Celtics

Celtics-Magic: Keys to the game

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Celtics-Magic: Keys to the game

ORLANDO, Fla. The Boston Celtics face the Orlando Magic for the second time in four days, the kind of home-and-home matchup you see in the playoffs. That's why the C's, who easily defeated Orlando 87-56 on Monday, are approaching tonight's game as if it is a playoff matchup.

"You have to look at it like that," C's guard Mickael Pietrus told CSNNE.com. "We beat them pretty bad in Boston a few days ago. I know they'll be really pumped up for us. And we're ready."

Former Celtic and current backup Magic forward Glen Davis makes no secret about how important tonight's game is to him.

"This is a must-win for me," Davis said. "I don't know about the team. It's a must-win for us. Personally, I want to win. I gotta win."

The outcome of tonight's game will hinge on several factors.

Here are a few to keep an eye on:

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston's pressure defense not only took Jameer Nelson totally out of his game, but it also generated 25 turnovers which led to 24 points for the Celtics. Avery Bradley, who will start again for an injured Rajon Rondo, was the key to Boston's defensive success on Monday. Magic coach Stan Van Gundy praised Bradley for his defensive prowess leading up to tonight's game.

"It's generally those guys who don't have to play 3,000 minutes in a year who can come in and use that energy," Van Gundy said. "So you're not used to seeing it a lot. You might see it a possession or two, but that full-game thing I give him (Bradley) a lot of credit. It's the best job of anybody doing it, I've seen in a lot of years in this league."

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Dwight Howard: With Jermaine O'Neal (left knee) out, Garnett will begin tonight's game attempting to guard Howard. Garnett's ability to hold Howard in check will likely come at the cost of him scoring as much. But the C's know all too well, that's the price you have to pay if you plan on beating the Magic.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Ryan Anderson: The Celtics held him to zero points in more than 23 minutes of action on Monday. Look for Anderson to play significantly better than that tonight, especially with him beginning the game matched up with Brandon Bass instead of Garnett.

STAT TO TRACK - Points off turnovers is an area that the Celtics are improving in, and it was one of the main reasons why they easily defeated Orlando when the two played on Monday. If the C's can continue to cash in on Orlando's mistakes, the Celtics will be well positioned to hand the Magic another loss.

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.”