Blakely: Celtics vs. Nets preview

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Blakely: Celtics vs. Nets preview

NEW YORK Much has been said about the Boston Celtics' current back-to-back-to-back set of games and how challenging it will be.

Well as much as it will test the C's physically, overcoming the mental hurdle of facing a trio of teams with no playoff hopes to speak of, may be even more imposing.

It certainly was a factor in Boston's 84-79 loss at Toronto on Friday, a game in which the Celtics needed to win a lot more than the Raptors who now have 21 wins on the season. Things won't be any easier tonight against the New Jersey Nets (22-38) or the Charlotte Bobcats (7-51).

Celtics coach Doc Rivers acknowledged after the Raptors loss that his team may have not taken Toronto as seriously as they should have in order to be successful. Making that even more complicated was the Raptors playing without starters Jose Calderon and Andrea Bargnani who were each out with an injury.

"I'm sure that is some of it," Rivers said. "You don't have guys on the floor, you could see there was no sense of urgency. There certainly was none. You could see that, even when they got a lead our guys played like 'oh, we'll come back.' You can't play that way because someone is going to make a shot eventually."

Although the New Jersey Nets are among the NBA's worst teams record-wise, the Celtics shouldn't have the same issue in terms of taking them seriously. The Nets are led by Deron Williams, one of the top point guards in the NBA. They have former Celtic Gerald Green developing into a reliable offensive spark off the Net's bench. And of course, there's winning which the Nets have done in three of their last four games.

How the C's approach the game will indeed weigh heavily in its outcome. Here we'll examine a few other keys in tonight's matchup as the C's try to get back on track after a disappointing road loss at Toronto and continue to secure a top-four seeding by virtue of winning the Atlantic Division.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston's scoring defense has been solid as a rock, win or lose. It will be put to the test tonight against a New Jersey team that's showing signs of improvement in every area, notably scoring. They have a 6-4 record in their last 10 games, which has been fueled in part by their improved scoring. Although they rank No. 22 on the season in scoring, they're actually up to No. 13 over the last 10 games. Meanwhile the Celtics have the No. 3 scoring defense (89.5 points) this season, but have given up a league-low 84.1 points per game over the course of the last 10.

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Rajon Rondo vs. Deron Williams: You have two of the NBA's top point guards which is sure to bring out the best in both players. Rondo is coming off a 12-assist, zero-turnover night which has run his consecutive game streak with double-digit assists, to 20. And Williams, who will be a free agent this summer, is the seventh-highest scoring point guard over the past 10 games, with a 17.4 average. He has also averaged 11 assists in that span, second only to Rajon Rondo (14.2).

PLAYER TO WATCH - The Celtics were out-worked on the boards by Toronto, and it will again be a concern heading into tonight's game. As much as the Celtics will key in on Deron Williams, they might want to keep close tabs on former Celtic Shelden Williams. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, 41 percent of Shelden Williams' rebounds have come off the offensive end which means the C's have to be on guard for the Nets getting multiple scoring opportunities.

STAT TO TRACK - When the Celtics reflect on what went wrong in the Raptors loss, you can bet that not scoring more points in the paint was one of the problems. Fortunately for them, they face a New Jersey teams whose points-in-the-paint woes are just as bad as their own. Boston is averaging an NBA-low 33.6 points scored in the paint this season. Right ahead of them are the Nets with a 34.6 points in the paint average.

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

Blakely: Blown call didn't cost Celtics the game Saturday vs. Blazers

WALTHAM -- You won’t find the Boston Celtics blaming anyone but themselves for Saturday’s 127-123 overtime loss to Portland. 
 
But they certainly didn’t get any breaks down the stretch from the referees, who made a huge officiating mistake in the final seconds of regulation. 

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Following a Celtics miss in the game’s closing seconds, Blazers guard Damian Lillard wound up with the ball but was stripped almost immediately by Marcus Smart, who put the steal back in for a lay-up that would have given Boston a one-point lead with 10.8 seconds to play. 
 
The ruling on the floor at the time was a foul against Smart. But officials later determined as part of their report on the final two minutes of the game, that the foul against Smart was an incorrect call.
 
“It just pisses you off, doesn’t it?” Crowder said. “It just pisses you off. I don’t like it.”
 
Crowder, like a number of players I have spoken to about this particular subject, is not a fan of the league releasing the information. 
 
And his reasoning, like his NBA brethren, is simple. 
 
There’s no recourse relative to that particular game if the officials in fact got a call wrong. 
 
So for their purposes, the transparency that the league is seeking, while just, doesn’t do them a damn bit of good when it comes to what matters most to them. Which is wins and losses. 
 
“It’s over now. It’s too late to confirm it now,” said Smart who told media following the loss that the steal was clean. “The game is over with. It is what it is; on to the next game now.”
 
Smart added that having the league confirm the call was wrong is frustrating. 
 
“They come back and tell you they miss the call, but it’s over now,” Smart said. “We’re on to the next game. It’s like they shouldn’t even said it. But I understand it; they’re trying to take responsibility and show they made a bad call. We appreciate it but at that time as a player it’s frustrating. That possibly could have won us the game.”
 
But as Smart, coach Brad Stevens and other players asked about it mentioned, Boston made so many mistakes against the Blazers and played so uncharacteristically for long stretches that it would be unfair and just not right to pin the game’s outcome on one bad call late in the game. 
 
“It happens,” said Stevens who added that he’s never read a two-minute report other than what he has seen published by the media. “There were plenty of things we could have done better.”
 
He’s right.
 
That blown call didn’t cost the Boston Celtics the game. 
 
Their play did. 
 
The Celtics turned the ball over 21 times that led to 34 points, both season highs. 
 
They couldn’t contain C.J. McCollum and Damian Lillard, two of the league’s most explosive guards who combined for 63 points on 20-for-42 shooting.
 
Boston allowed Myers Leonard to score a season-high 17 points. 
 
Certainly the bad call against Smart was a factor. 
 
But it would not have been an issue if the Celtics had done a better job of controlling the things they could have controlled, like defending shooters better, making smarter decisions when it came to passing the ball and maybe most significant, play with a higher, more consistent level of aggression around the rim. 

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

Bradley, Green and Jackson to miss Celtics' game Tuesday against Wizards

WALTHAM -- The team flight to Washington for tomorrow night's game against the Wizards will be a little lighter than the Celtics would like. 
 
Boston continues to be cautious with Avery Bradley and his right Achilles strain injury. Coach Brad Stevens confirmed that the 6-foot-2 guard won't travel and will sit out for the seventh time in the last eight games. 

Stevens added he didn't anticipate Bradley returning to the court anytime this week, which means he's likely not to return until next week's game against Detroit on Jan. 30. 
 
Bradley won’t be the only Celtic not making the trip for health-related reasons. Gerald Green and Demetrius Jackson are both not traveling due to sickness. 
 
However, the Celtics did get a bit of good news on the health front. Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller, both having missed games with sickness, will take the trip to D.C. with the rest of their teammates.