Celtics

Marcus Smart warms up the cold-shooting Celtics

Marcus Smart warms up the cold-shooting Celtics

BOSTON – For most of the first quarter of Boston’s matchup against Minnesota, based on how both teams came out misfiring, you would have thought the game was being played outdoors in the frigid temperatures and swirling wind.

And then...Marcus Smart entered the game.

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While he is well respected for his defense and energy, offensive turnarounds aren’t exactly his forte.

And yet there he was, giving the Celtics’ flailing offense a much-needed lift that factored heavily in the 91-84 victory.

Smart had a team-high 18 points for the Celtics (32-10), doing so on 8-for-13 shooting from the field.

“It felt amazing. It felt good to see a couple shots finally go down,” Smart said. “We stuck with it and our defense came and got us a victory.”

This was the second consecutive game in which Smart has made a huge impact on the game with his shot-making. In the past two games, he’s averaging 17.0 points while shooting 51.9 percent from the field.

“Sometimes when we’re struggling, I think the ball is going to find energy,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “And Marcus Smart has energy. And plays that way and plays with a great chip. He’s playing at a good level. We need him to continue to do so. Obviously, he’s a really important part of our team.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the victory that extended Boston’s winning streak to five.

STARS
Karl-Anthony Towns

The Celtics had no answer for Towns’ play inside the paint or from the perimeter. He would finish the night with a dominant performance, tallying a double-double of 25 points and 23 rebounds with two blocked shots. 

Kyrie Irving
The ability to impact the games in ways besides scoring, is becoming quite apparent when it comes to Kyrie Irving. He truly gave the game what it needed on Friday night as he flirted with a triple-double before finishing with 16 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.

STUDS
Marcus Smart
He delivered his usual top-shelf play defensively in addition to one of his better shooting performances this season. Smart had a team-high 18 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field.

Terry Rozier
Like Smart, Rozier also made a significant contribution off the bench for Boston. He came oh-so-close to a double-double, tallying 14 points on 6-for-11 shooting to go with nine rebounds.

Aron Baynes
With so many players flirting with double-doubles, someone had to get one for the Celtics right? It was Baynes who had 11 points and 10 rebounds and a plus/minus of +7 which was tops among all Celtic starters.

DUDS
Jimmy Butler
The perennial All-Star was never able to get into any kind of steady flow or rhythm. And the end result was an underwhelming game in which he had 14 points, finishing with more turnovers (4) than made baskets (3).

Celtics 3-point shooting
Normally one of Boston’s weapons of choice, the Celtics consistently misfired on Friday, connecting on just 6-of-36 attempts for a season-low 16.7 percent from 3-point range. But as it turned out, the previous low (21.9 percent) came in a victory over a team from the Western Conference (Golden State on Nov. 16).

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Bean: Kawhi in Cleveland makes great theater for everyone

Bean: Kawhi in Cleveland makes great theater for everyone

Other than LeBron Watch, Kawhi Watch will likely be the most captivating Watch of the NBA offseason,  and there's obviously a chance the two end up in the same place. Regardless of what happens with LeBron, I've officially decided where I want Kawhi to land. 

Cleveland. 

I've got my reasons, but I'll start with why I'm not clamoring for the C's to get one of the five best players in the league. Yes, the C's can offer the best package, but I don't want them to make an offer the Spurs can't refuse. I don't want them to trade Jaylen Brown and the Sacramento pick for a flight risk. I don't want them to trade Kyrie Irving. I want them to be loaded, as they currently are, and set to add to that in the future. 

Leonard supposedly wants to be traded to the Lakers. The more well-connected basketball reporters have noted the Spurs wouldn't have any motivation to turn the Lakers into a Western Conference powerhouse, which makes sense. 

So, if it's not going to be the Lakers, make it the Cavaliers. 

This might sound ridiculous, but I want LeBron James to be a character in this Celtics group's run. One of the things that made the 2017-18 Celtics' run so exciting was that it culminated in a showdown with LeBron, the best player in the league and the centerpiece of great Celtics series past. 

I don't want the Celtics to go on runs with LeBron in a different time zone. I want battling (and beating) the best player of this generation to be part of what the Tatum Era does. If the Cavs can land Leonard, maybe that will keep James from bolting in free agency. 

They're also rumored to be inquiring about Kemba Walker's availability from Charlotte to help surround LeBron with another star.

To be fair, I wrote last week that I'm fine with LeBron going to the Lakers and even forming a super team with Kawhi and Paul George. That's because I think either that team or the Warriors would be all tuckered out by the time they got to the finals against a Celtics team that just waltzed through the East. 

That wouldn't be as fun though, especially if the Lakers kept getting eliminated by Golden State. If the Celtics have another championship run coming during the final years of LeBron's career, I want it to involve a Kyrie/LeBron matchup. I certainly want it to involve a competitive underdog, and I don't trust the 76ers for that yet. Considering they probably wouldn't be able to get much else, a team of LeBron, Kawhi and a bunch of junk still wouldn't be favored against the Celtics at full health. 

If LeBron goes somewhere West this offseason, I'd still want the Cavs to get Kawhi. Assuming Kawhi actually plays, he'd at least keep the Cavaliers a playoff team and an interesting opponent. 

Could the Cavaliers actually get Kawhi? I don't see why not. If his status as a player who can opt out after next season scares some teams away, the eighth overall pick and whatever they could get for Kevin Love would already make their offer better than whatever the Lakers would try to scrape together. Sacramento could always trump everyone by offering the second overall pick for Leonard, but that would be stupid. Then again, sometimes the Kings are stupid. 

Kawhi in Boston? Not at the likely price, and not if it means that much risk. LA? Predictable. Put Kawhi in Cleveland, keep the East exciting and give LeBron a real decision to make. 

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BREAKFAST POD: Jaylen and Rozier for Kawhi?

BREAKFAST POD: Jaylen and Rozier for Kawhi?

1:43 - Chris Mannix joined Gary Tanguay and Kyle Draper on Early Edition to discuss if the Celtics could trade up in the draft, and if the Celtics have any chance of acquiring Kawhi Leonard.

6:35 - Phil Perry talks about Albert Breer’s report that the Patriots talked with four teams (Lions, Titans, 49ers, Texans) about trading Rob Gronkowski. We also hear from Holley, Merloni, and DJ Bean about Tom Brady commenting “cuarenta y cinco” in response to an Instagram post about when he’ll retire.

10:34 - Lou Merloni and Chris Gasper debate how important it is for the Red Sox to avoid the Wild Card play-in game and win the AL East over the Yankees. 

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