Celtics

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

TERRY ROZIER
There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

BENCH
With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

SHANE LARKIN
He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

BRAD STEVENS
This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

AL HORFORD
It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.

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Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- From the time Boston drafted Jayson Tatum last June, there was a certain connectivity with him and Jaylen Brown.

While their games differ, there are some common threads that from the outset bonded them in a way that stood out. 

Well, as we get deeper into the postseason, the Celtics' youthful 1-2 punch is beginning to stand out as two budding stars who are only getting better with time.

The C's return to Boston after a 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, which tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 will be played at TD Garden on Tuesday and Game 6 back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

But in every game, win or lose, there are lessons to be learned. Especially for young players like Brown and Tatum. 

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For them, the takeaway is clear. 

There is a certain gear they have the ability to shift into that makes them pretty damn unstoppable. 

We saw that in the second half when for long stretches, they flip-flopped between being the best Celtic on the floor. 

Boston trailed 65-45 in the third quarter, then closed out the quarter with a 22-10 run with Brown and Tatum combining for 18 points during the Celtics spurt. 

The Celtics eventually took a brief lead in the fourth quarter on a Tatum jumper with less than a minute to play, but ultimately came up short following a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5.1 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning basket.

No one is looking for silver linings this time of year. It’s all about wins and losses now. 

But that doesn’t take away from the need for growth, something Brown and Tatum --- who combined for 55 points (34 from Brown, 21 from Tatum) on Sunday -- are doing plenty of in this series. 

Boston would have loved to have had Kyrie Irving for this playoff series. But his absence has afforded all the members of this Celtics team to get some much-needed playoff seasoning that wouldn’t be nearly as abundant if Irving (recovering from knee procedure) were on the floor now.

There are a number of Celtics who have benefited from this, but few if any have had their learning curve accelerated as much as Brown and Tatum. Brown, in his second season, has scored 30 or more points in two of the four playoff games, the most recent being the 34-point effort on Sunday in Game 4.

And then there’s Tatum who put together one of the strongest rookie seasons ever by a Boston Celtic, a major accomplishment considering Boston’s storied past.

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He got it going in the second half on Sunday, scoring 18 of his 21 points. 

“I knew I had to be more aggressive,” Tatum said. “I had to pick up my play; just try to help out more.” 

And as this series continues to play out, both will continue to be looked upon for production which as we’ve seen, they are more than up to the challenge. 

But big numbers don’t mean much if they aren’t attached to a victory, something that eluded the Celtics in Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4. 

Boston will be back on familiar ground in Game 5 at the TD Garden, a game that the Celtics need in order to officially put the Bucks on the brink of playoff elimination. 

And make no mistake. The Bucks have their sights on trying to limit all the Celtics players, but they’ve seen enough to know that containing Brown and Tatum will be critical for Milwaukee to do what neither team has done thus far which is to win on the road. 

“They’re guys that have played with confidence not only throughout the season, but since the beginning of the season,” said Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty. “They’re definitely people we have accounted for. As you get into a series, you’re always talking about what guy’s tendencies are. These two have played very well and we have to anticipate that.”

Prunty’s comments speak to what the Brown-Tatum tandem has done in this series. 

But their play serves as a snapshot of two young stars who, like the Celtics franchise, seem to be getting better with time. 

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6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

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