Celtics

Celtics' second unit delivers first-rate play to start the fourth quarter

Celtics' second unit delivers first-rate play to start the fourth quarter

INDIANAPOLIS -- The way Kyrie Irving has dismantled the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter has been a thing of beauty for Celtics Nation. 

He has been a point-producing assassin, locked and loaded on putting away the Blue and Gold Pacers with seemingly one dagger of a shot after another. 

Still, Irving’s late-game heroics have been fueled in part by his fourth-quarter set-up men whose play to start the quarter, has made things a lot easier for Irving to thrive in the role as closer. 

And Game 3 was the latest example of Boston’s strong play to start the fourth laying the groundwork for a forceful finish that has the Celtics on the cusp of moving on to the second round after Friday night’s 104-96 win over the Pacers. 

The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 with a chance to close it out on Sunday and move on to play the winner of the Milwaukee-Detroit series. 

Irving, who finished with a double-double of 19 points and 10 assists, had six points and a pair of assists in the decisive fourth quarter. 

But as good as he was in closing the game out, his teammates once again delivered at the start of the fourth to ensure that Irving’s return to action in the fourth - he usually spends at least four or so minutes at the start of the fourth on the bench - wouldn’t require him to lead a comeback but instead continue with the already strong play of the team’s second unit players who by and large are on the floor to start the fourth. 

Starters Al Horford and Jayson Tatum were joined by Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Morris to start the fourth quarter on Friday. 

They began the quarter with an 80-73 lead that, despite the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd being loud and rowdy, was still on solid ground when Irving returned with 8:49 to play and the lead stood at 84-78.

“Those guys have played in a lot of big games,” said Boston’s Brad Stevens. “We have a lot of faith in them.

Said Rozier: “We come into the game and we still play hard. It’s been a huge help for us.”

Morris echoed similar sentiments about the bench, which is a plus-9 in the three games at the start of the fourth quarter prior to Irving seeing his first action in the fourth. 

“We’re just trying to come out there and bring energy,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston of the second unit’s play to start the fourth. “We’re trying to impact the game every time we’re out there.”

Bench play has been among the strengths of the Celtics despite various players being in and out of the second unit for various reasons. 

Jaylen Brown, who has been one of the team’s more consistent reserves of late, has shifted to the starting lineup with Marcus Smart (torn oblique injury) being out for what’s likely to be at least another month. 

With the first unit, he went off for 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting in Game 3 in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. 

But even without Brown coming off the bench, Boston’s backups continue to make their presence felt in this series. 

“We have to go with the flow; it’s the playoffs,” Morris said. “We can’t sit and think about how everything has changed … the one thing we can do is go out and play hard and win the bench matchup because that’s big in the playoffs.”

“Guys being ready, doing what they do when they’re out on the court,” Hayward said. “We got a lot of guys that can play, do a lot of different things. We expect guys to step up in those moments.”

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Kyrie Irving's high school coach sees him going to Knicks

Kyrie Irving's high school coach sees him going to Knicks

BOSTON -- When it comes to Kyrie Irving’s future, it seems everyone has an opinion...including his high school coach. 

Kevin Boyle, Irving’s coach at St. Patrick High School in Elizabeth, N.J., is among those optimistic that the 6-foot-3 guard will sign with the New York Knicks this summer after he becomes a free agent. 

“I think there’s a good chance in my opinion that Kyrie ends up here [in New York],” Boyle told SNY.tv’s Ian Begley, while making it clear that he was speaking as a fan and not someone who knows what Irving’s plans are for next season. “In my gut, I would think that would work best for him and I would think that [the Knicks] have a really strong chance of that happening.”

It would be a mistake to dismiss Boyle’s opinion, especially when you see that he has worked with some of the NBA’s top players when they were in high school. 

In addition to Irving, Boyle has also coached Joel Embiid, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (he was a teammate of Irving’s in high school), D’Angelo Russell and Ben Simmons as high schoolers.

All of those players, except for Kidd-Gilchrist, have gone on to become an NBA All-Stars. 

This season, the Knicks aggressively went about creating roster vacancies and salary cap space to absorb two, maximum-salaried players in what will be a summer where elite, difference-making talent will be available and that includes Irving. 

Because the Knicks now have a pair of max salary slots, Irving is believed to be one of the primary targets of New York, along with Golden State’s Kevin Durant. 

And the Knicks, owners of the No. 3 pick in the draft next month, are likely to select R.J. Barrett of Duke - another player Boyle has coached.

He tells SNY.tv that pairing Irving and Durant with Barrett might make for better chemistry than the group that Irving played with in Boston this past season. 

"Because they [the Celtics' young players] were starting to get established in the NBA, starting to have a lot of success the year before [without Irving in the playoffs],” Boyle said. “With RJ, he has a great balance with respect and learning. [He'll think], 'Hey, I'm getting better, whether it's [behind] Kyrie or another guy, it's their show right now and I'm learning how to play with him or under them until it's my turn. I think he'll be receptive to that and I think he'll be a perfect complement to those guys."

After arguably his best individual regular season in terms of scoring efficiency and defense, Irving went from difference-maker to a dud in the Celtics' second-round series against the Milwaukee Bucks, who needed just five games to end Boston’s season. 

Irving had arguably his worst four-game stretch last season in four consecutive losses to Milwaukee.

In those final four games, Irving averaged 19 points while shooting 30.1 percent from the field and 18.1 percent (5-for-27) on 3-pointers, to go with 4.3 assists - all below his season averages. 

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Celtics Exit Interviews: Can Hayward regain his All-Star form?

Celtics Exit Interviews: Can Hayward regain his All-Star form?

2018-19 STATS

11.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.4 assists. 46.6 FG%, 33.3 3PT%, 109.8 Offensive Rating

This was supposed to be the comeback season for Gordon Hayward after missing all but the first five minutes of the 2017-2018 season with an ankle/leg injury. His season was one of both highs and lows, with the latter being more prevalent in the playoffs with his numbers down across the board relative to what he did during the regular season.

ROOM FOR GROWTH CHECKLIST

1. Consistency: There were just too many games, even after his health was no longer an issue, when he would be just out there providing little at either end of the floor. He’s too talented and too important to this team to have too many games like that going forward.

2. Aggressiveness: Part of Hayward’s struggles this past season had to do with him not attacking the ball more, at both ends of the floor. He’s a much better two-way player than what we saw this past season.

3. Focus: Hayward will have a normal offseason where the focus will be on improvement and not just simply getting on the floor, which was the case last summer. With that uncertainty behind him now, look for Hayward to lock in on what he has to do this offseason to improve to where he’s closer to being the All-Star player he was prior to arriving in Boston. 

HIS FUTURE

Hayward just completed the second year of the four-year, $127.8 million contract he signed in 2017. And while the first two years have not gone the way Hayward or the Celtics want, there’s no urgency on Boston’s part to trade him and he seems genuinely happy to be a Celtic. Plus, finding a taker for the remaining $66.8 million he’s owed seems unlikely. That said, all signs — for now at least — point towards Hayward being back in the fold as a Celtic next season. 

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