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NBA AM: Celtics Built Momentum for Next Season

The Boston Celtics’ jump from 25 to 40 wins and their playoff experience will help the team moving forward.

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Boston Celtics Built Momentum for Next Season

On paper it didn’t add up. They were a hodgepodge of players pieced together throughout the season, many acquired in trades that in the process of dismantling a roster actually made it stronger.

They came to Boston sporadically in waves. There were those that arrived in the summer – a former second overall pick looking to revitalize his career, a center who couldn’t handle passes early on, and a rookie that battled injuries as well as a first-year learning curve.

Jae Crowder was the first mid-season newcomer; he arrived in the Rajon Rondo trade with the Dallas Mavericks trade in mid-December. Jonas Jerebko and Gigi Datome came from the Detroit Pistons in the Tayshaun Prince trade, and Isaiah Thomas got to Boston at the deadline from the Phoenix Suns.

There’s nothing flashy about their resumes. Many of them have been backups in previous lives. The only one to make an All-Star team, Gerald Wallace, rarely played.

The team lacked size, but they didn’t lack heart. Their spirits were bigger than advertised. The Celtics finished the regular season 40-42, a significant improvement from the previous 25-57 record.

“It was tough from start to finish,” said Brandon Bass. “We had a bunch of adversity throughout the season. But I think with persistence and a constant grind, you can overcome things. I thought that’s what we did.”

Instead of heading to another Draft Lottery, the Celtics locked up the seventh spot in the Eastern Conference. They had to face the Cleveland Cavaliers, and they didn’t care about the mismatches. They were ready to battle in the playoffs.

The Celtics got swept by the Cavaliers on Sunday at TD Garden in a Game 4 marked by injuries and altercations (J.R. Smith and Kelly Olynyk have received suspensions while Kendrick Perkins was fined). The final scores don’t reflect their effort and will to compete throughout the season. They lost by an average of less than 10 points a game in the series.

“The Celtics gave us the test that we needed,” said LeBron James.

Most of the Celtics joined the team after the Doc Rivers-driven era of “ubuntu,” but they exemplified the mantra nonetheless. The team bought into each other, and more importantly their coach, to turn a season around in a span of a few months.

“We’ve been able to pull together, buy into Brad’s system, improve every single day as a team and as individuals,” said Avery Bradley.

Stevens, who in many ways was the Celtics’ MVP this season, still has four years left on his deal. He finished fourth in NBA Coach of the Year voting and is one of the brightest minds on the sideline around the league.

“I highly respect their coaching staff and especially their head coach,” said James. “(They are) a very well-coached team. He put those guys out there every night and put them in the position to win the game. I think Brad Stevens is a very good young coach in our league.”

Uncertainty lies in who will return next season. Bass and Jerebko have expiring contracts. Crowder and Datome will be restricted free agents if the front office extends qualifying offers. The Celtics also have an arsenal of draft picks they can package in trades. This isn’t an organization to rely on free agency – they will look to use their existing assets to improve during the summer.

Even if the roster looks different heading into training camp, the Celtics set a tone in the second half of the year that they can build upon next season and beyond.

“We know we can compete with anybody in the NBA,” said Thomas. “People counted us out and we just kept fighting. We kept believing in ourselves, we kept coming to work every day with our hard hat on and working hard and doing the things that we can control. If we can do that in the summer, next training camp, next season, then we’ve got a bright future with this group of guys.”

Kevin Love to Miss Conference Semifinal Series

The Cleveland Cavaliers advanced past the Boston Celtics, but they won’t be at full strength when they play the winner of the Chicago Bulls vs. Milwaukee Bucks series in the second round.

The team announced yesterday that star power forward Kevin Love, whose arm was grabbed by Kelly Olynyk in Game 4, will miss the entire Conference Semfinal series due to a left shoulder dislocation.

The NBA also announced that Olynyk has been suspended for one game without pay, which he will serve at the start of next season.

Love did not return to the game after getting tangled up with Olynyk, and X-rays and a MRI defined the extent of the injury as “an acute anterior inferior glenohumeral dislocation with the corresponding ligament/labrum tearing and humeral head bone bruising,” according to the team. Love is undergoing treatments while additional opinions are being obtained and treatment options being explored.

Another update regarding Love’s status beyond the Conference Semifinals will be determined over the next several days.

Love averaged 14.3 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.5 assists (while shooting 42.9 percent from three-point range) in 26.8 minutes per game against Boston. It was the first playoff series of Love’s career.

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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