Celtics

Bucks get buckets, but they can defend too

Bucks get buckets, but they can defend too

BOSTON -- Figuring out how to slow down Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo will be priority number one for the Celtics when they host the Bucks tonight. 

But just as big a concern for the Celtics should be how to get points because as talented as the Bucks have proven themselves to be this season when it comes to scoring, their defense has been among the league's best as well. 

The  Celtics (18-12) will see this first-hand tonight as they try and snap a two-game losing streak while facing a Milwaukee (21-9) team whose strong play defensively compliments an offense which averages a league-best 117.8 points per game. 

That strong defense more than anything else has made it difficult for teams to generate any kind of offense, which is evident by them allowing 107.9 points per game, good for the ninth-best scoring defense in the NBA, along with a defensive rating (103.0) which is fourth in the NBA. 

But a deeper dive into their defensive stats reveals the various pieces that make up a well-put-together defensive puzzle. 

According to NBA.com/stats, the Bucks come in tops in the league defensively in fewest points allowed on turnovers (14.2); second-chance points (10.9); fast-break points (9.3); and points in the paint (40.4).

As for the Celtics, an already challenging Bucks team becomes even more difficult to contend with as Boston finds itself trying to overcome a rash of injuries to several key players. 

What really hurts the Celtics on the injury front, is that most come at the big forward/center position

Al Horford (left knee) will miss his seventh consecutive game. His backup, Aron Baynes, suffered a broken right hand in a loss to Phoenix on Wednesday. Baynes has since had surgery and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. 

Boston has also been without Guerschon Yabusele since he sprained his right ankle against New Orleans on Dec. 10. He was left off the team’s injury report for tonight’s game, which means he’s available.

Still, even if they get a chance to welcome Yabusele back to join the only two healthy bigs in Daniel Theis and Robert Williams III, it doesn't take away from the huge challenge awaiting them. 

Limiting Antetokounmpo will be a chief concern for Boston, but finding ways to get buckets against the Bucks... that might be an even bigger challenge. 

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Defense is what's fueling the Celtics' strong play of late

Defense is what's fueling the Celtics' strong play of late

BOSTON -- The Los Angeles Lakers came to town and got crushed by the Boston Celtics. 

Up next was Memphis, a red-hot team on the rise with a next-level rookie leading the way, who got one of those back-of-the-woodshed beatdowns. 

The Celtics are coming off their best back-to-back performances this season and are looking to continue that strong play away from the TD Garden with the next three games on the road, beginning with Friday night’s matchup at Orlando. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Indeed, there is an undeniable amount of pressure on them to continue on their winning ways. 

And the key to that success lies in their defense; specifically their ability to apply pressure at a consistent level. 

The last two games have seen the Celtics deliver the defensive hammer in a way we have not seen with this kind of consistency. 

Yes, it’s only two games. 

But here’s the thing. 

You can probably count the minutes in those two games that Boston hasn’t played with a sharp edge defensively, on the one hand. 

And the numbers only amplify how well they have ratcheted up their play at that end of the floor lately. 

In the last two games, Boston’s defense has averaged 25.0 points off turnovers which is tops in the league, 22.5 fast-break points which ranks second in the NBA in the last two games, and they are limiting opponents to just 10.0 points via fast-breaks which is the league’s fifth-lowest average in the last two games. 

Blanketing teams with pressure defensively has been something Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been imploring his players to do all season. 

“Without any resistance, they catch it inside the three-point line or at the three-point line without any resistance, then we’re in trouble,” Stevens said. “Our best rim defense is keeping the ball away from it.”

And lately, the Celtics have done this at an elite level with their position-less brand of basketball paying dividends by being able to switch constantly defensively and not being burned by a bad matchup. 

Daniel Theis has been particularly impressive recently. 

This season, Theis has a defensive rating of 103.4 but in the last two games, his defensive rating is a strong 78.9. 

And when you start looking at Boston’s other core players, they too have seen a noticeable improvement in their defensive ratings such as Jayson Tatum (101.8 defensive rating this season, 80.2 in the last two games); Gordon Hayward (104.7 this season, 91.3 defensive rating the last two games); and Kemba Walker whose defensive rating of 108.6 has taken a major nose dive the last two games, to 94.8. 

“We have to be a defense-first kind of team; we are,” Hayward told NBC Sports Boston earlier this week. “When we let our defense leads the way for us, good things usually happen.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics rookie Tacko Fall gets seven player votes for NBA All-Star Game

Celtics rookie Tacko Fall gets seven player votes for NBA All-Star Game

Tacko-mania isn't just for fans. Apparently, some NBA players are in on the craze too.

Tacko Fall has been among fan voting leaders for the 2020 NBA All-Star Game, and he managed to snag a few votes from his NBA peers despite appearing in only four games with the Boston Celtics this season. He's spent most of his time in the NBA G League with the Maine Red Claws.

The 7-foot-5 phenom received seven player votes, topping teammates Gordon Hayward (six) and Enes Kanter (four). Fellow C's rookie Grant Williams earned two votes from players.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Considering the amount of attention Tacko has received throughout his rookie campaign, it's really no surprise he's faring well in the popularity contest that is NBA All-Star voting. While it's all fun and games for some, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens made it known he isn't a fan of Tacko-mania extending into the voting process.

Celtics star Kemba Walker was named a starter for the All-Star Game on Thursday. Reserves will be announced on Jan. 30.

Forsberg: This is no passing fancy with Smart

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Magic, which begins Friday at 6 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.