Celtics

Can injuries slow Celtics' playoff momentum?

Can injuries slow Celtics' playoff momentum?

BOSTON – The late-season injuries that have ravaged the Celtics roster of late have left them with a lot more questions than answers.

Many of those questions center around whether they will go into the playoffs with the kind of momentum to springboard them to postseason success.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ response to such inquiries raises another question.

Does it even matter?

He pointed out how the Celtics closed the 2014-15 season with six consecutive wins that propelled them to the postseason for the first time under Stevens.

And then the playoffs arrived with Boston being swept 4-0 in the first round by the Cleveland Cavaliers.

“Everybody gets a new lease on life when that regular season ends, and the playoffs start,” Stevens said. “The key is to be in it, to be as healthy as you can be obviously, but then to maximize the guys on your roster to play as well as you can.”

And Stevens’ words – “to play as well as you can” – is what true momentum is about.

As we’ve seen throughout this season, Boston has had games in which it played well and lost, while winning others despite a less-than-stellar performance.

That’s why Celtics players spend more time focusing on how they play and not so much on the results.

Which is why the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington on Wednesday night was a game in which Boston will likely benefit from down the road.

Playing as short-handed as we’ve seen them all season, the Celtics know they should have won the game.

In the fourth quarter, they were a last-second defensive stop away from a victory.

And in the first OT, Jayson Tatum missed a free throw with 3 seconds to play that would have given Boston a one-point lead.

The game finally ended when Tatum’s contested 3-pointer hit the back of the rim and rolled out as time expired.

“We’re going to fight, regardless,” said Marcus Morris. “We are going to fight.”

Rozier echoed Morris’ sentiments.

“We got a lot of guys that can play,” Rozier said. “This is the NBA, there is a lot of opportunity for a lot of guys and just got to make the best of it and that is what we are looking to do.”

Which leads to the kind of momentum sparked by improved play that Boston is searching for to close out the regular season and hang on to going into the playoffs.

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As Rozier goes, so go Celtics - in the wrong direction in Game 3

As Rozier goes, so go Celtics - in the wrong direction in Game 3

MILWAUKEE – You knew it had to happen at some point in this series.

As good as Terry Rozier was in the first two games against Milwaukee, you knew the third-year guard was going to have a not-so-great game.

And in the Celtics' 116-92 Game 3 loss to the Bucks Friday night, Rozier’s struggles in many ways magnified the issues impacting the entire team.

Following the loss, an extremely subdued Rozier addressed the media.

“They came in and punched us in the mouth pretty early,” Rozier said. “We never responded.”

After averaging 23 points in Boston’s first two games of the series, Scary Terry could deliver just nine points on 2-for-7 shooting and for the first time in this series, he was outplayed by Milwaukee’s Eric Bledsoe, who had 17 points (just four less than he scored in Games 1 and 2 combined) on an efficient 8-for-13 shooting.

While disappointed with the outcome, the Celtics are still in control with a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 here on Sunday.

“I think we’ll be better on Sunday,” said Boston’s Al Horford.

Here are five other takeaways from the Game 3 loss: 

CELTICS TURNOVERS


One of the starkest contrasts between Boston’s play in the first two games and what we saw in Game 3 was the higher number of turnovers committed by the Celtics. Credit the Bucks for ratcheting up their defense to force 18 turnovers resulting in 20 points, a significant increase over the 11 turnovers per game Boston averaged in Games 1 and 2. Still, the Celtics had their share of unforced ones as well.

“Sometimes you turn the ball over, it’s something that you do, sometimes it’s something they do,” said Rozier. “I know I’m not going to play perfect as far as turnovers.”

MILWAUKEE SHOOTING


If there has been one area of concern for the Celtics throughout this series, it has been the team’s overall inability to force more Milwaukee misses. The Bucks came into Game 3 shooting the ball better from the field than any team in the playoffs despite not having a victory to show for it. Game 3 was more of the same with the Bucks spending a good chunk of the game shooting better than 60 percent before finishing at a highly efficient 57 percent shooting clip.

BUCKS BENCH


Bench players tend to play better at home than on the road and that held true for the Bucks in Game 3. Milwaukee’s second unit absolutely dominated their Boston counterparts in all aspects of play, from scoring to defense to overall impact on the game. Jabari Parker, who complained earlier about his lack of playing time in Games 1 and 2, led all reserves with 17 points. And overall, Milwaukee’s bench tallied 50 points compared to 34 for Boston’s backups. The Celtics’ second unit has to play better – a lot better – on Sunday if they are to avoid returning to Boston with the series tied at two.

TERRY ROZIER


The spotlight shined brighter on him than any other Celtic going into Game 3 and Rozier, by his own admission, didn’t get the job done. It was more than him shooting 2-for-7 from the field and scoring nine points – 14 below his scoring average in Games 1 and 2. It was more than the fact that after zero turnovers in the first two games, he turned the ball over five times on Friday – four coming in the first quarter. The biggest problem for Rozier was that the aggressiveness we saw in Games 1 and 2, was nowhere to be found. It’s one thing to miss shots but it seemed Rozier, for the first time in this series, was not attacking the defense. Bucks guard Matthew Dellavedova picking him up full court certainly looked to be a factor. It’ll be interesting to see what, if any, adjustments Rozier and the Celtics make for Game 4.

THON MAKER


In order to get back into a series like this, Milwaukee needed an unexpected spark of some kind and in Game 3 that was Thon Maker. His impact went far beyond the 14 points he scored on just 3-for-5 shooting. His activity defensively as a rim-protector (he had five blocked shots) along with making Boston’s defense pay when they left him open behind the 3-point line (he was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc), all added up to him being that game-changer that Milwaukee absolutely had to have to emerge with the win.

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Celtics offense struggles mightily in Game 3 loss to Bucks

Celtics offense struggles mightily in Game 3 loss to Bucks

MILWAUKEE – The Boston Celtics have had their share of offensive clunkers this season.

But few were as painfully woeful as what transpired in the first half of Boston’s 116-92 Game 3 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Boston now has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday and Game 5 back in Boston on Tuesday.

“I didn’t think we were great, but offensively we were horrendous in the first (half),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We were on our heels the whole time.”

Boston found itself in a 16-6 ditch to start the game, and it didn’t get much better from there.

Milwaukee shot 55 percent from the field in the first quarter, but the killer for Boston in the first was their 2-for-19 (10.5 percent) shooting from the field which put the Celtics in a 27-12 hole after one quarter of play.

Offensive struggles are nothing new for Boston which shot 45 percent from the field in the regular season which ranked 23rd in the NBA. 

They haven’t been much better in the playoffs, connecting on just 45.1 percent of their shots which ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the playoffs.

Things got better offensively for Boston in the second quarter and they wound up shooting a respectable 50 percent (10-for-20) from the field. 

But it still wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Bucks who connected on 63.2 percent (12-for-19) of their shots in the second quarter which pushed their halftime lead to 58-35.

“We got in a hole. This is new for our group,” said Al Horford. “It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road in the playoffs in a tough environment. We did some good things there, but at that point, they had it going. Give them credit. They had it going, and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

And that more than anything else, should be a major concern for the Celtics heading into Game 4 on Sunday.

If they’re not getting more stops defensively, their offense has to be more efficient, more impactful than what we saw in Game 3 if the Celtics are to continue to remain in control. 

“They did what they had to do out there,” Boston’s Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “They were the more desperate team. They did what they had to do. We’ll see them on Sunday.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE