Celtics-Pistons review: Lack of urgency hinders C's


Celtics-Pistons review: Lack of urgency hinders C's

AUBURN HILLS, Mich. This losing three games in a row thing is nothing new to the Celtics.

And yet it feels worse now.


Because the struggles earlier this year had as much to do with players understanding and executing their roles, as anything else.

Once Avery Bradley returned, folks settled into the roles that they were supposed to play, and then the wins started to pile up.

But Bradley (ribs) isn't himself now, and apparently the same can be said for the Celtics in losing 103-88 to the Pistons.

There's little doubt that the Pistons are playing better basketball overall than their 14-25 - make that 15-25 record - indicates.

However, having returned from London on Friday afternoon, Detroit was the more quicker, faster team that played with a greater sense of urgency.

And that more than anything else, was disappointing to see. The Pistons are in rebuilding mode with the goal being to simply get into the playoffs. Despite Boston's not-so-stellar record, they still hold out hope that they can turn their season around and make what they expect will be another deep playoff run.

Still, time is running out, and so are the many excuses used to explain losses to teams that have struggled mightily all season.

Not playing with a heightened sense of urgency once again proved costly to Boston. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they actually played out as the C's look to get back on their winning ways Tuesday at Cleveland.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Celtics are a bona fide jump-shooting team, but they may not have much of a choice against Detroit. In addition to being one of the league's best rebounding teams, the Pistons are also one of the NBA's best at blocking shots. Their 5.7 blocks per game ranks ninth in the league this season.

WHAT WE SAW: Not surprisingly the C's spent most of the game shooting jumpers which meant very few opportunities for the Pistons to block shots. That said, Detroit still managed to swat away seven shots - four by Jason Maxiell who is just (generously listed) at 6-foot-7.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger vs. Andre Drummond: While there's a lot more star power than these two on display, both have been coming on strong of late for their respective teams to the point where one has to legitimately question whether they have earned the right to start. Look for these two rookie of the year candidates to be difference-makers off the bench.

WHAT WE SAW: Both players had solid numbers for what they do best - Sullinger rebounding (seven boards) and Drummond scoring (team-high 16 points) - but the edge on this night has to go to Drummond who in addition to his scoring, also had seven rebounds and a blocked shot.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With back-to-back losses, do not be surprised to see Paul Pierce have a huge game for the C's. He's averaging a team-best 19.3 points a game this season, but has averaged just 12.5 points in Boston's last two games - both losses.

WHAT WE SAW: Pierce continues to struggle with his shot, scoring just 10 points against the Pistons. Usually he finds other ways to contribute, such as rebounds (he had eight on Sunday). As important as board work is, the Celtics needed the Captain to do what he does best and that's score points. And 10 points ... that's not going to cut it most nights even if he was 5-for-10 from the field.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston's second unit has to step up tonight, and they'll have to do it against a Detroit team whose backups rank among the league's best in terms of scoring. According to Hoopsstats.com, Detroit's second unit ranks ninth in the league in scoring (37 points per game) while the C's backup bunch comes in at No. 18 with a 31.3 points per game average.

WHAT WE SAW: The second quarter opened with a 9-0 Detroit run which came on top of a lead that was already at nine points. Boston would cut into the Detroit lead several times, even tying the score at 48. But that would be as close as they would get as Detroit's second unit continued to come up with big shots. Although Boston did manage to outscore the Pistons' bench 48-40, the second unit edge has to go to the Pistons for doing something more important than making points - making a difference in multiple areas of play.

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


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.


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.


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.”