Celtics

Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

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Celtics' cup has runneth over so far this season

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics are no different than the rest of us. They have a lot to be thankful for.
 
There’s the usual good health, family and friends. But they have a few more things to be thankful for, as well.
 
So as you take a brief time-out today from the turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, here’s a look at five things the Celtics are thankful for this season.


 
KYRIE IRVING
 
The Celtics have had some solid players in recent years, but the addition of Kyrie Irving was a game-changer. He provides Boston with an unmistakable superstar who has a proven track record of success on all levels -- he's won an NBA championship and an Olympic Gold medal, and is also a four-time All-Star. Did I mention he’s just 25 years old?


 
AL HORFORD
 
His numbers will never adequately measure the impact Horford has had on the Celtics. The big plus with Horford was him simply agreeing to be a Celtic. For years this franchise has been built on the success of developing draft picks or trading for talented players. But rarely have they had the financial flexibility or, to be frank, the kind of appeal to free agents to go out and acquire a proven All-Star like Al Horford. His arrival has enhanced an already-established winning culture, one that has become a player on the free agency market ever since.


 
DANNY AINGE
 
Other than Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti, it’s hard to imagine another front office executive having as good an offseason as Ainge. He rolled the dice to go down two spots in last June’s NBA draft, and wound up with arguably the most NBA-ready player (Jayson Tatum) among those selected in last June’s NBA draft. (Remember, the likely rookie-of-the-year Ben Simmons did not play last year after Philadelphia drafted him with the top overall pick in 2016.) The free-agent pickups of Aron Baynes, Daniel Theis and Shane Larkin have all had moments where they carried the team to victory. Even second-round picks like Semi Ojeleye and two-way players like Jabari Bird have contributed to wins this season. Fans may not like some of Ainge’s decisions in the moment but he deserves a lot of credit for the team we see today, one that has played at a level few envisioned they'd reach this quickly.


 
BRAD STEVENS
 
And to think, the Big Three (Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford) Boston was planning to build around this season has played less than five minutes together. Stevens has been pushing all the right buttons, putting guys in unexpected positions to succeed with a cast that’s long on talent and well, well short on experience. Boston’s first win of the season came at Philadelphia, a game in which the Celtics played six different rookies. It’s not unusual for teams to use first-year players frequently, but for a team that was built to contend for a championship? That’s highly unusual. The biggest thing is despite the lack of experience on the floor, Stevens hasn’t allowed them to use that as a reason to fail. Instead, Stevens has had them lean heavily on film study and the wisdom of veterans, as well as empowered them to have a “next-man-up” mindset with one goal regardless of what they are tasked with doing: Get it done. No excuses.


 
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
 
Boston has spent most of this season atop the NBA standings, fueled in large part by a 15-game winning streak -- the longest of the Brad Stevens era and the fifth-longest ever by a Celtics team. But within that winning streak, there have been some noticeable areas of concern (i.e., bench scoring) that have made games more challenging. And that's what makes these Celtics so scary to the rest of the league. If they’re beating teams consistently now, how much better will they be when the offense catches up or, at a minimum, gains some ground on what has been an impressive stretch of play defensively? That’s why as good as this first full month of the season has been, there's reason to believe they’ll only get better. The Celtiheircs have seen  share of adversity. They've played without their All-Stars. They have fought back from double-digit deficits to emerge victorious. This is a young squad, but battle-tested already. Because of all that, they have a certain level of confidence that regardless of the situation, regardless of the score, they feel they will find a pathway to success. And that, Celtics Nation, is something to be thankful for.

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Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

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In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

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Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Win or lose, strong play or a night full of struggles, Jayson Tatum’s demeanor seldom changes for the Boston Celtics.

That alone makes him a rather unique rookie.

But then you see him play and have nights like the one he had against Memphis tonight, and you realize why this 19-year-old kid is so cool, calm and collected all the time.

There’s still a lot for him to learn about this league, but his talent, skill and feel for the game is uncanny . . . which against the Grizzlies, helped Boston pull away in the fourth quarter for a 102-93 win.

Tatum had a near double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds with seven points in the fourth, but a deeper dive is required to fully appreciate what he meant to the Celtics on Saturday and what his true value is for this team this season.

“I was trying to be in attack mode, get what the defense was giving me,” Tatum said. “Just trying to bounce back from (Friday’s 107-95 loss to Utah).”

His scoring, rebounding, defense and overall impact was as good as we’ve seen from him this season, a radically different showing than Friday night’s 7-point performance which included him missing six of his seven shot attempts.

“He does a great job of having short-term memory,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Even in games, he might start a little slow and then he’ll pick it up. That’s a strength of his that’s very rare for a rookie. A lot of times, with rookies, when things don’t go their way, you can’t count on them. With him, it’s the opposite.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis.

 

STARS

Marc Gasol

The Grizzlies gave the Celtics all they could handle, and Gasol had a lot to do with it. He led all players with 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting.

Jayson Tatum

There were others who had more points than the 19-year-old, but Tatum was clutch when the Celtics really needed someone to step up. He finished with 19 points which included seven in the fourth quarter, along with grabbing nine rebounds to go with two blocks and two steals.

 

STUDS

Kyrie Irving

Once again, the Celtics’ scoring attack was led by Kyrie Irving who had a quiet 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting to go with six assists.

Al Horford

While his ability to facilitate remains a strength, Al Horford came up with some big shots in the second half as the Grizzlies tried to rally back into the game. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Daniel Theis

Playing with a broken nose and an off-the-shelf mask to protect it (he’ll get a fitted one soon), Theis had five points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes while playing good defense and providing some much-needed energy.

Tyreke Evans

The former rookie of the year has made an amazing transformation into a reliable 3-point shooter. That was just part of what was a really strong game from Tyreke Evans who had 25 points.  

 

DUDS

Celtics’ second-quarter play

For the second straight game, the Celtics were at their worst in the second quarter. Fortunately for them, it didn’t cost them the game as was the case on Friday night against Utah. The Celtics were fortunate to only be out-scored 28-17 which allowed them to maintain a 48-40 lead.

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