Celtics

Where are the Celtics' points going to come from?

Where are the Celtics' points going to come from?

BOSTON – It was a short, two-game road trip for the Celtics and the results – one win, one loss – were akin to how things have been for them lately - seemingly every success has been balanced with some sort of struggle.

And because of that, it’s hard to get a read on how they will bounce back following a 108-89 loss at New Orleans in a game that reinforced one of Boston’s biggest struggles most of this season – scoring points.

Boston averages 104.3 points per game, which ranks 20th in the NBA.

Since the All-Star break, Boston has averaged 110.7 points per game, which ranks 12th in the NBA.

But the team Boston fielded right after the break isn’t the same one we see on the floor now as the Celtics try to make the most of a roster that has been decimated by injuries in recent weeks.

And while there’s plenty of areas in need of improvement, Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows he has to figure something out for an anemic offense that has been a major factor in Boston losing three of its past four.

“We’re going to have moments where we’ll struggle to score with this group right now,” Stevens said. “And we just have to play a more concerted game, a more intentional game.

Stevens added, “this is a hard team for us to match up with, in full. You knew there were going to be some issues otherwise. There were some times where were probably let go of the rope in the second half and it cascaded on us.”

Here are five other takeaways from the loss to New Orleans:

HORFORD NEEDS TO BE BETTER
There’s no getting around the fact that Al Horford has to play better than we saw on Sunday, even with an Anthony Davis on the opposite bench. With a pair of starters (Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown) out as well as a key reserve (Daniel Theis), he’s the lone member of Boston’s current Big Three whose health is not an issue. And while we praise Horford for all the intangibles he brings to the game, Boston needs him to keep doing that and then some, as they try to navigate their way through the end of this regular season and hopefully have a close-to-full complement of players when the postseason arrives.

TATUM IN ATTACK MODE
Sunday was one of Jayson Tatum’s more aggressive performances of late, as he attacked the rim off the dribble, hit the open jumper and maybe most significant, consistently kept an opponent on their heels. He led the Celtics with 23 points, but you had the feeling he could have gone off and had an even more impressive game. With so many core guys out with injuries, Tatum has to look for his shot more often. There are few players so young in the NBA with such a varied skill set that appears to be expanding before our very eyes.

NADER'S FREE THROWS
There were many things that jumped out from the loss, but few stand out like the string of free throws missed by Abdel Nader. With Boston trailing by six points early in the fourth quarter, Nader was fouled while attempting a 3-pointer. And on the same play, the Pelicans were whistled for a technical foul. Nader, a 72 percent free throw shooter going into the game, missed all four free-throw throw and followed that up by missing the first of two free-throw attempts afterward. Fans may be down on Nader, but he still has the confidence of his head coach. “I believe in all these guys,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, Abs has been a very good free throw shooter his whole career. He was going to step up and have three right after (the technical foul free throw), and I thought he could step up and make the first one. So, I told him the next time we’re on the court I’m going to tell him to (shoot the technical free throw) again because I believe in him.”

BAYNES-MONROE BATTLE FOR PLAYING TIME
There’s no question Greg Monroe is becoming a lot more comfortable with the Celtics’ system and the role they need him to play in it. But Aron Baynes’ status as the team’s starting center remains on strong footing. The Celtics have been the top team defensively in the NBA most of this season, and the play of Baynes has been a key to that success. Monroe matching up with backups off the bench, more nights than not, is a favorable advantage for the Celtics.

?And when he has it going a bit which was the case against the Pelicans, those are the nights when he’ll see more time than Baynes which happened on Sunday as Monroe played 25-plus minutes compared to just 14 for Baynes.

TERRY ROZIER
We love the “Next Man Up” approach that the Celtics have been about all season. No Celtic has benefited more from this, than Terry Rozier. There is a level of confidence that he plays with that would not be present if it weren’t for the additional opportunities he has been given to become more of a leader with Kyrie Irving missing games from time to time, as well as the extended absences of Marcus Smart. Against the Pelicans, he had 13 points on 6-for-16 shooting. He grabbed seven rebounds while dishing out five assists with just one turnover. He’s had better games, obviously. But those numbers are becoming the kind of numbers he puts up with more consistency which bodes well for Rozier and the Celtics with the playoffs less than a month away.

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Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

Blakely: Brown and Tatum emerging as rising stars in series against Bucks

MILWAUKEE -- From the time Boston drafted Jayson Tatum last June, there was a certain connectivity with him and Jaylen Brown.

While their games differ, there are some common threads that from the outset bonded them in a way that stood out. 

Well, as we get deeper into the postseason, the Celtics' youthful 1-2 punch is beginning to stand out as two budding stars who are only getting better with time.

The C's return to Boston after a 104-102 Game 4 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday, which tied the best-of-seven series at two games apiece. Game 5 will be played at TD Garden on Tuesday and Game 6 back in Milwaukee on Thursday.

But in every game, win or lose, there are lessons to be learned. Especially for young players like Brown and Tatum. 

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For them, the takeaway is clear. 

There is a certain gear they have the ability to shift into that makes them pretty damn unstoppable. 

We saw that in the second half when for long stretches, they flip-flopped between being the best Celtic on the floor. 

Boston trailed 65-45 in the third quarter, then closed out the quarter with a 22-10 run with Brown and Tatum combining for 18 points during the Celtics spurt. 

The Celtics eventually took a brief lead in the fourth quarter on a Tatum jumper with less than a minute to play, but ultimately came up short following a tip-in by Giannis Antetokounmpo with 5.1 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winning basket.

No one is looking for silver linings this time of year. It’s all about wins and losses now. 

But that doesn’t take away from the need for growth, something Brown and Tatum --- who combined for 55 points (34 from Brown, 21 from Tatum) on Sunday -- are doing plenty of in this series. 

Boston would have loved to have had Kyrie Irving for this playoff series. But his absence has afforded all the members of this Celtics team to get some much-needed playoff seasoning that wouldn’t be nearly as abundant if Irving (recovering from knee procedure) were on the floor now.

There are a number of Celtics who have benefited from this, but few if any have had their learning curve accelerated as much as Brown and Tatum. Brown, in his second season, has scored 30 or more points in two of the four playoff games, the most recent being the 34-point effort on Sunday in Game 4.

And then there’s Tatum who put together one of the strongest rookie seasons ever by a Boston Celtic, a major accomplishment considering Boston’s storied past.

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He got it going in the second half on Sunday, scoring 18 of his 21 points. 

“I knew I had to be more aggressive,” Tatum said. “I had to pick up my play; just try to help out more.” 

And as this series continues to play out, both will continue to be looked upon for production which as we’ve seen, they are more than up to the challenge. 

But big numbers don’t mean much if they aren’t attached to a victory, something that eluded the Celtics in Milwaukee in Games 3 and 4. 

Boston will be back on familiar ground in Game 5 at the TD Garden, a game that the Celtics need in order to officially put the Bucks on the brink of playoff elimination. 

And make no mistake. The Bucks have their sights on trying to limit all the Celtics players, but they’ve seen enough to know that containing Brown and Tatum will be critical for Milwaukee to do what neither team has done thus far which is to win on the road. 

“They’re guys that have played with confidence not only throughout the season, but since the beginning of the season,” said Bucks interim head coach Joe Prunty. “They’re definitely people we have accounted for. As you get into a series, you’re always talking about what guy’s tendencies are. These two have played very well and we have to anticipate that.”

Prunty’s comments speak to what the Brown-Tatum tandem has done in this series. 

But their play serves as a snapshot of two young stars who, like the Celtics franchise, seem to be getting better with time. 

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6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

6 ways Celtics benefit from Marcus Smart's potential return for Game 6

MILWAUKEE – With a possible Game 6 return for Marcus Smart, there’s no question that would be a good thing for the Boston Celtics. 

Well, here are six ways having Smart back in the lineup can help aid Boston which is currently tied at two games apiece with the Bucks. 

Defensive versatility: At 6-foot-4 with a strong build, Marcus Smart gives Boston another body to throw at Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, the two players who have given the Celtics the biggest problems thus far in this series.

Additional ball-handler: The Milwaukee Bucks have tried to mix up their pressure defensively with an occasional full-court press of the Celtics. Smart is a combo guard who has shown tremendous growth this season as a floor leader with the ability to impact the game both as a scorer and facilitator.

Leadership: As the most tenured member of the roster, Marcus Smart has a high love of respect from his teammates. Not only because of his seniority with the franchise, but also because of the way he plays the game and his teammate’s understanding of how much he means to Boston when it comes to winning.

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Increased roster depth: Injuries devastated the Celtics’ roster heading into the playoffs. So a return of Smart would give Boston 12 healthy bodies. It may not seem like that big a deal. But as we’ve seen with this series, every available body matters when it comes to finding a pathway toward the second round of the playoffs for these teams.

Less pressure on Rozier: The first two games of this series really put a positive spotlight on Terry Rozier. The last two games, both losses for Boston, have featured Rozier struggling at both ends of the floor. Having Smart back would lighten Rozier’s plate some and in doing so, could better position him to be closer to the game-changing, difference-maker we saw in Games 1 and 2.

Playbook expansion: Having Marcus Smart back in the lineup gives head coach Brad Stevens a lot more options at both ends of the floor, which could be just what the Celtics need to limit Milwaukee’s 1-2 punch of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Khris Middleton, as well as the Bucks bench which has been the better unit of two, in Games 3 and 4.

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