Celtics

Kevin Durant knows what Kyrie Irving is going through

Kevin Durant knows what Kyrie Irving is going through

BOSTON –  Kyrie Irving’s decision to want out of Cleveland certainly rubbed some NBA folks the wrong way.
 
Kevin Durant?
 
He wasn’t one of them.

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While Durant’s departure from Oklahoma City in the summer of 2016 came under very different circumstances (he was a free agent while Irving asked to be traded), he can relate to the blowback from some fans that Irving got initially when his desire to leave the Cavs became public.
 
“Fans don’t matter when it comes to stuff like that,” Durant said. “Kyrie has to live it every single day and he made a decision that was best for what he wanted. Everybody’s different. You see it's paying off for him.”
 
Irving and the Celtics (13-2) come into tonight’s game against Golden State (11-3) riding a league-best 13 game winning streak.
 
Several players have factored into Boston’s historic start (no team has lost their first two games, and bounced back to put together a double-digit winning streak as the Celtics have), but Irving’s contributions have been significant.
 
The four-time All-Star leads the team in scoring at 20.6 points per game. In addition, he ranks among the league’s leaders in deflections (3.0 per game, eighth in the NBA) as well as steals (1.9, ninth) per game.
 
But the stat that stands out above all others is winning. In many ways, that helps validate his desire to move on from Cleveland.
 
“He chose the basketball route; he chose to go somewhere that would maximize his basketball skills,” Durant said. “A lot of people choose different places for different reasons, whether it’s money, whether it’s the city, or opportunity for whatever you want. But he made a basketball move; that’s the most respected move. He stepped into a leadership role and this team has taken off because of it.”
 
Here are five below-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game pitting the top two teams in the NBA: 
 

COULD HAVE BEEN THE CELTICS
Danny Ainge gets a lot of credit for the trades he has been able to pull off, many of which have been critical to Boston’s ascension to the top of the NBA standings. Still, there are a few players that he missed out on, some of whom will suit up tonight for Golden State. First and foremost was Durant, who included Boston on his short list of possible free agent destinations two summers ago before ultimately deciding to sign with the Warriors. And in 2012, David West opted to sign a two-year, $20 million deal with Indiana rather than a three-year, $29 million deal with Boston. West would later say that Boston’s interest in signing him was “more media than actual substance” but did add that his camp and the Celtics had some discussions about him possibly coming to Boston. One of the bigger head-scratchers came in not signing JaVale McGee in March of 2015. Ultimately the deal fell through because they both sides wanted an option following the 2015-16 season.
 

GREAT OFFENSE MEETS GREAT DEFENSE
We are about a month into the season and the Celtics are still the leaders in the NBA clubhouse when it comes to defense. In Golden State, they face their ultimate challenge because the Warriors have been so dominant scoring this season. They average 119.6 points per game, which is eight-plus points better than the next highest-scoring team. To say the Celtics have their hands full is putting mildly. Boston doesn’t want to walk the ball up the floor all game. But keeping the score around 100 or below has to be a primary goal for the Green team tonight.

PHYSICALITY FROM A(RON) TO Z(ASA) 
Both teams have a slew of players with a high skill level but it might be worth keeping an eye on the bangers for each team; specifically, Boston’s Aron Baynes and Golden State’s Zaza Pachulia. Statistics do little when it comes to explaining the value that Baynes and Pachulia provide their respective teams. One of these guys will put their imprint on the game, which will go far in determining which team comes away with a win.

YOUNG COMING OF AGE
About the only thing youthful about Nick Young these days is his surname. A 10-year veteran, Young has the benefit of experience working for him as he tries to navigate his way through immersing himself in the Warriors’ winning culture. He’s averaging 6.5 points per game while logging 13.6 minutes per night, both career lows. But the trade-off for fewer points and less playing time? A chance to be part of a winner, something that has eluded him for most of his NBA career.

REBOUNDING 
Rebounding on the defensive end of the floor is one of the very few areas the Celtics can look to exploit against the Warriors. The Celtics come into tonight’s game with a defensive rebounding percentage of .813, which ranks third in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Warriors’ defensive rebounding percentage is .762, which ranks 21st in the league. That means the Celtics may get a few extra cracks on the offensive glass, which could lead to some easy scores that would go far in Boston continuing its winning ways.

Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

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Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

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In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

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