Celtics

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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Brown sees 'big difference' trading in goggles for contacts

Brown sees 'big difference' trading in goggles for contacts

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown’s recent eye issues led to him wearing goggles, then changing to a different pair, tossing those when they fogged up, only to come back to wearing contacts for Wednesday’s game against Denver.

“It was a big difference,” Brown said of not having to wear the goggles.

It certainly looked that way in his play, with Brown being among the many players on Wednesday to be in a really good rhythm shooting the ball.

And the timing could not have been any better as Boston outlasted the Denver Nuggets 124-118.

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Brown had 26 points – one shy of tying his career high – on 9-for-12 shooting.

As a team, Boston shot a season-high 59.5 percent from the field.

Ball movement, the sense of urgency to bounce back after a bad loss, trying to fill the void left by not having Al Horford (rest) around … there’s a number of reasons to help explain his impressive shooting night.

But none looms any larger than the fact that he was playing free of any limited vision issues that came up when he played with goggles.

“You take a lot of stuff for granted, and that’s one of them,” said Brown who did wear contacts during the game. “And when your vision is messed up and you try to play through it … I just appreciated being able to see.”

Brown explained the problems he experienced wearing the goggles.

“They were too much in my face,” he said. “I couldn’t see peripheral, and the other ones were just too tight, they kept fogging up. It was just uncomfortable with them, so I thought I was just better off without them. Tonight, I was blessed enough to be able to play with my contacts.”

And now that his vision is no longer an issue, Celtics head coach acknowledged how they can now joke around about the whole situation which began with Brown leaving his contacts in for too long which led to his right eye not being able to open and overall irritation that kept him sidelined for the Dallas game last week.

“We had some laughs in retro-spec,” quipped Stevens. “That’s pretty good; said retro-spec. Been thinking about that all week.”

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Stars, studs and duds: Tatum 'real excited to bounce back'

Stars, studs and duds: Tatum 'real excited to bounce back'

BOSTON – To see Jayson Tatum struggle with his shot the way he did at Chicago was surprising. He’s a 19-year-old rookie, but he has played with a level of consistency and poise that’s just not normal for a player so young.

But the true indicator wasn’t how he struggled, but how would he respond.

Tatum had the kind of bounce-back game the Boston Celtics needed on Wednesday as they held off a hot-shooting Denver Nuggets team 124-118.

Tatum, who had four points on 1-for-7 shooting in Boston’s 108-85 loss at Chicago on Monday, had 15 points against the Nuggets while connecting on six of his nine shot attempts.

“I was just real excited to bounce back,” Tatum told NBC Sports Boston. “I was upset the way I played, the way we played. I was eager to get back and get a win.”

Tatum played just under 28 minutes which is a couple minutes below his average, in part because Boston decided to go small and the Nuggets played long stretches with 6-foot-8 Wilson Chandler at small forward and 6-10 Trey Lyles at power forward.

“When you move Chandler to the 3 (small forward) and Lyles to the 4 (power forward), all of a sudden going small doesn’t feel like the best idea in the world,” Stevens said. “Those are tough matchups, so that’s why his minutes were a little down.”

But the change in Tatum’s minutes allowed him to play more with the second unit which was indeed a plus for the Celtics.

“He came in and gave us a good lift and did most of his damage with the second unit,” Stevens said.

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He returned after missing the Chicago game to rest his sore left quad, and boy did the Celtics need him. The Nuggets made this a much higher-scoring affair than Boston is accustomed to playing, but they were able to more than hold their own and Irving’s play was a big reason why. He led the Celtics with 33 points on 12-for-19 shooting along with seven assists and a pair of blocked shots.

Gary Harris

Denver is a long way from Boston, so folks on this side of the basketball world aren’t familiar with just how good Gary Harris is on the floor.  He was a near-unstoppable force Wednesday night, knocking down 3-pointers along with getting to the rim off the dribble with dunks, lay-ups and a few pull-up jumpers. He led all scorers with 36 points on 16-for-25 shooting.

 

STUDS

Aron Baynes

No Al Horford (rest) meant someone in the frontcourt would be getting a few more shots tonight, and Baynes was up to the challenge. He finished with 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting to go with six rebounds. Boston is now 6-1 when the 6-foot-10 center scores in double figures. 

Jaylen Brown

Like most of his teammates, Brown was eager to bounce back from a not-so-great performance at Chicago. He did just that, tallying 26 points on 9-for-12 shooting.

Jamal Murray

The other half of Denver’s starting backcourt, Murray is a spot-on shooter whose playmaking skills are improving with time. He had a double-double of 28 points on 9-for-17 shooting along with 10 rebounds while dishing out four assists and getting his hands on three steals.

Shane Larkin

His ability to shake things up and provide a spark was on full display against the Nuggets. Larkin was a perfect 6-for-6 shooting and finished with 14 points in just under 18 minutes of court time.

 

DUDS

Celtics rebounding

It seemed no matter how many white-and-green clad jerseys were around the ball, it always seemed to find its way into the hands of a Denver Nuggets player. By the time the final horn had sounded, the Celtics were a -18 on the boards with Denver finishing with 48 total rebounds – just 3 short of the season-high 51 Boston gave up against Orlando on Nov. 24.

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