Celtics

Effectiveness of zone defense vital to growing Celtics streak

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Effectiveness of zone defense vital to growing Celtics streak

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics have dabbled at times this season with a zone defense. But we haven’t seen quite as much of it as we did on Saturday.

And for all the things that Boston did to come away with a 110-99 win against Toronto, the Celtics’ use of an effective zone defense was a critical component to Boston extending its winning streak to six straight games.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens recognized its value and importance to the win, but he was reluctant to dole out too much praise for its impact on the game.

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“Well, when we play those big lineups, with (Jayson) Tatum at the top of that, it’s pretty – it’s a pretty good guard at the top of a 2-3 zone when he puts his arms out,” Stevens said. “We ran it a couple times in the first half with mixed results. But it – a lot of our issues were late in the clock, so it was something we could go back to if we needed to.

Stevens added, “sometimes they just miss shots. I’ll have to go back and look and see what it looked like, but it felt like we were active in the middle of it. Did get some deflections on drives and cause some turnovers out of it.”

Boston doesn’t play a lot of zone, but the Raptors were quick to say it wasn’t something that caught them off-guard.

“We were ready for it,” said Raptors head coach Dwane Casey. “We executed against it, we had some open looks against it, Kyle (Lowry) made one so we were ready for it, wasn’t anything we were surprised by. We got what we wanted out of it, we just got to make the shots.”

DeMar DeRozan, who had a game-high 32 points, echoed similar sentiments about Boston’s zone defense.

“We expected it, but I think it slowed down our momentum offensively, kind of (got) a little bit stagnant,” DeRozan told reporters. “We still got to play the same way, aggressively, and we didn’t do that. Now I’m pretty sure we will be well prepared next time we are in that same situation.”

Here are five takeaways in Boston’s 110-99 win over the Toronto Raptors.

Morris’ toughness

Even before the late-game bruhaha involving Morris and Toronto’s C.J. Miles, the veteran forward had already put his imprint on the game. He wound up leading the Celtics in scoring with 25 points, reaching the 20-point plateau for the fourth straight game which is the first time he’s done that in his NBA career.

Rozier’s future

The more you see Terry Rozier with Boston’s starting unit, the clearer it becomes he’s talented to play with the first unit of a lot of teams in the NBA. Rozier came through once again for Boston when it mattered on Saturday to finish with 21 points and seven assists.  His ability to balance being a scoring guard with that of a facilitator, serves both him and the Celtics well as they forge ahead to what’s shaping up to be a down-to-the-wire battle for the top spot in the East.

DeMar DeRozan

He’s a four-time all-star whose doing what all the greats do – find ways to get better. It has been well chronicled how DeRozan has expanded his offensive game with the 3-point shot. But what he doesn’t get enough credit for, is how he has improved as a defender. He had a number of nice plays defensively that certainly aided Toronto’s efforts on Saturday.

Serge Ibaka’s value

Often the forgotten man, Serge Ibaka’s absence during a critical stretch in the fourth quarter serves as a reminder of what he means to this Raptors team. When he picked up his fifth personal foul with 5:58 to play, the Celtics had a slim 94-92 lead. By the time he returned with 4:18 to play, the Celtics were up 100-94 which included a three-point play by Al Horford – the man Ibaka would have been defending had he been in the game. Boston’s control of the game was not an issue afterwards.

Aron Baynes

Anytime you can get a 3-pointer from Aron Baynes, you’re doing well. Get two 3-pointers from him, which is what we saw on Saturday? You’re playing with house money now! The 3’s certainly drew lots of attention, but more significant was how Baynes’ perimeter shooting began to open the floor for Boston. He doesn’t have to become a 3-point threat, but being able to knock down mid-range, pick-and-pop jumpers goes a long way towards keeping teams honest defensively. His face-up game shooting the ball will be something to keep an eye on not only when these two play in Toronto on Wednesday, but also going forward with the playoffs around the corner.

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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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Celtics' dominance over Pacers continues with Game 3 victory

Celtics' dominance over Pacers continues with Game 3 victory

INDIANAPOLIS -- This is the adversity Kyrie Irving has been talking about.

Boston did not play its best game of the season, or of this series with the Indiana Pacers getting a clear and undeniable bump from playing in front of their own fans.

But when it mattered, it was Boston making the tough shots, getting the defensive stops and rebounds and in doing so, are on the verge of ending this first-round series in as little time as possible after Friday’s 104-96 Game 3 win.

The victory gives Boston a 3-0 series lead with a chance to close out the series on Sunday.

Boston kept the Pacers faithful quiet for most of the first half, only for Indiana to close out the second quarter with a 26-10 run to lead 61-59 at the half.

The Celtics spent a good chunk of the second half with a slim lead, with the Pacers doing just enough to stay within striking range.

But when it mattered the Celtics did what they had done in the first two games - close things out playing strong.

And in doing so, they are positioned to sweep the Pacers.

Here are some of the standout performers in Friday’s game.

MVP

Jaylen Brown

The importance of Kyrie Irving down the stretch goes without saying for the Celtics. But for large chunks of the game, it was Jaylen Brown’s play at both ends of the floor that really stood out for Boston. He would finish the night with another solid job defensively against Bojan Bogdanovic (15 points on 6-for-16 shooting) while scoring 23 points himself.

Most Improved

Kyrie Irving

Speaking of Kyrie Irving, his impact was steady for the first three quarters but as we’ve seen from him in the past he took it to another level in the fourth. He would finish with a double-double of 19 points and 10 assists to go with five rebounds.

Jayson Tatum

For the second time in as many games, Jayson Tatum came through with a strong game, finishing with 18 points on 8-for-16 shooting.

Turning point

Boston, leading 93-89, got a 3-pointer from Al Horford to go ahead 96-89 which put the Pacers in the kind of hole they could not climb their way out of.

Sixth Men

Tyreke Evans

He was really the most impactful player for the Indiana Pacers. He would finish with 19 points which is usually a good thing for Indiana which had a 10-3 regular season record when he scored at least 15 points. Now 10-4, the only team to beat them in the Eastern Conference when Evans has 15 or more is the Celtics who did it back in January and again Friday night.

Marcus Morris

It was indeed a night of redemption for Morris who followed a 20-point Game 1 performance with a big fat goose egg in Boston’s Game 2 win. On Friday, Morris was somewhere in between, which is a good thing for Boston, as he tallied 11 points and seven rebounds.

Duds

Myles Turner

He has spent the lead-up to the last two games talking about needing the ball more. Well, he got his wish but couldn’t deliver the monster game Indiana needed from him He tallied 13 points but did so on 4-for-10 shooting from the field in addition to grabbing seven rebounds.

Up next: Boston has a chance to close out the series on Sunday with Game 4 at Bankers Life FieldHouse at 1 p.m.

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