Celtics

For Celtics, key to Game 2 is improving on what they did well Sunday

For Celtics, key to Game 2 is improving on what they did well Sunday

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics and the Milwaukee Bucks put on quite the show in their Game 1 battle, which ended with the Celtics edging the Bucks 113-107 in overtime. 

Game 2 will have a different look and feel, with both teams aware that adjustments have to be made. 

“There’s definitely some things we can do better, like cutting down turnovers,” Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton told NBC Sports Boston.

The Bucks turned the ball over 20 times in Game 1, resulting in 27 points for the Celtics. 

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Boston, which shot 41.5 percent, will look to connect at a higher clip against a Milwaukee team that, according to nba.com/stats, contested 77 of Boston’s 94 shot attempts (81.9 percent) in Game 1.

Milwaukee coach Joe Prunty said there were “a lot of little things” he took away from Sunday’s loss. 

“We had the turnovers; 20 is too many,” he said. “The start in the first quarter wasn’t ideal. The points off turnovers and the offensive rebounds, that was another thing we addressed and talked about.”

As for the Celtics, their focus isn’t necessarily on doing anything all that different but rather, continue to do what they did in Game 1 more consistently. Specifically, Boston’s game plan to hit the Bucks with a steady diet of Al Horford on the block was a major factor in Game 1. 

Horford had a double-double of 24 points and 12 rebounds, doing so on 5-for-8 shooting.  The five-time All-Star was 13-for-14 from the line, playoff career-highs in free throws taken and made.  Indeed, the ball was in Horford’s hands a lot, which can be seen in him having 98 touches according to nba.com/stats

The only player in Game 1 with more touches was Terry Rozier (124).

A good amount of Horford’s success offensively came while Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo was defending him. The Greek Freak is a phenomenal talent with tremendous length, athleticism and ball-handling. But when Horford backed him down into the post -- which he did frequently in Game 1 -- Antetokounmpo’s strengths were of no help. And you can bet Boston will look to go down that route again tonight.

“[Horford] played well, but in the grand scheme of things we can do a little better in keeping him off the free-throw line, make him shoot over our length a little more,” Prunty said. “He makes a lot of plays for them; it’s not just scoring. The biggest thing is he’s going to have the ball in his hands, and depending on who is guarding him . . .  you have to account for every position that he’s going to be in.”

Boston will also look to control the offensive glass like it did in Game 1, which resulted in a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points. 

“I thought we had a couple fortunate bounces we took advantage of on scramble plays,” said coach Brad Stevens. “But I thought we also were very aggressive on the glass.”

That added aggression is needed if the Bucks go with a small-ball lineup that shifts Antetokounmpo to center. 

“Rebounding is going to be a part of who we have to be,” Stevens said. 

Antetokounmpo led all scorers with 35 points, and the Bucks got another 31 points from Khris Middleton. Beyond that, Milwaukee didn’t get much production from the rest of the team. 

“We have to play within the flow of our offense, get in the right spots and guys have to be ready,” Antetokounmpo said. “The ball is going to find them eventually. Guys have to be ready to knock down shots and make the right play for the team.”

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One of the bigger disappointments for Milwaukee in Game 1 was Eric Bledsoe, a player the Celtics will once again have to contain if they are to take a 2-0 series lead. 

“He’s a really good player,” said Stevens. “His ability to get downhill . . . he’s a hard guy to keep in front. Anytime you play a team with this much talent, you have to constantly be prepared for each of those guys to be at their best.

Stevens added, “He’s a really good defender, very strong, very athletic . . . he does a good job.”

The same can be said for Antetokounmpo who averaged 33.5 points against the Celtics during the regular season and has seemingly picked up where he left off. 

“We know that we can do a lot better,” Antetokounmpo said. “Hopefully we can win the game.”

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A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

BOSTON – As good as someone may look in summer league play, it should never be viewed as a sole barometer for NBA success. 

There have been countless players who dominate the floor this time of year, only to become NBA doormats when the games really count. 

More than anything else, summer league helps teams get a better feel for their bench – a place where most summer leaguers will be if they are even on a roster at all.

And the Celtics must feel pretty good about their second-unit players who were on the floor in Boston’s summer league run.

Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, and Jabari Bird were all reserves (or in the case of Bird, a two-way contract player), who are likely to have opportunities to play more prominent roles this season.

All were viewed as having a significant area in need of improvement heading into the offseason.

Ojeleye was essentially a talented defender who, offensively, was a catch-and-shoot guy who only took corner 3’s last season.

In summer league, Ojeleye put the ball on the floor more than we’ve ever seen in addition to finishing at the rim for lay-ups or dunks.

And Yabusele, who at times looked dazed and confused on the floor, was far more assertive in his decision-making – qualities he needs to display when camp starts in September and he’s competing for minutes off the bench.

Bird was the breakout star for the Celtics this summer, solidifying himself as a player who will be on someone’s NBA roster - if he’s not back in Boston - this season.

The athleticism that has been a hallmark of Bird’s game for years was on full display in Las Vegas. More than anything, he showed a heightened level of attention to detail while being consistent at both ends of the floor – traits he’ll need to display more of if he’s back with the Celtics and wants to compete for minutes off the bench.

So as Celtics fans are impressed with the strong play of Ojeleye, Yabusele, and Bird, keep in mind that all three are reserves who likely won’t be the first option off Boston’s bench this season.

Still, they have all shown skills that at a minimum, give Boston hope that when called upon, they will be ready to step up and contribute at a level greater than what we saw last season.

And as we know with all Brad Stevens-coached teams, players must always stay ready to play regardless of how deep they might be buried on the depth chart.

Ojeleye is a great example of this.

A second-round pick last year, Ojeleye played limited minutes most of the season only to find himself inserted into the Celtics’ starting lineup about midway through their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks.

And while Yabusele saw sporadic minutes, that was in large part due to him not being effective in the minutes he was allotted. Still, the Yabusele we saw last season wasn’t nearly as mobile, athletic or impactful as the one we saw that helped Boston to a 4-2 summer league record.

Bird, on a two-way contract last season, has done enough to at least warrant serious consideration for a spot on the 15-man roster.

All three players raised the level of expectations for fans, and while it was certainly a good sign, by no means does it alone mean they are ready to make major contributions this season.

A strong showing in summer league play can certainly be part of the puzzle for a Celtics team that heads into the season as the odds-on favorite to reach the NBA Finals.

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Celtics in negotiations with Marcus Smart on four-year deal

Celtics in negotiations with Marcus Smart on four-year deal

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics have been saying for weeks that Marcus Smart is their top priority during this free-agency period. 
 
Well, it looks like those words are starting to lead to the kind of action Smart and his camp have been looking for all summer. 
 
The Celtics and Smart’s agent Happy Walters are reportedly in "serious" talks about a four-year deal that would pay Smart a salary that would reportedly total somewhere in the $46-50 million range -- similar to the range in which Boston was negotiating with Smart prior to the start of this past season. 
 
While Smart’s camp went into the summer seeking a deal that would average closer to $15 million per season, league executives have consistently maintained Smart’s value was $10 million-$12 million annually. 

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Because of that figure and Smart being a restricted free agent, teams were reluctant to put forth an offer sheet that they assumed the Celtics would match unless it was north of $15 million per season -- an extremely high price for even such a talented role player as Smart. 
 
With Kawhi Leonard being traded from San Antonio to Toronto, that all but eliminated the Celtics from making any kind of roster-altering move this summer. 
 
And because of that, it made more sense to start engaging Smart’s camp in working out a multiyear deal to keep the veteran guard in the fold for years to come. 
 
A league source anticipated a deal would get done quickly for a number of reasons with one that stands out more than the others. 
 
“They want him back, and he’s made it clear he wants to come back,” the source told NBC Sports Boston. “Both sides have a better idea of what his value is, in this market now and I think they can come to a number that works for both of them.”
 

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