Celtics

Who gets the game-winning shot?

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Who gets the game-winning shot?

The best thing that we can say about last nights Celtics win is that a few weeks ago it would have been a loss. Basically, that was exactly the kind of game (non-Washington variety) that Boston made a habit of blowing in the early going. But on occasions like last night, their development is clear. Even if the process has been somewhat subtle.

The bottom line is that the Celtics didnt bring their A game against the Mavs. Not down the stretch, at least. The offense stalled, their defense sprang a leak (the leak was wearing a No. 9 jersey) and they failed to capitalize on so many essential opportunities. But at the end of the daynight(by the time it was over) morning, Boston capitalized enough. Enough to avoid a loss. Enough to ensure that all those extra minutes werent played in vain. Enough to move three games over .500 for the first time this season.

The Celtics now head out on the road for a three-game trip at Houston, at San Antonio, at Chicago with some serious momentum-building (or killing) potential. Of course, either way, its not the end of the world. The Celtics could lose all three or go 1-2 and (short of a horrific injury) there wont be any reason for panic. In the same breath, going 3-0 or 2-1 wont necessarily mean a thing. But it will keep this team trending in the right direction, and at this point, what else you can ask for?

(Oh, what's that? You want another big man? OK, good point. How about Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger for Marcin Gortat? Would you do that? I'm not claiming any sources on the deal, I just think it's an interesting question. As of Saturday (December 15), all of Boston's free agents are eligible to be traded. At the same time, they've got Avery Bradley on the verge of return. Suddenly, the C's have four shooting guards and only guy (I'm not counting Jason Collins) who's taller than 6-10, and that's KG who can't rebound like he used to, and does most of his damage from 17 feet.

Translation: The Celtics desperately need a big man. They have way too many shooting guards. Come on, Danny. Let's make some memories. Either that or you'll leave me with no choice but to initiate the "Bring Birdman To Boston" campaign.)

Anyway, let's forget about trade rumors for a second, and focus on the big picture.

Specifically, one aspect of the Celtics attack thats been non-existent to this point in the season. One that was on display last night (twice), has the potential to seriously screw with them moving forward.

THE FINAL POSSESSION

More specifically, a potential game-winning final possession. I'm talking less than 24 seconds left on the clock, with the Celtics either tied, down one or down two points. I'm talking one basket = victory. One miss = loss, or another overtime period for a team that's already played too many.

In situations like this, what should the Celtics do?

Before we answer that, let's take a quick look at they've done so far this year, in six previous "game-winning shot" opportunities:

(DISCLAIMER: The following videos are not recommended for those who enjoy good basketball, or for women who are nursing, pregnant or who may become pregnant.)
No. 1: November 7, against Washington

The score's tied at 88, with nine seconds left. The Celtics have possession at half-court, and inbound the ball to Rondo.

The play looks like it was called for Pierce, and even though the Wizards switched, Rondo still could have gotten him the ball. But he made the decision to try and win the game on his own, and that's fine. You just wish he'd try something other than a step-back three-pointer.

No. 2: November 25, at Orlando.

The Celtics grab an offensive rebound (!) with 19 seconds left in a 102-102 game, and reset the offense with the ballgameballgame in Paul Pierce's hands.

Nice defense by Afflalo. Tough look for Paul.

No. 3: December 7, at Philly

Rondo picks off an errant pass with three seconds left in a tie game. The C's inbound at halfcourt (to Rondo) with a chance to pick up a great win, on national TV, against a budding Atlantic Division rival.

This one was Rondo's from the start. As Doug Collins would say: "That play was called 'Give the ball to Rajon, and everyone get the & out of the way.'" And truthfully, there were only three seconds left, there wasn't too much Rondo could do there.

Except to maybe keep moving towards the hoop in order to maybe draw a foul, instead of settling for another off-balanced fade away.

No. 4: December 7, at Philly . . . TAKE 2

Same game. But now it's overtime. Now the Celtics are down one. And this time they inbound it to Kevin Garnett.

Action!

The play was called for Kevin, but he thought that Rondo had an angle on a lay-up. And he did. But whether it was a matter of the sprained ankle or just Rondo being Rondo, he didn't take the lay-up.

No. 5: December 12, against Dallas

This is last night. The game is tied at 96, with seven seconds left, and Boston inbounds the ball to Rondo in the backcourt.

The pick-and-pop to Pierce wasn't really there, but I don't think it mattered. It looked like Rondo was pretty damn set on taking that shot. Which, for the third time, ended up being a last second fade away jumper with a man right in his face. And this one barely made it to the free throw line.

No. 6: December 12, against Dallas . . . TAKE 2

Same game. But now it's overtime. The score is tied at 105, and the Celtics isolate Pierce with about four seconds left on the clock.

I guess this one worked a little better than Rondo's, seeing how Pierce's shot made it all the way to the charge circle. But again, not a great look.

So, there you have it. Six game-winning opportunities. Six off-balanced, well-defended jump shots. Zero makes. And that brings us back to the original question: In situations like this, what should the Celtics do?

Honestly, I don't want to make this about a power struggle between Pierce and Rondo, because I think both guys are better than that. In fact, I don't think the "Rondo or Pierce?" question is even all that important. The far bigger problem is that, no matter who it is, the Celtics are getting horrible looks at the end of games. They're not running plays. They're not taking it to the hoop In Rondo's case, maybe he's scared of going to the line? In Paul's case, maybe he can't beat guys off the dribble like he used to? They're just settling.

You also wonder how much that has to do with the fact that the Celtics have been tied in five of these six game-winning situations. When you're tied, the security of overtime takes away a lot of urgency. I don't think that's it's a coincidence that the only the time the Celtics have attacked the hoop (in theory) came when they were down a point in Philly.

That was the best "game-winning" play call that we've seen this season. It may have also been the only game-winning play call that we've seen this season. If not for Rondo slipping, or whatever, that could have gone on the "Doc Rivers Classics" highlight reel.

And for that, I don't think we should ignore the involvement of Kevin Garnett. KG can be a serious threat in these situations. He can extend the defense. He's a great passer. He's the one guy who has 0.00 percent ego when it comes to game-winning shots and will usually (especially in his later years) make the right "game-winning" decision.

But other than that one play in Philly, KG's been an after thought. He's not even in the picture.

Remember the shot he hit to beat the Knicks back in 2009?

I've still yet to see anyone stop this play. Every time the Celtics run it, regardless of the situation, it seems like KG gets that open jumper. At the very least, it always puts the defense on its heels. It creates some semblance of a strategy. It's also been in the Witness Protection Program.

Bring back the PierceKG Pick-and Pop!

Or just do something. Something else. Something at all. The Celtics have the best and most creative play-calling coach in the league on their bench. Doc Rivers stays up all night scribbling skeleton drills on his window like John Nash. It's time to transfer some of that creativity into the final seconds of action.

Either that, or petition the league to move the hoop up to the free throw line.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Blakely's takeaways: Stevens downplays Celtics' streak

Brad Stevens likes the fact that the Celtics have shown an unusually strong resolve this season by consistently finding ways to win on nights when they don’t play their best.
 
It’s to the point now where fans, as well as the players, feel no deficit is too steep to overcome.

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That said, there’s a level of expectations on this team now that you would think would bring about a heightened level of pressure, right?
 
They’ve won 16 in a row, the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
Pressure?
 
Not according to Stevens.
 
“Coaching basketball is not pressure,” Stevens told reporters after Monday night’s win. “Playing basketball is not real pressure. Sometimes we overdo this stuff. We’re just trying to prepare well for the next game. That’s all we’ve done, that’s all we’ll continue to do. The streak doesn’t mean anything to me; maybe it does to the guys in the room. But it’s about finding ways to get better and finding ways to get the job done.”
 
Here are five other takeaways from the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas that extended Boston’s winning streak to 16:


 
MARCUS SMART
There may not be a player on this team – maybe in the NBA – that’s more difficult to get a read on, than Marcus Smart. He has been a historically bad shooter throughout his career in Boston. And yet when you look at their 16-game winning streak, he’s one of the main reasons for it. He plays with an edge; he’s gritty and defends at a level that few can match. He makes big plays in big moments. But he's having his worst season ever shooting the ball yet his impact when he’s on the floor has never been greater. So, what do you do if you’re Stevens? You keep playing him. Because as much as his poor shooting hurts the team’s overall scoring, he makes so many clutch plays whether it’s facilitating, defending or – wait for it – making shots. He adds tremendous value to winning, even if his shooting numbers might suggest otherwise.


 
KYRIE FOR MVP?
When you’re getting “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants on the road, you know you’re ballin’ hard. Kyrie Irving wowed the Dallas crowd with 47 points, 10 of which came in overtime as Boston rallied after facing a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter. If the numbers continue to climb along with the win total, Irving will continue to cement himself as a top-five MVP candidate. 


 
REBOUNDING
One of the few constants in Boston’s string of success has been their rebounding. Against the Mavericks, the Celtics once again won the battle on the boards, 53-45. And it hasn’t been one or two players, either. Against Dallas, the Celtics had five players grab at least four rebounds with no one securing more than nine. That kind of rebounding balance makes Boston an extremely difficult team to out-work on the glass.
 

AL HORFORD
The scoring punch we’ve come to expect lately from Horford just wasn’t there against Dallas. Instead, he seemed more consumed with getting others (mainly Irving) involved offensively. He missed four of his five shots from the field and scored just three points. But he almost had a double-double in rebounds (eight) and assists (seven) along with blocking a couple of shots. And as always, his plus/minus was among the best on the team with the Celtics being +7 when he was on the floor.
 

FOURTH-QUARTER TATUM
While Irving was delivering one big shot after another down the stretch, one of his running partners in late-game situations this season has been Jayson Tatum. He ranks among the league’s best shooters in the fourth quarter and Monday’s victory only solidified his status. Against the Mavericks, Tatum had six points and was a perfect 3-for-3 from the field. According to NBA.com/stats, Tatum is shooting 64.1 percent in the fourth quarter, which ranks eighth in the NBA among players who take at least two field goal attempts per game in the fourth. Right ahead of him is teammate Marcus Morris (65 percent).

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Resilient' Celtics continue to find ways to win

We have seen the Boston Celtics play less-than-stellar basketball for long stretches, only to turn it on in the second half and escape with a win.

But Monday night’s game at Dallas was different.

Usually it has been Boston’s offense that has kept the game closer than expected, but on Monday it was the team’s defense that struggled more than usual.

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But this team continues to show an ability to withstand all in-game struggles to eventually emerge victorious which was exactly what happened as the Celtics rallied from a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit to knock off the Mavericks 110-102 in overtime.

The Celtics (16-2) have now won 16 in a row which ties the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history.

But this win, like so many of its predecessors during this historic run, was not one to celebrate afterwards.

“Quite a resilient comeback in the fourth,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Not our best foot forward before that. Of all the comebacks, that did not look good for a long time. We found a way to win it.”

Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 47 points, 10 of which came in the overtime period.

But his performance was just one of many Boston needed to extend its winning streak.

“In a game like this, you have to do whatever it takes, both ends of the floor,” Boston’s Jayson Tatum told reporters afterwards.

And he did just that.

In the final seconds of the fourth quarter, Tatum’s defense forced a Harrison Barnes miss that would have won the game for Dallas.

And in the fourth quarter, Tatum’s rebounding was critical to Boston (16-2) extending its stay atop the NBA standings.

The 6-foot-8 rookie had a near double-double with 15 points and nine rebounds, with four of his boards coming in overtime.

Boston also got another strong game from Jaylen Brown (22 points, nine rebounds) and Marcus Smart, whose shooting was well off the mark most of the night (3-for-15) but like he has done too many times to count, Smart managed to make a positive impact on the game.

He led the Celtics with eight assists off the bench, in addition to a slew of hustle plays that included a desperation save of a ball going out of bounds that managed to find its way into the hands of Kyrie Irving, who drained a much-needed 3-pointer late in the game.

“Those are worth more than whatever the shot goes in,” Stevens said. “That’s why it’s hard to quantify Marcus Smart.”

The same can be said about Boston’s winning streak, which has come about despite several stretches, every game seemingly, where the Celtics struggle.

But to their credit, they don’t allow the in-game setbacks take away from their focus night-in and night-out and that’s to find a way, any way possible, to emerge with a victory.

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