By Patrick Whalen
Well after a long two weeks of tests and work we’re back in business and what a couple weeks it was for the Celtics that featured many ups and downs along the way. The long journey all began with the Anthony Davis trade request to begin February which led to the resparking of the Kyrie Irving leaving the Celtics rumors, specifically to the New York Knicks who the Celtics played to start this month. Kyrie also did not help in silencing the rumors as his answer to whether he was still committed to resigning was, “Ask me on July first.” This, of course, set off a firestorm on Twitter and had every Knicks fan on the planet believing that Kyrie is going to be a Knick on July first. Knick fans also promptly greeted Irving with a flurry of cheers at MSG that night before the Celtics and Knicks tipped off.
Irving torched the Knicks for 23 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Some of the veterans also stepped up to help shut the crowd in MSG up as Marcus Morris went for 18 points and 5 rebounds, Al Horford had 14 points and 9 rebounds and Gordon Hayward chipped in 14 points off the bench for the Celtics to pull away and win by a score of 113-99. This was a game the Celtics had the motivation to win and they did their job handling business in MSG. It also helped that the Knicks were without newly acquired DeAndre Jordan and Dennis Smith Jr and that Kadeem Allen was what they threw out as the starting point guard I mean come on now.
The Celtics then headed back home to the TD Garden to take on the OKC Thunder. The Garden has been the Celtics best friend since the calendar turned to 2019 as they entered this game with a 10-1 home record in 2019 with their one loss being to the Warriors by just 4 points. Kyrie Irving again balled out in this game with 30 points and 11 assists. The rest of the starting line up also stepped up against one of the best teams in the western conference. The veterans led the way as Marcus Morris had 19 points and 7 rebounds and Horford finished with 17 points and 9 assists. But the young guys also performed well too, Smart had 18 points and 7 assists and Tatum had 11 points and 7 rebounds. It took all of that and more to hold off the red hot Thunder as Paul George went for 37 points while Russel Westbrook went for 22 points, 16 assists, and 12 rebounds.
The Celts then took their winning ways to the road with a 103-96 victory over the pitiful Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving and Marcus Morris were both out for this game which allowed some of the young guns some extra minutes, specifically Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown who got starts in place of Irving and Morris. Offensively Jayson Tatum picked up the load for the Celtics as he had 25 points, 7 rebounds and 3 blocks. Marcus Smart picked it up for the back court as he had 17 points on 6-10 shooting including 4-5 from three point range. Smart also had 5 rebounds and 4 assists. Gordon Hayward also gave us another sign that he is getting closer to being back as he had 18 points off the bench on 9-14 shooting to go with his 6 rebounds and 5 assists. The Cavs were without pretty much every verteran on their team which pretty much guarunteed a Celtics win from the start but they still had two solid performers as rookie Colin Sexton had 27 points and newly acquired Alec Burks had 21 points.
The Celtics then came home for back to back games against the teams from Southern California. The first game was against Lebron and the Lakers. The Celtics at one point led by 18 points in the first half but allowed the Lakers to keep it close as the lead at halftime was only 9 points. The Celtics then had one of their worst quarters of the season giving up 42 points to the Lakers and allowing them to enter the fourth quarter with a 6 point lead. The Celtics thought they had the game sealed up as Kyrie hit a lay up with 11 seconds to go to give the Celtics a 128-127 lead. But the Lakers still had a chance but Brandon Ingram missed the potential go ahead layup. The ball then bounced around as no one could grab the rebound and fell right into the hands of none other than former Celtic champion Rajon Rondo who cucked up a last second shot that fell to give the Lakers a 129-128 victory and a heart breaking loss for the Celtics who now fell to 35-20 on the season. But despite the gut wrenching loss their were still many great performances from the Celtics. Kyrie stuffed the stat sheet with 24 points, 8 assists, and 7 rebounds. Jayson Tatum went for his sixth double double of the season with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Jaylen Brown chipped in 18 points on 7-10 shooting off the bench and Daniel Theis had one of his best career games with 20 points and 6 rebounds off the bench. But it wasn’t enough to over come Lebron’s 28 point, 12 rebound, 12 assist triple double. The Lakers also had Rondo go for a double double with 17 points and 10 assists. Kuzma also had a good night scoring as he had 25 points to help spur the Lakers come back.
The Celtics then looked to bounce back against the Clippers who had just delt their best player in Tobias Harris to the Sixers. But this would not be the case as the Celtics offense after the first quarter sputtered to the point where no one broke the 20 point thresh hold. The Celtics openned the game with a 23 point lead after the first quarter and at one point in the second had the lead up to 28 over the Clippers. But the Celtics then came out of the half and put up the worst quarter of the year offensively scoring just 12 points in the third allowing the Clippers to cut the lead down to just 6 points. The Celtics defense the decided not to show up for the foruth quarter as they allowed 42 points to the Clippers allowing them to pull away for 123-112 win at the Garden. The fans then rightfully booed the Celtics off the court after their hideous performance that put them at 35-21 on the season. Plus to make matters worse Kyrie left the game with an injury after playing just 14 minutes. Gordon Hayward tried to help will the team to victory as he led the way off the bench with 19 points and 5 rebounds. Rozier also stepped up his efforts after Irving got hurt with 16 points and 5 rebounds also off the bench. Jayson Tatum chipped in 16 points and 8 rebounds on just 4-12 shooting and Marcus Morris had 15 points and 6 rebounds. But the Celtics poorest defensive effort of the year led to 8 Clippers being in double figures with Montrezl Harrell leading the way with 21 points off the bench. Danilo Gallinari had a double double with 19 points and 10 rebounds while fellow starter Patrick Beverly was on triple double watch with 12 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists. After the game when addressing the media Marcus Morris said that this team just isn’t having fun which caused all Boston media outlets to start freaking out saying this team has zero chemisty, trade Kyrie and to blow up the team.
The Celtics were now left with 2 games before the All Star break and the next one was on the road against the new superteam in the east in the Philadelphia 76ers. Most people went into this game thinking without Kyrie that this would be the loss that sends the Celtics spiraling down towards the bottom half of the standings in the eaastern conference. But once again the Celtics proved Joel Embiid right that this isn’t a rivalry because the Celtics won again as usual. The Celtics led by 6 at the half and were able to survuve a back and fourth fourth quater to seal the 112-109 victory. In Kyrie’s absence it wasn’t Al Horford, Tatum or even Terry that led the way for the Celtics offfensively, no it was none other than GORDON HAYWARD. Gordon had 26 points on 8-11 shooting off the bench including being 6-7 from downtown. Despite not leading in scoring Al Horford also stepped up and had 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, and 4 steals. Al also prove he still own Joel with another stellar defensive performance against him. Tatum chalked up his seventh double double of the season and second aginst the Sixers with 20 points and 10 rebounds. Marcus Morris also chipped in 17 points and 8 rebounds to lock up the hard fought win. The Celtics defense stepped as well after back-to-back poor performances as they held Tobias Harris to 10 points on 4-14 shooting, J.J. Reddick to 16 on 4-11 shooting and Joel Embiid to 23 points on 9-22 shooting. With the win the Celtics moved into a tie fo fourth in the east with the Sixers as each left the night at 36-21 on the year.
The Celtics then finished up their pre All Star break schedule with the Detroit Pistons back home in the Garden. Again Kyrie was out for the third straight game but Terry Rozier was also delared out for this game which forced Brad Stevens to become creative with the lineup. He opted to move Marcus Smart to the point and rewarded Gordon Hayward for his productive recent play with the start at the two guard spot. This move of course paid dividends as Gordon had 18 points, 5 rebounds, and 8 assists for the Celts. Tatum led the way scoring with 19 points, Marcus Morris chipped in 16 points and Jaylen Brown had 17 points and 7 rebounds off the bench. Plus Al Horford was on triple double watch as he finished with 17 points, 14 rebounds and 8 assists. The win now had the Celtics entering the break at 37-21 for the season and still just 6.5 games out of first place in the eastern conference. Overall everyone may be freaking out over the Kyrie situation, the statement Morris made after the Clippers game, or the heart breaking loss to the Lakers but the Celtics still went 5-2 over this stretch. The boys wil now get some much needed rest except for Jayson Tatum who just won the Taco Bell skills competition and Kyrie had 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in the All Star game this past Sunday. Now they need to prepare for the late season push to get the highest possible seed.