Celtics

Celtics look to get back on track at home vs Magic

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Celtics look to get back on track at home vs Magic

BOSTON – Last season, the Boston Celtics were able to advance to the Eastern Conference finals in part because they had home court advantage in every playoff series before ultimately bowing out to a LeBron James-led Cleveland team.

The foundation for having home court advantage in the playoffs, lies in establishing an edge at home during the regular season.

Which is why Boston’s current two-game skid is indeed something for the Celtics to worry about.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens makes a point of keeping is team focused in the moment, never looking too far down the road or over their shoulder.

Well at the moment, his team needs to re-establish itself at home not only to improve upon their East-leading record, but also continue to stack up wins so that when the postseason arrives they will once again have home court advantage.

“It’s disappointing anytime to drop a game,” Stevens said. “But certainly, drop two in a row at home adds to that.”

While it’s certainly not ideal, Boston’s 18-7 record at home this season still ranks among the top teams in the East.

Still, there’s definitely room to grow on several fronts for Boston.

Winning at home?

That’s one of them. 

“At the end of the day, the reality is we’re not a 34-12 team by many metrics other than we figured out a way to win 34 out of 46 games,” Stevens said. “We have to be a lot better if we want to continue to move forward with this.”

Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into today’s game between the Boston Celtics and the Orlando Magic.

 

SLOW STARTS

Despite the record, the Celtics have not played very good basketball lately. And the bad games start with – you guess it – the way they open games. Boston has not won the first quarter since their Jan. 3 win over Cleveland. In fact, the Celtics have been outscored in nine of their last 16 quarters of play. 

 

BEATING THE BAD ONES

Part of being an elite team involves doing more than just knocking off the best teams. It also requires handling the not-so-great clubs, something the Celtics have done a good job with this season. They come into today’s game against Orlando with an impressive 17-3 record against teams below-.500 teams this season.

 

LIVE (AND DIE) BY THE THREE-POINTER

We know the three-point shot is a key component to the Boston Celtics offensively, evident by them ranking sixth in the NBA this season with 31.5 taken per game. But relying too heavily on the 3-point shot has transformed Boston from an elite team, to one that’s just barely above-.500. 

Consider this: When the Celtics take more than 40 percent of their shots from 3-point range, they are just 8-6 this season. In their last two games – both losses - the Celtics took 45.1 percent of their shots from 3-point range.

 

IN THE CLUTCH

You never plan on games being decided in the final minute or so of play, but the Celtics like their chances if the does come to that. This season, they have won 20 “clutch” games (those within five points in the final five minutes of play) this season which is tops in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the Orlando Magic are at the near-opposite end of that spectrum, ranking 26th in the NBA with seven wins this season falling under the “clutch” category.

 

NO AFFLALO TODAY

Aron Afflalo will not be with the Magic today as he serves the second of a two-game suspension for fighting Minnesota forward Nemanja Bjelica on a play which included Afflalo punching Bjelica in the head on Tuesday.

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Celtics achieve their biggest offseason goal: Re-signing Marcus Smart

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File photo

Celtics achieve their biggest offseason goal: Re-signing Marcus Smart

BOSTON -- Mission accomplished.

The Celtics went into the offseason planning to bring back all their core players from last season’s squad, which came within a victory of getting to the NBA Finals.

The last bit of business is now taken care of with Marcus Smart coming to terms on a four-year, $52 million contract.

A restricted free agent this summer, Smart was unable to secure an offer sheet from another team. The Celtics had maintained all along they would match any offer within a reasonable amount. 

They never put a specific number on how high they would go, but most league executives believed a team would have to sign Smart to an offer sheet of at least $15 million in order for the Celtics to allow him to walk.

MORE BLAKELY

Signing Smart solidifies what’s shaping up as one of the deepest backcourts in the NBA. All-Star Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown are the starters, with Smart and Terry Rozier coming off the bench.

There were moments during negotiations when Smart was reportedly disappointed and frustrated by the lack of attention the Celtics were paying him through the process. But Boston maintained all along that re-signing him was its No. 1 priority, and that position never changed.

Even when Smart’s return was far from a given, the Celtics still had a roster that was viewed by many as one of the best in the NBA. When LeBron James left Cleveland to sign with the Los Angeles Lakers, that instantly catapulted the Celtics to the top of the Eastern Conference. (Story continues below.)

 

At 1:26 mark: A. Sherrod Blakey, Kyle Draper, Gary Tanguay and Trenni Kusnierek discuss the Smart deal prior to its finalization

 

Now with Smart set to return, Boston’s position among its Eastern Conference brethren remains strong as ever, even with the Raptors trading for two-way standout Kawhi Leonard.

The Celtics' journey towards the NBA Finals will involve them leaning on a variety of players with a varying amount of strengths and skills. That's why re-signing Smart was so important.

The recipe for postseason success is an unpredictable one; it requires having as much elite versatility on the roster as possible. That's what Smart brings: An ability to impact games when there’s a great need for toughness defensively, which is often in the closing moments of matchups.

DJ BEAN

That’s why you’ll often find Smart on the floor in close games, regardless of how well or woeful he might be shooting that night.

Because as much as the analytics folks of the world would love to see better numbers by Smart when he’s on the floor, it always comes back to winning games for the 6-foot-4 guard.

And as much of a head-scratcher he may be when it comes to shooting, he never loses sight of the ultimate goal -- winning -- which is why Boston’s quest towards Banner 18 is even more alive and well with his return.

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Kawhi Leonard finally traded; Marcus Smart back to the Celtics?

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Kawhi Leonard finally traded; Marcus Smart back to the Celtics?

1:26 - Marcus Smart and the Celtics are reportedly finalizing a 4 year contract. A. Sherrod Blakey and Kyle Draper join Gary Tanguay and Trenni Kusnierek to discuss the deal and debate if the Celtics are overpaying for Smart.

6:17 - Kawhi Leonard has finally been traded. The Spurs shipped him to the Raptors in a package centered around DeMar DeRozan. Cedric Maxwell breaks down who got the best end of the deal and if he was surprised Kawhi got sent to Toronto.

11:18 - Darrelle Revis has officially retired from the NFL after 11 seasons, including one season with the Patriots where he won his only Super Bowl ring. Chris Gasper along with Tanguay and Trenni discuss Revis’ legacy.  

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