Celtics

Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

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Celtics thought it would be good . . . but this good?

After arriving in Boston and spending some time with his new teammates, Kyrie Irving felt good about this group doing big things this season. 

But when asked about the experience thus far being what he thought it would be, Irving responded, “It’s probably exceeded that.”

He’s not alone. 

Few would have envisioned the Celtics (15-2) would have the best record in the NBA at this point, let alone be riding a 15-game winning streak which ranks as the fifth-best winning streak in franchise history. 

Irving and his Celtics teammates will try and keep it going tonight when they take on the Dallas Mavericks.

Irving’s ability to mesh with his teammates and still find success was among the many questions out there when the Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off the blockbuster trade this offseason. 

Blending in has not been an issue for Irving, bolstered by the reality that his game stands out. 

We saw that in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Atlanta Hawks, which was a game in which Irving had 30 points on an insanely efficient 10-for-12 shooting night. 

There were many factors that went into Irving’s strong night against the Hawks, but he said it really came down to one thing above all else.

“I just made some damn shots for once,” Irving quipped. “That right there kind of made it seem better than I actually been shooting over the start of the season.  It would also contribute to being able to be in the right spots and guys being selfless in their approach driving to the basket or getting into the paint. It’s tell-tale sign of all of us getting more comfortable.”

Here are five below-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics face the Dallas Mavericks, with Boston gunning for its 16th straight win. 

BROWN’S POSITIVE PLAY

Jaylen Brown has been on a bit of an offensive tear of late, the last being a career-high 27-point performance in Boston’s win over Atlanta. But even more telling is how well things seem to flow with him on the floor. Brown’s plus/minus this season is +146 which is tops among all players in the Eastern Conference. His closest competition in the East? That would teammate Al Horford whose plus/minus this season is +143. In addition, Horford has had a positive plus/minus in every game this season. 

YOGI FERRELL

You can count Yogi Ferrell among the ones that got away from Brad Stevens when he was coaching at Butler. Ferrell, who played at Indiana, was a player on Stevens’ radar when he was coaching at Butler. “I recruited Yogi, unsuccessfully,” Stevens told reporters in Dallas. While Ferrell came on strong as an undrafted free agent with the Mavericks last season, Stevens said there’s nothing about Ferrell’s game now that he didn’t see when he tried to woo him to Butler. “He would have been awfully good at Butler,” Stevens said.

HOMECOMING

While Marcus Smart grew up in Flower Mound, Texas (less than an hour from Dallas), tonight’s game is a homecoming of sorts for another Celtics player – Semi Ojeleye. The 6-foot-7 forward played at SMU which is located in Dallas. A second-round pick by Boston in last June’s NBA draft, Ojeleye has been among the many surprise performers for the Celtics this season. “We knew he could be a versatile defender,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Probably has exceeded our expectations in that regard with his ability to guard one (point guard) through five (center) at certain times. And he’s been pretty consistent shooting the ball. Right now, embracing that kind of 3-and-D role is what he has to do and he’s done it well.”

DEEP DRAFT CLASS

The Boston Celtics struck gold by drafting Jayson Tatum with the third overall pick. But as you look at the teams that had lottery picks in last June’s NBA draft, few come away feeling disappointed or discouraged by the player selected. The Dallas Mavericks are among the teams pleased with their first-round pick, Dennis Smith Jr. who was selected with the ninth overall pick. He has emerged as one of the top rookies this year, averaging 14.5 points, 4.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game. And yes, he was a player that was on the Celtics’ radar leading up to last June’s draft. “We had Dennis in and he was really impressive,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s a guy that’s going to have a great career and he’s got good veteran players around him to help kick it off.”

DIRK NOWITZKI

The numbers aren’t anywhere close to what we’ve seen for the bulk of Dirk Nowitzki’s illustrious career that’s now in Year 20. But there is a demeanor about him that seems to be at peace with where he’s at basketball-wise, even if the wins aren’t nearly as plentiful as he’s accustomed to. “I appreciate his game a ton,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Just watching him talk on the court, cheer on the bench, sit at the scorer’s table with a smile on his face. You can’t play this long and be this good this long if you don’t’ love it. Everybody says they love it, but he’s got a different level of passion. You can feel it, you can see it. You root for guys like him to have success.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics learn something while caught in the crunch

Celtics learn something while caught in the crunch

The Boston Celtics really should not have needed overtime to edge a shorthanded Orlando Magic team in a rather meaningless seeding game on Sunday night. But the fact that Boston had to scrap its way to a very ugly win wasn’t such a bad thing.

Because of Kemba Walker’s minute restrictions, the team’s preferred starting five — Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis — hadn't gained much crunch-time experience together inside the bubble. But in need of a rally, Celtics coach Brad Stevens went with his first 5 for the last five minutes of regulation and was rewarded with a feverish final-minute rally that helped Boston escape with a 122-119 triumph.

The key sequence came with 38 seconds left, and Boston still down 5, when, after Brown missed a 3-pointer, a crashing Walker leaped between two white jerseys and deflected the ball back out to Tatum for a second-chance triple.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

A Daniel Theis block at the other end set up Tatum’s baseline spin move in which he shook fellow 2017 first-round pick Markelle Fultz and tied the game with 3.8 seconds to play. And, as if he hadn’t done enough in crunch time, Tatum blocked Terrence Ross’ last-gasp 3-point attempt to ensure an extra session.

"You’d never want to script it that way but it wasn’t at all bad to be down 5 [late in regulation] just to have to find a way in that moment, have to get stops, have to put our defense in a situation where we had to get a stop to go to overtime, had to get a bucket right before that,” said Stevens.

"It’s not all bad but there’s a lot that led up to that that we didn’t like as well that we’ll go back and look at to make sure we’re better.”

Boston’s starters, who played just 188 minutes together in 17 games before the season paused, have now logged 63 minutes together in Orlando. They’ve actually performed even better than the regular season with their net rating jumping from plus-12.5 to plus-13.1.

While the offense hasn’t been as crisp, Boston’s first-unit defense has been elite while limiting opponents to 94.6 points per 100 possession inside the bubble.

With Walker at his minutes limit after the fourth quarter, Stevens wasn’t able to trot that starter group out for even more time in the extra session. Instead, he simply swapped in Marcus Smart and the Celtics stiff-armed the Magic late to emerge with the victory.

From Walker making the hustle play to give his team a shot late, to Tatum thriving in the late-game spotlight, there’s a lot Boston can take into the postseason.

Boston’s playoff spot is already locked up with the team ensured the No. 3 seed. The Celtics’ final three seeding games, including Sunday’s dance with the Magic, are largely perfunctory. But Stevens stressed the importance of conditioning given that the playoffs won’t start for eight more days, and the situational work Sunday could aid this team when things are invariably tense in the postseason.

Hayward (31 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 block) turned in his best game of the bubble (and maybe in a Celtics uniform); Robert Williams continues to look like someone Stevens can lean on in small doses of minutes; Tatum and Brown had really good moments at various points Sunday; and the team overcame a rare Walker dud to find a way to win (Walker more than redeeming himself with the late-game tip-out to Tatum).

The Celtics probably wouldn’t have plucked much from a breezy, lopsided win. Having to tough out a victory, even if it was avoidable, might have maximized the value of Sunday’s tilt.

Boston must wait to see who emerges as the sixth seed in the East. Philadelphia was at nearly 55 percent to finish 6th, based on projections from ESPN’s Basketball Power Index entering Sunday’s action. And that probability will almost certainly jump up a bit because it was before the Sixers’ lost to Portland.

Right now Boston’s focus has to simply be on keeping everyone healthy and restoring the starters' confidence before the playoffs arrive. The starting 5 finally got some crunch-time tests. Hey, better late than never.

And Sunday’s finish couldn’t have been better for Boston.

Celtics' Jaylen Brown shares thoughtful messages about police brutality, mental health

Celtics' Jaylen Brown shares thoughtful messages about police brutality, mental health

Jaylen Brown continues to use his platform to share inspiring and thoughtful messages about important issues beyond just basketball.

Following the Boston Celtics' win over the Orlando Magic on Sunday, Brown took time during his postgame press conference to discuss the ongoing social injustices in the country as well as the issue of mental health.

After mentioning the tragic, senseless deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police officers, Brown explained his position on the issue.

"I'm aware that some Americans have the birthright and the privilege to see police officers as protectors or maybe even peacekeepers, or even embrace heroism," Brown said. "Unfortunately, I'm not from that side of America. I'm from the other side where people are in fear or in terror of the police where you can be killed in your own backyard by reaching for your wallet. Your parents have to teach you certain behaviors because they're in fear that if you run into the police, you might not come home.

"And I'm aware that without being drafted by the Celtics, without being in the place I am now, that I would still be on that other side of America. So I want to take a look at the term 'police brutality' and maybe offer another term as 'domestic terrorism.' Because that's what it was in the eyes of George Floyd, and that's what it was in the eyes of Trayvon Martin, and that's what it is in the eyes of a lot of people in color in minority communities. I'll be posting an article on my social for guys to learn and tune in more, but thank you guys for listening."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Grizzlies, which begins Tuesday at 4 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 5 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Brown then shifted to a discussion about mental health, which was equally inspiring and even had some comic relief as he took a jab at Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell in the process.

"I also want to bring attention to mental health, and awareness. Being here in this bubble, I guess people might not speak on it but it is a challenge to a lot of guys," Brown said. "It's like you're at work all the time. Like, a lot of time a lot of guys when they get done playing basketball, they want to be able to leave and forget about basketball for a little bit. It's impossible here in the bubble. You go out and chill, you might see Donovan Mitchell sitting there and you're like, 'Man I don't want to see him right now.' But it kind of is what it is.

"I definitely want to bring awareness to mental health, anxiety, and forms of depression in times like this and places like this in the bubble. Our athletes probably struggle with that and don't feel confident enough to speak openly about it. So being able to talk to somebody, being able to find ways to replace those tires is conversations that need to be had ... It's tough being away from our family and being isolated from the rest of society.

Former Celtic Kendrick Perkins came away impressed with what he heard from Brown, and it isn't difficult to see why.

You can hear the entirety of Brown's important message in the video above.