Celtics

Celtics-Hawks preview: Keep your eye on . . .

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Celtics-Hawks preview: Keep your eye on . . .

ATLANTA With the season winding down, teams across the NBA will go deeper - and more often - into their bench. Lately, this has been a good thing for the Atlanta Hawks who come into tonight's game against Boston having won three of its last four games and seven of their last 10. Within those 10 games, the Hawks' second unit has been first-rate in contributing to their success. Although Atlanta ranked 18th this season in scoring, they have been the league's fifth-highest scoring team in the last 10 games.

And their bench has been a huge part of their scoring improvement. Atlanta's reserves average 30.2 points this season which ranks 21st in the NBA. In the last 10 games, the Hawks bench is averaging 43.7 points per game which ranks third in the NBA.

As for the Celtics, they too will rely more on their second unit which ranks second-to-last in the NBA in scoring (22.4) per game. As bad as they have been this season scoring the ball, they've been even worse in the last 10 games with an NBA-worst 17.4 points per game. Of course, not having Ray Allen (right ankle) and Mickael Pietrus (knee) has contributed to the team's offensive lulls within its second unit.

While C's coach Doc Rivers acknowledged the C's haven't looked for much offensive punch from its second unit, the team's bench scoring numbers are a bit deceiving.

"What gets lost in our bench points is Kevin (Garnett) scores most of his points with the bench," Rivers said. "Because we bring him back in and its usually Kevin and the entire bench. And for us, we keep our numbers, thats part of bench scoring for us. But when you look at a stat sheet it doesnt look like that."

Bench scoring will most likely be a factor in tonight's game. But here are some other keys to tonight's game to keep an eye on as the Celtics take on an Atlanta Hawks squad that, like the C's, is in the hunt for home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: If the Celtics keep as many guys out as expected tonight, Avery Bradley may be the team's best scoring option among the starters. It'll be interesting to see what kind of impact can he make when more attention is paid to him offensively, and he doesn't have the benefit of Rajon Rondo at the point or Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce on the floor creating space for him to work.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Sasha Pavlovic vs. Joe Johnson: This matchup will be decided in the first quarter most likely. If Pavlovic can come out and hit a couple shots early, his defense will actually get better Johnson. It's weird, I know. No one is under any disillusions that Pavlovic is going to shut Johnson down. But if he can keep him from being an efficient scorer, the C's will have a much better chance at victory.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Keyon Dooling is expected to get the start tonight, which should take some of the ball-handling pressure off Bradley. Dooling needs to be more than just a facilitator. He needs to provide the Celtics with a bit of scoring, something he has not done much of this season. He's averaging a career-low 3.5 points per game this season and has not reached double figures scoring since scoring 10 points at New Orleans on Dec. 28.

STAT TO TRACK: Both Boston and Atlanta rank among the bottom-10 in the NBA in rebounds per game, so winning the battle on the boards will be huge. The C's rank dead-last with 38.8 per game while the Hawks are No. 23 with 41.3 per game. In the two previous games, both Celtics wins, the C's have averaged winning the boards by six per game.

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE


 

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

The streak is over! The streak is over!

We now return the Boston Celtics to their regularly scheduled pursuit of success without the growing pressure that comes with a historically relevant winning streak.

The 104-98 loss at Miami on Wednesday night brought an end to what had been one of the more unlikely winning streaks we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time.

Boston reeled off 16 straight wins, many of which were the come-from-a-double-digit-deficit variety. In the end, the Celtics’ winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in this storied franchise’s history.

“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said following the loss. “But we do have a lot of resolve.”

That resolve will surely be challenged with the Celtics taking Thanksgiving off, only to return and play three games in the next four nights beginning with Orlando on Friday, followed by a road game at Indiana on Saturday and a home date against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Here are five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak.

KYRIE FOR MVP?

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving during the offseason, there was a sense that his presence would be a plus in some capacity, at some point. But few envisioned Irving would not only have a relatively seamless fit with the Celtics, but deliver in such a way that would catapult them to the top of the NBA standings and in doing so, establish him as one of the early front-runners for the league’s MVP award. This season, Irving is averaging a team-best 22.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field but most important, the Celtics (16-3) have the best record in the NBA.

WANTED: BENCH SCORER

If you are a fan of good defenders, you probably love the Boston Celtics’ second unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are both ball-hawking defenders who can make some miserable times for opponents when they are on top of their game. Daniel Theis provides great energy on the glass and defensively. But the second unit needs a jolt offensively. Because as good as they can defend collectively, the Celtics have to have at least one starter on the floor most of the time because the bench doesn’t have an adequate collector of buckets that they can rely on consistently. Marcus Morris looks like an ideal choice for that role, but the left knee soreness that kept him out for eight games seems to be flaring up from time to time. Whether they address this with a trade or possibly with a player bought out, the lack of a second-unit scorer is very much an issue for this team.

BROWN EMERGES AS TWO-WAY TALENT

The plan was for Jaylen Brown to be an elite, shut-down defender this season. He has shown himself to be a good defender this season, but what has really made him stand out is the growth in his game offensively. The second-year wing has scored 20-plus points in three of Boston’s last four games. Doing that along with continuing to play good defense has him looking like one of the NBA’s promising young two-way talents.

TATUM’S GROWTH A SILVER LINING IN HAYWARD INJURY

You never want to see the Boston Celtics or any team for that matter, lose a player for the season let alone one who meant as much as Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. But if there is a silver lining in his ankle injury which is expected to keep him out all season, it is the opportunity it created for Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been arguably the best player from last June’s draft class, playing major minutes with a major role for the team with the best record in the NBA. The opportunity to play around 30 minutes a game would not have been there for Tatum if Hayward didn’t get hurt. The challenge for Tatum going forward is to stay consistent, because now that teams have seen him for almost a quarter of the season, you can expect they will make some adjustments in how they defend him as well as try to attack him when he’s defending.

WE TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE

During Boston’s 16 game winning streak, the Celtics played the last eight games in 16 nights. That’s a game every other night for more than two weeks. In that time, there’s little to no time for practice which has been a factor in Boston not being quite as sharp in the last few games, as they were at the start of the streak. After Thanksgiving, Boston plays three games in four nights with a pair of days off to follow before they return to action. There’s a very good chance that the Celtics will use one of those two days to practice, something this team desperately needs to clean up some of the minor mistakes that were big problems in their loss to the Heat on Wednesday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE