Celtics

Stars, studs, and duds: Improving on perfection

Stars, studs, and duds: Improving on perfection

The Boston Celtics ran the tables in the preseason which they capped off with a 108-100 win over the Charlotte Hornets to finish with a 4-0 preseason record. 

While they clearly played well enough to win every time they stepped on the floor, they are by no means blinded by that success.

"It's good," Marcus Smart told reporters afterwards. "We gotta keep going. It's good to take away. We still have a lot to learn, a lot to go through."

While that is true, there's no escaping the fact that the Celtics have shown a level of cohesiveness at both ends of the floor, that has them maybe ahead of where most - including players - expected them to be at this point in the season.  

"I think so," Smart said. "We have a lot of guys, a lot of new guys. Everybody playing off one another getting great touches and great looks." 

STARS

Kyrie Irving: It’s clear that Irving is very much rounding into regular season form, delivering another strong performance in helping lead Boston to victory. He finished with a double-double of 16 points and 10 assists without playing a single minute in the fourth quarter, in addition to grabbing five rebounds. 

Gordon Hayward: He’s gradually finding his way as a scorer for Boston, in addition to doing all the little things necessary to win. He had 13 points, six rebounds and four assists. 

Malik Monk: The rookie is coming off the bench now, but don’t be surprised if he’s in the starting lineup at some point this season – sooner rather than later, most likely. He led all scorers with 21 points with six rebounds while shooting 4-for-10 from 3-point range. 

STUDS

Al Horford: Quiet. Efficient. Successful. That has been at the core of Horford’s basketball career, and Monday’s preseason game was no exception. He finished with a near double-double with 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists. 

Jaylen Brown: He had 12 points on 4-for-7 shooting, but it was his versatility as a defender that really stuck out as he held his own defensively against a quicker Kemba Walker, and yet still had enough strength to deal with Marvin Williams. 

Dwight Howard: He didn’t play a ton of minutes, but Howard looked pretty good when he was on the floor. He had 12 points on 6-for-10 shooting with six rebounds in just under 23 minutes. 

DUDS

Marvin Williams: Nicolas Batum’s elbow injury will keep him sidelined for at least six weeks, which means Hornets fans will see more of Williams. That’s not a good thing he plays like he did on Wednesday, scoring two points while missing seven of his eight shot attempts. 

Blakely: Jaylen Brown evolving into high-impact player before our eyes

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Blakely: Jaylen Brown evolving into high-impact player before our eyes

BOSTON – Jaylen Brown can still hear the murmurs from draft night two years ago shortly after his name was called. 

It was the pinnacle for every kid who has ever dreamed of being an NBA player, and yet Brown’s moment of great adulation from fans became a dream deferred with a mix of cheers and jeers from Celtics fans who felt the team would have been better off packaging the No. 3 pick used on Brown to acquire a more proven talent. 

That would serve as one of the many boulder-sized chips on Brown’s shoulders that has brought him to where he is now, as one of the biggest breakout performers in the playoffs. 

He is coming off a career-high 30 points in Boston’s 120-106 win, making the 21-year-old the youngest player in Celtics history to score 30 or more in a playoff game.

Brown comes into Friday night’s Game 3 matchup leading the Celtics (2-0 in best-of-seven series) averaging a team-high 25 points per game on 51.2 percent shooting from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range. 

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What Brown is doing now is a direct reflection of the progress made in his overall game from where it was a year ago, even if it doesn’t seem like that big a deal to him.

“To be honest, I don’t even pay attention to it. I’ve just been playing basketball all year,” Brown said following Tuesday’s win. “My teammates help me out a lot by finding me. Terry (Rozier) found me a lot throughout the course of the game and I was able to take some shots. Ultimately, we just want to win games, so that’s the only thing that we are concerned with. We are confident as ever. Teams have been writing us off all year and we just keep proving people wrong, so that’s what we’re going to do.”

Proving folks wrong is part of the narrative that is Brown’s story. 

When he came into the NBA, folks loved his athleticism. But his jumper, ball-handling and defensive awareness needed work. There’s an expectation that with time and experience, young players will get better. But what we’ve seen in Brown is more than just growth. It’s the byproduct of a young man who's extremely motivated to do more than just get better. 

He wants to be the best player on the floor, every minute he’s out there. While it is a goal that he’ll fall short of achieving, Brown is developing into a major, high-impact player before our very eyes. 

“Well I think Jaylen loves the moment,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “I think he really appreciated the opportunity like to – to compete on this stage and at this level and we’ve seen him against the better teams in the league all year be able to really raise his level in some of the biggest games. And, you know, I think that obviously he’s gaining more experience by the minute and he – he lived quite a lot last year. And so, he’s one of our more experienced guys in some ways in this setting.”

It is a setting Brown has always felt that it was a matter of when, not if, he would be here. And while he has certainly become a fan favorite, he knows he still has a few skeptics out there.

“I love it. I thrive off it,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When people say this, say that, tell you what you’re gonna do, tell you how successful you are going to be, I smile and keep it moving.”

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Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown showing up Bucks veterans

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Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown showing up Bucks veterans

BOSTON – When this Boston-Milwaukee playoff series began, there were legitimate questions about how Boston’s youthful backcourt tandem of Terry Rozier and Jaylen Brown would hold up against the Bucks and their more experienced tandem led by Eric Bledsoe and Tony Snell.

Two games and two Celtics wins later, this hasn’t even been marginally close with Boston’s 1-2 backcourt punch delivering one big shot after another which has been among the keys to Boston taking a 2-0 series lead as Games 3 and 4 shift to Milwaukee.

In two games, Rozier and Brown have outscored Milwaukee’s starting backcourt 96-25.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens believes those numbers are a bit skewed because they don’t take into account the scoring of Khris Middleton whom Stevens considers as being part of the Milwaukee backcourt.

Ok, coach.

Add Middleton’s 56 points scored in the first two games and that brings the Bucks’ perimeter point total up to 81.

“We’re trying a lot of different bodies on Middleton,” Stevens said. “Bledsoe’s a handful because of his ability to drive the ball and knock down shots off screens. And Snell as always been a guy that’s been able to make open shots.”

But if you’re gonna factor in Middleton’s points for Milwaukee, you have to throw in Jayson Tatum’s 23 points in two games which would bring the final tally to 122-81, a staggering lopsided figure as well. 

Stevens knows all too well that the road for his perimeter players and his entire team for that matter, will only get rougher in time.

“We know we have our hands full and our guys are preparing ever game like that’s the case,” Stevens said.

And even with the lopsided nature of the scoring thus far from the starting perimeter players by Boston, there’s still a sense that some Bucks – ok, one Bucks player – isn’t quite ready to put some respect on what the Celtics were able to do perimeter-wise in Games 1 and 2.

Bledsoe, who is averaging 10.5 points in this series, was asked about Rozier’s play after two games which in addition to averaging 23.0 points also includes him failing to turn the ball over once in more than 78 minutes of action.

“Who?” was Bledsoe’s initial responded which was followed by, “I don’t even know who the (expletive) that is.”

Stevens was aware of Bledsoe’s comments about Rozier but made it clear that he was not going to get into anything that might he constructed as a war of words.

“I heard that,” said Stevens about the comments in regards to Rozier before adding, “Our team is just focused on Game 3.”

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