Celtics

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

To get to 15, C's need to keep up the D

BOSTON – If you were to deconstruct the building blocks of the Celtics' 14-game winning streak, you would find the foundation lies in what they’re able to accomplish defensively.
 
And to the Celtics’ credit, their defense has been challenged in a multitude of ways already.

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They have managed to beat teams with great one-on-one talent (Golden State), those that rely heavily on athleticism and length (Milwaukee) as well as those that put a premium on sharing the ball (Philadelphia), which will be among the ways Atlanta could potentially challenge the Celtics tonight.
 
While the Hawks (3-12) have had their struggles this season, it hasn’t necessarily been because of selfish play offensively.
 
Atlanta averages 327.9 passes per game, which ranks third in the NBA.
 
The problem hasn’t been getting players the ball; it’s what happens – or doesn’t happen – when they get it.
 
Despite being a top three passing team, the Hawks average 22.9 assists, 10th in the NBA. And they're connecting on 45.5 percent of their shots from the field, 14th in the league.
 
For Boston to continue its winning ways, it’ll again be because their defense will have taken away things the Hawks love to do.
 
When it comes to scoring, Atlanta has been one of the NBA’s best at generating offense off screens.
 
Despite having an offense that ranks 19th in scoring (104.2) this season, Atlanta has been among the league leaders when it comes to scoring off screens.
 
In fact, only two NBA teams (Golden State and Cleveland) have generated more points off screens this season than Atlanta (141).
 
That still shouldn’t be a major issue for the Celtics defense, which allows a league-low 94.1 points per game and has shown the ability to find success against any and every kind of offense.
 
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between two teams at opposite ends of the success spectrum this season.
 

KYRIE IN THE CLUTCH
It’s one thing to score a bunch of points, but it takes a special player to do it in the latter stages of play, especially against an elite team that knows you’re looking to get points any way possible. We saw Kyrie Irving shrug off a horrible shooting night (4-for-16) in the 92-88 win over Golden State that included him draining all seven of his fourth-quarter free throws. But Irving coming through when the game counts shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. According to NBA.com/stats, Irving is averaging a league-best 5.8 points in “clutch” situations (last five minutes of a game with the margin being five points or less), ahead of notable standouts Damian Lillard (5.0) of Portland who is second and ex-teammate LeBron James (4.6) who ranks behind Irving, Lillard and Miami’s Dion Waiters (4.9).
 

HIGHS, LOWS FOR HORFORD
Although he spent nine seasons in Atlanta, it has been anything but a sweet homecoming for Al Horford statistically speaking. In the four games he has played against his former team, Horford has averaged 8.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, which are his lowest career scoring and rebounding averages against any team. However, the 5.8 assists he averages against the Hawks represents his highest career average in that category against any team.
 

JAYLEN BROWN
His athleticism has always made Jaylen Brown a standout and the way he has shot the ball this season in clutch situations has stood out as well. But what hasn’t been talked much about is his defense against 3-point shooters. NBA.com/stats lists Brown with 67 contested 3’s this season. That's tops in the NBA. And his 4.2 contested 3’s per game rank sixth in the league.
 

DENNIS SCHRODER
When you see the numbers, it’s clear that much of what the Atlanta Hawks do these days is centered around Dennis Schroder. But upon deeper inspection, it’s apparent that Atlanta is literally driven by the play of the 6-foot-1 point guard. Known for his attacking style of basketball, it doesn’t come as a surprise that he’s one of the league’s best at getting to the rim. According to NBA.com/stats, Schroder leads the NBA with 19.1 drives per game. The closest Celtic in that category is Irving who averages 9.7 drives per game which ranks 38th in the league.
 

TAUREAN PRINCE
With Schroder looking to run out in transition as much as possible, Taurean Prince has been more than willing to help fill lanes and provide an option for Schroder to pass to on the break. That has led to lots of spot-up shot opportunities for Prince this season. He comes into tonight’s game averaging 5.4 spot-up possessions per game, which ranks third in the NBA behind Detroit’s Tobias Harris (6.3) and New Orleans’ DeMarcus Cousins (6.2).
 
 
 

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.”

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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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