Celtics

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get sleepy start vs. 76ers

Halftime stars, studs and duds: Celtics get sleepy start vs. 76ers

The Boston Celtics looked like a team that didn’t get their wake-up call this morning, seemingly sleep walking through long stretches in the first half in their early afternoon matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers.

But the Celtics rose to occasion in the second quarter as they put together a series of good plays at both ends of the floor to pull ahead for a 51-46 lead at the half. 

Boston fell behind by as many as eight points (33-25) in the second quarter, but reeled off seven straight points which included a 3-pointer by Gerald Green that cut Philly’s lead to 33-32.

The Celtics began to play more alert at both ends of the floor courtesy of an 11-0 run that put them ahead 36-33. 

Philadelphia’s Dario Saric broke the Celtics’ run with a lay-up that cut Boston’s lead to 36-35. 

But that didn’t do much to stop a Boston 20-5 surge that was capped off by a fade-away jumper by Avery Bradley that put Boston ahead 45-38 (Boston’s biggest lead of the game at this point) with 2:48 to play in the half. 

The Celtics remained ahead the rest of the half, although head coach Brad Stevens could not have been pleased with the Sixers’ last-second offensive rebound by Richaun Holmes that he converted into the final points of the quarter.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the first half of Sunday’s game against Philadelphia.

STARS

Al Horford: He was the Celtics’ most consistent performer, making his presence felt at both ends of the floor. At the half, he had 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting along with four rebounds and three assists.

Dario Saric: He has emerged as a front-runner for the NBA’s rookie of the year award, and the Celtics saw first-hand why. He led all players at the half with 14 points to go with four rebounds and an assist.

STUDS

Robert Covington: Like Horford, Covington didn’t waste any time getting on track offensively. He had 11 points and five rebounds.

Terry Rozier: He has been struggling with his shot of late, so he was more than due for a good game shooting the ball. He led all Celtics off the bench with 12 points, connecting on 4-for-6 shots to go with five rebounds.

Avery Bradley: The Celtics’ two-guard made the most of his opportunities to score in the first half. He had 10 points on 5-for-8 shooting with two rebounds and an assist.

Richaun Holmes: His rim protection and timely baskets around the rim were huge for the Sixers in the first half. He had six points on 3-for-4 shooting with three rebounds, two assists and two blocked shots. 

DUDS

Jaylen Brown: He was better than we saw at Brooklyn on Friday night, but still looks to be a bit off his game. At the half, he had two points on 1-for-4 shooting.

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

MILWAUKEE— Brad Stevens is not averse to shaking up the Boston Celtics starting lineup, regardless of where a playoff series may stand.

And as eager as it may be for some to see Marcus Smart roaming the floor with the first unit in tonight’s close-out game against Milwaukee, both Smart and Stevens shot the idea down quickly.

“We haven’t talked about (me starting),” said Smart, who returned to the lineup for Game 5 following a right thumb injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. “We actually like our starting lineup.”

Boston inserted rookie Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup for Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win, in place of Aron Baynes.

“Semi Ojeleye has been doing a great job on Giannis (Antetokounmpo). He matches up really well,” Smart said. “When you got somebody his size, his determination, that’s good for us. We like our matchups, the way we are to starting off the game and me coming off, bringing that energy off the bench.”

Stevens was more succinct when asked if he was considering inserting Smart into the starting lineup.

“No,” Stevens said.

While there is no mistaking the huge impact that Smart’s return for Game 5 had after missing almost six weeks with a right thumb injury, Stevens usually makes changes when there’s an area in which the Celtics need to address immediately.

In the first round of the playoffs last season against Chicago, Boston needed a jolt offensively with the first unit. 

In came Gerald Green who helped Boston win four straight over the Bulls after falling behind 2-0 in the series. 

Boston, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, are in a much different place right now.

They come into tonight’s Game 6 matchup coming off their best defensive performance of this series.

And while Smart played a major role in that happening, Boston’s Game 5 win was a victory fueled by an across-the-board defensive effort.

Smart’s impact will be felt whether he’s starting or not.

Plus, inserting him at this point for Ojeleye or Terry Rozier, is a risk that based on where this series is and how Boston is playing, isn’t worth taking.

Rozier hasn’t been nearly as good on the road in this series as he has been at the TD Garden.

But having him in the starting lineup keeps the Bucks more honest defensively, well aware that Rozier is a better shooter and scorer than Smart.

Plus, benching Rozier at this point in the series would be a major blow to his growing confidence which is part of why he has had more strong games in his role as a starter for Kyrie Irving (left knee recovery), than weak ones.

One of the keys for Boston will be to get off to a better start, something that Smart can impact either as a starter or getting the call early off the bench.

In Boston’s Game 3 loss, Milwaukee began the game with a 16-6 run. And in Game 4, the Bucks closed out the first quarter with a 19-5 run before holding on for a two-point win.

Ultimately, Game 6 will be determined by which team does the better job down the stretch.

And for the Celtics, that usually involves Smart being on the floor.

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Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

MILWAUKEE – No matter how detailed you may want to get in dissecting how to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, it always comes back to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

A 7-foot playmaker who covers ground like a world class long jumper with pogo stick-like leaping ability, Antetokounmpo is a living, breathing mismatch the moment he steps on to the floor.

But he is human, something the Boston Celtics reminded us of in their 92-87 Game 5 win in which Antetokounmpo came one assist shy of a triple-double but only took 10 shots from the field.

“I had open shots but they weren’t my shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the Game 5 loss. “My teammates did a great job finding me … come Game 6 I gotta be more aggressive, make more plays.”

Boston’s Semi Ojeleye was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 and will likely stay there for tonight’s close-out game.

His role is to give Antetokounmpo a different look defensively in addition to a more versatile defender who matches up better on pick-and-roll switches than Aron Baynes has in this series.

In Game 5, mission accomplished.

Ojeleye discussed the challenges one faces when tasked with defending Antetokounmpo.

“His aggressive mindset,” Ojeleye said. “Every play, every possession, transition, he’s always looking to attack. You have to be aware of that at all times and just be ready. If he sees you relaxed, he’s going to try and take advantage of that.”

And while Ojeleye will be the first to admit that defending Antetokounmpo is a team effort and not the task of any one individual, it’s clear that he’s as good a Celtic as there is when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo. 

 “Giannis is a really hard guy to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Semi has great lateral athleticism and obviously as strong as anybody in the league when he gets hit on a drive, and Giannis brings as much force on the drive as anybody in the league. He’s a hard guy to guard and he’s trying to make it as difficult as possible.”

According to NBA.com, Ojeleye has defended Antetokounmpo for 73 possessions, 40 of which came in Game 5.

Antetokounmpo has scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting against Ojeleye.

And in Game 5, Antetokounmpo scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting when defended by Ojeleye.

Upon first glance, those numbers aren’t all that impressive.

But a slightly deeper dive reveals that Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo on 40 possessions.

That means Antetokounmpo took a shot with Ojeleye defending, once every eight possessions the two were on the floor at the same time.

As Ojeleye mentioned, defending Antetokounmpo is not a one-man job. 

It is a team effort, but it’s clear thus far that Boston’s best shot at minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact begins with Ojeleye as the team’s primary defender. 

“It’s big-time what Semi can do,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We all know he can defend well. He’s finally getting a chance on one of the biggest levels and he’s coming through.”

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