All posts by brendantamul

Paul Pierce to Retire at the Conclusion of the 2016-2017 Season

If you’re a Celtics fan born from the time Larry Bird called it quits in 1992 to say, 2000, then Paul Pierce is your favorite player in the NBA. This isn’t left up for opinion; if he isn’t then you’re just wrong. Paul Pierce, drafted 10th overall by the Boston Celtics in 1998, has decided to retire at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 NBA season.

Screen Shot 2016-09-30 at 11.57.55 AM.pngThe 10 time All-Star by way of Kansas was drafted to a Celtics team in 1998 with no real identity. They only finished above .500 one time after Bird retired in ’92 to the time Pierce was drafted, making the playoffs only twice and losing in the first round of the playoffs each time. In the ’01-’02 season, Pierce’s fourth year in the league, they were back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Paul led the team that year in scoring with 26.1 PPG and led the Celtics to the Conference Finals before losing to the New Jersey Nets in 6 games. Despite a disappointing finish to the season, the Celtics had the largest fourth quarter comeback in NBA playoff history by coming back from a 21-point deficit. Paul Pierce had 19 points in that quarter, and so began his cementation as a legitimate force in the NBA, making his first All-Star appearance earlier that year.

Even so, Pierce never found himself on a Championship team. After losing to the Nets, the Celtics made the postseason the three following years, losing in the Conference Semifinals once and the first round twice. In the ’05-’06 and ’06-’07 seasons, the Celtics missed the playoffs all together. Pierce still averaged 26.8 and 25 PPG respectively in those two seasons under new head coach, Doc Rivers. Statistically, the ’05-’06 season was Pierce’s best season of his career as he also averaged a near career high 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. This was partially a testament to the lack of weapons around Pierce leading to the necessity of more dominance from “The Truth,” a moniker given to Paul by legend, Shaquille O’Neil. But after missing the postseason for two straight years, Danny Ainge had seen enough.

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In the offseason following the ’06-’07 season, Ainge began to talk to the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade for now recently retired, Kevin Garnett. Garnett, however, had a no-trade clause that he was not willing to waive to go to the Boston Celtics. But then Ainge acquired the sharpshooting Ray Allen before the draft from the Seattle Supersonics. This was all Garnett needed to see to give Boston a shot, and now the Boston Celtics had a new big three for the upcoming 2007-2008 season in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce.

It didn’t take long for the big three to get acclimated. In just their first season together, they finished with 66 wins—1st in the Eastern Conference. It took 7 games in each of their first two round against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavilers. Game 7 of the Cavs series was a staple game in Paul Pierce’s career. Trading blows back and forth for four quarters, Paul Pierce and LeBron James were going toe–to-toe in a barnburner of a game. Pierce finished with 41 points to LeBron’s 45, and the Celtics bested the Cavilers 97-92. They then advanced to the NBA finals to play the Los Angeles Lakers after defeating the Detroit Pistons in 6.

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It was a storybook ending to a storybook season. The two most storied franchises in NBA history going head to head for the first time since the Bird-Magic days. It took 6 games and the Celtics won their first NBA Championship since 1986. Paul Pierce won Finals MVP with a line of 21.8/4.5/6.3 through the six games. As Pierce’s teammate and friend, Kevin Garnett exclaimed, “Anything is possible!”

Since game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce’s career has been more of a struggle to win it all. The Celtics made the Finals again two years later, this time losing to the Lakers in 7 games. Then, after losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2013, it was the end of an era. Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and others to the Brooklyn Nets. Though still productive, Pierce and Garnett were aged and another championship just wasn’t foreseeable for the duo. It was time to move on and Ainge made the move that is still paying off for the Celtics to this day.

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The trade clearly left Paul Pierce in shock and even sadness. Even more devastating for Celtics fans was the monotone press conference from Pierce, followed by a photo opt of him holding up a black and white Brooklyn jersey deeming no. 34. He averaged 13.5 ppg during his year in Brooklyn where he clearly just didn’t feel at home, the lowest points per game in his career. It was most evident Pierce didn’t feel at home in Brooklyn when the Nets played the C’s for the first time in 2013 at the Boston Garden. A press conference with KG and him showed them both sitting there timidly, giving soft answers, showing nothing but the most love for the city of Boston. Garnett did most of the talking while Pierce stared blankly ahead, seemingly fighting back tears. Hell just writing about it has me fighting back tears. And Paul later admitted his time in Brooklyn was horrible, but seemed to find solace the next year as a Washington Wizard.

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The Wizards, with the backcourt tandem of the explosive John Wall and sharpshooting Bradley Beal, lost the Conference Semis while Paul Pierce was playing in Brooklyn. Pierce couldn’t help the Wizards get over that hump, finishing with the 5th seed in the East, the same as the previous year, and again losing the Conference Semifinals. Pierce did, however, add intensity and quite frankly, balls to their playoff run. Pierce hit a game winning shot as time expired against the Hawks in Game 3 of the Semis. When ESPN analyst, Chris Brousard, asked him if he called bank, Pierce famously, and badass-edly replied, “I called game.” Oh how I missed that intensity and clutchness of Paul Pierce. Pierce also hit a go ahead shot late in Game 6 before a defensive breakdown from the Wizards’ big men let the Hawks get an easy 2 points to take lead and the series. And so ended Paul Pierce’s tenure in the nation’s capital, where he finished the season continuing his decline, averaging just under 12 points per game and a then career low 26.2 minutes.

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The 2015 offseason was exciting with Pierce news. We knew he wasn’t going back to the Wizards, and in the twilight it only seemed fitting for him to come back to Boston for one more year and finish where he started. Unfortunately this was not the case. Pierce signed a 3 year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Though disappointed, I couldn’t be mad at his decision to go to Los Angeles, for that is where he grew up and he got to play under Doc Rivers whom he won with in 2008. His role in LA was limited, getting just a shade over 18 minutes per game and 6.1 points per game. He clearly isn’t the same the player he was in Boston. Nobody is at the age of 38. But it has been an absolute pleasure watching Paul Pierce play basketball for as long as I’ve been able to form a memory.

He will play his final season as a Clipper. I’m sure many Celtics fans wish he’d play his last season in the Green, and I get that. A part of me does too. But it just doesn’t make sense. Pierce just isn’t a productive NBA player like he once was. Father time has caught up to him after over 1300 games, 1102 of them as a Celtic (not including postseason). He brought a basketball championship to the city of Boston; a feat not done since Larry Bird played on the parquet of the old Garden. Though his playing days in Boston are over, his time is not. He is still a part of the community and as Doc Rivers has said, Paul Pierce will retire a Celtic. We will see him in green one more time when he signs a one-day contract with the Celtics at the conclusion of the season. Goodbye Paul Pierce, and Thank You.

 

 

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Red Sox acquire Drew Pomeranz

It’s no secret what the Red Sox achilles heel has been throughout the first half of the 2016 season. Pitching, pitching, and pitching. Their starting pitching staff has a 4.72 ERA, the 12th worst in the MLB. While their bullpen has been better, it is still not great with an ERA in the high 3’s. But with the likes of Tazawa, Koji, and Kimbrel pitching out of the ‘pen in the first half of the season, you’d expect that to be a lot lower. President of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, addressed the bullpen by acquiring Brad Ziegler from the Arizona Diamondbacks; a necessary move after Craig Kimbrel went to the DL with a torn meniscus. But the big issue for the 49-38 Red Sox—starting pitching—was just addressed by Dombrowski earlier today.

The Red Sox acquired starting pitcher, Drew Pomeranz, from the San Diego Padres to help mend their broken rotation. This will give them a reliable fourth option after Price, Wright, and Porcello. Pomeranz has had his best season of his 5-year career so far, posting a 2.47 ERA throughout his first 17 starts of the 2016 season. The trade seems like a no brainer since the Red Sox were in such need of a starter to make a playoff push and beyond, but let’s address some of the cons.

The first, and most obvious problem with this trade for the Red Sox, is letting go of their number 1 pitching prospect. In order to receive Pomeranz, Dombrowski parted ways with 18-year-old, Anderson Espinoza. Espinoza was a diamond in the rough within the Sox farm system because they really don’t have many up and coming arms will help them in the near future. Henry Owens, the Sox former top pitching prospect, hasn’t worked out in his big league appearances, and their AAA and AA pitching staffs have been less than impressive this season. So letting go of Espinoza could be detrimental to their future. But there’s a silver lining to this. 2016 first round draft pick, Jason Groome, signed with the Red Sox shortly after the trade for Pomeranz was announced. The 17-year-old LHP has drawn comparisons to the likes of Clayton Kershaw; not a bad guy to have in your organization. Though you never like to give up your top prospects, especially when the pitching in the farm system is so poor, Red Sox fans can take comfort in knowing that while Espinoza is packing his belongings, their new future is on his way in. Besides, the Red Sox have such a great young core of position players that it doesn’t make sense to wait 2-3 years to develop a young pitcher when Bogaerts, Betts, and Bradley could be on their way out. Their offense is too good to not be in “win now” mode. And Pomeranz is signed through 2018, which means he will remain with the team during the Bogearts, Betts, Bradley reign in Boston, if they don’t all resign.

What concerns me about this trade the most is where Pomeranz is coming from­­—San Diego. San Diego is not Boston. In fact it is far from it. We’ve seen it with so many players in the past and talk about it every time somebody who has had success elsewhere comes to Boston. The pressure of playing in this city is just too much for some players. Pomeranz has been somewhat of a nomad throughout his career. He’s been traded four times now, starting his career getting drafted by the Indians before getting traded to Colorado and then Oakland. These are all small market baseball towns. Boston is a whole new animal for Pomeranz to face, and this is the first season he’s been showing success. That may be just because he’s found a comfort level in San Diego that he hasn’t felt elsewhere. Only time will tell, but that is always a concern when players change teams and call Fenway their new home.

Overall I like this trade. Something needed to be done about the starting rotation. The Red Sox now have four reliable starters. They’re currently a wild card team but only two games back of the Orioles in the AL East, and in the playoffs, all you need is four reliable starters. With this move I have a lot of confidence in the Red Sox. Many people have considered them a playoff team all season long, but haven’t taken them as a serious threat in the AL because of their starting pitching woes. Now that Pomeranz has joined the rotation, the Boston Red Sox may just be able to make a splash and win a pennant, if not more. If you’re a fan of this team you should be excited to see what the second half of the season brings.

How the Rest of the Western Conference Finals Will Play Out

The Oklahoma City Thunder topped the Golden State Warriors 108-102 on Monday night. Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant scored 26 points and pulled in 10 boards while his teammate, Russell Westbrook, led the scoring with 27 while also dishing 12 assists. Golden State got satisfactory production from their big three; Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green, as they scored 26, 25, and 23 points respectively. Harrison Barnes also added 12 points for the Warriors, but lack of production from big man, Andrew Bogut, and their bench led to a 0-1 series start for the 1 seed in the West.

I believe the Warriors are going to bounce back and win game two in front of their home crowd, and it might even be a blowout. But that doesn’t mean Oklahoma City will be down and out after that. The Thunder have shown that they can rally after losing big in these playoffs. They were blown out by the Spurs in Game 1 of the last round, but ended up winning the series in 6. So if they lose the next game, which I think they will, it is not necessarily devastating for the Thunder.

In fact, I think the Thunder are a great matchup to go up against the record setting 73-9 Warriors. The combination of Westbrook and Durant is impossible to match up against. Both players have the ability to go off for 40 points on any given night, and as we saw in Game 1, they are both more likely than not to put up 25-30 points each game. Steph Curry is not nearly strong enough to cover Westbrook. And while Andre Roberson and Russell Westbrook split the load covering Steph Curry in the first half, it was mostly just Westbrook covering him in the second, and he did a great job limiting him to 12 points and holding the unanimous MVP to only 9 shots in the second half.

Durant can be covered by Andre Iguodala of the Warriors, and although Iguodala is a bench player, he still got 33 minutes of playing time in game 1. He has the size to hang with Durant, and did a pretty good job against him last night. With that being said, Durant still scored 26 points with someone doing a “pretty good job” on him. The two superstars, Durant and Westbrook, are enough to keep any teams’ hands full. But the Thunder also add two good big men. 7 footer and New Zealand native, Steven Adams, and Serge Ibaka, both had ppg in double figures this season and that continued in Game 1 last night. They are also a handful on the boards and defensively.

I think the Thunder and Warriors will split the first two games at Golden State. I think they will then split at Oklahoma City, so it will be 2-2 heading back to Oracle Arena. It’s tough to say who will take the series after that. We will have to see how the teams are playing at the time, and if everyone stays healthy. But I don’t think it’s too far fetched to say we can expect a game 7 from this series. This might be the greatest test the Warriors have faced in the past two seasons, so let’s see how they hold up.

 

The Celtics Face a Crucial Game Five After Evening the Series with Atlanta

The Boston Celtics won their two games at home versus the Atlanta Hawks to even the series at two games a piece. Will they be able to take a game on the road from the Hawks? They play tonight at 8pm in Atlanta, looking to do just that. With all the momentum in the series going Boston’s way, tonight is the night they have the best chance to win on the road.

Game three was the Isaiah Thomas show. “The Little Guy” scored 42 points as the Celtics brought the series to within a game. Then, in game four it took a great team effort from the Green to win in overtime and even out the series. Paul Milsap was unstoppable for the Hawks, scoring 45 points on 19-31 shooting. This helped fuel a 16 point lead for Atlanta in the third quarter, and they went into the fourth with an 11 point lead over the Celtics.

The Celtics began their comeback in the fourth, and this is where they really started to really click as a team. Jonas Jerebko made some big shots down the stretch, and Isaiah had another big night. IT put up 28 points and hit a layup to tie the game at 92 a piece with 15 seconds to play, ultimately forcing overtime after Jeff Teague lost the ball as time expired. It also took a huge performance from Marcus Smart. After a couple bonehead plays from Smart late in the fourth quarter, he really made up for it by scoring 11 straight points for the Celtics. He also played some great defense on the other end of the floor. Brad Stevens made the switch to put Marcus Smart on Paul Milsap. Smart is a point guard and Milsap is a power forward, but Smart’s competitive defense was enough to keep the red hot Milsap at bay in the closing minutes of the game. In overtime, the Celtics were led by a couple quick baskets from Amir Johnson, and Isaiah put the game away with a three pointer late in OT.

Now we look on toward tonight’s game. After four games, the home team has won all of them. This is bad for the Celtics since the Hawks have home court advantage in the seven game series. However, if the Celtics can win tonight, they set themselves up nicely to win the series at home in game six and take on Cleveland in the next round.

If the Celtics are going to win one on the road, it has to be tonight. They just won two straight games after it looked like they might be dead in the series. Atlanta has to be feeling a little deflated after dropping two straight, including one in overtime in a game where they had total control late in the third and early fourth quarters. Isaiah needs to continue to dominate offensively. After scoring only 16 points in the second game of the series that the Celtics never even had a chance to win, it was nice to see Thomas come out hot in the next two games. But will he be able to continue that on the road? I think so, but we’ll find out tonight.

The C’s also can’t let Milsap, or anyone, go off again. Game four was the second time this season Milsap has scortched Boston (the first time being in the regular season when he put up 31 points and 16 rebounds). They need to contain him, along with Atlanta’s other offensive big man, Al Horford. While they did a better job defending Jeff Teague in game four, holding him to 13 points on 4-18 shooting, he is still a threat to put up big numbers with his ability to drive to the hole and shoot the three. Isaiah is a great offensive player, but he just doesn’t have the capability to guard Teague by himself. This allows Teague to drive to the hole and either dish it to one of his big men, pass it out to a sharp shooter like Kyle Korver, or take it himself.

The game can’t only fall on Isaiah’s shoulders either. The Celtics will need other players to step up offensively. Evan Turner hasn’t been hitting some of the mid-range shots that we’re so accustomed to seeing him knock down. And Jae Crowder has been just awful this series. He’s playing on a hurt ankle but he still isn’t hitting his threes, which shouldn’t be bothered by the ankle too much like driving to the rim would be. Also, the normally lock down defender is letting players drive to the rim on him with ease on the defensive end.

There’s no room for error for the Celtics in this game. If they lose tonight, I do believe that they can win at home again in game six to even the series one more time, but game seven I’m not so sure about. A game seven on the road is a scary thought. The Celtics haven’t beaten the Hawks on the road this year in the regular season or playoffs, so it’d be best if they can do it tonight, rather than leave it up for a win or go home game. If the Celtics can’t win this series in six, then it will most likely be the Hawks in 7, and they’ll be the ones that head to Cleveland.

Goodbye Kobe, and Good Riddance

Kobe Bryant’s career came to an end last Wednesday as he put up a historic performance. Kobe Bryant took 50 shots in his last ever game in the NBA (for now). Out of these shots, 22 went in, which is a 44% shooting percentage. Not bad for a 37 year old man. Kobe will be remembered by his 5 NBA Championships and as one of the greatest players to ever step foot on the floor. He will also be remembered by going out on top in his last ever game.

Isn’t that a joke. All I’ve heard about from Kobe’s last game is how he went out on top. How? People need to be reminded that Kobe Bryant’s Lakers went 17-65 this season, the second worst record in the entire NBA. I’d rather go out like Peyton Manning, who won the Super Bowl in his last year in the NFL while putting up his worst season statistically of his career. And while it shouldn’t all fall on the 37 year old shoulders of Kobe Bryant in his 20th season in the NBA, that was still Kobe’s team. This is a problem in itself, and a problem caused by Kobe himself. The Lakers have young, promising talent. Julius Randle averaged a double double this season with a little over 11 points and 10 rebounds per game. D’Angelo Russell averaged 13.2 points per game in his rookie season, and this is with Kobe still taking the majority of the team’s shots. The Lakers will also have a lottery pick in the upcoming draft, so there is potential for some new young talent will join the team as well.

So why is Kobe leaving a good thing for the Lakers? Well, he’s been holding back their potential. They have a bunch of guys who can be legitimate NBA players if they have a few years to develop. When you have Kobe Bryant out there tossing up 20-30 shots every game while shooting a career low of 35.8% from the field, it is tough for these players to get the necessary reps and into the gameflow they need to progress as players. If you watch Laker games, you can see the entire team just stop playing basketball while Kobe dribbles around looking for his shot. That’s just not how players get better.

I also believe something that might make some people just stop reading this right here, but that’s ok. Kobe retiring is what’s best for the NBA. That’s right, the face of the NBA for the last 20 seasons retiring, should actually help the NBA. Let’s face it, ever since the Lakers tried to make that super team with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, they’ve been a joke. The Lakers, along with the Boston Celtics, are the most storied franchise in the history of the NBA. From Wilt, to Jerry West, to Kareem, to Magic, to Shaq, and to Kobe, the Los Angeles Lakers have had all the names along with the most titles in NBA history (tied at 17 with the Celtics). Without Kobe Bryant, they can finally become good again. They will be able to develop talent and have much more cap space to sign big name free agents. And take it from a Boston fan, it doesn’t take much to woo a free agent into signing with L.A. The Lakers will then finally be good again. And when the Lakers are good, it is good for the NBA. I would never take away anything Kobe’s done in his career. He’s the best player I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. But as a fan of the sport, it’s about time he’s hung ‘em up.

Should Steph Curry Really Be The MVP?

Wednesday night, the Warriors will look to make history against the Memphis Grizzlies. With a win, they will become the first team to ever win 73 games in a season, surpassing the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ 72 wins led by Michael Jordan. This is by far the biggest story of the regular season this year, but I’d like to focus on something else. The reigning MVP, Steph Curry, is likely to repeat his status as most valuable player this season, becoming the tenth player in NBA history to win back-to-back MVP awards. While the decision may be close to unanimous, I think there’s someone else more suited for this year’s most prestigious seasonal award.

Steph Curry has a league leading 29.9 points per game, a full point per game higher than the second best in the league. He’s also tied with three other players for most steals per game with 2.1. Curry cracks the top ten in the NBA in assists per game as well. So with numbers like these why wouldn’t Steph win his second MVP award? It’s because there’s another Western Conference point guard that is more deserving of the privilege. That’s right, not only do I not think Steph Curry was the best player in the NBA this year, I don’t even think he was the best at his position.

Russell Westbrook is more deserving to win the MVP with the season he’s had than anyone else in the NBA. Westbrook averaged 23.5 PPG, which is impressive when you look at the fact that his teammate, Kevin Durant, averaged 28.2 PPG, the third most in the league. Even with a teammate putting up the bulk of the team’s scoring, Westbrook still finds a way to score the ninth most points in the league. Westbrook also averages 7.8 rebounds per game, which makes him the only guard in the NBA to crack the top 50 in the NBA in rebounding. Curry averages only 5.5 rebounds. But that’s not all. Westbrook is second in assists per game, averaging double digits with 10.4 ASP. Curry averages 6.7 assists, which doesn’t even lead his team. When it comes to steals, Westbrook only trails by 0.1 per game, placing him just behind Steph and the three other league leaders in that category.

There’s no denying Steph Curry’s greatness. I believe he was well deserving of the MVP award last season, and there is certainly a case for him this season. With that being said, I just think Westbrook is a much more well-rounded player. He is in the top ten for scoring, assists, and steals, while grabbing the most boards out of any guard in the league. Not only that, he is also a triple-double machine. He has 18 triple-doubles on the year, tying him for the most in NBA history in a single season. He shares that feat with Magic Johnson, and any time you can be in the same category as Magic, you are doing something pretty special.

Westbrook’s athleticism is far superior to Curry’s as well. Though that doesn’t necessarily tell the story of an MVP, it’s hard not to notice. Pound for pound, Westbrook is on the same level as LeBron James when it comes to being a freak athlete. His combination of size in speed makes him a nightmare for defenders in the half court offense and the fast break. His ability to grab a rebound and take it coast to coast for a monster dunk is unlike any point guard I’ve ever seen. Though it probably shouldn’t be a factor, that kind of excitement could get some votes from basketball writers for the MVP award.

That’s not to say Curry isn’t an exciting player to watch. In fact, most people will argue he’s the most exciting player in the NBA right now. His ability to hit a three from 35 feet out is the best in NBA history. He can shoot off the dribble and with a hand in his face, and at times it seems like nothing the opposing team does is enough to stop him. But you also need to look at the teams they play for. Steph is playing for possibly the best team in NBA history. Klay Thompson is one of the best shooters in the NBA and Draymond Green has emerged as a superstar this season. They also have depth not only in their starting five, but also on the bench. Last year’s Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala, is a bench player for Golden State. Again, the former Finals MVP comes off the bench for Golden State.

But I know what you’re thinking. Russell Westbrook plays with Kevin Durant, a former NBA MVP. Well that’s what I feel makes Westbrook even more impressive. He isn’t the go-to scoring option for the Thunder, but yet he still finds a way to score over 23 points per game. And he’s still able to dish out more than ten dimes a game, while putting up rebound numbers unheard of for point guards since the Magic days. And after Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder don’t have nearly as much depth as the Warriors. Their next leading scorer after Durant and Westbrook is Serge Ibaka, who scores 12.6 PPG. This is down from his previous three seasons, while his rebound and block totals are also down for the once promising big man. The Thunder are nowhere near a bad team, sitting at third in the Western Conference with a record of 55-26, but they just don’t have the overall talent that the Golden State Warriors do.

As I mentioned before, Westbrook is the complete package of size and speed. This makes him more of a threat to opposing offenses than most point guards. He can keep opposing point guards in front of him that like to drive to the rim, while also having the speed to get out and contest shooting point guards. Curry on the other hand, does not have these abilities. He is much weaker than the average NBA player, and while he is quick, when it comes to shear speed, he is not as fast as other point guards around the league. As the old saying goes, defense wins championships, and Westbrook has a much better defensive game than Curry. Sure, Curry has emerged as the most popular player in the NBA, but writers should not think like fans do. They need to be more objective and look at who truly was the most valuable player in the NBA after taking all aspects of the game into account. After doing just that, I think Westbrook needs to be given more consideration for MVP than he has been.

Celtics Looking For Their Best Playoff Matchup

I know we’re all still on a high after Friday night’s game. And why wouldn’t we be? The Boston Celtics ended the Golden State Warriors 54 game home winning streak in dramatic fashion, winning 109-106. The Celtics did what they needed to do on their west coast trip, going 3-2, ending with the big win against the Warriors and defeating a Kobe Bryant lead Lakers team one last time, while clinching a spot in the playoffs. With five games left, the Celtics sit at the four seed in the East, but we could easily see them go into playoffs as good as the three seed, but as bad as the seven seed. That makes these last five games crucial for the Celtics.

Both Atlanta and Boston are 45-32 on the season, but Atlanta holds the 3 seed due to head-to-head matchups. Sitting behind the Celtics are the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets in the six and seven seeds respectively, with records of 44-32, just .5 games back of the C’s. You can see that these middle seeds in the East are in a log jam and anyone could end up playing each other in the first round.

As it stands, the Celtics would match up with Miami in the first round of the playoffs; a matchup Celtics fans and Miami “fans” are used to seeing, but with a whole new look now that LeBron James is back in Cleveland. But even with age, Dwayne Wade is still a dangerous player. At 34 years of age and twelve years of NBA experience under his belt, D. Wade is still averaging 19.2 points per game this season. Along with the veteran Wade, the Heat have the 26 year old big man, Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside averages a double-double with 14.1 points and 11.8 rebounds per game. He’s also a nightmare for opposing offenses on the inside, as he averages a league leading 3.7 blocks per game. Whiteside could do damage against the Celtics since the C’s don’t have a true low post big man. Their closest thing to one for the Celtics would be Jared Sullinger, but at 6’9”, he would be at a significant disadvantage against the 7’0” Hassan Whiteside. Honestly, I’d rather see the Celtics play someone else in the first round other than the Heat.

So who would I rather see the Celtics play in the playoffs? Out of the potential teams they could play, I think the Hornets are a good matchup for the C’s. If the Celtics can claim the 3 seed from the Hawks, and the Hornets stay where they are in the rankings, this will be the matchup we would see. Their best player is Kemba Walker, who is able to put up points no matter who he plays, averaging 21.1 ppg. After Walker, Nicolas Batum is the Hornets next leading scorer. Batum can shoot the three ball and at 6’8”, can work down low and from beyond the arc. However, I see Jae Crowder as a good matchup to limit Batum’s offensive production. Charlotte’s biggest inside presence is former Celtic, Al Jefferson, who never really lived up to his potential in the NBA and is now on a downward trend in his career. Though he can still be a threat inside, I don’t think Jefferson has the ability to take over an entire game, let alone an entire seven game series. I could see the Celtics beating the Hornets in 5 games if they get that matchup.

The Pacers and Hawks are the two other potential matchups for the C’s. I wouldn’t want to see the Hawks in the first round because they have so many different players that can beat you and play tremendous team basketball. They also have recent playoff success, making it to the Eastern Conference finals in 2015. I’d also be weary of the Pacers due to Paul George. Star power can be huge for a team in the playoffs. When a team needs a boost, it is crucial for them to be able to look to a player that can take over a game, and the Pacers have that player. It’s also good to see a Celtics team that has that player for the first time in a while, as it’s looking like Isaiah Thomas can fill that role. Truthfully, I think the Celtics can win the first round no matter who they play, but I’d like to see the easiest route to the next round.