Celtics

Rozier good at getting it started for Celtics

Rozier good at getting it started for Celtics

BOSTON – Following the Celtics' 97-94 win at Utah on Wednesday, Shane Larkin and Terry Rozier did their postgame interview together.

It was a fitting image when you consider the impact of losing Kyrie Irving (left knee) for the remainder of the regular season and how the combined efforts of Larkin and Rozier have helped the Celtics get by to the tune of five consecutive wins.

Their play will once again be front-and-center tonight when the Celtics host the East-leading Toronto Raptors.

Boston (52-23) comes in trailing the Raptors (55-20) by three games for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

For the Celtics to keep winning, they will need many to step up – that includes Larkin and Rozier.

Rozier will be tasked with doing it as a starter, a role the third-year guard seems quite comfortable in.

With the first unit, Rozier is averaging 18.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.8 assists per game.

Although Rozier only has 11 starts in the NBA, there are only a handful of players who have put up numbers as good as Rozier this season.

That list includes Cleveland's LeBron James, Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo, Golden State's Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' DeMarcus Cousins and Blake Griffin of Detroit.  

Rozier only had 13 points against the Jazz, but he scored 11 of those in the fourth quarter.

“I just got it going,” Rozier said. “I was just more happy that we stayed in the game and we fought the whole game. I didn't really care about the individual stats. I was over there cheering and we fought the whole game.”

Larkin added, “We're a bunch of fighters on this team. We play together. Whenever somebody goes down, it's next man up mentality."

Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on in tonight as the top two teams in the Eastern Conference meet:

BACKUP POWER

Strong bench play has been a critical component of both Boston and Toronto this season. Boston comes into tonight’s game averaging 41.1 points off the bench which ranks 10th in the league since the All-Star break. The Raptors have been even better with an average of 46.2 bench points per game, which trails only the Miami Heat (48.8)

50-50-50 CLUB

The Raptors have won 50 or more games for the third straight season. On the surface that may not seem like that a big deal, but it really is. In the franchise’s previous 20 years of existence, the team had never won more than 49 games in a season.

HOME IMPROVEMENT


Boston has been among the top teams in the Eastern Conference and will have home-court advantage, but...is it really an advantage? Lately, the Celtics have struggled to find victories in front of the TD Garden faithful. Since Dec. 15, Boston is 11-11 at home, which includes them losing five of their last eight. For the season, Boston's 24-13 record at home ranks 12th in the NBA. 

GREEN LIGHT SHOOTING


Boston’s success on its recent Western trip was fueled by putting together some historical shooting performances. In the Celtics’ past four games, they've made at least 10 three-pointers while shooting at least 48 percent from 3-point range. They join this season’s Utah Jazz team as the only teams in NBA history to achieve those benchmarks for shooting, in four consecutive games.

THE (UNEXPECTED) CLOSERS


One of the most talked-about storylines surrounding the Celtics this season has been how injuries have led to some seldom-used players now finding themselves in different, more prominent roles. This has certainly been the Celtics way of late. In their past six games, the team’s leaders in minutes played in the fourth quarter are Shane Larkin (52) and Semi Ojeleye (47).

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics' Marcus Smart again comes up with 'unbelievable' key plays late that shouldn't be overlooked

Celtics' Marcus Smart again comes up with 'unbelievable' key plays late that shouldn't be overlooked

MIAMI — Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Marcus Smart labors through a rough shooting night and is uncharacteristically sloppy handling the ball for the better part of three quarters. Then, crunch time rolls around and Marcus Smart morphs into the most valuable player on the court.

It’s a tale as old as time. But it played itself out again on Tuesday night in Miami. Smart missed nine of his first 10 shots and matched his season-high with four turnovers.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Still, with the game in the balance, Smart did Smart things. Like calmly knocking down a straightaway 3-pointer with 1:50 remaining on a kick out from Kemba Walker. Like swatting down what should have been an easy Bam Adebayo dunk a short time later. Like flinging himself into a trio of baby-blue jerseys and out-jumping the springy Adebayo for an impossible offensive rebound in the final minute.

A cursory glance at the box score will have most dismissing Smart’s night. He finished with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting — missing all five of his shots inside the arc and five more of eight beyond it — with the four turnovers. 

But he balanced it out with eight rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in 36:29. All while being absolutely everywhere down the stretch as the Celtics picked up one of their best road wins of the season in Miami.

What was going through Smart’s mind late in the game?

“Win,” said Smart. "To me, it’s just what can I do to help my team? And, [on the offensive rebound], I saw a loose ball. I just thought, first one to get it, whatever happens, happens.

"I’m in the air, so I was hoping I didn’t get flipped or get hit in the face like I usually do. But you can’t think of that in the moment. You gotta go, and go hit the ball. First person to the floor, first person to the ball wins.”

Walker marveled at the way Smart makes all the key plays in high-pressure situations.

"Man, that dude. I love that dude,” said Walker. "I love his passion for the game. I love his energy. I love how he competes each and every night. He makes me want to compete just like him.

"He’s just so tough. He’s not scared of the moment. He made so many huge plays down the stretch. I know everybody will probably say the 3 that he made, but Adebayo had an open basket, he blocked his shot. I missed a shot, he got a huge [rebound]. He’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

Smart seemed smitten to learn of Walker’s praise. He noted it carries additional heft because of Walker’s All-Star status and the intensity that Walker brings to the floor.

“It’s a great feeling. I love Kemba, that’s my brother,” said Smart. “Just like all these guys in this locker room. But to hear somebody of his caliber just really really really give you praise and the recognition that you probably never get, it means a lot.”

Smart said he couldn’t allow missed shots to impact his energy. In fact, the missed shots only caused him to lock in a bit more defensively and find other ways to impact the game.

And all the struggles of the first 46 minutes will be forgotten because of his efforts in the last two.

“Continue to do what I normally do. I don’t really let shots not falling affect how I play, energy-wise,” said Smart. “Times like that, when your shot's not falling, your defense has to be at an all-time high. So, for me, just making sure guys are in the right spots on the defensive end and just really really really getting guys like [Jaylen Brown] and Gordon [Hayward] — they were the hot guys tonight, so we were trying to find them as much as we can.”

Still, teammates marvel at the way Smart can just take over a game with nothing more than grit and desire.

“Getting that tip-out…when he tipped it out and we were able to shoot free throws, that was a big momentum play, a huge play, at the end of the game,” said Grant Williams, who has affectionately dubbed himself a "Smart Mini-Me” and left a similar energy-filled stamp on the game Tuesday night. Williams noted that Smart’s play undoubtedly rubs off on the rest of the team.

Said Williams: “Just following his lead.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Warriors-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics-Heat Takeaways: Hayward comes up big as C's finally beat a good team on road

Celtics-Heat Takeaways: Hayward comes up big as C's finally beat a good team on road

The Boston Celtics needed this one. 

Sure, beating the Miami Heat 109-101 improves Boston to 31-15.

Yes, it gives them a 2-0 lead in the head-to-head series, which could come into play if the two finish with identical regular-season records. 

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Still, the win Tuesday night did more than anything, was show that the Celtics could beat a quality team on the road. 

Boston came in having lost six of their eight road games this season against teams with a .500 or better record. 

And they did it against Miami (32-15), the best home team record-wise this season. 

Making the victory more impressive was that they did so without Jayson Tatum (groin) and Enes Kanter (hip) sat out with injuries. 

Gordon Hayward led the way with a game-high 29 points, with Jaylen Brown (25) and Kemba Walker (16) chipping in. 

Speaking of Gordon Hayward… 

Hayward was as aggressive as we’ve seen him on Tuesday, attacking the rim over and over and over again as he finished with a near double-double (29 points, nine rebounds) - his third game in a row with 20 or more points, the first time he's done that with the Celtics.

A key part of Hayward’s big night was he and the Celtics recognizing the mismatch Hayward had on offense when against Miami’s Duncan Robinson. 

Off the dribble. 

Pull-up jumper off the drive. 

Hayward got anything and everything he wanted offensively as he built confidence as the game went on and in doing so, helped build a lead down the stretch that Boston refused to relinquish. 

JAYLEN BROWN

There was a stretch in the second quarter in which Brown scored seven consecutive points as part of his 25-point night. 

With Tatum and Kanter out, Brown’s ability to score in bunches was wanted and needed desperately by the Celtics. 

It was the kind of performance we have seen from time to time from Brown when the Celtics were without one of their other key players, reminding us all why he's often talked about as a potential first-time All-Star when the reserves are announced on Thursday. 

CELTICS ZONE OFFENSE

The Miami Heat utilized an effective zone defense in the second quarter that limited Boston to just 17 points. 

Halftime afforded the Celtics a chance to regroup and refocus on what they had to do to be more effective against the zone.  

“We had to change our attack at halftime,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

Overall, Boston did a better job of attacking the Miami defense before the Heat could set up, which resulted in easy baskets on more than one occasion. 

And against Miami’s zone, Boston also improved its off-the-dribble attack by either kicking the ball out for a wide-open shot or finishing at the rim if the defense didn’t collapse on the ball-handler in the paint. 

GRANT WILLIAMS

Williams wasn’t on the floor in the final minutes, but there was no getting around the impact he made Tuesday. 

Williams kept balls alive with his activity on the offensive glass, rebounding at both ends of the floor, making deflections … he provided the Celtics with the kind of energy that they absolutely needed. 

His final stats for the game were five points to go with seven rebounds (three offensive) in 23 minutes.

DANIEL THEIS

Without Kanter or Robert Williams III (hip), the Celtics didn’t have many options to turn to at center. 

But on this night, Theis was more than enough as he tallied his third double-double of the season by finishing with 10 points on 4-for-7 shooting to go with a game-high 11 rebounds, along with a pair of blocked shots.  All in just 30 minutes.

The energy and multiple-effort plays that he made time and time again were a major plus for the Celtics to close out there three-game trip with a win. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Warriors-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.