Five Takeaways

Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

BOSTON -- When you think about the Boston Celtics this season, Kyrie Irving’s ability to deliver in the clutch comes to mind.

But in his absence the last three games, we have seen others emerge as go-to performers down the stretch of close games.

It doesn’t get much closer than Sunday’s 97-96 buzzer-beating win over Portland, a game that ended with Al Horford knocking down a 20-foot, fade-away jumper as time expired.

The game-winning basket was just part of Horford’s strong play down the stretch, with him scoring or assisting on four of Boston’s seven made baskets in the final five minutes of play.

And of those seven made baskets, they were scored by five different players, which speaks to how diverse the Celtics can be with the game on the line and no Irving around to carry them. 

 “At the end of the day, we got some of the clutchest players in the game,” said Jaylen Brown, whose 3-pointer with 1:13 to play gave Boston its biggest lead (93-88) of the game. “Of course Kyrie and [Jayson Tatum], and I put myself in that category too. We always give ourselves a chance to win.”
 
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 97-96 thriller against Portland, which extended Boston’s winning streak to four.

HORFORD STEPS UP

Because he does so many of the little things that lead to winning, it’s easy to forget that Horford can score against most NBA bigs. With Irving out and his replacement, Terry Rozier, struggling to make shots, Horford put the team on is back for longer stretches than usual on Sunday. And the end result was a team-leading 13th double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, which included the game-winning basket as time expired. 

THIRD-QUARTER TAKEOVER

The Celtics went through a stretch where the third quarter was a time in which they struggled. But lately, it has been the jump-off for their second half success. Against the Blazers, Boston outscored Portland 31-19 in the quarter to nearly wipe out a 16-point halftime deficit. It was the third straight game Boston has outscored its opponent by double digits in the quarter, with the average margin during that span being 14.7 points per game.

 

END OF C’s BENCH EMERGES

Proving that their time to contribute may be sooner than later, the Celtics’ guys at the end of the bench really stepped up to make big plays against Portland. Abdel Nader, former D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the Year, had seven points and five rebounds off the bench while doing a decent job defensively. And Guerschon Yabusele played just under eight minutes but still managed to score four points. Their ability to stay ready when opportunity comes calling, and deliver in the moment, bodes well for both their chances of playing down the road and the Celtics’ confidence that if needed they can produce. 

 

WINNING THE WEST


Sunday’s victory was just the latest installment of how the West has been won by the Boston Celtics. Beating the Blazers improved Boston’s record to 15-5 against Western Conference teams. With 10 more games against foes from the West this season, there’s a high probability that this will be Boston’s best season under Brad Stevens record-wise, playing teams outside of the Eastern Conference. During the 2015-16 season, the Celtics had a record of 17-13 against Western Conference foes.

SECOND-HALF REBOUNDING

For the Celtics, it was a tale of two halves in terms of rebounding. Boston trailed by 16 points at the half, in part because the Blazers enjoyed a 28-19 rebounding edge, which was a factor in Portland’s ability to control the action. That all changed in the second half. Boston became more aggressive, more consistently. And the end result was a 32-18 rebounding advantage which certainly aided Boston’s 51.2 percent shooting in the second half while the Blazers connected on just 32.6 percent (15-for-46) of their shots in the second half.

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots vs. Jaguars

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Five quick thoughts: Patriots vs. Jaguars

FOXBORO -- Here are five quick-hitting thoughts on what transpired between the Patriots and Jaguars during Sunday's AFC title game . . . 

PATRIOTS 24, JAGUARS 20

1) How was Tom Brady's hand? At times it looked fine. At times, Brady was off the mark with his throws, forcing the football-watching world to wonder if his injury was inhibiting his accuracy. Brady's first pass to Brandin Cooks, a big-gainer up the seam just over Jacksonville's coverage, put Gillette Stadium at ease. His fourth-and-two throw to Danny Amendola, dropped in the bucket near the sideline with perfect touch, sent Gillette into a frenzy. The hand looked good. On Brady's first series of the second quarter, though, he missed Dion Lewis with a high throw to the flat. And on third down, Brady was high down the middle of the field to Chris Hogan. Brady's hand didn't keep him from making every throw, but it also wouldn't keep viewers from wondering if his injury impacted the outcome. 

2) Rob Gronkowski's head injury -- suffered at the end of the second quarter -- put one pregame decision by the Patriots into the spotlight relatively quickly. The Patriots opted to make Jacob Hollister a healthy scratch before the game, giving the Patriots two tight ends in uniform in Gronkowski and Allen. With Gronkowski limited, Hollister might've factored more heavily into a game plan had he been in uniform -- especially since it was a game where it made sense to lean on backs and tight ends. Was Hollister's absence the difference. Of course not. But it eliminated two-tight end packages from Josh McDaniels' arsenal. 

3) The Jaguars started to look like the Jaguars of old with about two minutes remaining in the first half. First, they punted -- with the clock running -- when they didn't have to. The two-minute warning was approaching. They could've had the entire roster on the sidelines and snagged a stoppage from the Patriots offense. They didn't. Bone-headed. The reason the Jags were punting in the first place was because they couldn't get a snap off in time following a time out. Delay of game penalty. Think about that. That turned a third-and-seven situation into a third-and-12. Then, on New England's subsequent possession, they picked up a personal-foul penalty and a pass-interference penalty that allowed the Patriots to drive and score just before the break. What could have been a 14-3 lead or more became a 14-10 lead in a blink due to Jacksonville's mistakes. 

4) Just when it looked like the Patriots out-smarted the Jaguars defense to pick up a big gain, they shot themselves in the foot with a devastating mistake. The Patriots worked a double-pass, using Danny Amendola's right arm to throw back across the field to a wide open Dion Lewis. With blockers in front of him, Lewis picked up 20 yards before Myles Jack caught him from behind. As Jack made the tackle, he punched the ball loose and recovered in one clean motion as he fell to the ground. It was an incredibly athletic play made by one of the most athletic linebackers in football. And it snuffed out a promising Patriots drive when they desperately needed one. 

5) With Gronkowski out and Julian Edelman in mothballs, who's Brady's most trusted option? That would be the receiver dubbed "All-Weather 'Dola" by teammate Matthew Slater. Brady hit Amendola for three catches worth 44 yards, including a nine-yard score with 8:44 left in the game. Amendola's fellow wideouts came up big throughout that drive, which cut the Jaguars lead to 20-17. Cooks started things off with an 18-yard contested catch along the sidelines, and Phillip Dorsett made a 31-yard catch off of a flea-flicker to keep the Patriots moving.  

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Celtics need to find No. 2 scorer behind Irving

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Celtics need to find No. 2 scorer behind Irving

BOSTON -- Everyone knows Kyrie Irving’s value to the Celtics is extremely high.
 
But it really hits home on those nights when he’s not in the lineup, as was the case in Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia on Thursday.
 
Irving didn't play due to a sore left shoulder.He's carried the load offensively for most of this season for a team that has the best record in the Eastern Conference, so it's not surprising the Celts scored the fewest number of points they've scored in any game this year.
 
But it highlights the need for the Celtics to develop a number 2 scorer who can, when needed, step into the more prominent role as the team’s go-to guy.
 
Boston has good players, but none have elevated their play to that of being the next-best scoring option to Irving.
 
Al Horford is a four-time All-Star (with a fifth on the way  this year), but he has never been a player you can turn to for consistent, big-time scoring. That’s because his game is deeply rooted in getting others involved and playing high-level defense.
 
Jaylen Brown has the right mindset most nights, but his all-around game offensively is still evolving. And while he is the team’s number two scorer at 14.2 points per game, that average falls well short of what the No. 2 scorer on most teams isdoing offensively. In fact, Atlanta, Indiana and Sacramento are the only teams in the NBA whose No. 2 scorer has a lower average than Brown.
 
Then there’s Jayson Tatum, a player who has shown all the early stages of superstar-itis. But as talented as he is, the 19-year-old Tatum is similar to Brown from the standpoint of not being ready to emerge as the team’s second-best scorer.
 
“That’s why Gordon (Hayward) was such a good signing for them,” an NBA scout texted NBC Sports Boston. “He gave them a legitimate, high-level second scorer who on some nights would be your best scorer or your best player.”
 
Hayward suffered a dislocated left ankle injury in Boston’s season-opener, and is expected to miss the remainder of this season.
 
Irving’s injury is nowhere close to being that serious. In fact, there’s a very good chance that he will be back in the lineup Sunday when the Celtics host the Orlando Magic.
 
But that doesn’t make up for the team’s lack of a second scoring option.
 
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 89-80 loss to Philadelphia.
 
 

REBOUNDING

Work on the glass is always going to be a challenge of sorts for the Boston Celtics, making that early run of strong board games a faint memory. Because what we saw against the Sixers was more along the lines of what we’re accustomed to seeing out of the Celtics when it comes to rebounding. The Sixers decisively won the battle on the glass 41-31, serving as a reminder that the narrative surrounding this team when it comes to rebounding hasn’t changed a bit.

TURNOVERS

Brad Stevens described his team’s offense against Philadelphia as being “sloppy” and, truth of the matter, he was being kind. They were hot mess on so many levels against the Sixers. Credit Philly for having a game plan defensively that worked really, for all but the final few minutes of play. No facet of play better illustrated this than the 19 turnovers committed by Boston, which led to 15 points. It’s not the points scored by the Sixers that were the big problem. It’s the fact that those turnovers meant fewer opportunities to score which is the last thing a team without Kyrie Irving needed.

JAYSON TATUM

Against New Orleans, he didn’t take enough shots. And last night against Philadelphia, he didn’t make the ones he usually does. I wouldn’t call what Tatum is going through now hitting the rookie wall. Because he has played so much already, teams have plenty of film and have definitely adjusted the way they have defended him. Now it’s on him to find other ways to impact the game offensively that may not necessarily be his first or second go-to move. He had some nice off-the-dribble moves against the Sixers, finishing with 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. Tatum needs to continue ratcheting up his aggression at both ends of the floor, which we saw some of that against the Sixers. Now he just needs to keep it going.

SHANE LARKIN

It was just one game, so it would be foolish to get too excited about Shane Larkin’s play against Philadelphia. But there was a lot to like about how he came off the bench and provided some energy and a spark to a team that seemed to be going through the motions. He had eight points on 3-for-6 shooting but more important, he was really aggressive with his drives and decision-making, which is the kind of performance Boston needs others beside Larkin to bring to the floor when their number is called.

JOEL EMBIID

For all that went Philly’s way on Thursday, you still have to give a great deal of credit to Joel Embiid for his play at both ends of the floor. Boston could not stop him on the block or from 15 or so feet out, as he lit the Celtics up for 26 points on 10-for-19 shooting along with 16 rebounds and six assists. It was the second straight game Boston had been dominated by an opposing big man, raising more concerns among Celtics Nation that Boston needs to address its frontcourt by adding another big between now and the playoffs.

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