Sport Why the Celtics have a real shot at making the NBA Finals

22:50  12 february  2020
22:50  12 february  2020 Source:   bostonglobe.com

76ers fall apart on the road — again

  76ers fall apart on the road — again Former Celtic Al Horford is having trouble finding his place in his new team’s offense and that’s just the beginining of Philadelphia’s problems away from home.Philadelphia entered Saturday’s showdown against the Celtics with a 9-16 road record. Al Horford still hasn’t gained comfort in the offense. Ben Simmons is an All-Star (but mostly refuses to shoot), and Joel Embiid’s numbers are down from last season.

I’ll spare you the terrible Houston/NASA puns I’ve been haplessly workshopping in my walnut brain for the last 15 minutes and just leave it at this:

Jayson Tatum standing in front of a basketball game: Jayson Tatum (left) and Jaylen Brown are playing like legitimate NBA stars this season.© jim davis/globe staff Jayson Tatum (left) and Jaylen Brown are playing like legitimate NBA stars this season.

Tough one for the Celtics Tuesday night on the road against the Rockets, huh?

The Celtics led by 2 at halftime thanks to a 30-point second quarter against a Houston team now designed for a 6-foot-6-and-under league. But the Rockets dropped 69 points on the Celtics in the second half, finishing the game on a 20-4 run. James Harden and Russell Westbrook — the two least aesthetically pleasing stars in the NBA — combined for 78 points and 27 free throws.

Red Sox's Pillar, long a Lakers fan, names daughter Kobie

  Red Sox's Pillar, long a Lakers fan, names daughter Kobie New Boston Red Sox outfielder Kevin Pillar named his daughter “Kobie,” after Kobe Bryant. He said he was most impressed with what Bryant has done after he retired from the NBA. Pillar said he hopes to write a children's book about baseball like the one Bryant wrote about basketball, but he was waiting until his playing career is over to approach Bryant about it.“That's something that's going to haunt me,” Pillar said.Bryant died in a helicopter crash Jan. 26 with his 12-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people.

It was ugly on the green side of the box score. Jason Tatum’s stretch of 25-point games ended at five. He shot 5 of 15, including 0 for 7 from three. Kemba Walker picked up a technical and finished with a plus-minus of minus-24. And Marcus Smart fumed afterward about what he perceived as uneven officiating.

No doubt, it was a frustrating end to the Celtics’ seven-game winning streak.

Know what else it was? An aberration.

Perhaps it’s not ideal to write this now, after one of the Celtics’ more frustrating losses in recent weeks. Then again, they haven’t lost much in recent weeks — they’ve gone 10-2 since Jan. 20 — and one hiccup of a loss to a talented, annoying Rockets team doesn’t change this belief about them:

This team is really good. Better than any national NBA opinion-makers seem to realize. And maybe even better than those among us here in New England who rarely miss a minute recognize, too.

Celtics edge Thunder 112-111 for 7th straight win

  Celtics edge Thunder 112-111 for 7th straight win OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Kemba Walker scored 27 points, Jayson Tatum had 26 and the Boston Celtics beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 112-111 on Sunday for their seventh straight victory. Jaylen Brown finished with 17 points for the Celtics, who made 16 3-pointers. One of them, by Marcus Smart with 8:19 remaining, gave Boston the lead for good. Danilo Gallinari and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander each had 24 points for the Thunder, while point guards Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder finished with 22 apiece. Oklahoma City had its four-game winning streak snapped.

It’s time to recalibrate our expectations. The possibility is very real that they can get to the NBA Finals, and they have much more than a desperation-heave-at-the-buzzer’s chance of doing so.

We — meaning both the fans and media — spend a lot of words talking about what changed after last season’s gross ending against the Bucks. Al Horford took $109 million to move on from one dysfunctional team, the 2018-19 Celtics, to another, the 2019-20 Sixers. Kyrie Irving, a dazzling performer and an oblivious, nonsense-spewing detriment to team chemistry, bolted for Brooklyn. He was replaced by Kemba Walker, who has 95 percent of Irving’s skill and dazzle and is roughly 179 degrees his superior as a teammate. Ball-stoppers Marcus Morris and Terry Rozier found their jackpots elsewhere.

Entering the season, the roster looked less skilled but better constructed. Fifty wins and a top-four seed seemed like a reasonable goal.

Shorthanded Celtics win again, top Magic

  Shorthanded Celtics win again, top Magic Wednesday night, with Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart and Daniel Theis all in street clothes, and rookie Romeo Langford making his first NBA start, the Celtics still found enough punch for a 116-100 win over Orlando. BOX SCORE: CELTICS 116, MAGIC 100The win was their fifth straight and eighth in their last nine. Jayson Tatum, on quite a path to his first All-Star appearance, led both sides with 33 points to go along with another 23 from Gordon Hayward.Tatum’s buzzer-beating scoop gave the Celtics an 87-80 lead at the end of the third quarter, after Hayward had scored the previous eight C’s points.

Well, something else changed. We expected it, but it’s gone even better than expected, and happened at a more rapid pace. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown made the leap to genuine stardom. And that’s changed everything, including what our postseason expectations should be.

Let’s start with Brown, who didn’t make the All-Star team in this, his fourth NBA season, but sure built a strong case. My appreciation for him grew last year when he publicly parried Irving’s finger-pointing while continuing to diligently improve as a player through all of the noise.

I didn’t expect him to improve this much between the end of last season and the start of this one, but that’s exactly what happened. He has worked relentlessly to tighten every aspect of his game — his ballhandling, his passing, his finishing at the rim, everything.

At age 23, Brown is averaging career highs in points (20.2), rebounds (6.4), and assists (2.2). Thank goodness the Celtics signed him to that contract extension in the preseason, because he’s become a max-deal player, and someone who might just be capable of being the second-best player on a championship-caliber team.

Garnett gets emotional after being named Hall of Fame finalist

  Garnett gets emotional after being named Hall of Fame finalist It’s been a whirlwind of a two-day stretch for former Boston Celtic Kevin Garnett. One day after the Celtics announced they would retire Garnett’s No. 5, the NBA champion was also named a finalist to be inducted with the 2020 Basketball Hall of Fame class. A visibly emotional Garnett discussed what the honor meant to him on Friday night.

And the man capable of being the best player on a championship-caliber team is already here. At 21, Jayson Tatum has the pedigree — one-and-done college star, No. 3 pick in the draft but No. 1 in Danny Ainge’s heart, immediate success in the NBA, and now, improvement in Year 3 — to become a go-to force that opposing teams struggle to stop even though they know what is coming.

No, his rise hasn’t been linear. He developed some bad I-gotta-get-mine-now habits last season, and did not mesh well with Irving. But he acknowledged and corrected those flaws, while also clearly putting in the necessary time in the weight room.

He’s averaging 22.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, all career bests. He’s also made huge improvements as a defender. The result is his first All-Star appearance — what should be the first of many.

Tatum is the alpha-dog scorer — not to mention a vastly improved defender — while Brown has become the do-it-all wingman. They are becoming the best-case scenario of what the Celtics hoped they would be when drafting them No. 3 overall in back-to-back years.

Given their maturity, obvious passion for the game, and rate of improvement, I can’t wait to see where they are in two years, or even one. But I’m not underestimating where they are now, either, or where they can help take the Celtics this spring.

Celtics gift Vince Carter framed photo of first NBA bucket in final trip to TD Garden

  Celtics gift Vince Carter framed photo of first NBA bucket in final trip to TD Garden This season has been one full of trips down memory lane for Vince Carter, the longtime NBA guard who is planning to retire after 22 seasons in the league at the end of the year. Yet on Friday night in his final trip to TD Garden in Boston, the Celtics hooked the Atlanta Hawks guard up with a special memento from his early days in the league. Boston gifted Carter a framed photo of his first ever made basket in the NBA — a baseline jumper over Paul Pierce in 1999 — with an old piece of the floor from the old Boston Garden.Respect, @mrvincecarter15 ???? pic.twitter.

The road out of the Eastern Conference is going to be a rocky one. The Bucks, winners of 46 of their 53 games, have a beautifully constructed roster around Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Raptors, who lead the Celtics by 2½ games for the second spot, are playing like the defending champions they are, even with Kawhi Leonard gone west. The Heat, who trail the Celtics by two games, acquired Andre Iguodala, a sign that they believe they must be reckoned with.

No, it won’t be easy. But the Celtics, even with their flaws, are good enough to get there. Kemba Walker is a selfless All-Star, the perfect disinfectant for last year’s mess. Gordon Hayward is a star who takes on the obligations of a role player, and if you thought trading him for Andre Drummond was a good idea, I must assume hockey is your preferred winter sport. Cedric Maxwell compares Marcus Smart to his old friend and teammate Dennis Johnson, and that is both high praise and totally accurate.

But it’s the growth of the young guys — Tatum and Brown, Brown and Tatum — that gives the Celtics a real chance to emerge from the East.

It’s been 10 years since a Celtics-Lakers final, you know. I’m ready for another one. The Celtics might just be ready too.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.

Related slideshow: Best of the NBA season (provided by imagn)

Zach LaVine holding a football ball: Chicago Bulls guard Zach LaVine (8) battles Washington Wizards guard Jerome Robinson (12) for the ball during the first quarter at Capital One Arena on February 10, 2020.

Celtics to retire Hall of Fame lock Kevin Garnett's No. 5 next season .
Kevin Garnett only played six seasons for the Boston Celtics, but he still managed to leave a big enough mark on the franchise to receive its ultimate honor. The Celtics announced Thursday they will retire Garnett’s No. 5 in a ceremony next season, after his presumed enshrinement in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Garnett joined the Celtics in 2007 after 12 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, and it didn’t take long to find the success he never found in the Midwest. Alongside Paul Pierce and Ray Allen, Garnett led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA championship. He ended up 18.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and 3.2 assists during his tenure in Boston.

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