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).
 
 
 

Hayward 'attacking the process' but still no timetable for return

Hayward 'attacking the process' but still no timetable for return

BOSTON — Gordon Hayward took yet another step forward in his recovery from a dislocated left ankle injury.

He has now been given the green light to not have to wear a walking boot.

"I feel alright I guess, as well as I could," Hayward told reporters earlier today. "I'm out of the boot right now so that's good, slowly getting better.

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Hayward added, "for now I'm done with the boot. Depending on how things go, I could be back in the boot so we'll see."

While all agree it is progress, there is still no timetable for when - if at all - he will return this season.

Hayward suffered the injury in the season-opener at Cleveland when he landed awkwardly attempting to catch a lob pass in the first quarter.

“He’s had good days, some not so good days,” his agent Mark Bartelstein told NBC Sports Boston. “But he’s attacking the process, focusing on getting better from one day to the next.”

Bartelstein understands every step Hayward takes in his recovery, will be seen by some as a step toward his return to action this season.

Bartelstein reiterated there has been no talk of Hayward returning this season.

“We’re not going to put a limit or cap on Gordon’s progress,” Bartelstein said. “But at the same time, we’re not gonna put a number or date for him to come back, either. Like I said, he’s attacking the process of getting healthier, trying to get better from one day to the next.”

The Celtics have been cautiously optimistic about Hayward’s progress, consistently stating that they have no plans for him to join the team this season.

As much progress as Hayward appears to be making, it’s still unlikely he will heal in time to play this season.

Boston received a disabled players exception for Hayward’s injury that is worth $8.4 million which is the largest DPE in NBA history. They have until March 10, 2018 to use it.

One of the factors contributing to them getting it was a set of independent doctors who determined that it was unlikely Hayward would return to playing by June 15, 2018.

That means for Hayward to be ready in time for the playoffs, he would have to be at least two months ahead of schedule.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Hayward gives his walking boot the boot as recovery progresses

Hayward gives his walking boot the boot as recovery progresses

Look who's out of his walking boot?

Gordon Hayward visited the Boys and Girls Clubs of Boston on Wednesday and looked to be moving around pretty well without the walking boot he's had on following surgery for the gruesome injury he suffered five minutes into his Celtics debut.

The Celtics have been saying the timetable for Hayward's return hasn't changed. They haven't been expecting him to return this season but he sure seems to be progressing in his recovery.