A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper break down and give their thoughts on the release of the Celtics schedule for the 2017-2018 season.
Coming off a signature win over Golden State just on Thursday, no one would have been shocked if the Boston Celtics had a bit of a letdown against the three-win Atlanta Hawks.
But the script on Saturday didn’t look all that different than previous games for Boston which extended its winning streak to 15 in a row in defeating the Hawks 110-99.
Kyrie Irving led all Celtics with 30 points with Jaylen Brown tallying a career-high 27 points. Atlanta (3-13) was led by Dennis Schroder’s 23 points while Kent Bazemore had 19.
Boston (15-2) has now won 15 in a row which ranks as the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history, just four short of tying the 2008-2009 Celtics which won 19 straight.
The ways in which Boston has managed to extend its winning streak have varied, but a common denominator in most of them has been the Celtics seemingly getting stronger as the game progresses.
Boston spent most of the first half playing from behind, but a 17-7 run in the third quarter which was capped off by back-to-back 3’s by Jaylen Brown put the Celtics ahead 68-65.
The Celtics were able to maintain a slim lead for the rest of the quarter which ended with Boston ahead 80-77.
In many ways, Saturday’s win was indicative of how Boston has managed to keep on winning.
In the first half they struggled to score, but Marcus Morris did his part to keep them afloat with 10 of his 14 points coming in the second quarter.
Boston’s surge in the third quarter was fueled in large part by Jayson Tatum who finished with 14 points – all coming in the third which served as the highest-scoring quarter (36 points) for the Celtics this season.
Having regained control of the game, Boston’s top two scorers most of the night – Brown and Irving – took over as they combined to score 17 of the Celtics’ 30 fourth-quarter points.
And while the main guys were getting it done down the stretch, the Celtics got a much-needed lift from the second unit in the first half to get back in the game.
Marcus Smart, who has struggled mightily with his shooting of late, had eight of his 10 points off the bench in the first half which included a pair of 3’s.
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When you’re an NBA rookie or early on in your career, there’s so much to learn, especially when it comes to playing defense.
Despite having at least two players with a year or less experience in the starting lineup and at least three or four other rookies who see regular action, Boston’s top-ranked defense has been able to do the seemingly impossible – defend without fouling a lot.
Boston comes into tonight’s game against Atlanta averaging 19.8 fouls committed per game which is the ninth-lowest total in the league.
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Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some ideas as to how the team has been able to defend without fouling a ton.
“Our length, being able to communicate on the fly, having a system that’s predicated on shrinking the floor, just being very active,” Irving said. “Obviously, we’re going to foul. But the times we don’t foul, we limit teams to some tough shots, some tough two’s or some tough contested threes; I feel we put ourselves in great position. And then when you have guards down there rebounding as well as bigs down there boxing out and staying active it makes all our jobs easier, all five connected out there. We understand the importance of valuing each possession.”
The qualities that Irving talks about make sense when you’re talking about the qualities of an elite team defensively.
But for the Celtics to have so much youth tossed into such prominent roles, it is unusual to see everything seemingly come together so quickly.
“They utilize their length appropriately,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They’re both long for their positions; that helps. So, you’re not playing Jaylen at the 3 (small forward) as much, and Jayson (Tatum) at the four (power forward) as much. You’re playing them at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) a lot. So, they can use that length rather than try and have to battle.”
Irving points out there’s added incentive to play at a high level defensively without fouling.
“If you don’t, you’ll be on the bench,” Irving said. “Brad has made that very clear. If the effort isn’t being put out there, and you’re not paying attention and you’re not preparing the way all of us should be preparing, that goes from the head coach all the way down to the 15th guy, if you’re not preparing the way you should and not perfecting your craft outside the game and that’s being very diligent, understanding what we’re trying to do in strategy, understanding our system, why it works, and why we’re doing it, then why the hell would you expect to play? So, he made it very simple. All the guys understand that. We’re a young team, but what we’re trying to accomplish will take a lot of energy and effort and focus. They understand that at a very young point in the season.”