Celtics

Warriors believe they could see the Celtics in NBA finals

Warriors believe they could see the Celtics in NBA finals

OAKLAND, Calif. – When you've won a pair of NBA titles within the last three years, it's hard to get too psyched up about a regular season game regardless of the opponent. 

But the Golden State Warriors made no secret about how they view the Boston Celtics who gave them all they could handle before the Warriors ultimately escaped with a 109-105 win to avoid being swept by Boston for the first time since 2012. 

“It was playoff intensity, back and forth,” said Warriors guard Stephen Curry after dropping 49 points on the Celtics. “It was a fun game, it was intense, it was hard fought through, all forty-eight minutes so that is kind of what you expect in the playoffs for sure.”

Golden State coach Steve Kerr echoed similar sentiments.

“It just felt like a playoff game. High-level stuff, great defense, both teams playing incredibly hard and smart,” Kerr said. “Not a lot of turnovers. Some tremendous individual performances. The guard play was just amazing back and forth.”

For Boston, it was Kyrie Irving leading the way with 37 points while the Warriors countered with Curry dropping 49 points.

Warriors guard Shaun Livingston was not surprised to see Curry have such a big game scoring.

“Kyrie always brings out the best in him,” Livingston told NBC Sports Boston’s Kyle Draper. “He’s one of the best point guards in the league and Boston’s one of the best teams in the league. Steph is one of the best shooters ever. As a shooter, it’s what you do. You put it up even if it’s not going in. HIs confidence is at an all-time high. We’re trying to be as good as we can be around him.”

The Celtics have a similar approach to dealing with Irving who was recently named to the league’s all-star team for the fifth time.

You can count Jaylen Brown among those not the least bit surprised at how well Irving scored the ball most of the game before finishing with 37 points.

“I’ve seen Kyrie do that against a lot of teams,” Brown said. “That’s what he does. He had a godo game tonight. He’s one of the best players in the world-type of player so he can get it going against anybody, just like Steph did.”

Indeed, the play of role players has been instrumental to both teams being at the top of their respective conferences this season.

And it’ll be a factor if they both wind up in the NBA Finals,  something the defending champion Golden State Warriors are quite comfortable discussing.

The Celtics?

Not so much.

I asked Brown about possibly seeing the Warriors down the road in the playoffs which would mean the Celtics have advanced to the NBA Finals.

“I just focus on what’s in front of me, and our team focuses on what’s in front of us,” Brown said. “That’s a long way from now, we have a lot better to get. We’ll see when we get there.”

Livingston was a bit more forthcoming when asked about the possibility of tonight’s game being an NBA Finals preview.

“They’re a good team,” Livingston said. “This is a good matchup for us. Looking at it, it’s obviously a team we could see in June. These type of tests in the season are good.”

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

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Stevens facing scrutiny for first time after two losses in Cleveland

BOSTON -- Brad Stevens is a genius.

Brad Stevens is overrated.

Brad Stevens gets the most out of the least amount of talent.

On the brightest of stages, Brad Stevens can't get it done.

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The views on Celtics coach Brad Stevens are all over the map right now, based on Boston being in a 2-2 series tie with Cleveland after the Cavs held serve at home with a pair of wins.

The Celts' losing at Cleveland didn't spark the questions about Stevens. It's how they lost those games.

Cleveland didn't do anything fancy or all that complicated in getting back in this series after the Celtics raced out to a 2-0 series lead.

The Cavs are targeting Terry Rozier -- similar, in many ways, to how they went after Isaiah Thomas last year -- and are forcing defensive switches that leaves Rozier in a bad spot.

Rozier is a solidly built point guard (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) but he's no physical match for LeBron James or Kevin Love or Tristan Thompson -- players the Cavs have tried their best to get Rozier to defend via switches. For the most part, they've have had success doing so.

"Hope they miss" seems to be Rozier's best-case scenario when this happens.

Watching Rozier get bounced into the paint by the James-Love-Thompson trio has left many Celtics fans wondering W.W.B.D. -- What Will Brad Do?

So far, not much.

He considered a lineup change before deciding to keep Marcus Morris with the first unit and Aron Baynes coming off the bench in Game 4.

In the first quarter of Game 4 Boston fell behind 34-18, similar to how their 30-point Game 3 shellacking started.

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But Boston got better as the game progressed, showing glimpses of the team that finished with the second-best record in the East and had the best road record of any team in the Eastern Conference.

And as Kyle Korver came off screens and knocked down shots, or George Hill finished at the rim, or Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love treated the offensive glass like property and they were the time share owners of it, Celtics fans waited for that moment, when Stevens would make a tweak/adjustment and -- bam! -- everything changed.

That moment, however, never came. And it's opened Stevens to a level of second-guessing he hasn't experienced since maybe his rookie season in the league.

Stevens is a wonderful coach, easily top-five in the NBA. The reason he's so widely regarded is his ability to recognize his own team's weaknesses and mask them.

That hasn't happened in this series and there are questions, legitimate questions, if it will happen at all.

Better team communication? More touches for Al Horford? Limiting the isolations on Rozier with a bigger scorer? Will any or all of these things happen?

The bottom line is clear: Boston has to be better than we what we saw in Cleveland. That not only applies to the players, but also to Stevens.

The one thing about Brad Stevens that you always have to respect is his willingness to take ownership when things aren't going right.

He'll be the first to tell you that everyone needs to improve . . . himself included. And while that acknowledgment may not seem like that big a deal, it's huge.

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Because his willingness to take some of the blame for what we've seen of late trickles down to the rest of his players, who know they too have a role in Boston losing its last two games.

With that ownership comes an understanding that for this series to shift back in their favor, it's going to take the entire group to step their games up.

And as we've seen with this group, they have seemingly been at their best when adversity strikes. They've shown an ability to thrive under pressure, rather than be totally thrown off course.

Which is why despite losing two straight to the Cavs, the Celtics return home feeling pretty good about themselves.

They lost Game 4 but did a number of positive things that I imagine they'll look to do more of on Wednesday.

Boston managed to get Horford defended by Love more in Game 4 and had a good bit of success with that matchup. Rozier was better at handling screens and switches in the second half than we saw in the first, which allowed Boston's defense to collectively play better.

The Celtics were doing more of the things that fans have come to expect. The kind of plays that reflect positively on the players as well as their leader, Brad Stevens.

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Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

Five takeaways: When Celtics fall, they can't get up

BOSTON -- All season the Celtics have seemingly been digging basketball graves for themselves, only to rise up and bury their foes.

It worked in the regular season.

In the playoffs?

Not so much.

Those huge deficits early in games have been a big problem for Boston, to the point where it has to be among the chief concerns for the Celtics heading into a pivotal Game 5 matchup on Wednesday.

Cleveland’s 111-102 Game 4 win, which evened the series at two games apiece, was due in large part to the Celtics falling 19 points behind in the first half.

To get down big early provides plenty of time for a comeback, of course. But it also requires a significant amount of energy, effort and timely breaks. And on the road? Against a LeBron James-led team?

That’s not likely to happen.

“We just dug ourselves in a hole in the first half,” said Jaylen Brown. “We came back from 15 and I think the closest we got it to was maybe seven or six. We fought. We played a better game than last time.”

Brown, who had a team-high 25 points in the Game 4 loss, was referring to Boston’s 116-86 beatdown in Game 3.

Certainly disappointed they didn’t get one or both games in Cleveland, coach Brad Stevens anticipated this series would be filled with ups and downs for both teams.

“Anybody that didn’t think this was going to be tough . . . I mean, everything is tough,” Stevens said. “In this deal, it’s a blast to have to grit your teeth, get up off the mat and go after it again. That’s part of it. That’s what makes these guys on both sides special.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 111-102 Game 4 loss.

FIRST QUARTER ROAD WOES

Game 4 was the latest example in the Celtics-get-off-to-bad-starts-on-the-road narrative. They scored just 18 points on 7-for-26 shooting (26.9 percent) in the first quarter, when they missed six of their seven 3-point attemots. Getting off to a better start will go far in Boston’s attempts at regaining the series lead on Wednesday.

TERRY ROZIER

He seems to have exorcised some basketball road demons with a 16-point, 11-assist, 0-turnover performance in Game 4. But Cleveland’s ability to get him switched out on guarding a bigger frontcourt player is a problem. The Celtics has to become more creative scheme-wise to avoid their smallest starter (Rozier) consistently being paired with players several inches taller and several pounds heavier. Part of the problem is Rozier who hasn’t been fighting through those screens as hard he is capable of. It may result in an extra foul or two for Rozier, but two games away from a trip to the NBA Finals? Whatever sacrifice is required, you make it.

JAYSON TATUM

While his numbers in the Eastern Conference Finals have been decent, Tatum hasn't had anything close to the impact against the Cavs that he had in the first two rounds of the playoffs. The biggest missing ingredient is his 3-point shooting. He's averaging 2.5 attempts from 3-point range in this series, but only took two attempts total in Games 3 and 4 -- and missed them both. The Cavs have done a better job defensively, but there are seemingly more possessions in which he’s passing up a good 3-point look to instead attack a team defense whose strength lies in ability to contest shots at the rim. Don’t be surprised to see Tatum freed up more for 3’s in Game 5.

REBOUNDING

The Celtics aren’t expected to win the rebounding fight, but they at least have to keep it closer than they did in Games 3 and 4. In Game 4, Cleveland was a plus-10 (47-37) on the boards, which heavily factored into their decisive 16-7 advantage in second-chance points. Closing this gap will pivotal to Boston’s chances at success on Wednesday.

CELTICS OFFENSE

There’s a lot of talk about Boston’s defense and how it needs to improve going forward. But the Celtics have to do a better job offensively as well; specifically, they need to create more open or lightly contested shot attempts. Cleveland has contested more than 75 percent of Boston’s shot attempts in each of the last two games, compared to contesting less than 70 percent in the first two. Figuring out how to free up more shooters has to be a priority for the Celtics heading into Game 5.

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