Celtics

Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 2 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 2 preview

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have a 1-0 series edge over Philadelphia doing what they did better than any team in the NBA this past season -- lock down defensively in the fourth quarter. After falling behind by as many as 10 points in the fourth on Saturday, the C's rallied for a 92-91 win.

In that fourth quarter, Boston limited the Sixers to 20 points.

During the regular season, the C's held opponents to a league-low 21.3 points scored in the fourth quarter.

"They are better at closing games because of their experience," said Sixers forward Elton Brand. "Just being used to that high-intensity level. They did it in championship games. The first game of the second round, they're pretty comfortable. That gives them an advantage there. But we won some close ones in Chicago and that helped us learn how to do it."

The ability to finish games will indeed be a factor in tonight's Game 2 matchup as the Celtics look to go up 2-0 in their best-of-seven series.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Paul Pierce can't move about as well as he would like to, courtesy of a sprained MCL in his left knee. However, he is finding other ways to make an impact for the Celtics. In Game 1, he missed eight of his 11 shots but still grabbed six rebounds and had six assists in addition to blocking two shots.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Brandon Bass vs. Elton Brand: Both of these are more than overdue for a breakout game for their respective teams. Bass has been more hesitant lately to shoot, often a sign of a player whose confidence isn't quite where it was earlier. As for Brand, he's a victim of the Celtics' small ball lineup cutting his minutes, and emergence of rookie Lavoy Allen (12 points on 5-for-7 shooting in Game 1) and the solid play of Spencer Hawes (15 points, eight rebounds) around the basket. "Brand was struggling a little bit, and Lavoy was playing great (in Game 1)," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "I think the guys know that at this point in time, I have to go with the guys that are playing well." In Game 1, Brand had four points and one rebound in 15 minutes.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- Ray Allen did more for the Celtics in Game 1 than his 12 points might have indicated. His mere presence opened things up for Garnett around the basket, along with creating better driving lanes for Rajon Rondo (13 points, 17 assists and 12 rebounds). The Celtics were a plus-17 with Allen on the floor, far and away the best plusminus ratio of the 19 players for both teams to see action.

STAT TO TRACK -- Despite out-rebounding Philadelphia 45-41 in Game 1, the Sixers still had a decisive edge (15-6) in second-chance points. The Sixers ranked 23rd in second-chance points during the regular season, and are 10th (among 16 teams) in the playoffs. For the C's, Game 1 was indicative of their inability all season to capitalize on multiple-shot opportunities. The Celtics were dead-last (out of 30 teams) with 9.9 second-chance points per game, during the regular season. They haven't been much better in the playoffs, averaging just 8.7 second-chance points per game which ranks 14th (out of 16 teams).

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“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.”

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