Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

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Stars, studs and duds: Marcus Smart spurs turning point vs. Bucks

MILWAUKEE – No matter how bad Marcus Smart may shoot the ball, good things tend to happen when he’s on the floor.

The Milwaukee Bucks learned this first-hand on Thursday night as the Celtics pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 96-89 win. 

Returning to action after missing the last two games nursing a left ankle sprain, Smart had eight points while missing eight of his 10 shots from the field. 

His defense will always be his biggest strength, but Smart’s playmaking skills were instrumental in the game’s momentum swinging Boston’s way near the end of the third quarter.

After a step-back jumper by Kyrie Irving cut Milwaukee’s lead to 63-59, it was Smart who found Al Horford in perfect position to drain a 3-pointer. Moments later, Horford hit another one to give Boston the lead.

Horford made big shots, obviously. 

But he was quick to praise the play of Smart for setting him up. 

“I really have to give all the credit to Marcus Smart on that,” Horford said. “He just sees the game in ways that a lot of times we don’t even see it. He recognized that my guy was kind of falling asleep on the weak side. He got me open there for back-to-back threes and I felt like that was a big turning point in the game.”

Said Smart: “Al’s a unique player that we have that can dominate from the inside and the outside. So as a guard, it’s our job to get him the ball.”

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And recognize how to deal with smack-talk. 

Both of Smart’s made baskets came about because of a Bucks rookie basically egged him on. 

“I don’t even know his name,” said Smart, who added that the rookie told him, “you’re trash.”

Smart had a message for the young fella. 

“I said, ‘listen, this is my first game back. I’m playing on two hurt ankles; still got more playing time than you,’’’ Smart recalled telling him. “And I hit my first three. He said, ‘Good, that’s one.’ Then I hit the second one and I pointed at him and said, ‘that’s two; two more than you got!’’’

Smart added, “It was fun. One day that’ll be him doing it.”

Here are the other Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 96-89 win over Milwaukee which extended Boston’s winning streak to three in a row. 

STARS

Al Horford: We have seen Horford deliver defensively and at times, provide a nice offensive punch. But on Thursday, he was absolutely outstanding at both ends of the floor and was far and away the best performer on the court. Horford finished with a near double-double of 27 points and eight rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists.

Kyrie Irving: Irving came to the rescue of Boston’s offense several times when it bogged down on Thursday, the kind of offensive juice the Celtics need from their best one-on-one scorer. He finished with 24 points on 10-for-18 shooting along with seven assists and just two turnovers. 

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Horford defended Antetokounmpo better than anyone has all season. But the Greek Freak still put up big numbers, a reminder as to why even in defeat he’s one of the best in the game now. He finished with a double-double of 28 points and 10 rebounds along with dishing out seven assists. 

STUDS

Aron Baynes: Whether he’s coming off the bench or starting, by the end of the night he will make his presence known. Baynes’ plus/minus for the game was a team-best +8. In addition, he scored 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds, but maybe his most memorable play of the night was drawing a blocking foul against Giannis Antetokounmpo that prevented the Greek Freak from a powerful dunk. He stayed on the floor for a few seconds longer than usual, only to bounce back up and get ready for the next play. 

Malcolm Brogdon: The league’s reigning Rookie of the Year was one of the few scoring options the Bucks could turn to in the second half who actually produced at a fairly consistent clip. He would finish with 15 points, six rebounds and five assists along with a blocked shot.

DUDS

Thon Maker: He didn’t play a ton of minutes, and the reason was obvious. He was easily the most ineffective starter for the Bucks, missing three of his four shot attempts. But more than his lack of scoring, the Bucks just weren’t very good when he was on the floor which was validated when you see that he had a plus/minus of -11 which was worse than any other Bucks player on Thursday. Brad Stevens changed up his starting lineup for matchup purposes. The Bucks might think about doing the same with Maker who does not match up well with the Celtics’ big men.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

Blakely's takeaways: Moving on without the streak

The streak is over! The streak is over!

We now return the Boston Celtics to their regularly scheduled pursuit of success without the growing pressure that comes with a historically relevant winning streak.

The 104-98 loss at Miami on Wednesday night brought an end to what had been one of the more unlikely winning streaks we’ve seen in the NBA for quite some time.

Boston reeled off 16 straight wins, many of which were the come-from-a-double-digit-deficit variety. In the end, the Celtics’ winning streak ranks as the fourth-longest in this storied franchise’s history.

“I told you, we’re not as good as the 16-game win streak,” Stevens said following the loss. “But we do have a lot of resolve.”

That resolve will surely be challenged with the Celtics taking Thanksgiving off, only to return and play three games in the next four nights beginning with Orlando on Friday, followed by a road game at Indiana on Saturday and a home date against the Detroit Pistons on Monday.

Here are five takeaways from the Boston Celtics’ 16-game winning streak.

KYRIE FOR MVP?

When the Boston Celtics traded for Kyrie Irving during the offseason, there was a sense that his presence would be a plus in some capacity, at some point. But few envisioned Irving would not only have a relatively seamless fit with the Celtics, but deliver in such a way that would catapult them to the top of the NBA standings and in doing so, establish him as one of the early front-runners for the league’s MVP award. This season, Irving is averaging a team-best 22.5 points and 5.2 assists while shooting 47 percent from the field but most important, the Celtics (16-3) have the best record in the NBA.

WANTED: BENCH SCORER

If you are a fan of good defenders, you probably love the Boston Celtics’ second unit. Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart are both ball-hawking defenders who can make some miserable times for opponents when they are on top of their game. Daniel Theis provides great energy on the glass and defensively. But the second unit needs a jolt offensively. Because as good as they can defend collectively, the Celtics have to have at least one starter on the floor most of the time because the bench doesn’t have an adequate collector of buckets that they can rely on consistently. Marcus Morris looks like an ideal choice for that role, but the left knee soreness that kept him out for eight games seems to be flaring up from time to time. Whether they address this with a trade or possibly with a player bought out, the lack of a second-unit scorer is very much an issue for this team.

BROWN EMERGES AS TWO-WAY TALENT

The plan was for Jaylen Brown to be an elite, shut-down defender this season. He has shown himself to be a good defender this season, but what has really made him stand out is the growth in his game offensively. The second-year wing has scored 20-plus points in three of Boston’s last four games. Doing that along with continuing to play good defense has him looking like one of the NBA’s promising young two-way talents.

TATUM’S GROWTH A SILVER LINING IN HAYWARD INJURY

You never want to see the Boston Celtics or any team for that matter, lose a player for the season let alone one who meant as much as Gordon Hayward to the Celtics. But if there is a silver lining in his ankle injury which is expected to keep him out all season, it is the opportunity it created for Jayson Tatum. The 19-year-old has been arguably the best player from last June’s draft class, playing major minutes with a major role for the team with the best record in the NBA. The opportunity to play around 30 minutes a game would not have been there for Tatum if Hayward didn’t get hurt. The challenge for Tatum going forward is to stay consistent, because now that teams have seen him for almost a quarter of the season, you can expect they will make some adjustments in how they defend him as well as try to attack him when he’s defending.

WE TALKIN’ ABOUT PRACTICE

During Boston’s 16 game winning streak, the Celtics played the last eight games in 16 nights. That’s a game every other night for more than two weeks. In that time, there’s little to no time for practice which has been a factor in Boston not being quite as sharp in the last few games, as they were at the start of the streak. After Thanksgiving, Boston plays three games in four nights with a pair of days off to follow before they return to action. There’s a very good chance that the Celtics will use one of those two days to practice, something this team desperately needs to clean up some of the minor mistakes that were big problems in their loss to the Heat on Wednesday.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics streak comes to an end

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Celtics streak comes to an end

0:41 - Tom Giles, Kayce Smith, and DJ Bean discuss the Celtics 16-game winning streak being snapped by the Miami Heat.

6:05 - Tom Curran and Mike Giardi talk about Tom Brady missing practice due to an Achilles injury and Randy Moss’ chances to make the Hall of Fame.

11:15 - A. Sherrod Blakely joins BST to discuss the mental and physical fatigue that the streak had on the Celtics and if there is a sense of relief that the streak is over.  

16:11 - With it being the 5th anniversary of the Butt Fumble, we compare it to other embarrassing sports moments in history.