The Celtics are not finished. Everyone and their Podcast partner is writing them off. Boston sports radio is dancing over their graves. The team is at rock bottom, down 3-1 to the Greek Freak and a band of also-rans playing over their heads. But just like last year’s Patriots, rock bottom is where they strip out all the noise and bring it back to team basketball.
Kyrie Irving hasn’t forgotten how to play basketball. His talk isn’t for everyone, but it’s just talk. Between the lines this guy is a certified basketball genius, he’s just been a little sidetracked.
On Basketball Reference there is a stat called Game Score (GmSc). Like WAR in baseball, it’s a stat that tries to take everything into context. It’s not the be all end all, but it’s a nice umbrella of everything a basketball player is doing on the court. Over the 2016 playoffs Kyrie averaged 18.2 per game. Over the 2017 playoffs Kyrie averaged 18.1 per game. That is consistency over 39 games like you read about.
Right now Kyrie is averaging 15.8 in the 8 playoff games for the Celtics. That is not Kyrie Irving. But he had a similar eight game stretch in 2017, averaging 15.9 over the first eight games. Yes, Cleveland lost in the finals that year, but Kyrie went on to average 19.8 over the remaining 10 games.
Even the great Steph Curry looks less than sometimes. For example, he went 4-14 from 3 in his last playoff game. But people aren’t shoveling dirt on his playoffs. Forget the body language and ‘effort’ police. Kyrie Irving is not perfect, but he’s one of the best players in the NBA and a noted playoff performer. Count on a dominating performance in Game 5 and going forward.
Remember when Brad Stevens was the next great coach in the NBA? It wasn’t that long ago. And it wasn’t a flash in the pan. He grew to that level over years, not one great year.
Somewhere along the way he lost his voice this year. The team did not give an all out level all the time like they have in past years. This team did not meet the lofty expectations placed in them at the beginning of the year. Hey, they went to the Eastern Conference Finals without their best player. Of course there were high expectations. But ego, it seems, has gotten the better of them to this point.
But what can cut through all the noise of ego? Getting thumped on your home floor in the playoffs, pushing you to the brink of elimination, getting called out nation wide. When the players are reeling and wondering how they got here who can they turn to? Brad Stevens, the man with a plan. And when the players follow the plan of Brad Stevens, great things happen.
Stevens is being bashed for not throwing his players under the bus right now. That is building trust. Look for the players to start playing the Stevens game, team basketball, the best of the Celtics, in Game 5 and moving forward.
Bucks Over Their Heads
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a certified NBA Super Star. He’s so great his same now rolls off the tongue. But he is one man. Khris Middleton is pretty good.
But 33 year old George Hill averaged a 6.6 Game Score for the Cavs in the playoff last year. Verse the Celtics in the last two games? 15.75. Overall for this playoffs? 10. George Hill’s cameo as bad Kyrie is just that, a two game cameo.
Pat Connaughton turned into current George Hill the last two games with an 11.2 average Game Score. His total playoff average is 4.4. Give the 26 year old the benefit of the doubt and this year his average is 8.5 in the playoffs. He’s played the last two 30% better than that. It won’t last.
Some would say these Bucks are on a roll. From here it’s an aberration with a current expiration date.
Poking Marcus Smart
It is advisable to rile up Marcus Smart? Antetokounmpo thinks not.
A motivated Marcus Smart is almost as important as a healthy Marcus Smart. Expect good things from Marcus Smart in Game 5 and going forward.
The Bucks are playing over their heads, the Celtics are playing poorly. Getting humiliated was just what the Celtics needed to turn things around. Get ready for a different series starting tomorrow night.
Photo via AP/Charles Krupa