Celtics

Kyrie sets tone, Morris provides punch off bench in Celtics win over Sixers

Kyrie sets tone, Morris provides punch off bench in Celtics win over Sixers

BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics acquired Marcus Morris via trade from Detroit, the thinking at the time was that he could provide some much-needed scoring punch off the bench.

Injuries have forced Celtics head coach Brad Stevens to at times insert him in the starting lineup.

But as we saw on Thursday, Morris’ value as a point-producer off the bench can’t be overlooked.

Because Morris’ scoring at the start of the fourth quarter would prove vital to Boston holding off a pesky Sixers team, 108-97.

The Celtics (19-4) add one more victory to the best record in the NBA and just as important, getting back on a winning track after losing by 10 points to Detroit on Monday.

Following the loss to the Pistons, players talked about the importance of learning from the Detroit loss and understanding that because of their record, teams are going to play some of their best basketball of the season when they see that Green and White on the floor.

With that mind, the Celtics played a much better, more complete game against the Sixers (12-9) who were coming off a 118-113 win over Washington less than 24 hours earlier.

Indeed, several Celtics stepped up on Thursday including Morris who finished with 17 points which was one-point shy of matching his season high with the Celtics.

With Morris setting the tone by scoring Boston’s first five points of the fourth, the Celtics settled on a familiar scorer down the stretch to carry them to victory – Kyrie Irving.

Irving finished with a game-high 36 points, nine of which came in the fourth quarter.

Even with Joel Embiid back in Philly due to what the team refers to as “load management,” the Sixers didn’t waste any time jumping on the Celtics with a 9-2 run to start the game.

But the Celtics bounced back with a pair of 3’s that led to Sixers coach Brett Brown calling a timeout.

Boston gradually took over and ended the first quarter with a 28-22 lead, with the 1-2 punch of Al Horford and Kyrie Irving who had 10 and 11 points, respectively. Horford had a near double-double, scoring 21 points while grabbing eight rebounds along with dishing out five assists.

In the second quarter, Boston was able to maintain a similar lead to what they had to end the first.

But the Sixers went on a 7-2 run that cut Boston’s lead to 43-41, only for the Celtics to counter with a 3-point play by Irving that made it a 46-41 game with less two minutes play.

From there, Boston closed out the second quarter with an 8-3 spurt to lead 54-44 at the half.

Philadelphia chipped away at Boston’s lead, and eventually went ahead 67-65 behind a 23-9 run.

But as we had seen most of the night, the Celtics met Philly’s surge with one of their own. True to form, the Celtics finished the third quarter with an 11-4 run to lead 76-71 going into the fourth and remained in front for the rest of the game.

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Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

Can Celtics plug recent defensive leaks vs. Pacers?

While the Boston Celtics remain tops in the NBA in defensive efficiency with a rating of 100.7, there’s no escaping the reality that they have had some slippage lately which is why the Celtics are 3-3 in their last six games.

Plugging the team’s defensive leaks won’t get any easier tonight against an Indiana Pacers team that has been among the better offensive clubs in the league this season.

The Pacers come into tonight’s game averaging 108.2 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens attributes some of the Celtics’ struggles recently to a lack of consistent effort, a sentiment that’s shared among his players.

“We definitely need to play with better effort more consistently,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “There’s really no excuse for it. We know we have to better, going forward.”

Especially against a Pacers team that’s playing with a chip on its shoulder this season.

Predicted by many to be among the worst teams in the East after trading away Paul George in July for Victor Oladipo and Domantis Sabonis, Indiana (17-13) comes into tonight’s game in a tie for the fourth-best record in the East.

Boston beat the Pacers 108-98 earlier this season, but Indiana was without Oladipo who was out with a bruised right knee.

His availability tonight and his team-leading 24.4 points per game, will certainly have an impact on tonight’s outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game between Boston and Indiana.

INDY POINTS OFF TURNOVERS

Boston’s transition defense which has been up and down lately, will be challenged early and often by an Indiana team that likes to get out and run especially off of turnovers. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.0 points off turnovers which ranks fourth in the NBA. Meanwhile, Boston is giving up 14.3 points off turnovers this season which is second in the league. Boston has given up 13.3 points off turnovers in the last six games, but it ranks just ninth in the league in that span.

SABONIS’ LOVE FOR THE CELTICS

Domantas Sabonis’ father Arvydas, spent his entire NBA career with the Portland Trail Blazers. But according to Domantas, his father was a huge fan of the Boston Celtics and Larry Bird.

Oh, there’s more.

“His favorite color is green, so he loves it even more,” Domantis said shortly after his workout for the Celtics in 2016. “Just everything about the team, the tradition, the winning … everything.”

ARON BAYNES

Teams with physical, smack-first, ask-questions-later-type centers, have given the Pacers problems this season; specifically, Andre Drummond of Detroit and Steven Adams of Oklahoma City, both of whom gave the Pacers major fits while each finishing with a double-double of 23 points and 13 rebounds. Baynes has provided a much-needed presence around the rim for the Celtics, and has a defensive rating of 94.9 which is tops among all NBA players averaging 15 or more minutes played per game.

INDY’S PULL-UP GAME

There really isn’t any time when the Celtics can relax defensively against a Pacers team that has shown itself to have a diverse set of skills when it comes to scoring. For example, when it comes to pull-up shooting, they rank among the league’s best in several categories. According to NBA.com/stats, they are shooting a league-best 42.8 percent on pull-up shots which generates 21.9 points per game which ranks fourth in the league.

JAYSON TATUM

The Celtics have won three of their last five games, with each win followed by a loss in that span. There are lots of factors, but one that jumps out is the scoring of Jayson Tatum. In the two losses, he scored four and seven points, respectively. But in the three wins, the 19-year-old reached double figures in each game, scoring at least 11 points. For the season, he’s averaging 14.4 points while shooting 53.9 percent on 3’s and 53 percent from the field when the Celtics win. In losses, his scoring drops to 11.6 points per game while shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 40.9 percent on 3’s.

WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Indiana Pacers

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pacers in Indiana. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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