Celtics

Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks preview

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Blakely: Celtics vs. Hawks preview

BOSTON Often the biggest impact a bench can make isn't in how many points they score, but how few they allow their opponents. Tonight's Game 1 matchup between Boston and Atlanta features two teams who have not only had strong defensive play from their starters, but has also benefited from a much-needed lift defensively from their respective defensive units. Boston's backups gave up 26.5 points per game to their respective second-teamers, good enough so that only the Chicago Bulls (26.1) can say, 'Hah! We're better!" The Atlanta Hawks backups were more middle-of-the-pack, giving up 31.8 points per game which ranked 17th in the NBA.

However, you can count limiting bench points to the areas in which the Hawks were noticeably better at in the final week or so of the NBA season. While the Hawks have given up more bench points (33.1 per game) in the last 10 games than they did in the regular season, there's significant improvement relative to what the rest of the league did as Atlanta rose all the way up to No. 11 within that time frame.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR Tempo is going to be one of the keys to tonight's game. Boston will look to run when defensive stops are made, but otherwise the Celtics will be better served taking advantage of an Atlanta team that's missing its starting center (Al Horford) and potentially his replacement, Zaza Pachulia (foot). "He's sitting out there with a boot on his foot, so that's not a good sign," said Hawks head coach Larry Drew, when asked by CSNNE.com about Pachulia's availability. "I did not get an official word as far as availability, but we're proceeding as if he will not be available, for sure tonight."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs. Joe Johnson: This is one of those games where Pierce might actually shoot poorly and still have a big game for the Celtics. As much as Boston relies on his scoring, they really need him to step his game up defensively against Johnson who is one of the more under-rated scorers in the NBA. "He's one of the better one-on-one players in the league," Pierce said. "He's right up there with (Oklahoma City's) Kevin Durant, Carmelo (Anthony of the New York Knicks) I'm going to have my work cut out for me. I just have to be ready to take on the challenge."
PLAYER TO WATCH - Most games, Josh Smith is a bit of a wild card. But against the Celtics, a playoff game, no one has a clue what he'll do tonight - including Smith. If he's playing well defensively and making good decisions with his shot selection, the C's will have a hard time keeping him from dominating the game. Joe Johnson's the scorer, but it's Smith who can catapult this team to the next round of the playoffs. "I

STAT TO TRACK - With Atlanta's lack of size in the frontcourt, they'll look to generate points in the paint with dribble-drive penetration. Lately, it's been working for them. They come into tonight's Game 1 matchup having averaged 43.1 points in the paint in the last 10 games. Meanwhile, the C's defense has not allowed teams many opportunities to hurt them with interior scoring. For the season, Boston is giving up just 34.3 points in the paint which ranks fifth. And in the last 10 games, the C's have a slight up-tick in that area by giving up 35 points per game.

All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

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All signs point to LeBron James playing against Celtics Tuesday

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- A sprained left ankle injury kept LeBron James out of all but one of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ preseason games, and has created a certain element of uncertainty as to whether he’ll play against the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night. 
 
While it has yet to be determined for sure if he’ll play, all indications are that the 15-year veteran will be in the starting lineup as the Cavs kick off their quest to remain the team to beat in the East.

“I never hide stuff from you guys. I really don’t know,” Cavs coach Tyronn Lue said when asked if James would play against the Celtics. “Depending on how he feels, but I really don’t know.”
 
However, James looked pretty comfortable shooting the ball after practice with a trio of former Celtics in Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Jeff Green. 
 
And if you listen to the man who would likely start in James’ place -- J.R. Smith -- there’s nothing to worry about Cavs Nation. 
 
According to Smith, James will play. 
 
“We were talking about it, he’s never missed, since he was 8 years old and he started playing, he’s never missed a first game,” Smith said. “I’m preparing for him to play.”
 
Despite having played more than 41,000 minutes -- only 33 players in NBA history have done so -- James has been one of the game’s more durable players. Last season James he sat out only eight games, and that was the most he has missed in a single season.
 
 "He's gonna go [Tuesday]," Smith said. "He's gonna go, trust me [on] that. I don't care what he's gotta do, he's gonna play."
 

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

Celtics may spend a good part of the year playing 'Getting To Know You'

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio -- It’s hard to believe the Celtics are just hours away from their first regular-season game after having been together for less than a month. 
 
The quick turnaround isn't all that different than it is for the other 29 teams in the NBA.  But the Celtics, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals last season, are returning only four players -- and just one starter -- from last year.
 
Training camp was indeed a crash course called Getting to Know My Teammates 101.
 
But listening to the players, and coach Brad Stevens, it’s clear there will be lessons learned all season long.

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“We have a good feel about how things can look, in the preseason,” said Al Horford. “But it is the preseason. Now it all starts. And right away we face a tough test (in the Cavaliers). But yeah, we’ll start learning even more. We’ve already learned a good amount, but even more when Tuesday rolls around.” 
 
That's when the Celtics kick off the regular season at Cleveland, which will once again be the favorite to advance to the NBA Finals.
 
Not too far behind (right behind them, by most accounts) are the Celts, whose season ended in the Conference finals a year ago in a five-game loss to the Cavs.
 
And the Boston players collectively feel that, despite the short amount of time together, they’ve developed a good sense of chemistry and understanding of how to play effectively with one another. 
 
Having said that, they also understand that there’s still plenty of room to grow. 
 
“I don’t expect it to be perfect by any means at all,” said Gordon Hayward. “We’ll definitely have some ups and downs this season. Like I said, one thing is we’ll be able to compete every night. We’ll be able to play together. Those things should stay the same.”
 
In many respects, the Cavaliers are going through a similar challenge this season.  They've added Derrick Rose, Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder -- and, when he recovers from his hip injury, Isaiah Thomas -- to a core group that’s led by LeBron James. 
 
While the increase in talent is undeniable, it’ll take some time before they too develop the kind of on-the-court cohesiveness that comes with time. 
 
“It’s gonna take time,” Rose said. “It’s going to be a process for everybody to learn their roles, learn everybody’s tendencies, and not think while they’re out there.”
 
And while there’s a heightened level of uncertainty as to how things will play out with the Celtics this season, Stevens embraces the unknown. 
 
“I think we're going to be learning about ourselves through the middle of the season,” Stevens said. “I think you do that with every team, but I think that's especially the case now. But this is, I've said this before, like, the first week, the first 10 days, the first few weeks, we have such great and unique challenges that it's gonna be really good for this team regardless."
 
Stevens added: “Because, to have to go into Cleveland with that level of intensity, with that level of attention, distraction, etc., is great. It's great to experience that in game one. A tremendous learning experience for our group. So, we're preparing to play as well as we can. And we know that they're really, really good. But this is, I'm looking forward to it because I want to find out where we are.”

Hayward added, “It’s a fun first game to start the year. Regardless of what happens, we’ll have some improving to do and things to get better at.”
  
 

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