Celtics

Celtics' losing streak reaches a season-worst three games with loss to Magic

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Celtics' losing streak reaches a season-worst three games with loss to Magic

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics’ defense had its moments on Sunday. 

Ditto for the offense. 

But overall, the sense of urgency that we saw when they reeled off 16 straight wins and skyrocketed to the top of the Eastern Conference standings, was nowhere to be found on Sunday against the Orlando Magic. 

And because of that, the Celtics now find themselves riding a season-worst losing streak that has reached three games. 

While it may not seem like that big a deal in the grand scheme of things, Boston understands all too well how momentum works. 

It is a catapulting force that can elevate teams for a stretch of games, or set them back which is exactly what’s happening now with the Celtics (34-13).

“In my eyes, I feel like we’re fighting for our lives,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “That has to be our mindset gong into Tuesday’s game (against the Los Angeles Lakers).

Horford added, “We have to understand that teams are coming for us. I felt that we’ve handled it okay this season. We have to do a good job of making sure we’re bringing the fire and them not bringing it to us.”

Lately, that has proven to be easier said than done. 

At the end of the day, Boston’s success comes down to one thing and one thing only – improving their play. 

“You know, you’ve got to play well,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We haven’t played well consistently on both ends for a while now.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 103-95 loss to the Orlando Magic which snapped the Celtics’ 13-game home winning streak against Orlando. 

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving: The Celtics came up short, but that doesn’t diminish a strong bounce-back game for Kyrie Irving. Irving, who did not play in Boston’s loss to Philadelphia on Thursday, returned to the floor and dropped 40 points on 14-for-23 shooting. He also had seven rebounds and five assists with just one turnover.

 

STUDS

Elfrid Payton: By no means did he shut Kyrie Irving down, but his scoring off the dribble certainly provided a much-needed boost for Orlando. He had a team-high 22 points on 9-for-16 shooting along with six rebounds.

Evan Fournier: He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (8-for-19), but made some clutch baskets for the Magic in pulling off the upset win. 

Aaron Gordon: He tallied his 10th double-double of the season and second straight on Sunday, finishing with 11 points and a game-high 13 rebounds.

Marcus Morris: Getting the starting assignment, Morris gave the Celtics a nice lift with 12 points on 4-for-9 shooting to go with five rebounds.

Jaylen Brown: Early on, Brown and Kyrie Irving were the only sources of offense for the Celtics as they combined to score 23 of Boston’s first 25 points. For the game, Brown had 17 points on 7-for-12 shooting to go with seven rebounds.

 

DUDS

Celtics third quarter: There were other less-than-stellar stretches of play for Boston, but this game was truly decided by Boston’s horrific play at both ends of the floor in the third quarter. That is when the Magic outscored Boston 32-12.

Celtics transition offense: Easily one of the keys to Boston’s inability to get over the hump once after spending most of the second half on the comeback trail. Boston had six, fast-break points while shooting a woeful 3-for-9 in those opportunities. The Magic had almost twice as many fast-break points (11) while doing so on fewer fast-break field goal attempts (8).

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Celtics history shows a strong second half is coming

Celtics history shows a strong second half is coming

LOS ANGELES – Dropping three in a row and four of five right before the All-Star break, it’s clear the Celtics did not hit the break playing their best basketball.

But they’re not hitting the panic button either, and for good reason.

As disappointing as they may have been leading up to the All-Star break, the Celtics (40-19) still have the second-best record in the East, which is exactly where they were a year ago this time heading out of the break.

And if recent history is any indicator of the future, you can count on the Celtics putting together a surge after the break that, at worst, will keep them close to where they are in the standings.

Now in his fifth season as the Celtics’ coach, Brad Stevens has won at least 16 regular-season games after the break each of the past three seasons.

And that success helped propel Boston to a playoff berth each season and the Celtics’ postseason seeding improving from one year to the next.

After having had the best record in the East for most of this season, the Celtics are once again counting on a strong finish.

It’s one thing for the Celtics to tout their confidence in getting back on track.

But that belief is shared by others as well.

“They're a very good team,” said Golden State’s Draymond Green. “They're young, this is their first year together. Obviously, Kyrie [Irving] is one of the few guys, if not the only guy, with championship experience. So, it takes a little experience to kind of figure things out.”

Boston is banking on Green’s theory panning out, a theory that will be put to the test considering the Celtics made no moves at the trade deadline other than to sign center Greg Monroe after he agreed to a buyout with the Phoenix Suns.

The talk of the league the past couple of weeks has been Cleveland. The Cavs (34-22, third in the East) engineered three trades that radically changed their roster and the likely trajectory of their season.

“It's been a small sample size so far. But just getting some new energy into the locker room and seeing how those guys play out there has been great,” said Cavs forward Kevin Love. “George Hill has stepped into the starting lineup right away; been super solid for us. Rodney Hood gives us a lefty with a lot of game. Kind of has a quiet confidence about him. Larry Nance is a double-double threat every night. He's a guy with a number of teams playing smaller basketball or position-less basketball in the league. He's a guy that can switch on to multiple positions.

Love added: “Jordan Clarkson is a selfless player and kind of has that swagger about him where he doesn't care if he starts, comes off the bench. He can go out there and give you 20 points and help our bench. I believe in our first two games with those guys, we scored over 50 off the bench in both games against two very good teams. So it's going to be interesting to see what happens because we feel like if we get a couple months under our belt playing together. We could be tough.”

The same is true of the Toronto Raptors, who came into the break with the best record in the Eastern Conference, a first for that franchise.

As well as the Raptors (41-16) have played, their coach, Dwane Casey, hesitates to do too much patting on the back right now.

When asked if his team was the best in the East, he replied, “I don't know. The record says we are, but for me to sit here and say we are the best team...we have confidence, but I'm not going to sit here and say we are the best team. Right now, we're number one. The numbers say that.”

The numbers also indicate that the Washington Wizards are another team that’s on the rise these days. They've won seven of their past nine leading up to the break to re-enter the conversation as one of the East’s top teams.

“It’s crazy. It’s wide open,” said Washington’s Bradley Beal. “We’re all right there, neck-and-neck. Everybody is going to continue to get better. Everyone has 24, 25 games left. They’re going to fly by. It’s definitely going to come down to the playoffs. Anybody can take it.”

And the Celtics will remain among the leaders of that pack, even as they come out of the break struggling to win games.

Green believes more than anything, the Celtics are still figuring out how to handle being a team that’s targeted every night as one of the biggest games on the opposing team’s schedule.

“I think they went from going into the season with Kyrie and Gordon [Hayward] and Al [Horford] kind of expecting to be really good,” Green said. “With young guys like Jaylen [Brown], Jayson Tatum, expected to be really good. Then Gordon went down and then there were no expectations for them. And they completely outplayed that.

Green added, “So, then it's a different thing. Now, all of a sudden everyone is gunning for you and that takes some adjusting to. So, I think they're just adjusting to it, but they'll be fine. Everyone hits that rough patch in the season. I think it's just that's what they're going through right now.”

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ESPN player poll: Celtics give best free agency pitch

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ESPN player poll: Celtics give best free agency pitch

The Boston Celtics have massively changed their reputation around the NBA.

Once known as a team which can't land marquee free agents, the Celtics have landed Al Horford and Gordon Hayward in consecutive seasons. That seems to support an ESPN poll, which ranks the Celtics as the top recruiting team in the NBA.

Here's what ESPN.com wrote on the poll where they quizzed 48 anonymous players.

Which team have you heard makes the best free-agent pitches?

Celtics: 27 percent
Heat: 15 percent
Lakers: 12 percent
Warriors: 9 percent
Other: 37 percent
Others gaining votes: Clippers, Grizzlies, Hornets, Knicks, Mavericks, Pacers, Rockets, Spurs, Wizards

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The Celtics prepared a thorough pitch for Kevin Duran before he joined the Golden State Warriors during the 2016 offseason. The pitch included an appearance from Tom Brady. While Durant didn't pick Boston, he praised the team.

"I met with them and they were really good, and I was really impressed by it," Durant said in Nov. 2016, via ESPN.

He wasn't the only one who appreciated the Celtics' pitches.

"Boston [has the best]. If you bring Tom Brady? That's pretty damn cool," an Eastern Conference guard told ESPN.

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