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 question, then, is what you believe – the sharp, physical Celtics team that handed a big loss to their likely first-round opponent on hostile hardwood Friday night, or the group responsible for a season’s worth of dumpster fires.
The first group appears to be on the floor right now, after Friday night’s 117-97 win over Indiana. They lead the Pacers by a game in the chase for the Eastern Conference’s fourth playoff seed and, above all, homecourt advantage in the first round.
The Celtics won the tiebreaker, finishing with a 3-1 season series edge, and going back to last Friday’s win in Boston, seem to play this team better with each successive chance. Indiana, minus the surgically shelved Victor Oladipo, didn’t have the necessary firepower Friday night.
The Celtics, on the other hand, hit a somewhat overdue flow, including Gordon Hayward’s 21 points off the bench to go along with another 22 from Jayson Tatum and 17 from Kyrie Irving. Overall six Celtics broke into double figures.
Of course, those numbers came without Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward around due to injuries. They’re both back this season and playing some of their best basketball right now.
Still, how well they play won’t affect Tatum’s impact, particularly when he is being as aggressive, as we saw on Friday night against the Pacers.
Tatum seemed eager to attack each and every matchup that was in his favor, beating players to the rim with his dribble-drive game. And when they tried to take that away, he made them pay with his 3-point shot.
NBC Sports Boston: ‘Playoff Jay’ on display in Celtics’ blowout of Pacers
The biggest development for the Celtics over the last week? Before the last month or so, every positive Gordon Hayward assessment has been couched with some form of qualifier. Over the last month, however, Hayward has just been good, no qualifiers necessary. He’s getting to the line consistently, getting to the rim even more, scoring with AND without screens (the latter was rare earlier in the season) and finding teammates when he collapses the defense. Hayward is making a strong case for extended minutes in the postseason, and — more importantly — he appears to be adding the missing ingredient nobody could quite point out for the Celtics this season.
Are we having fun yet? It seems that, yes, we finally are.
Celtics fans have been saying for weeks now – because we had no choice – that the regular season wouldn’t matter if the Cs could turn it on in the postseason. Now, suddenly, there’s reason for optimism.
We all know the preseason consensus was that this Celtics squad would win 60+ games and steamroll the East. Obviously, it didn’t work out that way. Not even close. And the way they failed – home losses to Phoenix and New York, huge blown leads to the two L.A. teams in consecutive games at home, to name a few examples – had everyone canceling their memberships in the Terry Rozier-Mook Morris Fan Club.
But in the past week, the Celtics won four out of five, beating Miami and Indiana twice apiece, with the last two coming on the road in fairly dominant fashion. What could have been a disaster – if they had failed to show up, or had allowed any big comebacks – instead became a possible turning point in the inconsistent, frustrating season.
Perhaps the main reason for the newfound optimism is Hayward’s emergence. Over the past two weeks, Gordo off the bench has averaged 16.4 points on 58.8% shooting. In Miami on Wednesday, he scored 25, went to the line 13 times, and added 8 boards and 5 assists. In Indiana last night, he made 9-9 FGs and 3-3 FTs on his way to 21 points.
What other East team has a sixth man like that?
And if Jayson Tatum is aggressive enough to get off 19 shots, like he did last night, that will be a great sign that the Celtics are attacking on offense – a sure recipe for playoff success.
The playoff seedings are also lining up properly.
One more win will give the Celts the fourth seed, along with home court in the first round against now-faltering Indiana. The Celts would then almost certainly play the Bucks in the second round. Milwaukee may be the top team in the league, but Boston matches up better with them than Toronto. Also, the Celtics have lost eight straight in the Raptors’ arena, six of them by double digits. It’s a good place to avoid.
Next weekend we will start to find out if these Celtics can find redemption in the playoffs. If they do, we’ll really have fun.
NBC Sports Boston: Stars, Studs and Duds: Tatum and Hayward too much for Pacers | Gordon Hayward has historic night in Celtics win over Pacers | Have Celtics (finally) turned the corner to become an elite team? | Highlights of the Celtics’ 117-97 victory over the Pacers | Celtics’ Terry Rozier leaves Pacers game early with illness | That’s 1,000 3-pointers for the Celtics as they extend franchise record
MassLive: Gordon Hayward’s surge makes Boston Celtics’ recent success feel sustainable for a change | Tom Westerholm | Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers: Home-court advantage could be decided by Friday’s game (unless 76ers slip) | Aron Baynes injury: Boston Celtics big man told Brad Stevens ankle was fine, but ’he’s lied on several occasions’ | Gordon Hayward is back, a statement made, and 10 things we learned from Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers
Boston Sports Journal: BSJ Game Report: Celtics 117, Pacers 97 – Beatdown essentially locks up No. 4 seed
On Page 2: Awesome Al
Whether he’s directing traffic from the elbow, engineering a dribble hand-off, pushing the ball in transition, drawing a double-team in the post, dragging his man to the corner, scurrying through myriad pick-and-roll coverages, or (he really does this!) darting off an unexpected pindown to launch an open three, Horford prevails as a cure-all balm who streamlines Boston’s attack in limitless ways. His game, in other words, is Whac-A-Mole, and the Celtics would untether themselves from anything close to championship contention if he wasn’t there.
As untrustworthy as Boston has looked since the all-star break, they still own a top-10 offense and the best defense in the league when Horford is in the game. When he sits, the Celtics lose their compass and get outscored by 13.2 points per 100 possessions.
According to Cleaning the Glass, only the Milwaukee Bucks and Warriors outscore teams at a higher rate than the version of the Celtics with Horford on the floor. If you strictly measure his impact on half-court offense, the Celtics are 10 points per 100 possessions better with him in the game, an effect that puts Horford among the likes of Kevin Durant, Stephen Curry, and Paul George.
SB Nation: Al Horford is still the Celtics’ savior
It’s simple: Al Horford gets it done. Good to see a piece about the many ways that’s true. This should be required reading for all the Boston media loudmouths who criticize Horford without understanding his true value. Or as this Celtics fan put it:
And, finally… A Celtic who was a trailblazer
Basketball pioneer Chuck Cooper, the first African-American drafted in NBA history, will be announced as an inductee into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday in Minneapolis, a source told ESPN’s The Undefeated.
Cooper was selected to the Hall of Fame by the special direct-elect Early African-American Pioneers Committee.
The former Duquesne University star was drafted by the Boston Celtics 13th overall on April 25, 1950.
Cooper endured strong racial prejudices on and off the court that rivaled what Hall of Famer and Celtics legend Bill Russell experienced in Boston.
While with the Celtics, Cooper often had to stay at a different hotel or eat in different restaurants than his teammates because he was black. The Pittsburgh native once slept on the train instead of in the team hotel in North Carolina. Then-Celtics coach Red Auerbach once said Cooper “had to go through hell” as an NBA player. Hall of Famer and former Celtics great Bob Cousy once cried in an interview while reflecting on what Cooper went through.
Well-deserved honor for the man who was the NBA’s Jackie Robinson. Cooper played four seasons for the Celtics. He passed away in 1984.
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