Celtics

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.

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Celtics Talk Podcast: How worried should we be about Kemba Walker's injury?

Celtics Talk Podcast: How worried should we be about Kemba Walker's injury?

Kemba Walker has missed four straight games due to a knee injury, but should we be concerned in the long run?

The Boston Celtics are more than likely just being very cautious with Walker, especially considering they'll want him healthy for the playoffs. And with Jayson Tatum performing like a star recently, there hasn't been a need to rush Walker back into game action.

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On this week's Celtics Talk Podcast, A. Sherrod Blakely and Chris Forsberg discuss how worried we should be about Walker's injury, and what his injury means for the Celtics.

Blakely started things off by rating his worry about the injury at a 6-of-10 and said the team is being "ridiculously overly cautious with him."

Six. six because there's still a lot of time. With what they're saying and what I'm seeing, they're being ridiculously overly cautious with him. He's not healthy, but there's certain things they could do if it's game seven to get his ass out there if they really wanted to.

Kemba is at a point in his career where he's not just about to rush his butt out there and play some game in March when he's got a chance to do something he's never done in Charlotte -- win a few games in the playoffs. He's not going to blow that. He knows that this is about making sure he's ready to roll come playoff time.

It would be a bigger problem, I think, if his team was weaker. Because if he's on the bench watching his team get smashed by Utah and Minnesota, he'd be thinking it wouldn't be happening if he was out there.

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Forsberg echoed the same sentiment as Blakely, but he didn't sound as concerned -- ranking the injury a four on the panic meter.

I'm like a four on the panic meter. When Barstool Greenie tweeted that this is KG [Kevin Garnett] all over again, isn't it --it did make me slightly nervous. It brought back a lot of emotions, but I do think they're just being careful.

Walker is averaging 21.8 points, 5.0 assists and 4.1 rebounds per game, and will be a key piece for the Celtics down the stretch. It's no surprise that he's been held out of game action, they don't want a Kyrie Irving situation where he's ruled out for the season and can't play in the playoffs.

To put it simply, we should only worry if Walker is unable to compete come playoff time.

For more of the Celtics thoughts including thoughts about Jayson Tatum being a top five player in the NBA, check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, available on the NBC Sports Boston Podcast Network and YouTube.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Celtics look to capitalize on short, long-term gains from West coast trip

Celtics look to capitalize on short, long-term gains from West coast trip

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics are in the business of putting on an entertaining product that their fan base can’t seem to get enough of this season. 

But it’s still a business; a business that is doing quite well these days. 

And a big reason for that has been how the team’s “assets” — better known to you and I as players — have for the most part outperformed expectations. 

The most recent example of this was the now-concluded West Coast trip in which the Celtics returned with a 3-1 record. 

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And the lone loss was a two-point defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers, one of four games played during the trip without their leading scorer Kemba Walker. 

Walker’s absence was certainly felt by the Green Team, but it didn’t take away from a trip that featured a number of short and long-term gains for Boston. 

SHORT-TERM GAINS: Filling the Kemba void

This wasn’t the first stretch in which Boston played without Walker, and it won’t be the last. Much of the credit for Boston’s success in Walker’s absence will go to Jayson Tatum, whose game went into supernova drive this week with a slew of high-scoring, difference-making performances leading to wins. 

But he wasn’t the only Celtics player who stepped their game up during the road trip. 

Jaylen Brown continues to put together strong performances that often include a five-or-so minute stretch in which he is the best player in the game at both ends of the floor. In Boston’s four games out West, Brown averaged 22.3 points while shooting 47.9 percent from the field and 40.7 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

Gordon Hayward’s playmaking continues to be a below-the-radar strength of his game that becomes even more vital when Walker isn’t around.

And then there’s Marcus Smart, who consistently comes up with big shots in big moments of games, with or without Walker in the mix. 

SHORT-TERM GAINS: Confidence booster

The Celtics haven’t been a team lacking for confidence this season, but having quality wins to back it up is another story. 

The Celtics’ schedule going forward is the 12th-toughest in the NBA, which means getting wins going forward will be even more daunting than it has thus far this season. 

Boston certainly had some hiccups along the way, but for the most part they have won the games they are supposed to.

But all four of the West Coast games presented a different kind of challenge, one that the Celtics not only met but surpassed en route to victory in all but the Lakers game. 

And for a team that has relied on interchangeable parts all season, that could do nothing but bolster the confidence of a group that already thinks highly of itself as they hit a stretch of play in the coming weeks that will go far in defining who they are as a team, and where they stand in the race towards being the last team standing in the East.

SHORT-TERM GAINS: Another wing defender

Romeo Langford has not played much this season, but you get the sense he may be a player whose minutes may rise in the coming weeks.

It gives the Celtics’ first round pick from last June’s NBA draft a chance to gain some invaluable experience, while helping minimize the risk of Boston’s core wing players being worn down come playoff time. 

Even though Langford came to the NBA with the reputation of being an elite scorer, it has been his defense that has stood out thus far. 

During the road trip, he saw action in the first three games off the bench and defended a multitude of elite wing players such as LeBron James.

Collectively, players he defended were a combined 3-for-11 shooting while scoring a total of 11 points. It’s unclear if what he’s doing now will translate into minutes in the postseason.

But considering how he has played and how Boston is laser-focused on making sure their core guys stay as healthy as possible between now and the playoffs, Langford seeing more minutes in the coming weeks makes a lot of sense both the Celtics and Langford’s overall growth and development. 

LONG-TERM GAINS: Tatum’s team

I know the Celtics love to preach that everyone has ownership stake in the team’s success. 

This is true.

But what we’re seeing right now is the emergence of Jayson Tatum as the primary shareholder in this enterprise whose focus is on bringing Banner 18 to Boston this season. 

The way he’s scoring on elite defensive players, setting teammates like Daniel Theis up for easy looks, the wide open shots Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward and Marcus Smart are getting … he’s feasting off of teams while making sure his whole crew eats good, too. 

In the four games out West, Tatum averaged 34.0 points, 7.8 rebounds, 2.3 assists and 1.3 blocks while shooting 56.6 percent from the field and 55.9 percent from 3-point range. 

We are witnessing in real time a talented, on-the-rise talent become an NBA superstar who is still a few weeks short of his 22nd birthday.

LONG-TERM GAINS: Beating the big boys

How Boston fares against teams with immense size is a legit concern. But this road trip showed that despite not having the kind of length and beef up front that some teams have, Boston can at a minimum compete and at times beat those teams at their own game. 

I’m speaking specifically about the Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz, two teams with an imposing frontline full all-star talent. 

In Boston’s two-point loss to the Lakers, the Celtics improved around the glass as the game wore on as they won rebounding in the second half 21-17 and outscored the Lakers 22-20 on points in the paint. 

The Celtics were even better against Utah, winning the boards 44-41 while outscoring the Jazz in the paint, 56-46. 

There are few teams that will present as big a challenge to Boston when it comes to dealing with size, like the Lakers and Jazz do. 

The fact that they at a minimum held their own against two of the beefier teams around, bodes well for them having the confidence and talent to withstand some of the talented frontlines that they will have to deal with as they head into the playoffs in a few weeks. 

LONG-TERM GAINS: Winning, with room to grow

Boston has won 10 of its last 13 games, are within a game of the Toronto Raptors for the No. 2 spot in the East and yet it seems this team has yet to hit its stride. To have clear and undeniable areas to improve upon and still win games, says a lot about this team’s makeup and their coaching staff. 

They have been a no-excuses squad all season, even when faced with obvious explanations for why certain things didn’t go quite how they would have wanted them to.

Rather than use injuries as an excuse to struggle, they made it fuel to propel them to unexpected heights of success. 

And with the recent play of Jayson Tatum, the Celtics are no longer a feel-good team in the NBA. Tatum has made the Celtics a national talking point with a slew of dominant performances while sharing the floor - and eventually out-shining - with some of the game’s best players like LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

But if you listen to Tatum talk, he’s not satisfied with his game or where the Celtics are at when it comes to NBA powers. 

He’s quick to tell you that he just wants to keep winning games and get better,  the mantra that hangs like an umbrella over this entire organization whose window for success seems to be propped open with no signs of shutting anytime soon. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.