Celtics

Pietrus joins the Celtics

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Pietrus joins the Celtics

NEW YORK Christmas has come a little early for the Boston Celtics, with the addition of a much-needed wing player to help fill the void left behind with Jeff Green (heart surgery) out for the season.

Mickael Pietrus, who negotiated a buyout with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday, cleared waivers Saturday night and as expected, signed on with the Boston Celtics.

"His skills as a perimeter defender and an outside shooter provide great versatility to the roster," Celtics General Manager Danny Ainge said in a statement released by the Celtics.

Prior to the C's announcing the deal, CSNNE.com reported that the 29-year-old had committed to the joining the Celtics.

His agent, Bill McCandless, told CSNNE.com shortly after Pietrus cleared Waivers Saturday night that he was in the process of finalizing a contract with the Celtics.

McCandless did not indicate the terms of the new deal, but the Celtics only have the veteran's minimum available.

That means the eight-year veteran would receive a pro-rated salary of about 1.2 million.

Pietrus choosing the Celtics is not that surprising.

Sources told CSNNE.com moments after the Suns released Pietrus on Thursday that the 6-foot-6 wing player was leaning "heavily" towards signing with the Celtics.

McCandless told CSNNE.com that night that Pietrus would "for sure" include the C's on his list of considerations.

It's unclear if Pietrus will be with the C's for Sunday's Christmas Day matchup against the New York Knicks. But barring an unexpected snafu, he'll most likely make his Celtics debut on Tuesday in Miami.

For the Celtics, the addition of Pietrus bodes well on a number of fronts.

After striking out in attempts to acquire Chris Paul and later David West, to beat out a handful of teams (New York and the Los Angeles Lakers among them) for a player of Pietrus' caliber provides proof that Boston may not be as bad a free agent destination as some might believe.

While the Celtics have what on paper appears to be a better bench than last season's second unit, they were sorely lacking an athletic wing player to compete defensively against the likes of Miami's LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, or New York's Carmelo Anthony.

And by signing Pietrus for this season at the veteran's minimum, the C's will preserve significant salary cap space for this summer's free agent class.

In Boston, what players do in the regular season is much less important than what they accomplish in the playoffs.

Although Pietrus doesn't have a ton of postseason experience (49 games), he did make quite an impression on the Celtics during their playoff series in 2009 with the Orlando Magic.

In that series, Pietrus averaged 12.1 points while shooting 62.8 percent from the field and 34.4 percent on 3s.

However, it was his play in Games 6 and 7 - both Orlando wins - that stood out. In Game 6, he had 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting which included a pair of 3-pointers. And in the decisive Game 7, he was nearly flawless with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting which included him making all three of his 3-pointers.

In the NBA Finals that year, the Magic were eliminated in five games by the Los Angeles Lakers. He averaged 9.8 points per game in the Finals, which included 18 points in Game 2 - the only game Orlando won in the series.

So it's clear that Pietrus has had moments in which he has delivered big-time performances in pressure-packed situations, the kind of performances the Celtics hope to see from the 29-year-old as they begin yet another journey to bring home Banner 18.

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.

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”