Celtics

Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

Irving's not the Celtics' only go-to guy in the clutch

BOSTON -- When you think about the Boston Celtics this season, Kyrie Irving’s ability to deliver in the clutch comes to mind.

But in his absence the last three games, we have seen others emerge as go-to performers down the stretch of close games.

It doesn’t get much closer than Sunday’s 97-96 buzzer-beating win over Portland, a game that ended with Al Horford knocking down a 20-foot, fade-away jumper as time expired.

The game-winning basket was just part of Horford’s strong play down the stretch, with him scoring or assisting on four of Boston’s seven made baskets in the final five minutes of play.

And of those seven made baskets, they were scored by five different players, which speaks to how diverse the Celtics can be with the game on the line and no Irving around to carry them. 

 “At the end of the day, we got some of the clutchest players in the game,” said Jaylen Brown, whose 3-pointer with 1:13 to play gave Boston its biggest lead (93-88) of the game. “Of course Kyrie and [Jayson Tatum], and I put myself in that category too. We always give ourselves a chance to win.”
 
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 97-96 thriller against Portland, which extended Boston’s winning streak to four.

HORFORD STEPS UP

Because he does so many of the little things that lead to winning, it’s easy to forget that Horford can score against most NBA bigs. With Irving out and his replacement, Terry Rozier, struggling to make shots, Horford put the team on is back for longer stretches than usual on Sunday. And the end result was a team-leading 13th double-double of 22 points and 10 rebounds, which included the game-winning basket as time expired. 

THIRD-QUARTER TAKEOVER

The Celtics went through a stretch where the third quarter was a time in which they struggled. But lately, it has been the jump-off for their second half success. Against the Blazers, Boston outscored Portland 31-19 in the quarter to nearly wipe out a 16-point halftime deficit. It was the third straight game Boston has outscored its opponent by double digits in the quarter, with the average margin during that span being 14.7 points per game.

 

END OF C’s BENCH EMERGES

Proving that their time to contribute may be sooner than later, the Celtics’ guys at the end of the bench really stepped up to make big plays against Portland. Abdel Nader, former D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the Year, had seven points and five rebounds off the bench while doing a decent job defensively. And Guerschon Yabusele played just under eight minutes but still managed to score four points. Their ability to stay ready when opportunity comes calling, and deliver in the moment, bodes well for both their chances of playing down the road and the Celtics’ confidence that if needed they can produce. 

 

WINNING THE WEST


Sunday’s victory was just the latest installment of how the West has been won by the Boston Celtics. Beating the Blazers improved Boston’s record to 15-5 against Western Conference teams. With 10 more games against foes from the West this season, there’s a high probability that this will be Boston’s best season under Brad Stevens record-wise, playing teams outside of the Eastern Conference. During the 2015-16 season, the Celtics had a record of 17-13 against Western Conference foes.

SECOND-HALF REBOUNDING

For the Celtics, it was a tale of two halves in terms of rebounding. Boston trailed by 16 points at the half, in part because the Blazers enjoyed a 28-19 rebounding edge, which was a factor in Portland’s ability to control the action. That all changed in the second half. Boston became more aggressive, more consistently. And the end result was a 32-18 rebounding advantage which certainly aided Boston’s 51.2 percent shooting in the second half while the Blazers connected on just 32.6 percent (15-for-46) of their shots in the second half.

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Celtics-Cavaliers preview: How will C's respond to blowout Game 3 loss?

Celtics-Cavaliers preview: How will C's respond to blowout Game 3 loss?

CLEVELAND – This season has been one lesson learned after another for the Boston Celtics, a team that has taken those teachings and transformed them into better play moving forward. 

It is a trend the Celtics hope to continue tonight as they try and bounce back from a 116-86 Game 3 thrashing at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers who now trail Boston 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. 

“All season I feel like we've been learning,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “We've been put in different positions. And now we're in a position that we need to bounce back, and (tonight) we have a good opportunity.”

Boston doesn’t have a ton of experience this season when it comes to suffering double-digit losses. 

In fact, the Celtics only suffered nine losses by 10 or more points this season. 

But here’s the thing: 

You hear players on this team talk all the time about putting the last game quickly behind them, win or lose. 

Well, that has certainly been the case when they have suffered losses by 10 or more points, evident by them posting an impressive 8-1 regular season record in the games that followed double-digit defeats. 

So if the Celtics seem extremely calm right now, that’s why.

“Everybody loses games,” said Boston’s Jayson Tatum. “The NBA is such a quick turnaround that you really can't be down, especially in the playoffs.”

The Celtics will be fine in terms of their approach mentally to Game 4. The bigger issue is doing a better job of executing at both ends of the floor and doing so without being thrown off their rhythm by the crowd noise that’s pumped into the Quicken Loans Arena that players acknowledged made communicating tougher than usual in Game 3.

“It's going to be loud. But that can't be an excuse for us,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “The young guys know that. It's alright, it's one game. The one thing about this sport, you get a chance to go out there and do it again, so it's a blessing to have that opportunity.”

And for the Celtics, tonight’s game offers more than just a chance to exact some payback for a dismal Game 3 performance. It also moves them one step closer towards the NBA Final.

But make no mistake about it. 

The sting of how thoroughly the Celtics were outplayed is indeed on the minds of some players heading into tonight’s game. 

“I use it as fuel because I thought it was embarrassing,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “I thought we came out, the way I played, the way I performed, how not aggressive I was in the first half, I look at that as fuel to come out in Game 3 and be excited about it and be ready to play and ready to fight.

Brown added, “We can't look at the last game and get down on ourselves or

think we're out of the series because we lost one game. That's what the world thinks, that's what the world wants us to think, so we're going to come out and play some basketball (tonight), regardless of what anybody got to say.”

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David Ortiz once came through in the clutch for Al Horford's wedding

David Ortiz once came through in the clutch for Al Horford's wedding

David Ortiz doesn't only come through in the clutch when he's in the batter's box.

He also delivers in clutch situations off the field. Take Al Horford's wedding for example. The Celtics big man had a last-minute wedding in the Dominican Republic and desperately needed a car to pick up his wife-to-be. Big Papi saved the day, sending Horford his Phantom and a driver. He even let them keep the car for a couple of days.

Horford told the story to the NBCS Camera Guys, who you should definitely follow on Twitter if you haven't already. . .

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