Celtics

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Celtics, Raptors burst Bucks' title hopes in NBA bubble?

The Milwaukee Bucks will resume play with a league-best record of 53-12.

But just as we saw the Bucks burst onto the scene as one of the league’s better teams, how will they be impacted by the time off as the league’s restart begins this month?

Will their title hopes burst inside the bubble? One longtime NBA scribe certainly thinks so.

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“I think the two best teams in the East are Boston and Toronto,” veteran Toronto Raptors beat writer Doug Smith of the Toronto Star, said on the Celtics Talk Podcast on Thursday. “I like Milwaukee a lot, but they’ve never been there. And I think that’s a big, big concern. The Raptors' experience and their adaptability in games … I don’t think it gives them an edge, but it’s a big plus for them.”

The Celtics have been talked about often as one of the teams that can potentially upend the Bucks and get out of the East. 

To a lesser extent, the same can be said for the defending NBA champion Raptors, who have been able to successfully navigate through a season filled with injuries to key players to enter the bubble in Orlando with the NBA’s third-best record. 

But you wouldn’t know they were that good by the minimal talk surrounding them as potential repeat champions — which was fueled by the departure of last year's NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who now plays for the Los Angeles Clippers, and 3-and-D ace Danny Green, who now plays for the Los Angeles Lakers. 

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Even with Leonard and Green moving on, Toronto has been a ruggedly tough team in the East. 

Pascal Siakam has emerged as an All-Star this season. Outside of maybe Boston’s Kemba Walker, there’s not a more underrated point guard in the NBA than Kyle Lowry. Serge Ibaka and Marc Gasol give Toronto the kind of veteran presence in the frontcourt that all title-contenders long to have on their roster. 

And let’s not forget about head coach Nick Nurse, who will surely get some serious love when the season is over when it comes to Coach of the Year voting. 

While a lot of attention has been paid to how impressive the Raptors have been for years at home, this season they posted an identical 23-9 record on the road as well as on their own home floor. 

Smith said home-court advantage would likely determine the winner of a Boston-Toronto playoff series. But with that being off the table now that all games will be played at a neutral site, Smith still envisions what would potentially be a hard-fought, down-to-the-wire series. 

“I think it’s a seven-game series if they played it in Boston, Toronto, Orlando or on Mars,” Smith said. “These teams are very evenly matched. They’re both very good. They can beat you in a lot of ways. That’s a big thing in the postseason.”

So what would decide the series?

“It comes down to the wings. The wings determine the series,” Smith said. “Can OG Anunoby contribute? Can Norm Powell contribute? How do Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum handle that kind of thing? I think that’s where the series is won or lost.”

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

After Robert Williams' huge night vs. Nets, what's next for Celtics big man?

We suspect a significant spike in attendance at our next Robert Williams Fan Club meeting after Wednesday night’s performance. Please be sure to check the updated seating assignment for all those attempting to re-board the now socially-distanced Timelord hype train.

The 22-year-old Williams offered a firm reminder of his potential by erupting for a career-best 18 points on 7-of-7 shooting with five rebounds, three blocks, two assists, and a steal in a breezy win over the Brooklyn Nets. Williams was plus-21 over nearly 19 minutes of floor time, which included some surprising first-quarter burn.

Our senior leadership committee will be tasked with determining whether this was Williams’ best game of his NBA career. A November 2019 visit to San Antonio (11 points on 5-of-5 shooting, 7 rebounds, 6 blocks) finally has a challenger for that crown.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

What we saw Wednesday was the sort of performance that escaped Williams in Boston’s three scrimmages. It’s the sort of performance that none of Boston’s younger players have showcased inside the bubble. Williams and the younger players have rarely left coach Brad Stevens with any reason to ponder a more consistent role.

But Wednesday’s performance will make Stevens think a bit harder about what Williams can offer this team moving forward.

We’ll caution membership from getting too excited about the possibilities. Stevens will not overreact to one performance, particularly not against a Nets team that lacked the energy from its upset over the Bucks the night before. Williams must build off this outing if Stevens is to call on him when the games really matter.

To put it another way, we wouldn’t be surprised if Williams played only sparingly against Toronto on Friday night. But given that none of Boston’s youngest players have stated a strong case for increased playing time entering Wednesday’s game, Williams becomes the first one to submit an application that Stevens must consider (and rookie Romeo Langford, with his continued solid wing defense, has done the same).

Williams did typical Williams things. His first six makes were all at the rim, including a pair of alley-oop finishes (most notably a particularly sexy set play in which Gordon Hayward sprung Williams with a backside screen and Marcus Smart delivered a long-distance lob). Williams capped his night with a 20-foot jumper, showcasing newfound range in a late-clock situation.

His blocks were relatively quiet, at least by his volleyball-spike standards. Williams did come rushing with help to swat a Joe Harris offering across the court, then practically leaped over Langford to swat a Dzanan Musa layup attempt.

Williams played with quick hands on the defensive end. He showcased his passing skills with an ability to spray the ball to cutters and open shooters on the perimeter.

But it’s all about building off a big night. Two games after his big performance in San Antonio, Williams experienced ankle soreness and sat out. He never generated momentum, and injuries have been a primary culprit early in his NBA career. Hip issues in December forced him to the sidelines for three months.

Williams says he’s healthy now and he needs to keep making Stevens think. He has to dominate outside of game action, whether that’s putting in extra work on off days or shining in practices.

The potential is so obviously there. It’s why none of us with real estate on Timelord Island are willing to sell our properties. Williams has the potential to be an X-factor in the postseason. Or he might not play at all. It all comes down to whether he shows enough now for Stevens to trust him, especially on the defensive end.

Williams doesn’t have to be perfect like his shooting chart on Wednesday. But he has to be consistent. But if he keeps maximizing his opportunities, more chances will follow.

Celtics put the league, Raptors on notice after shredding the Nets

Celtics put the league, Raptors on notice after shredding the Nets

It was one of the most dominant performances we have seen from the Boston Celtics all season. 

The team’s 149-115 win over Brooklyn did more than just pad their record which is the third-best in the East now. 

Consider Wednesday’s whacking of the Nets as a warning shot of sorts to the Toronto Raptors who remain ahead of Boston in the standings and will face the Celtics on Friday in one of the more highly-anticipated games inside the Bubble.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Brown, who had a game-high 21 points on 7-for-13 shooting, summed up where the Celtics’ mindset is right now.

“Making sure we play the game the right way defensively, being a really, really good team, being a (expletive) to beat going into the playoffs,” Brown said. “We figure that out we’ll be alright.”

The execution level the Celtics were playing at most of the game was the kind of carving job you usually see in a butcher’s shop. 

Jumpers.

Lay-ups.

Dunks.

Deflections. 

The Celtics got anything and everything they wanted from Brooklyn, all game long which served as a reminder that Kyrie Irving … or Kevin Durant … or any player of significance was not coming through that door for Brooklyn which was coming off one of the greatest upsets in decades by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics were looking to put their loss to the Miami Heat behind them as soon as they could. 

Did. They. Ever.

All 13 players on Boston’s active roster saw at least six minutes of court time on Wednesday with each player scoring at least three points.  

While the Celtics can’t anticipate they will have many more - if any - games like this going forward, the way Boston played at both ends of the floor against the Nets was the kind of performance the Celtics would love to build on going forward. 

And the feel-good vibes that come about with a resounding victory, will certainly be put to the ultimate test against a Toronto team that’s one of the deepest, most talented teams in the NBA. 

Here’s a look at some of the standout performers on Wednesday.

Who’s hot

Jaylen Brown: Arguably the best player for the Celtics since the season restart, Brown was once again causing opponents at both ends of the floor. He led all Celtics with 21 points in the blowout win over Brooklyn. 

Jeremiah Martin: He’s making the most of his opportunity to play decent minutes. The former Memphis Tiger guard who is on a two-way contract with the Nets, led all Brooklyn scorers with 20 points in just under 16 minutes of court time. 

Robert Williams III: It was about as flawless a game as you could imagine Robert Williams III playing. He finished with a career-high 18 points while making all seven of his shot attempts to go with five rebounds, two assists and three blocked shots.

Jayson Tatum: Very efficient scoring the ball tonight before finishing with 19 points on 7-for-11 shooting. 

Romeo Langford: He only had four points but his defense in a near-26 minutes of court time along with his passing, made it easier to understand why he had a team-best plus/minus (+27).

Who’s not

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot: My, how quickly things change. After dropping 26 points in Brooklyn’s historic win over the Milwaukee Bucks, TLC was back on earth scoring just four points. 

Brooklyn defense: For years they have taken great pride in being a scrappy bunch. But on Wednesday, somebody dropped the ‘S’ and because of that, the Nets were dropped hard by the Celtics who scored a season-high 149 points.