|Blazers blow by defenseless C’s||11.15.13 at 9:49 pm ET|
Before Friday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens said any success on the upcoming road trip would rely on his team’s ability to play defense against some of the elite teams of the Western Conference.
If Friday night is any indication, they could be in for a long trip.
Nicolas Batum connected on 4-of-9 from 3-point range and finished with 18 points while LaMarcus Aldridge added a team-high 27 points and 12 rebounds to pace the Blazers to a 109-96 win over the Celtics Friday night at TD Garden.
The Celtics held Portland to just 8-of-22 shooting in the first quarter but still trailed, 23-21, heading into the second quarter.
But the second quarter was a different story as the Blazers started extending the Celtics defense and took 10 3-pointers, making four. The Celtics stayed close, shooting 64.3 percent, making 9-of-14 from the field. Vitor Faverani had all nine of his points in the quarter as the Celtics trailed 57-51 at the half.
Another huge factor in the game was the early foul trouble of Kelly Olynyk. The rookie was whistled for his third personal foul with 4:39 left in the second quarter and picked up his fourth just 29 seconds into the third quarter.
“Unfortunately, Kelly got the Sully treatment tonight,” joked Sullinger after the game, referring to the foul trouble Sullinger had in his rookie season last year.
The rough defense continued in the second half as the Blazers outscored the Celtics, 33-27, in the third quarter, led by 11 from Aldridge. Portland scored the last six points of the quarter to take a 90-78 lead into the final quarter.
The Celtics made it a seven-point game early in the fourth on back-to-back threes from Jared Sullinger and Courtney Lee but could get no closer. Sullinger led Boston with 26 points and eight rebounds in 36 minutes off the Boston bench.
Jeff Green (14) and Jordan Crawford (11) were the only other Celtics in double figures.
After winning four straight to even their record at 4-4, the 4-6 Celtics have lost their last two – both at home – and now head out on the road for a three-game road trip that begins Saturday night in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. They play Tuesday in Houston before wrapping up the swing on Wednesday in San Antonio against the Spurs.
The Blazers improved to 7-2 on the season.
As the Celtics embark on a four game/six night stretch, Brad Stevens is looking forward to the opportunity to see some of the Western Conference’s elite clubs. He is fully aware that his team will need to extremely sharp on the defensive end to keep their head above water against this type of elite type of competition.
“We’re going to have to be outstanding on the defensive end to have a chance to win these games,” said Stevens. “There’s no question about it. It’s one of those deals where you’re playing teams that you’ve got to play well against to have a chance to win. Defensively, every detail matters, every effort play matters, everything adds up.”
The Portland TrailBlazers, Minnesota Timberwolves, Houston Rockets, and San Antonio Spurs all present a multitude of challenges, yet the one consistent is an explosive guard and a dominating presence inside the post. Portland’s Damian Lillard/LaMarcus Aldridge precedes Minnesota’s Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love, and the beat goes on in Texas with the likes of James Harden, Dwight Howard, Tony Parker, and Tim Duncan.
“I watched a few of our preseason games,” Stevens said, “just to kind of get a gauge of if they’re improving at the rate we’d like them to, and they’ve improved quite a bit defensively. Offensively, we’ve had our moments. I think we’ve improved, maybe more so, just because of our shifts and rotations. We still have a long way to go. We’re getting a lot better on the basketball. We were a lot better at defending the paint, even though we got back cut a few times in the first half [against Charlotte]. We’ve been good all year defending the 3-point line, knock on wood, so I think it’s one of those deals where we’ve got some strengths to us. But we’ve got to foul less and we’ve got to make sure we’re as good defending the post as we possibly can.”
Without Rajon Rondo, the Celtics lack a true NBA superstar yet still present a balanced team. The roster is full of capable players at the offensive end, so when the C’s move the ball, they can get a lot of people involved.
In order to be successful in this upcoming trip, they will need to continue to play hard defensively, remaining active on the ball and creating steals. Without a true point guard, the Celtics understand the value of scoring in transition. The biggest surprise this season is the team’s ability to move the basketball on offense. Stevens has this team moving the ball from side-to-side and playing an enjoyable brand of team basketball. Any time a team that moves the ball, that presents a major challenge. Another bonus for these upcoming games is the return of post presence Jared Sullinger, who the Celtics missed desperately with right knee soreness during this past Wednesday night’s loss to the Bobcats.
“We’re not as good on the block [without Sullinger], obviously,” confirmed Stevens. “Throwing it into the post [Monday] night against Orlando, we went on a 4-0 run when we were down [by] throwing him the ball. He gives us a little more flexibility playing inside-out, and that’s been when we’ve been at our best. He is probably our best low post player.”
Beginning with tonight’s game against the Blazers, the Celtics will have an opportunity to show the league their early success is no fluke, but instead the result of hard work and the team buying into the Stevens system.
|MarShon Brooks: ‘I don’t have a role’||11.14.13 at 12:55 am ET|
As the Celtics failed to shoot 40 percent for the second time in a week, one of the few players on the roster capable of creating his own shot watched from the bench for the eighth time in nine games.
Admittedly, MarShon Brooks is frustrated. He’s played seven minutes all season and none since being on the floor for a 13-1 run that erased a double-digit deficit against the Pistons two weeks ago. Other than that, he’s been a DNP.
“I’m trying not to get frustrated, because I know my time’s going to come,” said Brooks, “and if I’m frustrated, then I’m playing against myself, so all I can do is just stay in shape and be ready.
“Right now, I’m not playing at all. I don’t have a role. I’m just cheering right now, trying to cheer my teammates on and let them know what I see. That’s about it.”
Brooks isn’t complaining. He would’ve been content letting Jeff Green in the next locker over answer all the questions after the C’s first loss in five games. Brooks was just being honest. The Providence product started 47 games and dropped 12.6 points a night for the Nets during his rookie campaign two years ago. Any player, especially one who tasted individual success so early, would crave playing time again on a young team.
“What goes through my head? I just want to go in,” said Brooks. “And then from there, I’ll just take care of my business, man. When my opportunity comes, I’m going to try to go out there, just be solid, not do too much and just play ball. I’ll run into points. I’m just going to play hard on defense. The scoring will come.”
Of course, Brooks understands the flip side of the NBA coin. Once the Nets acquired Deron Williams and Joe Johnson for their move to Brooklyn, he took a backseat. His minutes were slashed in half, and his production went with it. The trade to the Celtics seemed like a fresh start full of opportunity that just hasn’t presented itself yet.
“It’ll come,” said Brooks. “I’ll have my opportunity to play. It’s a long season.”
|Fast Break: Big Al’s Bobcats end Celtics win streak||11.13.13 at 10:05 pm ET|
The Bobcats clawed their way to a double-digit lead in the first five minutes, and while the Celtics climbed within two in the game’s final minute, they never regained the lead. Charlotte walked off the Garden floor with an 89-83 victory, snapped the C’s four-game winning streak and ended their short-lived tenure atop the Atlantic Division.
Jeff Green‘s 19 points led the Celtics (4-5), but he added just one rebound and zero assists to that line. Jordan Crawford (16 points), Gerald Wallace and Courtney Lee (10 apiece) also reached double figures on a night the C’s shot just 38 percent as a team. Kelly Olynyk grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Live by the Crawford: After submitting his finest performance in a Celtics uniform on Monday — a line of 16 points, 10 assists and zero turnovers against the Magic that brought the “better without Rondo” folks out of the woodwork — it took all of 64 seconds for Crawford to commit his first turnover against the Bobcats. The de facto point guard improved in the second half, as did the Celtics. He finished with six assists and two turnovers.
Digging a hole: Meanwhile, the Bobcats backcourt wreaked havoc early, jumping out to a 22-12 lead on 9-of-11 shooting in the first 7:21 and sucking the life out of an already quiet Garden crowd. Charlotte guards Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson either scored or assisted on seven of those nine buckets, feeding Al Jefferson for eight early points. As a result, Stevens yanked Crawford, Bradley and Brandon Bass in favor of Phil Pressey, Lee and Kris Humphries — who helped trim the deficit to six by the end of the first quarter.
Big Al: Add Jefferson to the list of talented bigs who carved up the C’s interior defense. He finished with 22 points and 11 boards. Likewise, the Celtics allowed double-digit offensive rebounds for the seventh time in nine games. Vitor Faverani and Kelly Olynyk helped keep the C’s from completely getting wiped off the boards.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Puncher’s chance: As has been the custom under Brad Stevens, the Celtics didn’t fold. Trailing by 16 midway through the second quarter, Green scored eight points during a 15-4 run that slashed Charlotte’s lead to five. Green came in shooting 4-of-5 from the right corner and 21-of-33 in the restricted area — his two most efficient locations — and did his damage from those spots in keeping the C’s within striking distance.
Vitor fever: For much of the game, Faverani was the lone Celtics player in the plus/minus black, and he was in double digits. One of few C’s interested in banging on the boards, he successfully got under the skin of just about everyone in Charlotte’s frontcourt while contributing seven points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes off the bench.
Defending their life: While the offense struggled mightily, the Celtics kept themselves in the game on the defensive end, holding the Bobcats to 37 percent from the field. Bradley racked up five fouls chasing Walker, holding Charlotte’s point guard to three points (1-13 FG). The rest of the Bobcats shot 42 percent.
|Irish Coffee: A look at Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and the 18 prospects Danny Ainge scouted in Chicago||at 12:07 pm ET|
When word got out that Danny Ainge attended Tuesday night’s Champions Classic in Chicago — an event that featured the likely top three players in the 2014 NBA draft and four of college basketball’s best five teams — the Celtics president’s presence brought out the Riggin’ for Wiggins folks in full force.
While Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Julius Randle didn’t disappoint, combining for 76 points (65 TS%) and 30 rebounds, the reality is those two games (Kansas 94, Duke 83; Michigan State 78, Kentucky 74) featured as many as 18 picks in June’s draft. Ainge would be a fool not to show up. Here are the stat lines he saw from those 18 players in order of performance — complete with each prospect’s mixtape and a link to his DraftExpress profile.
18. Tarik Black SR PF Kansas (6 MIN): 0 PTS, 1 REB, 3 PF
|Fast Break: Balanced Celtics effort stops the Magic||11.11.13 at 9:52 pm ET|
Seven Celtics scored in double figures as they shot 60 percent as a team and stopped the Magic, 120-105.
Avery Bradley led the way with 24 points; Jeff Green, Jordan Crawford and Kelly Olynyk each netted 16; Courtney Lee dropped 12 and Brandon Bass contributed 10 in a balanced effort that improved the C’s record to .500 (4-4) for the first time in the Brad Stevens era.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
The Steez knees: Believe it or not, Crawford actually looked like a point guard. Submitting by far his best half of basketball in a Celtics uniform, he reached triple-double watch by halftime: 12 points (5-7 FG), six assists and four rebounds. More importantly, he entered the break with zero turnovers in 17 first-half minutes and owned the C’s best plus/minus number (+13) in staking them to a 59-50 advantage.
On the range: Bradley’s jumper from 15-19 feet has steadily improved since his rookie season, rising from to 26 percent in 2010-11 to 41 percent in his sophomore season and 44 percent last year. After knocking down his first three attempts from that range against the Magic — and finishing 7-of-9 on long 2′s — he’s started 13-of-24 (54 percent) from that range this season. Avery Bradley is officially a shooting guard.
Kelly O’Sully: By replacing Vitor Faverani in the starting lineup, Brad Stevens broke up the unselfishly entertaining Olynyk-Sullinger frontcourt combination that had helped produce 105.1 points per 100 possessions through the first seven games. And the two talented young bigs responded by providing consistent production throughout a thorough dismantling of the Magic, totaling 30 points on remarkable 14-of-18 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds, eight assists, three blocks and three steals as Jelly Sullynyk.
|Stat Man: Brad Stevens’ post-timeout brilliance||at 1:48 pm ET|
It was quite a week for Brad Stevens. Seven days ago, his Celtics dropped to 0-4 and rose to the top of ESPN’s Tank Rank. Now, his C’s are riding a three-game win streak punctuated by a pair of plays in the span of 3.6 seconds against the two-time defending NBA champions that emphatically announced the coach’s arrival.
In the final moments of Saturday’s Heat upset, Stevens concocted a pair of post-timeout plays that offered the first NBA glimpse of the brilliance that everyone who knew him at Butler has raved about for the past four months.
The first: Since Shane Battier had previously fronted Gerald Wallace in the post, Stevens called for Jeff Green to lob an entry pass to Wallace under the basket for a layup that cut a four-point deficit in half with one second left.
And second: Weighing the risk of throwing crosscourt against the reward of potentially freeing up a shooter where LeBron James might sag defensively, Stevens called for Wallace to return the favor, lobbing an entry pass to Green in the far corner for a 3-pointer that beat the buzzer. Both seemingly made more brilliant by the fact Dwyane Wade made the youth basketball mistake of missing the rim entirely on a free throw attempt between them.
During his tenure in Boston, Doc Rivers was rightfully praised for his post-timeout play calls, but he also had Paul Pierce to help him look good despite so often calling the same isolation elbow jumper. Stevens doesn’t have that luxury and requires a bit more creativity in engineering scoring opportunities for a team without a playmaker.
In the aftermath of the two most remarkable play calls during Stevens’ brief NBA coaching career, now seems as good a time as any to examine the Celtics coach’s success in post-timeout situations.