Celtics

Celtics-Spurs preview: Same records, but trending in different directions

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Celtics-Spurs preview: Same records, but trending in different directions

BOSTON – The last time Boston walked off the parquet with a win over the San Antonio Spurs (Jan. 5, 2011), Rajon Rondo dropped 23 dimes, Ray Allen had 31 points and the starting center for the Celtics?

His name is Shaquille O’Neal.

Since then, the Spurs have reeled off six straight wins on the Celtics’ home floor.

None of the Celtics today were on the roster back then, the kind of clean slate the Celtics hope will result in a different ending tonight when the two teams, each boasting a 4-2 record, face off at the TD Garden.

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While their records are the same, each team is trending in a very different direction.

Boston comes in having won its last four games. Meanwhile, the Spurs have dropped two in a row, the last of which being a 97-94 loss at Indiana that wasn’t decided until the final seconds of play.

Regardless of the record, the Celtics will have their hands full against a San Antonio team that, like the Celtics, is missing at least one key player.

San Antonio All-Star Kawhi Leonard remains out with a quadriceps tendon injury. The Spurs will also be without point guard Tony Parker who is on the mend from a torn quadriceps tendon injury. San Antonio is finishing up a four-game road trip tonight. While they have been on the road, Parker was assigned to the Spurs’ Gatorade affiliate the Austin Toros who are having their training camp in San Antonio.

Of course, the Celtics have had their own injury woes, the biggest being Gordon Hayward whose left ankle injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the rest of this season. The Celtics are also short-handed to some degree with Marcus Morris (left knee soreness) out. He was hoping to play tonight, but head coach Brad Stevens didn’t sound too optimistic about Morris playing tonight.

“He needs to have at least a day of hard practice with our guys before he would play in a game,” Stevens said. “That’s probably a little bit optimistic for (tonight). Hopefully at some point in the very near future (this) week.”

Usually, when the Spurs come to town, the talk centers around their players who have for years showed a timeless talent that made them effective despite their advanced ages.

Manu Ginobili and Pau Gasol who are 40 and 37 years of age, respectively, are mainstays in the Spurs’ rotation which has become more youthful this season.

But the Celtics are the story of this game; specifically, the play of their young players like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

Tatum is averaging 15.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 50.9 percent from the field. In his first six games, he has had a pair of 20-point performances. Among the five greatest scorers in Celtics history, only one of them (Larry Bird in five games) had multiple 20-point games quicker than the 19-year-old Tatum.

And while Brown has struggled of late shooting the ball, he has an offensive rating of 105.1, which is tops among all Celtics who play 30 or more minutes per game. And his defense has been strong as well, evident by a defensive rating of 95.2.

Boston is also being led by Kyrie Irving who has had 24 points in each of the Celtics’ last two games. And in their 96-90 win at Miami on Saturday, Irving scored nine of Boston’s last 10 points for the win.

“More often than not when he gets the ball, something good is going to happen offensively,” said Tommy Heinsohn, a two-time Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer and NBC Sports Boston basketball analyst.

The Celtics are certainly hoping for that tonight against the one team that on the TD Garden floor at least, has had their number for years.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics offense struggles mightily in Game 3 loss to Bucks

Celtics offense struggles mightily in Game 3 loss to Bucks

MILWAUKEE – The Boston Celtics have had their share of offensive clunkers this season.

But few were as painfully woeful as what transpired in the first half of Boston’s 116-92 Game 3 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

Boston now has a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with Game 4 in Milwaukee on Sunday and Game 5 back in Boston on Tuesday.

“I didn’t think we were great, but offensively we were horrendous in the first (half),” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We were on our heels the whole time.”

Boston found itself in a 16-6 ditch to start the game, and it didn’t get much better from there.

Milwaukee shot 55 percent from the field in the first quarter, but the killer for Boston in the first was their 2-for-19 (10.5 percent) shooting from the field which put the Celtics in a 27-12 hole after one quarter of play.

Offensive struggles are nothing new for Boston which shot 45 percent from the field in the regular season which ranked 23rd in the NBA. 

They haven’t been much better in the playoffs, connecting on just 45.1 percent of their shots which ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the playoffs.

Things got better offensively for Boston in the second quarter and they wound up shooting a respectable 50 percent (10-for-20) from the field. 

But it still wasn’t enough to keep pace with the Bucks who connected on 63.2 percent (12-for-19) of their shots in the second quarter which pushed their halftime lead to 58-35.

“We got in a hole. This is new for our group,” said Al Horford. “It’s the first time we’ve gone on the road in the playoffs in a tough environment. We did some good things there, but at that point, they had it going. Give them credit. They had it going, and we really didn’t have an answer for them tonight.”

And that more than anything else, should be a major concern for the Celtics heading into Game 4 on Sunday.

If they’re not getting more stops defensively, their offense has to be more efficient, more impactful than what we saw in Game 3 if the Celtics are to continue to remain in control. 

“They did what they had to do out there,” Boston’s Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “They were the more desperate team. They did what they had to do. We’ll see them on Sunday.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Middleton has another big game as Celtics fall to Bucks in Game 3

Middleton has another big game as Celtics fall to Bucks in Game 3

MILWAUKEE – Here are the Stars, Studs, and Duds from Boston’s 116-92 Game 3 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

MORE - Stevens: 'We were on our heels the whole time'

STARS

Khris Middleton: It was yet another impactful, highly efficient game for Middleton. He led all scorers with 23 points on 10-for-17 shooting along with eight rebounds and seven assists.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: He was still a central figure in Milwaukee’s scoring, but the Bucks weren’t nearly as dependent on him to carry the scoring load in Game 3. That said, Antetokounmpo still finished with a strong 19-point, five-rebound, five-assist performance. 

Al Horford: Horford had 16 points on 7-for-13 shooting, but didn’t get much help from his teammates who were a combined 25-for-67 (37.3 percent).

 

STUDS

Thon Maker: A seldom-used reserve in Games 1 and 2, Maker was a true difference-maker for the Bucks. In addition to scoring 14 points, he also grabbed five rebounds and tallied five blocked shots.

Eric Bledsoe: Give Bledsoe credit. He said he would be better back in Milwaukee, and he backed it up with a strong performance. He had 17 points on 8-for-13 shooting.

Bucks bench: The play of Thon Maker stood out, but he wasn’t the only Milwaukee backup to step up with a strong Game 3 performance. Matthew Dellavedova (5 points) and Jabari Parker (17 points on 7-for-12 shooting) were part of a Bucks bench that outscored Boston’s second unit, 50-34.

Aron Baynes: Baynes played 30 minutes and made the most of his opportunities to score, tallying eight points on 3-for-3 shooting (he made both of his 3-point attempts) along with grabbing eight rebounds.

 

DUDS

Terry Rozier: We haven’t seen Terry Rozier struggle like we did in Game 3 in quite some time. Rozier, who came in averaging 23 points after the first two games, had just nine points on 2-for-7 shooting in Game 3. More significant was Rozier’s five turnovers – he had zero in Games 1 and 2.

Marcus Morris: Milwaukee did a much better limiting Marcus Morris who was a major matchup in Games 1 and 2. In Friday’s Game 3 matchup, Morris had just seven points on 2-for-8 shooting.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE