A lot can happen in the NBA in just one week, and the Celtics are no exception. Here are all the most important things to occur in the last seven days. We’ve attempted to rank them from most relevant to least.
A Total Turnaround
What a difference a week can make. It’s hard to believe that last Friday the Celtics were heading to Chicago facing a 0-2 hole. They’ve stormed back, winning three straight, and looking confident leading into game six tonight. Rajon Rondo has been sidelined with a broken thumb throughout Boston’s return to form, and his absence has been noteworthy. He played brilliantly in games one and two, picking apart the Celtics’ on offense, and applying constant pressure on defense.
Rondo has been notoriously inconsistent (and at times outright lazy) for years now, so it’s hard to project just how meaningful his loss was, but it’s fair to say that Boston likely wouldn’t have the momentum they do now if the Rondo from the series’ first two games had participated in the last three.
It would be unfair to suggest that Rondo’s absence is the only reason Boston has managed to bring itself back from the brink of crisis. The Celtics shook up their starting unit, benching Amir Johnson, and prioritizing shooting over size. It’s worked out fantastically to date, and there is very little to suggest that Fred Hoiberg has an answer to the type of spread pick and roll game it allows them to run. Boston’s players and coaching staff deserve a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished in the face of adversity, basketball-related and otherwise.
Al Horford, Max Player
There has been a tendency to criticize the money the Celtics committed to Al Horford this summer. It’s not unreasonable. He’s a big man that doesn’t rebound particularly well. He doesn’t get buckets in the way that many of the league’s top paid players do, and he’s going to be 33 years old by the time his contract expires. But the man can hoop.
Horford is averaging 16.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.4 steals per game. That might not quite be the type of line typically associated with max money, but it’s not very far off. His combination of skill, size, and smarts are uncommon, and he uses them to influence the game in subtle ways. Horford has been the primary reason Boston’s small ball strategy has run so smoothly, and he’s been their best option by far in keeping Robin Lopez off the glass.
He hasn’t been perfect. Horford laid an egg in game two, and his aggressiveness comes and goes, but when he’s confident and assertive, the Celtics are a dangerous team. He’s played that way more often than not during Boston’s victories, and the team is clearly benefiting.
Blake Griffin Hurt Again
Blake Griffin broke his toe, and is out for the playoffs yet again. It is another in a long line of maladies that Griffin has had to deal with, including a shocking number of the season ending variety. The injury doesn’t have a lot of immediate relevance, but is certainly something to flag going into the offseason. Griffin will be a free agent this summer, and presumably one of the most sought after players on the market. The Celtics have been very open about wanting to land a big name, and Griffin’s injury-riddled past will be something to consider in evaluating whether or not he is the appropriate target.
The injury also limits the Clippers ability to assess exactly what their ceiling is with the Griffin, Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan triumvirate (a recurring problem for them). Where they land with that assessment will have implications for additional impending free agents Paul and J.J. Redick, and an inevitable ripple effect throughout the league. It’s strange to think that just one toe could hold so much influence, but Griffin’s injury adds a degree of uncertainty to the team building process that wasn’t there before. The Celtics will be monitoring.
More D-League Honors
Highlighting the success of Boston’s D-League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws, is becoming something of a tradition in this column, and the reasons for celebration keep on coming. Fresh off of being named the league’s Rookie of the Year, Abdel Nader added to his hardware with a selection to the All-NBA D-League second team. Teammates Marcus Georges-Hunt and Jalen Jones grabbed third team honors. Jones was also named to the All-Rookie Team.