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.


"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."


Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

BOSTON –  Once considered a long shot to return by Game 7 of Boston’s first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marcus Smart may be on the floor as soon as Tuesday night's Game 5 matchup.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said there was no update on Smart following the team’s practice on Monday, but the team has since upgraded Smart's status to “questionable” for Game 5 – the first time he has been listed as anything other than “out” since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

In the past couple of weeks, Smart has increased his workload and made it clear that he was inching closer to getting back on the floor possibly ahead of schedule. 

Prior to Boston’s Game 4 loss, Smart discussed his potential return. 

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said at the time. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”


It appears his most recent visit to the doctor went as planned with Smart now likely cleared to practice – and with that clearance, available to play. 

The return of Smart would be a huge plus for a Celtics team that has struggled mightily in this first-round series against Milwaukee from a defensive standpoint. 

During the regular season, Boston had a league-best defensive rating of 101.5. But against the Bucks, Boston’s defense has slipped to second-to-last among playoff teams which has heavily factored into the series now being tied at two games apiece. 

You can count Boston's Jaylen Brown among the Celtics eager to get Smart back into the fold. 

“When he gets in there he changes the whole game on defense,” Brown said. “He’s definitely missed so when he comes back that’ll make a lot of our jobs a whole lot easier.”

Stevens had similar sentiments about Smart. 

“Marcus is one of our most reliable players for the last four years,” Stevens said. “No question Marcus as been a huge part of us.”

Smart has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season, averaging 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds while playing 29.9 minutes per game.


Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

BOSTON -- The NBA’s two-minute report on Boston’s Game 4 loss at Milwaukee revealed a trio of incorrect non-calls in the closing moments of play, two of which went against the Celtics in their 104-102 loss. 

With Boston ahead 100-99 with less than a minute to play, Jaylen Brown lost the ball on a driving lay-up attempt. 

No call was made on the play, one that Brown thought he was fouled on. 

The two-minute report confirmed “that (Khris) Middleton makes contact to Brown's arm that affects his driving shot attempt.”

Had the call been made, Brown would have gone to the free throw line with 43.5 seconds to play with the Celtics already ahead by one point. 


But on the ensuing Milwaukee possession following the non-call, Malcolm Brogdon drained a 3-pointer that put the Bucks ahead 102-100.

With 47.9 seconds to play, the two-minute report also indicated that an offensive foul should have been called against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-minute report indicated that, “Antetokounmpo extends his arm and wards off (Semi) Ojeleye's arm, affecting his ability to contest the shot attempt.”

And with 1:14 to play, Antetokounmpo was fouled by Jayson Tatum although no call was made. On the play, the two-minute report says that, “Tatum clamps Antetokounmpo's arm and pushes him, affecting his (freedom of movement) and ability to receive the pass.

On the ensuing possession following the non-call, Tatum hit a jumper that put the Celtics ahead 100-99 with 52.4 seconds to play. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been asked about officiating quite a bit in the last few days. And his response in each instance remains relatively the same.

"I'm not going to ever say anything bad about referees because they have a really tough job," Stevens said.