Celtics

To bunt against the shift?

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To bunt against the shift?

Every once in a while, David Ortiz will step up to the plate and look out to an altered infield.

In France, they call it Le Sheeft: One first baseman, two second basemen, one shortstop and a lot of empty space. And every time I see Ortiz or any dominant left-handed hitter go head to head with Le Sheeft, I have the same nagging thought:

Why doesn't he just tap it down the third base line?

But it barely happens, if ever. In fact, most hitters pretend like shift isn't even there. They figure: "Why should I let these guys dictate how I play? I'm just going to be me!" And many times, that's good enough.

Still, how easy would it be for a hitter like Ortiz to turn that strategy on its head?

What if he took a little extra time, learned how to bunt and did so sporadically over the first few weeks of the season? How many successes, or even just attempts, would it take before the defense had to stop? They'd have to eventually, right?

Anyway, today in Fort Myers, Bobby Valentine was waxing philosophical on bunting, and was asked if he'd condone a guy like Ortiz or Adrian Gonzalez bunting to beat the shift.

You mean like in the ninth inning with three runs down and theyre leading off the inning?" he said. "I think its a great play."

Asked if that was the only situation where it might make sense, he responded:

"Maybe. I dont know what other times there are -- theres a tough pitcher and they (hitters) have a sore hand. Theres all circumstances when a bunt for a base hit by a big guy or a little guy can activate the offense. Think Ill ever give them a bunt sign? No. I dont think Ill give many people a bunt sign. But I want them to have it in their toolbox.

One word: Bravo!

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

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

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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.”