Celtics

Celts finish off road trip with win over Kings, 95-90

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Celts finish off road trip with win over Kings, 95-90

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

SACRAMENTO, Calif. The Boston Celtics seemed well on their way to continuing a disturbing trend, and that is to bring out the best in bad teams like the Sacramento Kings.

But even with the Kings stepping their game up Tuesday night, Boston still managed to pull away in the fourth quarter for a 95-90 victory.

With the victory, Boston (37-11) will finish with the best record by the Feb. 6 cut-off deadline, meaning Doc Rivers will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars later this month.

But this game, like so many this season against sub-.500 teams, wasn't easy for Rivers and his ball club.

"We had Rivers' blood pressure up tonight," said Kevin Garnett. "Sometimes he needs that. But in all seriousness, I'm happy for him. Not only Doc, but his staff. We see the countless hours they put in."

And the fruits of that labor were on display against a Sacramento team that came in having won three of its last four games, which included a road win over two-time defending NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.

After the starters put the C's in firm control in the first quarter, the second unit allowed the Kings to not just get back into the game, but take over.

In a matter of minutes, Boston fell behind by as many as 10 points to a team that had just as many wins on the season (12) as the C's had in the month of January (12).

Several players were bothered, but none seemed more irate than the usually subdued Ray Allen.

"Ray really doesn't say much at halftime, but he came out, kind of got on the guys," said Paul Pierce.

Whatever he said, it seemed to do the trick as the Celtics took Sacramento's control and seized it for themselves.

And at no time was this more apparent than the fourth quarter.

"The fourth quarter was a hustle quarter," Garnett said. "We got to a lot of loose balls and a lot of the 5050 game we want to win."

Down the stretch, the Celtics' late surge involved more than just the starting unit.

Nate Robinson and Kendrick Perkins came off the bench, with each contributing to Celtics closing out their West coast trip with a 3-1 record.

The Kings were one of the worst teams a year ago and they're on track to again be among the NBA's cellar dwellers. Still, Sacramento coach Paul Westphal was pleased with the way his team competed for most of Tuesday's game.

"Even though we lost that game, I really liked that game for our team," said Westphal, a former Celtics player. "I thought it was like a playoff game. I thought that both teams played extremely tough defense and made it hard for the other team to score. There was nothing easy about that game."

It never is for the Celtics when the opponent has a woeful record.

But the motivational factors to win on Tuesday were even more plentiful than usual.

There was the desire to close out the road trip with a winning record.

Boston was also coming off a 109-96 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, a game that to this point stands out as one of the Celtics' most impressive victories.

A loss to the Kings, according to Pierce, would have meant "that game in L.A. meant nothing."

Pierce added, "If you lose a game today in Sacramento after beating L.A., it's like it erases that game. We're trying to build a lead up in the Eastern Conference, first place and playing for home-court advantage. All these games are important."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

BOSTON – If you were to deconstruct the building blocks of the Celtics' 14-game winning streak, you would find the foundation lies in what they’re able to accomplish defensively.
 
And to the Celtics’ credit, their defense has been challenged in a multitude of ways already.

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They have managed to beat teams with great one-on-one talent (Golden State), those that rely heavily on athleticism and length (Milwaukee) as well as those that put a premium on sharing the ball (Philadelphia), which will be among the ways Atlanta could potentially challenge the Celtics tonight.
 
While the Hawks (3-12) have had their struggles this season, it hasn’t necessarily been because of selfish play offensively.
 
Atlanta averages 327.9 passes per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
 
The problem hasn’t been getting players the ball; it’s what happens – or doesn’t happen – when they get it.
 
Despite being a top three passing team, the Hawks average 22.9 assists, 10th in the NBA. And they're connecting on 45.5 percent of their shots from the field, 14th in the league.
 
For Boston to continue its winning ways, it’ll again be because their defense will have taken away things the Hawks love to do.
 
When it comes to scoring, Atlanta has been one of the NBA’s best at generating offense off screens.
 
Despite having an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (104.2) this season, Atlanta has been among the league leaders when it comes to scoring off screens.
 
In fact, only two NBA teams (Golden State and Cleveland) have generated more points off screens this season than Atlanta (141).
 
That still shouldn’t be a major issue for the Celtics defense, which allows a league-low 94.1 points per game and has shown the ability to find success against any and every kind of offense.
 
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between two teams at opposite ends of the success spectrum this season.
 

KYRIE IN THE CLUTCH
It’s one thing to score a bunch of points, but it takes a special player to do it in the latter stages of play, especially against an elite team that knows you’re looking to get points any way possible. We saw Kyrie Irving shrug off a horrible shooting night (4-for-16) in the 92-88 win over Golden State that included him draining all seven of his fourth-quarter free throws. But Irving coming through when the game counts shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. According to NBA.com/stats, Irving is averaging a league-best 5.8 points in “clutch” situations (last five minutes of a game with the margin being five points or less), ahead of notable standouts Damian Lillard (5.0) of Portland who is second and ex-teammate LeBron James (4.6) who ranks behind Irving, Lillard and Miami’s Dion Waiters (4.9).
 

HIGHS, LOWS FOR HORFORD
Although he spent nine seasons in Atlanta, it has been anything but a sweet homecoming for Al Horford statistically speaking. In the four games he has played against his former team, Horford has averaged 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, which are his lowest career scoring and rebounding averages against any team. However, the 5.8 assists he averages against the Hawks represents his highest career average in that category against any team.
 

JAYLEN BROWN
His athleticism has always made Jaylen Brown a standout and the way he has shot the ball this season in clutch situations has stood out as well. But what hasn’t been talked much about is his defense against 3-point shooters. NBA.com/stats lists Brown with 67 contested 3’s this season. That's tops in the NBA. And his 4.2 contested 3’s per game rank sixth in the league.
 

DENNIS SCHRODER
When you see the numbers, it’s clear that much of what the Atlanta Hawks do these days is centered around Dennis Schroder. But upon deeper inspection, it’s apparent that Atlanta is literally driven by the play of the 6-foot-1 point guard. Known for his attacking style of basketball, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s one of the league’s best at getting to the rim. According to NBA.com/stats, Schroder leads the NBA with 19.1 drives per game. The closest Celtic in that category is Irving who averages 9.7 drives per game which ranks 38th in the league.
 

TAUREAN PRINCE
With Schroder looking to run out in transition as much as possible, Taurean Prince has been more than willing to help fill lanes and provide an option for Schroder to pass to on the break. That has led to lots of spot-up shot opportunities for Prince this season. He comes into tonight’s game averaging 5.4 spot-up possessions per game, which ranks third in the NBA behind Detroit’s Tobias Harris (6.3) and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (6.2).
 
 
 

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Hawks in Atlanta. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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