Celtics

Krejci 'missed the NHL', has moved on from last season

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Krejci 'missed the NHL', has moved on from last season

David Krejci knows that last season ended on a bad note for him personally, and for the Boston Bruins as a team. The 26-year-old struggled in the playoffs after a plexi-glass frame dropped onto his head following Game One at TD Garden against the Washington Capitals, and was greeted with trade rumors with Phoenix or Anaheim during and after the NHL season had concluded.

But that was practically a lifetime ago now. The playmaking Czech center is ready to put all of that behind him headed into this year and start anew with a Bruins team thats returning nearly the entire cast that captured a Stanley Cup two years ago.

Last year is behind me now. Ive already played some games so Ive forgotten about it, said Krejci. I just want to have a good start to the season just like the rest of the team.

Everybody is going to be hungry in the NHL. Every team is going to be hungry, said Krejci, who finished with 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) in 24 games for HC Pardubice in the Czech Republic coming off a career-high 23 goals scored for the Bruins last year. Were just going to have to be hungrier than they will be. From what I saw today guys are hungry and excited, so hopefully we can get off to a good start and go from there.

The only positive for Krejci stemming from the NHL lockout was the ability to spend some extended time at home in the Czech Republic. Pardubice was more than an hour drive away from his hometown, but Krejci was able to spend Christmas and New Years with his family for the first time in 10 years.

That didnt take away the sting of missing NHL games, however.

I had never played in the Czech League before, so that was kind of nice. It was my first Christmas at home in like 10 years, so I spent it at home with my family, said Krejci. That was the biggest positive use of the whole situation. But I missed the NHL. When we were all kids we dreamed of playing in the NHL, so once you finally make it thats where you want to be. Im glad we got a deal done so we could finally play.

Krejci is expected to begin the season centering Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton on either side of him when the Bruins roll out the familiar forward lines that have served them so well over the last few years.

Lucic and Horton looked pretty good today. Im sure they kept themselves in good shape, said Krejci. Theyre fast skaters and they play a tough, northsouth game. Im going to have to try keeping up with them.

That comfort and chemistry between forward combos should breed instant success, and the short season could bring the best out in a big-game performer like Krejci.

But the playmaking pivot will have to continue chasing the game-to-game consistency hes been searching for during a successful NHL career that could still reach yet another level under the right circumstances.

WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Hawks

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

- Game preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's 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.”