Celtics

Celtics-Lakers preview: With contention in Cleveland, C's need to strike now

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Celtics-Lakers preview: With contention in Cleveland, C's need to strike now

LOS ANGELES – The lead-up to tonight’s game between Boston and the Los Angeles Lakers has nothing to do with tradition, or two long-time rivals on the rise or any of the predictable narratives that tend to arise on the cusp of this matchup.

This is about one game; a game that despite their lopsided records, actually means more to the Boston Celtics (34-13) than the Los Angeles Lakers (17-29).

Forget for moment how every Lakers loss brings their first-round pick in June closer to becoming Celtics property courtesy of Boston trading away the number one pick to Philadelphia in last June’s NBA draft, for the No. 3 pick in the draft and a future first-rounder that the Lakers owed the Sixers, which could potentially wind up in Boston’s war chest of draft picks if it falls between the No. 2-5 pick.

That’s important to Boston, obviously.

But of more urgent concern is the team’s play; specifically, their offense.

It was something to make note of earlier this season as the Celtics stockpiled wins, but nothing to worry too much about because, well, they kept winning.

But riding a season-high three game losing streak, it has become a top-shelf concern because 1) they’re not making progress offensively that lasts more than a couple games, and 2) they’re starting to lose in large part because the offense is simply not getting the job done.

Even nights when Kyrie Irving is having a special Kyrie Irving-like game, it’s far from a guarantee that’ll be enough to carry them to victory.

He lit up the Orlando Magic for 40 points on Sunday, and it still wasn’t enough as the Magic won 103-95.  While it wasn’t one of the Celtics’ better games defensively, they did enough good things at that end of the floor to get the win.

“We haven’t played well enough consistently on both ends for a while now,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Boston’s offensive struggles have led them to bring in G-League standout Jarrell Eddie on a 10-day contract mainly because of his shooting skills.

And with the trade deadline less than a month away, the Celtics will look even closer at scoring/shooting options in the coming weeks.

Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams is a player on Boston’s radar, but the Clippers’ recent run of success (they’ve won six of seven, 10 of their last 13) coupled with Williams playing at a near all-star level, makes it highly unlikely Doc Rivers and company will be open to parting with him.

A more logical and reasonable player to target is Memphis’ Tyreke Evans.

The Grizzlies are going nowhere and frankly, they would be better off cutting loose a player like Evans and get something in return unless they see him as a potential core player to their franchise going forward which seems unlikely.

Until then they swing a deal or let the deadline pass, the Celtics will get by with the players they have.

They're not bad players, but when you’re having a season like the Celtics are at a time when the Cleveland Cavaliers’ grip on the East hasn’t been this loose since LeBron James returned, the time to strike is now.

Danny Ainge knows this.

Brad Stevens knows this.

And the players one way or another, are going to know this because as we’ve seen with Ainge in the past, he will not hesitate to make a deal that shakes up the roster.

However, Boston’s current team has the potential to at least quiet down some of the increasingly loud calls for at a minimum, a roster tweak.

And it starts with getting a win tonight over the Los Angeles Lakers whose play has improved which is evident by them winning their last two and six of their last eight games.

Because like the Celtics, they too are trying to figure out the best course of direction going forward.

But they have the benefit of playing without real expectations relative to winning.

Boston?

Not so much.

It’s always fun to reminisce about these long-time rivals and how they’re both trying to forge a future for themselves as the latest link to their historically awesome past.

But this game tonight isn’t about nostalgia.

It’s about two teams, both trying to win a game, a game that one of them – the Celtics – needs more.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

CLEVELAND – The Celtics have been perfect at home in the playoffs and with a Game 7 win on Sunday, they would set an NBA record for consecutive home wins in the postseason with 11.

It would also improve their record to 38-0 in series in which they open with a pair of wins.

Still, as they went about making this improbable journey to where they are a win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, history has never been a motivating factor.

And with where they are now in the grand scheme of things, it becomes even less of a motivating factor.

“At the end of the day, you have to make your own history,” said Jaylen Brown. “We have to come out and do what we have to do. People can say what they want. Two teams have to come out and play.”

That stay-in-the-moment mindset has served them well all season and becomes even more important following a Game 6 loss Friday night, a game in which the Celtics did a lot of what they were intending to do in order to give themselves a shot at winning.

But the game ultimately came down to the C's going through one of its scoring lulls, getting behind by double digits and not making that one shot or getting that clutch defensive stop to swing the momentum in their favor.

There’s no time to dwell on that, not with a Game 7 matchup on the horizon.

“It’s over with now,” Brown said. “We can’t afford to think in the past, ‘oh we should have won.’ It’s over with. Game 7 at home in the Garden; great atmosphere, great environment, great stage. Come out and play some great basketball, high energy and let’s see who comes out on top.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 109-99 Game 6 loss to the Cavs:

JAYSON TATUM


He had 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting which is a pretty good night for most players. But what really stood out was the fact that Tatum, arguably Boston’s best player at creating his own shot off the dribble, did not take a single free throw. The reason was two-fold: the ball didn’t find its way into his hands enough and when it did, opportunities to get to the rim and attack were few and far between.

MARCUS MORRIS


Marcus Morris has been tasked with being one of the primary defenders against LeBron James, knowing full well he – or any NBA player for that matter – can only hope to slow him down. Morris has not done as well of late in limiting James and to make matters worse, he has struggled to impact the game offensively. In Game 6, he was 3-for-10 shooting with a number of the misses being attempts at the rim or relatively open perimeter looks. Of all the Celtics, Morris will likely benefit the most when it comes to being at home.

CLEVELAND ROLE PLAYERS


LeBron James (46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) was dominant as ever, but it was the Cavaliers role players that really won this game for Cleveland. George Hill had 20 points. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. came off the bench to score 14 and 10 points, respectively. Kyle Korver hit a couple 3’s and for the most part, did a solid job defensively. Limiting their impact will be among the chief goals for the Celtics heading into Sunday’s Game 7 matchup.

FREE-THROW SHOOTING


They’re called free throws but when you miss too many of them, there’s often a high cost to be paid. The Celtics found that out in Game 6. While the Cavs took two more free throws (22) than the Celtics (20), Boston wound up making seven fewer free throws courtesy of them shooting a woeful 55 percent (11-for-20) from the line while the Cavs were 18-for-22. Teams tend to shoot better from the line at home, a trend Boston certainly hopes will continue for at least one more game.

KEVIN LOVE


After a collision with Jayson Tatum in the first quarter, Love (concussion testing) was unable to return for Game 6, and at this point, he is questionable at best for Game 7. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. picked up the minutes left by Love’s absence and if Love doesn’t play in Game 7 those two will likely gobble up most of those 30-plus minutes that would have gone to Love. That could lead to Boston making another lineup change with Marcus Morris back with the first unit in place of Aron Baynes to better match up with Cleveland.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: It all comes down to Game 7 at the Garden

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: It all comes down to Game 7 at the Garden

1:33 - Tommy Heinsohn, Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine break down the Cavaliers' Game 6 win over the Celtics to force a Game 7. Tommy Heinsohn also tips his cap to what LeBron was able to do in a do or die Game 6.

7:56 - A. Sherrod Blakely and Abby Chin discuss how many minutes (46) LeBron James played in Game 6 and whether that will have an impact on the Cavaliers in Game 7 on Sunday.

9:44 - Jared Carrabis joins Mike Giardi to give his take on the Red Sox designating Hanley Ramirez for assignment.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE