Playoffs not unfathomable for surging C's

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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Celtics CelebrationAP Photo/Rick BowmerThe Celtics have had plenty to celebrate on a successful road trip.
The day before the Boston Celtics opened their season-long six-game road trip in Los Angeles, second-year coach Brad Stevens was asked what his goals were for the team's high-mileage journey.

"We just need to get better," Stevens said. "We haven’t played well enough to get over the hump against the best of the best. And so we need to take care of what we can take care of to get a little bit better to do that. ... You’ve got to make sure you take care of the ones in your control. We’re just not as good as we need to be at doing that, for whatever reason, right now. I don’t think anybody is exactly where they want to be at the end of the year in doing that, but our margin is such that we better be pretty close to it."

Stevens' words stuck with us, especially after Boston stole Thursday's nail-biter in Portland on Evan Turner's late-game heroics. Three of Boston's final four games on the trip were against non-playoff-caliber teams (Denver, Utah, Minnesota) and it seemed an opportunity to make up some ground despite the obstacles working against them in terms of travel and lack of rest.

Boston didn't just beat Denver and Utah, it put up a solid fight against the league-leading Golden State Warriors in between those triumphs. Now Boston has a chance to finish off this road trip at 4-2 with a win against the league-worst Timberwolves on Wednesday night. It would be the first time the team produced a winning record on a road trip of at least five games since February 2010, according to ESPN Stats and Info.

For the moment, Boston sits 11 games under .500 at 16-27, but that's good enough in the downtrodden Eastern Conference to be just two games out of a playoff berth and in a cluster of teams that could potentially jockey for final playoff berths.

It seems a bit ludicrous to be talking playoffs. These overhauled-on-the-fly Celtics were supposed to head out west, come fully unglued and stumble back home ready to spend the second half of the season jockeying for ping-pong balls.

But these scrappy Celtics have found something out west, while embracing their blend of youth and veteran leadership. And if Boston heeds Stevens' words and takes care of those games it can control over the final 40 tilts of the season, there is a very real chance that Boston could legitimately hang around in playoff contention.

Consider this: The Celtics own the easiest remaining schedule in the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Boston's remaining opponents own a .451 winning percentage. Compare that to the teams around them in Brooklyn (11th most difficult, .516); Orlando (16th, .496); Charlotte (17th, .492); Detroit (20th, .483); and Indiana (25th, .474).

What's more, John Hollinger's computerized Playoff Odds currently peg Boston with a 40.9 percent chance at making the playoffs. In fact, the projections as of Tuesday had Boston, Detroit and Charlotte finishing in a three-way tie at 36-46 (with Detroit sneaking in via tie-breaker).

Getting to 36 wins means essentially playing .500 ball over the second half of the season. Impossible? Boston still has a total of five games to play against the East's bottom-dwellers (three games vs. the Knicks; two vs. the 76ers), which will offset some of the more daunting remaining tilts, including three games against Cleveland, along with visits from Atlanta and Golden State.

That means Boston's playoff fate is likely to hinge on a series of games against those teams it's hovering around. Boston plays three games against Miami (including a visit this Sunday in a Super Bowl appetizer), along with two games apiece against Charlotte, Orlando, Indiana and Detroit.

In those games, Boston essentially controls its own fate. Win the majority of those tilts against those teams nearest them in the standings and it's even more likely Boston sneaks into the postseason.

Let's table the discussion about whether it's in Boston's best interest to make the playoffs for further down the road. We'll simply say this for now: Instilling a winning expectation and teaching a young team to be competitive is extremely important for the Celtics moving forward, especially if this young nucleus will serve as the core of the team as it builds.

There is, of course, the looming February trade deadline that, if Boston's roster is stripped of some veterans as other more surefire playoff teams load up, could affect the team's ability to make a sustained run.

And there is a chance that we're simply overreacting to a positive stretch for Boston. But what the Celtics have shown on this road trip is hard to ignore. Boston is winning the close games that were so elusive earlier in the season. Before Thursday's win in Portland, Boston was a mere 5-15 in "clutch" games, where the team was within five points of its opponent in the final five minutes.

The Celtics are 3-1 in such games over their last four. This team is learning how to compete in close games and capitalizing in winnable situations. It's the sort of progress that was sorely lacking earlier in the year and prompted, in part, the decision to trade away the likes of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.

Unfathomable as it seemed after the roster overhaul and enduring some of those tough losses earlier in the season, these Celtics can legitimately daydream about the postseason.

They simply must take care of what they can control.

Power Rankings: C's vault 7 spots

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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The Boston Celtics enjoyed the biggest climb of the week in the ESPN.com NBA Power Rankings while vaulting seven spots to No. 21.

Writes curator Marc Stein: "Have we unearthed a specialty for the oft-maligned Evan Turner? His decisive 3 in the win at Portland that finally snapped Boston's 24-game road losing streak to Western Conference teams made him 4-for-8 lifetime on go-ahead shots with less than five seconds to go in the fourth quarter or OT."

[Read full Power Rankings]

The artist currently known as Prince

January, 27, 2015
Jan 27
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Eyebrows shot skyward earlier this month when Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens announced that Tayshaun Prince would join the team in Los Angeles for the start of a season-long six-game road trip. Acquired from the Memphis Grizzlies in the Jeff Green swap, it was assumed that Prince was more likely to be bought out or traded to a contender than ever wear a Celtics uniform.

[+] EnlargePrince
AP Photo/Rick BowmerTayshaun Prince has brought winning experience to Boston.
But Stevens embraced the addition of the 34-year-old swingman, noting that "he's had a lot of winning experience and any guy like that is welcome to share his thoughts all day long."

Prince did more than share his thoughts on Monday. Appearing in his fifth game on Boston's mileage-heavy road trip, he led the Celtics in points (19), assists (5), plus/minus (+16) and minutes (30) during a 99-90 triumph over the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena.

"[Prince] made us better today," Stevens told reporters in Utah. "He made us better with his play."

Prince spearheaded Boston's monster second quarter in which the Celtics outscored the Jazz by 24. Prince scored 10 points in the frame on 4-of-6 shooting and added a trio of assists. The Celtics were plus-18 in his nine minutes of court time in the quarter.

Prince looks like an aging veteran when he's standing on the perimeter, hands on hips, as a play starts to develop. Then he launches into motion and looks a decade younger than he is. On his first bucket Monday, he drew Trey Burke -- 12 years his younger -- on a switch and went old-school fadeaway over the young guard from the blocks.

Shortly after, Prince did the same move over rookie Elijah Millsap from the opposite blocks. Prince added a couple of second-quarter 3-pointers and Boston was up 18 by the time his second-quarter shift was over.

Prince is averaging 7.2 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists over 21.8 minutes per game in five appearances. He's shooting 60 percent from both 3-point land and the floor overall, and is plus-13 in 109 minutes of total floor time.

Maybe more impressive: Boston owns an offensive rating of 107 when Prince is on the floor (that's 5 ½ points higher than the team's season average). What's more, the team's defensive rating with Prince on the floor is 98.5 (or 5.1 points lower than the season average). Bottom line: Good things are happening whenever Prince hits the court.

That's why Stevens left Prince in for nearly 20 minutes during his Boston debut in a loss to the Clippers last Sunday. The Celtics got a spark from a bench unit that included Prince, so Stevens ran with it despite the fact that Prince had had little more than a brief practice and film session since joining the team the night before.

But Prince has so much basketball experience, Stevens doesn't have to worry about him being lost on the court. Prince doesn't need a playbook to provide steady defense and doesn't force anything offensively.

Ironically, Prince has done nothing but likely make himself more attractive to other teams with his recent play. You get the sense Stevens wouldn't mind keeping him around for the duration of the season -- and Boston sits just two games out of a playoff berth in the East at the moment -- but the Celtics will have to listen if teams call on Prince's expiring deal while looking to add a veteran presence for their own postseason push.

One thing is clear, as long as Prince is on the roster, Stevens is going to utilize him. Some Celtics fans would rather see those backup swingman minutes go to first-round pick James Young, but Stevens has pledged to lean on the players that give the team the best opportunity to win.

So there were Prince and 32-year-old Gerald Wallace on the floor together during Boston's second-quarter run on Monday. The two look a bit out of place on a roster with an average age without them that is closer to 24. But both veterans made good things happen with their crafty play.

After his first practice with the team, Prince was asked about his murky future with Boston. He said that until there was a more definitive answer on how the team would proceed, he was all in on helping the Celtics in any way he could. He noted, "My approach is to come in here, provide a spark, provide leadership."

The Celtics have won three of the five games since his arrival. Maybe Prince's winning experience really is rubbing off on his younger teammates.

Celtics 99, Jazz 90: Road warriors

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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Playing their fourth game in five nights, capping the longest such trek in the NBA this season based on total mileage spanned, the Boston Celtics had every excuse to struggle on Monday night against the Utah Jazz.

Instead, the Celtics produced one of their most dominating quarters of basketball, outscoring the Jazz by 24 in the second quarter and hanging on for a 99-90 triumph at EnergySolutions Arena.

The Celtics won three times during this four-in-five stretch. After losing to the Clippers in the opener, their only loss was a three-point defeat at the hands of the league-leading Golden State Warriors on Sunday night at Oracle Arena. Many thought Boston would come unglued out west on a season-high six-game road trip that concludes Wednesday in Minnesota, but Boston instead has more than doubled its win total for the month out west and has moved within two games of a playoff berth in the East.

The hero on Monday? It was 34-year-old Tayshaun Prince, who scored a team-high 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting with five assists and two rebounds over 30 minutes. Not too shabby for a player who it seemed might not even put on a Boston jersey when he was acquired in the Jeff Green trade with Memphis earlier this month.

Prince had 10 points in Boston's dominant second quarter. The Celtics and Jazz were tied at 21 early in that frame, but Boston closed out the half on a 34-10 run that culminated with an Avery Bradley dunk for a 24-point lead at the intermission. The Celtics outscored the Jazz 38-14 in the quarter.

Boston let its foot off the accelerator in the third quarter and Utah surged as close as 4 in the frame. The Celtics did enough to keep the Jazz at arm's length in the final quarter and emerge with the win.

Bench is fine for Zeller: Despite recently shuffling to a reserve role, Tyler Zeller continues to thrive for Boston. The big man scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting with seven rebounds over 29:11 during Monday's game. Zeller was plus-15 while pairing with Prince (and even Gerald Wallace too) to provide a bench spark.

Loose balls: The Celtics stuck with a 10-man rotation despite playing for the fourth time in five games. Phil Pressey and James Young were healthy DNPs. ... Shavlik Randolph was inactive with a left hamstring strain. ... The Celtics limited the damage on the offensive glass as the Jazz turned 10 offensive rebounds into just 14 second-chance points.

What it means: The Celtics improve to 16-27; the Jazz fall to 16-29. Boston is now only two games in back of eighth-seed Charlotte (though the Celtics have Detroit and Brooklyn between them as well). Boston wraps up this six-game road trip in Minnesota on Wednesday night.

W2W4: C's vs. Jazz (Game 43 of 82)

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
12:00
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The Boston Celtics (15-27, 6-14 away) visit the Utah Jazz (16-28, 8-12 home) on Monday night at EnergySolutions Arena (9 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)

It's been nearly a year since the Utah Jazz have experienced three consecutive victories and even longer since they've won three in a row at home.

The Jazz will attempt to secure those win streaks Monday night against the likely short-handed Boston Celtics.

Utah (16-28) hasn't won three straight since Feb. 8-12 and hasn't taken three consecutive home games since a four-game run Dec. 27, 2013-Jan. 7, 2014. The Jazz are now in position to end those droughts after routing Brooklyn 108-73 on Saturday.

"We just take it one game at a time. Especially with how young we are, we might come out flat and do some of the stuff we've done in the past," said forward Gordon Hayward, who had a team-best 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting. "Hopefully we don't do that. We learn from this one, we grow from this one and we look forward to the next game."

Trey Burke had 15 of his 19 points in the second quarter while coming off the bench for the second consecutive game. He's totaled 29 points in those two contests after scoring a combined 10 on 5-of-25 shooting in his last two starts.

"It's new to me. I don't know if I was comfortable with it, but I knew I had to be ready to play," said Burke, who has started 109 of 113 games in his two seasons with the Jazz. "It's a different view of the game. ... You definitely get to see how the game's going and how you can affect it when you go in."

With Burke providing a spark off the bench, Utah is averaging 104.5 points on 49.3 percent shooting in the last two after averaging 80.5 points on 37.5 percent shooting in losing its previous two.

The Jazz could be facing a tired Celtics team after Boston was able to hang around with Golden State on Sunday before ultimately losing 114-111. The Celtics (15-27) are allowing an average of 107.7 points in the second half of back-to-backs.

This will be Utah's first meeting with the Celtics since a 110-98 victory on Feb. 24 snapped a six-game skid in the series. The Jazz haven't recorded back-to-back wins over Boston since the 2006-07 season.

(Read full game preview)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)

Jazz in focus: Don't let Utah's reasonable looking points allowed per game (98.5) deceive you. The Jazz rank 27th in the league in defensive rating and play at a plodding pace. Even on the second night of a back-to-back, Boston needs to crank the pace and attack the basket.

Limit the second chances: The Jazz rank first in the league in offensive rebound percentage and sixth in second-chance points. Boston needs to keep Utah's bigs off the glass.

Hayward vs. Stevens: It's always fun watching how Celtics coach Brad Stevens defends his former pupil at Butler University. Hayward had 24 points in each of Utah's recent wins.

Celtics making progress out west

January, 26, 2015
Jan 26
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Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images Evan Turner leaps toward the basket against Golden State.

There was uncertainty in their voices before the Boston Celtics set out on a season-long six-game road trip earlier this month. Boston had lost 11 of its previous 14 games, hadn't beaten a Western Conference opponent on the road since February 2013 and had just endured a series of trades that shuffled an already mismatched roster.

But a funny thing happened out west. Instead of coming completely unglued, as some might have expected, the Celtics responded with some of their most competitive basketball of the season. After pulling out narrow wins in Portland and Denver, a shorthanded Boston squad hung with the league-leading Golden State Warriors on Sunday night before enduring a 114-111 defeat at Oracle Arena.

Although a 2-2 record to start the trip is little to write home about, you get the sense there's a bit of newfound energy around these Celtics. Boston never really threatened to steal Sunday's game against Golden State, but it managed to hang around in a venue where the Warriors have been nearly untouchable and routinely stomp opponents as they pass through.

Coach Brad Stevens and the Celtics are not big on silver linings, but there are positives to be extracted from Sunday's game (the Celtics might even grumble about the officiating that gave the Warriors free points late in the first half with a questionable whistle). Boston will clutch those while moving on in this high-mileage trek with two beatable opponents ahead in Utah (Monday) and Minnesota (Wednesday).

Make no mistake: Boston's recent numbers are not particularly glossy. The team hasn't been very efficient at either end of the court, especially the defensive side, where the Celtics are allowing 104.3 points per 100 possessions over the past four games.

But the fact that Boston has been competitive despite being imperfect suggests progress in and of itself. This team has found a way to hang with some quality opponents, despite playing subpar basketball.

The Celtics remain in a rather unusual spot. At 15-27 overall, the team is 12 games under .500 and owns a meager .357 winning percentage. Yet in a head-shaking Eastern Conference, that's good enough to be 2.5 games out of a playoff berth. Boston is equal distance from the fifth-seeded Cleveland Cavaliers and the lottery-craving Philadelphia 76ers.

What's the big takeaway from the trip so far? The Celtics appear to be making the sort of progress rebuilding teams typically crave. Every time Avery Bradley hits a big, late-game shot or Jared Sullinger produces a big effort against a top-tier opponent, it's progress. There are still 40 games to be played this season, and though it's probably a good bet Boston will remain where it is -- comfortably above the conference bottom-dwellers but back of the playoff pack -- it also seems likely Stevens is going to have his team ready to compete most nights.

Stevens and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way the Celtics have played recently. When the Warriors opened up a 12-point lead early in the second quarter Sunday, it would have been easy for Boston -- playing without Kelly Olynyk (ankle) and Marcus Smart (death in the family) -- to let the game get away. Boston just kept plugging away, and down 10 with less than a minute to play, the Celtics rallied to make it a one-possession game and didn't allow Golden State to breeze to the finish line as it normally does.

One of the things Stevens stressed before the team departed on this road trip is the desire to build good habits. Stevens is realistic about his team's situation, but he also knows a key to accelerating this rebuilding process is getting his young talent to utilize every ounce of their potential. Stevens knows wins won't come regularly with this squad, but that can't prevent him from attempting to instill a winning attitude and a winning culture.

A lot of people expected the Celtics to go out west and get steamrolled, then limp back to Boston as a team craving as many pingpong balls as it could collect before mid-April. Instead, Boston seems to have embraced the idea of playing hard and seeing what comes of it.
The Boston Celtics never truly threatened to steal Sunday's game against the Golden State Warriors. That didn't stop them from trying.

Despite trailing most of the night -- including by 10 with 36 seconds to play -- these scrappy Celtics pulled within a possession with 3.6 seconds to play and forced Golden State to sweat out the final seconds of a 114-111 triumph at Oracle Arena.

The Warriors controlled the game for most of the night and were up by double digits for most of the fourth quarter. But coach Brad Stevens implored his team to keep working and a little late-game flurry culminated with a Jared Sullinger putback that had Boston within three at 112-109.

Sullinger scored a team-high 26 points on 9-of-17 shooting to go along with 9 rebounds and 3 assists over 30 minutes. Evan Turner added 19 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists over 31:39. Tyler Zeller chipped in 15 points off the Boston bench.

Klay Thompson scored a game-high 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting, while Steph Curry added 22 points and 11 assists. Andrew Bogut joined the double-double party (13 points, 13 rebounds).

First-half frustrations: The Celtics stuck close for most of the first half, rallying right back when Golden State sneaked ahead by 10 early in the second quarter. Boston actually had a chance to make it a one-possession game before the intermission, but endured a frustrating sequence in which Curry stole the ball and drew a foul in the backcourt while throwing up a heave. He made three free throws -- as Brad Stevens fumed at the officials -- and the Warriors led by 7 at the break.

Loose balls: The Celtics ran with an 11-man rotation. Shavlik Randolph was a healthy DNP. ... Boston was playing without Kelly Olynyk (ankle) and rookie Marcus Smart (family death). ... The Celtics limited their turnovers, giving the ball away 14 times for just 11 points (Golden State turned it over 13 times for 18 points). ... The Warriors shot 47.2 percent from the floor overall; Boston finished at 43.2 percent.

What it means: The Celtics watched a two-game winning streak get snapped while falling to 15-27; the Warriors improve to 36-6 and continue their home domination (21-1). Boston is right back in action on Monday night when it closes out a back-to-back (and this 4-in-5) with a visit to the Utah Jazz. Boston's road trip wraps up on Wednesday night in Minnesota.

W2W4: C's vs. Warriors (Game 42 of 82)

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
9:00
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The Boston Celtics (15-26, 6-13 away) visit the Golden State Warriors (35-6, 20-1 home) on Sunday night at Oracle Arena (8 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)

While Klay Thompson may have gotten used to playing in Stephen Curry's shadow, he's going to have a hard time staying out of the spotlight going forward.

Thompson looks to build on a once-in-a-lifetime performance as the Golden State Warriors try to extend their franchise-record 18-game home winning streak Sunday night against the Boston Celtics.

Thompson dominated the headlines after putting together the highest-scoring quarter in NBA history, scoring 37 points in the third in Friday's 126-101 win over Sacramento. The fourth-year guard made all 13 shots -- including nine from 3-point range -- and both free throws during those 12 minutes, surpassing the 33-point mark set by George Gervin in 1978 and matched by Carmelo Anthony in 2008.

"I was one of the luckiest NBA players ever to play with Michael Jordan, Tim Duncan, David Robinson and some of the greatest players ever," coach Steve Kerr said. "As many spectacular things as Michael did, which he did nightly, I never saw him do that.

"It was reminiscent of Michael because it was sort of otherworldly."

Thompson, who also set the league record for most 3s in a quarter, finished with a career-high 52 points while shooting 16 of 25. He's averaging 22.6 points, just behind Curry's team-leading 22.8.

"It was kind of a blur. I wish I could go back and enjoy it some more, but moments like that go by really fast," said Thompson, who's scored 32.0 points per game over the last five. "You always dream about it, being a big-time scorer and a big-time player. It's crazy it's reality."

NBA-leading Golden State (35-6) is just the 10th team to win at least 35 games by the midway point. It's compiled a 20-1 home record after winning 18 in a row there by an average of 18.9 points.

The Warriors lead the league with 111.1 points per game and 114.8 at home. They are 13-0 against Eastern Conference foes.

That doesn't bode well for the Celtics (15-26), who are seeking a season best-tying third consecutive victory. Boston had dropped 24 consecutive road games against the West before squeaking by Portland 90-89 on Thursday and Denver 100-99 on Friday.

(Read full game preview)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)

Everything they touch turns to gold: The Warriors not only have the best record in basketball and are practically untouchable at home, but they lead the league in defensive rating (96.9 points per 100 possessions) and are third in offensive rating (110.4). That's a staggering net rating of plus-13.4 and the next best teams (Atlanta, Dallas) are way back at plus-7.6. The Warriors are playing at a ridiculous level. Boston needs its best game of the season.

C's gotta score points: Much of the hype after Thompson's big game will be whether Boston can slow down him (and Curry too). That's an especially daunting task considering rookie Marcus Smart is out due to a death in his family. But the real key for the Celtics is finding a way to put points on the scoreboard. The Warriors are going to get their points; the Celtics need to find a way to keep up against the league's best defense. Boston absolutely has to value each possession.

Who steps up? The Celtics are down a couple of their most talented young bodies without Smart and Kelly Olynyk (ankle). As will be the theme over the second half of the year, this is a chance against a top-tier opponent for someone to step up. The Celtics have some momentum after two straight wins -- they need to ride it.

Smart to miss Sunday's game vs. Warriors

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
10:31
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Boston Celtics rookie guard Marcus Smart will miss Sunday's game against the Golden State Warriors due to a death in his family, the team announced Saturday night.

Smart is expected to rejoin the team in Salt Lake City, where the Celtics visit the Utah Jazz on Monday night.

Smart, the No. 6 overall pick in June's draft, is averaging 6.4 points, 3 assists and 2.4 rebounds over 22 minutes per game in 28 appearances.

Dawkins sets Red Claws 3-point record

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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After a quiet debut with the Maine Red Claws on the day he was signed to a 10-day contract by the Boston Celtics, Andre Dawkins responded Saturday night by erupting for 27 points while connecting on a team-record eight 3-pointers in a 103-94 loss to his former team, the Sioux Falls Skyforce.

Dawkins misfired on 12 of 13 3-pointers during Friday's loss in Delaware, but bounced back to make 8 of 18 attempts during Saturday's game. He added seven assists over 39 minutes against Sioux Falls.

Dawkins signed a 10-day deal with Boston on Friday, but was immediately assigned to Maine so the team could get a closer look at him.

2014-15 Celtics midseason report card

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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The Boston Celtics played Game 41 with Friday's 100-99 triumph over the Denver Nuggets. The team officially sits at the midway point of the 2014-15 regular season, which means it's the time of the year where we're supposed to grab our red pens and offer grades for the team's performance to this point.

A couple of the usual notes before diving into these progress reports. Grades are crafted based on expectations. A player may not be having the most statistically dominant season, but if they are exceeding expectations we had for them entering the year, then the grade will reflect it.

And we'll note here that grading a rebuilding team is a less-than-ideal process. Expectations are typically low and, particularly on a superstar-less roster, it's hard to be too harsh given that none of the players below are expected to carry a team (even one that's nine games under .500 at the turn).

Inevitably, there will be those upset by the sheer amount of B and C grades. Some will wonder, "How can a team be so bad with so many players with passing grades?" Well, it's simple: In the NBA you need some of your key players to be performing at an A-level in order to be truly competitive, especially those deemed your supertars. Boston has a bunch of young players that are trying to develop as individuals and as a team. We simply can't grade them harsher because the team is not successful.

And now, midway thoughts on your 2014-15 Celtics (players sort by playing time):




Does Avery Bradley have the clutch gene?

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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Avery Bradley, Jae CrowderAP Photo/David ZalubowskiAvery Bradley hit two late-game jumpers versus Denver on Friday night.
Boston Celtics fifth-year guard Avery Bradley hit a pair of late-game shots over the final 84 seconds of Friday's 100-99 win over the Denver Nuggets. It continues a recent pattern of Bradley stepping up with big-moment shots in late-game situations and begs the question: Does Avery Bradley have the clutch gene?

Bradley, even at age 24, is Boston's longest-tenured player. Recent trades sent away Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, leaving the Celtics without a surefire go-to presence in late-game situations. But coach Brad Stevens drew up a play for Bradley that led to a 20-foot jumper with 25 seconds to play on Friday night and proved to be the decisive bucket.

After the game, Bradley bellowed with confidence.

"I knew the shot was going to go in before I even shot it. I was that confident," Bradley told reporters in Denver, according to Masslive.com. "I even slipped and I still was able to make it. I knew it was going to go in."

It got us wondering: Just how good has Bradley been in late-game situations? Maybe a bit to our surprise, Bradley owns the best field goal percentage among those with at least four attempts while shooting 57.1 percent this season in what the league defines as "clutch" situations (+/- 5 points in the final 5 minutes).

Bradley's 28 shots in that scenario is second highest on the team to only departed Green (30). And while someone like Rondo shot just 9.1 percent in "clutch" time (1 for 11 overall) this season, Bradley seems to embrace it, shooting 60 percent beyond the 3-point arc in those scenarios.

Even if you crunch the data for one-possession games (+/- 3 points) in the final minute, Bradley is still shooting 50 percent overall (3 of 6), far and away the best individual performance on a team in which the rest of players in that situation are a mere 5 of 36 overall (13.9 percent).

It's a small sample, but there's no denying the numbers: For this season at least, Bradley is Boston's most consistent late-game option and, on a team with no stars, he will continue to get a chance to be the focal point when games are in the balance.

The question now is whether Bradley can maintain that success, particularly as more shots come his way in crunch-time situations and defenses put more emphasis on him in those late-game plays.

A glance at Boston's basic clutch statistics this season via the league's stat warehouse:

Celtics clutch stats

Olynyk (ankle) could be out a while

January, 24, 2015
Jan 24
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Boston Celtics second-year big man Kelly Olynyk returned to Boston on Friday to undergo additional testing on a sprained right ankle that coach Brad Stevens suggested could sideline him for an extended stretch.

Olynyk rolled his ankle after landing awkwardly on an opponent's foot chasing a rebound in the fourth quarter of Thursday's win in Portland. Olynyk hobbled off in obvious pain, was spotted on crutches following the game, and left the team's lengthy road trip out west so that team doctors can evaluate the severity of the injury.

Initial tests after Thursday's game were enough for Stevens to suggest that Olynyk might not return to game action until late February.

"He's unlikely to be available until even potentially right at or after the All-Star break," Stevens told reporters in Denver on Friday night.

The Celtics play nine games in a busy 14-day stretch starting with Sunday's visit to Golden State. But the schedule eases considerably from there with only one game -- a visit from the Hawks on Feb. 11 -- during a 12-day span that includes the new extended All-Star break.

The Celtics could utilize that downtime to get Olynyk completely healthy before the team resumes play on Feb. 20 in Sacramento.

Olynyk missed 10 games during his rookie campaign due to a sprained right ankle. In 40 appearances this season, the 23-year-old Olynyk is averaging 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 1 steal over 24.5 minutes per game.

The injury could also prevent Olynyk from participating in the Rising Stars challenge at All-Star weekend in New York, assuming he's one of the international players invited under this year's revised format for the annual rookie/sophomore mixer.
Avery Bradley produced some clutch late-game shooting, while old friend Jameer Nelson missed a pull-up jumper in the final seconds as the Boston Celtics hung on for a 100-99 triumph over the Denver Nuggets Friday night at the Pepsi Center.

Nelson, who spent a few weeks with Boston in the aftermath of the Rajon Rondo trade to Dallas, nearly went revenge game on his last team. The veteran, drawing a spot start after Ty Lawson was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving early Friday morning, responded with a game-high 23 points on 9-of-20 shooting with seven assists over 42 minutes of floor time.

Bradley finished with the spotlight on him. Not only did he hit a monster go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to go, but Bradley added a 20-foot pull-up jumper with 25 seconds to play that helped Boston escape.

Bradley finished with 18 points on 7 of 11 shooting and added six rebounds and an assist over 30 minutes. Brandon Bass added 17 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, and 3 steals over 35 minutes in his second consecutive start.

Not making it easy on themselves: The Celtics missed 10 of their 27 free throw attempts, most of those misses coming in the second half, which made things a bit tighter than they might have liked. The Nuggets helped Boston out by connecting on just 19 of 26 freebies.

Second-half rally: The Nuggets scored the final seven points of the first half to take a six-point lead into the intermission, then pushed their lead to 12 early in the third frame. Unfazed, Boston needed just four minutes to tie the game and set up a seesaw battle the rest of the way.

Loose balls: The Celtics ran 11 deep, but even with Kelly Olynyk sent back to Boston for tests on his injured right ankle, Boston did not play either Shavlik Randolph or James Young. ... The Celtics shot 49.3 percent overall; the Nuggets were at 41.6 percent but had 17 offensive rebounds (and 23 second-chance points).

What it means: The Celtics have now won two in a row to improve to 15-26 and move two games out of the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Nuggets fall to 18-25. Boston gets a day to rest, but then Sunday brings a matchup with the league-leading Golden State Warriors, as the Celtics dive into another back-to-back set to finish off this four games in five nights.

W2W4: C's vs. Nuggets (Game 41 of 82)

January, 23, 2015
Jan 23
1:35
PM ET
The Boston Celtics (14-26, 5-13 away) visit the Denver Nuggets (18-24, 12-10 home) on Friday night at the Pepsi Center (9 p.m., CSN). Here's what to watch for:

GAME PREVIEW (via STATS LLC)

Just over a week after matching their longest winning streak of the season, the Denver Nuggets are closing in on their longest slide.

With Kenneth Faried possibly out and Danilo Gallinari potentially back, the Nuggets will try to end a four-game skid by continuing their home success against the Boston Celtics on Friday night.

Denver (18-24) has been rather streaky this season, putting together a pair of five-game winning streaks while enduring slides of at least three games on five occasions -- including a season-high six-contest losing streak from Nov. 1-12.

The Nuggets are dealing with another rough stretch, dropping four straight immediately following a five-game winning streak. Their current slide includes their most lopsided defeat of the season -- 122-79 at Golden State on Monday -- followed a day later by a 109-99 loss to San Antonio.

"We tried. We brung it, but the Spurs are a championship team," said Faried, who matched his season high of 26 points while adding 14 rebounds Tuesday after managing seven and nine versus the Warriors.

Faried, though, may be left on the bench Friday due to flu-like symptoms, leaving Denver without its top rebounder at 9.0 per game. He also had 21 points and 13 boards in a 129-98 win over Boston on Jan. 7, 2014, as the Nuggets beat the Celtics for a ninth time in 10 home meetings and fifth in a row.

While Faried's status is unclear, Gallinari could be back from a torn right meniscus that's sidelined him since Dec. 20, when he scored a season-high 19 points in a 76-73 win over Indiana.

"I'm good. I'm ready to go so I'll be ready (Friday)," Gallinari told the team's official website.

The forward has totaled 46 points over his last two home meetings with the Celtics, but missed the most recent while recovering from a torn ACL that cost him all of last season.

Ty Lawson had 19 points and 13 rebounds in that matchup, and is averaging 23.5 points in the last four overall against Boston (14-26).

The Celtics are trying to win back-to-back games for the first time since a three-game winning streak from Dec. 15-19. They haven't won two consecutive games on the road since Nov. 8-19.

(Read full game preview)

THREE THINGS TO WATCH (via Chris Forsberg)

Sustain the momentum: It's been more than a month since Boston won consecutive games. And it won't be easy on the road against a team that's been idle for a couple days. But Boston needs to find a way to keep the momentum going after Evan Turner's last-second game-winner in Portland on Thursday night. Despite all the struggles, Boston is still only 2 ½ games out of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. This road trip was supposed to send them plummeting, but take away Sunday's stop in Golden State and three of the next four games are against beatable opponents.

#FreeShav? Kelly Olynyk sprained his right ankle in Thursday's win and is not expected to play this weekend. That could mean the first floor time for recently acquired Shavlik Randolph. Still only a few days into his second tour with Boston, Randolph could provide some backup depth at the big-man spots.

Bench opportunity: Without Olynyk, there's also a void in bench scoring. Who will step up? James Young should be back on the active roster after being inactive recently in the aftermath of the flu. Boston's bench has helped the offensive output lately, but with Brandon Bass with the starters on Thursday and Olynyk now out, there's a chance for someone to step forward.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jared Sullinger
PTS AST STL MIN
14.2 2.2 0.7 28.7
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.2
AssistsE. Turner 4.4
StealsM. Smart 1.1
BlocksK. Olynyk 0.7