All was quiet on the Celtics front throughout the majority of last Thursday's NBA trading deadline, but Danny Ainge swooped in at the last minute and upgraded Boston's talent by bringing in Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko and Luigi Datome. You won't find many people who had a problem with these moves, but the newcomers have certainly made a more electric impact than most in their first week with a new club.
You could even argue that they have been the best players in uniform as of late.
What better way to introduce the new Celtics than to throw them into the fire against the Lakers? Sure, it isn't quite the same when both sides sport a losing record, but the rivalry never goes away and Sunday's matchup was another perfect example of that. In a game where the Celtics looked buried with about 35 seconds remaining in regulation, Avery Bradley delivered another cold blooded streak of clutch play by pouring in eight points in 27 seconds to force the heated rivals into a surprising overtime affair.
Unfortunately, the Celtics shot just 2-12 in overtime and were unable to hang on, allowing Swaggy P to hold bragging rights for the evening. Of course, it didn't help that Isaiah Thomas was unfairly ejected in the fourth quarter and the league even acknowledged that by rescinding the second technical foul, but you can't take that back in the heat of the game. Even so, Thomas otherwise put together one heck of a debut with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists in his first game in green and white.
The very next night, the Celtics had a little bit of a chip on their shoulder and they entered Phoenix with an extremely high level of energy. Not only that, but they were scorching hot shooting the rock from the outside. Boston knocked down 10 three-point shots in the first half alone, helping them to season highs of 67 points in the first half along with 14 total triples for the game.
Avery Bradley was an absolute bulldog on both ends of the floor, and sometimes the numbers don't back that up but you can't sugar coat 8-14 shooting and six steals. Bradley is developing into one heck of a two-way threat, and fellow Tacoma, WA native Isaiah Thomas had a little extra motivation to have a big game, as well. Everyone wants to play well and earn a victory against a team that traded them, and Thomas answered the call with 21 points, seven assists and slew of clutch shots in the waning moments of the game.
Despite allowing 62 points in the paint, Boston's hot start and momentum-altering fourth quarter buckets ultimately pushed them over the top.
The depleted New York Knicks made a trip to the Garden in an attempt to avenge the double-digit loss Boston had already handed them at the beginning of the month, and it looked like a nail-biter throughout the better part of the first three quarters. New York's big man trio of Louis Amundson, Andrea Bargnani and Jason Smith gave the Celtics fits around the rim in the first half, exposing Boston's lack of size (especially with Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger out of action). Through three quarters, the game had experienced 19 lead changes and 10 ties.
Then, just like that, the switch was flipped and the Celtics started going crazy from beyond the arc while putting the clamps down on the defensive end. An 18-4 run to close the third quarter quickly escalated to an insurmountable 43-13 stretch that the Knicks had absolutely no answer for. The Celtics had poured in 14 three-point shots for the second consecutive game, and a large chunk of those came in the form of the domino effect during that second half onslaught.
Evan Turner helped lead the way with his first career triple-double of 10 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists to complement Marcus Smart's showcase of two-way excellence against the old legs of Jose Calderon. The most exciting aspect of this game, however, was the performance of the second unit. Brad Stevens' bench brigade accumulated 61 points, 57 of which came between Jae Crowder (18), Isaiah Thomas (19) and the game's high scorer Jonas Jerebko (20).
In his first chance to play extended minutes as a Celtic, Jerebko started a bandwagon that Celtic Nation can't seem to get off of. The newbie stretch-four went 7-10 from the field, including 4-6 from beyond the arc and his spark was as important a factor to this victory as anything else.
In a battle for each squad's playoff lives, Big Al Jefferson and the Hornets made a trip to Beantown looking to take advantage of an opportunity to gain a little extra breathing room in the standings against another Eastern Conference club with postseason aspirations. Newest Hornet Mo Williams did all he could to lead Charlotte, as his 31-point outburst came in bunches through multiple stretches, but it wasn't enough to hold off the C's on a mission.
Once again, the Celtics stepped up and made big plays in big moments down the stretch. Boston held a 96-95 advantage with two minutes to go, and a big corner three from Jae Crowder was complemented by a pair of two-handed putback dunks from Avery Bradley to help close the game out on a 10-3 run.
The real story was, once again, the dynamite performance from the bench. Isaiah Thomas lead the way with 28 points and his second consecutive game shooting 10+ free throws, but he was far from alone. Jae Crowder continued his consistent streak of making an impact on both ends of the court, contributing 14 points, six boards and four threes, putting him at 12-27 from beyond the arc this week.
Jonas Jerebko earned extra floor time after his strong performance against New York, and he played just as well (if not better) on Friday night. Shooting 6-9 including three bombs from three-point territory, Jerebko put together a big 16-point, 10-rebound double-double to help Boston's bench outscore Charlotte's 60-16 and earn their third victory in a row.
Are you having fun?!?! I know I am.
CELTICS PLAYER OF THE WEEK
22.3 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 6.0 APG, 1.0 SPG
This ultra-exciting 3-1 week has been headed by a number of high impact performers, and it is hard to zero in on just one guy that made the biggest difference. Avery Bradley has been on an absolute tear, growing more and more comfortable within his role on both ends of the floor and playing as complete a two-way game as he ever has in the NBA thus far. Bradley's ball pressure has been in vintage form as of late, and he scored 18.5 point per game this week while shooting roughly 45% from the field as well as beyond the arc, where he has been hitting approximately three per game. That doesn't even include the 28 points, six assists and four steals he put together in Sacramento last Friday.
Jae Crowder has not-so-quietly become one of the real glue guys on this young Celtics core, and he looks awful comfortable in his role as the physical energizer off the bench. I'll tell you what, though, I didn't know he had this much offensive ability to his game before he put on the green and white. The dreadlocked assassin put up 16.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game this week, burying 12 three-point shots and really doing an incredible job of keeping his body active every second he is on the floor.
Even Jonas Jerebko has pleasantly surprised us all to accumulate 36 points, 15 rebounds, five assists and a 7-10 three-point clip over the last two games, but if you ask me, Isaiah Thomas' attack mentality has been the breath of fresh air that this offense desperately needed.
Sure, Thomas has been leading the team in scoring and offensive usage since becoming a member of the family, but it's not about what he has been doing. It is how he has done it. Thomas has played four games with the Celtics so far, and he has already been to the line for 35 free throws, hitting 31 of them. When is the last time the C's had a player with as relentless of an approach to creating north-south at that rate? Paul Pierce?
Don't get out of hand and mark that up as a comparison in terms of overall impact, but it is not a coincidence that the Celtics are getting to the line a lot more frequently, are more spread out and more of a threat from the outside since the little fella has come to town. Thomas creates a lot of offense, and nobody else on the roster can do it at his level.
Welcome to Boston, Isaiah!
LOOKING AHEAD: The Celtics will be busy this week with another four-game schedule on their plate, and their opponents will be far from a walk in the park. Tonight, they'll host the league's top dog as the Splash Brothers and the Warriors come to town just two days before the Celtics will meet up with LeBron James' Cavaliers at The Q on Tuesday night. Boston will head back home for the second night of a back-to-back on Wednesday, where Brad Stevens will meet up with his former pupil Gordan Hayward when the Jazz will attempt to split the season series against the Celtics. To close out the week, the Celtics will make sure they eat their Wheaties before Friday night's meeting in New Orleans against a Pelicans squad that is just as hungry for playoff positioning as the men in green.
Miami, Brooklyn, Indiana and Charlotte - watch your back. The Celtics are coming.