Celtics

Celtics look to get back on track at home vs Magic

celtics_magic_storylines.jpg

Celtics look to get back on track at home vs Magic

BOSTON – Last season, the Boston Celtics were able to advance to the Eastern Conference finals in part because they had home court advantage in every playoff series before ultimately bowing out to a LeBron James-led Cleveland team.

The foundation for having home court advantage in the playoffs, lies in establishing an edge at home during the regular season.

Which is why Boston’s current two-game skid is indeed something for the Celtics to worry about.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens makes a point of keeping is team focused in the moment, never looking too far down the road or over their shoulder.

Well at the moment, his team needs to re-establish itself at home not only to improve upon their East-leading record, but also continue to stack up wins so that when the postseason arrives they will once again have home court advantage.

“It’s disappointing anytime to drop a game,” Stevens said. “But certainly, drop two in a row at home adds to that.”

While it’s certainly not ideal, Boston’s 18-7 record at home this season still ranks among the top teams in the East.

Still, there’s definitely room to grow on several fronts for Boston.

Winning at home?

That’s one of them. 

“At the end of the day, the reality is we’re not a 34-12 team by many metrics other than we figured out a way to win 34 out of 46 games,” Stevens said. “We have to be a lot better if we want to continue to move forward with this.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into today’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic.

 

SLOW STARTS

Despite the record, the Celtics have not played very good basketball lately. And the bad games start with – you guess it – the way they open games. Boston has not won the first quarter since their Jan. 3 win over Cleveland. In fact, the Celtics have been outscored in nine of their last 16 quarters of play. 

 

BEATING THE BAD ONES

Part of being an elite team involves doing more than just knocking off the best teams. It also requires handling the not-so-great clubs, something the Celtics have done a good job with this season. They come into today’s game against Orlando with an impressive 17-3 record against teams below-.500 teams this season.

 

LIVE (AND DIE) BY THE THREE-POINTER

We know the three-point shot is a key component to the Boston Celtics offensively, evident by them ranking sixth in the NBA this season with 31.5 taken per game. But relying too heavily on the 3-point shot has transformed Boston from an elite team, to one that’s just barely above-.500. 

Consider this: When the Celtics take more than 40 percent of their shots from 3-point range, they are just 8-6 this season. In their last two games – both losses - the Celtics took 45.1 percent of their shots from 3-point range.

 

IN THE CLUTCH

You never plan on games being decided in the final minute or so of play, but the Celtics like their chances if the does come to that. This season, they have won 20 “clutch” games (those within five points in the final five minutes of play) this season which is tops in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic are at the near-opposite end of that spectrum, ranking 26th in the NBA with seven wins this season falling under the “clutch” category.

 

NO AFFLALO TODAY

Aron Afflalo will not be with the Magic today as he serves the second of a two-game suspension for fighting Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica on a play which included Afflalo punching Bjelica in the head on Tuesday.

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Kyrie tells ESPN his move to Boston 'trying at times, but well worth it'

Kyrie tells ESPN his move to Boston 'trying at times, but well worth it'

Kyrie Irving opened up - a little bit - in an ESPN interview with Rachel Nichols in which he reflected on his move to Boston and his upcoming movie, "Uncle Drew". 

Irving was asked how he would assess the changes in his career since leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers after requesting a trade this summer that led to the deal with the Celtics.

"Been a lot of newness, honestly," Irving said. "It's an adjustment in itself. Being with a totally different group of guys, trying to bridge that gap with our group and trying to be my best self with our group. It's been awesome. Trying at times, but well worth it."

With the Celtics in the thick of the race for the best record in the Eastern Conference, Irving said he's pleased with how it has worked out. 

"It was a big chance," Irving said, then jokingly added, "Babe Ruth said it, he swings big, may not miss big, may hit a home run, who knows?

"I'm glad I took a chance on what I wanted to do within my career."

The conversation quickly shifted to Irving's feature-length acting debut in the movie "Uncle Drew" which comes to theaters this summer. Irving said he's always had an interest in acting and has had his teammates poke fun at him when he listed his favorite music as songs from the musical "Rent".

Still, the ultimate goal is raising another championship banner in Boston and raising the Larry O'Brien Trophy.

"It's something I think about every day," Irving said. "I think about it every day."

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Brad Stevens looks to revitalize reeling Celtics

Brad Stevens looks to revitalize reeling Celtics

WALTHAM, Mass. – When he wasn’t hanging out with the Boston Red Sox during spring training, Brad Stevens was marinating over tweaks that the Boston Celtics need to make in the final 23 games of the regular season.

This reassessment is vital to the team’s success going forward, which makes a lot of sense considering how Boston limped into the all-star break losing three straight and four of five.

“I told the guys any time they come up short you have to evaluate, you have to learn …”

And the lesson Stevens learned going into the break?

“Our defense, it was just, it wasn’t good the last five games obviously,” he said. “Whether it’s a small sample size, whatever the case may be it just wasn’t good and I thought against the Clippers especially, it was as bad as I’ve seen. So that was a red flag.”

The return of Marcus Smart will certainly help, but Stevens knows having Smart back won’t be the one-stop elixir to all that ails his team currently.

“We just need everybody to play to their best ability,” Stevens said. “I mean, we had good games without him defensively but there’s no doubt he’s one of our best defenders.”

Smart has been one of the top on-the-ball defenders this season and has done so even while playing major minutes.

He has a defensive rating of 98.9 which is tops among all NBA players who average at least 30 minutes played per game.

And while it remains to be seen how Boston will incorporate Smart back into the regular rotation, he’s coming back with the kind of focus and motivation that should bode well for Boston’s chances of getting back on a winning track.

“I’m a competitor and I think everybody in this league, any athlete will tell you when you gotta sit on the bench, it’s one thing to sit on the bench because for something that happened you can’t control,” Smart said. “But it’s another for something you can control. I feel like I let my team down.”

Smart suffered a right hand laceration injury on Jan. 24 when he punched a picture that caused a series of cuts that required 20 stitches to close.

When speaking to the media on Wednesday night, Smart said a piece of glass came close to a pair of tendons that had the glass in his hand been an inch or so in either direction, it could have cause significant damage and likely season-ending surgery.

Having Smart back after an 11-game absence will certainly result in Stevens changing his player combinations up.

But there’s likely to be more changes than just the re-insertion of Smart into the mix.

“We’ll definitely rotate a little bit differently,” Stevens said. “I don’t know if that means changes in the starting lineup but we definitely will have some changes; certainly it will be night-to-night but tweaks from when guys enter the game.”

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