Celtics

LeBron gets Cavs back into series with blowout win over Celtics

LeBron gets Cavs back into series with blowout win over Celtics

CLEVELAND – Here are the Star, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 116-86 Game 3 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals.

STAR

LeBron James: He got some help in Game 3, but at the end of the day LeBron James was still the best player on the floor. He would finish with a double-double of 27 points and 12 assists along with five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Kevin Love: His ability to get buckets around the basket and control the glass was among the keys to Cleveland’s victory. He tallied a double-double of 13 points and 14 rebounds in addition to dishing out four assists. 

Jayson Tatum: There was very little that went Boston’s way, but they had to be encouraged by the way Tatum was able to find success getting to the free throw line. He led Boston with 18 points which included him going 6-for-8 from the line.

George Hill: After taking major heat for his poor play in Games 1 and 2, Hill set the tone with early baskets as part of a solid 13-point performance.

 

DUDS

Marcus Morris: This was one of those games when Boston needed Marcus Morris to knock down the open or lightly contested shots he was given, and he came up short on both fronts. He would finish with just nine points on 2-for-8 shooting and plus/minus of -28.

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Al Horford's success against Joel Embiid is a microcosm of Celtics-76ers "rivalry"

Al Horford's success against Joel Embiid is a microcosm of Celtics-76ers "rivalry"

Joel Embiid can choose not to admit it. But Al Horford arguably is the Philadelphia 76ers big man's kryptonite.

How else to explain the Sixers' 2-10 record against the Boston Celtics in games Embiid and Horford both play? While Philly has risen to prominence in the Eastern Conference over the last two seasons, Boston has remained bafflingly unsolvable: The C's have won 10 of the teams' last 12 meetings overall, including a definitive five-game series win in the 2018 playoffs.

Philly's shortcomings against Boston don't start and end with Embiid. (Remember when Ben Simmons scored one point in Game 2 last year?) But the 25-year-old big man is the Sixers' best player, and Horford's ability to neutralize him has been quite remarkable.

Let's go to the numbers.

Per NBA.com's matchup stats, Horford has been Embiid's primary defender on 142 possessions this season, the most of any NBA player. Embiid has managed just 41 points on those possessions, or 28.9 points per 100 possession. That's a 9.1-point drop-off from Embiid's season-long average of 38 points per 100 possessions, making Horford the third-most effective NBA defender among players who have guarded Embiid for 100 possessions or more.

Those numbers don't suggest total defensive domination by Horford; indeed, Embiid still averages 22.1 points and 12.6 rebounds per game in his career against the Celtics. But here's the key: The two-time All-Star is a much less efficient scorer with Horford locking him up.

Embiid is shooting 42.5 percent from the floor against Horford this season and is just 3-for-12 from 3-point range, both below his season averages. As a result, Philly's offense suffers: The Sixers average a full 7.3 points fewer per 100 possessions this season when Horford matches up on Embiid.

That's actually an improvement from last season, when Philly's offense lost a whopping 24.6 points off its points per 100 possessions average when Horford guarded Embiid on defense.

Embiid has refused to give credit to Horford for locking him up, but the statistical (and video) evidence is pretty hard to ignore. And if the Sixers want to exorcise their demons against Boston, it will start with Embiid overcoming his own kryptonite in Horford.

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Kyrie Irving: Celtics need 'more focus and discipline' to flip switch

Kyrie Irving: Celtics need 'more focus and discipline' to flip switch

PHILADELPHIA — Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving said the team needs "more focus and discipline” if it desires to flip the proverbial playoff switch but expressed hope that the team could improve those areas over the final 11 games.

Irving then suggested that he plans to sit out some games late in the regular season with the rigors of the postseason looming.

"I’m definitely taking some games off before the playoffs,” Irving said at Boston’s morning shootaround at the Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday. "Makes no sense, the emphasis on these regular games, when you’re gearing up for some battles coming in the playoffs.”

While downplaying the significance of Wednesday’s tilt with the Philadelphia 76ers (“It’s just another game”) and suggesting that seeding doesn’t matter for Boston (“As long as we get [to the playoffs], I’m happy”), Irving was asked if a playoff mindset had already set in for the Celtics.

“No. We need more focus and discipline in order for that switch to be turned on,” said Irving. "So, we have yet to figure out what that switch is for us going into the postseason, but that’s why we have 11 games left.”

The Celtics have endured some notable focus lapses lately, including at the end of the third quarter against Denver on Monday. Just how far away are the Celtics from figuring it out?

“We’ll see,” answered Irving, offering the same response he did when asked if the team might rally together out west before Boston’s famed flight out west.

The Celtics entered Wednesday trending heavily towards earning the No. 4 or 5 spot in the East, which would almost certainly set up a matchup with the Indiana Pacers. According to ESPN’s Basketball Power Index, the Celtics had only a 13.3 percent chance at the No. 3 seed, compared to a 51.7 percent shot at No. 4.

A win Wednesday over Philadelphia could open the door for a surge to No. 3, but some fans have wondered if the fourth seed — and the possibility of matching up with Milwaukee instead of Toronto in Round 2 — might actually be better for the Celtics.

Regardless, Boston needs to be playing inspired basketball when the playoffs arrive. Irving was asked how his Cleveland Cavaliers teams of years past were able to routinely flip the switch.

"I think that the best thing we had going in that aspect is experience,” said Irving. "So, like, the switch — we know what that switch is. This team doesn’t yet.

"The best thing for us is experience. So, guys have a year of experience and I think we’ve given ourselves too much credit. What that switch is, championship-level basketball, only a few people know what that switch is. It takes time to develop it, it takes experience with each other. And we’ve tried to make up as much ground in the last year and a half as we could.”

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