Stevens knows grounding Rockets starts on defense

Stevens knows grounding Rockets starts on defense

HOUSTON – When it comes to playing good defense, there’s plenty of data Celtics coach Brad Stevens can rely on to give him a feel for where his team stands.

A big part of being a good defensive team is being in the right place at the right time, which for a team with as much length defensively as the Celtics have, leaves them covering lots of real estate.

Boston will need that level of defense tonight against a Houston Rockets, who are riding a 14-game winning streak that has vaulted them to the top of the NBA standings.

Indeed, Stevens believes Boston’s defense at its best, has the look of being every were, all the time.

“We have a deceptiveness to us,” Stevens said. “We're long, we have our arms out, we're in a stance, we're quick to react...it's always kind of been when that shot goes up, do we have five guys engaged in the rebound and are our guards flying over the top to get them. You go back through some of our best possessions of the year, we are active, we're taking away the first option, we're taking away the second option with our effort and we fly in for rebounds. Easier said than done against a team like Houston the whole time because the first and second options are hard to take away."

Here are five other under-the-radar storylines from Saturday's showdown in Houston: 


Much of the talk coming in centers around Marcus Smart’s two offensive foul calls against James Harden in the final seconds, or the efficient scoring of Kyrie Irving. But lost in the conversation was how Al Horford scored the game-winning basket instead of setting up a teammate. “I always pride myself on making plays for the team, to help us win,” said Horford who had nine points in the win on Dec. 28. “So that was another play for me to be able to step up for the opportunity and make that shot.”


Jayson Tatum has played with a maturity beyond his years, often praised for how he handled himself as a teenager in the NBA. Those days are behind him now as the now-20-year-old Tatum celebrates his birthday tonight.


When the Celtics knocked off the Houston Rockets in December, one of the keys in Boston’s upset win was Marcus Morris. Well, there’s a chance he may wind up being even more impactful tonight. Back then, Morris had a sore left knee which required him to play limited minutes. In the win over Houston, Morris had 10 points – all coming in the second half which is when the Celtics made their miraculous comeback. Morris played less than 20 minutes in that game, something we seldom see these days with Morris logging at least 20 minutes played in each of Boston’s last nine games.


A hamstring injury kept Daniel Theis out Wednesday against Charlotte, but it won’t keep him out of the lineup tonight. Barring a last-minute change, Theis is scheduled to return to the Celtics lineup tonight against Houston. There are plenty of headliners for the Boston Celtics and Houston Rockets, but its role players like Theis that could mean the difference between winning and losing.


Brad Stevens might be hauling NBA max player money if he got a dollar for every time he has been asked about Gordon Hayward returning to action this season. “He’s not playing this year; I don’t know what else to say,” Stevens said. “Is he progressing? Yes. But he’s a super-long way away, from even being in a one-on-(zero) workout where he’s cutting.”



Rozier gets a big test tonight against Thunder

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Rozier gets a big test tonight against Thunder

BOSTON -- Terry Rozier has stepped up his game this season. There’s no disputing that point. 
And the Celtics have rewarded him with increased playing time, which he has proven he deserves. 
While he has made the most of his opportunity with an increased role due to injuries, at some point Rozier’s minutes should go back to being 20 or so per game. 
It’s amazing how far Rozier has come in such a short period of time, from a first-round pick many questioned as being a reach on Boston’s part, to an integral part of the team’s quest towards Banner 18.
And it is games like tonight’s against the Oklahoma City Thunder that will put the experience gained by Rozier as a major contributor, to the ultimate test when he faces off against reigning league MVP Russell Westbrook.
No one expects Rozier to put up Westbrook-like numbers . . . but would anyone be shocked if he did?
Remember, Rozier’s first NBA start came this season and he racked up his first career triple-double. The next game out, he dropped a career-high 31 points. 
But as we get deeper into the season, he’s no longer viewed as a backup or a role player, They see him as a player that has to be accounted for, regardless of whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. 
“There’s a lot of teams in this league you could easily see him starting for,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston via text. “He’s not Kyrie [Irving] obviously, and he’s a different kind of player than Marcus [Smart], but he can play. If teams didn’t know it before, they know it now.”
Rozier may not be a secret anymore, but here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics go for the season sweep against the Oklahoma City Thunder. 


If the Celts expect to win tonight, they better get it done in four quarters of play. Because overtime has been a good time for the Thunder. They come into tonight’s game with a 3-0 record in overtime this season. They are one of eight teams with an unblemished overtime record, and no other team in the league this season has as more wins (3) in overtime without a single defeat. 


The NBA hit Marcus Morris up for $15,000 following “verbal abuse of a game official” at the end of Boston’s 108-89 loss at New Orleans.  Morris will be lighter in the wallet, obviously. But it also might get him even more fired up tonight which could lead to him lighting up the Thunder. 


Scoring around the basket has not been a strength of the Celtics, but with key players on the perimeter hurt, Boston has to generate points in other ways. Doing so against the Thunder, a team that has allowed 43.1 points in the paint per game --10th-fewest allowed in the league this season -- will be a challenge.


At some point tonight, Boston will be challenged to get back on defense and not allow Russell Westbrook to score on the break. The Celtics have been one of the league’s better transition defense teams in allowing 10.2 fast-break points, which is the fourth-fewest allowed per game this season. Meanwhile, the Thunder average 14.1 fast-break points, which ranks third in the league. 


The Celtic players talk all the time about how great the TD Garden crowd can be. But at the end of games lately, they haven’t let them much to cheer about. The C's come into tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder with losses in five of their last seven home games with the lone wins coming over Memphis and Charlotte – two teams currently out of playoff seeding. Boston’s last home win over a team that’s currently in the top 8 was a 97-96 win over Portland on Feb. 4, a game in which Al Horford hit a game-winning, fadeaway jumper as time expired.


Report: Kyrie Irving may need screws removed from knee

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Report: Kyrie Irving may need screws removed from knee

BOSTON — Kyrie Irving is reportedly going to get a second opinion on his sore left knee which may result in him having season-ending surgery.

98.5 The Sports Hub’s Tony Massarotti reported on Tuesday that Irving will get a second opinion as early as Wednesday.

Irving suffered a fractured left knee cap during the 2015 NBA Finals.

He underwent surgery that sidelined him for the rest of the playoffs.

The surgical procedure performed on his knee involved the insertion of screws to aid the stabilization of the  kneecap.

The Celtics have already been ravaged by injuries this season. They lost Gordon Hayward just five minutes into the season due to a left ankle injury. Daniel Theis is out for the season with a torn meniscus injury to his left knee. Marcus Smart recently had right thumb surgery that will keep him out for the rest of the regular season, with there being a chance he will return at some point for the playoffs. And Jaylen Brown suffered a concussion that has him sidelined, as well.