Your Morning Dump… Where the new year is time for Celtics optimism

Your Morning Dump… Where the new year is time for Celtics optimism

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Your Morning Dump… Where the new year is time for Celtics optimism

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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.

1. C’s will have the best record in the East by the All-Star break

Considering how this season has played out, this seems hard to imagine I know. But the Celtics have been an underperforming bunch most of this season and yet they are only 4.5 games out of first in the East. It may seem like a lot of ground to make up, but remember this: Every team in the league has more than 20 games left to be played between now and the All-Star break (the Celtics have 25), so there’s plenty of opportunities to cut into the Raptors’ lead. Toronto has had a great start to the season but have been sputtering a bit lately, losing as many games (5) as it has won (5) in their last 10 games. Of course the Celtics will need some help in overtaking the Raptors for the best record by the break (they only play them one more time between now and the All-Star break), but a spot atop the Eastern Conference standings is there for the taking if the Celtics can continue to build off their play recently (Thursday night notwithstanding).

NBC Sports Boston: 5 bold Celtics predictions for 2019

Wow! Almost all of us had that expectation during preseason, but now? This is absolutely the outlier point-of-view. Even Celtics fans and media who insist, “they’ll be fine,” aren’t predicting such a dramatic turnaround as leapfrogging four teams to move into first place.

The other forecasts in this piece are more reasonable. In fact, 3, 4 and 5 are locks if everything continues as is.

2. Gordon Hayward will return to starting lineup

3. Al Horford will average a career low in minutes played

4. Kyrie Irving will finish in the top 5 for league MVP

5. Marcus Smart will be All-NBA first team defense

The Hayward prediction is perhaps the key to the entire season. Gordon is taking longer than hoped to return to his previous normal self. In Utah, he was an all-star, a difference-maker. In Boston, post-ankle, he’s been no more than a role-player. He’s had some decent games – the 30-point night in Minnesota got us all excited – but we’re still waiting for him to make a real impact, and to do it every night.

The sooner this happens, the better the Celtics’ outcome will be. Keep in mind, it might not happen at all this season. And, God forbid, Hayward may never return to being the player he was. That would be heartbreaking.

But if … when … Hayward puts his game back together, the Celtics will become a different team. Then, taking over first place won’t be hard to imagine.

On Page 2: One play can change a game

It’s the little things, Kyrie Irving said. Such as the final 2.4 seconds of the third quarter Thursday for the Celtics in Houston, perhaps the most important stretch of the game.

Terry Rozier had just drained a 3-pointer to put the Celtics within 3 points prior to what was expected to be a thrilling fourth quarter against the high-scoring Rockets.

Eric Gordon took the ball out, without any Celtics player contesting him. He bounced a chest pass toward Austin Rivers, who allowed it to bounce a few more times to buy him some more time. By the time he picked it up at halfcourt, Rivers was surrounded by Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Daniel Theis.

Theis tried half-heartedly to draw a charge, while Tatum and Brown watched Rivers release a 27-footer without much resistance, afraid they would be whistled for a foul. Rivers banked the shot in, and the Celtics were down by 6. Twenty-six seconds into the fourth quarter, Nene completed a conventional 3-point play and suddenly the Celtics were down 9.

In a span of 28.4 seconds, the Celtics essentially lost this game because they took for granted Rivers wouldn’t be able to get off a clean look in 2.4 seconds and were afraid of a foul call if he did.

Globe: Little plays led to big loss by Celtics in Houston

I’m a firm believer in several NBA concepts: no lead is big enough; ball don’t lie; a win is a win is a win; momentum and the hot hand are real; a missed layup will lead to a made layup at the other end within five seconds; and one play, at any point, can change the course of a game.

This Globe piece was dead-on to that last truism. After that sudden six-point burst by Houston, wrapped around the quarter break, there was a palpable sense that the game had just slipped away from Boston. It hurt even more that the damage was delivered not by Harden or Capela or Gordon, but by Rivers (who, let’s be honest, has never been very good) and Nene (who’s nearing the end of his career and doesn’t contribute like he used to).

In a fast-paced sport filled with countless small moments, anything can be decisive. Even a contest that turns into a blowout can be affected by an early play or two that sets momentum in motion.

How many times, after a one-point loss, have you thought back and realized that missing a layup, or giving up a second-chance three, or touching a ball with a fingertip before it flies out of bounds, was probably the difference between a win and a loss? Remember early this season, when Kyrie missed a layup that would’ve sealed a win, and seconds later Victor Oladipo hit a three to snatch a one-point Indiana victory?

Yeah, like that.

This is part of what Kyrie spoke about after the Rockets game, as covered so well by Rich Jensen yesterday. And the Celtics had better take it to heart, ASAP.

And, finally… Terry isn’t scary

Rozier is settling more than ever, particularly from 16-22 feet, where he is taking 13 percent of his shots, the most on the team outside of Jayson Tatum. He’s also knocking down just 22 percent of those attempts, which is easily the lowest mark of his career and is dead last on Boston’s roster among regular shooters.

He also ranks second on the team in shots attempted in the lane (3-10 feet) behind Al Horford. You don’t mind bigs taking shots from there, but a 6-foot-3 guard is usually taking questionable floaters from that area of the floor.

The end result? Rozier is shooting 40 percent from 2-point range, which is one of the worst six marks in the NBA among players who have played 600 minutes this season. Only inefficient pieces such as Patrick Beverley, Kevin Knox, Alec Burks, Frank Ntilikina and Tyreke Evans have been worse than Rozier.

Boston Sports Journal: Robb: The troubling numbers within Terry Rozier’s shot selection

We have here some strong statistical analysis that proves what everyone already knows through the eye test: Terry isn’t scary this season … at least not to opponents. Like Hayward, Rozier needs to produce more if there’s any hope of meeting preseason expectations.

The Rest of the Links:

Herald: Bulpett: As Kyrie is noting more openly, Celtics still lack a full buy-in

MassLive: Viral video shows Boston Celtics star Kyrie Irving gives a homeless man $240 in cash

ESPN: NBA sends memo to teams as reminder of anti-tampering rule (this means you, LeBron)

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