Celtics

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Time to 'play right'

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Celtics-Cavaliers preview: Time to 'play right'

CLEVELAND -- The temperature is unusually chilly this time of year -- and it's pretty cold outside, too.

The Boston Celtics are not in a good place right now, in so many areas. Their offense doesn't seem to have a flow to it. There are too many defensive breakdowns. And it's to the point where even the cool-as-they-come Doc Rivers is close to reaching his breaking point with this group.

Rivers could not contain his frustration after a 103-88 loss at Detroit on Sunday, a game in which the Celtics never led.

"I gotta either find the right combination or the right guys, or we're going to get some guys out of here. That's the bottom line," Rivers said at the time. "This group right now, they're not playing right. It's in them to play right."

They will get that chance tonight against a Cleveland team that has had its share of issues all season.

Here are some of the keys to tonight's game, with the Celtics looking to snap a three-game losing streak and avoid slipping below .500 and avoid a second four-game losing streak this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics have not been attacking the lane as much as they should, but that should change tonight. The Cavaliers' interior defense is indeed one of their weaknesses. In fact, Cleveland ranks dead-last in blocked shots (3.5) per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Kyrie Irving. Rondo may be an All-Star starter, but Irving is progressing towards being one of the NBA's better playmakers. And like most young guards in the league, facing Rondo tends to bring out the best in him.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett has been solid of late, but the C's really need him to have one of those dominate performances that he's good for every now and then. Without Anderson Varejao (blood clot, out for the season) in the mix, the chances of Garnett delivering a huge game become much, much greater for the Celtics.

STAT TO TRACK: Ball movement has been an issue for the Cavaliers most of this season, a trend the C's would like to see continue tonight. Cleveland averages just 19.4 assists per game which ranks 29th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics' defense has limited opponents to 21.4 assists per game this season which ranks 12th in the league.

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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