Celtics

Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”

Report: Clippers willing to offer Tobias Harris, draft picks for Kawhi Leonard

Report: Clippers willing to offer Tobias Harris, draft picks for Kawhi Leonard

The Clippers are firmly in the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes.

According to the Los Angeles Times, they would be willing to part ways with Tobias Harris and the No. 12 or 13 pick in this year's draft for the two-time Defensive Player of the Year. Harris was the piece they received from the Pistons in the Blake Griffin trade last season.

Leonard wants out of San Antonio and has declared the Lakers his preferred landing spot, though the Clippers reportedly are among the teams he would consider.

Of course, the Celtics have also been named as a possible destination for the 27-year-old. 

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Blakely: Celtics may come up with a winner at No. 27

Blakely: Celtics may come up with a winner at No. 27

BOSTON -- The Celtics aren’t expected to try and move up in Thursday night’s NBA draft.

Judging by the success teams in recent years have had at their draft position, you can understand why.

Indeed, the 27th pick in recent years has been -- on many levels -- as good or better than players selected several slots higher in their respective draft.

BLAKELY'S MOCK DRAFT 3.0

Look at last year’s draft, one in which the Los Angeles Lakers nabbed Kyle Kuzma with the 27th overall pick. As a rookie, he averaged 16.1 points and 6.3 rebounds in earning a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team -- the only player drafted outside of the lottery (top 14) to be chosen for the first unit.

In the previous season, Toronto selected Pascal Siakam from New Mexico at No. 27. He appeared in 55 games as a rookie, making a total of 36 starts while averaging 4.3 points per game. This past season he was key to a strong bench that played an instrumental role in Toronto recording a franchise-record 59 wins, giving the Raptors the best record in the East for the first time in franchise history.

As you continue to look at the 27th pick lineage, it’s clear that all the talk about Boston being able to find a player who can contribute that late in the draft isn’t overly optimistic.

Rudy Gobert, drafted by the Utah Jazz in 2012 at No. 27, has been named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Team three times and will be in contention for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award again. He was also on the All-NBA second team in 2017.

Last season Boston finished with the second-best record in the East with a roster that was the league’s fifth-youngest. Most of that core group is set to return, with only Marcus Smart (restricted) and Aron Baynes (unrestricted) on the free-agent market. Finding a potential replacement for either of those guys is possible (unlikely, but definitely possible) with the 27th pick.

MORE ON THE DRAFT

More important than that, Boston has to continue to add players who can produce regardless of their position.

And while it’s certainly a far cry from the last two years, when the Celtics had the third overall pick in each draft (Jaylen Brown in 2016, Jayson Tatum in 2017), history has shown that teams can find more than just a warm body at No. 27. The Celts hope to add another chapter to that narrative this week.

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