Celtics

It's been all about the ball movement for Celtics

It's been all about the ball movement for Celtics

BOSTON – Ball movement has been one of those things that the Celtics are conscious of being vital to their success.

But swinging the ball to get open shots while not turning it over may sound easy enough, but it isn’t.

But since the All-Star break, Boston’s ability to get great shots while limiting mistakes has been a key component to the team’s three-game, post-break winning streak

And Boston’s success in this particular phase of play can be seen in their high assists-to-turnover ratio since returning from the break.

The Celtics have a 2:53 assist-to-turnover ratio since returning from the break which is second in the NBA only to San Antonio (2:94).

As we have seen throughout this season, the Celtics have been a team evolving in some form or another and the team’s assists numbers since the break, appear to be the latest part of their growth.

Despite the impressive numbers since the break, Boston has been a middle-of-the-pack team when it comes to assist-to-turnover numbers.

For the season, Boston’s 1:62 assist-to-turnover ratio ranks 15th in the league.

There will be a number of factors that will come into play tonight against the Charlotte Hornets, but Boston’s ability to continue spreading the basketball wealth - while limiting mistakes - will indeed be a factor in the outcome.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as the Celtics face the surging Hornets, who come in having won in a row:

ROZIER ON THE RISE


Terry Rozier got a taste of major minutes when he filled in for Kyrie Irving, and the third-year guard continues to play well. Before making his first NBA start on Jan. 31, Rozier averaged 9.1 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.1 assists while shooting 39 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from 3-point range. In the 11 games since then, Rozier has averaged 15.7 points, 5.1 assists and 4.2 assists while shooting 41.4 percent from the field and 46.8 percent on 3’s.

GREG MONROE


With Daniel Theis (right hamstring) out tonight, the Celtics will have to do more than replace his 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. The logical choice to get a lion’s share of Theis’ minutes (more than 19 per game this month), is Greg Monroe. Monroe, the newest member of the Celtics roster after agreeing to a buyout with Phoenix, has appeared in six games thus far while averaging 5.7 points and 4.7 rebounds in 13.7 minutes per game.

MARCUS SMART


Before he punched a picture frame that sidelined him for 11 games, Marcus Smart was playing defense at an elite level. Since his return, he remains just as steady. Smart has a defensive rating of 99.1 which is tops in the NBA among players who have appeared in at least 30 games and averages at least 30 minutes played per contest.

FIRST-QUARTER PLAY


If Boston expects to win tonight, they need to brace themselves for a Hornets team that has played well in the first quarter. Since coming back from the break, Charlotte has averaged 31.5 points in the first which ranks fourth in the NBA. The Celtics come in at No. 19, with a 26.3 points per game average in the first quarter since coming back from the break. But the Hornets have shown that they can also defend at a high level to start games, evident by them having a league-best +6.0 point differential in the first quarter since returning from the break. Boston has a +1.0 point differential in the first which ranks 15th in the NBA.

ON THE REBOUND


Boston’s ability to hold its own on the glass has been among the key contributing factors to the team’s strong play after the break. Since returning to the floor following the break, Boston has a rebounding percentage of .523 which ranks ninth in the NBA. Charlotte will certainly challenge them in this area because they too have been solid in this phase of play. The Hornets come into tonight’s game 12th in the league in rebounding percentage (.517).

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Celtics trying to convince themselves it'll be alright

Celtics trying to convince themselves it'll be alright

BOSTON — Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart knew there was no reason for anyone to believe the words coming out of his mouth. Heck, we’re not even sure if Smart believed them. But, on the heels of the latest impossibly bad outing for the 2018-19 Celtics, Smart put on a brave face and swore again this team will figure everything out.

"I know we’ve been here plenty of times before saying the exact same thing -- ‘We’re gonna get it, we’re not worried about it’ -- but we can’t put extra extra extra stress and more weight on ourselves,” Smart said after a 115-96 loss to the visiting San Antonio Spurs.

The Celtics huddled as a team after the loss, with Smart suggesting the team watched film and (calmly) aired various grievances while trying to figure out why exactly the wheels have come off Boston’s defense.

After the rest of the locker room had cleared out, Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris emerged from a late-night confab outside the shower stalls. Given another lackluster performance from Boston’s defense, it was fair to wonder if we were going to get an angry Smart.

Instead, we got a very Kumbaya Smart. At one point, while pondering a question about the team’s eroded defense, Smart reclined back in his locker room chair, waiting a few moments, then stressed again the need to remain even keel.

"We got to take a deep breath, breathe, just relax — and then go out there and have fun and play basketball,” said Smart.

Coach Brad Stevens arrived noticeably tardy to his postgame press conference and, hesitating to call it a team meeting, admitted there had been another exchange of ideas following Sunday’s game.

Stevens admitted how, “there’s frustration in,” Boston’s locker room and pleaded for his team to remove itself from the “emotional roller coaster” its been riding this entire season. He wants his team to better respond to adversity if it’s going to claw itself out of the hole its dug.

"I think that, ultimately, perseverance, grit, … your mettle, it all shows when things are tough,” said Stevens. “Ultimately, that’s what we all get paid for. It’s not just about riding the wave of the good times and the praise and the pats on the back. It’s about buckling down when things are hard, getting back up off the mat, writing your own ending, and doing everything you can to be the best you can when it’s all on the line. You hope that these are all things that we can take with us. "

The Celtics coughed up a big lead on Saturday night and fumbled away a much-needed win with some undisciplined basketball in the fourth quarter. As this year’s team is wont to do, Kyrie Irving compounded matters by expressing frustration with the way the team covered Kemba Walker, forcing Stevens to address the criticism before Sunday’s game.

Alas, by the time LaMarcus Aldridge’s near-50-point explosion was complete, Irving’s criticism was the least of the team’s problems. Still, instead of compounding matters, Irving took the Smart/Stevens approach and balanced an admission that Boston has not played well with a hope the team can still figure this all out — despite the lack of practically no evidence to suggest as much.

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"I never worry about how we'll respond,” said Irving. "We’ve proven that. We just have to be consistent with that and be committed to it, that's all. We have a lot of great guys in this locker room and they are committed to winning. We have winners in this locker room as well, so I'm never worried about trying to go back and respond with these guys. 

"They are a resilient group who have proven that for the last year and a half we've been together. It hasn't been pretty all the time but we've always tried to find a way to figure it out and get the most out of each other. It starts with me and it trickles down to the rest of our leaders on this team. You just got to be committed and it starts with me.”

It’s hard to buy what the Celtics are selling, and even Stevens understands that.

"I don’t think we’ve given any reason to suggest that [Boston can figure it out] right now,” said Stevens “But I think, ultimately, we’ll see how the rest of this story plays itself out.”

Stevens lamented how the Celtics tend to let their shot-making (or lack thereof) impact their defensive intensity. It’s not hard to see the correlation. When Boston is feeling good about made shots, it tends to expend more energy on the defensive end. When shots don’t drop, these Celtics seem indifferent about defense, get gouged in transition, and routinely allow runs to snowball out of control. 

Consider this: The Celtics shot 20 percent beyond the 3-point arc Sunday, connecting on just 7 of 35 attempts. Despite clearly looking fatigued on the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics fired away from deep.

This team wants everything to come easy and it never does. The story of the 2018-19 Celtics will be written based on whether Boston is willing to put in the effort necessary to rid this team of all its bad habits. And pouting when the offense scuffles is chief among that.

"Winning’s hard,” said Irving. "Team environments are hard. It’s not as simple as just listening to everybody else speak about what’s going on with our team, it’s hard being a professional athlete. Being in a team environment and wanting to accomplish something very great. 

"Everyone always wants to say, ‘Oh, you need to do this, you need to do that.’ Nobody f—ing knows. … For me, my focus is figuring out the guys I have in this locker room. How to get the best out of them, and them to get the best out of me. It’s been hard, but it’s a challenge worth fighting for, because the end result is standing on that stage.”

Irving admitted maintaining that patience isn’t easy but knows the reward could be that much sweeter.

"I’m used to gearing up for something bigger than myself around this time, and what it takes, and I have to do a better job of communicating that to my teammates and being a better listener and kind of figuring out how to best communicate with those guys that point,” said Irving. "At this point of the season, I’m on the versa-climber, I’m on the treadmill, I’m getting ready to play 40-plus minutes and get ready for the wars and battles. … 

“We’re still developing as a team, it’s been a whole season doing so, but there’s light at the end of all this. That’s probably where my patience will always lie, is knowing that something’s beyond this. This challenge is happening for a reason, and I’ve got to believe in that.”

Unfortunately, it’s hard for everyone else to believe these Celtics at this point.

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Kyrie Irving holds the key to getting the swerving-off-course Celtics back on the right track

Kyrie Irving holds the key to getting the swerving-off-course Celtics back on the right track

BOSTON -- The Boston Celtics spent more time than usual inside the locker room following their 115-96 drubbing at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs. 

While the particulars of what was said remain a mystery, there’s one thing that came through with clarity - everyone inside that locker room has be better. 

A better player; a better teammate; a better leader; better at doing whatever role they are tasked with. 

And while it is indeed an across-the-board problem, there’s no denying who has to be the first to make that change and make it soon - Kyrie Irving. 

He is Boston’s best player, the one everyone looks to for leadership both on the floor and inside the locker room. 

Boston (43-31) has now lost four in a row, the team’s longest losing streak of the season. 

They have given up at least 114 points in seven straight games, something that last happened to a Celtics team before any of the current Celtics - or their head coach Brad Stevens - was born. 

Irving reminded us all how hard it can be to win in the NBA, and how difficult it can be to “accomplish something great.”

And while there may be a million opinions outside the Celtics locker room, Irving readily admits that he has to be better in a number of areas. 

“For me my focus is figuring out, the guys I have in my locker room, how to get the best out of them and them getting the best out of me,” Irving said. “It’s been hard but it’s a challenge worth fighting for because the end result is standing on that (championship) stage.”

Of course, Irving is the lone Celtics player who has won an NBA title besides Baynes, although Irving did it as a starter while Baynes, then with San Antonio, was a lightly used reserve.

And having played both for a team that won a title (Cleveland) and one that's in pursuit of one (Boston), there are indeed some similarities. 

But not many. 

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 “This is just a new challenge," Irving said. "We had a luxury of relying on experience (in Cleveland). Here we’re building something great every single day and that’s the experience we get. We had guys (in Cleveland) that had been on that stage, lost on that stage, won on that stage. Here, we’re trying to build great championship habits. And that takes time and takes a commitment.

Irving added, “But it starts with me. I will do my best to keep communicating as best I can and get the most out of these guys because they deserve it.”

And that communication that Irving speaks about … he knows it too is something that he has to do a better job at going forward. 

“I’m used to gearing up for something bigger than myself around this time and what it takes,” Irving said. “I can do a better job of communicating that to my teammates. And being a better listener, figuring out the best way to communicate with those guys, that point, this point in the season … getting ready for wars and battles.” 

And while the challenge of figuring all this out and making the most of a season that began with such promise is indeed difficult, Irving says he’s all-in with his focus on the big picture. 

“For us we’re still developing as a team, a whole season of doing so,” Irving said. “But there’s a light at the end of all this. That’s probably where my patience will always lay, knowing something’s beyond this, something … this challenge is happening for a reason and I have to believe that.”

He added, “It hasn’t looked pretty all the time, but we’ve always tried to find a way to figure it out and get the most out of each other. It starts with me and it trickles down to the rest of our leaders on this team. You have to be committed and it starts with me." 

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