Celtics

Celtics head back home with momentum after long road trip

Celtics head back home with momentum after long road trip

Even though the Boston Celtics have more than 50 games under their belt, the team’s youngsters still have a lot to learn about playing in the NBA. 

The one lesson they are being taught right now is how every opponent on the docket is playing with greater passion, greater intensity and effort.

Because of that, they have to find a way to match or surpass it if they are to emerge victorious. 

That’s what makes Monday’s 111-110 win at Denver such a significant win for the Celtics (36-15) who came in having lost five of their last six games.

MORE CELTICS - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Nuggets

Boston had lost two of its previous three games on this trip, meaning a victory at Denver, one of the winningest teams at home this season, was the Celtics’ last shot to head back home with some semblance of positivity about the trip that could be quantified in what matters most – wins. 

“We needed this one,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown who drained the game-winning shot with 34 seconds to play. “This was one we needed to get away with. Leave the road trip split, get back to business when we get back to Boston.”

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving, who led all scorers with 27 points, echoed similar sentiments. 

“You don’t want to go home 1-3,” Irving said. “That leaves a bad taste in your mouth. But we fought some tough games on this road trip and now we go play in front of our fans for a little bit.”

Of course, the last game on a long road trip is often the toughest to win for the road team. It often takes a heightened level of intestinal fortitude just to compete. 

Boston, which led by as many as 20 points, was certainly pushed to its physical limits in part because of the altitude that tends to impact players far more than they let.

“I thought we looked gassed at the end of the game,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We missed some defensive assignments and I thought we missed some good opportunities on offense. But we found a way (to win).”

And while Irving certainly made his share of big plays down the stretch, the contributions of Boston’s younger players were significant. 

Rookie Daniel Theis’ energy and effort at both ends of the floor was huge. 

Ditto for Jayson Tatum (first 20-point game since Christmas Day), Terry Rozier (he almost had a double-double), Marcus Morris (led the Celtics in first-quarter points, with nine of is 14 points for the game) and Semi Ojeleye (a pair of made 3’s and as usual, really good physical defense) whose contributions were important as well.

“We have tons of opportunity for our young guys to flourish and learn on the fly,” Irving said. “Being on a road trip like this, understand you lose a couple, on a West coast road trip, traveling for 10 days, the best you can do is finish off .500."

More than anything else, it was another night when youth was served in helping Boston emerge with a much-needed victory. 

“Tonight, we took a step in the right direction,” Irving told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper following the win. “We took the best shot from a great Denver team and came out with the win.”

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J.J. Redick: TD Garden loudest place to play

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J.J. Redick: TD Garden loudest place to play

If you're wondering why the Celtics are 10-0 at home this postseason, the fact that TD Garden is capable of overwhelming opponents might have something to do with it. 

Appearing on The Bill Simmons Podcast, 76ers guard J.J. Redick said that the energy of Celtics fans made the Garden a very challenging environment during the C's second-round meeting with Philly. He added that later start times -- an underappreciated aspect of a home advantage -- made it even harder. 

"They're unruly. Every guy on our team afterwards was like, 'That's the loudest place that [we've] ever played,'" Redick said. "I was a little worried [about the] later games. They were like 8:30 [p.m.] starts. I was like, 'Oh man, this is three and a half hours of drinking, when these guys get off work and come to the game.' That worried me. They were going to be extra loud. 

“My parents were at Game 5 and I went and saw them after the game before we got on the plane, and my mom was like, 'That’s the loudest arena I’ve ever been in,'" Redick recalled. "She’s been in some pretty incredible arenas, including Cameron Indoor Stadium for some pretty big-time Duke games, so for her to say that, it’s the truth. Their fans are nuts.”

Another fun Celtics-related anecdote? Redick, who spoke surprisingly highly of Marcus Smart, said his only particularly bad interaction with a Celtics player was with the ever-polished Jaylen Brown, whom he said called him a bitch and promptly apologized when the teams played on Jan. 11.

"When were in London, Jaylen was guarding me for that game and at one point in the second half -- I'm going to cuss on your show; I'm sorry -- but he called me a bitch and I looked at him and was like, ‘I don’t play that’ and he was like, ‘Oh,  OK, I’m sorry.’ That was my only [bad] interaction. We played them 11 times this year and that was my only negative interaction with anyone on their team.”

As series progresses, LeBron's getting tired of Celtics

As series progresses, LeBron's getting tired of Celtics

BOSTON -- One of the reasons the Celtics came into this series against Cleveland more confident than most teams was due to their depth at the wing position.
 
Boston has played a solid eight-man rotation in this series, and all but 6-foot-2 Terry Rozier has the size, length and athleticism to at least slow down LeBron James from time to time.
 
The plan from the very beginning was to wear down the perennial All-Star, something both sides acknowledged played a role in Boston's 96-83 Game 5 win.

MORE GAME 5

 
James had a strong double-double of 26 points on 11-for-22 shooting to go with 10 rebounds and 5 assists. But he couldn't muster up enough in the fourth quarter to take over and dominate play, scoring just two points in the fourth while missing three of his four shot attempts.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue was asked whether James looked tired.
 
"He looked a little tired to me, yes," Lue said.


 
 Boston's Marcus Morris reiterated Lue's sentiments about James.

"Yeah. I seen it," said Morris when asked if he saw James tiring as the game wore on. "We threw a lot of different bodies at him. He has to do a lot for that team. Everybody knows these games are coming pretty quick; games are coming fast."

Morris added, "At the end of the day . . . I'm tired. Everybody else is tired. You still gotta play. I would think he would get a little tired."
 
James, playing in his 15th NBA season, played all 82 regular-season games and led the NBA in minutes played (36.9) per game. Among teams still in the postseason, James is averaging a league-high 40.6 minutes per game in the playoffs.
 
Throw in the fact that he nearly always plays until mid-June -- he's been to the NBA Finals each of the last seven seasons -- and it stands to reason that at some point, fatigue would become a factor.
 
And the Celtics, to their credit, have not made it easy on him. We have seen James defend Boston's perimeter 1-2 punch of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, a pair of young, athletic wing players who have been aggressive going at James and his teammates.


 
One of the best conditioned athletes in the NBA, James acknowledged that there were moments in Game 5 when fatigue became an issue for him.
 
"I had my moments," he said. "But I think everybody at this point is tired or worn down or whatever the case may be."
 
That said, his stat line speaks to how James was still a dominant force for the Cavs.
 
"Still trying to make plays to help our team win," James said. "Put us in position to win. We had moments. We had an opportunity, but we didn't make enough plays."
 
The key for James is recovery time, something he and the rest of the players in this series haven't had much of lately.

DJ BEAN

 
After the three-day gap between Games 2 and 3, each of the remaining games in this series have been, and will be, played every other day -- something that probably benefits the younger Celtics more than James and the older Cavs.
 
But at this point in the season, while all acknowledge that having some level of fatigue is just a reality of where this series is now, no one's using it as an excuse. And certainly not James.
 
"I'm fine," he said. "I'm fine."
 

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