Celtics

Stars, studs, and duds: Irving and Horford shine in second half vs Thunder

Stars, studs, and duds: Irving and Horford shine in second half vs Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – What a whirlwind of a game this was for Kyrie Irving. 

The rim seemed like a moving target that Irving could never lock on to in the first half, only to absolutely dominate the Oklahoma City Thunder in leading the Celtics to a 101-94 come-from-behind win that extended their winning streak to a league-best seven in a row. 

After starting off 1-for-9 shooting, Irving bounced back with a 9-for-13 shooting display in the second half and finished with a team-high 25 points. 

I asked him what adjustments did he make to his game at halftime. 

“I didn’t really make any adjustments,” he said. “The first four shots I took, they were pretty good looks. They were loading up on the weak-side when me and Al (Horford) were coming off our pick-and-rolls. It just took a matter of time for us to settle in.”

Once that happened, the defense began to click, shots began to fall more often and the Celtics delivered an unexpected victory on a night when they fell behind by as many as 18 points. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was pleased with how Irving and the rest of his teammates played with poise in the second half after a first half in which very little went their way. 

“Being able to stay the course and focus on the next task is important, and it’s hard to do,” Stevens said. 

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday’s 101-94 Boston Celtics win over the Oklahoma City Thunder which extended the Celtics’ league-best winning streak to seven in a row. 

STARS

Al Horford: One big shot after another fell for Horford in the fourth quarter as he delivered yet another strong performance in helping lead the Celtics to victory. He finished with a 20 points, 13 of which came in the fourth quarter to go along with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kyrie Irving: After a first half Irving would just as soon forget ASAP, he bounced back in the second with arguably his most impressive game of the season. Irving led all Celtics with 25 points, 22 of which came in the second half after he missed eight of his nine shot attempts in the first half. He also had six assists and five rebounds. 

Paul George: He spent most of the first half as the game’s dominant performer, and still finished with a strong game in leading the Thunder with a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds.

Russell Westbrook: It was another night in which Westbrook seemed on pace for a triple-double, but a not-so-great showing in the second half - 7 points on 3-for-10 shooting with three turnovers which nearly equaled his four assists – had Westbrook finishing with a double-double of 19 points and 11 assists with six rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jaylen Brown: The more he plays, the more he figures out exactly what he needs to contribute when his shots not falling. Brown was just 3-for-8 shooting, but finished with a double-double of 10 points and 12 rebounds. 

Marcus Morris: There was some clear and undeniable rust on his game after such a long layoff, but Morris’ presence was definitely needed and was among the factors contributing to Boston’s victory. In addition to doing a solid job defensively against Carmelo Anthony, Morris also had nine points and four rebounds with a plus/minus of +11 that was second only to Kyrie Irving (+15).

 

DUDS

Carmelo Anthony: The Celtics collectively defended him well all game. While he was one of four players on the night to have a double-double, Anthony’s impact was minimal. He had 10 points on 3-for-17 shooting to go with a game-high 14 rebounds.

Jaylen Brown plays 1-on-1 with Tracy McGrady

Jaylen Brown plays 1-on-1 with Tracy McGrady

As the Celtics continue their offseason and Summer League playoff run, Jaylen Brown has been working out with a newly inducted member of the Basketball Hall of Fame in Tracy McGrady. 

The young star is coming off a sophomore campaign where he was second on the team in scoring in both the regular season (14.5) and playoffs (18.0). On Sunday, a video sufaced of Brown and McGrady playing a game of 1-on-1 with no dribbling. 

McGrady averaged over 20 points per game from 2000-2008, and seems to still have an innate ability to score. 

Brown was a key factor in the injury-riddled Celtics coming within one win of an NBA Finals appearance. The main storyline heading into the 2018-19 season for the Celtics will be the return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, but let's not forget about the growth of Brown and Jayson Tatum.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

boston-celtics-jabari-bird-70618.jpg
File photo

Jabari Bird works hard . . . and plays well

During Las Vegas Summer League play, the Celtics' Jabari Bird has been a human highlight reel-in-waiting every time he's stepped on the floor.

But while people may see Bird's breakout performances, they haven't seen what led to them: The 6 a.m. workouts near San Francisco that he would drive an hour to attend earlier this summer, and the film sessions breaking down the 400 or so shots he would take -- and make -- per workout.

There is an under-the-radar, stealth-like grind about Bird that has helped him stand out as one of the top players for Boston’s Summer League team . . . and, just as important, better secure a place for himself in the NBA next season.

MORE JABARI BIRD

“Everybody here at Summer League has to be impressed by the way he’s playing,” Celtics assistant and Summer League coach Jay Larranaga told reporters recently.

Bird will look to continue his strong play tonight in the Celtics' Summer League playoff matchup against the Portland Trail Blazers at 8 p.m. He was given a rest and didn't play in yesterday's 74-72 win over Miami, so will take team-high averages of 16.8 point and 6.0 rebounds into tonight's game. He's also shooting 57.1 percent from the field and is second on the C's in steals (1.8 per game).

The numbers are strong, clearly. But Bird’s work ethic, more than the eye-popping moves on the floor, is what has allowed him to stand out in Las Vegas.

Player development trainer Packie Turner of Unlimited Potential Basketball has worked with Bird dating back to his junior season at Cal and has been pleased with how the 24-year-old has made the most of his opportunity this summer.

“He’s built for today’s game,” said Turner who has worked with two-time league MVP Stephen Curry, his brother Seth Curry, and Sacramento’s Skal Labissiere, among others. “[Bird] can defend, he can shoot,  he can score. Three-and-D (defense) guys are everywhere now.”

And it is that versatility that promtped Boston to take Bird with the 56th overall pick in last year’s NBA draft, and later sign him to a two-way contract.

Bird had an injury-riddled first season shuffling back and forth between the Celtics and their Gatorade League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws. But after the C' shad secured the second-best record in the East, with no shot at moving up to the top spot, Bird was among the players to see extensive playing time late in the season.

And to his credit, he didn’t disappoint.

He played so well that there was a swelling level of interest among Celtics fans who wanted to see Boston carve out a spot on the playoff roster for Bird. (However, players signed to two-way contracts are ineligible to be on their respective team’s playoff roster.)

Bird had a taste of being active on an NBA roster, and he clearly wanted more.

Turner could sense something was different with Bird shortly after his rookie season had ended and he returned to the Bay Area, setting up workouts with an earlier-than-usual start time of 6 a.m.

“He has always wanted to be in the gym,” Turner told NBC Sports Boston. “But you could tell, he could see how close he was and came in committed to doing everything he could to make it happen, now.”

Bird, a prep All-American before choosing the Cal Bears over a bevy of college suitors, was a high-flyer from the jump. But Turner wanted to see him expand that athleticism beyond playing above the rim.

MORE CELTICS

“I thought back then he used [his athleticism] vertically, but didn’t use it laterally,” Turner said. “He’s gotten a lot better laterally using his athleticism. That’s an area we can get better with as far as how he attacks side-to-side . . . just big explosive movements and not getting upright in those moments. He knows how to do it around the rim, a lot of put-backs; he’s active around the glass. I want him to use that same athleticism on a step-back, or a move to clear space.”

We have seen more of that in Summer League, which has made Bird a more versatile, more attractive target for teams. The Celtics made him a qualifying offer earlier this summer, making him a restricted free agent.
 
Bird has shrugged off talk surrounding his basketball fate beyond this summer, aware that thinking too much about it can do no good.
 
“I’m not too concerned with what’s going on as far as my future and things like that,” Bird told NBC Sports Boston near the end of the regular season when he got his first opportunity to play decent minutes. “I’m trying to control what I can control, and that’s going out and play hard every game."

Bird added: “I’m just trying to show everyone in this organization that I’m a good ballplayer.”

Jaylen Brown, a teammate of Bird’s at Cal, was among the first to put folks on alert that Bird had NBA-caliber talent.

“I’m telling you, he’s a really, really good player,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “When he gets his chance, and he’ll get it, he’ll show everyone. You’ll see.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE