Celtics

Grizzlies are one of NBA's truly 'clutch' teams

Grizzlies are one of NBA's truly 'clutch' teams

Team identity is often overlooked in the talent-driven NBA, but the league’s top teams generally have unique characteristics that set them apart. There’s the selflessness of the Warriors, the defensive intelligence of the Spurs and the “live by the 3, kill by the 3” Morey-ball played down in Houston. 

Injuries to key players have prevented the Celtics from finding their own identifiable attribute, but the same cannot be said about tonight’s opponent, the Memphis Grizzlies. 

Over the last four seasons, the Grizzlies have been one of the “clutchest” teams in the NBA. This isn’t a subjective observation; winning close games is in their DNA. The NBA defines “clutch” as games within five points in the final five minutes of play. Memphis is 102-53 in those games since the start of the 2013-14 season, and is tied for the league lead with 13 clutch wins this season, boasting the fourth-best best record at 13–5. 

But when you adjust the numbers, their Basketball Acumen in Laborious Late Situations is even more impressive. 

The Grizzlies have a league-leading nine wins in games in which they’ve trailed by five points or fewer or been tied in the final minute this season, and their 9-2 record in those games leads the league. The Celtics, on the other hand, are just 2-7 in those games. Here’s hoping for a comfortable lead late for the Celtics tonight.

Hayward (ankle) expected to return to Celtics lineup tonight vs Bulls

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File Photo

Hayward (ankle) expected to return to Celtics lineup tonight vs Bulls

Gordon Hayward will be available tonight for the Boston Celtics as they try to get back on track with a road date tonight against the Chicago Bulls. 

Hayward, whom Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said would not have any restrictions, did not play in Boston’s 98-97 loss at Milwaukee after suffering a right ankle sprain near the end of the All-Star break. 

In what has been an up-and-down season for Hayward, lately he has been riding high for Boston. 

Hayward has averaged 21.0 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists in his last three games while shooting 63.3 percent from the field and 69.2 percent from 3-point range. 

Here are five factors to keep an eye on heading into tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls:

PERFECT OPPONENT TO GET BACK ON TRACK

Thursday night’s 98-97 loss at Milwaukee certainly left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Boston Celtics. 

Up next are the Chicago Bulls who look as though they are the perfect elixir to get Boston back to enjoying the sweet taste of victory. 

Although the Bulls (15-44) have won two in a row and have played better lately, they still rank among the worst teams in the NBA. 

And while on the surface being at home would appear to be a good thing for the Bulls, reality says otherwise. They come into tonight’s game with a 6-23 record at home which is the 29th-worst home mark in the NBA. 

CAN ONLY SHOOT BETTER RIGHT?

The Celtics will look to shake off a season-worst 38.2 percent shooting performance against the Bucks, in addition to finding a way to get to the free throw line more often. 

Boston went to the line six times with five makes, season lows for Boston in both categories. 

In addition, lately Boston has made the most of teams that struggle whether it be home or on the road with the Celtics coming into tonight’s game having won four of their last five road games - all of those victories coming against teams with a losing record. 

OTTO PORTER JR.

After acquiring Otto Porter Jr. on Feb. 6 from Washington, he has appeared in five games while averaging 21.4 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 57.5 percent from the field and 56.1 percent on 3’s. 

Even before the trade, Porter Jr. is a player that the Celtics are indeed concerned with based upon how he has performed against them in the past. 

Playing with the Wizards last season, Porter Jr. averaged 19.3 points and 8.3 rebounds against the Celtics while connecting on 54.2 percent of his shots from the field and 61.1 percent from 3-point range. 

PLAY BOTH ENDS OF THE FLOOR

The Celtics take pride in being a team viewed by many that can play well at both ends of the floor. This is seen in their play as well as the data which shows that they are one of the select few that plays well on offense and defense.

In fact, the Celtics are just one of three teams in the NBA which rank among the league’s top 10 in both offensive rating (10th) and defensive rating (3rd). 

PICK UP THE PACE

Most NBA teams are looking to play faster these days and the Celtics are no different. In fact, Boston’s pace has often been a good indicator of how they are going to perform. This season, Boston is 24-8 when the team’s pace is 100 or better, and just 13-14 when it’s less than 100. 

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Checking in on Celtics' projected win total (with a sobering result)

Checking in on Celtics' projected win total (with a sobering result)

The Boston Celtics still have time to meet their lofty expectations for the 2018-19 regular season.

All they need to do? Win their final 23 games.

As the Action Network's John Ewing pointed out Friday, the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas set Boston's over/under win total for this season at 59. At 37-22 entering Saturday night's game against the Chicago Bulls, the C's are 23 wins off that pace with 23 games to go.

Hey, the longest win streak in NBA history is 33 games ... Just saying ...

It's been the perception all season that the Celtics haven't lived up to expectations, and this stat quantifies that. Projected to win the East with a 59-23 record thanks to the returns of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward to a squad that reached the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals, an inconsistent Boston squad ranks fifth in the East with just a quarter of the season remaining.

Here's another sobering stat: If the C's want to match last season's win total of 55, they'll need to go 18-5 through the NBA's sixth-hardest remaining schedule that includes 13 more road games.

Of course, regular season wins aren't a precursor to playoff success. Just ask last season's Cleveland Cavaliers squad, which coasted to 50 regular season wins before LeBron James carried it to the NBA Finals.

Boston doesn't have a talent like James, but it still has time to find a winning formula for the postseason.

If you took the over on the C's this season, though, we regret to inform you it's (probably) not happening.

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