Celtics

Celtics overcome slow start, grind out a victory over Kings

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Celtics overcome slow start, grind out a victory over Kings

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics were down big early as shots continued to clank off the rim.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento Kings were getting what they wanted offensively, with ease. 

It was that kind of night for the Celtics for most of the first half and early portions of the third quarter against the Kings on Thursday night.

But instead of continuing to fight uphill to no avail, the Celtics showed the kind of grit and determination to get back in the game and eventually take control, the kind of play we saw from them during their West coast trip which gave hope that maybe they packed that same brand of basketball in their carry-ons back to Boston. 

The Celtics, down by as many as 17 points to the Sacramento Kings at TD Garden, mounted a third-quarter rally that set in motion what ultimately became a 126-120 win. 

Boston (42-27) was far from perfect in winning for the fourth time in the last five games. But having to lock in for an extended period of time to get back in the game and eventually take over, bodes well in their quest to go into the postseason playing the kind of basketball needed in order to succeed in the playoffs.

“When we got down (13) in the third, we continued to fight back, continued to play hard,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris, who had his fourth double-double of the season with 21 points and 13 rebounds. “We finished the game off strong. As long as we come out with a win, that’s all that matters.”

☘️ CELTICS 126, KINGS 120

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was pleased with the win, obviously. 

But he also liked the fact that his team had to battle back to get the win. 

“My encouragement comes from just kind of gutting it out and finding a way down 17, staying together,” Stevens said. “Had every excuse to not play well and just . . . that’s more of what we have been fortunate enough to be used to.”

But that familiarity that Stevens speaks of has not been the norm for the Celtics, this season. 

Despite having all of the core guys return from a team that played with an elite level of fight and fortitude most nights, this year’s team has been more inconsistent in that regard which is why they are fighting to have a top-4 seed in the playoffs as opposed to running away with the Eastern Conference the way many had expected. 

In the third quarter, Boston fell behind by as many as 13 points in the quarter after a driving lay-up by De’Aaron Fox made it an 80-67 game with 7:32 to play which led to a Celtics timeout. 

Boston took over from there as the Celtics closed out the third with a 16-2 run capped off by a Gordon Hayward lay-up with 0.2 seconds to play that put the Celtics ahead 93-91 going into the fourth.

The Celtics would lead for the remainder of the game. 

There are games in which the final score isn’t quite as close as the actual game that was played. 

But make no mistake about it. 

The Celtics, which led by as many as 13 points, had to grind this one out; and they’ll be better off in the long run because of playing — and finding a way to win — games like this. 

“It feels good; add it to the win list,” Irving said. “You just have to battle through it; stay the course, stay aggressive, stay tough, make sure we’re not putting the game in the ref’s hands … we just have to go and take it and tonight we did.”

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Is Semi Ojeyele the Celtics' secret weapon vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks?

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NBC Sports File Photo

Is Semi Ojeyele the Celtics' secret weapon vs. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks?

The Milwaukee Bucks boast an NBA MVP favorite in star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo. But the Boston Celtics might have his kryptonite in ... a guy who played 29 seconds in the first round?

That's the case NBC Sports' Tom Haberstroh makes in his latest "Big Number" segment: that Semi Ojeleye, of all people, could be the key to containing the Greek Freak.

Here's the evidence: The Bucks have a 109.6 offensive rating over the least two seasons. But on possessions when Ojeleye guards Antetokounmpo, that number drops to 104.3.

 

As Haberstroh points out, Ojeleye hasn't exactly kept Antetokounmpo off the score sheet. The superstar forward has shot 59 percent from the floor while averaging 34 points per 100 possessions when defended by Ojeleye over the last two seasons.

But Milwaukee's offense still suffers as a whole when Ojeleye locks up Giannis, which is why head coach Brad Stevens has started the little-used swingman in five of Boston's last six matchups with the Bucks.

Stevens has raved about Ojeleye's defensive prowess, so with Marcus Smart sidelined, we could be seeing a lot more muscle on the court during Round 2.

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Brad Stevens is openly frustrated by Celtics-Bucks schedule uncertainty

Brad Stevens is openly frustrated by Celtics-Bucks schedule uncertainty

File this under "first world problems," but Brad Stevens just discovered an unfortunate consequence of the playoff sweep.

Stevens' Celtics dispatched the Indiana Pacers in the first round last Sunday and already know they're playing the Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2 of the NBA playoffs. The issue? They still don't know when that series will start.

"We are still awaiting final word," Stevens told 98.5 The Sports Hub's "Zolak & Bertrand" in his radio interview Wednesday. "And we've been awaiting final word for multiple days now. So, hopefully we get final word very, very soon."

If you detect some irritation in Stevens' answer, you're onto something. As the Celtics head coach pointed out, not knowing the date for Game 1 has thrown a wrench in his plans.

"(The NBA) tell(s) both teams as it's going along kind of what they're thinking," Stevens said. "This one's been frustrating, because obviously we've been not playing games since Sunday night.

"So, to create a practice schedule where you can practice appropriately, prepare appropriately and rest appropriately obviously depends on when your next game is."

There isn't too much variance, as C's-Bucks is expected to start on Saturday or Sunday depending on when the three remaining active series finish up.

But that one-day difference does impact scheduling and logistics, from practice times to treatment programs for players like injured guard Marcus Smart.

Stevens acknowledged the schedule uncertainty is a result of their series sweep, and we're sure the Pacers would love to have the Celtics' problem. But as the first round drags on, it's clearly still a problem for Stevens.

UPDATE (2:25 p.m. ET): Apparently Stevens got his message across...

Game 1 of Celtics-Bucks is set for Sunday at 1 p.m. ET, the NBA announced just hours after Stevens' comments.

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