Celtics wipe out 22-point deficit, pull away from 76ers in London, 114-103

Celtics wipe out 22-point deficit, pull away from 76ers in London, 114-103

LONDON – New year, new country, same old Celtics.

Just a few miles away from Big Ben, the London Eye and several longstanding attractions here in London, the Celtics introduced their British and European fans to what we in the states have seen from them often – The Big Comeback.

The Celtics trailed by as many as 22 in the first half to the Philadelphia 76ers, only to come roaring back in the second half to finish with a different kind of blowout in winning 114-103 Thursday at O2 Arena.

Jaylen Brown had a game-high 21 points, with Kyrie Irving chipping in with 20. Jayson Tatum (16 points) and Marcus Morris (19) had strong games as well.

Philadelphia’s J.J. Redick led the way with 22 points with Joel Embiid chipping in with 15 points and 10 rebounds.

For Boston (34-10), the victory extended their winning streak to seven in a row - the longest current winning streak in the NBA. Boston also improved to 11-8 this season in games in which they trailed at halftime, a clear sign of how this team has usually been able to bounce back after a lackluster start.

Meanwhile, the Sixers (19-20) had their four-game winning streak come to a screeching halt as they lost for the seventh time this season in a game in which they led by 11 or more.

After a sluggish start, Boston closed out the half with a 21-8 run and opened the third quarter with a Jayson Tatum 3-pointer that cut Philadelphia’s lead to 57-51, prompting Sixers head coach Brett Brown to call a time-out just 39 seconds into the second half.

Philadelphia has blown more than its share of big leads this season, and Brown sensed they might be on the verge of another colossal collapse if he didn’t try and slow down Boston’s ever-increasing momentum.

Boston made it a one-possession game following a 3-pointer by Kyrie Irving, only for Sixers rookie Ben Simmons to cruise in for an uncontested dunk seconds later.

The Celtics eventually took their first lead of the game on a dunk by Daniel Theis with six minutes to play in the third quarter.

Boston would lead by as many as seven points (77-70) following a 3-pointer by Morris before the quarter ended with the Celtics ahead, 85-79.

The Celtics struggled mightily in the first half with the Sixers pulling ahead by as many as 22.

But when it comes to Boston, no deficit is too much for them to rally from and make things at least competitive.

Boston began to make things interesting after an Irving 3-pointer made it a 56-40 game. Boston continued to chip away at Philly’s lead, getting it down to 56-44 following a breakaway lay-up by Brown.

The Celtic comeback continued as Boston managed to cut Philly’s lead to single digits following a put-back dunk by Jaylen Brown which capped off a 21-8 run by Boston to close out the second quarter which brought Boston within 57-48 at the half.


Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

Celtics fans may see a little Pierce in Middleton's game

MILWAUKEE – Sitting down before a recent shoot-around, Khris Middleton looks comfortable, at ease, very chill.

And when you watch him play, he exudes similar qualities on the floor, often moving at a pace that seems slower than most and yet he still manages to get buckets – lots of buckets.

Celtics fans have had the pleasure of seeing similar skills on display for more than a decade in Paul Pierce.  

So, it’s no surprise that Middleton counts Pierce among those whose play has greatly influenced his game.

“He was a great scorer,” Middleton said of Pierce whose number 34 was retired earlier this season at the TD Garden. “He had great footwork. He knew how to use his body, angles to get his shot off. He was probably a little bit faster than me, more athletic than me but he was crafty, knowing how to create just enough space to get his shot off or get by a guy. That’s what I try to do.”

While Boston has a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against Middleton's Milwaukee Bucks, it certainly hasn’t been because of Middleton’s scoring.

The 6-foot-8 wing is averaging 28.0 points in the first two games, along with six rebounds and 3.5 assists, while shooting 64.7 percent from the field and 69.2 percent (9-for-13) from 3-point range.

Game 3 is Friday night in Milwaukee.

“He’s a good player,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who has competed against Middleton dating to when they were at Kansas and Texas A&M, respectively.

Middleton’s ascension to being such a key figure in Milwaukee’s roster speaks to how he was prepared when given an opportunity to perform.

A second-round pick of the Detroit Pistons in 2012, injuries limited his chances to play there.

So they traded him in 2013 to Milwaukee as essentially a salary-cap filler as part of a deal that sent Brandon Knight to the Bucks and Brandon Jennings to Detroit.

Middleton stresses that he has no ill-will towards Detroit; in fact, he’s thankful in hindsight for them trading him to a franchise that was willing to give him a shot at playing and to Middleton’s credit, he has been healthy enough to take advantage of it.

“Growing up all your life, you’re kind of that guy,” he said. “And then to get to the next level and be told you’re not that guy...it’s humbling. But it gave me a hungry mindset to keep working and never give up. That’s why I keep working, prove that I belong in this league and I belong on that court.”

You won’t get an argument from Celtics coach Brad Stevens, who has been singing the praises of Middleton well before Boston found itself facing him and the Bucks in the first round of the playoffs.

“Middleton spaces the floor. He can run off screens and score,” Stevens said earlier. “He’s a really good scorer cutting off the ball. And he’s a knockdown shooter.”

And he’s hungry to continue adding to his offensive arsenal by learning from the league’s best players past and present, a group that includes Pierce.

“I try to take a little stuff from their game and fit it in my game,” Middleton said. “I’m not the most athletic guy, so I see how they set up some of their moves just to create a little bit of space to get their shot off; that’s what I try to do.”




Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

Can Celtics take what worked at home on the road?

MILWAUKEE – The Celtics are no different than most NBA teams that have successfully defended home court through the first couple playoff games.

As good as things may appear to be, taking what has worked at home on the road is easier said than done.

“We’re up 2-0, but we’ve seen teams lose [series after being up] 2-0,” said Celtics forward Marcus Morris. “So, we’ve got to go to Milwaukee and continue to take care of business.”

And while it may sound like typical coach speak, Brad Stevens has every reason to sound the alarm about this series being far from over, even with a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

“They’ve got a lot of strengths we’ve got to do a good job against,” Stevens said. “They put you in a lot of tough positions on offense and defense.”

The biggest issue for Boston up to this point has been at the defensive end of the floor where the Celtics have allowed the Bucks to shoot 53.8 percent from the field, which is tops among all playoff teams.

Boston’s defensive rating in the playoffs (105.9) ranks ninth among the 16 teams in the postseason, a noticeable dip from their league-leading 101.5 defensive rating in the regular season.

Still, the Bucks have in many ways been their own worst enemy, averaging a league-high 17.5 turnovers per game which have led to a total of 48 points for the Celtics which is tied with Oklahoma City for the most points scored off turnovers in the playoffs thus far.

To put that in perspective, Milwaukee’s turnovers have accounted for 20.6 percent of the points scored by Boston in this playoff series.

In the regular season, points off turnovers accounted for 17.0 percent of the points scored by the Celtics.

And that doesn’t even include the hustle plays that are also going Boston's way.

According to nba.com/stats, the Celtics have 66 box-outs compared to 62 by Milwaukee. And when it comes to getting loose balls, Boston has the edge there as well, 22-19.

In the postseason, those are the little things that on many nights, is the difference between having a “good try, good effort” loss or one in which you claw and fight your way towards victory.

Boston has played with a deep understanding of this.

The Milwaukee Bucks?

Not so much.

“We just have to be more into it, got to be a more desperate and hungry team,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton said following the Game 2 loss.

While the cast of characters who stepped up in Games 1 and 2 varied slightly for Boston, the fundamental keys to Boston’s victories over the Bucks remained very much the same.

But there’s no telling what impact Milwaukee returning home will have on what has worked thus far for the Celtics. 

But one thing all involved know – it can't hurt the Bucks, who know a Game 3 loss would all but end any hopes of moving on to the next round.