West returns to form in return to Garden


West returns to form in return to Garden

By Jessica Camerato

BOSTON - Delonte West had planned out the whole moment. He wouldarrive at TD Garden early, soak in the scenery as he walked to thelocker room, and savor his return as a member of the Boston Celtics.

Thenagain, things don't always go as planned. West pulled up to the arenaSunday with five minutes to spare and had to fast-forward through his fantasy.

"In my mind, I was going to have a slow walk and look around," hetold CSNNE.com before Sunday's game against the Toronto Raptors. "Butit was a little quicker than that. I was running so I didn't get theexperience I wanted."

But the truth is, simply walking into the Celtics locker room isthe experience West has wanted. It's been three years since hestepped on the parquet in green and white, and there is a differentfeeling this time around.

Paul Pierce, Kendrick Perkins, and Rajon Rondo are still there, butplayers like Gerald Green and Allan Ray have been replaced with the likes ofRay Allen and Shaquille O'Neal. There is no music playing in the lockerroom before the game. Instead, West notices a sense of focus among theteam's boisterous personalities.

"I think when I was here, we had a lot of first- and second-yearplayers here and we weren't really quite understanding what it meant tobe in the Celtics locker room," he said. "I sit in this seat now andappreciate being a part of a team like this. Wearing a Celtics badge islike an honor. It's like you're part of something, part of a fraternity."

West experienced the moment he had been waiting for when he checkedinto the game with just over four minutes left in the first quarter.The crowd greeted him with a loud ovation and a young fan repeatedlycalled out, "C'mon Delonte!" from a distance.

As soon as he stepped on to the court, he was reminded of how cold the building was. Then he remembered another feeling.

"It's tough as an opponent coming in here with the fans," he said. "It was amazing. I had to readjust when I heard all the screams. I'm used to being on the other end of that. When the Celtics go on a run, you know, 'Oh man, here it comes.' But it feels good to be on this side again."

West scored his first points in the second quarter on the type ofmove characteristic of his hustle -- a driving layup resulting in athree-point play. He finished the night with 11 points, 2 rebounds, and2 assists in 25 minutes.

From pressuring the ball to rushing in for a rebound, West did theintangibles that make him valuable to a championship contender, too. Heblocked a pass from Jarrett Jack with 30 seconds to go to prevent theRaptors from closing in on the Celtics lead.

Three years after his last game in a Celtics uniform at theGarden, West looked like the same player the team had a tough timeparting with.

He appreciates the fact that the Garden looked the same to him, too.

"Not too much changed, and that's what I love about Boston. It's not so big into all the luxuries and all the extra things. It's about whats happening on the floor, that's it," he said, later adding, "Some time has passed, some faces have changed, but the goal is still there. It's to win."

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcamerato

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


Celtics-Hawks preview: C' 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.”