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 Exit Interviews: How did it all change with Kyrie Irving?

Celtics Exit Interviews: How did it all change with Kyrie Irving?

What’s going to happen with Kyrie?

I’ve heard the question probably a thousand times since the Boston Celtics’ season ended with a whimper earlier this month in Milwaukee. I’ve heard it from family, friends, mailmen, random Celtics fans at the airport, and baristas at Starbucks. I’ve heard it from people around the NBA and I’ve heard it from people that couldn’t name another player on the Celtics roster.

The answer, if we’re being honest, is that your guess is as good as mine. We spent the season adamant that, at the end of the year, Irving would survey his options and realize he has a pretty good situation in Boston. But, certainly, the way it ended — Kyrie in full “let it fly” mode as the Celtics got steamrolled four straight games by the Bucks, then not exactly owning his playoff struggles — wasn’t a particularly inspiring look. So usually I’ll volley the question.

Do you want Irving back?

Most of the time there’s a hesitation, a sign of the internal debate that a lot of Celtics fans seem to be having having while weighing the All-NBA talent against Irving’s leadership flaws. Maybe it’s simply a very vocal minority but we’ve been surprised by the amount of fans that have suggested that maybe it would be best for both sides to move on.

We’ve already told you why you should be careful what you wish for. From the standpoint of Boston remaining a legitimate title contender, it’s almost certainly best that Irving is back. Maybe it’s just an overly emotional aftermath to a maddening season, one in which Irving might be catching too much of the flak for Boston’s overall struggles. But a lot of fans remain conflicted.

All of which made us think: How exactly did we get here? Fans were downright giddy about the possibility of a long-term future for Irving here and he put up the best statistical season of his NBA career. But Boston’s struggles left a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.

We begin our postseason Exit Interviews series with a spotlight on Irving.

"If you’ll have me back, I plan on re-signing here"

When Irving stood before fans at the team’s season-ticket holder event before the season and verbally declared his intent to return, it took almost everyone by surprise. And, even if all parties involved were quick to stress that nothing could be truly agreed upon until the summer, Celtics fans were elated — and eager to rub the news in the faces of Knicks fans. 

Over the past seven months, however, things got weird. The Celtics struggled out of the gates and Irving compounded matters with missteps in his quest to be the team’s vocal leader. Even when he was well-intentioned — like publicly declaring how he called LeBron James for advice — the effect was sometimes more bad than good. When the Celtics’ struggles continued, and Irving’s future was deemed more uncertain than his preseason declaration might have suggested, Irving brooded and it further impacted the team negatively.

If you’re looking for a point where the tide of public opinion swung, it’s probably Feb. 1. Irving’s future had been dragged into the public spotlight in the aftermath of Anthony Davis requesting a trade. While it became rather obvious that Irving was merely a pawn in the quest of some to get Davis to Los Angeles (by planting seeds of doubt about whether Boston might still be player in the Davis sweepstakes this summer), Irving didn’t help matters with his angry reaction to the rumors.

“Somebody else is asking for a trade and I’m throw into that,” Irving fumed at a shootaround before Boston’s visit to the Knicks that day. “Uncertainty comes back on me.”

But Irving didn’t flat out deny the suggestion that he might be having second thoughts. He said simply that, “Boston’s still at the head of that race,” but that suggested, for the first time since before his October declaration, that it was still a race.

Two soundbites in particular went into heavy rotation: “Ask me July 1,” and “I don’t owe anybody s---.”

Maybe if the Celtics were sitting atop the East at that point, then all the noise would have gone away. But Boston could never quite get things right. When Irving and Kevin Durant were taped talking outside the locker room at the All-Star Game in Charlotte — the same All-Star Fame that Irving played in despite missing two games before the break with a knee sprain — the speculation only snowballed about whether the two would join forces in New York.

By the end of February, Irving began suggesting that his focus was on the playoffs. Asked why the postseason would be different than the regular season, Irving brashly suggested because he was here.

Then he endured one of the worst shooting slumps of his career and the Celtics got unceremoniously bounced from the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games. When he dismissively stated, “Who cares?” when asked about his shooting woes after Game 4, it drew the ire of already frustrated Celtics fans who screamed at their TV that they, most certainly, cared.

There is little debate about Irving’s talents. He averaged 23.8 points while shooting 48.7 percent from the floor and 40.1 percent beyond the 3-point arc this season. The Celtics owned an offensive rating of 112.8 when Irving was on the court, and it plummeted by 7.7 points per 100 possessions when he was on the bench.

Irving remains one of the most spellbinding ball-handlers and finishers in the NBA. His room-for-growth checklist would focus more on leadership and accountability than anything on the court (though his defensive intensity and focus could improve, as highlighted in the Milwaukee series).

Ultimately, the question is whether Irving desires to be back. Does he yearn to make amends for his own missteps? Does he want another crack at getting this thing right (albeit, with a cast that could be very different)? 

If Irving does elect to return and the Celtics continue to build around him, how can he win back the fan base? He could show the self-awareness that often evaded him last season. He can own his failures and express a desire for redemption. He can stress again his appreciation for the franchise and the opportunity to wear Celtics green. The city will embrace him; Boston loves nothing better than a redemption story.

You know what else would help? Winning. Winning cures all. irving and the Celtics didn’t do enough of it this year to mask their issues.

And it’s ultimately the reason why the offseason begins with so much uncertainty about Irving and his future. It’s in Irving’s best financial interest to return, with Boston able to offer him a five-year, $190 million maximum salary extension, or about $50 million more than any other suitor.

What’s going to happen with Kyrie? Nothing would surprise us. But it’s hard to imagine just how much has changed in seven months.

It feels a lot like "Game of Thrones": It’s a tantalizing journey that deserves a better ending than what we’ve got at the moment.

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NBA Rumors: Celtics to host two defensive studs for pre-draft workouts

NBA Rumors: Celtics to host two defensive studs for pre-draft workouts

If Brandon Clarke is on the board at pick No. 14 or later in the 2019 NBA Draft, it sounds like the Boston Celtics might be interested.

The Celtics are one of four teams set to host the Gonzaga product for a pre-draft workout, the Charlotte Observer's Rick Bonnell reported Sunday.

Boston also will bring in Penn State guard Josh Reaves for a workout, Bryan Kalbrosky of USA TODAY's Celtics Wire reported Sunday.

Clarke was a highly productive two-way forward for the Zags last season, averaging 16.9 points per game while leading the NCAA's Division I in blocks (117 in 37 games) to win West Coast Conference Defensive Player of the Year.

He's projected as a first-round pick and has been tied to the Celtics -- who own the 14th, 20th and 22nd picks -- in several mock drafts, including the latest from NBC Sports Boston's A. Sherrod Blakely.

Reaves also is a defensive standout who won Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors this past season after averaging 2.5 steals and 1.0 blocks per game for the Nittany Lions. The 21-year-old is expected to go in the second round, where Boston has No. 51 pick.

Defense clearly is a priority for head coach Brad Stevens' club, which has drafted athletic stoppers like Robert Williams, Semi Ojeleye and Jaylen Brown in recent years. With three selections in the first round, Boston has the capital to target another defensive-minded player with one those picks.

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