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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Horford named to NBA All-Defensive second team

Horford named to NBA All-Defensive second team

BOSTON – For most of his career, Al Horford has been regarded as one of the league’s better defensive big men, even if he didn’t have the accolades or league-wide acknowledgment… until now. 

The veteran forward/center was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive Second team on Wednesday, a first for the 11-year veteran. 

Utah’s Rudy Gobert and New Orleans’ Anthony Davis were the headliners on the first team which included Philadelphia’s Robert Covington, New Orleans’ Jrue Holiday and Indiana’s Victor Oladipo.

Along with Horford, the second team consisted of Jimmy Butler of Minnesota, Joel Embiid of Philadelphia, Golden State’s Draymond Green and San Antonio’s Dejounte Murray. 

What aided Horford’s selection was the fact that he showed a level of defensive versatility that we had not seen during his time with the Atlanta Hawks or with the Celtics last season. 

Look no further than this postseason run by the Celtics, one in which Horford has defended versatile wings like Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo as well as big point guards like Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons.

 “In the past I was probably guarding the bigger centers,” Horford said.

The addition of Aron Baynes in the offseason was instrumental in Boston’s ascension to the top of the NBA defensive pile with a league-best defensive rating of 101.5.

And Baynes had a defensive rating of 97.0 which led the NBA among players to appear in at least 50 games this season. 

“Baynes being here really gave me freedom to defend out on the perimeter, do different things,” Horford said. “It was a challenge that I was really excited about going into the season.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown were among those to receive votes but not named to the first or second team. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens was pleased for Horford being acknowledged for what he did for the Celtics defensively but added there were a number of others on the Celtics roster that deserved consideration for all-NBA honors defensively with chief among them being Baynes and Smart. 

“I realize you can’t take multiple people from one team,” Stevens said. “But those guys all, along with our young guys, everybody was really committed on that end of the floor all year, and it was led by those three (Baynes, Horford and Smart).”

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Bean: Let LeBron get his points, but stop Korver

Bean: Let LeBron get his points, but stop Korver

Entering the Eastern Conference Finals, we thought a lot of things that have proven to be incorrect. Or I did, at least. 

I thought the Cavaliers were going to win in six games. They still could, of course, but watching the series has changed my mind to think it will be Celtics in seven. 

The other big thing was that it was LeBron James, Kevin Love and nobody else. Through two rounds, that seemed generally correct. 

So, it seemed that if you let LeBron get his points and focus on the other guys, you'd be all set. Yet, the other guys have gotten their points here and there this postseason, and that's why, after four games, Kyle Korver is actually a talking point.            

Here are the Cavs records by how many non-LeBrons had decent scoring nights: 

WHEN NO PLAYER OTHER THAN LEBRON SCORES 15+ POINTS: 2-1, but the two wins came when the Cavs had five and three other scorers with at least 10 points, respectively. 

WHEN ONE PLAYER OTHER THAN LEBRON SCORES 15+ POINTS: 4-4

WHEN TWO PLAYERS OTHER THAN LEBRON SCORE 15+ POINTS: 2-0

WHEN THREE PLAYERS OTHER THAN LEBRON SCORE 15+ POINTS: 2-0 

Now, let's look at it by player. The Cavaliers actually have a better record when Love doesn't score 15+ (6-2) than when he does (4-3). So no, it hasn't necessarily been about the two best players on the team. For some super-duper weird reason, it's been more about 37-year-old Kyle Korver than a lot of people expected. 

The Cavaliers are 5-0 this postseason when Korver scores at least 15 points. And of those five games, he was the only non-LeBron Cavalier with at least 15, so it's not like all of those wins came because Korver cleaned up in garbage time or something. 

Now, let's scale back the parameters from 15 points to 10. The Cavaliers are 8-1 this postseason when Korver scores 10 points. That's an even better record than they have when LeBron scores 40 points (5-1). 

So, the home court should help the Celtics tonight. They haven't lost a game at TD Garden this postseason. Know what else would help them? Stopping that super old occasional bench player/occasional starter.  

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