Celtics

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's looking to improve offensively

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's looking to improve offensively

The praise and adulation for the Boston Celtics continues to pour in, as they pile up wins at an unprecedented pace under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

But for all the success they have enjoyed in this still-young NBA season, players and coaches still see plenty of room for improvement particularly when it comes to their offense.

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"If our offense catches up to our defense, hopefully we'll be better," coach Brad Stevens said shortly after the team's 104-88 win at Orlando on Sunday. "Our offense, we still leave way too many points on the board."

Boston (8-2) comes into tonight's game against Atlanta with the league's top record, fueled by a defense that ranks among the league's best in several categories.

But if there is an area of weakness to what the Celtics have done thus far, it lies in an offense that has sputtered on many levels.

Boston's 102.9 points-per-game average ranks 23rd in the league. But the Celts' offensive rating of 104.8 (14th in the NBA) shows that things aren't quite as bleak offensively as their lack of scoring might indicate.

"We've been pretty consistent defensively, but offensively . . . we need to maximize more possessions," Stevens said. "Hopefully we can keep playing together, make some shots and execute a little bit better when we need to."

While the offensive struggles are certainly not ideal, the Celtics have to take some solace in the fact that they're still finding ways to win despite a significant aspect of who they are as a team, hasn't clicked at a consistent rate . . . yet.

"A lot of teams talk about, the defense has to be there," said Al Horford. "In our case, we really want to be like that. We really want our defense to always be there."

And it was certainly needed against the Magic on Sunday, who came into the game as the league's best 3-point shooting team. However, Orlando connected on just 20.7 percent (6-for-29) of its 3's on SUnday, compared to a seasonal average of 42.1 percent.

Al Horford acknowledged that there were "some things we need to clean up as a group [offensively]" that played a factor in the game being relatively close throughout the first half.

"Once we clean that up offensively, our offense is going to be even better," he said. "Right now we're okay, but there's a lot of room for improvement."

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Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

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Are the Celtics relying too much on Kyrie Irving?

LOS ANGELES – When it comes to scoring, Kyrie Irving ranks among the best in the NBA.

The dude dropped 25-plus points per game a year ago in Cleveland playing with LeBron James, a feat none of James’ other all-star caliber teammates – not Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh – could do. 

MORE - Irving: C's must 'weather the storm'

Being that good at scoring, and doing so with the kind of ball-handling flare that he brings to the game, can be captivating. 

That’s a good thing, unless those watching are your teammates. 

Following Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, a game in which Irving scored 40 points while taking just 23 shots (with 14 makes), it raised questions as to whether the Celtics at times rely too much on their best scorer. 

“I wouldn’t say that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Kyrie was being Kyrie. We were trying to make plays as well. We just came up short.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens also shot down talk of the team depending too much on Irving whose 24.5 points per game ranks 11th in the NBA. 

“I think we all have to play better,” Stevens said. 

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 103-95 loss to the Orlando Magic.

 

TATUM BREAKOUT COMING?

Jayson Tatum is still putting up decent numbers for a rookie, but he hasn’t had the same chilling effect on defenses that we saw through the first 30 or so games. In the lost to the Magic, Tatum was just 4-for-11 shooting from the field, for the second straight game. And it was the third straight game in which he made less than five field goals. The 19-year-old has only had one other stretch like that (Oct. 30 – Nov. 3) this season. So by the numbers and the opponent, it should come as no surprise if Tatum has one of his better games this month, on Tuesday against the Lakers.

 

BENCH SCORING

When the Celtics face teams with a starting five that leads to Marcus Morris being in Boston’s starting lineup, prepare for the bench scoring to take an Enron-like dive. Against the Magic, Boston’s bench scored a total of just eight points on 4-for-19 shooting. The player responsible for most of those misses, Terry Rozier, has to be better than what we saw against Orlando when he missed eight of his nine shot attempts. His value is always key to the bench, but even more so when Morris isn’t with the second unit. 

 

EARLY FOULS

One area Boston would like to improve upon is picking up early fouls on shot attempts. In the first quarter of the Orlando loss, Boston committed five personal fouls total while the Magic were whistled for three. However, the Magic was 5-for-5 from the free throw line in the first quarter while the Celtics’ lone free throw attempt came on technical foul call against Evan Fournier. 

 

NEW YEAR, MORE OFFENSIVE STRUGGLES

While Sunday’s loss to Orlando may have seemed a bit out of character for Boston offensively, it was actually consistent with what we’ve seen from the Green Team this month. The Celtics came into the Orlando game averaging 97.8 points in January (they had 95 against the Magic), shooting 30.4 percent on 3’s (they made 29.6 percent against Orlando) while committing 14.7 turnovers per game (they had 15 against the Magic).

 

JAYLEN BROWN

It was easy to overlook Jaylen Brown’s play having come in the same game Kyrie Irving goes off for 40 points. But there was a lot to like about how Brown played against Orlando. Like many of his teammates, Brown played with a much greater motor in the fourth quarter than he did through the previous three, but it was by and large a solid night for the second-year player. He had 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds while playing more minutes (37) than all Celtics except for Irving who played 40 minutes.

Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

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Celtics hope West Coast swings momentum back in their favor

LOS ANGELES – In the aftermath of Boston’s 103-95 loss to Orlando, the Boston Celtics did their best to maintain their “on to the next one” mentality.

It’s pretty easy to do when the wins pile up like New England snowbanks.

But that’s not where this team is right now … not even close.

They have lost three in a row for the first time this season, which in itself isn’t all that big a deal.

But it’s how the losses have come about.

The 116-13 overtime loss to New Orleans on Tuesday had a lot to do with a monster game by Anthony Davis. And Boston's 89-80 loss to Philadelphia had more to do with an anemic offense. On Sunday, it was one horrific third quarter of play (Boston was outscored 32-12 in the third) that dwarfed the other three.

The bottom line is simple: the Celtics are not playing good basketball and unlike earlier stretches when that was the case, the pathway to victory of late has been a dead end.

Now comes another challenge – taking their talents out West for four games beginning with the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Boston’s Jaylen Brown said his approach to this upcoming trip isn’t all that different than how he has approached previous games.

“Look at the film, see how we can play better, like we always do, win or lose, and try and come out and get a ‘W,’” Brown said.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens echoed similar sentiments.

"One game at a time; one meeting at a time,” Stevens said. “Everything else, we’ll figure out how to play better.”

The Celtics (34-13) are in no position to approach any of these games, even against the struggling Lakers (17-29), as a matchup they can just show up and victory will fall in their lap.

“Once we get into games, we have to understand teams are coming for us, said Al Horford. “I’ve felt like we handled it okay throughout the season, but it’s even more evident now.”

Indeed, the Celtics have been among the teams in not just the East but the NBA, that most of the league’s teams have been trying to catch up to this season.

Even with three straight losses, Boston still has a two-game lead in East over Toronto (31-14) and have the third-best overall record in the NBA behind the Golden State Warriors (37-10) and Houston Rockets (32-12).

And while Boston will surely be challenged during its four-game trip out West, the Celtics have every reason to believe they will find success most nights.

For starters, Boston has a 12-3 record against the Western Conference this season  - tops among all teams in the East - which includes wins over the top five teams (Golden State; Houston; San Antonio; Minnesota and Oklahoma City) in the Western Conference.

And of the four teams on the docket – Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Golden State and Denver – Boston has a perfect 3-0 record with the only team they have yet to play being the Clippers.

I asked Kyrie Irving how does the three-game losing streak change the mindset of the Celtics heading out West.

“It definitely puts a huge emphasis on the next game,” he said. “What we have to do to put ourselves in great position to win at the end of the day. We’re going to be playing against some hungry teams out in the Western Conference. They’ve come in here and played pretty well against us except for the Clippers. So, this is great for a young developing team like we have. And it’s fun. You can learn so much more about each other. Not that we didn’t learn anything after these last three losses, but going on the road is a test.”

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