Events That Drastically Changed the Course of the Boston Celtics' Season
For a lost season that saw the Boston Celtics fall hopelessly out of the playoff hunt in January, 2013-14 has been a surprisingly turbulent campaign.
The C's went into the year with a new coach, a drastically different roster and a star player still returning from season-ending ACL surgery. They were expected to hum along to 50-plus losses and just be another punch line in the weak Eastern Conference.
But a slew of injuries, ill-fated losing streaks and of course the return of Rajon Rondo actually kept Boston in the NBA news cycle even as any hope of postseason relevance faded.
The Celtics have been a very bad team for much of the 2013-14 season, but they have at least been an interesting bad team, and one with clear moments to point to for when they lost their way.
Now that the end is in sight and Celtics fans can look forward to lottery balls instead of heartbreaking losses, let's look back at the events that drastically altered the course of Boston's season.
Nine-Game Losing Streak (Dec. 31)
If the Celtics had any hope of making a surprise playoff run, it was lost when they began the New Year with a disconcerting streak of nine consecutive Ls.
Boston went into a New Year's Eve tilt with the Atlanta Hawks standing at a mediocre but respectable 13-17. That's a .433 win percentage, just a few points below the currently eighth-place Hawks (.449) and above the ninth-place New York Knicks (.423).
Unfortunately, the Celts couldn't overcome a superstar performance from Paul Millsap, who dropped 34 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and dominated Boston's weak defensive front line.
They fell 92-91, at home and the wheels simply fell off from there.
They embarked on a brutal stretch that featured games against the Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers and Los Angeles Clippers among others, and they were uncompetitive in almost every game.
There were certainly some bright spots during the stretch, but overall it was made clear that Boston simply did not have the talent to compete with the league's top squads.
Boston didn't secure another win until Jan. 13, when Jared Sullinger's 25-point, 20-rebound night simply overwhelmed the Toronto Raptors.
During that time period, right after the third straight defeat, Boston decided to ship out Courtney Lee and his long-term contract for the shorter deal of Jerryd Bayless.
Bayless has had some moments as a heat check scorer for the C's, but Lee was having an excellent shooting season and was a much-needed defensive presence.
Boston needed to preserve cap space, and what good would an expensive veteran be on a team so far away from playoff relevance?
The move clearly indicated the direction the front office wanted to head, and their next trade pretty much ended any hope for a memorable 2013-14 campaign.
Trading Jordan Crawford and MarShon Brooks for Nothing (Jan. 15)
For nearly the first 40 games of the season, Jordan Crawford was probably the Celts' best player. Scary, right?
Revitalized under Brad Stevens and playing primarily point guard for the first time in his career, Crawford put up excellent numbers and even won Eastern Conference Player of the Week.
He wound up averaging 13.7 points, 3.1 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 41.3 percent shooting overall before Boston realized that he was simply too competent to serve their ultimate purpose.
Once Lee was dealt, Crawford was effectively Boston's only playmaker, especially because Stevens moved Avery Bradley to shooting guard effectively full-time.
With the Celtics, Crawford posted a PER of 21.4 as a point guard, per 82games.
Still, the Celtics knew it would be tough to keep him as a restricted free agent and opted to save themselves the trouble of an offseason decision by shipping him to Golden State for 10 cents on the dollar.
Boston shipped Crawford, along with the talented but seldom-used MarShon Brooks to the Warriors for backup center Joel Anthony in a Jan. 15 three-team deal.
The move was another clear salary dump, as the Celtics rid themselves of two unrestricted free agents in exchange for Anthony, who has played roughly 85 minutes in green.
Obviously part of the rationale was to open the starting point guard slot back up for Rondo, who returned just two days later, but not even giving the Rondo-Crawford tandem a chance simply reeks of tanking.
It worked, too. The Celtics have not been relevant, save for a few big wins, since shipping out Crawford, who now provides some off-the-bench creativity for the playoff-bound Warriors.
Rondo's Return Against Los Angeles (Jan. 17)
Given his unique temperament and strange road to recovery, no one was quite sure how Rondo would look when he suited up for the first time in the 2013-14 season.
Would he show tremendous rust like Derrick Rose, or would he pick up where he was expected to as the Celtics' unquestioned alpha dog?
The answer was somewhere in the middle, as Rondo posted eight points and four assists on 4-of-9 shooting in 19 minutes against the Lakers.
There were some moments where he looked slower and unconditioned, but he also had a few gorgeous vintage moves.
These included a beautiful fake on Pau Gasol in the lane, a devastating spin move on Kendall Marshall and a bounce pass to Kris Humphries running the break that only a handful of players ever could throw.
Unlike with Rose, it was very easy to see how Rondo could round himself into form sooner rather than later, particularly given that his game does not depend on above-the-rim play.
He's been streaky since then, and his three-pointer did not improve like many hoped, but his overall counting stats are strong.
Rondo is posting 11.8 points, 5.3 boards and 9.7 assists per game, although he's shooting just 40.1 percent from the field and 28.9 percent from three.
Part of the issue is that the Celtics don't have another shot-creator like Paul Pierce to absorb some of the burden, but he has also not been very assertive offensively.
Per Basketball-Reference, 26.3 percent of Rondo's shots this year have been threes. His previous career high was just 10.8 percent, indicating that his game has moved farther from the hoop.
Still, he has played some incredible games, including posting a triple-double against the Philadelphia 76ers and another 11 double-doubles throughout the season.
The C's aren't winning, and with just one year remaining on his deal, there will be plenty of trade rumors this offseason, but it's exciting to think about what Rondo will look like when he's had a summer of rest and training under his belt.
Avery Bradley's Ankle Injury Against Miami (Jan. 21)
One can't exactly say Boston was jelling before Bradley went down with an ankle sprain, but they were at least playing competitive basketball.
Then, just seven minutes into an eventual 93-86 loss against the defending champions, Bradley was forced to leave after landing awkwardly on his right ankle.
Bradley has averaged 14.3 points, 3.7 boards and 1.4 assists on the year while shooting 43.5 percent from the field and a solid 38.2 percent from three.
The fourth-year guard has flourished under Stevens, proving himself as a capable offensive player in addition to a dominant defender, but his injury history has become a serious concern, and his late-January injury certainly didn't help.
Excluding his rookie year when he barely played, Bradley has missed 22 games in 2013-14, 32 games in 2012-13 and the Eastern Conference Finals in 2012.
Those prolonged absences are huge for a young player who happens to be a restricted free agent and will certainly impact his negotiating power with teams this offseason.
Once Bradley went down, the Celts were forced to lean more heavily on Bayless and the unsung Chris Johnson, who played well but could not replicate Bradley's two-way impact.
Bradley returned strong, only to suffer an Achilles injury that has also sidelined him for a good chunk of time.
The C's were too far gone to turn things around when Bradley went down, but his loss only hurt the thin Boston backcourt.
Jared Sullinger's January and March Slumps
With Pierce and Kevin Garnett gone and Rondo sidelined, one of the few things C's fans had to look forward to heading into 2013-14 was the expected development of Sullinger.
Sully had a strong rookie campaign, albeit in a limited role, averaging six points and 5.9 rebounds on 49.3 percent shooting from the floor, but a back injury limited him to just 45 games.
With an offseason to hone his already polished game and a nice stretch of time to get healthy, many fans expected big things for Sullinger, and he has mostly delivered.
Except for January and March.
As a finesse big man, Sully is more prone to streakiness than most players his size, but there's no excusing his downright ghastly percentages for much of 2014.
He averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in January but shot just 37.2 percent from the field and 20 percent from three.
His March wasn't much better, as he notched 12 points and 7.7 boards per game while shooting 37.3 percent from the field and 26 percent from distance.
The Celts need Sullinger to shoot well from the field, and when he's not, his willingness to take long jumpers is a liability, not an asset.
Per Basketball-Reference, 33.5 percent of Sully's shots this season have been from 16 feet out or farther, and his average field-goal distance is 11.3 feet.
This explains why his field-goal percentage has plummeted to just 42.4 percent overall.
Make no mistake, Sully is a supremely talented player; his averages of 13.2 points, 8.1 boards and 1.6 assists indicate that, but he needs to continue to hone his post game so his cold streaks are less damaging.
Given that Kelly Olynyk is also a jump-shooting big, the Celts are not going to go anywhere until Sully knows how to go inside and get baskets when he isn't knocking down threes.