Back on Jan. 27, when the Boston Celtics were going toe to toe with the Golden State Warriors, it seemed the shamrocks were coming into alignment.

They were 35-15 and atop the Eastern Conference, and people with the Warriors were saying privately that it could be a very interesting NBA finals should the two teams make it that far.

But almost two months later, the Celtics’ hopes were fading. While Jaylen Brown could return on the upcoming road trip from concussion protocol, Kyrie Irving’s left knee is now shrouded in deeper mystery. Marcus Smart is a playoff returnee at best, and Daniel Theis is gone for the year after knee surgery. It’s best to view the Gordon Hayward situation as do the Celtics – he’s not coming back this season.

Franchise legend Kevin McHale could offer only a verbal shake of his head as he prepared to broadcast Tuesday night’s game against Oklahoma City for TNT.

“They’re just beat up now,” said McHale. “In pulling for Boston, which I do, it just seems like they just could never, ever kind of (get it all together). They lost a couple (to start the season) and then they had that unbelievable stretch where they won everything. And from that point on, it just seems like there’s always been something. They haven’t been able to stay healthy enough. If they don’t have Hayward, they need everybody else. They need everybody else healthy. Now Marcus has had thumb surgery, Theis is out.

“Now you’re talking about Kyrie getting a second opinion, and even if he does come back, is he going to have enough time to get his rhythm before the playoffs? It’s just too bad. It’s just one of those years, it seems like, for them and for a lot of teams. It seems like half the teams in the league are going through this. It’s the same thing with Golden State. Are they going to have enough time to get any rhythm?”


It should still be an interesting playoff run.

“I think they were going to have to play really, really well, which they’re capable of,” McHale said. “They were going to have to have everybody healthy. And (Jayson) Tatum and Brown and Kyrie and all their shooters would have to be making shots. (Terry) Rozier’s been playing great for them, but all of those guys were going to have to play at a really high level for them to have success, to have a long playoff run.

“I think they exceeded expectations, just because of playing Tatum and Brown. But Danny (Ainge) did a great job of drafting those guys, too. Tatum and Brown both defend, they’re long, they both rebound. They’re good, you know what I mean? So he plugged in some very versatile players that can defend different people, and Smart’s defense has always been great. So they kind of hung their hat on defense. I thought their offense would be better even without Hayward than kind of what it was. … But it’s tough, man. They’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders to get to the Eastern Conference finals or get out of the East.”

As for next season, said McHale, “You’ve got young guys who are getting better all the time that you look at it and you think that they’ve got a chance, no question. They’ll be a really good team next year if, again, everybody gets healthy. Then you look in their back pocket and they’ve still got Sacramento’s pick … . So they still have assets that they can trade.

“Danny will do a good job and get those guys going, but it seems like this year, I don’t know. I’m not sure that they can put all the pieces together. But we’ll see. Stranger things have happened. Kyrie comes back healthy, and they win the first round and Smart comes back, you know, we’ll find out.”

McHale and Ainge were very close as teammates here, but it still sounds a little odd to hear the former speaking of Ainge that way.


“I always laugh,” McHale said. “Danny’s a very patient, businesslike guy with how he approaches everything, yet he’s one of the most impulsive people you’ll ever want to meet. But in this business, he’s like unbelievably patient. He’s also a very, very good evaluator of talent.

“You know, Brown was a great pick at 3. Getting Tatum and another pick, he’s just been very shrewd.”

CAVALIERS: Forward Kyle Korver was excused from the team to be with family following the death of a younger brother. The team issued a statement late Tuesday saying Korver’s brother, Kirk, died earlier in the day.

HAWKS: Atlanta signed rookie guard Jaylen Morris to a multiyear contract.

Morris, who spent most of the season with the Hawks’ G League affiliate in Erie, earned the deal after previously signing two 10-day contracts.



76ERS 119, GRIZZLIES 105: Robert Covington, J.J. Redick and Dario Saric each scored 15 points to pace all five Philadelphia starters in double-figures, and the 76ers continued their push for home-court advantage in the playoffs with a victory over visiting Memphis.

Joel Embiid added 14 points and Ben Simmons had 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the 76ers (40-30), who won their fourth straight to improve to a season-best 10 games over .500. None of the starters played in the fourth quarter.

Wayne Selden Jr. had 18 points to lead Memphis (19-52), which has lost 21 of 22 overall and 16 in a row on the road.

Philadelphia is closing in on its first playoff berth since 2012, but Coach Brett Brown is not satisfied with merely making the postseason. Philadelphia began Wednesday sixth in the Eastern Conference, just a game behind the Pacers for the fourth spot and home-court advantage for a first-round series. Brown said prior to the game the 76ers are very much focused on a No. 4 seed or better.

“We are on the war path to get home-court advantage,” he said.

CAVALIERS 132, HEAT 129: LeBron James scored 35 points and added 17 assists, his last setting up a late a 3-pointer by Kevin Love, and undermanned Cleveland ended Toronto’s nine-game road winning streak.

Love, playing his second game after missing 21 games because of a broken left hand, finished with 23 points and 12 rebounds and George Hill had 22 points on 10-of-11 shooting for the Cavs, who were blown out by 34 points against Toronto in January.

HEAT 119, KNICKS 98: Kelly Olynyk scored 22 points and handed out a career-high 10 assists, Tyler Johnson added 22 points and Miami won at home.

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