Celtics-Magic preview: Time for Streak 2.0?

Celtics-Magic preview: Time for Streak 2.0?

BOSTON – The last time the Celtics were coming off a loss, they bounced back and won their next 16 games.
 
Could tonight trigger winning streak 2.0?

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If so, Boston’s defense will once again lead the way because the Orlando Magic (8-6) have been one of the better offensive teams in the NBA this season.
 
They come into tonight’s game shooting 46.7 percent from the field, which ranks seventh in the NBA. They also average 11.6 made three-pointers per game, which ranks fourth in the league.
 
One of the keys to Orlando’s offense is to play with a pace (103.16) that ranks among the league’s best.

Still, the Celtics have seen their share of elite offenses this season and more often than not, they have been up to the challenge.
 
For Boston, their defensive success begins with a starting unit that has been among the best in the league most of this season.
 
Boston has utilized a number of different starting lineups, but the one that has logged the most minutes (79) together – Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – has a defensive rating of 85.8, which is tops in the league among all five-man lineups which have logged as many or more minutes than Boston’s five-man group.
 
But as well as the Celtics played defensively as the wins piled up, there were clear and undeniable signs that a game such as Wednesday night's 104-98 loss at Miami was on the horizon.
 
Of the 16 wins, the Celtics were down by double digits in each of the past three victories and five overall in the streak.
 
But getting behind consistently and finding a way to rally spoke volumes about this team’s ability to handle adversity.
 
“Obviously winning is good,” said rookie Jayson Tatum. “Just the fashion that we did it in and the adversity that we had to overcome. It brought us closer together and made us a tougher team.”
 
But it seemed self-inflicted adversity by way of slow starts, which was starting to become part of the narrative to this Celtics team.
 
The past three wins - games in which the Celtics trailed by 13 at Dallas, 16 at Atlanta and 17 at home against Golden State - collectively they were a clear indicator that Boston still had room to improve despite finding ways to win.
 
 “We have to get better, we have to get better at what we’re trying to do,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It’s a little bit, looking at the 16 straight [wins], as I said, it was a little bit of a mirage. We know we have to get better.”
 

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Little things prove costly for Celtics as streak comes to an end

Little things prove costly for Celtics as streak comes to an end

When you reflect upon Boston’s 16-game winning streak which came to an end with Miami’s 104-98 win on Wednesday, there were moments in just about every game that played a major factor in their success.

So it was only fitting that in the Miami loss, it would be a whole lot of little things that ultimately brought the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history to a screeching halt.

  • Al Horford missed a pair of free throws.
  • Marcus Smart split a pair that had he made both, would have tied the game up in the fourth quarter.
  • Jayson Tatum had his only turnover of the game, in the fourth.
  • Terry Rozier had a rebound that he could not corral and bounced off his hands out of bounds.

And that doesn’t even factor in the missed open shots and unforced turnovers that collectively played a major role in Boston’s winning streak being a thing of the past now.

“I turned it over, we missed some free throws . . . we had some unfortunate things happen,” Tatum told reporters following the loss.

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Even with the loss, the Celtics (16-3) still boast the best record in the NBA.

Kyrie Irving has elevated his all-around play to a level to where he’s legitimately in the conversation as a league MVP candidate.

Jayson Tatum has established himself as one of the league’s top rookies from his draft class.

“As you could see, they kept hitting us, hitting us, until we were knocked out,” Irving said. “They deserved that win tonight.”

Disappointed with the loss, but it was not at all surprising to head coach Brad Stevens who has been raising concerns about his team’s attention to detail for the past few games and sensed it would catch up to them sooner or later.

“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said. “But we do have a lot of resolve. I can’t say enough about our guy’s will to come back. It’s incredible we were able to erase that lead that quickly and give ourselves a chance.”

Indeed, the Celtics rallied from a double-digit deficit to come within a single point in the fourth quarter. But unlike previous games, Boston couldn’t find a path to victory.

“We’re just going to continue to learn and continue to get better,” Irving said. “It’s the same things echoed when we were winning. Just continue to get better and understand, there’s still a lot for us to accomplish going forward.

He added, “It was a good streak, and it’s finally come to an end.”

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Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Brad Stevens likes the fact that the Celtics have shown an unusually strong resolve this season by consistently finding ways to win on nights when they don’t play their best.
 
It’s to the point now where fans, as well as the players, feel no deficit is too steep to overcome.

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That said, there’s a level of expectations on this team now that you would think would bring about a heightened level of pressure, right?
 
They’ve won 16 in a row, the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
Pressure?
 
Not according to Stevens.
 
“Coaching basketball is not pressure,” Stevens told reporters after Monday night’s win. “Playing basketball is not real pressure. Sometimes we overdo this stuff. We’re just trying to prepare well for the next game. That’s all we’ve done, that’s all we’ll continue to do. The streak doesn’t mean anything to me; maybe it does to the guys in the room. But it’s about finding ways to get better and finding ways to get the job done.”
 
Here are five other takeaways from the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas that extended Boston’s winning streak to 16:


 
MARCUS SMART
There may not be a player on this team – maybe in the NBA – that’s more difficult to get a read on, than Marcus Smart. He has been a historically bad shooter throughout his career in Boston. And yet when you look at their 16-game winning streak, he’s one of the main reasons for it. He plays with an edge; he’s gritty and defends at a level that few can match. He makes big plays in big moments. But he's having his worst season ever shooting the ball yet his impact when he’s on the floor has never been greater. So, what do you do if you’re Stevens? You keep playing him. Because as much as his poor shooting hurts the team’s overall scoring, he makes so many clutch plays whether it’s facilitating, defending or – wait for it – making shots. He adds tremendous value to winning, even if his shooting numbers might suggest otherwise.


 
KYRIE FOR MVP?
When you’re getting “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants on the road, you know you’re ballin’ hard. Kyrie Irving wowed the Dallas crowd with 47 points, 10 of which came in overtime as Boston rallied after facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. If the numbers continue to climb along with the win total, Irving will continue to cement himself as a top-five MVP candidate. 


 
REBOUNDING
One of the few constants in Boston’s string of success has been their rebounding. Against the Mavericks, the Celtics once again won the battle on the boards, 53-45. And it hasn’t been one or two players, either. Against Dallas, the Celtics had five players grab at least four rebounds with no one securing more than nine. That kind of rebounding balance makes Boston an extremely difficult team to out-work on the glass.
 

AL HORFORD
The scoring punch we’ve come to expect lately from Horford just wasn’t there against Dallas. Instead, he seemed more consumed with getting others (mainly Irving) involved offensively. He missed four of his five shots from the field and scored just three points. But he almost had a double-double in rebounds (eight) and assists (seven) along with blocking a couple of shots. And as always, his plus/minus was among the best on the team with the Celtics being +7 when he was on the floor.
 

FOURTH-QUARTER TATUM
While Irving was delivering one big shot after another down the stretch, one of his running partners in late-game situations this season has been Jayson Tatum. He ranks among the league’s best shooters in the fourth quarter and Monday’s victory only solidified his status. Against the Mavericks, Tatum had six points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum is shooting 64.1 percent in the fourth quarter, which ranks eighth in the NBA among players who take at least two field goal attempts per game in the fourth. Right ahead of him is teammate Marcus Morris (65 percent).