Marcus Morris

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

No time to dwell on it, Game 7 awaits

CLEVELAND – The Celtics have been perfect at home in the playoffs and with a Game 7 win on Sunday, they would set an NBA record for consecutive home wins in the postseason with 11.

It would also improve their record to 38-0 in series in which they open with a pair of wins.

Still, as they went about making this improbable journey to where they are a win away from a trip to the NBA Finals, history has never been a motivating factor.

And with where they are now in the grand scheme of things, it becomes even less of a motivating factor.

“At the end of the day, you have to make your own history,” said Jaylen Brown. “We have to come out and do what we have to do. People can say what they want. Two teams have to come out and play.”

That stay-in-the-moment mindset has served them well all season and becomes even more important following a Game 6 loss Friday night, a game in which the Celtics did a lot of what they were intending to do in order to give themselves a shot at winning.

But the game ultimately came down to the C's going through one of its scoring lulls, getting behind by double digits and not making that one shot or getting that clutch defensive stop to swing the momentum in their favor.

There’s no time to dwell on that, not with a Game 7 matchup on the horizon.

“It’s over with now,” Brown said. “We can’t afford to think in the past, ‘oh we should have won.’ It’s over with. Game 7 at home in the Garden; great atmosphere, great environment, great stage. Come out and play some great basketball, high energy and let’s see who comes out on top.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 109-99 Game 6 loss to the Cavs:

JAYSON TATUM


He had 15 points on 7-for-13 shooting which is a pretty good night for most players. But what really stood out was the fact that Tatum, arguably Boston’s best player at creating his own shot off the dribble, did not take a single free throw. The reason was two-fold: the ball didn’t find its way into his hands enough and when it did, opportunities to get to the rim and attack were few and far between.

MARCUS MORRIS


Marcus Morris has been tasked with being one of the primary defenders against LeBron James, knowing full well he – or any NBA player for that matter – can only hope to slow him down. Morris has not done as well of late in limiting James and to make matters worse, he has struggled to impact the game offensively. In Game 6, he was 3-for-10 shooting with a number of the misses being attempts at the rim or relatively open perimeter looks. Of all the Celtics, Morris will likely benefit the most when it comes to being at home.

CLEVELAND ROLE PLAYERS


LeBron James (46 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) was dominant as ever, but it was the Cavaliers role players that really won this game for Cleveland. George Hill had 20 points. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. came off the bench to score 14 and 10 points, respectively. Kyle Korver hit a couple 3’s and for the most part, did a solid job defensively. Limiting their impact will be among the chief goals for the Celtics heading into Sunday’s Game 7 matchup.

FREE-THROW SHOOTING


They’re called free throws but when you miss too many of them, there’s often a high cost to be paid. The Celtics found that out in Game 6. While the Cavs took two more free throws (22) than the Celtics (20), Boston wound up making seven fewer free throws courtesy of them shooting a woeful 55 percent (11-for-20) from the line while the Cavs were 18-for-22. Teams tend to shoot better from the line at home, a trend Boston certainly hopes will continue for at least one more game.

KEVIN LOVE


After a collision with Jayson Tatum in the first quarter, Love (concussion testing) was unable to return for Game 6, and at this point, he is questionable at best for Game 7. Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr. picked up the minutes left by Love’s absence and if Love doesn’t play in Game 7 those two will likely gobble up most of those 30-plus minutes that would have gone to Love. That could lead to Boston making another lineup change with Marcus Morris back with the first unit in place of Aron Baynes to better match up with Cleveland.

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Brad Stevens' shortened rotation pays off for Celtics

Brad Stevens' shortened rotation pays off for Celtics

CLEVELAND – Sometimes less really is more.

It certainly was for the Celtics in their 96-83 Game 5 win over Cleveland, a game in which Boston only used seven players before having a couple end-of-the-bench guys in Abdel Nader and Guerschon Yabusele step on the floor for the final 2:36 of play when the game was all but secured.

“There’s a lot that goes into it and I’ll leave it at that,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens when asked about the seven-man rotation.

The most notable absence from the game was for Boston was Semi Ojeleye, who registered his first DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coaches Decision) of the playoffs. Ojeleye has been one of the team’s better defenders against LeBron James.

In the first four games, James shot 28.6 percent from the field when defended by Ojeleye, which was his lowest field-goal percentage against any Celtics player in this series. Only Marcus Morris (111 possessions through the first four games) and Jaylen Brown (62) defended James more than Ojeleye (47).

Ojeleye has learned in his time in Boston to be prepared for anything and everything.

“You never know when your numbers going to be called,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s why you always have to stay ready, which is what I try to do.”

Boston shortening its rotation appeared to have caught the Cavs off-guard, which was in part why we did not see Kyle Korver enter the game in the first quarter.

“Well, initially he’s [Stevens] been putting Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of [Kyle Korver’s] matchup when he comes into the game,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He didn’t play him [Ojeleye], so it kind of threw us for a loop.”

By starting Aron Baynes instead of Morris, it allowed Morris to enter the game without being burdened by or having to worry about early foul trouble.

It worked.

Just like he would not commit to a change to his starting lineup the last couple of games, there’s no guarantee or expectation that he will stick with a seven-man rotation in Game 6, either.

“It has nothing to do with the guys that didn’t play,” Stevens said of the shortened lineup. “All those guys are ready to help when called upon and have great attitudes and have been great teammates.”

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The difference for Celtics in Game 5? It starts with Baynes

The difference for Celtics in Game 5? It starts with Baynes

BOSTON – As the Celtics faithful poured out of the TD Garden following Boston’s 96-83 Game 5 win over Cleveland on Wednesday, there was plenty of praise for Jayson Tatum’s big scoring night.

Al Horford got some love for his double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds while two Marcuses – Smart and Morris – each delivered a baker’s dozen worth of points.

Still, the difference-maker for Boston was Aron Baynes, who provided the kind of defensive presence - and some timely baskets early on - that proved to be exactly what the Celtics needed to take a 3-2 series lead and maybe just as important, position Boston a win away from a trip to the NBA Finals.

Baynes was back in the starting lineup in large part because the Cavaliers were no longer playing a small-ball unit to start games as they inserted Tristan Thompson in with the first group while Kyle Korver came off the bench.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens rolled with Morris ahead of Baynes for the first four games, but it was clear that the Celtics had to make a change to better compete with Cleveland’s size and muscle.

Stevens had remained coy on the change, which wasn’t revealed until Baynes’ name was announced as one of the starters.

And Baynes, similar to other Celtics this season when given a larger platform to perform, made a significant impact that went far beyond his six points and seven rebounds.

“We’ve got a lot of tough guys on our team, but I think they will all tell you Baynes is one of the toughest we’ve been around,” Stevens told reporters on a conference call Thursday.

Boston wound up winning the battle on the boards 45-39, which included limiting the Cavs to just three offensive rebounds. That would factor heavily in Boston having a decisive 15-5 advantage when it came to second-chance points.

“One of the things about our team, when someone’s number is called we step up and try to play within the system,” Baynes said. “It starts on the defensive end for us. We’re just trying to get back and be big. We haven’t been as long as we had been in the last few series up until this point. That was a focus for us, to look big, to pack the paint and make them have more of an outside effort.”

Although Horford was named to the NBA’s All-Defensive second team on Wednesday while Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown also getting some votes, Baynes’ presence has been the key to Boston finishing the regular season with a league-best defensive rating of 101.5.

And individually, Baynes’ 97.0 defensive rating was tops among all players in the NBA with at least 50 games played this season.

“Baynes is a really good defender,” Stevens said. “He helps in a ton of different ways. I thought he did a good job getting to the ball off the glass and getting tip-ins. The purpose for that change was we're going to have to play big some. We wanted to play big a little bit more. But it was more to get two wings off the bench so that we could then rotate our wings with basically quick breaks around the timeouts if we could, because we knew we were going to play those guys a lot of minutes tonight.”

Stevens is referring to Morris (37 minutes) and Smart (24 minutes), who each scored 13 points.

As important as their contributions were to the win, it was the reinsertion of Baynes into the starting lineup that proved to be the one move made by Boston that ultimately put them over the top in Game 5 and even more significant, has them on the cusp of a trip to the NBA Finals.

“Stay locked in. That’s what it’s about for us,” Baynes said. “We know what’s gotten us to this point and we need to keep doing that. It starts on the defensive end for us and playing within Brad’s system. And offensively, getting the right shots; not trying to do it by yourself, do it with five guys. That’s what it’s about this time of year.”

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