Celtics

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

celtics-sixers-storylines-embiid-113017.jpg

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

BOSTON – The Celtics caught a bit of a break tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers keeping Joel Embiid out for the game.
 
Considering his impact and the fact that he’s not nursing any specific injury, it might seem strange that he sits out a game of this magnitude.
 
But when it comes to Embiid and the Sixers, there has been very little that has gone according to plan.

Officially this is his second NBA season, but he has been on an NBA payroll for three-plus seasons. His first two seasons were spent on the sidelines nursing injuries. Last season was his first extensive action, but that season was shortened due to injuries after having played 31 games.
 
To the casual observer, it might seem odd to have such an integral part of a team’s success not play against the team with the best record in the NBA.
 
“It is unusual but it’s an unusual circumstance,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “He played 31 games in three years. They know his body; they have good medical staff. They’re just being cautious with him. It sounds like it’s probably the right thing to do.

Ainge added, “Joel is a terrific player. He’s had a fantastic season. They’re doing all they can to be a playoff team. I think they’re probably doing the right thing for him.”
 
Without Embiid, the Sixers will turn to multiple bodies to help fill the void left by the 7-footer who is averaging a double-double of 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 blocks.
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:


 
POINT GUARD MATCHUP
Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Philly’s Ben Simmons are two of the more effective point guards in the league today, getting the job done in their own way. Irving is an elite scorer who relies on his quickness, ability to change direction at the drop of a dime courtesy of well-above-average ball-handling skills. Simmons has tremendous size (6-foot-10), strength and straight-line ball-handling to get to the rim along with exceptional court vision that collectively makes him a handful to defend. Whoever outshines the other will be key to their respective team’s chances at victory tonight.
 

AL HORFORD
If you spend enough time around Horford, you will soon learn that he’s not the braggadocious person. But when asked recently about whether he’s playing as well as he’s ever played, Horford responded, “I feel that I am. I feel that I’m playing at a really high level. I always look at ways to get better. Even now there are still some things that I’ll keep working through and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be in an even better position. I’m very confident in the way that I’m moving, the way that I’m playing.”

ON THE LINE
If the Sixers get on a bit of a roll tonight, don’t be surprised if Brad Stevens goes to the Hack-a-Ben (Simmons) strategy which we saw in Philly’s 118-113 win over Washington on Wednesday. Simmons, who ended the Wizards game with a double-double of 31 points and 18 rebounds which were both career highs, shot an NBA-record 24 free throws in the fourth quarter. While it’s highly unlikely Stevens and the Celtics will foul him that much, rest assured he’ll likely be sent to the line intentionally at some point near the end of the game or a quarter.
 

MORRIS REUNION WEEK
Indeed, it has been one familiar face after another all week for Marcus Morris. The Detroit Pistons, the team that traded Morris to Boston, was in town on Monday. Tonight Morris will face his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. And on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns will be in town. Morris spent two-plus seasons with the Suns. He has shown nothing but love for the Pistons after they traded him and said he likes the direction his hometown team is going. But Phoenix? “Well, it’s a little different from Detroit than Phoenix. I got a lot of love for Detroit, never rubbed me wrong, did me wrong.”
 


BACKUP POWER
Bench scoring has not been a strength of either team. According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics’ second unit is averaging 30.5 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixer’s backups have struggled even more, averaging 27.1 points per game which ranks 27th in the league.

Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

Celtics defense doesn't rise to occasion with Kyrie out vs. Bulls

New experiences are a given when you have as many new faces as the Boston Celtics have this season.

Monday’s 108-85 loss to the Chicago Bulls?

Yup, that’s a new one.

You can rest assured the Celtics won’t dwell on this loss too long. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be forgotten quickly, either.

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As the Boston Celtics piled up the wins this season (they still lead the East with a 23-6 record), head coach Brad Stevens has tried to keep his team humble, reminding them that if they don’t play well they can be beat by anybody … even the Bulls.

Even in defeat, Boston has managed to at least give themselves a shot at winning with good energy and effort from most if not every player that steps on the court.

“We have a young group, so we usually have a lot of energy,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown told reporters afterwards. “We just couldn’t find it tonight. We start off bad, we usually find a way to come back and rally into the game. We could just never get it going.”

Boston’s Al Horford echoed similar sentiments.

“Credit to our group. We go out, we fight every night,” Horford said. “And tonight, we pushed but they answered back. We never caught a break. There were times there, we could have had a three (3-pointer) and we missed it. And then they come down and hit a three. It was kind of like … one of those nights, everything was working their way. Gotta give them credit. They came out the aggressor. They held it and we didn’t have it tonight.”

Of course, the easy way to explain away what happened was to point out the impact of not having Kyrie Irving (quads injury).

While there’s no question not having the team’s top scorer has a negative impact on the team’s overall play, the Celtics are a team that’s rooted in strong defensive play which should have been on display against Chicago.

Instead of Boston’s defense taking the lead, they were a non-factor most of the night, especially when it came to Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis who had 24 and 23 points, respectively.

“We didn’t challenge Mirotic or Portis at all,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And they got to the rim whenever they wanted.”

Fortunately for the Celtics, they return home where they can try and get back on a winning track after losing two of their last three games.

“We have to respond against Denver (on Wednesday),” Brown said. “When we come back and play them, we should have more energy.”

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Stars, studs and duds: 'Sometimes you get your butt kicked'

Stars, studs and duds: 'Sometimes you get your butt kicked'

Following Boston’s 108-85 thumping at the hands of the Chicago Bulls, Brad Stevens had a very succinct message for his team after the loss.

“Sometimes you get your butt kicked!” he told them.

While that’s true, it’s rare for an elite team, or least one with an elite-team record, to get beaten so soundly by another squad that while playing better of late, is still the worst team in the league.

“Chicago dictated the whole game; they played harder than we did,” Stevens said. “They played with more presence than we did; played more competitive than we did. They played with more authority than we did. You’re not going to win many games when you play like that.”

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Losing is something that all teams, good and bad, have to deal with and experience. But the way Chicago dominated play for most of the night, was something new for this Celtics team that has consistently come back from huge deficits to win.

But Stevens has cautioned repeatedly how his team was playing with fire making that part of their narrative this season, knowing there would be times when they just wouldn’t be able to muster up the necessary plays at either end of the floor and rally for a victory.

Monday was that night.

“We’ve had a chance to win every game except for this one,” Stevens said. “This one was obvious, even when we were making our run in the third it was kind of back and forth. And they hit every big shot they needed to kind of stem the tide when it was an 11-point game or put it back to 14. We just had too many easy errors from our standpoint. And then, they made plays.”

And in doing so, they absolutely out-played the Celtics in every way imaginable.

“I don’t want to chalk it up to, ‘hey you’re gonna have nights like this,’” Stevens said. “We just got our butt kicked; we’ll take that and move forward.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 108-85 beatdown at the hands of the Chicago Bulls who despite winning three straight, have now moved up to a tie for the worst record (6-20) in the NBA, with Atlanta.

  

STARS

Nikola Mirotic

The Boston Celtics had no answer for Mirotic who lit the Celtics up for 24 points. “We didn’t do a great job guarding him and he made us pay for that,” Stevens said. “He’s a really good offensive player.”

Bobby Portis

Coming off the bench, Portis gave the Celtics fits from the perimeter as well as around the rim before finishing with a season-high 23 points. “Portis got going from (3-point range),” Stevens said. “We played with no presence.”

 

STUDS

Kyrie Irving

He didn’t log a single minute on Monday, but his presence was definitely felt. Boston looked completely lost and discombobulated with their four-time all-star out of the lineup with a quads injury.

 

DUDS

Every Celtic on the active roster

There’s just not enough space to go through all the players that failed the Celtics miserably on Monday. The starters. The bench. The two-way players called up. This was not just the worst game of the season for the Celtics, but one of the worst ever in Stevens’ four-plus seasons as the Celtics head coach. “It was a collective success for them, and a collective failure for us,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

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