Celtics

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Streak reveals depth even Celtics didn't know they had

Coaches in all sports will tell you that winning is not easy.
 
Making the Celtics’ 16-game winning streak even more impressive is that a number of the victories have involved Boston turning to some unlikely sources of production.

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And that has provided a glimpse into a franchise that’s getting the best of both worlds: quality play from its core group while developing reserves who have contributed to the team reeling off 16 straight wins in a variety of ways.
 
Because coach Brad Stevens has gone deeper into his bench this season than past years, it has created a roster with minutes more evenly distributed and with that, less wear and tear on the bodies of key players.
 
And while this team is led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, there has been at least one other Celtic to emerge as a top-three performer every night...and often it’s not the same player.
 
“Much more unpredictable now,” a league executive texted to NBC Sports Boston. “That number three guy, is it [Jaylen] Brown? [Jayson] Tatum? Sometimes it’s Marcus [Smart]. You don’t know who it’s going to be because a lot of times, I don’t think they [Celtics] know who it will be. It’s why they’re so good, man.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game in Miami with the Celtics trying to push their winning streak to 17:

KYRIE FOR MVP
It’s one thing for the home crowd to get into the ‘M-V-P’ chants when you’re at the free-throw line. But it’s a completely different matter when those same cheers are being heard on the road. That’s where Irving was following the 110-102 overtime win at Dallas, a game in which Irving dropped 47 points, 10 in overtime. It’ll be interesting to see if another strong game by Irving will lead to another serenading of ‘M-V-P’ chants for the most dominant player on the team with the league’s best record.


 
TURNING DOWN THE HEAT
The streak is the talk of the NBA right now, but streaking was going to be part of the conversation leading up to tonight’s game regardless. The Celtics come into tonight’s game having won eight in a row over the Heat, their longest current winning streak over any team. Boston has dominated this matchup for years, posting a 70-44 record all-time against Miami in the regular season.
 

DUKE CONNECTION
College basketball just kicked off and Duke is once again among the game’s top teams, a school that consistently produces NBA talent at a relatively high level. That’ll be very apparent tonight when you consider this Boston-Miami matchup features three players (Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum for Boston, Justise Winslow for Miami) from Duke who will all be in the starting lineup and a fourth (Boston’s Semi Ojeleye) who attended Duke but later transferred to SMU.


 
JUSTISE WINSLOW
Every front-office executive has that one player they tried – and failed – to acquire that, in hindsight, not getting him was a really good thing. Winslow is that guy for the Celtics. While he hasn’t been necessarily a bust, his impact at this level hasn’t been enough to have warranted all the assets Boston was willing to part with on draft night in order to move up and select him. Still, he’s healthy now and starting to play better which is evident by his numbers in most offensive categories on the rise, while his defense has been relatively solid.
 

THREE-POINTERS
The Heat have made the 3-point shot a much bigger part of their offense this season, evident by Miami ranking seventh in the league in 3-point makes (11.2) this season. In Boston, one of the keys to their top-ranked defense has been their length, which has come in real handy defending the 3-pointer. In fact, Boston has limited opponents to just 32.1 percent shooting on 3’s this season, which ranks third in the league.

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Celtics set to play with greater sense of urgency in return to action

Celtics set to play with greater sense of urgency in return to action

WALTHAM, Mass. – The road to getting back atop the Eastern Conference standings for the Boston Celtics following the All-Star break will begin – where else? – on the road.

And that’s a good thing.

Boston, which plays its first two games after the break on the road beginning at Detroit tonight and New York on Saturday, has been among the league’s best all season when it comes to winning on the road.

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Only two teams, Golden State (22-7, .759 winning percentage) and Houston (21-7, .750 winning percentage), have a better road winning percentage than the Celtics (19-8, .703 winning percentage) this season.

“Our schedule is really hard as we hit this last home stretch 23 games,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And that’s a good thing with us. We are going to have to have that urgency.”

Boston (40-19) has lost three straight and four of its last five games.

Aware of how quickly a couple of losses can snowball into a full-blown losing skid, Boston players understand the importance of playing with a greater sense of urgency.

“I think we have a sense of urgency about ourselves,” Brown said. “I think we understand the second half of the season and the importance of it, getting ready for playoffs. And how you can see some of the older guys, Kyrie (Irving), Al (Horford), the attention to detail, the stress about the little things is becoming more evident.” 

Said Irving: “We hit a little bit of a stretch where we haven’t been playing our type of basketball. Not necessarily being as consistent as we’d like to be. We just want to get back to being consistent and doing the right things.”

Stevens added, “Hopefully these little hiccups that we have had prior to the break, which more pertains to who we are playing … hopefully benefit us down the road.”

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Al Horford said more than anything, the Celtics have to ratchet up their attention to details in all phases of play.

“The focus is really now more than any point in the season taking it day-to-day,” Horford said. “And I felt like we got better, today was a good practice. This is a good start, so now for us it’s just to keep building that and just take it game-to-game because these are … the rehearsal games, if you want to call them that. That’s what I like to call it with this group. So, getting everything straightened out for when the playoffs come around.”

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CELTICS TALK PODCAST: Anthony Davis opening the door for a trade?

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CELTICS TALK PODCAST: Anthony Davis opening the door for a trade?

Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely start off this week's episode talking about the return of Marcus Smart following the All-Star break, and how much the team missed him in their recent skid. Will head coach Brad Stevens make a lineup change, and with more practice time under his belt, will Greg Monroe see his minutes increase?

(9:50) Sherrod talks about his article on NBCSportsBoston.com this week on Kyrie Irving needing to have a 'special' finish to his first season with the Celtics.

(14:15) Would the rumored changes to the NBA Playoff format would be good or bad?

(16:45) Kyle and Sherrod (plus producer Jason Levine joining the fray) have a great debate on the latest tidbit of trade rumblings surrounding New Orleans Pelicans superstar Anthony Davis. Is the door finally open for the Celtics to swoop in?

(30:40) The guys also talk about the latest news with Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs....could he become available this offseason?

(33:10) Finally, Kyle sits down with Brad Stevens to talk about his trip to Red Sox Spring Training during the break, plus the terrible end to his own baseball career.

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN

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