan voting that put Zaza Pachulia in the mix by balancing it with media and coach votes, we can get a solid 15-man roster that is fair.
The All Star game itself can be a bit of a joke but being selected is something the players take seriously and, in the end, is a defining part of their legacies. Former players are very often introduced as “x-time All Star” when they make appearances. Fans relate to All Star selections much more than All-NBA selections, even though the latter is much more prestigious. Maybe it’s the word “star” that changes the perception, but it is what it is.
Some simple tweaks can make it mean something more than what it has become. I’m glad the league recognizes that it’s time to fix things.
The Cavs rested LeBron and Kyrie last night and lost to Miami. Toronto lost in Milwaukee. Great night for the Celtics on an off night. Here’s how the East looks right now.
Washington hosts Orlando tonight so that’s probably a W for them. C’s need a win to keep pace. This is the time of year to win these types of games rather than play down to the competition.
The rest of the links:
ESPN Boston: Smart taking charge, making hustle plays for Boston