Celtics out of practice after breakneck schedule


Celtics out of practice after breakneck schedule

BOSTON – Without giving it much thought, the Boston Celtics have gone from game to game with little thought or time for anything beyond that.

Now with their schedule easing up to where they can blend in more practice days along with game preparation, it sounds like a simple transition, but . . . 

“We gotta re-learn that to make that part of your daily way,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We need to maximize this time. We need to be building to become better and better down the road. So that’s what you utilize this time for.”

Boston will get plenty of time to work on its practice game this week with the team leaving for London today for a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday.

The Celtics will get two practice days in before facing the Sixers, and won’t play again until they host the New Orleans Pelicans on Jan. 16 which will likely afford them at least another day or two of practice.

You would be hard-pressed to find another Celtic who has been looking forward to this stretch of the season more than Kyrie Irving who is well aware of how different things will be schedule-wise for the Celtics going forward. 

The Celtics played their first 41 games in 70 days. The next 41 games will cover 99 days.

“That’s a hell of a difference,” Irving said.

Getting through those first 41 games came down to one thing for Irving.

“Just survival, man; just survival,” Irving said. “You learn a lot about your body and your mind. You can always kind of figure that stuff out. But it’s how consistent do you want to be with that. That’s the mark of good and great teams, that separation, how much are you willing to sacrifice and give of yourself, being a professional every single moment and not taking anything for granted. It’s a true test, but if you really want it, dive into it.”

And to the Celtics’ credit, their ability to not only play through a daunting schedule but thrive in it, is commendable.

Boston (33-10) has won six in a row which is the longest current winning streak on top of having the best record in the Eastern Conference.

And for rookies like Semi Ojeleye, this impending shifting down of the schedule is just the latest learning experience for him and his fellow first-year players.

“The thing is, you have to stay ready regardless of the schedule,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “Because as you see with our team, you never know when your opportunity is coming.”

Or how to shift from lots of games to more of a balancing act with games and practice.

It sounds simple but it’s one more thing that players, particularly young ones, have to adapt to in order to get the most out of practice time and added preparation they will have in the second half of this season to get ready for games.

“The older guys have been through this. They know how to go about it,” Stevens said. “They know every minute is planned to the nth degree. Sometimes young guys have to be brought up to speed on that stuff. That’s something that’s always going to be an emphasis.”


Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”




Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

MILWAUKEE – The Celtics are no different than most NBA teams that have successfully defended home court through the first couple playoff games.

As good as things may appear to be, taking what has worked at home on the road is easier said than done.

“We’re up 2-0, but we’ve seen teams lose [series after being up] 2-0,” said Celtics forward Marcus Morris. “So, we’ve got to go to Milwaukee and continue to take care of business.”

And while it may sound like typical coach speak, Brad Stevens has every reason to sound the alarm about this series being far from over, even with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“They’ve got a lot of strengths we’ve got to do a good job against,” Stevens said. “They put you in a lot of tough positions on offense and defense.”

The biggest issue for Boston up to this point has been at the defensive end of the floor where the Celtics have allowed the Bucks to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, which is tops among all playoff teams.

Boston’s defensive rating in the playoffs (105.9) ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the postseason, a noticeable dip from their league-leading 101.5 defensive rating in the regular season.

Still, the Bucks have in many ways been their own worst enemy, averaging a league-high 17.5 turnovers per game which have led to a total of 48 points for the Celtics which is tied with Oklahoma City for the most points scored off turnovers in the playoffs thus far.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s turnovers have accounted for 20.6 percent of the points scored by Boston in this playoff series.

In the regular season, points off turnovers accounted for 17.0 percent of the points scored by the Celtics.

And that doesn’t even include the hustle plays that are also going Boston's way.

According to nba.com/stats, the Celtics have 66 box-outs compared to 62 by Milwaukee. And when it comes to getting loose balls, Boston has the edge there as well, 22-19.

In the postseason, those are the little things that on many nights, is the difference between having a “good try, good effort” loss or one in which you claw and fight your way towards victory.

Boston has played with a deep understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Bucks?

Not so much.

“We just have to be more into it, got to be a more desperate and hungry team,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said following the Game 2 loss.

While the cast of characters who stepped up in Games 1 and 2 varied slightly for Boston, the fundamental keys to Boston’s victories over the Bucks remained very much the same.

But there’s no telling what impact Milwaukee returning home will have on what has worked thus far for the Celtics. 

But one thing all involved know – it can't hurt the Bucks, who know a Game 3 loss would all but end any hopes of moving on to the next round.