Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Avery Bradley sets the tone for Celtics vs. Bulls

Stars, studs and duds: Avery Bradley sets the tone for Celtics vs. Bulls

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics play their best defensive game of the season, shutting down the Chicago Bulls 100-80 in a game that for most of the night wasn’t even that close.

It’s also the first game since suffering a right Achilles injury in January was Avery Bradley playing in a game with no minutes restriction.

Coincidence?

Probably not.

Reflecting on Boston’s blowout win, there was no denying that Bradley’s play defensively set the tone in what was a lopsided affair from the first few minutes following the tip-off until the final horn sounded.

“He makes our defense so much better,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It’s contagious. Jae (Crowder) plays at a high level, (Marcus) Smart and it just goes down the list.”

For Bradley, to not have any minutes restriction allowed him to be free and not worry about anything other than playing the game.

“I’m happy it’s finally done,” Bradley said. “Happy it’s behind me and now it’s time for me to just focus on the game and go out there and play as hard as I can and continue to try to find a rhythm so I feel a lot more comfortable out there.”

As well as Bradley played, the key in Sunday’s victory was the contributions made by just about every Celtic who stepped on the floor, defensively.

“To me that’s my vision for this team to go out and play hard on the defensive end every single night,” Bradley said. “We know if we play that way we have a chance every single game even if we aren’t making shots or making mistakes. Whenever the entire team is playing with that much energy on the defensive end, good things happen and that’s what happened tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Sunday night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Chicago Bulls.

 

STARS

Amir Johnson

His numbers – two points, four rebounds and two blocked shots – don’t do much in terms of moving the needle publicly. But Celtics players and head coach Brad Stevens pointed out how important Johnson’s rim-protection and help-side defense was in setting the tone for what was arguably Boston’s best defensive showing this season.

Isaiah Thomas

He did his damage in the first three quarters which was good enough to lead all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-14 shooting two assists and three steals.

Avery Bradley

He reminded us all why he’s considered one of the league’s best two-way players. In addition to playing some suffocating defense against Chicago’s perimeter players, Bradley also had 17 points on 7-for-16 shooting with six rebounds three steals and a blocked shot.

 

STUDS

Al Horford

Lots of good things happened all game with Horford on the floor. He finished with 12 points on 5-for-7 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists, one steal and two blocked shots.

Kelly Olynyk

The Celtics had a few players deliver nice bounce-back performances on Sunday, Olynyk included. He had a near double-double of 11 points on 5-for-10 shooting, with nine rebounds.

 

DUDS

Dwyane Wade

Scoring just eight points in nearly 26 minutes of court time was bad enough. Adding to what was a horrible night for Wade was the fact that the Bulls were a minus-37 when he was on the floor which ranks among the worst plus-minuses in a single game this season.

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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