Marcus Smart

Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

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Celtics-Grizzlies preview: Trying to reverse some disturbing trends

Celtics-Grizzlies preview: Trying to reverse some disturbing trends

When it comes to losing games, Brad Stevens has been consistent in not sounding the alarm of concern too loud.

But after Celtics' home loss to Utah on Friday night, there was a different sense of urgency in his words. 

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Stevens is far from panicking right now.

Still, he made it pretty clear that there are some disturbing trends he’s seeing with his team, the kind they need to avoid tonight as they hit the road to play Memphis.

Following the 107-95 loss to the Jazz on Friday, Stevens needed just 30 seconds to get into how Utah played harder than the Celtics.

“The bottom line is you have to be locked in. You have to play well,” Stevens said. “You have to do what you do best. We had a lot of guys that really didn’t play well [against Utah].”

Other than Al Horford (21 points, seven assists, six rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (33 points, six assists) you would be hard-pressed to find any other Celtics players who performed at or above their usual level.

And on most nights, that’s a recipe for defeat.

Better effort and focus should be enough for Boston to defeat Memphis (9-20), which is coming off a win at Atlanta Friday night.

That, and the fact that the Grizzlies have a league-worst 3-9 home record this season.

Like many teams that are struggling this season, Memphis has been hit pretty hard by injuries with none looming larger than the Mike Conley’s Achilles injury.

Of course, they still have Marc Gasol, but the veteran big man isn’t nearly as dominant or efficient as we’ve seen him in past seasons.

And as the losses mount, rumors will only intensify about him possibly being traded (the Grizzlies have consistently denied this is part of their thinking) or that he may ask to be moved to a better team.

"I have a responsibility to this city," Gasol recently told ESPN.com. "I'm not gonna quit, no matter what."

He added, “As long as [Grizzlies owner] Robert [Pera] wants me here, my teammates want me here, they think I'm part of the solution -- and not part of the problem -- that's all I need." 

Memphis’ overall struggles played a factor in the team’s decision to fire second-year coach David Fizdale after a 7-12 start. Since his firing, Memphis has lost eight of its past 10.

The Grizzlies clearly have their share of problems this season.

So do the Celtics, despite their gaudy 24-7 record, which is tops in the Eastern Conference.

Boston has lost three of its past five games, rookie Jayson Tatum has been a breath of fresh air offensively but now finds himself in the middle of his worst three-game scoring funk of the season; Marcus Smart’s impact defensively hasn’t been able to mask his scoring struggles in recent games; and the bench continues to struggle to make an impact consistently.

Beyond those issues, the biggest concern for the Celtics has to be the lack of overall effort and fight we’ve seen – or rather not seen – in recent games.

“We got outcoached, we got outplayed, and we haven’t been in that situation very often as far as, like, from an effort standpoint,” Stevens said. “But I think twice this week we have, so that’s concerning.”

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Big game or not, Marcus Smart is focused on Celtics getting the win

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Big game or not, Marcus Smart is focused on Celtics getting the win

“Marcus Smart was like Kyle Korver out there.” – Detroit Pistons head coach/president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy on Nov. 27.

Those were words you probably thought you would never hear said about Smart.

But that’s how Van Gundy saw things after Smart lit up Detroit for a season-high 23 points which included six made 3’s.

Smart is no Kyle Korver, but the impact the 23-year-old can make on the game is undeniable.

Boston (22-5) will need some of that today when they take on the Detroit Pistons who are the only team to hang a double-digit loss on the Celtics this season.

When the two teams met on Nov. 27, Detroit pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 118-108 win over Boston.

And it is the end result, a Celtics loss, that Smart remembers the most about that game.

“It’s all cool and all,” Smart said after his season-high game against Detroit last month. “I’d rather have the win. Obviously, it felt good to be able to get it in rhythm. But like I said, I’d rather have the win.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into today’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons.

TURNOVER GAME

Boston has been at or near the top of the defensive rating standings all season. But when it comes to looking at key components to the Celtics defense, forcing turnovers doesn’t stack up too high on the list of accomplishments. That was indeed the case when these two met on Nov. 27. In that game, the Pistons turned the ball over just eight times for eight points. They are currently 12th in the NBA in turnovers committed per game. Meanwhile, the Celtics committed 17 turnovers that led to 26 points for Detroit, which is a trend the Celtics have to reverse if they want to avoid a two-game losing streak for the first time since losing the first two games of the season.

MORE SHOTS FOR AL HORFORD

The ability to play the role of facilitator is one that Al Horford has embraced for quite a while now. But the Celtics need to do a better job of getting him quality shot attempts at the rim because as we know, anything less than that likely results in a pass. This season, we have seen the Celtics are indeed a better team when he gets more shot attempts. The Celtics are 13-2 (.867 winning percentage) when Horford has at least 10 shot attempts. When Horford takes single-digit shot attempts, Boston is 7-3 which averages out to a winning percentage of .700 which isn’t bad but not quite as good as the team’s record when Horford takes at least 10 shots.

EFFORT/HUSTLE CATEGORIES

For all that did not go Boston’s way the last time these two teams met, what really stuck out was how badly the Celtics were out-performed in the hustle/energy categories. When it came to points in the paint, Boston was beaten 54-44 (although it coming as a surprise to no one); 15-10 on second-chance points and 17-14 fast-break points.

PLUS/MINUS

I know Danny Ainge doesn’t think much of plus/minuses from game to game, well aware that they say more about the units on the floor than what any particular player does when he gets in the game. But there are times when they can explain as clearly as any statistical nugget as to why one team emerged with the win and the other lost. In the Nov. 27 game between these two, the Boston Celtics’ entire starting five – yes, all five of them – had a negative plus/minus for the game which was a first for Boston this season.

TO CONTEST … OR NOT

Looking back on the Nov. 27 game between these two teams, you can sort of understand why the Celtics walked away feeling that it was just one of those nights where the stars aligned and favored Detroit. When Detroit took uncontested shots, they shot just 41.7 percent (23-for-55) from the field. But when the Celtics cranked up their defense and did a better job of closing out and contesting shots … the Pistons damn near wouldn’t miss. Detroit made 21-for-30, or 69.9 percent, of shots that Boston contested.

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