Celtics

Blakely's takeaways: Monroe finds his niche with Celtics

Blakely's takeaways: Monroe finds his niche with Celtics

HOUSTON – Shortly after arriving in Houston, a bunch of Boston Celtics players made their way over to the Toyota Center to get some shots up. 

This happens all the time with young players. 

But among the Celtics’ youthful contingent was 27-year-old Greg Monroe.

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While he may have more experience than many of his teammates, like them he is also trying to find his niche with this team. 

Well an opportunity to do so came Monroe’s way on Saturday night against Houston. 

And while Boston lost 123-120 to the Rockets, the play of Monroe was certainly one of the more positive aspects of the game for the Celtics.

Monroe came off the Celtics bench to score 18 points, the most he has tallied since becoming a member of the team. 

And the decision to play Monroe major minutes came at the expense of Daniel Theis who was cleared to play after missing one game with a sore right hamstring. It was only the second game this season Theis did not play (coaches decision).

“I just think you have to be able to score in the paint against these guys, otherwise you’re in trouble with all the switching they do,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “So, I thought he did a good job at both ends. It was good to see him play like that. Like we’ve said before, he’s going to have games where he gets an opportunity and we’ll need him to do so just what he did (Saturday night).”

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 123-120 loss to the Houston Rockets.

 

BENCH GETTING STRONGER

You certainly like the job that Greg Monroe did off the Celtics bench, but he was by no means a one-man, second-unit show. As good as Monroe was, he wasn’t the top player off Boston’s bench. He may not have even been the second-best player. Marcus Morris, looking more and more like an impactful two-way talent, led all Celtics with 21 points. And it was another strong game for Terry Rozier who had 17 points which included a perfect 3-for-3 from 3-point range. For the game, Boston’s bench scored a season-high 67 points and are among the top-3 scoring bench units in the NBA since returning from the All-Star break. 

 

AL HORFORD

Al Horford is a prideful man, one who holds himself accountable for his play, good or bad. Saturday was a bad night for Horford who had a horrible sequence in which he missed a critical, wide open 5-footer near the rim and later turned the ball over. Following the loss, Horford didn’t mince his words in accepting his role in the game’s outcome. “This was a tough one for me personally. I felt like I could have … if I would have knocked one of those shots down it would have been different,” said Horford who had 10 points on 4-for-12 shooting. “I’m going to look at this one and learn and be better.”’ 

 

JAYLEN BROWN

We have witnessed to continued growth of Jaylen Brown as a two-way player who has made no secret about striving towards becoming one of the game’s best along those lines. Saturday’s loss is another chapter in his learning process. James Harden is one of the most difficult players in the NBA to defend, and Brown saw this first-hand on Saturday. Harden was able to get Brown into foul trouble early, which led to head coach Brad Stevens having to sit Brown for longer stretches than either would have liked. And with so many calls going against him and the Celtics, Brown became irritated and frustrated which led to a technical foul being called on him. 

 

CENTER OF ATTENTION

It really does appear that Boston’s handling of the center position will be done by committee. Aron Baynes is firmly entrenched as the starter, with Al Horford possibly sliding over when Brad Stevens puts Marcus Morris with the first group instead of Baynes. Things will be interesting when it comes to who comes off the bench. Daniel Theis has been the team’s first big off the bench most nights, but Greg Monroe has more size, strength and experience. So could we be seeing him gradually get the minutes that for most of this season went to Theis? It will become a bigger issue as we get closer to the playoffs, for sure.

 

GOOD TRY, GOOD EFFORT

The Celtics were disappointed they didn’t beat Houston, but far from devastated. Boston shot 48.4 percent against a solid Houston defense that’s improving. They made more than 50 percent of their 3-pointers (13-for-24), shot better than 90 percent (19-for-21) from the free throw line and turned the ball over 12 times. It was the kind of performance that would have been good enough to beat most teams. It served as a reminder of the importance of maximizing the mundane. It was little things, like a loose ball here or a block out there, that ultimately cost the Celtics the game. “I just thought they maximized more possessions than we did,” Stevens said. “Those were two good teams playing and both teams deserve a lot of credit for how they played.”

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Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

Stop being surprised by Marcus Smart's 3-point shooting

It’s time to stop acting so surprised by Marcus Smart’s 3-point shooting.

We now have the past 2 1/2 years of data that suggests that, when healthy, Smart is an above-average 3-point shooter. He shot nearly 39.7 percent beyond the arc in Boston’s 2017 playoff run and carried the momentum into last season when he shot a career-best 36.4 percent. Eleven games into the 2019-20 season, Smart is shooting 40.8 percent while putting up a hefty 6.9 attempts per game.

This isn’t a fluke. No longer does Smart need a snow-day practice session to harness his 3-point superpowers. Smart’s hard work — and, maybe more important, sustained good health — has allowed his natural talents to be spotlighted.

MORE FORSBERG: It's a winning play from Tatum, with help from Smart 

A Smart pull-up 3-pointer used to elicit groans. Now it’s one of Boston’s better looks. Yes, he's still prone to the occasional bold heat check but the results speak for themselves. Smart ranks 13th in the NBA in total 3-pointers made (31) this season and there’s no reason to believe that, given the offensive talent around him this season, this isn’t sustainable.

This isn’t Smart getting hot from one spot or feasting on just open catch-and-shoot looks. On Friday night against Golden State in San Francisco, Smart made five 3-pointers, confidently firing when the ball came his way in transition. When the Celtics kicked out to Smart after an offensive rebound late in the first quarter, it kickstarted their comeback from a 15-point deficit. Early in the fourth quarter, when a defender rushed to impede his path to the paint, Smart hit a little step-back 3-pointer from straightaway.

Smart finished 5-for-9 beyond the arc. It’s the 13th time in his career that he’s made at least five triples in a game (including postseason). Eleven of those have come in the past two-plus seasons. He’s made at least four 3-pointers in each of Boston’s past four wins.

The inconsistencies you remember from the past might have had more to do with health than talent.

Whether it was shredding his hand punching a mirror a few years back or tearing a ligament in his thumb later that season, there have been ailments that contributed to stretches of poor shooting. Still, what Smart is doing now doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone in the Celtics organization.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens and president of basketball operations Danny Ainge have long maintained that Smart had the right mechanics to thrive with the 3-point shot. He’s certainly never lacked for confidence. Assistant coach Jay Larranaga spent a lot of time working with Smart when that shot struggled early in his career. Now Smart fires away with the confidence of someone that completely trusts his shot.

The 3-point shot now accounts for just under 70 percent of Smart’s total shot attempts this season. That’s up from 61 percent last season. While Boston’s offensive quartet of Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward have relentlessly attacked the basket this year — Boston’s drives way up from a season ago — Smart has been the beneficiary of drive-and-kicks, particularly when the driver kicks out with a hockey assist and the ball moves quickly to Smart while catching the defense in rotation.

Even better, Smart’s 3-point penchant hasn’t come at the expense of his playmaking. He’s still averaging 4.6 assists per game, providing needed ball-handling with Hayward injured and taking some of the load off Walker.

The NBA’s shot-tracking data hammers home Smart’s better shot selection in recent years. Half of Smart’s 3-point attempts this season have come with zero dribbles and he’s made 40 percent (22 of 55) of those quality catch-and-shoot looks. Smart is shooting 43.6 percent on all “wide-open” 3-pointers (6 feet or more of space) and 38.7 on “open” looks (4-6 feet). More encouraging: He has only six attempts in what’s deemed tight (2-4 feet) coverage and none with “very tight (0-2 feet).

In fact, Smart hasn’t taken a “very tight” covered 3-pointer in either of the past two seasons. Smart isn’t forcing anything and showing a greater maturity in shot selection than at times earlier in his career.

We get it — it was those ill-timed, defense-smothered 3-pointers that used to make fans cringe. Smart didn’t shoot the ball well enough early in his career to justify some of the bold pull-up offerings he’d take.

Now he does. He's earned that trust. And it's time to stop being so surprised when those shots go in.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The historical significance of the Celtics' 10-game winning streak

The Celtics sit atop the NBA having run off 10 wins in a row after dropping their season opener. It's their longest winning streak since Brad Stevens' crew had a 16-game run two seasons ago.

It's the 29th time a C's team has had a winning streak of 10 games or longer and it bodes well for future success in a season when it happens, including eight of their 17 NBA championship seasons.

Our friends at @BostonSportsInf have crunched the numbers and only once has a C's team with a 10-gamer failed to make the playoffs.

That 1970-71 team, in Tommy Heinsohn's second season as coach and featuring John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, went 44-38 and finished third in the Atlantic Division. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.