Celtics

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

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AP Photo

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

It seems all season we’ve talked about the Boston Celtics overcoming adversity, whether it be a bad injury to a key player or a blown assignment leading to a loss.

Nowhere is this more apparent than their play on the road this season which ranks among the best in the NBA.

The Celtics will look to continue on their road warrior-like ways tonight at New Orleans, a team that’s fighting for playoff position in the tighter-than-usual Western Conference.

In recent years, the terrain has been rough for teams from the East venturing into Western Conference territory.

For this year’s Celtics?

Not so much.

Boston comes into tonight’s game with a 17-7 record against Western Conference teams, tops among all teams in the East.

And while Boston has eight road games left this season, they are on pace to finish with one of the best road records in franchise history.

Currently 24-9 away from the TD Garden (tops in the East, third overall in the NBA), that’s a winning percentage of .727 which is the fourth-highest in franchise history.

Here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on when the Boston Celtics take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.

AL HORFORD VS ANTHONY DAVIS

It’s a given that Al Horford will spend time defending Anthony Davis tonight. And while Davis will likely have a strong night scoring the ball, you can count on Horford making it extremely tough on him. When the two teams met on Jan. 16, Davis was 8-for-19 shooting for 16 points in 52 possessions when defended by Horford. For the game, Davis had 45 points on 16-for-34 shooting.

RAJON RONDO

We’ve seen “Playoff" Rondo and “National TV" Rondo deliver some impressive performances in the past. What will we see from “Well-Rested” Rondo? The Pelicans gave the ex-Celtic the night off on Saturday as to not play him in back-to-back games. Of the two games, it made sense to sit him against the Rockets and have him ready to roll against a Boston Celtics team that will not have its full complement of players available.

FREE THROW FACTOR

Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had some choice words about the officiating in New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday that he clearly felt cost his team a better chance at winning. The only cost in play now is how big will the check be that he’ll pay the league for his comments about the officiating. His issue was that Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough calls based on the physical abuse he takes per game. Davis ranks fourth in the NBA in free throw attempts (7.8) per game, but only had four attempts against the Rockets. It’ll be worth watching whether the Pelicans, 16th in the league in free throw attempts (21.4) per game, will get to the line significantly more or less than their season average.

FAST STARTS OF LATE

One of the keys to Boston’s improved play since returning to the floor since the all-star break, has been their ability to begin games with strong play. Boston has outscored their opponent in the first quarter each of the last eight games, and 10 of 11. In addition, Boston has been ahead at the half in each of their 10 games since the all-star break, which comes on the heels of trailing at the half in the seven games prior to the break.

TATUM IN SELECT COMPANY

Jayson Tatum has been one of the most impactful rookies in the NBA this season which will likely land him a spot on the NBA’s all-rookie first or second team. One of the strengths of Tatum has been his durability, evident by him being one of just two first-year players to appear in each of his team’s games played this season. He is joined by Memphis’ Dillon Brooks.

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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.”

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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.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

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. 

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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. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE