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.
For the first time in the 2019-20 Celtics season, adversity has hit. Boston’s record is still above expectations at 25-11 but the team has lost three straight now for the first time all year. They have also now lost to a bad team (Washington), been blown out at home (Toronto, San Antonio) and collapsed in crunch time (Philadelphia) all in the last two weeks.
Boston Sports Journal: Three pressing questions about the Celtics’ three-game losing streak
In that paragraph is an important word: expectations. It’s something all fans have, and it seems like the Celtics have been messing with ours.
Before last season, as we all remember, optimism was high. The injured stars were returning, the roster was loaded, and many fans expected the Cs would progress from almost making the NBA Finals to actually getting there. We know how that went.
This season, many of us were more cautious in setting expectations. When the staff here at Red’s Army made our preseason predictions, we forecast Boston to win between 47 and 52 games; our average prediction was a 50-32 season record.
Early on, the Celts unexpectedly ripped off 10 straight wins. Later, they tacked on four- and five-game streaks to rise near the top of the league at 25-8. Our expectations were soaring.
Then this distressing week happened, and suddenly there’s no hope, everyone sucks, we need to make a trade, etc. We now expect nothing good.
Just a minute. Frustration is understandable, but let’s have some perspective.
That’s right, nearly everyone has lost three or more in a row this season, which isn’t even half over. (Remember, both the Lakers and Sixers recently dropped four straight.)
So it seems when our expectations have been high, the Celtics have sunk low, and when we’ve expected little, they’ve given us a lot. Maybe we just need to be more flexible in what we expect.
Question: Why exactly are we panicking when we came into the season expecting the worst yet currently sit in third place AFTER a three-game losing streak? #OnlyBoston — @rclemensDFS
Another one! (It certainly doesn’t take long for expectations to shift in these parts)
NBC Sports Boston: Celtics Mailbag: It’s important not to panic amid C’s losing streak
Now, if you’re expecting a trade, don’t hold your breath. Danilo Gallinari is supposedly on the Celtics’ radar, but he wouldn’t move the needle for Boston long-term. And if you like the thought of Andre Drummond in green matching up with Joel Embiid, you need to first understand that Embiid routinely pounds Drummond head-to-head. (Better to wait and see if Karl-Anthony Towns ever gets fed up with missing the playoffs in Minnesota.)
Danny Ainge also just said what he always says: he loves his team and isn’t feeling the urgency to make a move.
Ainge made it clear he’s not interested in trading a core of his future — let’s say Marcus Smart or one of his young players — in a package for a player on an expiring contract who will play in Boston roughly two months.
“I don’t think I’m looking at any short-term urgency to trade away all my young assets to get some veteran player,” he said. “But we’re looking. We’ll have conversations before trade deadline like we do every year.
“We like our players. I like all the guys on our team right now. We’re excited about them and each one of them have a bright future. But sometimes you tweak your roster for a better fit, better balance. But at the same time you can also mess your roster up by making changes, too, because these guys get along and play hard together and they like each other and they know our system.
“Change for the sake of change is not what I’m looking for. Change for the sake of progress is what we’re always looking for.”
If the Celtics go 25-21 over their remaining 46 games, they will finish 50-32 – just as Red’s Army predicted. If that happens, will you say they met expectations, or not? How you answer that question will determine your level of happiness or misery over the next 14 weeks of basketball.
On Page 2: That stung a little
It wasn’t easy to watch Al Horford play a major role in beating the Celtics on Thursday. He’s a good guy and a winner, who proved that Boston is a good destination for free agents, but he was huge for Philly, despite looking out of place in that cheesy Seventy-Sixers uniform.
It’s sort of unusual for a former Celtic to do damage to his old team like Horford did. One who did was Gerald Henderson, who helped Boston win the 1984 title and then was traded to Seattle for a No. 1 pick (which was used to select Len Bias). When the Sonics next played at the Garden, the motivated Henderson directed his new crew to a solid win. He scored 16, dished 15 assists, and when the final buzzer sounded, spiked the ball on the logo at midcourt.
Another was Rajon Rondo. He returned to the Garden with the Mavs and shockingly drilled five threes to lead Dallas to victory.
Other popular Celtics who had success elsewhere included Rick Fox, Antoine Walker, Al Jefferson, Dee Brown, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Isaiah Thomas, but I don’t recall any of them torching their ex. In fact, when ‘Toine first returned to Boston as a visitor, he had a chance to win the game with a three at the buzzer. He missed.
I could be forgetting someone, but the main point is, it hasn’t happened much. And I sure hope it doesn’t happen again with Horford.
And, finally… Bird for 3
“That was a magnificent display,” says Rick Carlisle, a guard on that Celtics team. “We didn’t have the internet or Instagram or Twitter where some of these shots could go out in the universe in real time. Otherwise, the legend of Larry Bird would even be bigger than what it is now.”
What Bird also didn’t have was the luxury of playing in the era of the 3-pointer.
He led the league with 82 3-pointers during the 1985-86 regular season, a total that would have tied Bird for 130th in 2018-19. Bird’s career high in 3-pointers attempted per game for a full season was 3.1 in 1987-88 – coincidentally or otherwise, he set a career high with 29.9 points per game that season.
Even then, Bird’s volume was minimal compared to the shooters of today. According to Basketball-Reference.com, 152 players who qualify for the minutes-per-game leaderboard this season are taking at least that many 3-pointers per game, including Joel Embiid, Aaron Gordon and OG Anunoby. Bird took as many long-range shots, in other words, as some non-shooters do today. James Harden, at the pace he made 3-pointers last season, would need only two years to sink as many 3s as Bird did throughout his entire career.
Beyond the philosophical changes, he says, players were limited by the lack of resources around them. These days, coaching staffs are loaded up so every player has an assistant or two at all times. Even in the summer, players work with personal trainers who put them through rep after rep in game situations.
Back then, players would fetch their own misses.
“The NBA was a mom-and-pop shop back then,” Sichting says. “You had a couple of assistant coaches, maybe. We couldn’t practice 3s. It would take us all day to shoot as many 3s in the summer as these guys take because we didn’t have (rebounders). We’d be chasing the ball all over the gym. We would have shot a lot more if we had all that kind of manpower.”
“If Larry grew up in the world today,” Ainge says, “I’m pretty confident that he would be shooting nine or 10 3-point shots per game and shooting them at a very, very high clip.”
It’s futile to compare players from different eras. As this article makes thoroughly clear, the NBA of the 1980s was nothing like today’s game. The old-timers didn’t have the support or advanced training methods or state-of-the-art practice facilities that today’s players do. We simply have no way of knowing how much better players from 30 or 40 years ago would have become if they did have those advantages.
But with that said, I saw nearly every game of Larry Bird’s career, and I’m certain his raw abilities would match those of anyone in the game today. And that’s not even considering his supreme confidence and competitive will. In an eight-year span, Bird won three MVPs and finished top three in voting the other five times. You don’t do that unless you’re a unique talent.
The kids who go on Twitter today and mock Bird for not being athletic enough really don’t know what they don’t know. Look, Larry matched up with the likes of Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving, two of the most acrobatic players of all time. Did he get dunked on? Of course – just like everyone else. But Larry beat Nique in one of the most famous playoff battles ever. And the night Dr. J. famously fought Bird, it might have been triggered by Larry outscoring him 42-6, and it was only the third quarter.
Believe it: the white boy could play.
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