Celtics

Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst

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Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON If only the rest of the Boston Celtics' schedule consisted solely of the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs or any other elite team in the NBA.

They would all be tough games, but at least the C's know that focus would not be an issue.

It certainly won't be when the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town for a nationally-televised matchup against the C's on Thursday night.

But the Lake show doesn't come to town every night, which is why the Celtics (38-13) have every reason to be concerned that their hold on top of the Eastern Conference may come down to how they fare against teams in the East that, truth be told, they have no business losing to.

Teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, who defeated the C's 94-89 on Monday.

The fact that it was a back-to-back game certainly played a role in the loss. Boston has a paltry 6-7 record in the second of back-to-back games this season.

But Ray Allen sees the problem being much broader than simply placing the blame on the scheduling gods.

He sees a Celtics team that, at times, relies more on its name than its game to be successful.

"In our locker room, we always have to remember that we're not superior to any team because we're the Celtics or because we think we're good or we have All-Stars on our team or whatever the case may be," Allen said. "What makes us better is because . . . we've proven what we have done. Anything going forward, we have to prove that."

Against elite teams, that hasn't been an issue.

When you look at the top four teams in the NBA outside of Boston, the C's are 4-2.

In fact, the only team among those four (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas and the Lakers) to beat the C's this season are the Mavericks, who swept the season series with a 101-97 win at Boston on Feb. 4.

It's not that surprising the Celtics have fared so well against the top teams in the league this season.

The reason?

Because their focus is all about Banner 18.

To achieve that, they know they'll most likely have to go through one of those teams.

Those games tend to bring out the very best in the Celtics, which is usually more than enough to beat most teams.

Bringing that same level of focus and attention to detail against lesser foes like the Bobcats has been a season-long struggle for the C's.

Celtic players are quick to dismiss the notion that the rash of never-ending injuries may be catching up to the team.

"We still have five guys on the court at one time," said Rajon Rondo. "It's as simple as that."

He's right.

But with all the injuries, you're finding it less and less likely that the five on the floor are Boston's best five.

The C's are 51 games into the season, and have yet to play a single game with the rotation that you will likely see in the playoffs.

At this point, the earliest that will happen is when Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) returns, which won't be until late March or early April.

"I don't worry about that stuff," said coach Doc Rivers. "I don't care if we have six guys. The fans are still going to come, the other team will play and we're supposed to win the game. We're not going to use that as an excuse."

Kevin Garnett echoed similar sentiments.

"It is what it is," Garnett said. "This is part of the league. Everybody is dealing with injuries, and we're no different. 'Quis is probably a lot more hard on us right now, just because it was so sudden. We're just hoping he's all right. Everybody in here has to carry a load; if not, pick up a little more and go forward. That's where we're at."

Picking up that load in part means coming to play at a high level, regardless of the opponent.

That'll be easy on Thursday.

It's the Lakers.

Ray Allen needs two 3-pointers to become the NBA's all-time leader in made 3s.

It's a nationally televised game.

And it's the Lakers!

Still, those factors won't be enough for the C's to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007-08, a season that ended with the hanging of Banner 17.

But Allen isn't thinking about past success, not now.

"Anything going forward, we have to prove that," Allen said. "We can't rely on what has already happened. Too many times we've done that, especially in the losses we've had."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE