Celtics

Celtics blow huge lead, still beat T'Wolves, 85-82

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Celtics blow huge lead, still beat T'Wolves, 85-82

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MINNEAPOLIS Oh no, not again!

The Boston Celtics came out dominating the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Then the game got close.

After that, they found themselves in an nip-and-tuck battle with a team that won't even sniff the postseason.

Sound familiar?

Too many times lately, the Celtics have found themselves having a hard go at it against teams that, for most of this season, have been going nowhere.

Fortunately for the Celtics, that 25-point lead they built - and eventually lost in the fourth quarter - didn't go to waste completely, as the C's (51-21) managed to escape with an 85-82 win.

Paul Pierce led all Celtics with 23 points, 12 of which came in the fourth. Kevin Garnett had his 25th double-double of the season with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Minnesota's Michael Beasley led all scorers with 28 points while Anthony Tolliver came of the Timberwolves bench and scored 16 points to go with a game-high 15 rebounds.

To open the game with such a dominate showing - Boston led by as many as 25 points in the first half - only to have to cling to dear life down the stretch, certainly proves that the Celtics still have a ways to go before they regain the form that led many to believe they were the best team in the East.

For now, they'll simply settle for a victory that snapped a two-game losing skid.

The C's tried their best to put on a brave face, doing all they could to give the look that everything was OK.

"Wins are great," said coach Doc Rivers.

Said Pierce: "It's good to play in close games. You realize in the playoffs, there's going to be a lot of close games. It's all about execution, being on the road."

But the more Pierce thought about the game and how the C's played, he soon delivered what we've come to expect from him - the Truth.

"We should have been more consistent throughout the game, could have been a double-digit win," he said. "But hey, we'll take it."

And that's what has to be disturbing about this team, right now.

Far too often, they seem complacent rather than overly competitive.

Rivers and his players chalk it up to the team just going through one of those funks that all teams, good and bad, go through during the season.

But their problems seem to be deeper than that, primarily because their problems don't seem to change from one game to the next.

In recent days, Rivers has used words like 'soft' and 'selfish' to describe his team's play at times.

Had they lost to the Timberwolves, which would have been a season-high third straight defeat, you could have added the word 'sad' to the list.

Although there's still time, Chicago (53-19) has the record and the game of late to claim the top spot in the East. And Miami (50-22) is finally figuring out how its three stars can co-exist and lead the team to victories over quality opponents.

Meanwhile, the Celtics are muddling their way to the regular-season finish line, producing the kind of results we saw a year ago.

But this team and their play should not be compared to last season's team, which advanced to the NBA Finals as a fourth seed.

A year ago, Rivers was limiting his core players to ensure that they were well-rested for the playoffs.

This season, the C's are simply losing games to bad teams.

And while Sunday's win is certainly a step in the right direction, the Celtics have to know that they have to step their game up significantly in the coming weeks if they are to have any shot at bringing home Banner 18.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@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