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-Pistons a reminder of where both teams stand in the East

Celtics-Pistons a reminder of where both teams stand in the East

The idea every game for the Boston Celtics is to play a little better than they did the previous game. It’s the clearest signal for growth which more than anything else, is what the Celtics are striving to do consistently.

But as much as that might have been a focus against Detroit on Sunday, there was a bigger agenda item at work.

According to Kyrie Irving, Boston’s 91-81 win wasn’t about payback.

He’s right. 

But make no mistake about it; that was an agenda-driven victory that wasn’t so much about sending a statement but more of a reminder as to where Boston is right in the pantheon of the NBA and where the Pistons hope to be someday.

Celtics players saw their first meeting on Nov. 27 as one of 82 games. If they win it, great. If not, oh well. Let’s keep it moving. But the Pistons saw it as so much more than that. They treated as a much bigger deal than Boston did, and the result was Boston suffering its worst loss of the season.

Their game on Sunday was a referendum on Boston still being the team to beat in the East not named Cleveland, and Detroit is still among a jumbled pack of playoff contenders.

And so both move on, Boston (23-5) maintaining the best record in the East while the Pistons (14-12) have now dropped six straight with no clear signs of snapping out of their doldrums anytime soon.

That would be the big picture takeaway from Sunday’s game.

But it’s not the only one. 

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 91-81 win at Detroit on Sunday. 

 

There has been some noticeable and statistical slippage by the Boston Celtics recently on defense. On Sunday? Not so much. In fact, Boston wound up rendering a season-low 81 points. A big part of that was Boston’s unwillingness to give Detroit open looks. Of the 84 shots taken by the Pistons, 63 – that’s 75 percent – were contested. Throw in the fact that the Celtics have tremendous length when they do contest shots, it’s no surprise that the Pistons had major problems generating points.

 

AL HORFORD

He scored more points (18) than any other Celtic, but that just scratches the surface as to what he meant to Boston on this night. He was a rugged force around the rim, finishing one rebound shy of a double-double. And the offense went through him a lot, which explains the six assists. 

 

KYRIE IRVING’S KRYPTONITE

There is no player in this league that does a better job of defending Kyrie Irving, than ex-Celtic Avery Bradley. Now don’t get it twisted. Bradley doesn’t shut Irving down. What he does is, he makes Irving work harder than he does against any player, to score. So the 16 points on 6-for-16 shooting while not great by Irving standards, is pretty good considering who he was being defended by.

 

ANDRE DRUMMOND

The knock on him has been and continues to be, that he’s not as engaged as consistently as he needs to be to help his team. Give a lot of credit to Boston’s Aron Baynes for making Drummond for the most part, a non-factor. But some of the blame for Drummond’s dismal performance offensively (he was 1-for-5 and the one basket was a tip-in that upon further review looked as though it should not have been allowed), is on him. He was the biggest, strongest force on the floor on Sunday and had a very Drummond-like game in terms of rebounds (15). But this Pistons team needs him to be a steady presence scoring the ball as well. When he does that, Detroit can beat any team. But when he plays like he did on Sunday, the result more often than not will be what we saw – a Detroit loss. 

 

ARON BAYNES

He was justifiably praised for the job he did defensively on Andre Drummond. But as important as that was, often Baynes’ contributions offensively go unnoticed. For example, he had six points which equaled Drummond’s scoring. But what got overlooked was the job Baynes did in screening for assists. Boston had 16 assists for the game, with Baynes screening for eight of them. To put that in perspective, that was four times the total of the rest of the Celtics. And the nearest player to him in that category was Detroit’s Eric Moreland who screened for four assists. 

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

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WATCH: Boston Celtics vs. Chicago Bulls

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Bulls in Chicago. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game preview: Tatum getting lots of helping hands in his rookie season

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

[SHOP: Gear up, Celtics fans!]

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