Celtics

Celtics-Suns preview: A new 'king in the fourth'

Celtics-Suns preview: A new 'king in the fourth'

BOSTON – Watching Kyrie Irving in the fourth quarter is something special. 

There is a flow to his late-game play that transforms that moment from being the calm before the storm, to Irving becoming a one-man scoring typhoon. 

“When you’re playing like that, some guys think a lot quicker than others,” Irving said. “I’m fortunate enough that my mind works a lot quicker than other people in the fourth quarter. So, it just gets me going a little bit, especially when it’s a close game. There’s just nothing like it. I love playing in those type of situations.”

The four-time All-star is coming off that kind of game, one in which he scored nine of his game-high 36 points in Boston’s 108-97 win over Philadelphia.

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It’s a trend he wouldn’t mind continuing tonight against the Phoenix Suns (8-15) who are one of the NBA’s worst teams this season. Of their 15 losses, 10 have been by at least 10 points.

While it’s unlikely that Irving will be needed much if at all down the stretch tonight, it’s clear that he’s not taking the struggling Suns for granted, a team whose offense centers heavily around their starting backcourt of Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker. 

“We understand that most of their offense goes through those two guys,” Irving said. “So, we just have to be aware of them. They have a very key person that flies under the radar but he can get going T.J. Warren. He just stays around the basketball. Somehow it always ends up in his hands. He’s always backdoor cutting or doing something for their team to win. They have a young guy in Marquese Chriss and veteran in Tyson Chandler. We just have to come to play. We have to match their energy and make them play our type of game.”

And while Boston is very much a work in progress, strong defense, solid rebounding with Irving leading the offensive charge in the fourth, are the pillars of success for the Boston Celtics this season. 

This season, Irving is averaging 7.1 points scored in the fourth quarter which ranks third in the NBA. Showing that he can do more than just get baskets, Irving has an assists percentage in the fourth quarter of .359 which ranks 10th in the league. And Irving’s usage rate is 38.9 which ranks second in the league. 

Recognizing and embracing the moment is something Irving has been comfortable with for years. He credits in part a slew of mentors who in a variety of ways, have helped shape him into the player he is today. 

“I’ve had the unique opportunity to build relationships throughout the league, college basketball, throughout high school,” Irving said. “Some of my mentors are some of the best to ever do it. When you’re able to bounce ideas and talk the game and talk X’s and O’s and off the court things that really make a difference in the grand scheme of things and making you better and great in whatever you’re doing, it’s always awesome. I always get a chance to text or call him. They’re incredible at their jobs. I’m fortunate to have them in my corner, giving me advice when I need it.”

And that advice is applicable to Irving’s play all game long, but particularly in close, down-to-the-wire games. 

“It’s go time; It’s go-time especially when the game is in the balance,” Irving said. “It’s the best time to play. It’s the ultimate freedom, just to showcase what you’ve been working on. You know that you’re going to get the other team’s best shot and they’re going to do things they probably wanted to adjust to throughout the game. A lot of opportunities afforded in the first three quarters won’t be there in the fourth. So you have to make very, very quick decisions in terms of what you want to do with the basketball and where guys need to be on the floor.”

And that can a special thing to see, especially when Irving is on the floor down the stretch.

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Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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