Celtics

Celtics hold off Wizards for first win of season

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Celtics hold off Wizards for first win of season

The Celtics promised to come out Saturday night against the Wizards in a completely different way than they did on Friday night against the Bucks.

And when Paul Pierce drained the first shot of the game a three-pointer it was a good sign that they were going to keep that promise.

While they certainly didn't end the game with the offensive showing they started it, the Celtics held on for an 89-86 win.

With Boston leading by as many as 16 points in the beginning of the game, the Wizards came all the way back to take a one-point lead -- albeit for just a few seconds -- in the fourth quarter.

But it was that same Pierce -- the one who opened the game with a three-pointer -- that closed it for Boston, draining another three, his fourth of the game, in the closing minutes that gave Boston a lead for good.

"It was good to finally get a win under our belt, obviously we know we have to play better," Pierce told CSNNE's A. Sherrod Blakely after the game. "We got off to a good start so we gotta be able to maintain. I thought late there in the third when we got up about 12 or 13 points that's the time where you have a chance to put teams away. We didn't do that, so we still got a long way to go but I'm happy with a win."

He ended the night with a game-high 27 points on 10-for-22 shooting from the field and seven rebounds.

As it turned out, Pierce's three-pointer to start the game was the start of an 17-2 run that spanned roughly eight minutes to start the game, and all of a sudden it was the Celtics playing spoiler for the oppositions' home opener.

It wasn't just Pierce who came to play early on. Kevin Garnett, who finished with 15 points and seven rebounds, didn't appear to be bothered by playing the second night of a back-to-back, factoring into the team's offense early on with a couple made baskets and viscous block that was actually ruled to be goaltending.

He also did it on the defensive end with his teammates who looked to be ready for battle. Boston held the Wizards without a point for over six minutes in the first quarter. Paired with Celtics rookie Jared Sullinger who got his first start of his career, the Celtics held the Wizards to just 32 points in the paint (Boston scored just 26).

"He understands his role," Pierce said of Sullinger. "We don't give him a lot of touches but he's a great rebounder and the touches he gets he has to take advantage of it. but he really fills that middle well, puts his body in the way to get rebounds and that's what we need."

But while it appeared as though the Wizards starters didn't come to play, the same couldn't be said for the Wizards bench.

And that's an understatement

Led by Kevin Seraphin, who finished with 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting and seven rebounds, and Jordan Crawford, who finished with 21 points, the Wizards clawed back into the game. Boston's 17-point lead was nearly cut in half by halftime, as they led 49-42.

Every time the Celtics pushed it to double-digits, the Wizards responded with baskets of their own, and both Seraphin and Crawford were in on the mix.

In fact, trailing 65-52 with just under six minutes to play in the third, it was Seraphin and Crawford who scored every Wizards point to end the quarter on a 13-4 run and close the C's lead to 69-65. It was also those two who gave the Wizards a 43-20 bench scoring advantage through three quarters and eventually a 62-27 advantage (Washington starters scored just 24 points).

With Boston holding on to a slim lead with just under ten minutes to go, Crawford left the game due to a sprained ankle (he later returned). In that short time, Boston rattled off back-to-back three-pointers on consistent possessions courtesy of Jeff Green and Paul Pierce.

But again, the lead wouldn't last. The Wizards' Jannero Pargo, Cartier Martin, and of course, Seraphin, brought the Wizards all the way back.

Rajon Rondo did his best to stave off the comeback, somehow converting on a hoop after his shot was initially blocked just before the shot clock expired.

Rondo finished with another double-double, 12 points and 12 assists, in a game-high 40 minutes, but nonetheless the Wiz took a one-point lead on a Seraphin jumpshot.

That's when Pierce stepped up and took the lead right back.

As it turned out, that would be the last shot Boston needed. Both sides exchanged bricked jumpers and turnovers for the remainder of the game. Boston played the type of defense they're more than capable of playing, and it showed down the stretch at time.

"That's how we gotta play every night," Pierce said. "That type of intensity. We have to come out like that, we have to finish like that. Kevin with some huge stops down the stretch, challenging shots and rebounding and that's how we play. When we don't shoot the ball well we have to depend on our defense."

Jason Terry hit both free throws in the closing seconds to stretch the lead to three points.

A Pargo desperation three-quarter-court shot fell short, and Boston got its first win of the year. It wasn't pretty, but they'll take it.

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

A. Sherrod Blakely’s Starting 5: Unmasking the NBA’s best

BOSTON –  The NBA has seen its share of early-season injuries, some resulting in guys out for the season (Gordon Hayward) while others missing just a couple games (Al Horford out two games with a concussion).

MORE CELTICS:

 

And then there’s Kyrie Irving, who suffered a facial fracture that kept him for one game. He was supposed to wear a plastic protective mask for a couple weeks. Instead, it lasted one game and part of another before Irving decided to ditch it.
 
Kyrie’s mask got me to thinking … who are the best masked men in the NBA?
 
Today's Starting Five will include the top 5 masked men in the annals of NBA history, in addition to the top 5 teams, MVP candidates, rookies and defenders:
 
TOP 5 MASKED MEN


1. Rip Hamilton, Detroit – Worn initially for protection, his mask became an iconic look for the three-time All-star.

2. Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles Lakers – Mask worn in 2012, the last year Bryant appeared in the playoffs.

3. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City – He looked and played like a superhero in his first game with a mask in 2015, tallying 49 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in a win over Philly.

4. LeBron James – Ever the fashion-forward one, James wore a black, carbon-fiber mask to protect his broken nose in 2014.

5. Kyrie Irving - He played with a mask for 19 games in 2013, averaging 24.5 points and 47.5 percent from the field and 39.8 percent from 3-point range.
 
TOP 5 MVP CANDIDATES


1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee – The addition of Eric Bledsoe has helped rack up some wins, strengthen Antetokounmpo’s chances atop the MVP leaderboard.

2. Kevin Durant, Golden State – Shooting better than 50 percent from the field, Durant has stepped his passing game (career-high 5.0 assists now) up this season while continuing to pile up the wins.

3. James Harden, Houston – Not having Chris Paul around most of this season and still winning, is a reminder of how Harden has played at a consistently high level against all comers.

4. LeBron James, Cleveland – Three straight wins and the Cavs are well on their way to getting back into the thick of things, with LeBron leading the way.

5. Al Horford, Boston – In his last three games, he’s shooting 76.6 percent and has been a central figure in Boston’s rise to the top of the NBA standings.
 
TOP 5 ROOKIES


1. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia - He has eight double-doubles and a pair of triple-doubles to his credit this season. He’s the rookie everyone is chasing now.

2. Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas - You have to watch this guy play. Would be getting a lot more pub if the Mavs had a better record.

3. Jayson Tatum, Boston - Had a rough start against the Warriors, but bounced back and made key plays down the stretch helping Boston get the win.

4. Kyle Kuzma, Los Angeles Lakers - The late first-round pick has been an absolute Godsend to the Lakers, able to contribute in a multiple of ways.

5. Lonzo Ball, Los Angeles Lakers - He has been up and down like most rookies. But his court vision alone will keep him on the floor for many years to come.
 
TOP 5 DEFENDERS


1. Al Horford, Boston - He’s the best defender on the NBA’s best team defensively. It makes sense for Horford to be the pace-setter in this category.

2. Rudy Gobert, Utah - A towering presence, this 7-foot-2 big man will once again be a top-3 finisher when it comes to the league’s highest defensive honor.

3. Draymond Green, Golden State - The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Green is the rare player who can defend all five positions at a fairly high level.
 
4.  Andre Roberson, Oklahoma City - His ability to defend guards as well as switch out defensively is a huge plus to the Thunder.
 
5. Aron Baynes, Boston - You will be hard-pressed to find anyone who utilizes the NBA’s rule of verticality  better than Baynes.
 
TOP 5 TEAMS


1. Boston – Winning 14 games, that’s one thing. But to beat Golden State along the journey? That’s special.

2. Golden State – Loss to Boston be damned, the Warriors are still the team everyone emulates … even now.

3. Houston – Can score with the best of them, but until they defend at a high level their success will remain limited primarily to the regular season.

4. Minnesota – It’s still early, but it’s hard to imagine the Timberwolves going anywhere but up the Western Conference standings.

5. Detroit – Outside of Boston, there may not be a bigger surprise in the NBA thus far than Detroit.