C’s Circuit: Embrace the Cinderella Celtics

Brad Stevens continues to work magic with the Boston Celtics.

Brad Stevens continues to work magic with the Boston Celtics.

It’s tough not to feel good about the Boston Celtics these days. The team is 8-5 since the acquisitions of Isaiah Thomas, Jonas Jerebko, Luigi Datome just before the NBA Trade Deadline on February 19th. Also, the Celtics have won their last two games without Thomas (bruised back), including a thrilling 95-92 victory over the Memphis Grizzlies, who are currently in second place in the loaded Western Conference.

The Celtics are a Cinderella story as they reside just one game out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They don’t have a star player, but the Celtics play together and Brad Stevens has been fabulous calling plays out of timeouts at the end of games. For example in the 85-84 win over the Utah Jazz on March 4th, Stevens noticed that the Jazz had their 7-footer Rudy Gobert defending the inbounds pass and they were switching so he called a play for Tyler Zeller. Marcus Smart lobbed a long pass to Zeller who hit a buzzer-beating bank shot to send the Celtics to an exhilarating victory. In the win over the Grizzlies, Stevens drew a play for Kelly Olynyk, but he told Evan Turner to see if an alley-oop pass to Smart was available. Smart gained a step on former Celtic guard Courtney Lee and Smart banked in a shot before hitting the ensuing free throw to give the Celtics a 91-90 advantage.

Many fans have been rooting for the Celtics to lose over the past couple of seasons so they can get a potential superstar in the Draft. Isn’t it more fun to cheer for your team when they are underdogs? The most memorable victories in recent Boston sports history has been the New England Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXVI victory over the St. Louis Rams, and when the Boston Red Sox came from 3-0 down to beat the hated New York Yankees in seven games in the 2004 ALCS and then they swept the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series. Both of these teams’ championship runs were so improbable. I’m not saying the Celtics will go on a championship run, but it would be fun to cheer for the superstar-less Celtics and see how far they go.

The Celtics can follow the Atlanta Hawks’ model of success. Of course, the Hawks have made every postseason since 2008. Last season, the Hawks finished in eighth place and they fell in seven games to the top-seeded Indiana Pacers. This year, the Hawks used that run and some good health to claim the first spot in the Eastern Conference. Also, the Celtics will have about $30 million in cap space with a talented free agent class. They also have numerous draft pics over the next several years to remain in contention.

After all, everyone loves an underdog story and isn’t this the reason we watch sports? This is the season of Cinderella teams breaking people’s hearts around the country.

Excuse me for hoping the Celtics make a deep run in favor of taking a chance on a talented, yet not fully developed, teenager coming out of a year of college.The kid in me still enjoys fairy tale endings.

 

 

Boston Bruins: Last Two Weeks By The Numbers

After a less than stellar February, the Bruins seem to have found their stride again during the first half of March as they have put some separation between themselves and those chasing for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference. The team has gone 6-0-1 in its last seven games and seen their first shootout goal of the calendar year, one winger accomplishing something not done in 31 years, a rare two-goal game for a member of the fourth line, the special teams doing something they have not done since 2009 and the team opening the scoring in as consistent of a way they have not done since 1990. This is Boston Bruins: Last Two Weeks By The Numbers.

Brad Marchand has been doing his part to help jumpstart the Bruins in the month of March.

Brad Marchand has been doing his part to help jumpstart the Bruins in the month of March.

0: Carl Soderberg failed to win a face off against the Flyers on Saturday for the first time since Nov. 21.

1: Ryan Spooner scored the first goal of his career on Feb. 27 to give the Bruins their 30th win, 3-2, over the Devils in overtime. It came in his 35th career NHL game.

1: Six nights later, he took the first shootout attempt of his career in the loss to the Flames (0-1).

1: Max Talbot earned his first point as a member of the Bruins with the primary assist on Brad Marchand’s game-winning overtime goal to beat the Flyers, 3-2, on Saturday.

1.20: David Pastrnak is tied for fifth in the league with 1.20 points per game against the Atlantic Division this season (just five games).

2: Daniel Paille recorded goals in consecutive games on Feb. 24 and 27 for the first time since Jan. 4 and 7, 2014.

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Red Sox Are Betting On Efficiency

I recently read an excellent article written by Alex Speier of the Boston Globe that I believe offers a great deal of perspective on both the Red Sox’ offseason strategy and their plan moving forward. There has been popular sentiment among most Red Sox fans that the team’s offseason goals remain incomplete due to the lack of an “established ace;” whether that deficiency changes the Red Sox’ postseason aspirations remains to be seen. However in the article mentioned above, Speier examines the returns on $20 million Average Annual Value contracts for pitchers, and then compares them to drafted amateurs who earned a bonus of $5 million or more, and Cuban free agents who received a bonus of $10 million or more. The article is definitely worth a read for more in-depth analysis, but the main conclusion is that while you generally get what you pay for, future considerations favor the Red Sox’ offseason strategy.

1 Hanley + 1 Sandoval = 1 Lester

1 Hanley + 1 Sandoval = 1 Lester

The first part of Speier’s article asks why the Red Sox flexed their financial muscle on Yoan Moncada instead of Jon Lester. This is really not a fair comparison, since the $63 million the team spent on Moncada (including the overage tax) is roughly one-third of what Lester eventually received from the Cubs in free agency ($180 million, including a seventh year option). Instead, let us compare Lester’s signing to what the Red Sox actually did with the money they saved from his defection. The Red Sox spent about $183 million to sign Hanley Ramirez AND Pablo Sandoval, effectively getting two above average players instead of one. While there is still room for improvement in the rotation, the lineup was also a major issue last season and getting two above average bats for the price of one above average starting pitcher should be applauded.

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Celtics Circuit: Intriguing C’s Coming Together

The Celtics could lure a big-time player like Marc Gasol this summer.

The Celtics could lure a big-time player like Marc Gasol this summer.

For the first time in awhile, Boston Celtics fans can say their team is fun to watch. The Celtics are 5-3 since the acquisitions of guard Isaiah Thomas and fowards Jonas Jerekbo, and Luigi Datome on February 19th.

The team has won their last two games over the Utah Jazz at home and on the road against the New Orleans Pelicans. In the week before, the Celtics won three games over the Phoenix Suns, New York Knicks, and Charlotte Hornets.

In eight games, Thomas is averaging 21.0 points off the bench in about 27 minutes. Meanwhile Jerekbo has knocked down 11 of 20 attempts from beyond the three-point line in seven games.

Despite the strong play against mediocre competition, the Celtics dropped two games earlier this week to the Golden State Warriors at TD Garden and at the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Celtics lost a 26-point lead in the first half in their 106-101 defeat to the Warriors on Sunday. They got crushed by the Cavaliers on Tuesday night.

Also, the team was unable to agree to a deal with center JaVale McGee because both sides could not agree on the option for next year. The Celtics wanted the option to belong to the team, but McGee wanted a player option. While McGee could have brought a shot-blocking presence in the frontcourt, he has dealt with numerous injuries over the past couple of seasons and he has been inconsistent throughout his career. He might have represented a good low-cost addition to the organization.

Thomas has proven he is a volume scorer and he brings balance to the backcourt with his ability in the high pick-and-roll. Jerekbo has been able to stretch the floor with his shooting.

The Celtics began the season with a starting lineup of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green, Avery Bradley, Jared Sullinger, and Kelly Olynyk. Only one of those players (Olynyk) played in Friday night’s 104-98 victory over the Pelicans. Rondo and Green were both traded. Sullinger is out for the season with a foot fracture and Bradley suffered a hyperextended elbow in the win against the Jazz.

Currently, the Celtics are one and a half games behind the Indiana Pacers for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

There seem to be brighter days ahead because the Celtics have nearly $30 million in cap space with two first-round picks. This year’s free agent class includes some prominent players such as LaMarcus Aldridge, Jimmy Butler, Marc Gasol, Kevin Love, and Paul Millsap.

Boston could be an attractive destination, especially if the Celtics can continue their recent surge.

 

 

Boston Bruins: Last Two Weeks By The Numbers For 2/27/15

It’s been a busy couple of weeks for the Bruins and despite only playing five games, there has been a lot going on both on the ice with some quality opponents and off the ice with the trade deadline approaching on Monday. The team returned to Boston after a long, and somewhat miserable, 5-game Western Conference road trip this past Tuesday, but continues to struggle to hang on to the final playoff spot in the East. Just to name a few, the Bruins endured their longest shootout ever and helped to nearly set an NHL shootout record, had two players debut in the same game, scored their most goals in a game this year, saw their coach reach a milestone and one of their leaders reach a couple of his own. We have a lot to get to, so this is Boston Bruins: Last Two Weeks By The Numbers.

While the Bruins have faltered pretty mightily in the last couple weeks, Tuukka Rask certainly has not been to blame.

While the Bruins have faltered pretty mightily in the last couple weeks, Tuukka Rask certainly has not been to blame.

0: Edmonton defenseman Martin Marincin scored the only goal in the 12-round shootout between in Bruins and the Oilers on Feb. 18. He has no goals and just one point in 21 games played this season.

1: St. Louis’ Petteri Lindbohm scored his first career goal against the Bruins in their win on Friday night. It also happened to be the first career goal allowed by Malcolm Subban and, according to Elias, Lindbohm became the first player in Blues’ history to score his first career goal on a goalie who gave up his first career NHL goal. The last time that happened in any NHL game was in 2007.

1: Brian Ferlin recorded his first NHL point with an assist on Gregory Campbell’s goal to put the Bruins up, 4-1, over the Blackhawks on Sunday.

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Moncada Signing Solidifies Red Sox Infield

First a little disclaimer: the headline might be somewhat misleading. The Red Sox’ signing of Cuban uber-prospect Yoan Moncada does seem to stabilize the team’s infield picture, but for the future, meaning two or three years down the line. There is no current opening in the Red Sox infield, but there should be by the time Moncada is ready to show the world why the Red Sox just paid $31.5 million to a 19 year-old who has never played baseball in the United States. The tools, talent, and projectability are allegedly off the charts, so once he is ready the Red Sox might more or less have to find a spot for him, but it might not be as hard as it sounds.

Consider the Red Sox infield picture beyond the 2015 season; Mike Napoli is headed for free agency, and while he says he would like to stay beyond this season, there probably won’t be much motivation for the Red Sox to get something done beyond a one-year deal. So that leaves Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval locked up long-term, plus Xander Bogaerts sticking around at shortstop. However, given Sandoval’s less-than-inspiring physique (plus his career 0 DRS and 2.2 UZR at third), it might be best to move him to first base in the long term. If injuries or weight really become an issue, he could even DH on a near full-time basis, thereby leaving first base open for Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, the first base/DH duties should go between Sandoval and Ramirez, in whatever order the Red Sox see fit.

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