Celtics

Brad Stevens pondering Smart move to starting lineup?

Brad Stevens pondering Smart move to starting lineup?

The plane ride home, particularly after along west coast road trip, is never a quick one.

It has an even longer feel about it when you come up short the way the Boston Celtics did with Sunday’s 100-94 loss being their fourth in five games.

“It’s been a disappointing trip,” Stevens said.

And when that disappointment extends for as long as we’ve seen with this team, the contemplation of making some kind of change – whether it be with the rotation or the starting lineup – has to be considered.

“I’d like to see us find some consistency at some point,” Stevens said. ‘I think that it’s not consistent, whatever our issues are.”

The first six games, Boston’s offense seemed to be the issue while the defense was rock solid most games.

Lately, it has been Boston’s defense that has been shaky while the offense has shown some growth.

And this loss had little to do with effort and everything to do with the team playing with the kind of hunger and sense of urgency, until it was too late.

“When we’re desperate and urgent we’re pretty good,” Stevens said. “We’ve got to do a better job and I have to do a better job of making sure we start games that way.”

And that’s where you may see Marcus Smart inserted into the starting lineup. 

Smart played just under 22 minutes against the Blazers, missing all three of his shots from the field.

However, he still managed to grab four rebounds, tally four assists and have a plus/minus of +1 which was tops among all Boston players who logged at least 20 minutes of court time.

The 6-foot-4 Smart has the versatility to play multiple positions which would certainly benefit Boston from a flexibility standpoint.

And while he’s not a shot-maker (he’s only shooting 32.8 percent from the field and 25.0 percent from 3-point range this season), there’s no mistaking the impact Smart has made on the Celtics offensively even when he’s not making shots.

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Kyrie elevates to another level

Kyrie elevates to another level

BOSTON — Maybe all you need to know about Kyrie Irving’s recent hot streak is that it feels like we've been hearing the phrase, “became the first Celtics player since,” an awful lot around here over the past six days, and that aphorism seems to always end with, "Larry Bird."

Irving has produced four eye-popping stat lines the past four games including a 26-point, 10-assist, 8-steal effort on Monday night while steering the Celtics to a 107-99 triumph over the visiting Heat at TD Garden.

Irving became only the ninth player in NBA history to reach benchmarks of 20-plus points, 10-plus assists, and 8-plus steals since the league started tracking thefts back in 1974. He was the first player to hit those thresholds in more than 31 years, or since Fat Lever in Nov. 1987. Irving was the first Celtics player to reach those levels since Bird did it twice in 1985.

What’s more, Irving is now the first Celtics player to register at least 10 games of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists in a single season since Bird during the 1986-87 season.

Irving is simply sizzling at the moment. He sat out last Monday night in Brooklyn — a much-needed day to rest both his body and his mind after frustrations bubbled over during Boston’s 0-3 road trip — then responded with 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in a win over East-leading Raptors. Two nights later, Irving put up 38 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds while flirting with a triple-double in a win over the Grizzlies. It was a “quiet” 32-point/5-assist/3-rebound effort in Atlanta on Saturday.

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

His four-game averages: 30.8 points while shooting 60.3 percent overall and 56 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He’s added 11 assists and 2.5 steals per game and the Celtics are 

Before Monday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked if he felt like Irving had gone to another level recently. Stevens hesitated to suggest that was even possible while noting, "He’s been awfully good. I don’t know if I ever feel it go next level, I think he’s just -- that’s how good he is.” 

But it doesn’t seem farfetched to suggest that Irving might be muscling his way onto some MVP ballots if he keeps up what he’s doing. After Monday’s win, Irving sat 15th in the NBA in scoring, 11th in assists, and 10th in steals. All while playing a mere 32.5 minutes per game.

Irving isn’t just playing well, he’s playing with an extra scoop of sizzle.

After Irving chased down a loose ball for his fifth steal during Monday’s game, he broke out the other way. Exploding towards the basket, he encountered a couple Heat defenders impeding his path so, without breaking his righthand dribble, Irving delivered a no-look between-the-legs bounce pass to Marcus Smart beyond the 3-point arc. Smart ensured highlight material by splashing the triple in what would be a third quarter where the Celtics outscored Miami 37-18. 

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

When Miami rallied within five in the final frame, it forced Irving to expend some extra energy to put the game away. He did so with a flurry of three buckets off strong drives in a 95-second span. 

The first, Irving exploded past Tyler Johnson near the 3-point arc, then calmly banked home a leaner closer to the hoop. Next trip down, he split three Heat defenders while bursting into the paint and finishing with a righthanded layup. A short time later, he probed from the perimeter, and danced through three black jerseys for another tough layup that pushed the lead to double figures.

“We have to play perfectly, offensively, when you're dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "It seemed like he made every single play. When we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, he was just brilliant at the end.”

Echoed teammate Al Horford: "Having that kind of player and that kind of luxury, where we can just let him kind of take over, feels good."

Irving, who has been noticeably more business-like in his postgame briefings this past week maybe trying to simply keep the focus on winning rather than the frustrations Boston hopes are behind them, shrugged off his heroics.

"I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Irving. "Being aggressive. That’s really pretty much it. Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands and I’ve just got to make the right plays.”

We’ve come to expect the otherworldly from Irving, offensively, but it’s maybe the elevated defensive play that's even more remarkable. We’ve said it in this space before: Irving isn’t perfect and he still has lapses where he loses his man or gets caught cheating a bit too aggressively. But with plus-defenders surrounding him in Boston’s starting lineup, Irving has a bit of a freedom to roam and try to create some havoc.

Irving’s eight steals on Monday were a combination of being in the right spots and picking opportunities to gamble. There were times when he’d stray in hopes of pickpocketing a careless dribble but other times he had simply himself in the right spot to pounce after tipping a careless feed or entry pass.

“He had a couple [steals] where he saw an opportunity and gambled a little bit. But I thought the rest of them were really good positioning and those -- those are really good,” said Stevens. “Those are exciting because, when you get those, you’re not only making them take a tough shot, you’re in there to take the ball. And he was active with his hands, he was active on tags on the baseline, I just thought he was really locked in.”

Confirmed Horford: "All year he’s been more committed to being better on the defensive end. And tonight he seemed to be at the right spots every time. And that’s a credit of him preparing for the game. I’m just happy to see him having an impact, not only on offense, but on defense as well.”

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

Turns out that Irving actually battled some nerves the night before Monday’s game. The Celtics asked their star guard if he wanted to deliver some remarks on the Martin Luther King Day and Irving wanted to make sure he got his tribute right.

He did. Wearing an “I Have A Dream” T-shirt, Irving noted how King Jr. was, “a man who truly embodied what it means to be a leader, a visionary, and a dreamer.”

Asked about the moment, he said later, "I was kind of nervous thinking about it, last night, just what to say that would really explain how great of a man he was and what he meant to our society and what he means to me,” said Irving. "For me to be standing here today, to know that the sacrifices of him and countless others have enabled me to be here today and play a game that I love and to spread a message to other young people that have a lot of history to learn about, of what this world actually looked like in the past and what it looks like going forward.

"The next generation is next up and it's my job to continue to be a pioneer and speak up on social justice, inequality and, ultimately, peace. So just happily obliged to do it.”

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Ainge jokes about Riley in exchange with Spoelstra

Ainge jokes about Riley in exchange with Spoelstra

The legendary animosity between Danny Ainge and Pat Riley spans all the way back to the peak years of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980's, and has been littered with jabs and occasional uppercuts over the decades since.

Following Boston's 107-99 win over the Heat on Monday night at TD Garden, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations had a chance to catch up with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. The two didn't pass up an opportunity to bring up that feud with the Heat's longtime team president, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman:

Who can forget, of course, the time Riley literally said "Danny Ainge needs to shut the f*** up and manage his own team" -- through a team spokesman, no less -- in response to Ainge's criticisms of how LeBron James complained to referees.

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