Celtics

Celtics-Kings review: Garnett steps up

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Celtics-Kings review: Garnett steps up

BOSTON Courtney Lee was joking around before the game that fans just might see Kevin Garnett running the point.
He was kidding of course, but there's no mistaking that Garnett was a central figure in initiating the C's offense that was humming like we have rarely seen this season against Sacramento.
And the result was an impressive 99-81 win over the Kings for the C's second straight victory -- both without Rajon Rondo, who is out for the rest of the season with a torn right ACL injury.
Garnett was able to deliver the C's a little bit of everything.
He had 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
He grabbed nine rebounds.
He had five assists, and that doesn't include the "hockey" assists on passes he made that set up passes for lay-ups or wide-open jumpers.
"Everybody has to do their job, and some have to do it better," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "Kevin I thought tonight was terrific."
Boston went to Garnett early, something that Paul Pierce said will likely happen more often with Rondo out.
"You saw that from the start, we went to him, we went to him again ... we steadily went to him and he makes things easier."
Garnett understands that while several Celtics have to step their game up, often he will be looked upon to set things into motion.
"Doc wants to kind of cement me into the first five minutes of the game. That's cool," Garnett said. "I like to do things into the flow. Obviously plays were called, I was aggressive, I made shots. More importantly, I want to be in situations where I can not only get shots but be aggressive, get other shots, make the game easier for everybody on the floor. As long as I am in those situations, I think I can obviously help my team."
Garnett's play was indeed one of the keys to Boston coming away with the win.
Here are some of other keys outlined prior to tip-off, and how those keys actually played out as the Celtics (22-23) win their second straight game.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Limiting the backcourt scoring of the Kings will be a factor. Despite losing four of their last five games, Sacramento's perimeter players have been putting up big numbers. In the last five games, they have averaged 46.2 points per game which ranks eighth in the NBA during that span according to hoopsstats.com.
WHAT WE SAW: Boston's two-headed defensive monster in the backcourt, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee, limited Sacramento's tandem of Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas to 27 points on 9-for-29 shooting.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger vs DeMarcus Cousins: Two of the league's up-and-coming young bigs, both have the ability to impact the game in multiple ways. Sullinger did a solid job as a role player in Boston's double overtime win against Miami. Cousins' first career triple-double came against the C's earlier this season.
WHAT WE SAW: This matchup never materialized as Sullinger left the game in the first quarter with back spasms and was unable to return. Cousins didn't fare much better in his time on the floor, tallying 13 points, 6 rebounds and 4 assists - a far cry from the triple-double he put on Boston when they met earlier this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Courtney Lee gets the start in the backcourt, and will look to continue his solid play with Rajon Rondo (torn right ACL) out for the season. In six games without Rondo this season, Lee averages 10.5 points, 4.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists - all better than his season numbers.
WHAT WE SAW: Lee showed a lot more athleticism than we have seen thus far this season. His final line for the night - 9 points, 3-for-6 shooting and three assists - doesn't do justice to the kind of game he had in helping the Celtics come away with the win.

STAT TO TRACK: Even without Rondo, the Celtics need to make getting out in transition a priority. Sacramento has struggled in several phases of the game all season, including their transition defense which is giving up 15.6 points per game which ranks 29th (out of 30 teams) in the NBA this season. That number has been slightly higher (16.4) in their last five games.
WHAT WE SAW: Four of Boston's first six points of the game came on fast-breaks, as they finished with 14 fast-break points for the game. The C's were doing such a solid job executing in half-court sets, their ability to score a ton of points in transition was not needed.

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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