Celtics

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways from Celtics' bounce-back win over Suns

Well, the losing didn’t last very long. 

The Celtics shook off their second loss of the season from 24 hours earlier and came away with a solid 99-85 win in Phoenix led by Jayson Tatum’s 26-point, 11-rebound performance for his second double-double of the season. 

It was relatively close until the Celtics closed out the second quarter with a 20-4 run to lead 57-42 at the half. 

Boston (11-2) continued to pull away in the second half in what was a surprisingly cushy win over a Suns team that had won five of its past seven and was playing some of the best basketball in the NBA. 

However, the victory could be bittersweet if Marcus Smart is lost for an extended period with an ankle sprain suffered in the fourth quarter, although postgame comments from Smart and coach Brad Stevens make it sound as if the injury was not as severe as it looked. Smart left after scoring 17 points to go with four assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Boston’s success on Monday was similar to what they had done in their 10-game winning streak but wasn't apparent in their 100-99 loss in Sacramento on Sunday, a game in which Smart’s potential game-winning shot hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out as time expired. 

On Monday, the Celtics’ defense forced turnovers early on, which took the Suns out of running their offense as efficiently as they are accustomed to. And that kept Devin Booker, who came in having averaged more than 42 points against the Celtics, from ever getting into any kind of rhythm. 

It was a quality win over a quality opponent on the road, a victory that came about by Boston getting back to doing the things that had allowed them to run off their impressive winning streak. 

Here are a few more takeaways: 

MARCUS SMART

We often talk about Marcus Smart as being the heart and soul of this team. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more locked into Monday night than Smart, who knew he had to lead the defensive focus on limiting the high-scoring Booker. Still, as we’ve seen with Smart this season more than any other, he’s intent on showing he can impact the game at both ends of the floor. In addition to leading the defensive efforts, Smart also had a strong game scoring with 17 points. However, the ankle injury makes him questionable for Wednesday against the Clippers in Los Angeles.

DEFENDING BOOKER

Considering how Booker has torched the Celtics for an average of 42.5 points in the previous four games against them, the Celtics had to feel really good about limiting him to just 20 points. And they did so with a multitude of defenders coming at Booker from a multitude of angles via double-teams, triple-teams, tilting in his direction … if it involved defense, chances are high that the Celtics tried it at some point in limiting Booker. Whether Smart is available Wednesday or not, the Celtics will have to employ a similar all-hands-on-deck approach defensively if they are to somehow limit the Clippers’ two best players, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. 

CELTICS BENCH 

This group doesn’t score a ton of points, but they are starting to make the most of their chances to impact what matters most to the Celtics - winning. Brad Wanamaker continues to be their most consistent guard off the bench, scoring 10 points to go with six assists and three steals. Grant Williams, who picked up his first DNP-CD (Did not play- coach's decision) in the loss in Sacramento, maxed out his opportunity to play with four points, two blocks and a slew of hustle plays that Boston absolutely needed from him tonight. The C's also got solid contributions from Robert Williams and Carsen Edwards. 

FIRST-HALF KEMBA

It has been well documented how Kemba Walker has struggled offensively in the first half of most games this season. 

Not Monday.

The Celtics got late-game Kemba, in the first half for a change. He wound up with 19 points, 13 of which came in the first half on 6-for-11 shooting with all five of his misses coming from 3-point range.  

The Celtics really needed Walker to put his imprint on the game early so they could get off to a good start, establish control of the game and pull away in the end. 

“I try to come out and make the right plays,” Walker told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin after the win.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

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Brad Stevens on how Celtics home dominance establishes a goal set before this season

Brad Stevens on how Celtics home dominance establishes a goal set before this season

Brad Stevens was asked about the home winning streak* Boston teams have been on recently after the Celtics ran their own home streak to a legitimate nine (Sorry, Bruins, but an overtime loss, even in a shootout, is still a loss) with a 108-95 win over the Denver Nuggets Friday night.

*For the record, it's the Celtics 9-0, the Patriots 5-0, the Bruins 12 wins with one OT loss and four shootout losses and even the Red Sox 1-0 since Boston dropped its second-to-last home game at Fenway Park on Sept. 28. So, technically, the REGULATION, regular-season, home winning streak stands. 

There's also that little matter of home playoff losses for the C's and B's last spring. Those are as real as they come.

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Still, with all this winning going on lately, the Boston teams must like playing at home, but Stevens pointed out how the Celtics' recent run of success helps accomplish a goal his team set coming off a season filled with bickering that ended with a second-round playoff exit. 

"We said all along with this group our No. 1 objective was to be a team that Boston liked," he said. "That's it. We'll, hopefully, be that."

Never losing in front of your paying customers goes a long way toward that goal.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App. 

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

Celtics season is bringing the best out of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum

BOSTON — While TD Garden lost its collective mind as his 3-pointer splashed through the twine, Jayson Tatum stared deep into a courtside TV camera and confidently skipped his way back towards midcourt. 

Jaylen Brown, who had lit the crowd’s fuse a possession earlier with a rim-rocking dunk, rushed over for an emphatic back bump to celebrate his team’s lopsided lead over the visiting Denver Nuggets.

In a way, it felt like the 2018 playoffs again. Tatum and Brown spearheading the Boston Celtics' offensive attack. The Jays. Ying and yang. Fire and ice. Peaches and Herb (you know, because they’re reunited and it feels so good).

OK, so Tatum and Brown were never really separated. But the construction of last year’s team didn’t quite allow their talents to ever be on full display. And neither player really put his best foot forward, either, given the conditions.

But Boston’s offseason roster overhaul, and the lessons learned last season, have provided Tatum and Brown a new opportunity to showcase their talents. They’ve both responded by playing at an All-Star-caliber level while stating a strong case as the best young duo in the NBA.

Tatum and Brown partnered up for 47 points on Friday night, helping Boston to a  108-95 triumph over a Nuggets team that has lingered near the top of the west for much of the first quarter of the season. Tatum and Brown combined for seven 3-pointers against the NBA’s top-ranked defense — two more than the Nuggets made as a team — and helped Boston really tear the game open in the second half.

This is what Celtics brass hoped was possible entering the season. In the aftermath of signing Kemba Walker this summer, it was fair to wonder if the team might be overstocked with perimeter players and, at that point, Brown’s future was a bit uncertain (before the extension he would eventually ink). The possibility of moving a wing player didn’t seem farfetched.

But the message from those inside Boston’s front office was consistent. The team wanted to see how Tatum and Brown performed together, especially outside the calamity of last season. The Celtics had hoped that the new roster makeup would open avenues for Tatum and Brown to thrive in ways that better resembled the 2018 playoffs than the 2018-19 regular season.

At the quarter pole of the new season, things couldn’t be going much better for the tandem. Tatum is averaging 21.2 points, 7 rebounds, 2.9 assists, and 1.4 steals over 34.3 minutes per game, all while putting up the best on/off splits on the team. Brown is up to 20 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 1.2 steals over 33.4 minutes per game.

Both players are right on the heels of Walker for the team lead in scoring. Only Gordon Hayward, sidelined for the past 13 games, has grabbed more rebounds than the duo this season. And there’s still the possibility that this tandem has just scratched the surface of their overall potential.

Regardless of how the cast around them looks, it’s becoming clear that the cornerstones of the Celtics team deep into the future centers on Tatum and Brown. And the players seem acutely aware of that fact.

"I think, definitely, the responsibility — a lot of it is on us, so we have to handle that kind of accordingly,” said Brown. "Just each and every night, I don’t think there’s no extra pressure that needs to be added to it. Just come out and play basketball, do what we’ve been doing. And I think everything will take care of itself.”

Brown knows his game complements Tatum’s well.

"I guess I’m more aggressive. JT’s kind of more laid-back,” said Brown. "I like to get to the basket and JT likes to step back and shoot jumpers. So a lot of times, we both mix it up a lot, sometimes I shoot 3s and sometimes he gets to the basket like today. But for the most part it’s kind of like polar opposites.”

However you want to compare and contrast, it’s working. And that’s what matters to Tatum.

"It's a lot of fun. When we're playing hard, playing together, making the right plays and he' doing things like that, it's hard not to get excited,” said Tatum. Later, he was asked about their friendship.

"It's grown a lot. I mean, we spend so much time together, obviously, over the course of 2 ½ seasons. We’ve been in some tough battles and we trust each other. I know what he's capable of and you know what he's going to bring to the table. You know what I'm going to bring to the table, especially in the toughest times. I’d go to war with him any day.”

It helps both of the Jays to have a veteran anchor like Walker alongside and empowering them to take the scoring baton when they have it going. Marcus Smart, who has seen the Jays progress, beams with pride discussing their developments.

"I think everybody sees the steps that they’ve taken towards becoming better basketball players, and it shows,” said Smart. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens is quick to note that there’s still plenty of room for growth for both 23-year-old Brown and 21-year-old Tatum. "That story will be told down the road, right?” said Stevens. "Those guys are still getting better."

But the coach knows everybody in the organization is rooting for them to stay on this path towards tandem stardom. 

"Everybody wants them to do really well,” said Stevens. "I think the great part of the whole situation is all the players, all the coaches, all the front office, the whole city, we all want Jayson and Jaylen to do really well. It’s on us to all bring out the best in them and help them continue to grow through tough times or success, and they’re having a lot of success right now. 

“With that comes the different challenges of new defenses and more attention and how do you handle that, and those guys have shown themselves well thus far.”

Yup, Tatum just keeps skipping (“That's like my thing. I try not to get too excited, but that's my thing,” said Tatum) and Brown will happily exult after a loud slam, or simply blow kisses after a big 3.

"I guess we feed off each other,” said Brown. "Kind of different games, kind of opposite, but it makes sense. Like fire and ice.”

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.