Celtics

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

celtics_brad_stevens_102217.jpg

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.

MORE: 

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 thought it would be good . . . but this good?

celtics_mavs_horford_ferrell.jpg

Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

stream-celtics-mavs.jpg

WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: C's need to play Smart in Dallas

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE