Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

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Celtics-Thunder preview: C's must play 'smart' defense

BOSTON There appears to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the Boston Celtics' biggest problem right now, which is figuring out how to squeeze a few more wins under their belt.

The numbers don't lie.

Holding opponents to less than a 100 points is as close as there is to a guaranteed C's win.

Boston comes into tonight's game against Oklahoma City as a .500 team with a record of 6-6.

But in games in which their opponent has scored less than 100 points, the Celtics are an impressive 6-1.

That has a nice ring to it, huh?

It sounds pretty easy to do as well.

But when it comes to the Boston Celtics this season, nothing is nearly as simple or easy to come by as it might appear to be.

Boston has lost three of its last four games, giving up triple digit points in each defeat.

And for all the talent Danny Ainge assembled this summer, this group for whatever reasons is just not clicking defensively.

"We pride ourselves on defense," said Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo. "And we're just not getting it done."

The C's are having the kind of defensive breakdowns and miscommunications that you seldom see from a Doc Rivers-coached team, even this early in the season.

Rivers is doing his best to put on a brave face and not let the defensive problems sour his mood too much, or come across as though it's something he's extremely worried about.

He reiterates that the issue isn't so much effort as much as it is execution.

"We've got to do our coverages better; bottom line," Rivers said. "(Talk about playing) harder and all that, that sounds great. That's what everyone says when you lose; 'you've got to play harder.' Well, we've got to play smarter, we have to know our coverages better, and when that happens everybody is on the same page and it allows our rotations to be freer, it allows our bigs to get back to the paint."

Keeping a scoring lid of sorts on Oklahoma City - the league's No. 2 scoring club averaging 103 points per game - will be important in Boston's quest to get back on a winning track. Here are a few other keys to victory for the C's.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The Thunder are used to jumping on teams and not looking back. They average 26.3 points scored in the first quarter this season which is the fifth-highest scoring average in the league, while limiting opponents to just 21.8 points.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Rajon Rondo vs. Russell Westbrook: Both are among the NBA's best point guards, while getting the job done in their own unique but highly effective way. Rondo and the C's are doing their best to take some of the attention off his double-digit assists streak which is a good thing considering the C's are a .500 club and all the talk should be more about winning than ways in which Rondo can continue to rack up 10 or more assists every night.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Paul Pierce needs to play better in every sense of the word if the C's are to have any shot against the Thunder. Scoring will be important, but his defense against Kevin Durant and rebounding might be even more valuable. The Celtics are coming off a loss to San Antonio in which Pierce scored 19 points while not hauling in a single rebound. It was only the sixth time in his career he scored 15 or more points without a single rebound to his name.

STAT TO TRACK: Keeping the Thunder off the free throw line will be one of the more difficult challenges for the Celtics. Oklahoma City shoots an NBA-best 84.4 percent from the line, and have shot 80 percent or better from the line in each of the last three seasons. Even more impressive is they also lead the NBA in free throws made per game (23.4) and rank second in attempts (27.8).

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Zolak: Bennett helps with Gronk loss, but Pats need to manage him

Scott Zolak said on Pregame Live Sunday that the Patriots are better-suited to survive a season-ending injury to Rob Gronkowski than they were a season ago. 

Zolak said that given the health of Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and the signing of Chris Hogan, the offense has more stability at other positions to make up for the loss of Gronkowski, whose season is over due to back surgery. As for the tight end position, Zolak said he feels the Patriots traded for Martellus Bennett to protect themselves against scenarios like the one they currently face. 

“This offseason they [acquired] Martellus Bennett, I think for this very reason: to prepare for what really happens year after year, is some sort of issue comes up with Rob Gronkowski and you have to play without him,” Zolak said.

Bennett was questionable with an ankle injury for this week’s game, but is expected to play. Asked about the health of Bennett, Zolak said that he believes the tight end is good to play, but that his importance to the team with Gronkowski out means the Pats will need to be careful. 

“I think he’s healthy enough to get through about 30-35 snaps,” Zolak said. “They’ve got to balance him now moving forward.”