Celtics

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

BOSTON – The words of Stephen Curry following the Celtics’ 92-88 win over his Golden State Warriors had an off-handed, end-of-the-night throwaway feel to them, a statement that would soon be forgotten after the Warriors reel off what should be a long string of victories going forward.
 
“They’re playing the best right now in the East,” Curry said of the Celtics, who now have a 3-2 edge in their past five meetings following Thursday night’s thriller. “And obviously until they beat Cleveland, who's done it three years in a row … so we’ll see.”

CELTICS 92, WARRIORS 88

We already have, folks.
 
The Celtics and the Warriors are both quick to remind us all that we are only a month into the season and that there’s still lots of basketball to be played.
 
But the big takeaway from Thursday was that the Celtics’ ascension to the top of the NBA mountain is a matter of when, not if, it’ll happen.
 
Because what we’re seeing now is a team that is very much a work in progress, yet one that still manages to win games on a lot of nights that they have no business winning.
 
Think about it.
 
They shot 32.9 percent against the Warriors, the best team in the NBA, and still managed to get the win. According to NBA stats guru Dick Lipe, it was only the second time in the past 35 years that the Celtics shot less than 33 percent from the field and still managed to win.
 
That speaks to how well Boston defended the Warriors, who came in averaging a league-best 119.6 points per game.
 
But more than that, it shows this team has a will to win that’s almost unheard of for a group whose pieces are so relatively new to one another.
 
Of the 14 Celtics with guaranteed contracts on the roster, all but four are in their first season in Boston.
 
But even with the new guys coming together quicker than anticipated, Boston should not all of a sudden be considered the favorites in the NBA.
 
Even with the victory, Boston still has some ground to make up if they are to be on the same level as Golden State, a franchise that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons and has emerged a champion twice.
 
“It takes a lot of basketball to get there,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “They have a good, young, hungry team. You have to give them credit. They have a better record than us, so you can say they’re better now.”
 
And while Thompson didn’t place an emphasis on it, the last word in his comments, “now,” is why Thursday’s victory leaves the Celtics cautiously optimistic.
 
Because as we’ve seen time and time, regular-season success does not always travel well beyond that and into the playoffs.
 
Still, Thursday’s win provides something for Boston beyond hope and optimism.
 
They now have results to go with the work they’ve put in to be a better team and compete with the league’s best.
 
And they’ve done it under less-than-ideal circumstances.
 
Gordon Hayward went down with an ankle injury less than five minutes into the season and he’s expected to be lost for the rest of the season. Al Horford missed two games while recovering from a concussion while Kyrie Irving missed a game after suffering a facial fracture.
 
So in other words, the Big Three that Boston was set on unleashing to the rest of the world has logged less than five minutes together all season.
 
And yet there are the Celtics (14-2), tops in the NBA while riding a historic 14-game winning streak, and there's reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, these two will be the last teams standing when all is said and done and some of those customary throwaway lines uttered by Curry might have some value after all if these two wind up meeting in the NBA Finals.

“I hear the weather is great here in June,” Curry said.

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Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

New experiences are a given when you have as many new faces as the Boston Celtics have this season.

Monday’s 108-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls?

Yup, that’s a new one.

You can rest assured the Celtics won’t dwell on this loss too long. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be forgotten quickly, either.

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As the Boston Celtics piled up the wins this season (they still lead the East with a 23-6 record), head coach Brad Stevens has tried to keep his team humble, reminding them that if they don’t play well they can be beat by anybody … even the Bulls.

Even in defeat, Boston has managed to at least give themselves a shot at winning with good energy and effort from most if not every player that steps on the court.

“We have a young group, so we usually have a lot of energy,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown told reporters afterwards. “We just couldn’t find it tonight. We start off bad, we usually find a way to come back and rally into the game. We could just never get it going.”

Boston’s Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.

“Credit to our group. We go out, we fight every night,” Horford said. “And tonight, we pushed but they answered back. We never caught a break. There were times there, we could have had a three (3-pointer) and we missed it. And then they come down and hit a three. It was kind of like … one of those nights, everything was working their way. Gotta give them credit. They came out the aggressor. They held it and we didn’t have it tonight.”

Of course, the easy way to explain away what happened was to point out the impact of not having Kyrie Irving (quads injury).

While there’s no question not having the team’s top scorer has a negative impact on the team’s overall play, the Celtics are a team that’s rooted in strong defensive play which should have been on display against Chicago.

Instead of Boston’s defense taking the lead, they were a non-factor most of the night, especially when it came to Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis who had 24 and 23 points, respectively.

“We didn’t challenge Mirotic or Portis at all,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And they got to the rim whenever they wanted.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, they return home where they can try and get back on a winning track after losing two of their last three games.

“We have to respond against Denver (on Wednesday),” Brown said. “When we come back and play them, we should have more energy.”

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Stars, studs and duds: 'Sometimes you get your butt kicked'

Stars, studs and duds: 'Sometimes you get your butt kicked'

Following Boston’s 108-85 thumping at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, Brad Stevens had a very succinct message for his team after the loss.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked!” he told them.

While that’s true, it’s rare for an elite team, or least one with an elite-team record, to get beaten so soundly by another squad that while playing better of late, is still the worst team in the league.

“Chicago dictated the whole game; they played harder than we did,” Stevens said. “They played with more presence than we did; played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”

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Losing is something that all teams, good and bad, have to deal with and experience. But the way Chicago dominated play for most of the night, was something new for this Celtics team that has consistently come back from huge deficits to win.

But Stevens has cautioned repeatedly how his team was playing with fire making that part of their narrative this season, knowing there would be times when they just wouldn’t be able to muster up the necessary plays at either end of the floor and rally for a victory.

Monday was that night.

“We’ve had a chance to win every game except for this one,” Stevens said. “This one was obvious, even when we were making our run in the third it was kind of back and forth. And they hit every big shot they needed to kind of stem the tide when it was an 11-point game or put it back to 14. We just had too many easy errors from our standpoint. And then, they made plays.”

And in doing so, they absolutely out-played the Celtics in every way imaginable.

“I don’t want to chalk it up to, ‘hey you’re gonna have nights like this,’” Stevens said. “We just got our butt kicked; we’ll take that and move forward.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 108-85 beatdown at the hands of the Chicago Bulls who despite winning three straight, have now moved up to a tie for the worst record (6-20) in the NBA, with Atlanta.

  

STARS

Nikola Mirotic

The Boston Celtics had no answer for Mirotic who lit the Celtics up for 24 points. “We didn’t do a great job guarding him and he made us pay for that,” Stevens said. “He’s a really good offensive player.”

Bobby Portis

Coming off the bench, Portis gave the Celtics fits from the perimeter as well as around the rim before finishing with a season-high 23 points. “Portis got going from (3-point range),” Stevens said. “We played with no presence.”

 

STUDS

Kyrie Irving

He didn’t log a single minute on Monday, but his presence was definitely felt. Boston looked completely lost and discombobulated with their four-time all-star out of the lineup with a quads injury.

 

DUDS

Every Celtic on the active roster

There’s just not enough space to go through all the players that failed the Celtics miserably on Monday. The starters. The bench. The two-way players called up. This was not just the worst game of the season for the Celtics, but one of the worst ever in Stevens’ four-plus seasons as the Celtics head coach. “It was a collective success for them, and a collective failure for us,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

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