Celtics

Another 47 from Kyrie vs. Mavs? Wouldn't surprise Carlisle

celtics-mavs-storylines-120617.jpg

Another 47 from Kyrie vs. Mavs? Wouldn't surprise Carlisle

BOSTON – Those “M-V-P” chants you hear from Celtics fans when Kyrie Irving is on the free-throw line, will likely be alive and well tonight at some point against the Dallas Mavericks.

But the locals aren’t the only ones who see the four-time All-Star as deserving to be in the MVP conversation.

MORE CELTICS:

“He’s a legit MVP candidate,” said Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle.

He certainly looked like one the last time Boston played the Mavericks, a game in which Irving scored 47 points, the most he has scored since becoming a Celtic.

“He’s a great player,” Carlisle said. “He did virtually anything he wanted. So we have to give more resistance and make it tougher on him.”

That will be a lot easier said than done, especially with Irving playing some of his most efficient basketball like, ever.

He’s averaging 23.5 points per game, shooting a career-best 48.7 percent from the field.

In his past five games, Irving has shot 50 percent in four of them while shooting 52.1 percent overall in the span.

“When one guy goes for 47 points, it’s going to be hard to beat that team,” Carlisle said. “He’s one of those players, you gotta try and do something to slow him down a little bit.”

Here’s a look at five below-the-radar storylines to keep tabs on as the Celtics (21-4) look to close out their five-game homestand with another victory:

ONE MORE TIME
At 39, tonight may be the last time Dirk Nowitzki plays in front of the TD Garden crowd. While he has given no indications that he plans to retire, it’s clearly an option for Nowitzki who is now in his 20th NBA season. While Nowitzki doesn’t dominate games the way we’ve seen him in past years, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t improved upon facets of his game even at this advanced stage of his career. Nowitzki, averaging just 11.1 points per game, comes into tonight’s matchup shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range which would a career-high if he maintained it for the rest of the season.

THREE-POINTERS
Jayson Tatum has shot the 3-ball better than any player this season, but by no means are the Celtics a team with just one long-range shooter. As a team, Boston has stepped up its 3-point shooting across the board. That’s why in the past six games, the Celtics are shooting 43.4 percent on 3’s which ranks third in the league in that span.

‘D’ IN DALLAS
Dallas has won four of its past six since losing to the Celtics. And the key to that newfound success has been their defense. In those six games, the Mavericks have a defensive rating of 101.0, which ranks fourth in the league in that span. Dallas also ranks in top 10 in defensive rebound percentage, opponent points off turnovers; opponent second-chance points; opponent points in the paint.

RUN, CELTICS RUN
While Dallas’ defense has improved, the Mavericks still have trouble getting back while limiting opponent’s transition offense. For the season, Dallas ranks 28th in opponent fast-break points with 14.1 allowed per game. And in the past six games, their transition defense has been even worse - giving up 17.7 points via fast breaks - which is the most of any team in the league in that span.

YOUTH MOVEMENT
Both Boston and Dallas are getting quality production from some of the youngest players in the NBA. Second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum are in the starting lineup for Boston and have proven themselves to be significant contributors to a Celtics team that boasts the best record in the NBA. Dallas has a star on the rise of its own, in Dennis Smith Jr. who comes into tonight’s game averaging 14.5 points along with 4.2 assists and 4.0 rebounds per game.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

stream-celtics-pacers.jpg

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Sometimes, the best trades are the ones you don't make

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE