Blakely's Celtics-Bulls preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Bulls preview

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have been a tale of two different teams most of the season. There were the C's before the all-star break, a team that looked more like they were bound for the NBA lottery than the playoffs.

Then there are the Celtics we've seen since the all-star break, a team that has been among the NBA's best. The two-faced nature of the C's this season even manifests itself within games, which was indeed the case in Boston's 87-86 loss to San Antonio on Wednesday.

In that game, the Celtics did very little right in the first half against a high-scoring Spurs squad. And the result was a double-digit halftime deficit. Then came the second half, one in which Boston's defense clamped down. Before you could say, 'Avery Bradley scores again,' the Celtics were back in the game.

"I think they had 53 points the first half?" C's Kevin Garnett said after the loss.

Actually, it was worse. The Spurs had 59 at the half to Boston's 48.

"That was probably the focus of our second half; to be more disciplined on defensive strategy," Garnett continued. "I thought we did that, man. Tough team; there's a reason why they're second in the West."

Things won't get any easier tonight against Chicago (42-13) which has the best record in the Eastern Conference. Boston's ability to go into 'post-all-star break' mode will go far in their quest to knock off the hard-charging Bulls who are looking to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season. Here we'll examine other keys to tonight's game between Boston and Chicago.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- Boston's rebounding struggles are an issue unto themselves. But they really become problematic when it comes to second-chance points. You look back at Wednesday's 87-86 loss to San Antonio, and arguably the biggest shot of the night was made by Matt Bonner with less than a minute to play, a shot that came about because of San Antonio's ability to get multiple shot opportunities. No team is better at getting second-chance points than the Bulls, who average 15.9 second-chance points per game which is tied with Utah for tops in the NBA. And it should come as no surprise that Boston, the league's worst rebounding team, is also among the NBA leaders in second-chance points given up. Boston gives up 14.2 second-chance points per game, the seventh-highest average in the NBA.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Kevin Garnett vs. Joakim Noah: You thought watching Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan on Wednesday night was a treat? Watching KG and Noah go to battle? Even better. In their last meeting on Feb. 16, Garnett had a strong game with 18 points, 10 rebounds and a blocked shot. Noah also had a huge night, finishing with 15 points, 16 rebounds and most importantly, the victory.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- If he plays, and that's a big 'if' right now, all eyes will be on Derrick Rose. The reigning league MVP hasn't played since March 12 against New York. And even though this will be the fourth and final regular season meeting between these two teams, it's only the second time the C's could potentially see Rose on the floor. He missed the last two matchups with a back injury, and is currently out with a groin injury. However, his status is questionable after he was able to participate fully in Chicago's practice on Wednesday. "I really dont know. I felt good, but me playing (against Boston tonight), I dont know," Rose told reporters after practice. "Im able to run a little bit more, but not at my top speed. Top speed or not, Rose playing at all will only add to the list of concerns Boston has to worry about tonight.

STAT TO TRACK -- Keeping the Bulls from running will be among the many challenges Boston will face. The Bulls average 14 fast-break points per game which ranks 10th in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Celtics defense is only giving up 12.1 fast-break points per game which ranks seventh in the league.

Merloni: 'One good start' could change things for David Price in playoffs

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

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Horford believes Celtics give him best chance at 'ultimate goal' of NBA Championship

WALTHAM, Mass. -- Pinpointing the exact moment Al Horford made up his mind to become a Boston Celtics isn’t clear, but the seeds of that decision can be traced back to last year’s playoffs – and no we’re not talking about the playoff series between Boston and Atlanta, either.
 
It was the Hawk’s second-round playoff series back in May against Cleveland, a team that swept them out of the Conference finals in 2015 and did so again last about five months ago.
 
Horford had every intention of returning to Atlanta, but as the free agency period wore on two things became quite clear: Winning an NBA title would have to go through Cleveland and it happening with him in Atlanta was becoming more and more unlikely.
 
In came the Celtics with a pitch that was heavy on present-day and down-the-road potential that wouldn’t require him to do anything other than continue to play the way he has for the past nine seasons.
 
“It (becoming a Celtic) became real for me real late and real quick,” Horford told CSNNE.com on Wednesday.
 
After mulling it over for a couple days, Horford said he was ready to become a Celtic.
 
“This could be a great opportunity even though I’m leaving a lot behind,” Horford said.
 
As you listen to Horford speak, it’s clear that the Celtics mystique played a role in his decision to sign with Boston.

 But as much as the Celtics’ lore and its on-the-rise status helped, there were certain events that Boston had no control over that actually helped their cause.
 
First the Hawks got in on a three-team trade in June with Utah and Indiana which sent Hawks All-Star point guard Jeff Teague to the Pacers while Atlanta received Utah’s first-round pick which was 12th overall and was used by Atlanta to select Baylor’s Taurean Prince. The move allowed Atlanta’s Dennis Schroeder to slide over into the now-vacant starting point guard position.
 
While it may help Atlanta down the road, it did little to move them closer towards knocking off Cleveland anytime soon.
 
And then there was the Hawks coming to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard early in the free agency period. That deal coupled with Atlanta’s desire to bring Kent Bazemore back, cast serious doubt as to whether Horford would return.
 
Horford, who inked a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston, told CSNNE.com that at the time of Atlanta’s deal with Howard, he was still open to the idea of returning.
 
But if Horford did, he knew figuring out the best way to play him, Howard and Paul Millsap who by the way has a player option that he’s likely to exercise which would make him a free agent next summer, was not going to be easy.

“It was definitely going to be different,” Horford said, then adding, “For me, the Celtics were becoming more and more a realistic option. After talking with my family, we felt this was the best for me.”
 
And while it’s still very early in his tenure as a Celtic, Horford has no regrets or second thoughts about his decision.
 
“As a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”
 
And that alone makes him a good fit with this franchise which from ownership to the front office to the coaching staff and of course the players, are all focused on one thing and that’s bringing home Banner 18.
 
 “Look at the resume. He’s been a winner wherever he’s played,” said Boston’s Amir Johnson. “It’s good to have a guy like that, with his talent and with his winning, playing next to you.”