Celtics

Celtics-Rockets preview: C's look to keep rolling

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Celtics-Rockets preview: C's look to keep rolling

BOSTON When the Boston Celtics step on the floor tonight, their biggest competition won't be the Houston Rockets.

It'll be complacency which can be an extremely difficult foe to beat when you're riding high like the Celtics are these days.

They come into tonight's game against Houston with a four-game winning streak, their longest stretch of success this season.

But helping keep their edge should be the fact that the Rockets have been one of the hottest teams in the NBA as well, winning 10 of their last 13 games.

And on top of that, Boston wouldn't mind a little payback for the 101-89 loss they suffered in Houston earlier this year, a game that wasn't nearly as close as the final score might indicate.

"We can't get too comfortable and think we finally arrived," said Paul Pierce. "We just have to be consistent with everything we do; understand why we are winning these games and continue to do that."

Just as they have done in past years, Boston's defense has fueled their success during this current winning streak.

This season, Boston is giving up 96.8 points per game which is the eighth-fewest points allowed. During their four-game winning streak, opponents are just barely cracking the 80-point plateau with the C's giving up 82.8 points per game.

"We have to continue to do that," Pierce added. "It starts in practice and that carries over into the game."

The C's certainly hope so with tip-off just a few hours away. Boston's defense will certainly be a key factor in tonight's game. Here are a few others to keep an eye on as Boston tries to keep on its winning ways against another team that's playing well of late.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Rockets will look to get out and run and run and ... did I mention they like to run? The NBA's youngest team is also its highest scoring club, with Houston averaging a league-high 106 points per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Paul Pierce vs Chandler Parsons: This is a matchup that on paper you would think is lopsidedly in favor of the Celtics. But Pierce has to go at Parsons as if he's Quentin Richardson from a couple years back to avoid a repeat of Houston's win over Boston in November in which Parsons had a near triple-double of 15 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jared Sullinger is starting to make a name for himself, which means teams will start to pay a lot more attention to the 6-foot-9 rookie. He's been a significant part of the C's current winning streak, and he'll look to keep it going tonight as both a rebounder and scorer around the basket.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston has been among the NBA's better teams at forcing turnovers, which has been a major weakness of the Rockets all season. They come into tonight's game averaging a league-high 16.6 turnovers per game while the C's are forcing teams to commit 15.7 turnovers which ranks fourth in the league.

Stats: Jayson Tatum is pretty much Larry Bird

Stats: Jayson Tatum is pretty much Larry Bird

Stop comparing Jayson Tatum to Paul Pierce. Turns out he's Larry Bird. Numbers don't lie.

In posting 14 points and 10 rebounds, Tatum became the first Celtics player to notch a double-double in his NBA debut since Larry Bird in 1979. Numbers also suggest that Bird went on to be very good, so that pretty much settles it. You can't just accept the numbers that say Bird was great and ignore the numbers that say Jayson Tatum is Larry Bird. You've got to accept all the numbers. Cherry-picking certain stats for your argument is what Mike Felger does. 

Tatum, who was the apple of Danny Ainge’s eye in the draft when he traded down from the first overall pick to the third spot, finished third on the C’s in scoring in Tuesday’s loss to the Cavs. Jaylen Brown led the way with a career-high 25 points, while Kyrie Irving posted 24.

Shorthanded Celtics fall short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

Shorthanded Celtics fall short in 102-99 loss to Cavs

CLEVELAND – Adversity has been a given with the Boston Celtics, so why would the season opener be any different? 

Despite being without their prized free agent signing in the offseason for all but the first five minutes against Cleveland, the Celtics gave themselves a chance to win down the stretch only to come up short in a 102-99 loss.

Boston led in the fourth only for LeBron James to score a go-ahead basket to make it 99-98 and then force a Celtics turnover seconds later.

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Following a time-out with 1:04 to play, Kevin Love hit a 3-pointer with 46.3 seconds to play to make it a 102-98 game.

The loss certainly hurts, but that pales in comparison to what losing Gordon Hayward for most if not all of this season, means to the Celtics after Hayward went down with fractured left ankle injury in the first quarter.

With the Celtics ahead 12-9, Kyrie Irving saw Hayward sprinting towards the rim and threw him an alley-oop pass.

LeBron James slid over and leaped to try and deflect it, which threw Hayward off balance in mid-air.

But Hayward didn’t land cleanly because ex-Celtic Jae Crowder, who was defending him on the play, made contact with Hayward’s lower body that resulted in an awkward landing for Hayward.

Video replays showed how contorted Hayward’s left ankle was, the kind of gruesome image that was in some ways reminiscent to the knee injury that derailed the career of Shaun Livingston.
 
While Livingston eventually returned to the floor and won a pair of NBA titles with the Golden State Warriors, but he was never the same player afterwards.
 
It’s far too soon to say exactly how Hayward’s injury will impact him this season, let alone for his career. 
 
But there is no mistaking seeing him go down the way he did, clearly rattled the Celtics and for that matter, the NBA family. 
 
Current and former NBA players took to social media offering of prayers of healing for Hayward, who was named to his first NBA All-Star team last season and signed a four-year, $127.8 million contract with the Celtics this summer. 
 
As for the actual game, the Cavaliers steadily pulled away in the second quarter and remained in control for most of the second half in a victory that certainly had to feel a bit shallow.
 
It wasn’t because the Celtics were undermanned without Hayward, but more important, because he’s part of the NBA family and regardless of how competitive players are, they never, ever like to see one of their own go down with such a devastating injury. 
 
Moments after Hayward went down, the looks of disappointment and pain were apparent. Inside the Celtics huddle, you saw Kyrie Irving’s head in the shoulder of a teammate.
 
Former Celtic Isaiah Thomas, now with the Cavs, was inside the Cavaliers locker room which is where they took Hayward initially. 
 
When Thomas left, he nodded, and shook his head, saddened by what he saw in the locker room. 
 
Despite the pain that all the Celtics were in following Hayward’s injury, there was still a game that had to be played. 
 
And anything less than their best against the defending Eastern Conference champions, would make for a long night. 
 
But the Celtics showed a resiliency in the third quarter that saw them climb back into things and made it a relatively close game. 
 
Trailing 54-38 at the half, Boston tied the game at 69 following a Marcus Smart free throw, followed by a go-ahead basket by Smart that put Boston on top 71-69. 
 
However, the Cavs ended the quarter with a 3-pointer by Derrick Rose which put them ahead 72-71 going into the fourth, an envious position for the Celtics all things considered. 
 
Even if the Celtics had been whole with Hayward, defeating the Cavs was going to be an extremely tall task.
 
They have after all, been to the NBA Finals each of the last three seasons and are the odds-on favorite to get back there for a fourth straight year. 
 
But the Celtics lost more than a key player when Hayward went down. 
 
They lost their focus, that intangible edge to their team that was supposed to be one of their strengths against a Cleveland team that has plenty of firepower and weapons of its own. 
 
The good news for both teams is that regardless of who came out on top, there are lessons to be learned for both teams. 
 
Unfortunately for the Celtics, those lessons going forward are likely to come about without Hayward in the lineup for some time. 

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