With two games to go before this season wraps up for good on Causeway Street, the Celtics have played themselves out of prime position for a top-three pick in the upcoming NBA draft. And that’s frustrating for some people.
Tied with the Orlando Magic for the third-worst record in the league just two days ago, the Celtics have won two straight after Saturday’s 111-99 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are in serious danger of the Los Angeles Lakers passing them in the draft lottery standings. Could there be any greater indignity? Endure a season like this one, only to see the Lakers sneak in and get a higher draft pick at the end?
Understand, however, that the luster from this draft class is wearing off fast. Very few executives seem to be in love with Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle, Dante Exum or anyone else. This comes after just about everybody was ready to give their first-born for any of those players last fall. So if the savior isn’t coming in the draft, perhaps the Celtics should look to their own roster.
What a novel concept, I know.
No one currently rocking a green jersey is a singular game-changer in the vein of LeBron James or Kevin Durant. But with doubt growing as to whether anyone coming out of college this year is on that level, performances like Kelly Olynyk’s 25-point, 12-rebound effort Saturday demand a microscope. The rookie looked as confident as ever, scoring in a variety of ways, like he was back at Gonzaga. (Being guarded by Spencer Hawes, Tristan Thompson and Tyler Zeller did not hurt.)
Let’s be clear, Olynyk is not Boston’s savior. Neither is Jared Sullinger, Rajon Rondo or Avery Bradley, regardless of their encouraging moments this season.
Collectively, though, they could be on to something. Not “championship within three years” something, but the start of a respectable foundation so that when that savior does arrive, he has something to work with.
Thanks to Rajon Rondo’s shin bruise, Jared Sullinger’s sprained ankle and a pair of sore knees sported by Kris Humphries and Jerryd Bayless, the Celtics entered Saturday with eight healthy players at coach Brad Stevens’ disposal. The bench consisted of the terrible trio of Chris Johnson, Chris Babb and Joel Anthony.
“Shorthanded, three guys coming off the bench that weren’t here until mid-January,” Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. “They really played well together. I mean, 60 points in the first half was really a product of, we were moving the basketball and we made some tough shots. But I thought the movement was great. I thought Kelly was really good. They played better than us in the fourth and harder than us in the fourth, and that’s what brought it back, but I thought we played pretty well most of the night.”
The Celtics played extremely well, in fact, for most of the game. It took them more than three quarters to record their eighth turnover, while Avery Bradley, who matched Olynyk with a team-high 25 points, went 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. The Celtics defended the 3-point line, knocked down open shots and didn’t give the ball away.
In many ways, it was the performance Stevens has dreamed about — and the pro-tanking crowd has had nightmares about — for weeks.