Celtics

Defense no longer Celtics' identity

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Defense no longer Celtics' identity

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

HOUSTON When you look at all the changes the Boston Celtics have made lately, it's clear that they have added more weapons offensively.

But at what cost?

The Celtics are still one of the NBA's upper echelon teams defensively, even with all the new faces.

But as far as defense remaining this team's identity?

The more you watch them play, the more this point becomes debatable.

You can add one more reason to question this team's foundation being about defense, following Friday night's 93-77 loss at Houston.

Houston only shot 43.8 percent from the field, and scored less than 100 points - the kind of defensive benchmarks you would ideally like to see every game.

But what's lost in the numbers, is how that defense was impacted by the Celtics offense not getting off to a good start.

Houston opened the game with an 8-1 spurt, fueled in large part by the Celtics' inability to make shots that on most nights, usually fall in.

Those missed shots seemed to result in some frustration that eventually seeped into the team's defensive efforts.

And just like that, the Celtics found themselves on the short end of a potential blowout - before halftime.

"We showed them seven, point-blank shots at the basket (at halftime) that didn't go in," Rivers said. "I thought we got a little frustrated because we were missing shots."

Rivers added, "that's uncharacteristic of us. But I definitely thought our offense led to our bad defense."

That is a damning commentary when you consider how much stock the Celtics put into being a stout, gritty defensive-minded team.

"Even though we missed shots, we missed lay-ups, that should never discourage us of how we play night-in and night-out on the defensive end," said Paul Pierce. "We got our work cut out for us if we want to retain home court (throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs), if we want to be on top of the East. We have to wake up inside if we're going to consistently play the type of Celtics defense that got us this record."

Kevin Garnett is the anchor of the Celtics defense, which has been among the NBA's best ever since Garnett and Ray Allen joined forces with Paul Pierce to form the Big Three in 2007.

And as much as Garnett prides himself and his teammates in putting defense first, he can't say with any degree of certainty whether or not the C's allowed their offensive woes early on against the Rockets impact their play at the other end of the floor.

"I want to say no, because we're a defensive team and we can't let offense dictate defense," Garnett said. "But it certainly seemed that way. They got into an early rhythm and it was hard to turn them off."

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

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

Stars, studs and duds: Kyrie Irving stands tall

As NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper talked with Kyrie Irving following his best performance as a Boston Celtic, you could hear the chants “M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!” from the crowd behind him.
 
Considering the way Irving played on Monday night, that’s not just a case of fandemonium people!
 
Irving delivered a performance that won’t be forgotten anytime soon, tallying 47 points in leading Boston to a 110-102 overtime win at Dallas.
 
With the win, Boston has extended its winning streak to 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
While there were lots of Celtics who contributed to the victory, no one stood as tall as Irving who tallied 10 of Boston’s 16 points in overtime.
 
“We had to claw, fight our way back for this one,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper. “But we had to earn it. These guys, the Dallas Mavericks, they gave us their best shot.”
 
And the Celtics countered with their best shot – Irving.
 
Even before the edge-of-the-cliff finish, Irving was in a rhythm that made it absolutely clear that he was going to have a big night scoring the ball.
 
“We just have to continue to get better from this point,” Irving said.
 
And as far as those “M-V-P” chants?
 
“It’s pretty awesome,” Irving said of the chants. “But we got a long way to go.”
 
Here’s a look at Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-102 overtime win over Dallas which extends Boston’s winning streak to 16 in a row which is the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
 
STAR

Kyrie Irving

This wasn’t even close, folks. Irving kept the Celtics afloat for most of the game, then guided them to victory with a dominant performance. He finished with 47 points, the most he has scored as a Boston Celtic. And on a night when most of the team struggled to make shots, they needed everything he had to offer.
 
 
 
STUDS
 
Harrison Barnes

He had a chance to win it in regulation, but failed to knock down the game-winning shot. Still, Barnes had a strong game for the Mavericks while finishing with 31 points and six rebounds.
 
Jaylen Brown

Kyrie Irving’s backcourt mate had yet another strong performance for the Celtics. He had a near double-double of 22 points and nine rebounds.
 
Jayson Tatum

Don’t let the 15-point total fool you. Tatum was a major factor in Boston’s comebacks with his ability to finish in transition and his defense down the stretch on Barnes gave the Celtics a shot as the game went into overtime.
 
J.J. Barea

The former Northeastern star was a huge spark off the bench for Dallas, tallying 16 points.
 
Marcus Smart

You can count me among those who cringed at a lot of those shots Marcus Smart took – and missed. Despite going 3-for-15 from the field, Boston doesn’t win this game without Marcus Smart. He made hustle plays defensively. He set teammates up for easy scores. And as bad as Smart shot the ball, he did make one of the biggest shots of the night, a 3-pointer that cut Dallas’ lead to 96-94 with 1:23 to play.
 
 

DUDS
 
Al Horford

He poked the ball free from Harrison Barnes late in the game which was a huge play, but for the most part Horford’s imprint on the game was non-existent. He missed four of his five shots from the field, tallying 3 points to go with eight rebounds and seven assists.
 
Dennis Smith Jr.

He is an explosive guard and scored six points in the first couple of minutes. From there, he was a non-factor, finishing with eight points on 4-for-16 shooting and maybe most significant, being nothing more than a cool breeze defensively as Kyrie Irving blew by him time and time again.

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