A Bright Future for this Celtics Team

                As we all figured, the final two teams standing are the Cavaliers and Warriors for the third straight year. On Thursday night, Cleveland beat Boston to advance winning the series 4-1. Boston was the only team that the Lebron James led team did not sweep in the playoffs this year, while Golden State eased through each of their series to be the first team to go 12-0 in the playoffs. Even though this match up could be seen coming since after Cleveland won the title last year and especially after Kevin Durant signed with Golden State, I believe that some of the teams in both conferencesecf2 will step up to the challenge and get closer to the level that the Warriors and Cavs are playing on and be closer to ending this streak of Finals appearances for both teams. For the Boston Celtics, the future is so very bright in terms of what they can accomplish.

                This is just the beginning for the young Celtics team; they will be towards the top of the East again next year. This team seems primed to make another run at the Eastern Conference Finals next year with all the talent that they currently have and the opportunity to acquire more whether it is from the draft and using the top pick or by trading that pick for someone like Jimmy Butler or Paul George. They also have the advantage of having one of the best young coaches in the NBA in Brad Stevens.

                This franchise has come far from where it was just 4 years ago at the start of the Stevens era. This team had just come off a 41-40 year, the franchise sent their greatschampionship winning head coach to the Clippers, they had traded two of the greatest players of this generation to the Nets for a bunch of bench players and a few draft picks and were beginning the process to rebuild. No one expected Coach Stevens to succeed in the NBA since most college coaches struggle in the pros unless you have a team built to win now. In his first year, he led the team to a 25-57 record, the worse since 06’-07’, and would draft a scrappy guard from OK State in Marcus Smart with their first-round pick.

                   Going into the trade deadline in his second season, Coach Stevens had the team at 20-31 and in need of a boost somehow. Towards the final moments of the coach stevensdeadline, Danny Ainge would pull off one of the most one sided trades this decade, two years after he pulled of another one that did not seem like it at first; he would swap Marcus Thornton and a first rounder for the undersized guard in Isaiah Thomas. That season they would end with a record of 40-42 and get into the playoffs with the 7th seed.

     IT4     Since the acquisition of Thomas, the Celtics are 121-74. This team has been able to improve every year under Stevens. They have increased their win total each year from his first year and going 25-57 to this past year and winning 53 games and appearing in the Eastern Conference Finals. It also helped that they could lure one of the best big men in the league in Al Horford from Atlanta. With the amount of young talent and the stash of draft picks, I would certainly say that the future of the Celtics is very bright and that they are ahead of schedule in terms of finishing their rebuilding phase of the franchise last year and are able to win now.

Advertisements

Has this rivalry reached level of one of the greats or is it getting old?

                As of right now, it looks as if it would be the Golden State Warriors vs the Cleveland Cavaliers 3-peat in the NBA Finals. Some would love to see this happen since there has never been three straight NBA Finals with the same two teams.  The majority of people though, do not want to see this happen; they want to see new teams fighting for the lebronstephchampionship. Sure, it would be entertaining to see Lebron repeat with the Cavs, but the level that both the Warriors and the Cavalier are playing on is a level where it doesn’t have drama in it to the point where you know that they will win their games most nights. Both teams could have gone through the playoffs undefeated until the Celtics beat the Cavs in Game 3. Most people do not want to see Lebron in the Finals again, since he has been in it six straight years going back to his time with Miami. People want to see someone new get into the Finals, especially from the East.

               According to the CBS station in Cleveland, Tyronn Lue, Cavaliers Head Coach, stated that a third straight year of Cavs vs Warriortyronns in the finals would be a good thing for the league, by comparing this “rivalry” with the likes of the Celtics and Lakers, considering those teams met in the Finals twelve times. The difference between these two rivalries is that the Celtics and Lakers never met in three consecutive Finals. During the span of 51 years, between their first match and their last match up, the Celtics and Lakers have never met in three straight NBA Finals.  In NBA history, there has never been three straight NBA Finals with the same two teams. I can understand where he is coming from though, since he was on both sides of the Celtics Lakers rivalry, as a player with the Lakers and winning two titles with them and as a coach with the Celtics, but it will be a while before this rivalry that is forming with the Cavs and Warriors gets to that level.

             Having the same two teams in the championship for three straight years for any sport is not good for their league. Seeing the same teams can get boring for all but the fans of those teams.  They might not watch the game or series which would ultimately hurt the ratings for a league. I know that to make sure that the same teams do not face each other three straight times for the championship then the other teams must get better, the problem is that the two teams aiming for the title 3peathave a much higher level of talent and are more powerful than other teams in that league. There is an obvious disadvantage to the other teams when those two teams can get any top player they want in free agency and breeze through the season for the most part and the playoffs like Golden State did, going undefeated through the West playoffs. In the NFL, for example, their cap is set up where no one can spend big bucks every time and load up on big name talent like how it happens in the NBA, like how Golden State was able to sign Kevin Durant in free agency even though that team is already a powerhouse. The NBA should somehow make it so powerhouse teams cannot get even powerful and let the other teams get close to their level of playing.

History Denied! Cavs brought back to earth.

                As many people saw in game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Cavs showed no mercy to the Celtics and handed them their worst loss in the postseason in franchise history, 130-86, and lead by 41 points at the half, 71-30, which is an NBA playoff record. This postseason seemed like it would be a breeze for the Cavs after sweeping the firsbost 2 rounds and winning the first two games of the series against the Celtics. Coming into game 3, the Cavs were on a 13-game playoff winning streak going back to the Finals last year against the Warriors. That winning streak tied the 88-89 Lakers as the longest in playoff history. What made it worse, was that the leader for the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, was ruled out of the rest of the playoffs with a hip injury.

                After the 1st quarter in game 3 between the Cavs and Celtics, the Cavs took an 11-point lead and seemed like it was about to be another blowout and would give the Lebron led Cavs the playoff record for 14 games won in a row in the postseason. At half, it seemed like it was going to get bad as the lead ballooned to 16 points. Even as the lead grew to 21 in the 3rd quarter, something clicked inlebron the Celtics and they would go on an improbable run to get within 5 points at the end of the 3rd, they were lead by Marcus Smart who would make 7 3’s and score 27 points overall. Their passion/drive would continue into the 4th quarter and would win the game on an Avery Bradley last second 3 point shot to win the game 111-108! According to ESPN, before game 3, Lebron was 49-0 in the postseason when his team was leading by 20+ points. Now its 49-1! That goes to show that the Celtics were not going to lie down and take it like in game 2. ESPN also stated that Boston is the first team to win a playoff game following a 40+ point loss in the last 35 years.

                With this win, the Celtics pulled off the biggest upset in the playoffs in the last 20 years. They were 16.5 point underdogs coming into this game. In everyone’s mind, including mine, did not think that Boston could pull off this win, especially after the way game 2 played out and losing the heart and soul of their team in Isaiah Thomas. After how game 3 played out, you could say that even though their leader wasn’t playing anymore, everyone on that team would not give up and played with heart. The same way Isaiah did after his sister passed away right before the playoffs started. The biggest mystery of the game would be, where did Lebron James go. In this game he shot 4-13 for 11 points 6 rebounds 6 assists and the biggest shocker is he had 6 turnovers in this game. Coming into this game, he was averaging over 30 points in the playoffs. That could be a bad thing for the Celtics for the next game. He could go off on them, but we have to wait and see.

                Throughout the playoffs, the Celtics have been out there to prove that they deserved the #1 seed in the East, even though people thought they were the most overrated top seed ever. At points during the postseason, there were times that they did, but at others they looked like a team deserving of the top seed. This team will keep fighting until there is nothing else to fight for, whether they win the championshipecf2 or they lose against whomever. This team won’t stop believing that they deserve to be there. Even though this series will end with Cavs moving on, I truly believe that the Celtics are moving in the right direction to challenge Lebron’s team for the throne of the East. This franchise has come a long way in a short period of time since trading away Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and thanks to the Nets in return, Boston gets the top pick in this years draft, which can help them get closer to Cleveland.

The importance of this next season

           This upcoming NFL season is a big one for the Washington Redskins’ organization.  Why, you might ask. Well, looking back in the history of this crazy franchise, the last time they had back to back winning years was ’96 and ’97 where the team also went cousinsa combined 17-14-1. Which is just cuckoo to think that it has been 20 years since they last had back to back winning years, but you have to look even farther back to see when they had 3 straight winning years. The last time they had 3 straight winning years was back from the ’90 to ’92 season where they went a combined 33-15 with one Super Bowl win.

           This coming season will be a big one for the coaching staff and the players, because they have to prove grudenthat they can compete consistently. In this century, the Redskins have made the playoffs only 4 times with only one win coming back in ’05 under Joe
Gibbs. No coach has lasted long in D.C. under Snyder. The longest tenured coaches under this ownership are Joe Gibbs and Mike Shanahan, both coached 4 years with the team. Now Coach Gruden is about to start his 4th year at the helm joining those two. This coaching staff needs to prove that they can lead this team deep into the playoffs or they will be shown the door like so many coaches before them.gibbs

            Not only is this season important for the coaches, but it is also important to Kirk Cousins. As many know, the Redskins franchise tagged him for a second straight year.  The starting QB must prove that he is worth a big payday with smart football next year and help lead the team to the playoffs again but also must lead them deep. He also has to be careful with the ball especially in big time moments. Kirk has the talent to lead this team, but can he harness it and be the elite QB after showing a few flashes of brilliance.

           The biggest part of the team that needs a good year would be the defense as a whole. This year the team is on their 3rd defensive coordinator in the last 8 years. The best year this defense had in that time period would be 2011 when they ranked 13th in the league at 339.8 ypg.  Every other year since 2010 the teams defense has been toward the bottom of the league.

Year       Defensive            Avg ypg

                         Rank                       Allowed

2016       28th                         357

2015       28th                         381

2014       19th                         357

2013       17th                         354

2012       28th                         378

2011       13th                         340

2010       31st                         389

 

          The offense has had to keep the team in the game the last few years, thanks to the defense’s poor performance. The last two years for the offense they have been ranked 3rd this past year at 403.4 ypg and in 2015 they were ranked 17th with 353.8 ypg.

          No matter what, this team faces one of the biggest years that they will ever face. If this team has another losing season, many people will be out of a job, and then the team will be rebuilding once again and fans will not come to the game.  In the game against the Chiefs a few years ago under Shanahan less than half of the stadium was filled. They must find the formula to winning consistently, or they will lose more fans and lose support and the most important thing, money.

What a March for the Gamecocks Men’s basketball team.

                 Just like most March’s, there is always that one surprise team who comes out of nowhere and makes a fantastic run throughout the tournament by beating some of the best teams in the field. This March was no different. Coming into the tournament, the Gamecocks of South Carolina were not given much of a chance to get very far through the tournament, especially with Duke most likely waiting in the second round if they did pass an offensive power in Marquette. Out of nowhere this basketball team, who basically limped into the tournament by going 3-6 in the final 9 games of the season including the conference tournament, and was believed to be over seeded, won and won impressively. The way this team played showed that they deserve to be there this year and possibly for years to come. gamecocks

                Throughout the tournament, this team embodied what their fierce coach, Frank Martin, preached, and that is defense. This team was one of the best defensive teams in the country during the regular season, but as the season went on, there were signs that the defense was starting to fade. This team’s defense was a major reason they could win at least 20 games for the second straight year, but when the defense was fading, this team couldn’t win much. The offense for the Gamecocks was mostly built through the defense, but the team took a hit when the defense slipped. So of course, no one would think a team like this would make a run like they did.

                This team got something to click coming into the tournament, where not only did their defense came back vigorously, but also their offense found life. Not only was the team lead by Frank Martin, they were also led by senior point guard, Sindarius Thornwell, who won the SEC player of the year. Through the first four games, Sindarius averaged more than 24 points a game and was big on the defense by disrupting plays and helped turn defense into offense. Thornwell fed off his coach’s fire throughout the tournament, and his teammates fed off him. Even though this team will lose Thornwell, as well as Duane Notice and Justin McKie, who are also seniors, it’s still loaded with talented players who could also lead this team after learning from the seniors.

                 thornwell This team was trying to become the first 7 seed to win a title since UCONN won it all back in the 2014 tournament. To put into perspective how impressive this run was for the team, this was only the 8th time that a team seeded 7th or lower has reached the Final Four since 2000, and out of the previous 7 times, only one team has managed to get back to the Final Four. All but one of the previous teams managed to get into some sort of postseason tournament, and out of the ten total teams who managed to get to the Final Four as a low seed, only half improved their record. The question is, can the Gamecocks beat the odds and get back to the Final Four or will history repeat and the Gamecocks either get knocked out early or miss it entirely.

                Sadly, as most runs end, so did the Gamecocks amazing run when they met up with the Bulldogs of Gonzaga in the Final Four. Even though they would not get passed Gonzaga, these tough and gritty Gamecocks did not give up and were so close to upsetting one of the best teams in the brackets. Although they would lose by 4 to the Bulldogs, they had a furious comeback when they were down by 14 at one point during the second half.

                This run through the tournament tells me that this team is moving in the right direction and will be back next year trying to recreate the magic that they had this time. The big question is, how close are they to really competing for a National Championship and being a big-time basketball program. The signs are there that show that they are moving in the right direction and that Coach Martin is the type of coach that will lead them there. Even if there is no championship for the men’s team, this is a successful season and a big step forward for the program in the eyes of many of the Gamecock faithful, who stayed during the losing and heartache in most of the decade.

Looking back with the hiring of Frank Martin

                               As the Gamecocks get ready for their first trip to the Final Four, I look back to see where this team came from, going from a 10-win team in Darrin Horn’s final year, to the administration bringing in a fierce coach from K-State in Frank Martin to rebuild this team basically from scratch. During the off-season between Coach Horn being let go and Coach Martin taking over, many players would wind up transferring from the program and others would follow throughout Coach Martin’s first couple of years in Columbia. In his first two seasons at the helm, darrin hornCoach Martin didn’t win many games, and it seemed as if this team would be sub .500 for a while.  The Gamecocks hadn’t gotten  into the big dance since ’04 and it didn’t look like that was going to happen anytime soon.

                In Coach Martin’s first season, you could tell no one believed in that team and no one wanted to get disappointed by watching  them as well when less than half of the stadium was filled in the season opener of the 2012 season. In the season open victory against frank martinMilwaukee, the attendance for that game was at 7,335, which is drastically less than half of the possible attendance of 18,000.  Most probably didn’t want to pay to watch what was expected to be a bad team. As seasons went by, the attendance increased.

                Starting in his 3rd season in 2014 Coach Martin had the Gamecocks moving in the right direction. Despite losing 16 games that year, they also won 17 games for their first winning season since Darrin Horn’s first year at the helm in the ’08-’09 season when the team went 21-10 and made the NIT. By posting a winning season in his 3rd year, Coach Martin ended a streak of 5 straight losing years for this team, and as we are seeing, this team is not done winning just yet. Since his 3rd year going 17-16, Frank Martin has lead this team to a 51-19 overall record the last 2 years combined, going 25-9 last year and 26-10 so far, this year, and this team seems to be getting better each year.

                   Looking back now at the time before Coach Martin was here, it seems like it was a lot longer than 5 years that he has been here and that the Gamecocks only won 10 games the year prior to his arrival in Columbia. It goes to show that he has done such a wonderful job on this rebuilding project and how he never gave up on this team and believed that he can make this team into a winner. In his introductory press conference, Coach Martin talked about how he likes a challenge and doesn’t run away from them like others do. In an article on ESPN written around the time of the hiring, Coach Martin is quoted as saying “When people ask me ‘why’, I ask, ’why not?” This was his response to people asking him why would he take the South Carolina job. He goes on to say that he would love having another opportunity to build a program up, like what he did with K-State.  It seems as if Coach Martin was up to the challenge to take on the rebuilding project of South Carolina Men’s basketball.

                This team has competed at a whole new level this year compared to years past, but you could even say that this team is on an even newer level in the tournament than they were in the regular season, after they finished the regular season going 3-6 in the last nine games and not being expected to win anything in the NCAA tournament. Now they have a chance to play in the National Championship if they can get passed the best defensive team in the nation in Gonzaga.

Are the Gamecocks for Real? Just ask Baylor, Florida, Duke, and Marquette.

              Coming into this tournament, no one really gave the University of South Carolina a chance, and for good reasons. This was a team with a horribleball1 past with basketball. They only had 4 tournament wins in their history, they haven’t been in the big dance in 13 years, and they haven’t even won a game in 44 years! Now, would you pick a team with that history to get to the Final Four, while having to go through the likes of an upstart Marquette team, the winningest basketball coach in Coach K, a tough well rounded Baylor team, or a team that beats you 8 out of 10 times and sometimes bad? No? Well majority of the people are right there with you, including me. Well, majority of people would be wrong. The Gamecocks beat all four of these great teams to earn an appearance into their first ever Final Four.

            It’s weird when you think about it. Coming into the tournament, this team was 2-5 over their last 7 games, including the SEC tournament, with a weak defense and not scoringbracket well, and they come into the tournament and beat Marquette and Baylor by 20 points each, and beat Duke and Florida by 7 points also. Yes, the amount they won by is impressive, but the fact that they beat all four of those teams is what is more impressive than anything else. What most people are shocked about, including myself, is that during the Duke game, the Gamecocks were down by 7 at the half after shooting 7-35 overall, then coming into the second half and just going off on both ends of the floor allowing them to put up 65 points on the Blue Devils to win 88-81.

            Entering the Sweet 16 match up against Baylor, the Gamecocks were not favored even after beating Duke. You could tell by watching this team that the Gamecocks are out to prove that they belong. Like I said before, this team has a bad past with basketball, and only 4 NCAA tournament wins, and had not been to the tournament in over a decade. When the team fell behind 15-13 about half way through the first half, it seemed like something clicked for this team, and they ran away with the game, going on an 18-0 run and a lead that would only get as close as 11 points. They would end up winning by 20 and holding Baylor to 50 points, which is well below their season average.

            That brings us to today. The Elite 8 match up against a familiar foe in the Florida Gators. Entering this game, the Gamecocks were 2-8 in their last 10 games against Florida and losing by an average of 13.3 points per game, but this team was out to prove that they belong. The first half though, it seemed like the magic had worn off and that this would be the end of the line for these Gamecocks, but it was just the same story as the other 2 comeback wins. The defense woke up and was hungry for gator meat, and held them to 0/14 from 3 in the second half after they hit 7/12 from 3 in the first half. The Gamecocks wound up taking the Gators down and are not giving up just yet.

            This Gamecocks team will not stop until they prove that they belong in the tournament more. Even if this team falls to Gonzaga in the Final Four, I truly believe that Coach Martin and his staff will have this team back in the big dance next year, even with the seniors leaving including SEC player of the year, Sindarius Thornwell. Coach Martin has done such an amazing job since taking over for the 2012-13 season, and leading us from a dumpster fire of a team that only won 10 games the year prior, to appearing in the Final Four only 6 years later! Coach Martin will lead us to a title one day, I believe it. To answer my own question, in my opinion yes, the Gamecocks are for real now.