Celtics

Trip's biggest benefit? The rest that the Celtics have gotten

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Trip's biggest benefit? The rest that the Celtics have gotten

LONDON -- One of the most talked about takeaways for the Celtics while in London is the benefits they may receive from the extended time off.
 
No one knows for sure how big a lift -- if any -- Boston will receive from the added downtime.
 
But one thing we do know based on how this season has played out: Given time to rest, the Celtics have consistently been the best version of themselves. And that has usually been good enough to win.
 
In fact, the Celtics are 4-1 this season when they have had more than one day of rest in between games.
 
The lone loss? The 102-99 season-opening loss at Cleveland, the game in which Gordon Hayward suffered a gruesome dislocated left ankle injury that has kept him out of action ever since.
 
“We’re a good team,” Marcus Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “But if we get a little rest before games, a chance to tighten up a couple things, we can be really, really good.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into today’s game between Boston and Philadelphia.

TWENTY-FIVE AND COUNTING

When it comes to globe-trotting, one place where the Celtics haven’t spent much time is on the fre- throw line. They've gone a franchise-record 25 straight games without making at least 20 free throws. For the season, Boston is averaging 20.9 free throws made, which ranks 18th in the league.

EMBIID FACTOR

Despite his dominant ways, the Sixers remain cautious in how they use Joel Embiid. That’s why he still doesn’t play in any back-to-back games. But it’s clear that for Philly to clear that next hurdle, which for them would be getting to the playoffs, they are absolutely going to need the big fella. Since he was drafted by the Sixers, Philadelphia has a .500 record (30-30) when he plays. Without him, their record stands at just 45-178, which is a winning percentage of .202. His impact is particularly noticeable defensively. The team’s defensive rating this season is 99.3 when he has been on the floor. It balloons to 107.0 when he’s on the bench.

DEFENSE LEADING THE WAY

Boston comes in having won six straight, which is the longest current winning streak in the NBA. And they’ve done it despite the team’s offense for the most part not being very good. During the six-game winning streak, Boston’s offensive rating has been just 100.3, which ranks 29th in the league during that period of time.

FULTZ RETURN?

Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, is with the Sixers here in London after having missed most of this season with right shoulder soreness and muscle imbalance, which affected his shooting mechanics. His presence has prompted some to speculate about him possibly suiting up tonight. That’s highly unlikely to happen, folks. He’s doing more work with the team but he has yet to be cleared for full practice, an absolute precursor to him returning to the court. “It’s good to be out there . . . again,” Fultz told reporters here in London earlier this week. “Just be able to interact with them. Be a competitor again, which I am.” The Sixers used the number one overall pick to select Fultz after trading the No. 3 overall pick and a 2018 Los Angeles Lakers first-round pick, to Boston. The Celtics used the third overall pick to select Jayson Tatum.

BEN SIMMONS

At some point, this guy really should have some kind of endorsement deal with a paint company because that’s pretty much where his points are going to come from. In fact, 89 percent (455 of 514) of his shot attempts are in the paint this season. And in terms of scoring, 496 of Simmons’ points have been in the paint, 103 points from the free throw line with only 28 points scored this season coming from outside the paint.

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CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

CELTICS TALK PODCAST: How 2018 playoffs will get the 2019 Celtics close to Banner 18?

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely are joined in this episode by Ian Thomsen to discuss the Celtics/Bucks series, a big picture look at where Boston is right now in the NBA landscape, and his new book, “The Soul of Basketball.”

The guys get into a deep discussion about how the 2018 playoffs should help the long-term growth of this team. 

Kyle Draper started off the debate saying "on paper they have to be favorites coming out of the East, depending on obviously what LeBron does, going into next season."

Ian Thomsen largely sided with Drapes but added the Celtics still have plenty of work to get there.

"I agree, so long as everyone is happy with their roles going into next year. So let's say they decide to bring Marcus Smart back, is Terry Rozier going to be happy with the minutes he gets? This has been a balancing thing for Brad Stevens every year and he does such a good job of it that we kinda take for granted, if they are this talented going into next year, there's going to be a lot of management here between ego and ambitions to manage. I'm not saying anybody is a bad guy, this is just natural. This is your career and livelihood, it's everything you care about. What if Terry Rozier helps drive the Celtics to the conference finals? They do it without Kyrie, Hayward, without Marcus Smart for half the playoffs, Daniel Theis, they're missing like 40% of their team."

Complete show notes:

(:30) Kyle and Sherrod talk about the first two games of the series against the Bucks, and how the lack of fight and organization from a talented Bucks team has been the most noticeable factor so far.

(4:57) Ian Thomsen joins the pod, and starts off talking about how the Bucks need to win the next four games, because there’s no way they’re winning a Game 7 in Boston.

(6:30) Ian weighs in on the Terry Rozier/Eric Bledsoe “feud.”

(8:25) Jaylen Brown has been huge for the C’s so far. Thomsen talks about how impressed he’s been with the 2nd year guard this season.

(10:44) While in some respects, the logjam of point guards the Celtics have had has hurt Terry Rosier, the benefits have also been great in some aspects, including how to be a leader. Ian references Avery Bradley as a mentor to Rozier on his inconsistent minutes. Thomsen talks about the number of role models and culture the Celtics have built.

(12:29) The discussion then moves to how this postseason and the experience the Celtics young players are getting could be a huge factor in Boston being a contender next year, when their health hopefully returns. Ian talks about the only factor that could derail this thinking.

(15:00) Thomsen talks about what Danny Ainge might do with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, and the possibility they could be used in a trade for Anthony Davis.

(16:40) Thomsen then talks about his new book “The Soul of Basketball” and how Paul Pierce and the Celtics shaped the last 7-8 years of the NBA. Thomsen gives us some great nuggets on the 2010 behind-the-scenes drama with Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. Ian’s of the opinion that Paul Pierce, the Celtics, and the 2007 NBA Draft lottery had a lot to do with LeBron’s decision to leave Cleveland for Miami.

(25:00) Kyle and Sherrod take a quick trip around the NBA playoffs, discussing the Cavs/Pacers series, along with OKC/Utah and New Orleans/Portland.

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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.”

 

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