Blakely: Regardless of venue, Celtics have to play better

Blakely: Regardless of venue, Celtics have to play better

BOSTON — The narrative of being back home is one Brad Stevens understands all too well. Up to this point, it has been the key to Boston’s ability to navigate some of the choppier waters of the postseason as they fight to sail another day.

Still, as important as it to be back at the TD Garden, ultimately Boston’s chances of extending their home winning streak in the playoffs to 10 in a row lies in how they play.

“Get ready to play well,” Stevens said. “That’s what we have to prepare to do. We have to prepare to play as well as we can. It’s exciting to be able to compete at this level of the discussion. Certainly in this venue, in front of our fans. But at the same time, we have a job to do once we get between those lines.”

And doing that job has been a lot easier for the Celtics on their home floor.

“We want to come back in front of our crowd and our fans, and get a ‘W’ tonight,” said Jayson Tatum.  

Here are five below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight in this pivotal Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

HORFORD USAGE


The importance of getting Al Horford involved can't be said enough in Boston’s quest to regain an edge in this series. Horford’s usage rate (the percentage of team plays used by a player when he’s on the floor) in Game 1 and 2 wins was 20.0 and 18.1 percent. In the Game 3 and 4 losses, that number dipped to 9.8 and 16.1. The Celtics ensuring as best they can that Horford remain engaged as the main cog in their offense is huge tonight.

FIRST SIX MINUTES


The Celtics don’t necessarily need to come out with a fast start, but they have to do something about how they have been consistently outplayed in the early going this series. Boston has been outscored the first six minutes in all but one game of this series and that was Game 1 when they opened with a 15-7 run.

FIFTH GAME SUCCESS


Game 5's at the TD Garden have been a really good thing for the Celtics. They come in having won 10 straight home Game 5's of series tied at two. Boston’s all-time record in Game 5's series tied at two, is 32-12.

TIGHT POINT TOTALS


Even though the scores in the four games, by and large, haven’t been that close, the total points scored by both teams is surprisingly razor-thin. Cleveland has scored a total of 404 points in this series. The Celtics? Right behind them with 403 points scored.

SEMI OJELEYE


Brad Stevens is considering making a potential lineup change to the first unit. While most have talked about Stevens possibly replacing Marcus Morris with Aron Baynes, there’s another possibility to consider: Semi Ojeleye.

Stevens shocked many earlier in the postseason when he inserted Ojeyle into the starting lineup for Boston’s first-round series against Milwaukee right before...wait for it...GAME 5!

Ojeleye was plucked to be a starter primarily as a means of slowing down Giannis Antetokounmpo. He definitely helped as Boston eliminated the Bucks in seven games. Stevens has to give some thought to having Ojeleye start especially when you consider how well he has done guarding James this season. Ojeleye has defended James on 47 possessions in this series, according to NBA.com/stats. Against Ojeleye, James is shooting 2-for-7 (29 percent) from the field while having scored nine points to go with eight assists and two turnovers.

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

BOSTON -- Brad Stevens is a genius.

Brad Stevens is overrated.

Brad Stevens gets the most out of the least amount of talent.

On the brightest of stages, Brad Stevens can't get it done.

MORE A. SHERROD BLAKELY

The views on Celtics coach Brad Stevens are all over the map right now, based on Boston being in a 2-2 series tie with Cleveland after the Cavs held serve at home with a pair of wins.

The Celts' losing at Cleveland didn't spark the questions about Stevens. It's how they lost those games.

Cleveland didn't do anything fancy or all that complicated in getting back in this series after the Celtics raced out to a 2-0 series lead.

The Cavs are targeting Terry Rozier -- similar, in many ways, to how they went after Isaiah Thomas last year -- and are forcing defensive switches that leaves Rozier in a bad spot.

Rozier is a solidly built point guard (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) but he's no physical match for LeBron James or Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson -- players the Cavs have tried their best to get Rozier to defend via switches. For the most part, they've have had success doing so.

"Hope they miss" seems to be Rozier's best-case scenario when this happens.

Watching Rozier get bounced into the paint by the James-Love-Thompson trio has left many Celtics fans wondering W.W.B.D. -- What Will Brad Do?

So far, not much.

He considered a lineup change before deciding to keep Marcus Morris with the first unit and Aron Baynes coming off the bench in Game 4.

In the first quarter of Game 4 Boston fell behind 34-18, similar to how their 30-point Game 3 shellacking started.

MORE CELTICS

But Boston got better as the game progressed, showing glimpses of the team that finished with the second-best record in the East and had the best road record of any team in the Eastern Conference.

And as Kyle Korver came off screens and knocked down shots, or George Hill finished at the rim, or Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love treated the offensive glass like property and they were the time share owners of it, Celtics fans waited for that moment, when Stevens would make a tweak/adjustment and -- bam! -- everything changed.

That moment, however, never came. And it's opened Stevens to a level of second-guessing he hasn't experienced since maybe his rookie season in the league.

Stevens is a wonderful coach, easily top-five in the NBA. The reason he's so widely regarded is his ability to recognize his own team's weaknesses and mask them.

That hasn't happened in this series and there are questions, legitimate questions, if it will happen at all.

Better team communication? More touches for Al Horford? Limiting the isolations on Rozier with a bigger scorer? Will any or all of these things happen?

The bottom line is clear: Boston has to be better than we what we saw in Cleveland. That not only applies to the players, but also to Stevens.

The one thing about Brad Stevens that you always have to respect is his willingness to take ownership when things aren't going right.

He'll be the first to tell you that everyone needs to improve . . . himself included. And while that acknowledgment may not seem like that big a deal, it's huge.

MORE CELTICS

Because his willingness to take some of the blame for what we've seen of late trickles down to the rest of his players, who know they too have a role in Boston losing its last two games.

With that ownership comes an understanding that for this series to shift back in their favor, it's going to take the entire group to step their games up.

And as we've seen with this group, they have seemingly been at their best when adversity strikes. They've shown an ability to thrive under pressure, rather than be totally thrown off course.

Which is why despite losing two straight to the Cavs, the Celtics return home feeling pretty good about themselves.

They lost Game 4 but did a number of positive things that I imagine they'll look to do more of on Wednesday.

Boston managed to get Horford defended by Love more in Game 4 and had a good bit of success with that matchup. Rozier was better at handling screens and switches in the second half than we saw in the first, which allowed Boston's defense to collectively play better.

The Celtics were doing more of the things that fans have come to expect. The kind of plays that reflect positively on the players as well as their leader, Brad Stevens.

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Brad Stevens channels Bill Belichick to dodge questions about starting lineup

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Brad Stevens channels Bill Belichick to dodge questions about starting lineup

Brad Stevens was utterly Belichickian during the pregame press conference before Game 4.

The Boston Celtics coach fielded and dodged questions about the team's starting lineup. He was asked whether he would be making any changes. And he would not answer.

"We will start five people. I promise," Stevens said with a grin.

Reporters probed him a few times to try to get an answer. When their line of questioning failed, the press conference concluded -- after four questions.

Here's a look at the full transcript.

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