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.
When the Celtics put together a season-best four-game winning streak in late December, some wondered if they might be the favorite to earn the No. 2 seed in a crowded Eastern Conference. Two weeks later, the Celtics find themselves at 19-18 and a half-game outside the playoff picture. The Celtics were supposed to separate themselves from the pack during this favorable stretch on the schedule. Instead they’ve slipped behind the pack. In fact, if the Celtics lose against the New York Knicks on Tuesday, the two teams would essentially be tied in the standings.
Which is to say that things have not gone the way that Boston expected. The Celtics simply seem unable to move forward, either resting on the success they’ve enjoyed, or powerless to move past setbacks. That goes for on-court action, too. The worst thing for Boston seems to be an early lead, because the Celtics tend to downshift and let their opponent gain confidence while rallying from behind. Then, when things get tight, Boston goes into a shell and wants things to come easy. And it never does.
ESPN Boston – Balking in Memphis
Remember two weeks ago? The Celtics were 18-13, staring a palatable schedule of basement dwellers and cream puffs with thoughts of a top-three seed in the east dancing in fans’ heads. And if you thought fans were excited, you should have seen the advanced number guys! Already an analytics darling, the Cs were heralded as one of the best teams in the league based on the data.
Times were good in late 2015.
Now? These Cs look a lot like the green of the first year-and-a-half of the Brad Stevens era. Young, mentally unfit and offensively challenged. Young enough to let success get to their head in losses to the Lakers and Nets at home; mentally unfit enough to fumble away early game leads and get away from what was working early in a home loss to the Pistons last week; and offensively challenged in ways feared to be this squad’s achilles heel from the start: an inability up and down the roster (save for Isaiah Thomas) to create shots at the rim and make shots away from it.
What hurts the most about last night? I thought the Cs would come out with a little extra juice — due in part to not only the team’s recent struggles, but for their always steady coach, whose last week has been an emotional roller coaster. They did come out with some extra punch, but as has been the case recently, could not sustain it. It’s starting to look a lot like 2014, and I’m not liking it.
On page 2, the good and the bad of Marcus Smart
The story of this game was told at the free throw line. The Celts outscored Memphis, 81-66, from the floor, but the Grizzlies took 17 more free throws and outscored them by 18 from the stripe.
Two of those Memphis points came from Mario Chalmers after he was fouled by Smart with 33 seconds left. Smart was blocked on a drive on the previous play, and he was upset there was no call. He seemed to take out his frustration when he went back down the floor.
“At that point in time, we’re not intentionally fouling,” coach Brad Stevens said.
Crowder had more to say about it at the time, and he and Smart went back and forth.
“He’s just telling me we didn’t need to foul there,” said Smart. “It was heat of the moment and, you know, two players, competitors going at it, both mad at each other. I’m mad at myself. He’s mad at me because I made the play. But me and Jae are good. That’s supposed to happen. I made a bad play.”
Herald – Celtics meltdown in Memphis
A season and a half into Marcus Smart’s career and the narrative in process is that Smart’s emotion is both a huge plus and a crippling minus.
You cannot commit that foul in that spot last night. Smart probably knows that, but the frustration of getting rejected by Barnes caused enough frustration for the young guard to forget that in the heat of the moment.
The foul caused exasperation for the rest of the Cs and even Stevens’ likely laced his deadpanned response above with some aggravation.
The Celtics are good enough to compete with nearly every team in the league on any given night, which they’ve actually shown throughout the course of this recent skid. The troubling part is that when games get close, they’re the team folding. Reggie Jackson, Brook Lopez, Jordan Clarkson, Derrick Rose and Zach Randolph have made big plays late in games while the Cs are able to counter punch for a bit, but unable to continue punching.
As far Smart, his narrative is far from finalized, but last night was yet another instance of his emotion proving costly.
Related Links: Mass Live – Marcus Smart apologizes for late foul that frustrated Boston Celtics teammates
And finally, thoughts go out to Andrew Smith and his family
Former Butler player Andrew Smith’s wife, Samantha, blogged Sunday morning that doctors have told her “death is imminent” for her husband.
“I have been staring at a blank Word document for twenty minutes trying to find the words to say,” she wrote on the blog where she has shared updates on Smith’s status. “I can’t bear where we’re at and the situation we are in. I can’t comprehend how we’ve gotten to this place. I can’t wrap my head around the fact that there is nothing left to do for Andrew except tell him how much I love him, hold his hand and be with him for very second we have left together. The doctors tell me death is imminent and that Andrew is going to die from this disease. There are no treatments, no clinical trials…there is nothing left to do.”
It’s been a frustrating stretch of games for the Celtics and fans, but Andrew Smith’s battle with cancer puts all of that in perspective. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for Stevens to compartmentalize at this juncture.
Positive thoughts go out to Smith and his family.
The rest of the links: CSNNE – Frustration shows in Celtics’ latest loss | Stars, studs and duds | Mass Live – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley frustrated after giving game away to Memphis Grizzlies | NESN – Brad Stevens stresses simple solution to Celtics’ late-game struggles