The unheralded moves that kept Boston's season alive and thriving

From ESPN - April 17, 2018

BOSTON -- During a rare quiet moment amid the Boston Celtics' summer of roster-turnover chaos, Danny Ainge stopped to study his new-look squad.

The Celtics had signed free-agent Gordon Hayward earlier that month, but Ainge still could not shake a feeling that his team needed another ball handler with Isaiah Thomas' lingering hip injury. (Ainge was unaware that almost at that exact moment, Kyrie Irving was asking the Cleveland Cavaliers to find the trade that would deliver him to Boston in August.)

So Ainge phoned Shane Larkin, a player the Celtics had liked heading into the 2013 draft, and inquired about his availability after a solid season with Spanish club Baskonia. Larkin had recently signed an offer sheet with rival club Barcelona, but when Baskonia matched, it opened a 48-hour window in which Larkin also could explore opportunities outside of Europe.

"Danny called me," Larkin said, "and was like, 'We have a player that may have some injury issues, so we might have an opening for a player to come and play some minutes. How long do you have?'"

Larkin's reply: "I got about 36 hours."

Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, called back the next day and Larkin agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million deal to return to the NBA. At that moment, the pact made little sense for both sides: The Celtics already had 15 guaranteed contracts and a point guard depth chart that was helmed by Thomas, Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier.

Nine months later, with Boston's roster decimated by injuries, Larkin is now an integral part of the Celtics' playoff rotation and the only pure ball handler behind now-starter Rozier.

In Sunday's Game 1 of a first-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, Larkin logged the sixth-most minutes on the team and -- despite a first-half rough patch during which he committed a rash of turnovers -- chipped in five points and was plus-12 during his floor time (only Jaylen Brown had a higher mark at plus-18).

"You can think it's going to be easy -- you may think that -- but we are still going to fight. The guys on this roster just keep fighting."

Shane Larkin, on opponents facing the injury-riddled Celtics

Ainge has made plenty of big-splash moves during his tenure, and it would be tough to top the summers of 2007 (landing Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett) or even 2013 (signing Brad Stevens, trading Garnett and Paul Pierce for the assets that have helped assemble the current roster).

But in addition to Trader Danny's summer of 2017 overhaul, it was his lower-profile moves that have given injury-depleted Boston a safety net, and a real chance to hang around this postseason.

"Our mentality has always been: It does not matter who's playing, we are going to go out there and we are going to play hard as hell and play together." Larkin said.

"And whatever happens, happens."

AINGE'S OFFSEASON OVERHAUL left only four players from last year's conference finalist. Here's a snapshot of Boston's busy summer:

Adding top-end talent like Hayward and Irving was supposed to deplete Boston's depth. But Boston's youngest players have routinely stepped up this season, including in big-time situations.

Like during Sunday's Game 1, when Khris Middleton's overtime-forcing heave could have broken the Celtics' spirit. Instead, Boston -- spearheaded by emerging third-year guard Rozier -- came out and finished off its win.

"Sometimes I think they are at their best when those things happen, you know?" Stevens said after Game 1. "I think it's just a resilient group of kids.

Brad Stevens, on the Celtics facing adversity


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