Celtics

Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

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Celtics-Pacers Review: What we saw

BOSTON Once again the Boston Celtics were short-handed, and once again it didn't really matter as Boston won its fourth straight with a 94-87 win over the Indiana Pacers. This was one of those games that C's coach Doc Rivers knew would be difficult to win after he saw it on the schedule. Playing a nationally televised game at Orlando on Thursday night, only to return home in the wee hours of the morning to host a young, athletic Indiana Pacers team.

"Oh, it was a trap game," Rivers said. "Make no mistake about it."

The thing is, somebody forgot to tell his players that the scheduling gods had lined this one up as one the C's were supposed to lose.

Come to think of it, Friday's win was just another night when the Celtics defied the odds stacked against them, to emerge victorious.

To win a game like this, a number of things have to break right.

With that said, we'll look at some of the factors identified prior to the game, that worked out in the Celtics' favor.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Dead legs have to be a huge concern for the Celtics tonight. The best indicator of this is usually in how a team shoots from the field. Jumpers don't have the same lift, and lay-ups tend to roll in and out more often. That becomes an even bigger deal tonight against an Indiana team that's ranked No. 1 in the NBA in field goal percentage defense (41.2 percent).

WHAT WE SAW: Shooting the ball was not an issue for the Celtics, which was unexpected. Older teams coming home on the back end of a back-to-back set of games, aren't supposed to shoot better than 45 percent from the field. But the C's continue to defy conventional thinking with their penchant for winning games despite being without key players. "It was one of those games that you know mentally you're drained," said Boston's Paul Pierce. "It was a big win, an emotional win last night (at Orlando)." But it would not have been as sweet if they couldn't come home and handle business. "I'm proud with the way we stepped u tonight and really got the job done," Pierce said.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Paul Pierce vs Danny Granger. It's obvious that Pierce is feeling like his old self - and not just old - lately. During the C's three-game winning streak, Pierce has averaged 25.7 points, nine assists and 6.3 rebounds in addition to playing solid defense. "I am starting to get my legs back. I am playing better basketball," Pierce said. Granger has also picked his game up recently, averaging 19.3 points and 5.7 rebounds in Indiana's last three games.

WHAT WE SAW: You can add Granger to the growing list of talented players that are being outplayed by Pierce right now. While there are certainly a number of players who are having a better overall season than Pierce, he has been easily one of the league's top players during the Celtics' four-game winning streak. Why? Because he's hurting teams in so many ways. Scoring, rebounding, passing, defense you name it, and Pierce is bringing it to the floor. He led all scorers with 28 points, along with 10 rebounds and eight assists."Ya know that's my role on the team, to just continue to be aggressive, trying to get to the basket, mix it up with the outsideinside play, make plays and that's it," Pierce said. As for Granger, he had 21 points and six rebounds.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Roy Hibbert is arguably the second-best center in the East behind Dwight Howard, but poses a different - and in some ways, tougher - matchup problem. Unlike Howard who relies heavily on his strength and athleticism, Hibbert's length is what will give the Celtics problems. Don't be surprised that if Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) can't play, C's Doc Rivers goes with rookie Greg Stiemsma as the starting center instead of having Brandon Bass start at power forward and sliding Kevin Garnett over to defend Hibbert. To the C's credit, they made things tough for Hibbert offensively in both games this season. In each of the two games this season, the 7-foot-2 center shot 5-for-15 from the field.

WHAT WE SAW: Although a right ankle injury certainly slowed Hibbert down some, he really wasn't that effective even prior to the injury. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds while shooting 5-for-13 from the field. Garnett started at center again, and once again turned in a defensive gem of a performance. Boston also got strong play from Chris Wilcox, who had a season-high 14 points off the Celtics bench along with grabbing six rebounds. Dealing with Hibbert was a major point of emphasis for Wilcox when he was on the floor. "We just had to control Hibbert on the block and contest all the shots and make it hard for them and them make other guys scorers," Wilcox said.

STAT TO TRACK: If the Celtics are to have a real shot at winning tonight, they have to keep the Pacers off the offensive boards. Indiana outscored the C's by 14 points in each of the two previous matchups. The C's may catch a break of sorts with Indiana's Jeff Foster (back) expected to not play. Also, Indiana comes into tonight's game having been outscored each of the last three games in second-chance points, something that had not occurred at any point prior.

WHAT WE SAW: This was the one area that Boston had to find a way to at least be competitive in to have any shot at success. They were more than that. Boston not only kept Indiana from dominating the offensive boards, but they actually won the offensive boards battle which led to 14 second-chance points compared to just six for the Pacers.

Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

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Celtics-Magic Preview: Boston looks to improve shooting down the stretch

BOSTON – When Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked about what he saw in the team’s newest (10-day) addition Jarell Eddie, his response was, “shooting … shooting.”

Indeed, shot-making has been the one area of play that has been problematic for the Celtics most of this season.

Boston comes into today’s game against Orlando (13-32) shooting just 44.8 percent from the field which ranks 25th in the NBA.

In the month of January, Boston has been even worse, connecting on just 41.8 percent of their shots which ranks 29th in the league this month.

While the addition of Eddie had more to do with the recent flu bug that has made the rounds throughout the Celtics lineup and the uncertainty a couple days ago surrounding Kyrie Irving’s sore left shoulder (it has improved and he’s expected to play today), adding Eddie speaks to a greater problem – guys making shots – that has to be addressed in some capacity sooner or later.

Boston always has the option to pursue a trade. They also have an $8.4 million disabled player exception they can use on free agent players, with the most likely pool of talent that they will choose from consisting of players who would have been bought out by their current teams.

Or there’s raiding the G-League for talent, which is what they did in signing Eddie to a 10-day contract.

Regardless, there’s a growing sense that this team has to add more scoring punch to the mix or at a minimum, improve the overall offensive execution of the roster as it stands now.

“We have to do our stuff better,” Stevens said. “The start of the season it was predictable, losing Gordon (Hayward who suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in the season-opener) and having to adjust. The middle portion of games we were pretty darn good. And then I thought we were reasonable in London, reasonable against New Orleans. But the other three of the last five games, we weren’t very good.”

Boston’s offense should get a boost from Irving’s return to the lineup after missing Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia with a sore left shoulder.

And while it was just one game, Irving understands the challenge that lies ahead in getting Boston’s offense to play better and more consistently.

“We have very unique talents on this team,” Irving said. “When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

Marcus Morris has been one of the players who has been in and out of the Celtics lineup because of a sore left knee.

However, the schedule has eased up to where he’ll be able to play more games, for longer stretches.

He comes into today’s game having scored in double figures each of the last three games.

“I’m just trying to get healthy. I know what I can do,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “My confidence is always going to stay high, no matter if I miss or make shots.”

In the last three games, he has averaged 15.0 points while shooting 45.7 percent from the field.

While Morris’ play of late is promising, it doesn’t diminish the concern Boston should have for an offense that for the most part, has been sputtering this season.

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Kyrie practices, expected to be back Sunday

Kyrie practices, expected to be back Sunday

WALTHAM, Mass. – Kyrie Irving was able to participate in all of Celtics practice on Saturday and is expected to be back on the floor when the C's host the Orlando Magic on Sunday.

Irving did not play in an 89-80 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday because of soreness in his left shoulder.

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He will continue to receive treatments for the shoulder, “but I’m just ready to go back out there and play,” Irving said. “I’ve had a few days to reset and do the things needed to put myself in a great position to go out there and play.”

Irving said earlier that the shoulder had been bothering him for a couple weeks and an overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday didn’t help matters.

Still just 25 but recently named to his fifth All-Star team, Irving’s return could not come at a better time for the Celtics.

Boston (34-12) has the best record in the Eastern Conference, but the C's are riding a two-game losing streak, which is only the third time this season they've lost back-to-back games.

Arguably Boston’s biggest issue in the loss to the Sixers was an offense that struggled in several phases.

Not having Irving available certainly made matters worse, but there were a number of elements of play that with Irving or not, coach Brad Stevens recognizes his team must make a significant improvement in if they are to remain among the top teams in the NBA.

Stevens talked extensively after the loss and again on Saturday about the team not playing hard enough on offense.

“I don’t want to take away from the teams we’re playing against. They’re really guarding us hard,” Stevens said. “But we’ve got to execute harder. The one thing that’s pretty obvious in person and when you watch on film, is we just didn’t play hard enough on offense which is kind of unique. That’s the way I felt.”

Irving said there needs to be an increase in emphasis on their offense, which would make the game easier for everyone.

“Our spacing, our cutting … just playing the game kind of within the game, understanding our talents and where we can make the game easier,” Irving said. “We have very unique talents on this team. When you’re trying to put that together and guys are coming back into the lineup and getting their rhythm still and guys are in and out sometimes … big picture, down the stretch, we’re going to need everyone to be on the same page.”

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