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Mike Shalin's Working Press: Celtics are a special bunch

May 17. 2018 9:24PM
Boston forward Al Horford points to guard Marcus Smart during a media timeout in the fourth quarter in game one of the Eastern Conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden on Sunday. (David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports)

The NBA announcement of the top three finishers in the postseason awards balloting came with little in the way of surprises.

But it also confirmed just how special the Celtics have been in getting to within two wins of the NBA Finals.

Brad Stevens is a finalist for coach of the year and Jayson Tatum for the rookie award. Both have been vital in getting this young team to where it is heading into Saturday night’s Game 3 against the Cavaliers.

Remember the first half of the season, when “M-V-P” chants rained down on the TD Garden floor for Kyrie Irving?

Remember Charles Barkley telling the world “their season is over” when Gordon Hayward was lost for the season five minutes into the first game?

Remember all the Boston-sized potholes Stevens and his team had to face along the way?

Stevens, recently fired Toronto coach Dwane Casey (the coaches’ pick for their award) and Utah’s Quin Snyder are the finalists. It’s hard to imagine anyone doing a better job than Stevens, this team’s general, but all three are worthy of the honor voted on after the regular season.

According to blogger Keith Smith on Twitter: “(I) Asked a rival front office guy how Boston is in this position: “They are a team full of killers. Some are loud like (Marcus) Smart and (Marcus) Morris. Others do it quietly like (Al) Horford, Jayson Tatum and (Jaylen) Brown. And the best, quietest killer of all is on the sidelines because you never see it coming.”

Tatum is one of those “killers,” has drawn Paul Pierce comparisons. Pierce, whose number was retired this season, doesn’t object. He told Chad Finn of the Boston Globe, “I see it, I definitely do. I wasn’t the most athletic guy. Tatum is a lot more athletic than I was. He can use either hand. Once he gets a little stronger in the near future, look out. I mean, he’s obviously smart beyond his years.

“When I came out, I was a 21-year-old. He was 19 for most of this season. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but a year and a half, two years, that’s a lot of developmental time. I had three years of college to develop. He had one year, and he’s already doing this. He’s a superstar in the making. You can compare a kid like that to me anytime you want.”

Draft talk

The Celtics didn’t crawl into the second or third spot in the NBA draft but the mock drafts have already popped up. The one I saw on Yahoo Sports had Wichita State guard Landry Shamet going to the Celtics with the 27th pick.

The comments:

“Shamet struggled a bit off the bounce last year, but he makes up for it with ideal size and intelligence. Maybe best of all, he is an excellent long-range shooter. The 6-4 Shamet made 44.4 percent of his 3-pointers last season. The Celtics have Marcus Smart entering restricted free agency this summer, and developing two-way star Terry Rozier is slated to become a restricted free agent in 2019.”

Numbers, numbers

For those either fretting or happy with Giancarlo Stanton’s slow start with the Yankees, we refer you to an MLB.TV stat the other day:

Last May 13, .259 11-26

This May 13, .252 10-26

He wound up with 59 homers, 132 RBIs and the National League MVP last season.

Keeping the focus on numbers, how about these gems from the San Diego Union-Tribune Sunday, courtesy of column pal Larry Rosoff:

Tony Gwynn faced Pedro Martinez and Greg Maddux a combined 143 times. He batted .388 and NEVER struck out!

And: No pitcher struck out Gwynn 10 times in his career. Nolan Ryan fanned him nine times.

More numbers?

Xander Bogaerts hit a three-run homer in the sixth inning Wednesday night — after entering the game batting .214 with a .267 on-base percentage, .339 slugging percentage, .606 OPS, one homer, four doubles and three RBIs in 14 games in May (left over from his ankle injury?).

From @redsoxstats earlier this week:

Best slugging percentage by a Red Sox player through 41 games since 1990:

1. .766 Mookie Betts 2018

2. .759 Manny Ramirez 2001

3. .712 Mo Vaughn 1996

Rick Porcello’s last two starts: 0-1, 7.94 ERA, .328 opponents BA, 1.013 opponents OPS, 11.1 IP, 17 hits, 10 runs, 10 earned. Sox 0-2 in those games.

Carson Smith says his shoulder injury is a result of overwork after he appeared in seven games in 13 May days. So it wasn’t firing his glove in the dugout? Alex Cora correctly denied the overuse.

Blake Swihart’s agent has asked the Red Sox to deal his client, who must be so poor defensively in the eyes of management he can’t get a start ahead of two guys batting, averaged together, .176, with a combined one homer and 10 RBIs through Wednesday.

Say it ain’t so

The drug suspensions in sports usually bring a shrug from this writer, but this Robinson Cano thing is depressing. He’s on a Hall of Fame path, nailed when he’s already got huge money in the bank and only the game to play.

Now, he’s tarnished.

And it was noted that it completes the Yankee cheater quartet — friends Cano, Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and Francisco Cervelli. All suspended.

Cano loses — and the Mariners save — $11 million in salary and, if they continue hanging around, can afford to go get another player they could add who WOULD be postseason eligible.

Cano still has five years and $120 million remaining and the Mariners have no choice but to take him back. That’s what the basic agreement reads and you wonder what can be done to protect teams from this kind of liability.

One suggestion has the contract being voided in these cases, but the team signing the player would surrender a draft pick. Good luck getting the Players Association to go along with that.

Too many guys

While Cano’s stay on the disabled list counts toward the 80 days, he went on the DL before he was suspended, adding to the ever-growing disabled list. Once again, you can build a whole team of guys who AREN’T playing.

C – Yadier Molina

1B – Miguel Cabrera

2B – Cano

SS – Corey Seager

3B – Jake Lamb

LF – Yoenis Cespedes

CF – A.J. Pollock

RF – Wil Myers

DH – Miguel Sano

SP – Clayton Kershaw, Madison Bumgarner, Alex Reyes, Robbie Ray and Zach Davies

RP – Zach Britton, Darren O’Day, Anthony Swarzak, Tommy Kahnle, Tyler Thornburg

Bench – Dustin Pedroia, Daniel Murphy, Adrian Beltre, Elvis Andrus, Kevin Kiermaier, Stephen Vogt.

Get the picture?

By my count, six starting second basemen are injured: Pedroia, DJ LeMahieu, Cano, Murphy, Joe Panik and Josh Harrison.

Special story

Having been there in person for the Miracle of Lake Placid, I have to think the Vegas Golden Knights Year 1 spectacular is inching its way closer to what happened in 1980.

The Knights took a 2-1 lead over the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference finals Wednesday night — their first home game of the series. They are six wins from the Stanley Cup.

They’ve already made NHL history for so many things. And they have kept up an NHL 50-year pattern — the 1918 Toronto Arenas and the 1968 St. Louis Blues are the only expansion teams to win two playoff rounds.

There’s an asterisk on the Blues, of course, since they were playing in an all-expansion six-team division that played only among themselves in the postseason. Let’s not even talk about the Arenas, in the league as what was called a “temporary” franchise in a reorganized league.

If the Jets don’t advance, don’t blame Mark Scheifele, who set an NHL record with his 10th and 11th road goals (14 overall) in this year’s playoffs Wednesday night.

Big fan

Speaking of the Knights, Las Vegas native Bryce Harper couldn’t have been too upset his baseball game against the Yankees was rained out Wednesday night.

He got to watch his favorite hockey team.

“I get more nervous watching them than anything I’ve ever done in my life,” Harper told USA TODAY, “even playing ball. I don’t get nervous watching my team or when I play at all. I really don’t. But when I’m watching them, I get so nervous. I’ll sit on the couch with my wife, going nuts.

“It’s unreal.”

Harper presented the Knights with baseball gifts adorned by the hockey team’s logo.

With the Yankees in town, Harper, a potential free agent to be, was pressed on wanting to play in the Bronx. He’s a huge Mickey Mantle fan and while it’s unclear how the Yankees would fit him into their picture, he didn’t want to talk about it this week.

“I’m a National now,” he said. “We’re going into this series trying to win some ballgames. That’s the only thing on my mind.”

Nothing can repay them

Michigan State made a $500 million settlement to the victims of that sick doctor (I’m not using his name) who molested all those athletes. Nothing can repay these people what they lost.

“We are truly sorry to all the survivors and their families for what they have been through, and we admire the courage it has taken to tell their stories,” said Brian Breslin, chairman of Michigan State’s governing board. “We recognize the need for change on our campus and in our community around sexual assault awareness and prevention.”

Old times

The Red Sox will stage their first alumni game in 25 years prior to the May 27 game at Fenway, bringing back the tradition of Oldtimers’ Day.

A list put out by the team in a release Thursday:

Dwight Evans and Luis Tiant will act as managers for the two teams, with 25 other alums scheduled to participate. Former players making their on-field return to Fenway Park include Wade Boggs, Oil Can Boyd, Orlando Cabrera, Scott Cooper, Jim Corsi, Lenny DiNardo, Alan Embree, Rich Garces, Jonny Gomes, Mike Greenwell, Sam Horn, Chris Howard, Bill Lee, Darren Lewis, Steve Lomasney, Derek Lowe, Mike Lowell, Julio Lugo, Steve Lyons, Keith MacWhorter, Pedro Martinez, Lou Merloni, Rick Miller, Mike Myers and Troy O’Leary.”

If you have tickets for the regular game, arrive early. Gates A, C and D will open at 10 a.m.

Finally, pardon this old New Yorker for feeling a bit nostalgic Wednesday night — with Marv Albert doing the NBA semifinal on TNT and son Kenny doing the NHL on NBCSN. Two special voices I’ve been able to call friends through the years.

Mike Shalin covers Boston pro sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email address is

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