Learning from last year: C's realize they can't afford same mistakes from 2015-2016

Learning from last year: C's realize they can't afford same mistakes from 2015-2016

BOSTON – As much as the Boston Celtics want to keep their focus on the moment, there’s tremendous value in not forgetting lessons learned from the past.

Among the biggest for this team is how a handful of bad losses last season played a major role in their inability to secure home court advantage through at least the first round of the playoffs.

Boston was one of four teams to finish with 48 wins last season. After the tie-breaking rules were implemented, the Celtics wound up as the fifth seed before eventually losing in the first round to the Atlanta Hawks in six games.

It was something that the players were well aware of in Friday’s 96-88 win over Charlotte -- one of the teams they were tied with last season -- and it’ll be just as important on Sunday when they face the Miami Heat.

Although the Heat (9-18) have had their struggles this season, the Celtics know beating all opponents, playoff contenders are not, has great value if they are to have the kind of season they believe they’re capable of having.

“Every win matters,” Boston’s Terry Rozier told CSNNE.com. “It’s gonna have an effect when the playoffs hit. They’re going to look at these games.”

Boston (14-12) is a little more than a quarter of the way through the season, and they can already look back on a few games that they know might come back and haunt them if they’re not careful.

The missed lay-up at the end of a 107-106 loss at Houston; a 99-96 loss at Oklahoma City that featured late-game miscommunications that proved costly; a 106-105 loss to a struggling New Orleans Pelicans squad; just to name a few.

That was why they went into Friday’s game against Charlotte viewing it as a must win for them.

“We needed the win, no doubt,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder following the win. “We felt like this is the one we needed and had to have. We just came out and tried to take care of business.”

And that becomes especially critical in the Eastern Conference which is shaping up to be yet another tight finish for teams looking to secure one of the last couple of playoff spots with home court advantage throughout at least the first round of the postseason.

“Whenever you look back on last season it came down to games like (Friday’s win over Charlotte) that we dropped,” Crowder said. “And we just try to take care of business with games like this, especially in our house.”

Because as the Celtics know all too well, what happens now can have major ramifications on what happens in April and May for what they hope will be a long postseason journey.

“You always want to start the playoffs at home,” Rozier said. “We try to take it one game at a time, knowing that if we take care of business every game it’ll give us the best chance of being where we want to be when it’s all said and done.”

Celtics: Smart to be sidelined six to eight weeks

Celtics: Smart to be sidelined six to eight weeks

BOSTON – Marcus Smart is out for the remainder of the regular season, but there’s a very good chance he’ll be available at some point in the Boston Celtics' postseason quest. 
The 6-foot-4 guard underwent successful surgery to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right thumb which is expected to keep him sidelined for six to eight weeks. 


“It’s a tough deal for Marcus,” coach Brad Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game. “Marcus has been an incredible player for us all year. He’s meant a lot to us.”
If we’re working from today, that would put Smart’s return to the floor most likely near the end of the first round or early in the second.
While Smart’s statistics don’t jump off the page, there’s no getting around the impact he has made on this team this season. 
After missing several games after punching a picture frame in Los Angeles, the Celtics struggled in his absence. Upon his return right after the All-Star break, the C's began playing some of their best basketball of the season. 
But as important as Smart has been to the team this season, Boston has been a “Next Man Up” squad all season, so the Celtics are well-versed on how to make up for the loss of key players. 
Look for extended minutes going forward for Terry Rozier and Abdel Nader, two of the team’s healthier perimeter players. 
Boston’s Semi Ojeleye is likely to see his role increase as well with Smart out as well as Daniel Theis who recently underwent season-ending surgery on his torn meniscus injury suffered in Boston’s 99-97 loss to Indiana. 


“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistribute responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said. 
Smart appeared in 54 games this season, averaging 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. He has a defensive rating of 99.6 which ranks fifth in the league among players who averaged at least 28 minutes played per game.



Even more expected now from Tatum

Even more expected now from Tatum

For most rookies, that first year in the NBA is one filled with lots of learning. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum is not all that unusual.

Still, with injuries up and down the Celtics roster, Tatum, now 20, will be looked upon to provide more than what we saw this season.

And what we’ve seen this season is pretty good.

Going forward, with players in and out of the lineup because of injuries or just rest, Tatum’s impact has to continue to expand.

We saw an aggressive Tatum at both ends of the floor in the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington and the Celtics will need him to bring a similar attack-mode mentality to the floor tonight against Orlando.

There’s no way to look past his missed free throw at the end of the first OT or his 3-pointer at the end of the second OT that hit the back of the rim and clanged out. 

Between all that, Tatum was getting to the rim whether on a straight-line drive or a spin move along the baseline for a dunk.

It was the kind of performance that, minus the missed free throw, was the kind of game Boston wanted and going forward, will need from the rookie who for most of this season did not play like a first-year player.

When the season began, Tatum talked about trying to fit in and feel out his teammates to see what he can do to help the team be successful.

With most of the guys he tends to play off of (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Smart) dealing with illnesses or injuries, more will be expected of the rookie. 

And whether he’s on the court or not, rest assured Irving will continue to remind Tatum of just how important it is for him to play with a heightened level of aggressiveness.

“I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season,” Irving said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities he’s afforded out there offensively. He can make a huge impact. He’s aware of that. As a developing young player, the best thing he can do is continue to learn how to be consistent. That’s a trait you have to develop over time. I think he’s doing a great job of learning on the fly.”

Here are five other below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics look to be back on a winning track at Orlando:

This has been arguably the best season the Celtics have had under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens and a big part of that has been the team’s ability to win on the road. Boston comes in with a 23-9 road record, which is tops in the East and trails only Houston (27-8) and Golden State (25-9) in the NBA.

Boston has been a different team shooting the ball since the All-Star break, with only three teams (Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets) shooting better from the break than the Celtics who have connected on 48.7 percent of their shots from the field. And they face an Orlando team that has struggled in several areas since the break, especially defensively. Opponents are shooting 48.1 percent against the Magic since the break, which ranks 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense.

The book is still out on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, selected with the sixth overall pick in last June. Injuries have limited him to just 23 games this season. And as it turns out, injuries have led to Orlando inserting him in the starting lineup the past four games. For the season he has averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Injuries have forced the Celtics to play a scrappier brand of basketball. And the upside to that has been noticeably improved play when it comes to creating second-chance scoring opportunities. In fact, Boston is tops in the NBA this month, averaging a league-best 16.8 second-chance points per game.

Al Horford is often criticized for not scoring more points. But that has certainly not been the case this season after Horford has missed a game or two. The first game back from an illness or injury has seemingly brought out the best in Horford as a scorer. In those initial games back to the floor (he has had four of them this year), Horford has averaged 17.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent (7-for-12) from 3-point range.