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After ‘horrible’ film session, Marcus Smart wants his teammates to start ‘punching back’ on D 11.07.16 at 4:20 pm ET
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Nov 6, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Denver Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) collides with Boston Celtics Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Smart says the Celtics need to get down and dirty on defense. (Bob DeChiara-USA Today Sports)

WALTHAM — Marcus Smart is a man of pride. And when it comes to his game in the NBA, it starts with defense. 

What was on display Sunday night – and for the better part of the season – has hit home with the third-year defensive specialist. 

The Celtics were blown out on the home court Sunday night in 123-107 loss to the Nuggets. They allowed 42 points in the first quarter and trailed 77-52 at the half. From the start, it was not good. 

“We’re just not in it. We’re coming out too cool,” Smart said. “Teams are coming out ready. We’re not sneaking up on nobody this year. We’re the hunted. Everybody is coming out after us and we’re so used to being the guys that are sneaking up on everybody. That’s just not the case this year.

“We played a team that was hungry and was playing with a chip on their shoulder. Their coach ridiculed them and they felt that. They came out ready. They punched us in the mouth and we stood there and took it. Today’s practice was (about) we get punched, we’ve got to be ready to punch back. We’ve got to be ready to be in a boxing match.”

It got so bad that after the game, coach Brad Stevens called his team a finesse team. That might as well be a four-letter word to the ears of Smart. 

“Yeah, we definitely do. That’s definitely a challenge. We’re not a finesse team,” Smart said after Monday’s practice. “We understand that. But we did play finesse the other night. So, he was right to call us that. We’ve got to look ourselves in the mirror and we’ve got to own up to it and take responsibility. The good thing about this sport and any sport, especially basketball, you get to go play another game. We’ve got to throw that game out the window and get ready for Wednesday.” 


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NBA Rumors: 50-50 chance Kings trade star DeMarcus Cousins, according to report 11.07.16 at 12:50 pm ET
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DeMarcus Cousins

DeMarcus Cousins

The NBA season may only be a week old, but it’s never too early for the rumor mill to start churning with news that could impact the Celtics.

First up: According to NBA insider Sam Amico, at least one Western Conference exec believes the Kings are “50-50” to trade center DeMarcus Cousins this season.

“If not, it’s not necessarily because they want to keep him,” the exec added.

The Kings are off to a 3-5 start after Cousins scored 22 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in Sunday’s victory in Toronto. However, according to Amico’s sources, Cousins is such a problem in the locker room, the Kings may eventually have no choice but to move him to a team with strong veteran leadership.

Whether the Celtics could be that team, with Isaiah Thomas and Al Horford, remains to be seen, but they’re in a position to be linked to any high-profile player who becomes available, thanks to two more potential lottery picks from the Nets this year and next.

There’s no questioning Cousins’ talent. The seven-year vet and two-time All-Star has averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds a game for his career, but he has also been suspended multiple times for everything from accumulated technical fouls to insubordination.

“They’ll never get what they want in return,” an East GM told Amico of the Kings. “They think Cousins is worth more than he actually is. He hurts you every bit as much as he helps you. He’s like a cheeseburger, or booze. Too much and you’ll pay a price.”

Read More: Celtics, DeMarcus Cousins, Kings, NBA trade rumors
Brad Stevens on Celtics’ defensive struggles: ‘We play like a finesse team’ 11.07.16 at 12:09 am ET
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Brad Stevens saw his team fix some things in earning their second win of the season. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Brad Stevens says his team needs to sustain its aggressiveness on the defensive end. (Jeremy Brevard/USA Today Sports)

Following their 123-107 loss to the Nuggets on Sunday at TD Garden, Brad Stevens pointed to his team’s physicality — or lack thereof — as the biggest reason why the Celtics have struggled defensively in their first six games of the season.

The Celtics allow an average of 111.8 points a game — they’re second in most points allowed behind the Suns (113.3). Five of their first six opponents of the season have finished with no less than 105 points, as the Celtics (3-3) are now a .500 team. 

“I think we play like a finesse team, and they play physical,” Stevens explained after the Celtics’ loss on Sunday. “So I kind of saw that right out of the gate. You know, they were getting where they wanted to on their drives.”

How far are the Celtics from becoming a top three defensive team?

“I don’t even know if it’s statistically possible based on our week,” Stevens answered. “I don’t even know if you can make it up in 76 games but we can get a lot better. But it starts with holding your ground physically. You know, [Emmanuel] Mudiay goes nuts, that’s fine, but Mudiay also gets two putbacks — or at least one putback early — that gets you going. Makes you feel good about yourself. We brought a little bit of aggressiveness at the start of the third quarter but that wasn’t sustainable.

So, I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. Obviously we’ve got some guys that aren’t playing that will play, but this is about physically holding your ground.”

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Fast Break: Celtics defense exposed again in blowout loss to Nuggets 11.06.16 at 9:54 pm ET
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Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay drives past Avery Bradley during the Celtics' loss Sunday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay drives past Avery Bradley during the Celtics’ loss Sunday night. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Celtics coach Brad Stevens, addressing Boston’s issues on defense this season, told reporters after Saturday’s practice that the team has “slipped in some defensive areas.” In Sunday’s 123-107 loss to the Nuggets, the C’s slipped, skidded, fell off a cliff and crashed into smithereens.

Denver (3-3) had its way from start to finish, shooting 52.4 percent in handing Boston (3-3) its first home loss of the young season.

Nuggets guard Emmanuel Mudiay scorched the Celtics for 24 points in the opening 12 minutes and finished with 30 on 11-of-17 shooting. Wilson Chandler added 22 points, making 8-of-14 shots.

Isaiah Thomas also scored 30 points, but he had to work a lot harder for his, hitting 9-of-17 shots and making 11-of-12 free throws. Avery Bradley contributed 14 points, 11 rebounds and six assists.

Denver was playing its fourth road game in seven days and was coming off a 17-point loss in Detroit the night before. No matter. The Nuggets scored 77 points in the opening half, taking a 25-point lead and sending the Celtics to the locker room amid a smattering of boos from the home crowd. The Nuggets hit 64.4 percent of their shots and outrebounded the Celtics 22-15.

Stevens tried everything, including playing all 12 players on his bench. Jordan Mickey provided a brief spark, getting open underneath for three dunks.

The C’s finally showed signs of life to open the second half, picking up full court, playing their man far more aggressively and boxing out with a purpose. That led to an 8-0 run that included three Denver turnovers, and a spurt that cut the deficit to 15 midway through the period. However, the Nuggets pushed the lead back to 20 heading into the final quarter (103-83) and cruised home from there.

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Fast Break: Celtics come up short vs. LeBron James, Cavaliers 11.03.16 at 10:49 pm ET
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Jaylen Brown defends against Tristan Thompson during Thursday's game. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Jaylen Brown defends against Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson during Thursday’s game in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze/USA Today Sports)

Cleveland’s sports fans were in need of a pick-me-up following the Indians’ Game 7 loss to the Cubs, and on Thursday night the Cavaliers gave it to them, jumping out to a big lead and holding on for a 128-122 win over the short-handed Celtics to remain unbeaten on the young season.

The defending NBA champions (5-0) rained down 3-pointers — 11 of their 13 coming in the first half as they took a 68-51 lead into the break — and loaded up on transition baskets as the C’s struggled to stay close most of the night. Boston (3-2) managed to whittle a 20-point deficit to five points midway through the final quarter after a Jaylen Brown 3-pointer.

The C’s rookie, who made his first career start in place of the injured Jae Crowder and drew the assignment of guarding LeBron James, impressed with 19 points (8-of-16 field goals, including 3-of-6 treys) and was a team-best plus-15.

“I thought he played really hard, obviously made shots and did a lot of good things,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said of Brown in his postgame press conference. “You never expect a guy to make 50 percent of his 3’s every day, right? But I think at the end of the day, if he can bring that same tenacity and that same focus, especially defensively, he can just keep getting better. That’s what you want. So I thought today was a good step in the right direction, for sure.”

Avery Bradley had a big night, scoring 26 points on 11-of-20 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds. Isaiah Thomas netted 28 points, although he missed all six of his 3-point attempts.

James (12-of-22 field goals) scored a game-high 30 points as he closed in on 10th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He now sits at 26,945, one point behind Hakeem Olajuwon. James also had seven rebounds and 12 assists.

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Tyler Zeller doing ‘whatever I need to do’ to help Celtics with Al Horford out 11.03.16 at 12:32 pm ET
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Suffice to say that over the past two-plus seasons, Tyler Zeller has had to be the most flexible member of the Celtics in terms of his minutes.

When he came to the Celtics in 2014, he appeared in every game, starting 59, and averaged 21.1 minutes. The following year he played in 60 games, starting three (which happened to be the first three games of the season), while averaging just 11.8 minutes per game.

But just four games into this season, he was not only called upon to start, but called upon to replace the Celtics’ biggest free agent signing in recent memory in Al Horford.

“It’s good. I started a lot two years ago, last year was a little weird, but just being able to come in, try and do as much as I can to help this team win,” Zeller said. “Play hard, rebound, defend, whatever I need to do, but really just try to fit in with these guys.”

Zeller played 24:45 minutes in the Celtics’ 107-100 win against the Bulls on Wednesday, going 5-for-11 from the field for 11 points. He grabbed four rebounds and managed a steal in the process as well.

The 26-year-old occasionally looked lost in the early going, especially against a Bulls team that dominated the Celtics on the glass 55-36 in their first meeting last Thursday. But he settled in, most notably throwing down a dunk over Robin Lopez — who had been dominating him on the glass for the most part — in transition.

The Celtics ultimately lost the rebounding battle 49-39, but it was a step in the right direction after getting dismantled a week prior.

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Amir Johnson flashes different dimension of his game with 4 treys in Wednesday’s win 11.03.16 at 11:21 am ET
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Amir Johnson

Amir Johnson

In a tilt against the Bulls on Wednesday night that taught a lot about the Celtics, arguably the biggest lesson was one that not many people would expect.

Amir Johnson can shoot from the perimeter.

Now, maybe it’s a bit premature to start throwing him in with the likes of Peja Stojakovic, but the 6-foot-9 veteran showed a different dimension of his game than previously seen during his first year and change with the Celtics.

He attempted (and missed) one other 3-pointer this season, but after going 4-for-4 from deep, he now qualifies for league leader considerations in 3-point percentage. And believe it or not, he leads the league with an .800 3-point percentage.

“I don’t think I was on the scouting report for ‘Running Amir off the line,’ ” Johnson joked following the game. “It was just a good night for me.”

That’s not to say it will stay that way — because in all likelihood it won’t — but after Johnson almost never ventured out to the perimeter with the Pistons, but then wandered out more in his time with the Raptors, it probably shouldn’t be a total surprise he’s capable of pulling the trigger from downtown.

“I’m always able to shoot,” Johnson said. “Guys can shoot in the league. It’s just in our offense, you know? I try to always play team ball. I’m a very unselfish player. I look to pass first, but I was able to just find open spots and knock down shots within our offense.

“I prefer to roll and get that soft touch, but if guys are just laying off and giving me that much time, like [Robin Lopez] likes to sit in the paint, then I’m going to shoot the ball.”

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