Celtics

Stars, studs, and duds: Irving and Horford shine in second half vs Thunder

Stars, studs, and duds: Irving and Horford shine in second half vs Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – What a whirlwind of a game this was for Kyrie Irving. 

The rim seemed like a moving target that Irving could never lock on to in the first half, only to absolutely dominate the Oklahoma City Thunder in leading the Celtics to a 101-94 come-from-behind win that extended their winning streak to a league-best seven in a row. 

After starting off 1-for-9 shooting, Irving bounced back with a 9-for-13 shooting display in the second half and finished with a team-high 25 points. 

I asked him what adjustments did he make to his game at halftime. 

“I didn’t really make any adjustments,” he said. “The first four shots I took, they were pretty good looks. They were loading up on the weak-side when me and Al (Horford) were coming off our pick-and-rolls. It just took a matter of time for us to settle in.”

Once that happened, the defense began to click, shots began to fall more often and the Celtics delivered an unexpected victory on a night when they fell behind by as many as 18 points. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased with how Irving and the rest of his teammates played with poise in the second half after a first half in which very little went their way. 

“Being able to stay the course and focus on the next task is important, and it’s hard to do,” Stevens said. 

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday’s 101-94 Boston Celtics win over the Oklahoma City Thunder which extended the Celtics’ league-best winning streak to seven in a row. 

STARS

Al Horford: One big shot after another fell for Horford in the fourth quarter as he delivered yet another strong performance in helping lead the Celtics to victory. He finished with a 20 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter to go along with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kyrie Irving: After a first half Irving would just as soon forget ASAP, he bounced back in the second with arguably his most impressive game of the season. Irving led all Celtics with 25 points, 22 of which came in the second half after he missed eight of his nine shot attempts in the first half. He also had six assists and five rebounds. 

Paul George: He spent most of the first half as the game’s dominant performer, and still finished with a strong game in leading the Thunder with a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Russell Westbrook: It was another night in which Westbrook seemed on pace for a triple-double, but a not-so-great showing in the second half - 7 points on 3-for-10 shooting with three turnovers which nearly equaled his four assists – had Westbrook finishing with a double-double of 19 points and 11 assists with six rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown: The more he plays, the more he figures out exactly what he needs to contribute when his shots not falling. Brown was just 3-for-8 shooting, but finished with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. 

Marcus Morris: There was some clear and undeniable rust on his game after such a long layoff, but Morris’ presence was definitely needed and was among the factors contributing to Boston’s victory. In addition to doing a solid job defensively against Carmelo Anthony, Morris also had nine points and four rebounds with a plus/minus of +11 that was second only to Kyrie Irving (+15).

 

DUDS

Carmelo Anthony: The Celtics collectively defended him well all game. While he was one of four players on the night to have a double-double, Anthony’s impact was minimal. He had 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting to go with a game-high 14 rebounds.

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

Blakely: Work in progress, but oh, what progress

BOSTON – The words of Stephen Curry following the Celtics’ 92-88 win over his Golden State Warriors had an off-handed, end-of-the-night throwaway feel to them, a statement that would soon be forgotten after the Warriors reel off what should be a long string of victories going forward.
 
“They’re playing the best right now in the East,” Curry said of the Celtics, who now have a 3-2 edge in their past five meetings following Thursday night’s thriller. “And obviously until they beat Cleveland, who's done it three years in a row … so we’ll see.”

CELTICS 92, WARRIORS 88

We already have, folks.
 
The Celtics and the Warriors are both quick to remind us all that we are only a month into the season and that there’s still lots of basketball to be played.
 
But the big takeaway from Thursday was that the Celtics’ ascension to the top of the NBA mountain is a matter of when, not if, it’ll happen.
 
Because what we’re seeing now is a team that is very much a work in progress, yet one that still manages to win games on a lot of nights that they have no business winning.
 
Think about it.
 
They shot 32.9 percent against the Warriors, the best team in the NBA, and still managed to get the win. According to NBA stats guru Dick Lipe, it was only the second time in the past 35 years that the Celtics shot less than 33 percent from the field and still managed to win.
 
That speaks to how well Boston defended the Warriors, who came in averaging a league-best 119.6 points per game.
 
But more than that, it shows this team has a will to win that’s almost unheard of for a group whose pieces are so relatively new to one another.
 
Of the 14 Celtics with guaranteed contracts on the roster, all but four are in their first season in Boston.
 
But even with the new guys coming together quicker than anticipated, Boston should not all of a sudden be considered the favorites in the NBA.
 
Even with the victory, Boston still has some ground to make up if they are to be on the same level as Golden State, a franchise that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past three seasons and has emerged a champion twice.
 
“It takes a lot of basketball to get there,” said Warriors guard Klay Thompson. “They have a good, young, hungry team. You have to give them credit. They have a better record than us, so you can say they’re better now.”
 
And while Thompson didn’t place an emphasis on it, the last word in his comments, “now,” is why Thursday’s victory leaves the Celtics cautiously optimistic.
 
Because as we’ve seen time and time, regular-season success does not always travel well beyond that and into the playoffs.
 
Still, Thursday’s win provides something for Boston beyond hope and optimism.
 
They now have results to go with the work they’ve put in to be a better team and compete with the league’s best.
 
And they’ve done it under less-than-ideal circumstances.
 
Gordon Hayward went down with an ankle injury less than five minutes into the season and he’s expected to be lost for the rest of the season. Al Horford missed two games while recovering from a concussion while Kyrie Irving missed a game after suffering a facial fracture.
 
So in other words, the Big Three that Boston was set on unleashing to the rest of the world has logged less than five minutes together all season.
 
And yet there are the Celtics (14-2), tops in the NBA while riding a historic 14-game winning streak, and there's reason to believe that maybe, just maybe, these two will be the last teams standing when all is said and done and some of those customary throwaway lines uttered by Curry might have some value after all if these two wind up meeting in the NBA Finals.

“I hear the weather is great here in June,” Curry said.
 
 

Brown leads C's to victory just a day after best friend's passing

Brown leads C's to victory just a day after best friend's passing

BOSTON – The NBA is an emotional game, but the feelings Jaylen Brown was working through on the eve of Thursday’s game against Golden State, are the kind you don’t wish anyone with the death of his best friend less than 24 hours before Thursday night’s tip-off.

Brown channeled his pain into a performance that was absolutely vital to Boston pulling off the biggest upset for them this season, a 92-88 win over the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

He led the Celtics with a team-high 22 points in the win which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 14 straight. 

But he was in no mood to celebrate afterwards.

CELTICS 92, WARRIORS 88

“My best friend (Trevin Steede) passed last night,” Brown said after the game. “It was tough to accept it. Everybody was kind of in shock. I knew coming in today, he would want me to play.

Brown paused, and added, “It’s hard to get my thoughts together. After talking to his mom and family, they inspired me to come out. I wasn’t in any shape to come out. I didn’t want to leave my room. They inspired me to come out and play and I came out and played in his spirit today.”

Indeed, Brown played with the kind of purpose that made it clear that this wasn’t just another game. 

Sure, Golden State was the defending champs but Brown’s temperament seemed to be on a level higher, much higher, than what you would come to expect from a highly-anticipated matchup. 

His teammates as well as the coaching staff were aware of what Brown was dealing with, and were prepared for him to not play if he decided that was the best thing for him. 

After the game, Kyrie Irving gave the game ball to Brown.

“I knew from start of the game, I gave him some great words that were given to me,” Irving said. “I’ve lost individuals in my life. It’s never a good thing when someone is going through it. You do your best to encourage them, to console them. But at the end of the day, it’s about the strength within themselves and he showed a lot of that tonight.”

Irving added, “to be able to go out and perform the way he did, I knew exactly who the game ball was going to.”

Dealing with this kind of adversity unfortunately is nothing new to the Boston Celtics. 

On the eve of the playoffs last season, ex-Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas’ younger sister Chyna Thomas died in a car accident. 

Just as they rallied around Thomas at that time, the Celtics have done the same for Brown. 

“It’s been a tough 24 hours for him as you call can imagine,” said coach Brad Stevens. “Very similar meetings and talking points I had with Isaiah (Thomas) last year, today. Like Isaiah used it as a distraction, he (Brown) went out there and played and was really, really good.”

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