Celtics

Celtics third-quarter play is something to admire

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File Photo

Celtics third-quarter play is something to admire

BOSTON – If you listen to Brad Stevens and his players, there’s little said inside the locker room at halftime.

If they’re winning, the focus becomes on what’s working and how to build off that for a couple more quarters of play.

But if they are playing from behind, often the source of their problems is self-evident which is half the battle when it comes to making it right.

As we’ve seen this season, how Boston plays in the third quarter is a major indicator of the game’s outcome.

Boston has a winning record when trailing after the first quarter (12-7) and second quarter (13-10) of games this season, but they're just 7-10 when trailing after three quarters of play.

Strong play in the third quarter certainly played a major role in Boston’s 119-110 win over Atlanta on Friday, a game in which the Celtics outscored the Hawks 41-20 in the third.

And it’ll certainly be something to keep an eye on today when the Celtics host the Portland Trail Blazers.

While the 41 points scored stood out, even more significant was the Celtics defense which has been pretty good all season in the third quarter of games.

Boston averages 26.5 points scored in the third quarter which ranks 15th in the NBA, while allowing teams to score 24.2 points in the third which is second only to Memphis (24.1) in the NBA. The +2.3 point differential ranks third in the NBA. Other impressive third quarter stats for Boston include opponent field goal percentage (.431, 3rd in the league) and opponent 3-point percentage (.336, 2nd).

 Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into Boston’s matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers.

CONQUERING THE WEST

Facing teams from the Western Conference has been a good thing for the Boston Celtics this season. Boston has a record of 14-5 against Western Conference teams which is tops among all teams in the East against their Western Conference brethren. A Brad Stevens-coached team has never won more than 17 games (2015-2016) against the West in a single season.

REBOUNDING CONCERNS

Both Boston and Portland have won four of their last five games. They have each done well in several areas which includes rebounding. The Celtics have been solid during the last five games, grabbing 51.5 percent of available rebounds which ranks 10th in the league during that span. Unfortunately, they’re facing a Blazers team that has been killin’ it during the last five games when it comes to rebounding, evident by them having a league-best .542 rebounding percentage.

ROZIER MILESTONE

Terry Rozier has seen a noticeable spike in his minutes played this season and should surpass his total minutes played a year ago, today. During the 2016-2017 campaign, Rozier played 1,263 minutes in the regular season. This season, he is up to 1,250 minutes.

MASS CONNECTIONS

The TD Garden will have a few more fans cheering for the visiting team today, than usual. And the reason? The Portland Trail Blazers have a roster filled with players from the state of Massachusetts, a group that includes Pat Connaughton (Arlington, MA), Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, MA), Jake Layman (Norwood, Ma) and Noah Vonleh (Haverhill, MA).

WEEKEND WARRIORS

When you’ve won as much as the Celtics have this season, success comes in just about every scenario one can think of. But the weekends have been particularly good for Boston this season. They come into today’s game with an impressive 11-2 record in games played on Saturday and Sunday. The lone losses were to Orlando (103-95) on Jan. 21 and Golden State (109-105) on Jan. 27.

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Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

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Celtics notebook: In All-Star Game, LeBron James asserts his command

LOS ANGELES – With the all-star game a thing of the past now, those who participated in the game will get a couple days of rest before the NBA grind of a season starts back up.

Meanwhile, their teammates and the rest of the league will return after nearly a week without games, seemingly enough time to recharge and re-focus for the remainder of the season.

All-stars like Stephen Curry will try to maximize the next couple days which will serve as their all-star break.

“I think that’s kind of a double-edged sword of being an All-Star,” Curry said. “It’s an amazing accomplishment, an amazing honor, but if you’re thinking about it in the perspective of getting rest and really taking advantage of the full slate of All-Star break, it doesn’t really start for us until (after Sunday’s game).”

But it’s not just getting a chance to recharge physically, Curry said. 

“That’s a big part of it too,” Curry said. “Not even just your body, but get a refresh mentally to know that when you get back to practice on Wednesday that that’s when the real grind starts.” 

A ‘Horford-like’ all-star game

It wasn’t a big shot or a dunk or any other offensive play that decided the outcome in Team LeBron’s 148-145 all-star game win over Team Steph.

On the final play, it was a game decided by the little things such as a last-second double team or a clutch rebound or a “hockey assist,” the kind of plays that we often see made by Al Horford which made Sunday’s all-star game on some levels, have a Horford-like feel.

“Guys were looking for each other. It was good to see,” said Horford, playing in his fifth all-star game. “It was good basketball. You obviously have your one-on-one plays. But probably for the first time I’ve played in this game, I felt it was more of a game. So that was fun to see.”

Oh So Close …

If Team Steph had held on for the win over Team LeBron, there was a very good chance that Compton, Calif. native and USC alum DeMar DeRozan would have been the game’s MVP.

When told of this, DeRozan replied, “You just want to break my heart some more, huh?”

He added, “Hey, just being out there was a blessing, man, honestly. Just being able to be part of that. I’m just happy to be out there competing with them guys.”

However, being so close to home did make for a special weekend.

“I mean, it was a dream come true,” said DeRozan who had 21 points and six rebounds. “This is one of the moments that I’m going to forever live with. Being able to be a part of this, to come from where I come from and come out here and be a starter for an All-Star game in my hometown, it definitely was a dream come true.”

James takes pride in body, not proving he’s still a great player to youngsters

LeBron James remains a commanding figure in the NBA, showing no signs of slowing up even at a time when most players his age are slowing down.

And while an influx of young talent has certainly come into the league and made their mark, there’s no getting around the fact that James can still dominate games on several levels.

“What I take pride in is taking care of my body,” said James, who is 33 years old. “Taking care of my body. Making sure I’m available every night and continue to get better and better. I don’t really take it as a young guy, okay, I need to show him I’m still able to do this. I need to continue to show myself, you know, because every night I step on the floor I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level. I feel great.”

Raptor’s Casey: Coaching vs Lowry, DeRozan “was tough”

Dwane Casey was happy to be the head coach of his first all-star game, but there was a definite downside to it: coaching against his best players, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry.

With the new format, Casey was coaching Team LeBron while DeRozan and Lowry played for Team Steph.

“That was tough, that was tough,” Casey said. “You look out there and you’re yelling at guys to get up on them, to push them, and to play DeMar’s left-hand or right-hand, and push him left. All those things you fight as a coach.

Casey added, “Those are the things that you feel bad about, but, again, those two have carried us and pushed us, and taken us in the conversation of being one of the top teams in the league. I love both of them as sons, and I’m proud of them for where they came from, and they’ve made themselves into multi-time all-stars.”

For DeRozan, this was his third straight all-star selection and fourth overall, while Lowry made his fourth straight all-star appearance.

New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

New All-Star format a success, but one tweak could make it even better

LOS ANGELES – Both players and coaches involved with Sunday’s All-Star game like the new format, but will surely look to tweak a couple of things.

Among the more likely changes will be the process involved in not just selecting the team, but making the selections known to the public. 

Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan has an idea, one that’s shared by some players, media and maybe most important, NBA fans. 

“Televise it,” DeRozan said. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

MORE - Irving, Horford give seal of approval to All-Star changes

The new format involved their being two captains – LeBron James and Stephen Curry – who picked their respective teams from the 22 remaining All-Stars regardless of conference affiliation. 

The NBA also increased the amount of money given to each player on the winning team - $100,000 – while the losing team members each received $25,000.

Regardless of what the changes may be going forward, it’s clear that players see this new format as the blueprint for how All-Star games should be structured going forward.

“This kind of changed the culture of it a lot, for the better,” said Minnesota’s Jimmy Butler. “It’s only going to get more and more competitive because guys see how it was for the last five minutes of that game. Everybody wants to compete.”

Here are five takeaways from the 67th NBA All-Star game with Team LeBron defeating Team Steph 148-145. 

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Kyrie Irving

There were others who scored more, had more assists and certainly grabbed more rebounds than Kyrie Irving. But one of the more telling developments in the game was how Irving returned to the game in the fourth down 10 points, and didn’t leave until Team LeBron emerged with the win seven minutes and 16 seconds later. Even in an All-Star setting, Irving’s impact on winning stands out. Along with his 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, Team LeBron was a +16 when Irving was on the floor – tops among all All-Star starters. 

 

LeBron James

The calendar says he’s 33 years old. But other than that, there’s nothing about LeBron James that even remotely looks like his time as the best player on the planet will end anytime soon. In a game full of stars on the rise as well as established stalwarts such as himself, James totally crushed it Sunday night in walking away with his third All-Star game MVP trophy after a double-double of 29 points and 10 rebounds to go with eight assists.  

 

DeMar DeRozan

We know him as the king of the mid-range game. But as we saw on Sunday, DeRozan has a lot more offensive versatility that he’s capable of unleashing. He’s arguably the biggest reason why Toronto has the best record in the East right now. Playing for Team Steph, DeRozan tallied 21 points attacking the rim off the dribble and of course, knocking down mid-range jumpers

 

Jimmy Butler

A bit under the weather, Butler never set foot on the court to play. The league’s leader in minutes played this season (37.3), Butler wasn’t expected to play a ton of minutes anyway. Still, it would have been nice to see him out there even if it was for a minute or two. He’s one of the league’s best two-way players whose play has been instrumental to the Timberwolves looking very much like a playoff team this season. “I have to rest,” Butler said. “I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

 

Joel Embiid

The ring leader of Philadelphia’s “Trust the Process” movement, Joel Embiid, was impressive in his All-Star debut. For Embiid, it’s one thing to believe you are one of the NBA’s best players. It’s an entirely different matter to step on the floor with the game’s best talent and validate yourself as one of the game’s best players.  “During the season, I thought I was a top-five or top-10 player in the league,” said Embiid who had 19 points and eight rebounds. “And before the game I wanted confirmation of it. I felt like I could hang with them.”

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