Celtics

Celtics notebook: Rising early to greet the Suns

celtics_brad_stevens_110617.jpg

Celtics notebook: Rising early to greet the Suns

BOSTON – As you make your way through the Celtics locker room and then peak your head inside the Phoenix Suns’ locker room, it becomes pretty apparent that these early starts aren’t exactly embraced by the players.

MORE CELTICS:

And then there’s Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who is downright giddy (by Stevens’ standards at least) about getting the day started with a game to be played.

“I love day games,” Stevens said. “Kids get to come. They get to enjoy the game, don’t have to worry about them waking up tired for school. I like day games.”

And by the sound of silence following his words, Stevens realized, “more than everybody else.”

NO HERO BALL FOR IRVING
Brad Stevens had a good feel for what the Celtics could expect from Kyrie Irving on the floor. But his engagement with his teammates and the organization, that was a different story. So far, Irving has been everything the Celtics were hoping for when they traded for him during the offseason.

“Very engaged in everyone; treats everyone the same, from coaching staff to young players, to support staff,” Stevens said. “Has a good energy about him … has been a great teammate in every way.

Stevens added, “That’s important when heading into a new situation, with all eyes on you. People expect you to be in a leadership role but there are different ways to approach that. I think he’s done that by really embracing everybody, trying to just be himself but be very approachable by everybody. He has been very good.”

MORRIS' MINUTES ON THE RISE?
Marcus Morris comes into today’s game having played a season-high 28 minutes in Boston’s 108-97 win against Philadelphia on Thursday. Stevens said the 6-foot-9 forward is inching closer towards having his minutes restriction lifted altogether.

“Marcus is now at the 25-30 [minute] mark,” said Stevens who does not have a specific timetable for the minutes restrictions to end but added that it will be most likely ending soon.

Morris has developed into an important offensive weapon for the Celtics, particularly when he’s coming off the bench.

The seventh-year veteran has scored in double figures three of the last four games he has played in, averaging 13.5 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game while shooting 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

BOOKER WATCH
The last time the Celtics faced the Phoenix Suns at the TD Garden, Devin Booker had a game for the ages, dropping a career-high 70 points on Boston.

Most of the players from last season are gone now, but there’s no way anyone can completely forget about Booker becoming just the sixth different player in NBA history to score 70 or more points in a game.

“It was a unique game,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens whose team still came away with a 130-120 win. “WE put him on the foul line the whole game; he scored in transition and then he really got going late. He’s a heck of a player.”

The lesson learned?

“We have to do a much better job on him,” Stevens said.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics bench needs to keep improving

celtics_grizzlies_takeaways_121717.jpg

Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

MORE:

In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE