Saturday, December 30, 2017

Top-10 Boston Celtics Moments of 2017

It was certainly a crazy 2017 for Celtics fans, as they enjoyed the emergence of a super-star in Isaiah Thomas, only to see him be traded for a taller, NBA champion version point guard in Kyrie Irving to wrap up the last four months.

It was without a doubt a year that will not be forgotten any time soon.

Though technically the Celtics faithful only got to appreciate Isaiah Thomas for less than six months out of the current calendar year, the two-time All-Star made quite the impact, as you will notice on our list below.

Meanwhile, Kyrie Irving continues to impress and has been better than advertised, all thanks to not wanting to play with the best player on the planet in LeBron James.

What a perfect time to reflect on the last 363 days, as we bring you the top moments of the Boston Celtics in 2017:

(click on each moment for our full recaps)

10.) 5.21.17 - Avery Bradley hits game winner to cap-off a 21-point comeback against the Cavaliers in Game 3 of the ECF without Isaiah Thomas

After Isaiah Thomas (hip) was ruled out for the rest of the postseason halfway through a horrible 130-86 Game 2 loss at home against the Cavaliers, the Celtics traveled to Quicken Loans Arena hoping to make it a series and not get swept. Unfortunately, it looked like more of the same for Boston for three and a half quarters, trailing by as many as 21 points.

But is was the Celtics 45-percent shooting from behind the arc, including Marcus Smart (started for Thomas), who went 7-10 from 3, to finish with a career-high 27 points and Boston's defense that limited LeBron James to 4-of-13 shooting (11 points total), that led to a 108-108 tie with 11 seconds remaining.

Brad Stevens drew up an Avery Bradley game winning 3-ball play leaving 0.1 left on the clock, handing Cleveland their first loss of the postseason in 11 games. 

9.) 11.16.17 - Celtics overcome two separate 17-point deficits to beat the Warriors at home to extend win streak to 14 games 

On a night where basketball should have been the furthest from Jaylen Brown's mind after learning about the death of his best friend Trevin Steede, less than 24 hours prior to tip-off against Golden State, the Celtics were able to comeback from 17-points down (twice) to beat the NBA champs 92-88, behind the Brown's performance of 22 points, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.

The Warriors, winners of seven straight, while leading the league in points scored at 120 per-game, were held to only 88 points during TNT's national broadcast. Boston's defense was also responsible for Step Curry and Klay Thompson shooting a combined 8-32 from the field, giving the Celtics their second win against Golden State in 2017.

Boston would go on to extend their win streak to 16 games (NBA's longest during the 2017-18 season), before it got snapped by the Miami Heat six days later.

8.) 4.16.17 - Isaiah Thomas plays in Game 1 of ECQF against the Bulls less than 24 hours after learning about death of his sister, Chyna Thomas

Most just assumed Isaiah Thomas wouldn't play basketball, at least not immediately after being informed of the passing of his sister Chyna, but when news broke of her car accident just one day prior to start of the Celtics first round series matchup against the Chicago Bulls, it reportedly became a game-time decision for Thomas, who was visibly distraught throughout the day.

Somehow, Isaiah Thomas found the inspiration to not only play in an emotional Game 1 at the TD Garden, but put on one hell of a performance with a heavy heart, finishing the afternoon with a game-high 33 points to go along with 6 assists and 5 rebounds in a 106-102 loss. That was considered by all who witnessed the game an act of resiliency nonetheless, given the circumstances.

7.) 5.2.17 - Isaiah Thomas scores a career-high 53 points against the Wizards in Game 2 of ECSF on what would have been his sister Chyna's 23rd birthday

In an instant classic where Isaiah Thomas went 18-of-33 from the field for a career-high 53 points and John Wall shot 16-of-32 for 40 points to go along with 13 assists, both the Celtics and Wizards needed an extra five minutes to decide Game 2 of the Eastern Conferance Semi-Finals. It was a battle of the point guards, but only Thomas had his guardian angel watching over him to give Boston a 15-5 edge in overtime and 2-0 series lead.

Thomas, who just had mouth surgery to repair a tooth that got knocked out in Game 1 against Washington the day before, found solace in playing for his fallen sister Chyna, on what would have been her 23rd birthday, leading the Celtics to a 129-119 victory.

6.) 5.15.17 - Isaiah Thomas & Kelly Olynyk lead the Celtics to a Game 7 victory over the Wizards & advance to ECF for the first time since 2012

After a John Wall game-winning 3-pointer in Game 6, where he hit 9-of-25 from the field, but no shot was bigger than the one (2-of-5) from behind the arc to force a Game 7 back in Boston. For most of the Celtics roster, it would be their first Game 7, but they didn't disappoint, as Isaiah Thomas finished with 29 points and 12 assists. Kelly Olynyk added a career-high (at the time) 26 points (14 in the fourth quarter) off the bench.

The Celtics held John Wall to 8-of-23 shooting (18 points), as he just ran out of gas and Boston advanced to the Eastern Conferance Finals for the first time in five seasons, with a 115-105 Game 7 win.

5.) 7.4.17 - Free Agent Gordon Hayward announces that he will sign a four year/$130 million to join the Celtics after meetings in Boston, Miami and Utah       

After conflicting reports throughout the Fourth of July on whether Gordon Hayward had in fact made the choice to reunite with his college coach Brad Stevens in Boston, were scattered all over social media, it was a relief to Celtics fans when the former Jazz All-Star's letter in The Players' Tribune was released to the world before the stroke of midnight on July 5th.

This announcement set in motion a handful of changes to the 2016-17 roster that won 53 games just three months prior. To make room for the signing of Hayward, Danny Ainge would waive Tyler Zeller, Demetrius Jackson, Jordan Mickey, trade Avery Bradley, renounce the Celtics rights to restricted free agent Kelly Olynyk and sign five rookies over the next month.

4.) 2.5.17 - Paul Pierce knocks down a final 3-pointer in his last game at the TD Garden, as the Celtics win on Super Bowl Sunday     

On the same day that Celtics legend Paul Pierce played his first game at the then Fleet Center, (now the TD Garden) 18 years prior, 'The Truth' spent the weekend in Boston for one last time as an active NBA player. The hottest ticket to Pierce's farewell game was worth the price of admission when cheers of "We want Paul!" echoed through the arena during the second half and especially late in the fourth quarter.

Doc Rivers had no choice but to oblige the Garden faithful that enjoyed Pierce for 15 years in Celtics green, as the game seemed out of reach for the Clippers and with 19.8 seconds left, the crowd got their wish. With time running off the clock, Pierce hit his only 3-point attempt of the afternoon, just as he had done countless times before, while the building erupted in a Celtics win.

Though in another uniform, you couldn't ask for a better afternoon at the Garden, where Pierce was introduced as a starter one more time, a video tribute was shown, the 2008 Finals MVP kissed the leprechaun at center court and hit a three (so he would never go scoreless at the Garden), while the Celtics won the game, led by 28 points and 8 assists from Isaiah Thomas.

The only thing that could have made that Super Bowl Sunday any better, would be if the New England Patriots had beaten the Atlanta Falcons in a dramatic overtime comeback win...WAIT.

3.) 12.28.17 - Celtics beat the Rockets on national TV, in a 26-point comeback win at home

Houston would only need three minutes of the opening quarter to jump to a 12-0 lead and it seemed destined to be a blowout loss for the Celtics, who had been struggling as of late, going 6-6 in their previous 12 games prior to tip-off. Boston trailed 32-12 after the first 12 minutes and by halftime the deficit grew 62-38.

The Celtics used a 22-4 run in the third quarter to cut the Rockets lead down to six and in the final frame with Boston down 98-97, Al Horford made a go-ahead running baby hook after Marcus Smart drew an offensive foul on James Harden. Houston had no timeouts and with 3.7 seconds left, Smart would once again draw another offensive foul on the attempted inbound pass to Harden, to seal the improbable win.

It was the largest comeback in the NBA thus far in the 2017-18 season, where the Celtics didn't lead at all until the night's final basket and the first time in 179 consecutive games the Rockets loss when leading by 25 or more points.

2.) 10.17.17 - Gordon Hayward's gruesome leg injury in Celtics season opener against the Cavaliers

While the NBA season tipped-off two weeks earlier than usual, all eyes were on the Celtics and Cavaliers, who less than two month prior swapped point guards. Even though Isaiah Thomas would not suit up, it was Kyrie Irving's first return to the Q since his trade demand was granted. Though the reception was warm for Irving during Boston's intros, the other story of the night was the debut of Gordon Hayward in green.

Just five minutes into Hayward's Celtics career, on a attempted lob pass from Kyrie Irving, the former Jazz All-Star loss his balance while in the air and landed on his left ankle, causing it to bend the opposite way. Players from both teams were visibly in shock and the arena went silent, as the game stopped and Hayward was carted off on a stretcher.

Despite the emotions running high, the Celtics came back from an 18-point deficit, but the comeback fell short as the Cavs won 102-99. It was announced that Hayward had a dislocated left ankle and fractured tibia and would more than likely miss the remainder of the season. The swingman would have immediate surgery once he returned to Boston.

In the last couple weeks of December, Hayward has gotten his walking boot removed and he's leaving open the possibility of returning this season.

1.) 8.22.17 - Celtics trade Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic & Brooklyn unprotected first-round pick in 2018 to Cleveland for Kyrie Irving   
In a move no one saw coming, Danny Ainge pulled off arguably his best trade since acquiring Kevin Garnett 10-years ago. Ainge took full advantage of Kyrie Irving's trade demand, made a month earlier and while it was unknown how severe Isaiah Thomas's hip injury was, the Cavaliers got as much as they could from the Celtics in return, including a 2020 second-round pick to complete the trade over a week later.

While most believed Irving would head to either New York, Phoenix or Miami, no one thought Ainge would pull the trigger on such a deal after the season Thomas just had.

In the biggest trade of the offseason, where for the first time in league history, two teams traded with one another after playing each other in the conference finals and the first pick was traded for the last pick from the same draft (2011), this was by far the biggest Celtics moment of 2017.

Obviously, Isaiah Thomas, who was loved in Boston, was not happy about the trade and has gone on record to show his frustration with Danny Ainge, but the former Celtics All-Star has yet to play one minute with the Cavaliers since the swap, as he continues to rehab his hip injury.

Thomas and Crowder were a huge part of the Celtics success over the last two in a half years, but at the end of the day Ainge saw an opportunity to get his team that much closer to an NBA Finals and he didn't think twice about it, it's the nature of the business.

At 29-10 Boston finds itself at the top of the East, while the Cavaliers are 3.5 games behind in third place at 24-12. They'll clash in each other's first matchup of 2018 on January 3 in Boston, where Isaiah Thomas will make his return to Garden and it's the second time either team has seen the other since opening night. So if you didn't get enough drama in 2017, get your popcorn ready.

Here's to an exciting 2018 for the Celtics and the NBA, what was your favorite moment this past year? Did we miss anything in our Top-10?

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy of Getty Images

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