Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Starting five delivers for Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Starting five delivers for Celtics

BOSTON – The record and the reality of the Boston Celtics’ season doesn’t really add up.

They have been bruised and battered bunch most of this season, a team whose preferred starting five came into Wednesday’s game having played 27 games together … all season.

While they haven’t played together a lot this season, that hasn’t stopped them from being one of the better starting five units in the NBA this season.

Wednesday’s 117-104 win over Minnesota was yet another night in which the Celtics’ preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Amir Johnson and Al Horford – delivered in a big way for the Celtics (43-25).

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Thomas led all scorers with 27 points. Bradley had 18. Crowder played great defense on Andrew Wiggins while Amir Johnson and Al Horford took turns taming Minnesota’s Big K.A.T., Karl-Anthony Towns who had 17 points and 14 rebounds. Towns’ 17 points snapped a 21-game streak, dating back to Jan. 24, in which he scored at least 20 points.

Balanced scoring.

Lock-down defense.

That is what this Celtics’ starting five can do for you.

“For us it’s keep getting as familiar as we can,” Horford said. “I feel like our defense is really solid and just keep building. Only 28 games, hopefully we can play the remainder as many games as we can untl the playoffs.”

Amir Johnson, who has started more games (64) than any other Celtic this season, was surprised when he learned that the team’s preferred starting five has only played 28 games together this season.

Regardless of who starts, Johnson believes all the Celtics have a job to do when they get an opportunity to play.

“If we stick to our defensive principles which we work on every day in practice, no matter what starting five we have in, everyone is doing the same thing, staying on a string,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “I think we’re hard to beat.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Wednesday night’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Minnesota Timberwolves.

 

STARS

Al Horford: We’re used to seeing him fill up the stat sheet, but Horford was on a different level Wednesday night. The Timberwolves had no answer for Horford who flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and a pair of blocked shots.

Karl-Anthony Towns: It’s a matter of when, not if, this kid will be a legit contender for the league’s MVP award. The Celtics made limiting him their number one priority, but he still managed a double-double of 17 points on 7-for-14 shooting with 14 rebounds and four assists.

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas: Just another ho-hum performance for Thomas who continues to score at an amazingly high level. He had a game-high 27 points on 8-for-15 shooting, along with three rebounds and four assists.

Andrew Wiggins: Jae Crowder did not have a great game shooting the ball (1-for-8), in part because he put so much effort into making Wiggins a high-volume shooter. Wiggins still had 21 points but did so on 9-for-23 shooting.

Avery Bradley: In the fourth, Bradley came up with big shots to keep the Timberwolves’ comeback from ever getting close. He finished with 18 points which included a team-high seven points in the fourth quarter.

Ricky Rubio: Known primarily as a defender and passer, Rubio made a huge impact shooting the ball for the Timberwolves. He finished with a team-high 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting to go with seven assists and a steal with just one turnover.

 

DUDS

Minnesota’s second-chance points

The Celtics kept the rebounding totals fairly close (Timberwolves 42, Celtics 37), but Minnesota’s best offense was often the missed shot which they frequently rebounded and put back in for a score as the Timberwolves outscored the Celtics 20-6 in second-chance points.

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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