Celtics

Celtics-Heat review: Green steps up for Boston

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Celtics-Heat review: Green steps up for Boston

BOSTON Knowing the rest of the season will be a Rajon Rondo-less one, the Boston Celtics are going to need players to step up and fill the void.

The first to do so is Jeff Green, whose strong play on Sunday could not have come at a better time as the Celtics squeaked out a 100-98 double overtime win against Miami.

Green had 11 points off the bench, but more important than that, he played a pivotal role in forcing LeBron James into needing a ton of shots to put up LeBron-like numbers.

James had a game-high 34 points but needed 31 shots to do so.

There were times in the game when Doc Rivers would look over at Green and see that he was tired.

"The only coaching advice I had for him was, 'You can't get tired right now,'" Rivers said.

The fact that Rivers could tap into what Green was actually feeling, is a rarity.

Good or bad, winning or losing, Green rarely shows his emotions in the heat of battle.

Often that is seen as him not playing as hard as he should or giving the best effort.

"People outside this locker room, they don't know me," Green said. "What they see on the court, me not being a Kevin Garnett. But I play this game with all effort, all heart. I give it my all.

Green added, "I am emotional. I hate losing. I'm a competitive person. I just don't show it on the exterior."

The solid all-around play of Green was one of the keys to Boston's upset win over the Heat. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out for the Celtics (21-23) as the C's snapped a season-long six game losing streak with the victory.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: This will be one of the few Miami Heat games in which the build-up isn't centered around LeBron James. Most of the attention leading up to today's game will be on former Celtic Ray Allen returning to the TD Garden for the first time since he left the C's for Miami during the offseason. The Celtics already have an idea of what Allen can do for the Heat. In the season-opener at Miami, Allen came off the Heat bench to score 19 points on 5-for-7 shooting in helping lead Miami to victory.

WHAT WE SAW: Ray Allen had a solid performance in his first game back facing the Celtics, leading all reserves in scoring with 21 points on 7-for-17 shooting.

After the game, Allen acknowledged it as being an emotional game, especially after the video tribute to him on the Jumbotron shortly before he entered the game in the first quarter.

"When you see something like that, you know when I saw it, just all those emotions came streaming back from all the great things we did here," Allen said. "And that's why I say I'll always remember the big games we played in and won, and I always know I'll always be a Celtic in my mind, regardless of what anyone else says."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Dwyane Wade: The Bradley block of D-Wade last year is still one of the better defensive plays the NBA has seen in recent years. But this individual matchup, like most for Boston against Miami, will be a difficult one for the C's to compete with let alone win.

WHAT WE SAW: Bradley made Wade into a high volume shooter as Wade tallied 17 points while needing 20 shots (he made just six) to do so.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee has been coming on strong of late and has earned the right to see more court time. He had 16 points off the Celtics bench against Atlanta despite not playing a single minute in the third quarter which as it turned out, was the C's worst quarter of the game and would ultimately prove to be their undoing.

WHAT WE SAW: Lee did not have a particularly impressive game offensively (4 points, 1-for-7 shooting), but his ability to defend all three perimeter positions at various times was a huge plus for the Celtics in getting the victory.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping turnovers down will again be a priority for the Celtics. But it takes on even greater importance against a Heat team that's once again one of the best at generating offense off of their opponent's mistakes. Miami averages 18.1 points per game off of turnovers which ranks sixth in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: It was a pretty average night for the Heat's defense which forced the Celtics into turning the ball over 17 times which led to 18 points.

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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