Celtics, Clippers play thriller at Garden as All-Star point guards go head to head.

The Celtics were coming in hot, winning 9 of their last 11 but a one point loss to the Bucks the night before left a bitter taste. A chance for redemption, at home, against Doc, Pierce & the Los Angeles Clippers was todays challenge. A team who were also hot, winning 7 of their last 8.

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The first quarter didn’t start as planned when Pierce & Reddick knocked down back to back 3’s to give the Clippers a 10-4 advantage. The Celtics would fight back through Sullinger, Thomas & Crowder (who had all of Boston’s points apart from 3) to tie things at 19. Not much defence was being played & the Celtics had already started to Hack-a-Jordan, who made both of the free throws as Los Angeles would take a 37-33 lead into the 2nd.

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The Clippers scored 4 points to start the quarter but Boston was hanging tough, attacking the rim & getting to the free throw line before a Marcus Smart 3 pointer gave the Celtics their first lead of the night. Bradley & Smart both hit 2 3’s, with a pair of Jae Crowder free throws in-between to extend the lead to 60-54. The Celtics once again ended the quarter with Hack-a-Jordan, who proceeded to make both free throws again but Boston took a 71-64 advantage at the half.

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The Celtics started the 3rd on a 10-4 run to go up 13 before the Clippers would make their own run by getting to the line, as 6 straight Clipper free throws had cut the Boston lead to 81-85. Over the final 3:40 of the quarter, Crowder & Thomas were the only Celtics to score, putting in 13 points to extend the lead back to 10 before a Chris Paul 3 beat the buzzer as the Celtics took a 91-98 lead into the 4th.

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Olynyk was announced out for the remainder of the game with a shoulder injury as Zeller took the floor to star the 4th. Tyler quickly knocked down a shot but a 9-2 Clippers run had the game at 100 apiece. Paul & Jerebko would exchange 3’s before Lance Stephenson also hit a 3, but a stare down of the Celtics bench got Lance a technical foul as the resulting free throw, made by Avery Bradley, gave Boston the one point lead. Crawford, Reddick & Stephenson all scored in the midst of an 8-2 Clippers run as Los Angeles took the 114-109 lead. The Celtics went back to Hack-a-Jordan, who went 3-4 over the next minute to put the Clippers up 5 with only 1:16 left in regulation. Thomas would score the basket out of the timeout & get a foul but he missed the free throw that Marcus Smart would fight & get the rebound for. The Clippers were called for another foul but Marcus could only manage to make 1 of the 2 foul shots & would immediately pick up his 6th & final foul after the missed free throw. Los Angeles were up 2 with Jordan heading to the line with under 24 seconds left, DeAndre failed to make either of the 2 free throws & Isaiah Thomas would tie things up before Chris Paul missed the game winning shot as time expired.

Overtime started with Avery Bradley fouling Reddick on back to back 3 point shots, one a 4 point play, the other Reddick went 2/3 from the line. Bradley quickly made up for the mistake, knocking down a 3 to bring Boston within 2. Crawford, Jordan & Paul all went 1 of 2 from the line in their next 3 possessions as a Sullinger 3 pointer got Boston back down only 1. 7 straight points for Evan Turner put Boston up 3, the Clippers had 2 chances to tie the game but failed on both as Jerebko hit the final 2 free throws to lead the Celtics to a 139-134 win over the Clippers heading into the All-Star weekend, where Isaiah Thomas will be in the Skills Challenge & the All-Star game.

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The Celtics head into ASW with a 32-23 record which has them sitting 3rd in the Eastern Conference.

Statistics:
Isaiah Thomas – 36 points & 11 assists (11-12 on free throws) Jared Sullinger – 21 points & 11 rebounds Jae Crowder – 19 points & 8 rebounds Evan Turner – 14 points, 6 rebounds & 6 assists Avery Bradley – 18 points Marcus Smart – 17 points
If that was Paul Pierce’s final game in Boston he finished with 6 points, 3 rebounds & an assist, shooting 50% from 3.

Will defense be the theme against Phoenix?

Yesterday, the Celtics pulled off a decisive victory against the Indiana Pacers. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen this level of sustained defensive intensity from the C’s, a key calling card that has been instrumental to the team’s winning ways. The relentless triumvirate of Bradley, Smart and Crowder led the way, and sparked a series of steals and transition baskets that sealed the game.

“We’ve been struggling with that, closing out games,” Smart said (reference). “That was a big point for us tonight was make sure we close out the game. We knew Indiana, what they wanted to do and they were gonna try to push it down our throats and get in the paint and score the ball. We just have to bite our teeth and guard them.”

Onwards, to the Phoenix Suns. Can the Celtics maintain their focus, and close a shaky team out? The Suns struggled mightily this season; they lost 9 of their last 10 games, and stand 13-27 for the season so far. They are tied for 3rd place with the Kings in turnovers per game at 16.6, and commit the 5th highest amount of personal fouls at 21.7 per game. It’s also worth noting that Phoenix surrenders an average of 16 fast break points a game, a mark that is good for second worst in the league.

It’s not hard to imagine what the Suns sound like, when putting all these statistics together. They are a suitable target for Boston’s defensive tendencies, namely an opponent that is on a slump, and could be baited into committing mistakes and giving transition opportunities up.

Let’s not forget the fact that Isaiah Thomas is riding an unbeatable offensive surge right now. He’s averaging 21.6 points this season, but has scored 28, 34 and 35 points in his last three outings. It’s not hard to imagine that his outstanding performance might lead to All-Star candidacy this season.

One might say, things are looking up. Don’t miss tomorrow’s game, as the Celtics take on the Suns at home, 11:30 am AEDT.

Trust in the system, move beyond hero ball

Yesterday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies was in a word, ugly. Despite getting a 35-point, 8-assist night from Thomas, the team still went down hard behind a late Memphis surge.

The team went into the fourth quarter 76-68, with a good chance to grab the road W, but instead surrendered 33 points to the Grizzlies.

Not only were the Celtics out-rebounded, they just could not get their offense going. The C’s only made 6 of their 21 shots in Q4, a putrid 28.6%. Thomas (3/4 FG) and Bradley (2/4 FG) were the only consistent scorers, and let’s not even start with David Lee’s 0 for 6 in his 7 minutes of play (Q4 box score).

After the game, Avery Bradley sounded like the voice of reason, and kept a lid on things. “I won’t say I’m troubled, but the only reason I’m not is because I know it’s correctable. I feel like we need to keep our composure, and in the second half move the ball more.”

Bradley also pointed out one thing that has been a slightly worrisome trend: the penchant to move away from team basketball.

“I feel like the ball doesn’t move in the second half. It’s almost like everyone kind of plays hero basketball and we stop playing team basketball, and that’s not how the Celtics play. We’ll get back to it. I’m not worried about it.”

We have seen occasions when pressure mounts, and the need for points drives the team away from playing the way it needs to. The passing grinds to a halt, the ball gets stuck and we get treated to a fine display of 1-on-1 basketball.

Results justify the means, but the fact is that the team isn’t good enough to play isolation basketball.

Players need to move, the ball needs to flow, and they know it. 61.8% of the team’s field goals are assisted, a decent mark by any measure (Warriors 69.1%, Spurs 62.9%) but there is still a need for trust in team basketball.

We simply cannot afford to play hero ball. You can’t make a case for isolation ball, not when the defending NBA champions make more assists, even with an elite-level isolation player like Stephen Curry.

Trust.

“I know everyone wants to win and play hard for one another. But I know that if we move the ball, we have a better chance at being successful every single time down on the offensive end, and we understand that, we’ll start playing the right way again.”

You know it, AB.

Lakers give Kobe ideal farewell at the Garden

The Celtics would be at home, looking for their 5th straight win against Kobe in his final game in Boston. All the media around the game was for Kobe & rightfully so as he’s been a legend of the game but there is one man the Boston fans should pay their respects to & that is Brandon Bass. Bass was an important part of the Celtics 2012 playoff run & gave everything he had, every night he was on the floor for Boston. Brandon played 245 of a possible 246 regular season games for the Celtics over the 2012-13, 13-14 & 14-15 seasons + all 30 playoff games in 2011/12, 12/13 & 14/15. Brandon Bass felt he had finally found a home in Boston & had some kind words to say before the game.

Kobe got a standing ovation when being introduced but when the game started it was back to business as the crowd booed him every time he touched the ball. The Lakers jumped out to a 9-6 lead before Jae scored an and 1 basket on Kobe to tie the game. Brandon Bass got a loud cheer as he entered the game. Crowder’s 12th point of the quarter + a Turner layup put Boston up 5. Bass grabbed an offensive rebound & got the put back + harm as he cut a Boston 8 point lead down to 1. The Lakers grabbed 7 rebounds of their misses in the first quarter but Boston was able to hold a 3 point lead at the end of 1.

Russell scored 7 straight for the Lakers as they took a 3 point advantage over Boston. The Celtics were playing a sloppy brand of basketball as the Lakers maintained a 4 point lead after half the 2nd quarter had been played. Back to back baskets by Kobe pushed the Lakers to a 7 point lead. The Celtics closed the quarter well but still trailed 58-56 at the half, despite 15 points from Crowder & Kobe shooting just 2-12.

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The emphasis at halftime for Boston was to fix their defence but the Lakers started the 2nd half shooting 2-3 before Boston got consecutive stops that led to a 7-0 run to put us up 3. The Lakers answered with an 8-0 run to force Celtics into a timeout. Los Angeles extended their lead to 14 after back to back baskets by Nick Young. A Marcus Smart put back dunk had the Celtics within 8 but Russell drained a 3 to close out the quarter & have L.A. up 11 with 12 minutes to play

The Celtics fell in love with the three point shot & not many were dropping as the Celtics found themselves still down 12 with only 8:50 remaining. 6 straight points from Evan Turner cut the deficit in half & forced the Lakers into a timeout as they looked to get Kobe back in. Kobe checked back in & immediately scored 5 quick points. Avery Bradley cut the Lakers lead to 2 but as they had done all night, Clarkson responded with 2 big shots that kept the Lakers up 4 with only 2:26 left. Avery forced a steal & scored on the break but Kobe, as he has done for most of his career, hits a clutch 3. Brandon Bass knocked down 2 free throws & the Celtics couldn’t find a way back as the Lakers gave Kobe his ideal farewell in Boston. Celtics dropping this one 112-104.

 

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LeBron, Cavs take down ice cold Boston

After a tough back to back against the Warriors & Hornets where the Celtics went 1-1, they had a few days off before facing LeBron & the Cavs at home.

After how last year’s game 4 ended, in chippy fashion, many expected this game to be very similar. The referees were letting the game play for the most part as Boston jumped out to an 11-6 lead after a Johnson dunk. 7 straight Cleveland points scored by Kevin Love had the game tied back up at 13. The Cavs got out to a 3 point lead before Avery tied it up with a 3 that sparked a little Celtics run to take a 25-23 lead at the end of 1.

The 2nd quarter started with a foul, defensive 3 seconds & a jump ball all in 15 seconds. Some great hustle plays by James Young, most noticeably his rebound over Tristian Thompson & pass to Lee that gave Boston a 3 point lead. LeBron went into attack mode scoring back to back baskets before a little spark by the Celtics, capped off by a Jae Crowder 3 had Boston’s lead at 39-34. The end of the half got chippy as LeBron & Thomas got to the line on back to back trips. Isaiah scored his 10th point in the final second to put Boston up 6 at halftime.

The Celtics started the 2nd half shooting 2-14 as Cleveland went on a 12-0 run to take a 7 point lead. Evan Turner stopped the bleeding for the short time but the Celtics only had 6 points in the quarter as Cleveland had opened up a 62-52 lead but 5 quick points by Avery Bradley cut the deficit in half. Cleveland immediately answered the run as Boston trailed 61-69 at the end of 3.

Olynyk started the 4th with 5 points for Boston but the Celtics couldn’t get stops as Shumpert hit two 3’s & LeBron’s finger roll put them up 13 & forced Boston into a timeout.  A 6-0 Boston run was quickly stomped by Love who scored 5 straight to put Cleveland back up 12. The rest of the quarter was a formality as Cleveland took down the Celtics with an 89-77 win.

Cleveland outscored Boston in the paint 44-24. The Celtics shot 32% from the field, 28% from 3. Avery was Boston’s best scorer finishing with 17.

5 takeaways from the Warriors loss

So, we very nearly got the win, and lost it in double overtime. Is there a medal for moral victories, for being able to hang with the Warriors for this long?

Having missed most of the game live, I went back and caught the full game on replay (gotta love League Pass). Here’s the box score for reference.

Have to say, the team has taken a serious step forward in growth this season. We’re not fully there yet; defensive rotations stutter at times, ATO plays look wonky, and there’s the occasional hero ball (hello there 7-for-22!), especially when the ball stops moving. BUT, we’re making huge strides as far as defense is concerned, and like all of us know by now, it’s got to be a 48 minute operation with all hands on deck. A few lapses could have us earning another loss easily.

First off, top props to Bradley for the first quarter onslaught, and to guys like Crowder, KO, Lee, Turner, Sully and Lee for doing their part. Young too, but more on that later.

1. We got slaughtered on the glass

Box out, people. If we can’t defend our own rebounds, we don’t deserve to win.

The Warriors out-rebounded us this game, 67-51. The differential in defensive rebounding was +10 to Golden State, and they got 17 offensive rebounds.

SEVENTEEN.

I like the number 17 when it refers to the number of championship banners, not the amount of offensive boards we surrendered in a game.

Sidetracking a little, I’m thinking of coach Steven’s spoken preference towards small ball. That in turn calls for a lot of aggressive gang rebounding, something Golden State has been able to accomplish even with their small ball lineup of death.

We have to get this rebounding thing right, before our small ball becomes a real weapon.

2. Transition defense did not exist

21 fast break points for the Warriors, plenty of ill-defended (or even undefended) layups were made.

We can’t afford to give points away like that.

3. The Warriors are a scary outfit

Captain Obvious here, but the point was just highlighted once more this game.

Brandon Rush looked comfortable out there as a starter, and Livingston/Barbosa were playing their roles to perfection. Despite missing two key players in Thompson and Barnes, the Warriors still looked pretty good. Good enough to close the game out anyway.

And of course: Draymond Green who clinched a 5×5 (24 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists, 5 steals, 5 blocks) while chucking 3-pointers, defending guards and forwards with equal ease.

I guess it’s different if Green was the missing player, but seriously, solid contribution from the reserves.

4. Still loving the good times with Mike and Tommy

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I’m not sure how many more seasons we got, but from the bottom of my heart, thanks to you two fine gentlemen for all these years of commentating, it’s been a lot of fun listening to you.

Hey, what can I say? I’m a C’s fan, and I love listening to Celtics homer talk, raging on lousy whistles and the like.

5. Bradley is still getting killed by whistles while playing elite defense

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Yep. That’s a foul, come on. I feel like AB’s earned a reputation over the years for getting quick whistles on his aggressive defense, which in turn has made him less effective.

Nothing we can do about it, but it just frustrates me when he gets quick whistles and loses playing time.


P.S. James Young actually looked better than I thought he would be

He gave good effort on defense and on moving the ball the right way during offense this game.

The numbers look decent too. 5 points on 2/3 shooting, 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in nearly 20 minutes of play? It’s not All-Star, but I’ll take it.

Keep it up Young!

To wrap things up, here’s a moment I thought was pretty fun: IT snatching a rebound away from Bogut, and dishing it out to AB for a quick three.

Onwards to the next game.

Sullinger & Thomas help C’s by the Davis led Pelicans.

The Celtics would be looking to bounce back after a tough loss to the Spurs & close out this 5 game road trip 3-2.

Anthony Davis started the first quarter with 6 straight points for the Pelicans but Isaiah Thomas & Boston were able to keep up the pace taking a 13-10 lead as Davis picked up his 2nd foul early. Anderson & Holiday wouldn’t let the Celtics capitalise without Davis on the floor as 13 points between them had the game tied at 25 apiece.

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The Pelicans had extended the run & had a 32-27 lead when Davis returned to the floor. 3 straight Boston baskets by Olynyk had the game tied again at 38-38. The defence led to offence as Isaiah exploded for 10 points across the final 5 minutes of the half, including 2 3’s that led Boston to a 53-44 lead at the half. Thomas had 19 points on 8-9 shooting while Sullinger kept up his solid season with 10 rebounds.

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The Pelicans started the 2nd half with an and 1 basket through Gee which started a trend of fouls for the next few possessions as New Orleans would shoot 5 free throws in the first 4 minutes. That however didn’t stop Boston from scoring as they had extended the lead to 19 after three straight 3 point baskets from Bradley, Thomas & Crowder. Crowder extended the lead into the 20’s after getting fouled on a 3 point attempt. The Pelicans closed the quarter on a 14-8 run to cut the Celtics lead down to 14.

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The Pelicans cut the lead to 10 before Crowder hit a 3 that sparked a lighting quick 10-2 run by Boston. With less than 5 minutes to play the Celtics had extended the lead to 20 points on the back of 19 rebounds & some stellar defence by Jared Sullinger. The rest of the quarter was just a formality as the Celtics would answer every Pelicans attempted run to take a 111-93 win & finish this tough road trip with a 3-2 record.

Key performances:

Jared Sullinger: 20 rebounds, 11 points, 3 assists & a team high +32
Isaiah Thomas: 22 points (9-13 & 4-4 from 3) 5 assists & 1 steal
Kelly Olynyk: 21 points (8-13, 2-5 from 3 & 3-3FT) 3 assists & 2 steals
Jae Crowder: 17 points
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