Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 6 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Heat Game 6 preview

BOSTON It's hard to imagine that the biggest X-factor in the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Miami is a seven-time all-star.

But that's the reality of this Celtics-Heat series, with the outcome in tonight's Game 6 matchup hinging heavily on the play of Chris Bosh.

The 6-foot-9 Heat forward returned from a nine-game absence (abdominal strain) in Boston's Game 5 victory at Miami on Tuesday, tallying nine points along with seven rebounds (six offensive) in just over 14 minutes.

Following the Heat loss, Miami head coach Erik Spoelstra has been heavily criticized for not using Bosh at all in the fourth quarter when the game was up for grabs.

"I thought those are the decisions you have to make as a head coach," Spoelstra said. "I know after the fact those can always be secondguessed. But we're treading in kind of new waters right now, and he had been out quite a while. But he'll play more (in Game 6)."

And that will put even more pressure on a Celtics defense that has already had its hands full with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

"You know, I was very surprised how good he looked (in Game 5)," C's coach Doc Rivers said of Bosh. "He looked like he had been playing. So we were very surprised with that."

But as far as why Bosh didn't play more in Game 5, Rivers wasn't about to touch that question.

"I will stay away from that," Rivers said. "That's the other thing. I didn't notice it until after the game. That's how focused we were. I was really focused on us. Then after the game when one of my coaches brought it up, I said, well, yeah, that's interesting. But I'm sure there was a reason."

For the Celtics, why Bosh wasn't on the floor down the stretch isn't important. He will play tonight, more than he did in Game 5. And dealing with that will be more than enough of a challenge for the Celtics.

Indeed, Bosh's play will be a major subplot to follow in tonight's game. Here are some other keys to keep tabs on as the Celtics hope to continue their dominance at home (8-1 in the playoffs) needing just one win to move on to the NBA Finals for the third time in the Big Three era.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Keeping Dwyane Wade in check in the first half has been a huge factor in Boston being in control of this series. He's averaging 22 points per game in the Conference finals, but only 5.8 of those points has come in the first half. More significant, he's connecting on just 27.5 percent of his shots in the first half, shooting 40 percent or less in every game thus far.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Chris Bosh: For the first time in the postseason, Kevin Garnett will not have a decisive advantage at the center position. In many ways, Garnett will have to deal with a mirror-image of himself in Bosh only younger. Both will score points, but the edge will go to which player does a better rebounding the ball.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Three-time league MVP LeBron James is a must-see every game, but he's especially eye-grabbing in elimination games for all the wrong reasons. Between his years in Cleveland and Miami, James has been in eight elimination games and has emerged victorious just two times. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, James has averaged just 24.3 points in his last three elimination games. Not only are those numbers down from what he usually does scoring-wise in the playoffs, but those last three games? They all ended with James' team losing.

STAT TO TRACK -- Bench play tends to pick up at home, which bodes well for a Celtics' second unit that is coming off its first game in this series in which they outscored their Heat backup brethren, 19-16. Between Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling, the C's defensive duo has stepped up their game offensively by averaging 13 points off the bench in the Celtics last two games.

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics trail by double digits. The Celtics rally to make it relatively close by halftime. Boston continues to gain ground in the third, pull it out in the fourth.

Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

That has been the Celtics’ mantra this season, with the latest chapter in their comeback narrative being a 110-99 win at Atlanta.

“We need to put an emphasis on playing with space and getting the ball to the other side of the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It just stuck too much early on. We were staring at some post-ups that if we got it to the other side, maybe you could take advantage of.”

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Boston (15-2) fell behind by as many as 16 points against the Hawks (3-13), the second straight game the Celtics have rallied from a double-digit deficit.

In Boston’s 92-88 win over Golden State on Thursday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 17 before rallying for their most impressive win of the season.

That said, it still shouldn’t take away from what happened on Saturday against an Atlanta team that despite their record, has shown signs of playing better in their recent games.

Players are aware of the penchant they’ve shown thus far for falling behind only to mount a furious comeback for the win.

“We don’t try to (go down early),” said Kyrie Irving following Saturday’s win which extended their winning streak to 15 straight which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. “Some teams, they go on runs and whether that be us giving up some easy ones or giving up some turnovers or doing things we can correct. When we do correct them, it turns into a different game.”

And that is what makes this stretch of play so impressive.

The Celtics have not played a full game; instead they have had stretches of good play that have often masked their mistakes early in the game.

That’s why head coach Brad Stevens, obviously pleased with the team’s success, knows as well as anyone that his team has to become more consistent in their play if they are to get the most out of these wins and continue to build off of them and achieve their ultimate goal – getting back to the NBA Finals.

“We’re going to keep playing,” Stevens said. “But the biggest thing is, we can’t keep digging these holes.”

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Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

When it comes to the top backcourts in the NBA, you seldom hear about Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

That may soon be changing if they have more games like the one they delivered on Saturday as Boston put together a solid second half to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks, 110-99.

Irving had a game-high 30 points which was his second game with at least 30 points scored – both against Atlanta.

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And Brown, who had a strong 22-point performance in Boston’s win over Golden State on Thursday, was even better against the Hawks in tallying a career-high 27 points.

We all know about Irving who has established himself as one of the NBA’s top guards.

But is Brown on the way?

One thing Brown won’t have to develop going forward is, confidence.

He has long maintained that he believes he’ll be among the best in the league. It’s just a matter of him performing at a high level at both ends of the floor, consistently.

“I’ve always had that confidence, I can play with the best in the world,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin following the win over Atlanta which extended Boston’s winning streak to 15 in a row. “It’s just a matter of coming out, doing it. My teammates found me tonight. We had a good team win tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

 

STARS

Jaylen Brown

Back in his home state of Georgia, Jaylen Brown delivered another monster game for the Celtics by scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting with four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving

Irving had his most efficient game this season for the Celtics, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists.

Dennis Schroder

Atlanta’s best scorer delivering a strong 23-point, 9-assist performance for the Hawks.

 

STUDS

Jayson Tatum

He only had 14 points, but they all came in the third quarter and they included a few crowd-quieting dunks.

John Collins

He came into the league with the reputation of being a high motor player, and he has not disappointed. His hustle and energy led to him tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Morris

When the offense struggled mightily in the first half, it was Morris’ scoring that kept them within striking distance. He finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter.

Kent Bazemore

He was Atlanta’s number two scoring option most of the night, and finished with 19 points.

 

DUDS

Boston’s first quarter defense

The Celtics can’t keep digging themselves these early holes, expecting they will turn it on and find a way to climb out of them. The Hawks led 35-20, fueled in large part by shooting 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in addition to out-rebounding Boston 8-6.

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