Blasberg ’18: Upward trend for developing Celtics

Sports Columnist
Friday, October 2, 2015

Paul Pierce isn’t walking through that door, Kevin Garnett isn’t walking through that door and Ray Allen isn’t walking through that door. What we are is young, exciting, hard-working and going to improve.

Over the last two Celtics seasons, Rick Pitino’s press conference rant has been playing on repeat in my head. The sooner we say goodbye to the stars of old, the sooner the team will improve. Last season, the Celtics’ front office and fans did just that. They moved on. And the team pleasantly surprised us by making a late-season playoff push, which resulted in it clinching the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference.

While the season was definitely not all positive, coach Brad Stevens did a remarkable job steering the young team through numerous trades and shifts in personnel. Given that halfway through the season, the Celtics considered being a lottery team, their playoff appearance speaks to their scrappiness and confidence. Though they lack the star power that sells tickets in Miami and Cleveland, these Celtics constitute a team of coming attractions.

Brad Stevens, entering his third year as an NBA coach, continues to impress. He reminds me of a more vocal Bill Belichick. His poise on the sideline, his emphasis on defense and the way he keeps his players level-headed and humble are attributes that the Patriots’ steely-eyed mastermind has in spades. Stevens came to the Celtics with daunting shoes to fill, after the C’s parted ways with the legendary Doc Rivers. His job was not to fill Doc’s place, though. He needed to master the transition from college to the pros and learn to use his players to the best of their abilities. Doc was dealt a very talented hand; Stevens was dealt a young one.

The Celtics floundered during their first year under Stevens, but they drastically improved under difficult circumstances last year. This year, Stevens knows his returning players and has had a say in the new ones. He is comfortable coaching in the NBA, and it is apparent through his press conferences that he is taking ownership of the team’s performance more than in the previous two seasons.

The Celtics’ youth is also exciting. The majority of players on the roster range from 22 to 26 years old, and they only have one player over 30: David Lee, a 6-foot-9 power forward whom they acquired from the world-champion Golden State Warriors. Compare this group to the Celtics of 2012-13, a team on which the two best players — Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — were (and somehow still are) riding out the tail ends of their careers.

Jared Sullinger has replaced Paul Pierce as the Cetlics’ go-to scorer, and he has very much emulated Pierce’s style of manufacturing points. Sullinger, like Pierce, complements his jump shot with a variety of moves to the hoop that either result in a layup, a fall-away jump shot or a trip to the free throw line.

Beside Sullinger, Evan Turner — also a former Ohio State Buckeye — established himself as a dangerous scoring weapon at the end of last season, as he posted three triple-doubles in the last half of the year. Expect Sullinger and Turner to feed off each other and lead a multifaceted offense.

Finally, the Celtics defense also improved during last season and over the offseason. To go along with defensive guards Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart, the Celtics now have size that can jam up the interior in a way they haven’t in the past few years. Adding Perry Jones’ defensive process to the rim perfection of seven footers Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller, the defense will be able to block shots and combat short-range attempts better than last year. Through the first week of training camp, Brad Stevens has been particularly impressed with the defense of Jae Crowder and newcomer Amir Johnson. An offseason free-agent acquisition, Johnson has already made strides fitting into this unfamiliar defense, as his lack of mistakes and focus on the team stuck out to his coaches and teammates.

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but this Celtics team is not a championship team. They have yet to prove themselves against the bullies of the Eastern Conference, but I expect them to be a solid playoff contender, earning maybe a fifth or sixth seed. They will also be an exciting team to watch. With the newest big-three gone, it is time to look to the younger players to form the next big-three.

Charlie Blasberg ’18 was mistaken for a player at the Celtics’ training camp this year. Tell him to run harder at