Celtics

A 2-0 lead is nice, but can Celtics translate that success to the road?

A 2-0 lead is nice, but can Celtics translate that success to the road?

CLEVELAND – Prepare for the punch.

No amount of bobbing and weaving will prevent the Celtics from taking a hard blow or two from the Cleveland Cavaliers now that they are back in the comfy confines of the Quicken Loans Arena.

“It’s the playoffs, Eastern Conference finals,” Marcus Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “It’s gonna be a zoo in there. The only thing we can do is continue to play hard and continue to give it our best shot.”

Thus far, Boston’s best shot has positioned them to shoot their way past the Cavaliers and into the NBA Finals as they enter Game 3 on Saturday night with a 2-0 series lead.

Although Boston had the best road record of any team in the East in the regular season, they come into this series with the worst road record among the four teams still left standing at 1-4.

“We haven’t played well [on the road],” said Marcus Smart. “We understand that. We understand and other teams see that and try to exploit but that’s the beauty of this game. It just takes one game. You never know when things change. Our confidence is high. Who knows, so we are going to go in with our game plan and try to execute it.”

Boston anticipates the Cavaliers will get a lift of some sorts by playing in front of their fans in Game 3.

“Ultimately anytime you play on the road, the other team has great comfort playing at home,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “They’ve been a great home and road team over the last few years in the playoffs. No matter what, you have to play great between those lines.”

And that is where the Celtics feel good about their chances of stealing one of the next two games in Cleveland.

While LeBron James has been a one-man scoring machine for the Cavs, Boston has spread the wealth, which has made them an extremely tough team to beat.

And despite the 1-4 record, they come into Game 3 feeling pretty good about their chances of finding success.

“We’ve gotten better as the playoffs have gone on,” said Jaylen Brown. “We didn’t get a road game against Milwaukee but we got one against a good team in Philly and we just needed to see one go in. Sometimes you need to see one go in to feel good about yourself and we’ve seen one go in, so we are feeling good going into Cleveland.”

But it won’t be easy, especially on the road where the home team’s players tend to step their game up in front of their fans.

Specifically, Cleveland has to get more production from its starting backcourt of George Hill and J.R. Smith, who combined to score just three points in Boston’s Game 2 win.

The Celtics anticipate both Hill and Smith will play better tonight compared to how they struggled in Game 2.

That’s why it’s imperative for the Celtics to not begin the game on their heels, knowing the Cavs are at their best when they are playing with a lead.

“We have to start out with great intensity,” Stevens said. “We have to keep that up for 48 minutes. We have guys that have been through it before. We got a lot of guys going through it the first time. These experiences the last month, feel like they’re worth three times what you would normally get just because we’re going through it together as this group.”

Against the Bucks, Boston lost all three games on Milwaukee’s floor, which further validated how important having home-court advantage for as long as you can, can be in the playoffs.

“When we went to Milwaukee for Game 3, we were poor,” Stevens said. “I thought Game 4 we played pretty darn well.”

The Celtics etched their only playoff road win at Philadelphia to take a commanding 3-0 series lead before ultimately finishing the Sixers off at the TD Garden in five games.

“You get a little better at handling those moments,” Stevens said. “But ultimately, we’re going to have to go in there and play good basketball. Where it is played is one thing, but you still have to play good basketball. Our focus is going to be on trying to play well.”

Brown has had success on the Cavaliers floor in the past, dating to his first NBA start, which came against Cleveland when he scored 19 points.

He’s not reminiscing much these days about what he has done.

Instead, his focus lies squarely on tackling the next challenge awaiting him and the Celtics, and that’s winning on the Cavaliers’ home floor.

“My reaction is I can’t wait for Game 3,” Brown said. “And I’m just going to leave it at that.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

Karl-Anthony Towns dealing with wrist injury, will miss game vs. Celtics

It doesn't look like the Boston Celtics will have to face Karl-Anthony Towns coming out of the All-Star break.

The Celtics are taking on the Timberwolves in Minnesota on Friday night, their first night back after eight days off. The Timberwolves will be without Towns for that contest as he deals with a left wrist injury.

Towns didn't practice on Wednesday as a result of the injury. And per The Athletic's Jon Krawczynski, Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders said Towns would miss games with the injury.

While the team hasn't officially confirmed that he's out, Friday's game is the Wolves' first back from the All-Star break. So, if Towns is set to miss multiple games, as Saunders implied, he will be out Friday.

Towns has averaged 26.5 points, 10.8 rebounds, 4.4 asissts, and 1.2 blocks per game for Minnesota this season. Despite his success, the Wolves have logged just a 16-37 record and have the second-worst record in the West, ahead of only the lowly Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics will be happy not to face Towns. Over the course of eight career games against the C's, Towns is averaging 21.9 points and 14.8 rebounds per game. And though Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter have outperformed expectations this year, they may have had trouble guarding the talented big man.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

Joe Harris calls Jayson Tatum Team USA's 'best player' from 2019 FIBA World Cup

The Boston Celtics had a prominent presence on Team USA during the summer of 2019. The squad that competed for the FIBA World Cup title featured four members of the Celtics: Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart.

While the team lost early in the tournament and snapped a historically-long undefeated streak for Team USA via an exhibition loss to Australia, the group did have some nice moments. And it's worth noting that one Team USA player thought a Celtics player shined brightest of all during the tournament.

As Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Harris explained, he thought Tatum was the best of the bunch for the USA squad.

“I thought Jayson was probably the best player on our team this summer,” said Harris at NBA's All-Star weekend, per Joe Vardon of The Athletic. “Obviously there were a lot of talented guys there. Unfortunately he got hurt halfway through our trip, but he was leading us in a lot of different areas. It wasn’t this huge statistical thing, I think it was more the presence that he had. What I saw, what he brought every day to practice. It was one of those things where he is super young, but he didn’t act like it, he didn’t play like it, and I could’ve told you this summer that he’d have a pretty good chance to be here today as an All-Star.”

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Tatum only played in two games for Team USA after suffering a sprained ankle, but he did average 24.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. That closely mirrors the 22.4 points and 6.9 boards that he has averaged so far during the 2019-20 season, his first All-Star campaign. And Tatum only playing in the two wins, not the two losses, is notable as well.

But Harris' point about Tatum having a presence and playing beyond his years may be even more important. If he can continue to develop, keep that presence about him and emerge as a leader, there's no telling what his ceiling could be.

Tatum will look to continue his hot play of late following the All-Star break. And no matter what happens with the C's, it seems that Tatum is tracking toward becoming a star player at the NBA level.

And his peers, like Harris, are recognizing that.

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.