Celtics-Mavericks preview: Progress for both teams since last meeting

Celtics-Mavericks preview: Progress for both teams since last meeting

BOSTON – During Boston’s 16-game winning streak earlier this season, the Celtics were challenged in many ways.

But no team put them on the brink of defeat during that span like the Dallas Mavericks who had the Celtics in comeback mode late in the game before Boston ultimately rallied for a 110-102 overtime win behind Kyrie Irving's season-high 47 points.  

Since that game on Nov. 20, Boston (21-4) has been able to continue rolling along and remains at the top of the NBA standings.

And it seems that loss did a lot of good for the Mavericks as well.

At the time of the loss, it dropped Dallas’ record to 3-15.

Since then, they’ve won four of their last six games and are starting to slowly but surely play better, more consistent basketball.

Following that loss, Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle could sense his team’s turnaround was coming sooner rather than later.

"It was a very, very tough loss, no question about that," Carlisle said at the time. "We can't shake our heads."

Carlisle added, “We got to keep moving forward. We're making progress. We just aren't putting the kind of wins on the board that we feel we can. The only thing that can short-circuit us from more progress is to take our eye off the ball in terms of making more progress. If we stay in that process, we will win our share of games."
One of the keys to Dallas’ improved play since the loss to Boston has been their defense.

Overall, Dallas’ defensive rating in the last six games is 79.1 which ranks ninth in the NBA during that span. They have also limited the impact of opposing teams generating easy points off turnovers.

In the last six games, the Mavericks have allowed just 11.2 points off turnovers which ranks second in the NBA in that span.

And while their defense has improved of late, Boston counters with a much more robust offense.

In the Celtics’ last six games (five of which they won), Boston is shooting 52 percent from the field which is second in the league. The Celtics have also knocked down 43.4 percent of their 3-pointers which ranks third in the league, a statistic that has been fueled in part by the play of rookie Jayson Tatum who is making a league-best 51.3 percent of his 3’s this season while shooting 59.1 percent (13-for-22) in Boston's last six games.

The improved shooting has elevated Boston’s offensive rating of late to near the top of the NBA standings.

In Boston’s last six games, the Celtics have an offensive rating of 115.8 which is second in the league.

Despite showing a high level of consistency in terms of winning games, we are seeing a Celtics team that’s changing before our very eyes, one that’s showing a far more explosive side offensively than we saw at the start of the season and to a large degree, during their 16-game winning streak as well.

From where they were at the start of the season, Al Horford will be the first to admit that the Celtics are indeed a different team.

“As a group, we’ve grown tremendously in very little time,” Horford said. “And I feel we have a lot more to do, more growing to do.”


Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

BOSTON – On the road, Utah’s Joel Ingles had dinner last night before with Gordon Hayward, an all-too-familiar routine.

But nothing has been normal or routine about the Jazz and Hayward, not after he left after seven years to sign with the Boston Celtics this summer.

And with tonight’s game being the first time the two teams have squared off since Hayward’s decision, there was indeed a noticeable build-up to it even with Hayward (dislocated left ankle) unable to play.

“It makes it harder for me. I wish I was out there,” said Hayward who suffered his ankle injury in the season-opener at Cleveland on Oct. 17. “It makes it harder just to sit back and watch. This was a game I circled as well. I know they did. In front of my now-home crowd, it would have been a lot of fun.”

Ingles enjoyed his time playing with Hayward in Utah, but says he and the team have moved on and are now focused more on what they can do as a team to improve from one day, one game to the next.

Without Gordon, Ingles says things are “obviously different,” adding, “But I really like who we have and what we have. Nothing really changes for us. We play a very similar style. Obviously different personnel. You draft guys, you sign guys, whatever it is. It’s a little different, but adding all those new pieces is a little bit of an adjusting time we’ve kind of gone through. We’ve had some great games, we’ve had some bad games. At the end of the day, you want to keep evolving, keep getting better and I think we’ve done that. That’s not going to result in wins all the time, but I think in the long run, the long-term for this team it’s gonna really help us.”

And Hayward’s decision, he believes will also pay off for both him and the Celtics.

“I don’t regret anything,” Hayward said. “I unfortunately got injured, but happy to be here in Boston and happy to be part of this team.”


Celtics continue to look for ways to rest Morris' knee


Celtics continue to look for ways to rest Morris' knee

BOSTON – Al Horford is back in the Boston Celtics’ lineup for tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz. But the news isn’t as encouraging for Marcus Morris.

Horford (rest) missed Boston’s 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, a decision the Celtics had decided on several weeks prior due to the way the Celtics’ schedule was breaking down.

Put it like this: the Celtics will be at game No. 41, the official halfway point of the season, on Jan. 3 when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And with the 31-year-old Horford being the oldest member on the team and leading them in minutes played, it made sense for the Celtics to have a strategic rest plan in place for the four-time All-Star.

As for Morris, the Celtics will continue to seek out ways to provide him enough downtime to help strengthen his left knee, while also getting him on the floor.

“We don’t have an update on a timeline for him,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s feeling better as the week has gone on.”

I asked Stevens what does Morris have to do at this point to get back on the floor.

“The biggest thing is, feeling better consistently, day to day and not having these setbacks,” Stevens said. “With the schedule we’re in the midst of now, playing every day would not be the answer. I think getting him to feel as good as he can … he’s had a couple different opinions, everybody has come up with the same result and that is strengthen it, work diligently on it, and it shouldn’t be a long-term thing. But let’s make sure that we rest over the next couple of weeks, appropriately.

Stevens added, “He’s had a little bit of a setback here, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be long-term.”