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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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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