Celtics

Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

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Celts ignore doubters to win Atlantic

BOSTON -- When the Boston Celtics started the season 0-3, there was doubt.

When the Celtics lost five straight in January, and then again the next month, there was doubt.

When the Celtics suffered injuries, looked tired closing out games, and battled with inconsistency, there was doubt.

The notion of the Celtics winning the Atlantic Division this season didnt seem like the most plausible outcome at points during this season. But to the Celtics, there was no doubting their ability to claim the title they have held since the 2007-08 season.

And after clinching the division on Wednesday night following a 102-98 win over the Orlando Magic, they let it be known.

You guys called us old, over, said Kevin Garnett. I heard some of your pathetic articles and some of your lousy announcers (scans group of reporters with his eyes). Its a pity. Obviously you dont know what drives us. We thank yall for those articles, appreciate it because it lit a fire under us.

The Celtics headed into the All-Star Break with a 15-17 record. Since then, they are 22-9 while facing multiple injuries and setbacks. They improved to 37-26 on Wednesday with three games left in the regular season.

Garnett points to chemistry and confidence in one another as the key to this success in the second half. He noted it is a process that doesnt happen overnight, and with less than two weeks before the playoffs, it has happened in time.

One of the hardest things Ive always said in this league is to create chemistry, he said. I knew at some point we all, as a unit, would get a rhythm and ride that rhythm out. I think thats what youve seen since the All-Star break. Weve come back, refreshed, focused.

Like I said, havent had a lot of practice time to implement a system of schemes, but we do have a core here and what youve seen up until this point to obviously come to a point to where weve won the division is not only confidence, but believing in that system and believing in that rhythm and riding that rhythm out.

Like Ive always said since Ive been here, you can rewind the tapes right now. Different outfit, no scarf, same frames, that in order to build chemistry, its a process. You just dont do that in one or two days. And were a very confident team, Ive always said that. We never lack that. To be able to come and win your division is a huge thing. All those things combined is what you got today.

The Celtics are on the same page on and off the court. Prior to Garnetts postgame interview, Keyon Dooling echoed the same sentiments of being counted out by the critics.

Everybody pretty much wrote us off, talking about how old we were, how washed up we were, Dooling said. We all, internally, never bought into that. Obviously coming out of a condensed season when theres a lockout and from a conditioning standpoint, we werent were we wanted to be earlier in the season. But we know as we continue to get healthy, continue to round ourselves out into shape, we will be here at the end.

With that confidence is also focus. The Celtics goals are far bigger than the Atlantic Division. All the banners in the rafters represent the ultimate title and serve as constant reminders of the task at hand.

Im not about to go pop some champagne bottles or anything like that, said Paul Pierce. I know they do in baseball. I mean, it is a good accomplishment. The guys should recognize where we came from to what we are today. Its a good accomplishment, I guess. But all we care about around here is a championship banner. I guess its just a step towards the journey we are trying to go towards.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”