Celtics

Celtics ready to go to battle together

Celtics ready to go to battle together

BOSTON – It was the third quarter and the Boston Celtics found themselves in a familiar position – trailing.

About midway through the quarter, a timeout was called.

Players weren’t happy with how they played as individuals and as a collective unit.

There were some not-fit-to-print words exchanged among the players.

They were angry and didn’t hold back in letting one another know that the way they were playing, was unacceptable.

“Everybody was getting on one another but sometimes that’s good for one another,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier.

In that moment, there was a clear and undeniable sharing of the blame for them being once again having to play from behind.

But in that moment, they also reminded one another that regardless of how deep a hole they dig, collectively they can fight their way out of it.

And it is that ability to understand adversity and realize that it can only be overcome by the collective body and no single individual, that has enabled Boston to win on many nights when most teams would just embrace defeat and try and to think about the next game.

Not this team, one that has a 6-2 record in games in which they have fallen behind by double digits.

The Boston Celtics may find themselves in another dogfight tonight when they host Detroit Pistons (12-7) which has the second-best record in the East behind Boston.

As much as the Celtics would love to come out and bury teams from the outset, there is indeed value in the knowledge that they can rally together for wins, home or on the road.

And that confidence comes about from playing the game as a unit, something they all reminded one another of in the middle of the third quarter on Saturday when they came back to defeat Indiana 108-98.

In the third, Boston outscored the Pacers 37-21.

And following the time-out with 6:53 to play in the third, Boston responded with a 25-10 run and never looked back.

Boston’s Al Horford declined to say what was said during that timeout, but acknowledged its importance to winning that night.

“That stays in the huddle,” Horford said. “But just everybody keep it in perspective that we need to go out there and play the right way.”

Here are five other under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as the top two teams in the East face off as Boston hosts the Detroit Pistons.

HAPPY (BELATED) BIRTHDAY AVERY BRADLEY

The 6-foot-2 guard is playing his first season with a team not called the Boston Celtics. And wouldn’t you know it, his first time back in town would be the day after his birthday. Bradley will get an extremely warm welcome from fans when he’s introduced tonight, not only because of what he accomplished as a player with the Celtics but also for being such a well-liked and respected person during his seven seasons. Considering Boston is where his NBA career was born, it’s only fitting that he arrived in town on Sunday which was when he turned 27 years old.

CUT ABOVE THE REST

One of the keys to Detroit’s success this season has been their ability to utilize players cutting to the basket. In fact, the Pistons average 1.35 points per cut plays this season which ranks fifth in the NBA. Boston is very much at the opposite end of the cut-to-the-basket-for-buckets spectrum, averaging 1.11 points per cut play which ranks 29th in the NBA.

TERRY ROZIER

Boston’s bench has received criticism recently due to its inability to catch fire offensively. Well, it looks like Terry Rozier has gotten the memo and has literally taken matters into his own hands. After scoring no more than 16 points on two occasions through his first 132 NBA games, Rozier has tallied a career-high 23 points on Friday night against Orlando, and followed that up with a 17-point performance on Saturday at Indiana. No one anticipates Rozier will continue scoring at such a high clip, but he has the potential to do so which is reason enough to believe that the scoring troubles experienced by Boston’s second unit, may be on the verge of turning around with Rozier leading the way.

ON THE RUN

Keep an eye on how both teams fare when it comes to getting out in transition. Detroit averages 1.13 points per transition play which ranks fifth in the NBA according to NBA.com/stats. Meanwhile, Boston averages 1.10 points per transition play which ranks 12th in the league. Defensively, both teams have done a nice job this season limiting opponents making the most of fast-break scoring opportunities. Boston is allowing opponents 8.4 fast-break points per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, while the Pistons are giving up 9.3 fast-break points per game which is eighth in the league.

PICK AND ROLL

The pick-and-roll is a staple of every NBA team’s playbook, which only adds to the difficulty in executing it effectively. But the Detroit Pistons have been really good at it, especially their ball-handlers in pick-and-roll sets. This season, Detroit pick-and-roll ball-handlers are shooting a league-best 47.6 percent from the field. But as we’ve noted, Boston’s defense has been effective on so many levels – and this is one of them. Boston’s defense has limited pick-and-roll ball-handlers to 35.5 percent shooting this season which ranks second in the NBA to Golden State (33.1 percent)

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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