Celtics

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

Shots don't fall for Celtics in frustrating 114-98 loss to Hawks

BOSTON – You hear coaches and players often refer to the NBA as a make-miss league.

When summing up what happened in Boston’s 114-98 loss to the Atlanta Hawks, sadly it was that simple.

Dennis Schroder led the six double-figure scorers for the Hawks with 21 points on 9-for-14 shooting.

Boston got many of the shots that they have been getting throughout this run in which they came into Monday’s game having won 11 of their previous 14 games.

The Celtics (38-22) have now lost three of their last four games. Life won’t get any easier for them with defending NBA champion Cleveland coming into town on Wednesday.

We have seen the Celtics make some miraculous comebacks under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, but Celtics fans understandably began hitting the exits with more than three minutes to play and Boston looking up at a 108-84 deficit.

Credit the Hawks defense which played with a greater sense of urgency, the kind you would expect from a team that had come in riding a three-game losing streak.

Meanwhile, Boston looked like the team that we have seen most of this season which relies heavily on their perimeter shooting to win games.

That’s not all that surprising against the Hawks whose interior defense is anchored by Dwight Howard.

Howard, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds, also had a pair of blocked shots and altered many others.

But the Celtics spent a good chunk of the second half with Howard out of the game.

Howard, an absolute unstoppable force for the Hawks all game, picked up his second technical foul (an automatic ejection) for hanging on the rim following a put-back dunk with 4:03 to play in the third and Atlanta ahead 74-65.

He had picked up his first technical foul for shoving Al Horford earlier in the game.

But with Howard out, the Celtics still couldn’t take advantage of an Atlanta team that was much more vulnerable to dribble-drive penetration.

In fact, Atlanta began to pull away and took their biggest lead up to that point of the game, 84-69, following a 3-pointer by Tim Hardaway Jr. late in the third quarter which ended with the Hawks ahead 84-71.

And Boston’s struggles stemmed from their inability to make open shots.

For the game, the Celtics shot 39.1 percent from field which is a somewhat inflated figure considering the mini-run Boston's backups went on in the final minute or two of play.

Not even the usual high-scoring exploits of Isaiah Thomas could save the day.

The NBA’s leading scorer in the fourth quarter, Thomas had another sub-par night in the game’s final quarter of play.

He led the Celtics with 19 points, but only two came in the fourth quarter. And by failing to reach 20 points, Thomas’ franchise-record of consecutive games with 20 or more comes to an end at 43 straight.  

Celtics bring back the band...is that a good thing?

Celtics bring back the band...is that a good thing?

BOSTON – This was a relatively quiet summer by Celtics standards, with the biggest roster move being the re-signing of Marcus Smart to a four-year, $52 million contract.

Heading into the offseason, Boston bringing back most of last year's roster was a goal.

Mission accomplished, with Boston bringing back 13 players who saw action a year ago.

“It pretty much shows you how we feel about our team,” Austin Ainge, Boston’s director of player personnel, told NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Talk Podcast. “We like this group and we wanted to give them a chance.”

And it is that kind of thinking that seems to be the norm among teams in the East in recent years after getting to the Conference finals.

Much has been made about the Celtics taking a sledgehammer to the roster following the 2016-2017 when they lost in five games to Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston brought back only four players from that team, which was the exception to the general rule of thumb among teams in the East that made runs that ended with trips to the Conference finals or NBA Finals.

Of the participants in the Eastern Conference finals the past five years, seven of the 10 teams returned at least 10 players from the previous season.

The only exceptions were the Celtics (four returnees) and Cavs (six) last year; and the 2014-2015 Miami Heat, who returned seven from the 2014 team that lost 4-1 to San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.

Still, those teams brought their squads back to try and build off the success they had the previous season.

Boston has similar aspirations, although the Celtics' journey has a twist to it.

Two integral parts of this franchise, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, were not with the team in their impressive postseason run, which ended with a Game 7 loss at home to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Gordon suffered a season-ending ankle injury in the first quarter of the season-opening loss at Cleveland while Irving was lost for the playoffs due to an infection to the hardware inserted into his surgically repaired left knee.

“The exciting part is we should have a full group of guys ready to go,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “The tough part is we know that we have a lot to cover in a short amount of time.”

However, having so many players back is a definite plus.

“All of that familiarity makes it more exciting,” Stevens said. “Because you’re excited to be back together again, too.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

What will be the dominant storylines surrounding the Celtics this season?

BOSTON – The barrage of questions for the Boston Celtics players will begin with Media Day on Monday.

As one narrative after another develops surrounding these players this season, they begin with some storylines clearly defined as issues that will be ongoing all year.

So, what are folks going to be talking about as it relates to the Celtics this season?

GORDON HAYWARD/KYRIE IRVING

Having missed all but the first five minutes of last season, Gordon Hayward’s return to the floor will be monitored closely, both by the Celtics and fans. And while Kyrie Irving did play 60 games last season for Boston, he did miss the team’s entire postseason run due to an infection in his left knee. Reports from both his teammates and coaches indicate that both Hayward and Irving are good to go to start the season.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

JAYSON TATUM

Drafted with the third overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft, Tatum developed a lot quicker than many anticipated. For stretches during the regular season and the playoffs, Tatum shined brighter than any other Celtic, which you don’t anticipate being the case for someone so young on a team so deep. So what’s he going to do for an encore?

BULL'S EYE

Speaking of a deep roster, that depth remains one of the key reasons why so many anticipate this Celtics team to be the last one standing in the East. Their across-the-board talent, experience and no LeBron James in the East are all factors that put the Celtics as the team everyone in the East is aiming to knock off.

BRAD STEVENS

One of his greatest strengths has been getting the most out of what he has been left to work with roster-wise. This season is a little different from the standpoint of him having a team that on paper, should be one of the best in the NBA. That leaves very little room for Stevens to work his coaching wizardry and get more out of this group than expected. Still, it’s a good problem to have.

IRVING'S FREE AGENCY

No topic will dominant the discussion surrounding this team more than Kyrie Irving’s free agency. Several teams are expected to make a run at him, and Irving has given no indication as to which way he’s leaning as it relates to his future beyond this season. Try as folks will, Irving is not going to allow his impending free agency become an issue inside the locker room, in part because he’s just one of several Celtics on the cusp of free agency next summer. While he’ll certainly love the company, Irving’s future in Boston or elsewhere, will be the most talked-about topic surrounding this team all season.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE