Josh Jackson

Blakely's takeaways: Role reversal for offense and defense?

Blakely's takeaways: Role reversal for offense and defense?

BOSTON – As you skim the box scores of the Boston Celtics, you’ll notice the offense is scoring more, shooting better from the field, doing all the things that we all figured they would improve upon as we got deeper into the season.

But those strides offensively have come at the same time that the defense, while still really good, hasn’t been as dominant or consistent as we’ve seen them in the early going this season.

And there lies a dilemma of sorts.

Is the Boston offense really getting better, or do they look better because the defense isn’t as good as it was to start the season?

In Boston’s last six games, it really has been like role reversal when you look at their offensive and defensive numbers in that span compared to what they’ve done all season.

Boston’s defensive rating for the season is a league-best 98.9, but in the last six games it has slipped to 108.1 which is ranked 19th in that span.

Rebounding has been a huge part of Boston’s success this season, evident by their rebounding percentage this season being .513 which ranks ninth in the league. But in Boston’s last six games, they are dead-last at .452. Against the Suns, the Celtics were out-rebounded 45-31.

And offensively, the Celtics are averaging 109.3 points in their last six games which ranks eighth in the league in that span, a noticeable bump from their season average of 104.5 which ranks 19th.

Boston’s offensive rating of 112.3 in the last six games ranks sixth in the league, which is an improvement upon their season average of 105.4 which ranks 13th in the NBA.

The improved play offensively has been due to a couple of reasons.

“The offense is getting a little better and the defense has not played as well,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “The good news is you have to be able to score the ball; you have to get better at scoring the ball for us, from where we started the season. And we’ve shown ourselves capable on defense.”

Boston hasn’t had as many moments consistently of late when the defense has played its best, something that Stevens acknowledges.

“I wouldn’t say we’re regressing,” said Stevens, whose team gave up 111 points to the Suns which was the highest point total allowed this season in a Celtics victory. “But we’ve certainly have had our moments when we haven’t played as well.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 116-111 win over Phoenix on Saturday afternoon.

Marcus Smart

You won’t find another Boston Celtics player criticized more for their shooting than Marcus Smart. Considering how he has struggled with his shot most of this season, that’s understandable. But against the Suns, Smart passed on a lot of good shots for either great ones for his teammates or better ones for himself. And the end result was one of the few games this season when Smart shot well from the field (3-for-6, 13 points), delivered a strong game defensively and still managed to get his teammates involved (he had seven assists) with few mistakes (no turnovers).

Second unit success

Boston’s backups delivered one of their more complete games this season, balancing diversified scoring with solid defense. For the game, they outscored Phoenix 45-32 with all five reserves scoring at least three points while two of Boston’s top three defensive ratings posted by reserves Terry Rozier (92.5) and Semi Ojeleye (100.0).

Jayson Tatum/Josh Jackson

Just like Jayson Tatum and Philadelphia’s Markelle Fultz will forever be linked because of the trade that ultimately allowed the Sixers to draft Fultz and Boston to select Tatum, there’s a Tatum/Josh Jackson connection that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Jackson didn’t want to work out for the Celtics leading up to the draft, with multiple league sources telling NBC Sports Boston his concern was about having a limited role in Boston as opposed to Phoenix where he would play significant minutes from Day One. The irony is that not only is Tatum playing more minutes than Jackson, but he’s doing so as a starter versus Jackson who comes off the bench for a sub-.500 team. Meanwhile, Tatum and the Celtics (20-4) have the best record in the NBA. In their matchup on Saturday, Tatum had 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting along with six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocked shots in 26 minutes, 30 seconds of playing time. Jackson had seven points on 3-for-5 shooting in 14 minutes, 57 seconds in addition to one rebound.

Semi Ojeleye

The Boston Celtics have been pleased with the 22-year-old’s defense thus far this season. Lately, it seems he’s starting to provide a nice alternative offensively, too. Against Phoenix, Ojeleye had seven points which included him being 2-for-3 from 3-point range. In his last four appearances off Boston’s bench, he has shot 41.7 percent from 3-point range. Prior to that, he was connecting on just 28.6 percent (10-for-35) of his 3-point shots.

Jaylen Brown

One of the unspoken truths about this Boston Celtics team this season has been Jaylen Brown emerging as the team’s No. 2 scorer. Lately, he has managed to generate offense from the free throw line which not that long ago, was a place where the second-year wing really struggled. Against the Suns on Saturday, Brown had 17 points which included him making six of his eight free throw attempts. The six made free throws tied his career high and the eight attempts was a season-high for Brown.

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Morris glad to leave Phoenix in rear-view mirror

celtics-suns-storylines-120217.jpg

Morris glad to leave Phoenix in rear-view mirror

BOSTON – Marcus Morris is well-versed on the transient nature of the NBA having already been traded three times in six-plus seasons.

Of the teams he has played for, there’s only one organization that still leaves a bitter taste in his mouth – the Phoenix Suns.

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Morris made it clear that he has nothing but love for his former teammates in Phoenix.

“It’s more about [the organization],” Morris told NBC Sports Boston. “I just don’t like the way they treat players. People come out there every day and they bust their [expletive], and they think that because you make a certain amount of money, they don’t have feelings … I just don’t agree with a lot of things that they do.”

Morris, who was drafted by the Houston Rockets, was traded to Phoenix in February of 2013, reuniting him with his twin brother Markieff.

Phoenix wanted to re-sign both players and did so from a $52 million pool of money the brothers split up.

Both Morris brothers could have hit free agency and likely garnered more money around that time, but they felt taking less money was worth the opportunity to play with one another.

But Phoenix wanted to bolster its roster, which meant trying to create more salary cap flexibility and so they wound up trading Marcus Morris to Detroit and later sent his brother to Washington.

Even though Marcus Morris is still bothered some by how things went down in Phoenix, being traded from a franchise that has struggled to win in recent years regardless of the moves they have made,  has actually been a blessing.

Marcus Morris is a steady rotation player for a Celtics team which has the best record in the NBA. And his brother plays for a Washington Wizards team that has struggled in large part because of injuries (he was out for the early part of the season with a sports hernia), but will likely be among the top teams in the East when all is said and done.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines as Boston looks to keep on its winning ways as they host Phoenix this afternoon:

 


STAY FOCUSED
The Suns (8-15) are having yet another bad season, having cut loose then-coach Earl Watson just three games in and replaced him with Jay Triano. Boston’s biggest competition today will likely be themselves. The Celtics are a deeper, more talented team from top to bottom. They should win today’s game going away with relative ease, but only if they continue along the path we’ve seen thus far.

DEVIN BOOKER
The last time Booker set foot on the TD Garden floor, he absolutely lit up the Celtics like no one has in recent memory. He dropped a career-high 70 points against the Celtics last season which led to a back-and-forth Twitter beef between Booker and then-Celtic Jae Crowder with Boston emerging with a 130-120 win. It’ll be worth watching to see what impact if any will Jaylen Brown’s defense has on Booker.

JAYLEN BROWN
The shooting numbers have not been great for Brown lately. In Boston’s last three games, he has shot just 30 percent (10-for-30) from the field while averaging eight points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. But the second-year wing has still been able to maintain a relatively strong presence defensively which is why he’s likely to continue playing significant minutes for Boston.

JOSH JACKSON
Jackson got his wish on draft night which was to be bypassed by the Celtics who had the No. 3 pick, and be selected by the Suns at No. 4. The Celtics were miffed that he canceled a workout in Sacramento while they were in the air bound for the West coast. But it’s fair to say that the Celtics are very happy with how things worked. They wound up selecting Jayson Tatum who has blossomed into one of the top rookies in the league this season. One of the concerns for Jackson was whether he would get a decent amount of playing time if Boston selected him. Actually, he’s now playing fewer minutes (21.4) with a bad Phoenix team, than Tatum (30.5) is for a Boston team that has the NBA’s best record.

DRIVE THE BALL
One area where the Suns are certainly going to try and find success will be attacking the rim. And they’ll do that with a steady diet of dribble-drive action. The Suns are ranked ninth in the NBA in drives (45.7) per game. Boston is at the opposite end of the drive the game, averaging 35.4 per game and ranks 27th in the league.

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