|12.01.14 at 12:57 pm ET|
The defending champions came into Boston on Sunday and blew the doors off of the struggling, young Celtics. The Spurs scored 66 points in the second half en route to a 22-point victory after the C’s led by four points at the break. It was a dominant performance, and Brad Stevens took notice.
“I told the guys in the locker room, it’s probably the best basketball team that I’ve seen in my adult lifetime, as far as how they’re coached, how they play, their understanding, their roles,” the Celtics coach said. “And you can hear them walking back in their locker room. There’s a reason they’re really good. They’ve built a bond and a trust that is very special.”
Stevens has admired the Spurs since he joined the league following the Spurs’ Game 7 loss to the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals. He often spoke of them as a model of success, and then even more so after the Spurs were able to dethrone the Heat in convincing fashion in 2014. During draft workouts and summer league practices in Waltham this past offseason, Stevens seemingly was obsessed with finding anything he could steal from Gregg Popovich to incorporate into success for the Celtics.
The 38-year-old Stevens even reached out to the 65-year-old Popovich to pick his brain — something the Spurs coach was asked about before Sunday’s game.
“He didn’t find much,” Popovich offered (with his typical smirk while speaking with media members).
“It’s both flattering and embarrassing [that Stevens looks up to the Spurs], in a way,” Popovich added. “We’ve been so fortunate over the years with the people we’ve had. As I’ve said often, who wouldn’t want to follow David [Robinson] by drafting Tim Duncan and go from there. Your biggest job is not to screw it up. And we haven’t, we have not screwed it up. That’s the credit that we deserve. But that good fortune, anybody would like to start a program that way. I’m flattered by what he said. We do try and do things in a certain way. I think a lot of the things we do are pretty universal, but we make mistakes, too.”
|11.30.14 at 3:31 pm ET|
After another collapse at home on Friday, the Celtics played their second afternoon game of the holiday weekend against the Spurs on Sunday at the TD Garden. Similar to Friday, the Celtics dropped another one in which they remained competitive until late. This time, however, the Spurs’ hot second half led to a 111-89 victory for the road team.
The Celtics high man was Jeff Green with 16 points. He was one of five Celtics in double figures, while Tyler Zeller ripped down 10 rebounds. The Spurs also had five players in double figures, led by Danny Green with 18 points. San Antonio had much deeper contributions than Boston, though, as 10 of their players scored five or more points.
Here are five things we learned in another home loss for the Celtics:
BRAD STEVENS IS NOT AFRAID TO PLAY MATCHUPS
Stevens told the media prior to the game that Zeller would be getting the start at center over the struggling Kelly Olynyk.
The coach felt that the decision was based more on a need for Zeller in this particular game more than anything. When asked why the choice to start Zeller was made, Stevens simply responded, “Defending Tim Duncan would be the obvious answer.”
Although the move may last only one game, Stevens didn’t close the door on Zeller remaining in the starting lineup in the future.
“I look at this as a very temporary thing,” Stevens said before tip-off. “I don’t look at this as a full-time thing, nor do I look at it as something that our guys will over-blow. I just think it makes sense today and we’ll reevaluate things on Tuesday.”
The move may not have paid off exactly how Stevens wanted it too right away — Duncan had six points and two rebounds in the first quarter. However, Zeller was able to neutralize him in a sense, finishing with four points and five rebounds of his own.
In the end, the matchup was almost meaningless. Duncan played only 24 minutes and scored 14 points, while Zeller played only 18 minutes before finding himself on the court during garbage time.
THE CELTICS PLAYED DEFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF
The Celtics entered Sunday’s game ranked 28th in the NBA in opponent points per game, giving up 107.3 through 13 games. It’s safe to say that defense has been a struggle for Boston all season long.
Sunday was a different story. The Celtics kept the Spurs to 45 points in the first half, but it was how they did it that was most impressive. The C’s forced 10 turnovers in the half, blocked four shots and held San Antonio to 39.5 percent shooting. The second quarter swung the game significantly, as the Spurs shot just 29.4 percent and committed seven of their turnovers. The Celtics were able to outscore the Spurs in the second quarter by seven points, 27-20.
THE CELTICS DIDN’T PLAY DEFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF
After managing just 20 points in the previous quarter, the Spurs came out and scored 17 in the first six minutes of the third. San Antonio finished the period scoring 33 points, just 12 fewer than they had in the entire first half.
Even if you are good enough to stop the Spurs for a portion of the game, they also brought the league’s best defense to town, allowing only 92.7 points per game. Still …
THE CELTICS FOUND WAYS TO SCORE ON THE LEAGUE’S BEST DEFENSE FOR THREE QUARTERS
As they have all season, the Celtics found ways to score the ball. Through three quarters, the Celtics put up 73 points on 44 percent shooting — not great, but not bad. It was enough to keep the Celtics in the game (along with their early defense), as the Spurs shot 44 percent through three quarters as well. An 18-4 Boston run in the second quarter showed what they are capable of when playing their best on both ends of the floor.
However, as we know, basketball is a sport where you play four quarters. The fourth one can be tricky for these Celtics.
THE CELTICS LET ANOTHER ONE SLIP AWAY IN THE FOURTH QUARTER
As they have against the Raptors, Thunder, Cavaliers, Suns, Blazers, Bulls, and now Spurs, the Celtics lost a home game that was close in the fourth quarter.
All seven of those loses have either gone down to the wire, or have been winnable at the start of the fourth quarter on the Celtics’ home floor. Good teams win games in situations like that. Even bad teams win some of those games. But the Celtics couldn’t find a way to win any of them.
Boston only managed 16 fourth quarter points, while the Spurs scored 33 again, as they had in the third quarter. The Spurs’ 66 second half points are everything that is wrong with how the Celtics have played at home this year.
The Celtics have shown they have potential this season. None of it will matter until they prove they can close out a tight game at home.
|11.28.14 at 10:27 pm ET|
Winners go for the jugular. Losers allow victory to slip through their hands.
Unfortunately, for Brad Stevens, he’s seeing much too much of the slipping and not enough killer instinct, with Friday’s 109-102 loss to the Bulls the latest example.
There’s a common, unsettling theme developing between Stevens’ rookie season of 25 wins and this season. The Celtics‘ coach watched Friday as a 16-point second-quarter lead evaporated. He then saw his team bounce back as they have so many times this season, taking an 81-72 lead late in the third quarter.
Was Friday finally going to be one of those rare days where the Celtics show the mental toughness to hang on for a quality win like they did on Nov. 8 in Chicago against these same Bulls?
Nope. Not when you shoot 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) in the final quarter, score 11 points, miss all eight 3-point attempts and convert just one of five free throws. The Celtics, like they did against Toronto, Oklahoma City and Cleveland just crumbled on their own parquet floor.
“I felt good coming into the game,” Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about it. Hey, we scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
After his team fell to 4-9 on the season, losing for the fifth time in six games, Stevens was asked if he’s starting to question what he’s doing based on all the losing.
“We can win by 30 and I’m questioning me,” Stevens said. “This has nothing to do with [score]. I don’t change game to game, as far as my own analysis or being overly critical or any of those types of things.”
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|11.28.14 at 3:25 pm ET|
Another big first half lead. Another would-be win turned into a loss as the Celtics were outscored 24-11 in the fourth quarter and fell to the Chicago Bulls, 109-102, Friday afternoon in a matinee contest at TD Garden. Jimmy Butler hit four key free throws while the Celtics went ice cold from the field as Boston fell to 4-9 on the season. The Bulls, who outscored the Celtics, 55-42 in the second half, gained a measure of revenge for Boston’s stunning win in Chicago earlier in the month.
Jared Sullinger led the Celtics with 23 points and 10 rebounds while Avery Bradley added 18 points. Rajon Rondo finished just two points, three rebounds and one assist shy of a triple-double but missed two key free throws late as the Celtics lost for the fifth time in six games.
“I felt good coming into the game,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I felt good about what we did at the end of the game. I’m not going to lose too much sleep over the ball not going in the basket. I’ll go back and re-watch the execution and the defensive possessions and those types of things, but I felt pretty good about, We scored 102 points on Chicago and that’s with an 11-point quarter. So we’re doing a lot of good things, but we’ve got to finish. It’s the difference between winning and losing.”
The game was highly entertaining, with plenty of back-and-forth.
Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose (hamstring) both overcame nagging injuries to start the game but it was an aggressive Celtics‘ dose of Bradley and Sullinger that proved to be painful for the visitors early on. Bradley hit his first three shots while Sullinger connected on three of his first four as the Celtics built a 16-point lead (54-38) midway through the second quarter.
But the Bulls finished the first half on a 16-6 run to cut it to 60-54 at the half. Brandon Bass came off the bench to score 11 points and haul in six rebounds to power Boston while Pau Gasol had 11 points to lead the Bulls.
The Bulls continued their charge in the third quarter, Rose connected on a three just four minutes into the third to tie the game, 68-68. Jimmy Butler’s 15-foot pull-up jumper gave Chicago its first lead since 6-4, capping a 16-8 run to open the second half.
The Celtics regained a measure of control late in the third quarter, going on a 15-6 spurt. Bradley scored the final 10 points in the run for Boston, which led 83-76 on Bradley’s layup with 1:54 left in the period.
The Bulls closed the Celtics‘ lead to 91-85 heading into the fourth quarter. Boston would shoot just 5-of-26 (19.2 percent) in the final 12 minutes, scoring just 11 points.
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|11.26.14 at 4:37 pm ET|
The Celtics‘ main focus during their practices on Wednesday and Thursday will be on preparing to battle a tough Bulls team when Chicago arrives in Boston for a Black Friday matinee. However, a share of the spotlight will be on Marcus Smart’s return to practice, with the hope that he can suit up after missing seven games with a sprained left ankle.
“It’s just a matter of him getting back out here, and it’s more about conditioning than it is about anything else right now,” offered Brad Stevens. “Just because he hasn’t done anything on the court physically, as far as five-on-five in the last three weeks, or whatever it’s been.”
One thing the team certainly will not do is rush Smart, especially after Avery Bradley attempted to return prematurely from an ankle injury just last season.
“I don’t know [if Bradley can offer Smart any help on returning],” Stevens said. “Again, I trust our medical team and medical staff, and I think that Marcus and Avery, I’m sure, will share that discussion and talk about that. We don’t want anybody to come back before they’re physically able, because, obviously, you don’t want to put yourself in a bad spot.”
Bradley knows he put himself in a bad spot last year, so his advice to Smart was simple.
“It’s tough. This is his first year. Obviously he wants to help our team out and he’s a little disappointed that he hasn’t been able to every single game,” Bradley said. “He’s back, but one thing everyone’s been telling him is just make sure that your body feels good, listen to your body.”
|11.26.14 at 1:21 pm ET|
In the NBA, the worst place to be is the middle of the pack. If you are not contending for a championship or tanking, in my mind, you are not relevant. Because of this, each week I will rank the top five and bottom five teams in the league. The rankings are based entirely on my own observations and opinions, so please feel free to call me names in the comments section.
1. Warriors (11-2)
You’ve got Draymond Green playing out of his mind, Mo Speights calling Kendrick Perkins terrible, Steph Curry emerging as a legitimate MVP candidate. I have waited for too long, but now I am making it official. I’m locking in the Warriors, they officially are one of my five League Pass teams.
Side note: I enjoy everything Kirk Goldsberry does. His charts always have been fascinating, but now he is doing videos. Game over, Internet Basketball Folk, he wins.
2. Raptors (12-2)
There is a dearth of productive big men, especially in the Eastern Conference. If Jonas Valanciunas can does this night in and night out, the entire league better watch out. The idea of facing the three-headed monster of Valanciunas, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry in the playoffs is absolutely terrifying.
3. Grizzlies (12-2)
This team is incredibly efficient and very, very boring. Talented frontcourt men Marc Gasol and Z-Bo not only play tough defense, but they pass the ball better than any other big man combo I can remember. I don’t know if the Grizz can sustain this success, but they certainly have enough gumption and mental toughness. Last week half the team went down with a stomach virus, yet the Grizzlies didn’t miss a beat.
|11.24.14 at 5:48 pm ET|
PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Red Claws won their first two home games this past weekend, narrowly beating the Canton Charge, 94-90, on Friday night and blowing out the Delaware 87ers, 120-102, on Sunday.
On Friday, the Red Claws struggled early to defend Alex Kirk, the Charge’s 7-footer from New Mexico who finished with a double-double, amassing 22 points and 10 rebounds. After a back-and-forth game that included 17 lead changes in the third quarter, Maine took control in the fourth by increasing its defensive pressure and limiting turnovers. Christian Watford hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 25 seconds left to put the Red Claws ahead, as the team finished on a 13-2 run.
On Sunday the Red Claws added Celtics first-round-draft pick James Young to the starting lineup. Young, who was assigned to the Red Claws early Sunday morning, played 33 minutes and scored 22 points in his second D-League game. Young shot 7-of-15 from the field, including 3-for-8 from beyond the arc. While Young has put up impressive scoring numbers in each of his two D-League appearances, he has yet to dominate at the lower level. Before Young can crack the Celtics rotation, expect him to play a handful of more games in Vacationland. (For a more thorough analysis of Young’s performance on Sunday, check out Jay King’s excellent piece here.)
NOTES FROM CRUSTACEAN NATION
Celtics trickle down — Scott Morrison definitely has mastered Brad Stevens‘ system. The Red Claws play at a very high pace, and Morrison often can be heard yelling at his players to push the ball. At any moment, any member of the Red Claws is liable to take a shot, especially if it is a 3-pointer. The Red Claws, following a D-League trend, attempted an astounding 35 treys against the 87ers, knocking down 18. And the Red Claws players shared the wealth, as on Friday five players scored in double figures, while on Sunday four players notched over 10 points while four others had nine.
Familiar faces lead the way — If the Celtics are looking for depth later in the season, expect them to turn to some familiar faces. Tim Frazier and Christian Watford, training camp invitees for the big league club, played big minutes for the Red Claws and at times looked like the best players on the court. Frazier needs to work on his ball control, as he struggled early with turnovers. Watford did a good job defending bigger opponents, but it remains to be seen if this would translate to the NBA. Chris Babb, who played 14 games for the Celtics last year, looked liked the most polished player, displaying controlled intensity, especially on the defensive end.
Minor leagues are fun — Minor league sports are awesome. Catching a game at the Portland Expo Center is just downright fun. There isn’t a bad seat in the house, and concessions are incredibly inexpensive. Like any good minor league sports team, the Red Claws had the perfect amount of in-game distractions. Over the weekend, there was a ferocious basketball musical chairs competition, a 2-year-old girl buckling under the pressure of a mini dunk contest, and a performance of 30 unicycling jugglers.
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