Celtics

Blakely: Too early to write off Celtics

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Blakely: Too early to write off Celtics

WALTHAM When you've won as much as the Boston Celtics have in recent years, you should be considered among the NBA's elite.

But with that comes the reality that you'll get your opponent's best punch every night. And that leads to the problem in Boston: The C's are getting smacked around pretty good, and are doing little to fight back.

That raises the question that few around here want to think about . . . are the Celtics still worthy of being considered an elite team?

"I think we are," said coach Doc Rivers. "Obviously, we're 4-5 now. Our record says we're not."

Their record and, to an even larger extent, their play.

While Rivers acknowledged he was encouraged by what he saw after reviewing the video of Wednesday's loss to the defending NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, that doesn't change the fact that the Celtics have a number of areas that desperately need improving.

Rebounding has never been a strength of the C's under Rivers, and this season is no different.

Boston ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in rebounds per game, and only five teams are getting out-rebounded by more boards per game than the Celtics.

"I don't know what to tell you," C's big man Chris Wilcox told CSNNE.com. "We're out there playing hard. Things aren't going our way right now."

Opponents are also doing a better job getting to loose balls, evident by Boston being outscored 131-71 in second-chance points this season.

But as Rivers told one reporter -- this one, actually -- "I'm just going to warn you, it's nine games. Don't jump off the bridge yet, OK?"

He's right.

It's way too early to write this season off as a lost cause, especially when one good week of basketball can take you from the middle of the pack to pack leader because of the compressed schedule.

Win or lose, Rivers said he would still be worried about his team moving forward.

"A coach is always worried about his team," Rivers said. "That's my job; concerned, worried. That's what I should be. If we were 10-0, I'd be concerned that we're getting overconfident."

Still, it's clear that regardless of how the C's have struggled, the belief that they are still among the league's best remains strong as ever.

"There's no concern that we can't turn it around," said Ray Allen. "We've been here before. We've been in tough situations. That's what makes us champions. The fact that when our backs are against the wall and the results not in our favor, we know where we need to go to get this thing rolling. Everybody feels the same way. We have a group of guys, in the shower, in the training room, just trying to talk about little things."

Among those topics of conversations is beating a team that's actually decent.

Boston's four wins have come against Detroit, Washington (twice) and New Jersey, which have a combined 5-26 record. The five losses came to New York, Miami, New Orleans, Indiana and Dallas. Those five teams have a combined record of 30-22.

The losses only add fuel to the fire that the Celtics are a team past its prime, not one primed to make a deep playoff run.

"We haven't really beaten anybody yet," Rivers said. "So we have to do that eventually if we're going to be an elite team."

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”