It’s truly remarkable what coaching can do for a basketball team – or any high school, collegiate or professional ballclub.
To say that Brad Stevens has done an outstanding job with the Boston Celtics is a huge understatement.
Coming into the season, these Celtics were supposed to be a scrappy bunch, fighting for a playoff spot in the wide-open Eastern Conference. But the C’s have given their loyal fans a lot to cheer about this season, and Boston made arguably its biggest statement of the season long after much of the East Coast had gone to bed Friday night.
The Golden State Warriors are arguably the best team in the NBA. Coming into Friday’s game against Boston, they had yet to lose at Oracle Arena. Golden State is closing in on becoming only the second team in league history to win 70 games in a single season. The Celtics had played the Warriors tough in a double-overtime loss at TD Garden earlier this season, but could this scrappy group go into Golden State and come away with a win?
My money thought no. I figured it would be a close game, but the Warriors would pull away in the end. Yet again, the Celtics proved me wrong, shocking the Warriors 109-106. The win moved Boston into 4th place in the Eastern Conference heading into Sunday night’s matchup with the Los Angeles Lakers to conclude a west-coast swing.
No matter how far these Celtics go in the postseason, they have sent a message to the NBA in beating the top teams in each conference on the road this season. Boston does not have a game-changer like Stephen Curry, but they play hard for 48 minutes, are arguably the best-coached team in the NBA, and are unselfish.
While Boston likely won’t catch Atlantic Division-leading Toronto, the Celtics have a fantastic chance to finish 3rd in the East, and avoid having to face Cleveland until the conference finals. Stevens is a great coach with tremendous fire, and will finish above .500 for the first time as an NBA coach. But he again showed why he is a fantastic leader when he said that you don’t coach the Celtics to win 42 games. The 17 banners hanging in TD Garden are an example of that.
The Celtics are just one or two players away from truly competing for an NBA title. Nonetheless, this playoff ride should be a fun one, and teams like Cleveland are not going to want to face Boston.
BRUINS CONTROL THEIR OWN DESTINY
The good news for the Boston Bruins this weekend: They managed to get two points out of a tough back-to-back road trip through St. Louis and defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
The bad news: Boston’s defense is letting down at the wrong time of the year, as the Bruins gave up 12 goals in those two games, a 6-5 win over the Blues and a 6-4 loss to the Blackhawks.
Boston left the Windy City on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. Bruins fans can’t help to think of last year’s late-season collapse that left the team out of the postseason.
However, the Bruins are only one point behind Detroit and Philadelphia, and Boston closes out the year with three home games, including a potential do-or-die matchup with the Red Wings on Thursday. The other two games see Carolina and Ottawa coming into TD Garden, two teams near the bottom of the East who have nothing to lose.
All three of these games are playoff games for the Bruins. They need to play with a sense of urgency, and their blueliners have to be more consistent in front of Tuukka Rask. They need to do everything possible to avoid the second wild-card spot and a matchup with Washington in the opening round.
Maybe former University of Maine star and current Detroit star Gus Nyquist will be the one to knock the Bruins out of the playoffs?
A NEW ADDITION TO THE LINEUP
Normally, I don’t write about personal things in this space, but over the weekend, my family’s lineup card got a new addition.
I’m happy to report my wife, Alissa, and I welcomed our first child, Liam Gabriel, on Friday morning. He weighed 6 pounds, 4 ounces, and mom and baby are doing fine.
The first “big game” he watched with his proud papa was North Carolina’s NCAA semifinal win over Syracuse on Saturday night. Liam had his Tar Heel blue on in spite of sleeping through the game. Dad has been a UNC basketball fan since first grade, in case you didn’t know.
His first championship game comes Monday night when the Heels play Villanova for a national title. My first one was Super Bowl XX. Hopefully North Carolina has better fortunes than the Patriots did.