Celtics’ young guns show their stripes
By Peter Santo
The Celtics began a 4 game in 5 day stretch thursday night with a game in Portland against the Trail Blazers, owners of the second best record in the Western Conference. The C’s came in looking to end their 24 game road losing streak against Western Conference opponents.
Both teams came in off of tough losses, with the Blazers losing to the Suns on wednesday night and the Celtics suffering a tough defeat at the hands of the LA Clippers, one of the West’s perennial contenders.
The Blazers recently took a huge hit when they found out that starting Power Forward Lamarcus Aldridge would need be out 6-8 weeks with a tear of the radial collateral ligament in his left thumb.
Aldridge was averaging 23.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game prior to the injury. This is a tough pill for the Blazers to swallow as the West is a very high powered conference with numerous teams fighting for just 8 playoff spots.
The game started off in a stalemate, with both teams trading baskets, but no big runs being made. By the end of the 1st quarter, it was a tight one, with the C’s leading 23-19.
The 2nd quarter was similar to the 1st, but this time it was the role players such as Celtics’ guard Marcus Thornton and Blazers’ center Meyers Leonard that stepped up their play. With Aldridge out, forward Thomas Robinson stepped into the starting lineup in favor of Dorell Wright, who started against the Suns the previous night.
Robinson is a former 1st round pick who has yet to turn the corner in terms of his potential. Nevertheless, he posted an impressive 9 point, 12 rebound statline. The Celtics led by 2 going into halftime, 44-42.
Things took a turn for the worse for the Celtics when Forward/Center Kelly Olynyk badly rolled his ankle in the 3rd quarter. Olynyk has been a solid player for the C’s this season and has worked to lengthen his range to beyond the 3-point line.
He was sent to the locker room and was diagnosed with a sprained ankle shortly thereafter. The severity of the injury is not yet known, but for now, it isn’t looking good for the former Gonzaga standout.
The game was a back and forth throughout the 2nd half, with players from both teams stepping up. The struggling Damian Lillard got back on track against the C’s, posting a solid 21 point, 7 assist, 6 rebound performance for the Blazers.
With the Blazers leading 88-86 with just a few seconds remaining, Jared Sullinger found an open Evan Turner in the corner who buried the go-ahead three pointer. The Blazers quickly inbounded the ball to Lillard, but failed to get up a game winning shot before the buzzer.
This hard fought win shows the gritty character of the young Celtics. Despite the Blazers missing their leading scorer Aldridge, the Celtics fought until the very end and came out on top. Avery Bradley led the C’s with 18 points, while Lillard led all scorers with 21 points. This was just the 14th win on the season for the rebuilding Celtics.
That leaves the critical question: to tank, or not to tank? Should the Celtics keep losing and play for draft position, or try to win games and develop their young players? Some say tank, others say play. Then again, the team with the worst record isn’t even guaranteed the almighty No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, so why do it? That remains to be seen, but the Celtics uphill climb continues with the All-Star Break looming.
Mitch Canzano contributed to this report
Photo courtesy of csnne.com