Blakely's takeaways: Role reversal for offense and defense?

Blakely's takeaways: Role reversal for offense and defense?

BOSTON – As you skim the box scores of the Boston Celtics, you’ll notice the offense is scoring more, shooting better from the field, doing all the things that we all figured they would improve upon as we got deeper into the season.

But those strides offensively have come at the same time that the defense, while still really good, hasn’t been as dominant or consistent as we’ve seen them in the early going this season.

And there lies a dilemma of sorts.

Is the Boston offense really getting better, or do they look better because the defense isn’t as good as it was to start the season?

In Boston’s last six games, it really has been like role reversal when you look at their offensive and defensive numbers in that span compared to what they’ve done all season.

Boston’s defensive rating for the season is a league-best 98.9, but in the last six games it has slipped to 108.1 which is ranked 19th in that span.

Rebounding has been a huge part of Boston’s success this season, evident by their rebounding percentage this season being .513 which ranks ninth in the league. But in Boston’s last six games, they are dead-last at .452. Against the Suns, the Celtics were out-rebounded 45-31.

And offensively, the Celtics are averaging 109.3 points in their last six games which ranks eighth in the league in that span, a noticeable bump from their season average of 104.5 which ranks 19th.

Boston’s offensive rating of 112.3 in the last six games ranks sixth in the league, which is an improvement upon their season average of 105.4 which ranks 13th in the NBA.

The improved play offensively has been due to a couple of reasons.

“The offense is getting a little better and the defense has not played as well,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “The good news is you have to be able to score the ball; you have to get better at scoring the ball for us, from where we started the season. And we’ve shown ourselves capable on defense.”

Boston hasn’t had as many moments consistently of late when the defense has played its best, something that Stevens acknowledges.

“I wouldn’t say we’re regressing,” said Stevens, whose team gave up 111 points to the Suns which was the highest point total allowed this season in a Celtics victory. “But we’ve certainly have had our moments when we haven’t played as well.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 116-111 win over Phoenix on Saturday afternoon.

Marcus Smart

You won’t find another Boston Celtics player criticized more for their shooting than Marcus Smart. Considering how he has struggled with his shot most of this season, that’s understandable. But against the Suns, Smart passed on a lot of good shots for either great ones for his teammates or better ones for himself. And the end result was one of the few games this season when Smart shot well from the field (3-for-6, 13 points), delivered a strong game defensively and still managed to get his teammates involved (he had seven assists) with few mistakes (no turnovers).

Second unit success

Boston’s backups delivered one of their more complete games this season, balancing diversified scoring with solid defense. For the game, they outscored Phoenix 45-32 with all five reserves scoring at least three points while two of Boston’s top three defensive ratings posted by reserves Terry Rozier (92.5) and Semi Ojeleye (100.0).

Jayson Tatum/Josh Jackson

Just like Jayson Tatum and Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz will forever be linked because of the trade that ultimately allowed the Sixers to draft Fultz and Boston to select Tatum, there’s a Tatum/Josh Jackson connection that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Jackson didn’t want to work out for the Celtics leading up to the draft, with multiple league sources telling NBC Sports Boston his concern was about having a limited role in Boston as opposed to Phoenix where he would play significant minutes from Day One. The irony is that not only is Tatum playing more minutes than Jackson, but he’s doing so as a starter versus Jackson who comes off the bench for a sub-.500 team. Meanwhile, Tatum and the Celtics (20-4) have the best record in the NBA. In their matchup on Saturday, Tatum had 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting along with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 26 minutes, 30 seconds of playing time. Jackson had seven points on 3-for-5 shooting in 14 minutes, 57 seconds in addition to one rebound.

Semi Ojeleye

The Boston Celtics have been pleased with the 22-year-old’s defense thus far this season. Lately, it seems he’s starting to provide a nice alternative offensively, too. Against Phoenix, Ojeleye had seven points which included him being 2-for-3 from 3-point range. In his last four appearances off Boston’s bench, he has shot 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Prior to that, he was connecting on just 28.6 percent (10-for-35) of his 3-point shots.

Jaylen Brown

One of the unspoken truths about this Boston Celtics team this season has been Jaylen Brown emerging as the team’s No. 2 scorer. Lately, he has managed to generate offense from the free throw line which not that long ago, was a place where the second-year wing really struggled. Against the Suns on Saturday, Brown had 17 points which included him making six of his eight free throw attempts. The six made free throws tied his career high and the eight attempts was a season-high for Brown.


Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

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Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”


Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

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Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”