Celtics-Magic review: C's bench big part of win

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Celtics-Magic review: C's bench big part of win

ORLANDO, Fla. Points are starting to pile up for the Boston Celtics' second unit.

More important than that, the C's bench is developing into a difference-making unit that the players envisioned them becoming prior to the start of the season.

Boston's Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo all played a pivotal role in Boston's 116-110 overtime win over Orlando.

But once again it was the Celtics' backups that propelled them to victory. They combined to score 36 points - the second straight game of 30-plus points from the second unit.

That kind of offensive production will bode well on nights like Sunday when the Celtics had to overcome some second-half struggles which turned a comfortable cushion into a game that was too close for comfort down the stretch and for most of the overtime session.

"It does build character and you do as a team, young and old, you do get better and you learn something from it," said Boston's Kevin Garnett.

Leandro Barbosa had 11 of his 15 points off the bench during his first three minutes on the floor. Jared Sullinger had 11 points along with six rebounds - all on the offensive glass.

And although Jeff Green only had one point scored, he too was among the players head coach Doc Rivers was pleased with following the C's victory.

"Jeff played great, he just didn't score," Rivers said. "He blocked shots, rebounded, just played a good floor game for us. He missed some makeable shots, but you can't do anything about that."

Boston's bench play was instrumental in their victory. Here are some other keys identified prior to the game and how they ultimately played out for the C's.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: There's always a delicate balance that has to be struck by the Celtics in generating points but not getting into a shoot-out. It would certainly bode well for Boston to take advantage of an Orlando team that's next-to-last in scoring (90.2) this season. But consider this: The Magic are 4-0 this season when scoring 100 or more points in a game.

WHAT WE SAW: Even though Boston was sporting a double-digit lead thorughout chunks of the second and third quarters, Orlando was way too comfortable offensively in getting the shots it wanted. That ultimately blew up in the C's face in the third quarter when the Magic mounted a rally and went up by as many as seven points. But Boston's defense clamped down, doubling up Orlando's scoring in the final 8:07 of the fourth quarter (14-7) before pulling it out in overtime by limiting Orlando to just 3-for-13 shooting.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Brandon Bass vs.  Glen Davis: It's one thing for childhood friends to make it to the NBA. But to be traded for one another? Small world indeed. Bass' scoring numbers are down this season, but that's in part because of the C's need for him to do more work defensively. Meanwhile, Davis is getting plenty of shots which as the Celtics know all too well, isn't necessarily a good thing.

WHAT WE SAW: These childhood friends each had strong games for their respective teams. Bass' rebounding was a major factor for the Celtics who out-rebounded the Magic by nine. In addition to his team-high 12 rebounds, Bass also had 13 points and two assists. Davis did not shoot the ball particularly well (3-for-12), but had 15 points fueled by a 9-for-10 night from the free throw line. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out three assists to go along with three steals.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jeff Green was impressive with a season-high 17 points against his former team (Oklahoma City) on Friday night. But can he do it against an opponent where there's no added motivation to play well? His versatility makes him a tough cover for the Magic, and you can bet the Celtics will do what they can to take advantage of this.

WHAT WE SAW: Green had a horrible night shooting the ball (he missed all nine of his shot attempts), but he nonetheless contributed to the victory with his defense and rebounding. "He ... played a good floor game for us," Rivers said. "He missed some makable shots, but you can't do anything about that."

STAT TO TRACK: One day of rest is apparently all the Boston Celtics need this season. They come into tonight's game with a record of 4-1 this season when there's a day off in between games. To give that some perspective, consider this: The 2007-2008 championship team won 75.4 percent (49-16 record) of its games played with one day off in between games.

WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics keep their one day off to win stretch of play, intact. With Sunday's win, Boston improves its record in games played with a day off prior to playing, to 5-1.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.