Celtics

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

usatsi_10396353.jpg

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”

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.

MORE:

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.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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.”

MORE:

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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE