Celtics

It hasn't been all good against Warriors for Kyrie

It hasn't been all good against Warriors for Kyrie

OAKLAND, Calif. – When it comes to Kyrie Irving and the Golden State Warriors, thoughts immediately turn to the contested jumper he hit in the closing seconds of Cleveland’s historic NBA Finals Game 7 win over the Warriors in 2016.

It was a big-time shot for a player who has been elite for years despite being just 25.

And yet, the Warriors have been one of the few teams that have made life extremely difficult for Irving which has often led to some of his worst shooting games the past couple of years.

Boston gets a lot of props for its 92-88 win over Golden State in November, but folks forget that Irving had just 16 points and did so on 4-for-16 shooting.

Go back to last season when he was with the Cavaliers and you’ll see his regular season numbers in the two meetings against Golden State – 21.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 6.0 assists while shooting 37 percent from the field and 30 percent on 3’s – were among his worst statistically against any team all season.

Which is why the Celtics will need Irving to play better – much better – than he has in the past few meetings against Golden State if the Celtics are to have a serious shot at sweeping the regular-season series for the first time since 2012.

And Irving is eager to embrace the challenge.

“Us going out on the floor, it’s the best thing playing the game you love against other great players,” Irving said. “You have to embrace that. This is what I signed up for, ever since I was a kid. Not just going against the Warriors but playing in different arenas and playing against high-level teams on a consistent basis. It demands you to be excellent in order to come out with wins.”

And while we have often defined Irving’s greatness by his scoring, he has proven to be a better defender than we saw in Cleveland. He was particularly good against the Warriors, evident by him having a defensive rating for that game of 96.7.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s much-anticipated rematch between the top teams in their respective conferences: 

FREE THROWS
We’ve spent a few weeks discussing how the Celtics consistently fail to get to the free-throw line. And then there was the 113-102 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, a game in which Boston was 21-for-22 from the line. It ended a franchise-record streak of 30 games in which Boston failed to make at least 20 free throws. Free throws were a major factor in the upset of the Warriors on Nov. 16 when they went 33-for-28 from the line.

JAYSON TATUM
The first time these two teams played, it was one of the few games where Jayson Tatum seemed a bit star struck in the game’s early moments when having to defend Kevin Durant. But as the game wore on, he became more comfortable. They will need that, along with a more aggressive Tatum, if they are to knock off the defending champs in Oracle Arena again.

AL HORFORD
Golden State does a lot of switching defensively because like the Celtics, they too rely on playing position-less basketball. And the play of Horford is key along those lines for Boston. He certainly gave Golden State major problems when the two met earlier this season, tallying a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds on 7-for-11 shooting. Warriors coach Steve Kerr is impressed by Horford’s versatility. “Horford can extend out to the 3-point line,” Kerr said. “He’s an excellent passer and screener.”

BRICK CITY
There’s a sense that Boston’s win over the Warriors in November had a lightning-in-a-bottle feel to it. Their old Big Three – Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green – are no strangers to one or two of them having an off game. But all three? The Curry-Thompson-Green trilogy combined to shoot just 25.6 percent (11-for-43) in the Nov. 16 matchup. The chances of all three struggling like that tonight, at home? Not high.

LARKIN THE DEFENDER
The Celtics added Shane Larkin in large part because of his ability to change up the game’s pace along with being a good pick-and-roll player. But the Celtics have been pleasantly surprised with his defense. In the victory over Clippers, Larkin’s defense on Lou Williams was among the many factors that came into play. With Marcus Smart (right-hand laceration) out for a couple weeks, look for Larkin’s role to continue expanding. His defense will be particularly important tonight against Golden State and their bevy of perimeter scorers.  

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

CLEVELAND – The Celtics have been perfect at home in the playoffs and with a Game 7 win on Sunday, they would set an NBA record for consecutive home wins in the postseason with 11.

It would also improve their record to 38-0 in series in which they open with a pair of wins.

Still, as they went about making this improbable journey to where they are a win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, history has never been a motivating factor.

And with where they are now in the grand scheme of things, it becomes even less of a motivating factor.

“At the end of the day, you have to make your own history,” said Jaylen Brown. “We have to come out and do what we have to do. People can say what they want. Two teams have to come out and play.”

That stay-in-the-moment mindset has served them well all season and becomes even more important following a Game 6 loss Friday night, a game in which the Celtics did a lot of what they were intending to do in order to give themselves a shot at winning.

But the game ultimately came down to the C's going through one of its scoring lulls, getting behind by double digits and not making that one shot or getting that clutch defensive stop to swing the momentum in their favor.

There’s no time to dwell on that, not with a Game 7 matchup on the horizon.

“It’s over with now,” Brown said. “We can’t afford to think in the past, ‘oh we should have won.’ It’s over with. Game 7 at home in the Garden; great atmosphere, great environment, great stage. Come out and play some great basketball, high energy and let’s see who comes out on top.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 109-99 Game 6 loss to the Cavs:

JAYSON TATUM


He had 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting which is a pretty good night for most players. But what really stood out was the fact that Tatum, arguably Boston’s best player at creating his own shot off the dribble, did not take a single free throw. The reason was two-fold: the ball didn’t find its way into his hands enough and when it did, opportunities to get to the rim and attack were few and far between.

MARCUS MORRIS


Marcus Morris has been tasked with being one of the primary defenders against LeBron James, knowing full well he – or any NBA player for that matter – can only hope to slow him down. Morris has not done as well of late in limiting James and to make matters worse, he has struggled to impact the game offensively. In Game 6, he was 3-for-10 shooting with a number of the misses being attempts at the rim or relatively open perimeter looks. Of all the Celtics, Morris will likely benefit the most when it comes to being at home.

CLEVELAND ROLE PLAYERS


LeBron James (46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) was dominant as ever, but it was the Cavaliers role players that really won this game for Cleveland. George Hill had 20 points. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. came off the bench to score 14 and 10 points, respectively. Kyle Korver hit a couple 3’s and for the most part, did a solid job defensively. Limiting their impact will be among the chief goals for the Celtics heading into Sunday’s Game 7 matchup.

FREE-THROW SHOOTING


They’re called free throws but when you miss too many of them, there’s often a high cost to be paid. The Celtics found that out in Game 6. While the Cavs took two more free throws (22) than the Celtics (20), Boston wound up making seven fewer free throws courtesy of them shooting a woeful 55 percent (11-for-20) from the line while the Cavs were 18-for-22. Teams tend to shoot better from the line at home, a trend Boston certainly hopes will continue for at least one more game.

KEVIN LOVE


After a collision with Jayson Tatum in the first quarter, Love (concussion testing) was unable to return for Game 6, and at this point, he is questionable at best for Game 7. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. picked up the minutes left by Love’s absence and if Love doesn’t play in Game 7 those two will likely gobble up most of those 30-plus minutes that would have gone to Love. That could lead to Boston making another lineup change with Marcus Morris back with the first unit in place of Aron Baynes to better match up with Cleveland.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: It all comes down to Game 7 at the Garden

breakfast_pod.jpg
NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: It all comes down to Game 7 at the Garden

1:33 - Tommy Heinsohn, Mike Gorman and Brian Scalabrine break down the Cavaliers' Game 6 win over the Celtics to force a Game 7. Tommy Heinsohn also tips his cap to what LeBron was able to do in a do or die Game 6.

7:56 - A. Sherrod Blakely and Abby Chin discuss how many minutes (46) LeBron James played in Game 6 and whether that will have an impact on the Cavaliers in Game 7 on Sunday.

9:44 - Jared Carrabis joins Mike Giardi to give his take on the Red Sox designating Hanley Ramirez for assignment.

CLICK HERE TO SUBSCRIBE

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE