Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

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Blakely's Celtics-Sixers Game 5 preview

BOSTON So much of coaching has little to do with X's and O's. More often than most fans understand, coaches rely on instincts and hunches.

Sometimes they're on the money. Other times, not so much.

Friday's Game 4 matchup against Philadelphia falls under the latter for Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers and his staff, which rode the team's successful small-ball lineup down the stretch one game too many.

That group's struggles were among the factors contributing to Boston's Game 4 loss which now has this series tied at 2-2.

And as the Celtics gear up for tonight's Game 4 battle, deciding when to go with a small-ball unit will again be a gut check of sorts for Rivers.

The player most affected by Boston's small lineup for the C's is Brandon Bass, who is usually on the Celtics bench when Rivers decides to play a smaller quintet that includes some combination of three guards, Paul Pierce at power forward and Kevin Garnett at center.

Bass has struggled shooting the ball most of this series, but had his best scoring night of the series in Game 4.

He finished with 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, which is even more impressive when you consider he spent all but three seconds of the fourth quarter on the bench.

"Honestly, if we made one mistake we should have went back to Bass," Rivers said. "The first three games, our smaller lineup was better than our big lineup. Statistically in Game Four, the big lineup was better. The big lineup is what got us the lead. The big lineup is what, in the beginning of the third, got off to a good start. Both times when we went small, it hurt us. So that's something as a staff we have to recognize."

Knowing that both his usual lineup and his small-ball group have had stretches of strong play in this series doesn't make the decision of which to play any easier to make, either.

"It's a tough call," Rivers said. "We're going to have to make a call every game, it looks like. There's no right or wrong to it, but it's going to have to be a gut feeling. And I hope when we make it, it's going to be the right one."

Besides figuring out when to go big or small, here are some other keys to tonight's game as the Celtics try to regain control of this series in a pivotal Game 5 matchup.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR -- The Sixers have wisely challenged Avery Bradley to become more a scorer, well aware that his shoulder injury has significantly impacted his ability to score. Bradley, whose status for Game 5 is up in the air, will have to continue being a difference-maker with his defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH -- Celtics bench vs. Thaddeus Young and Lavoy Allen: Boston's second unit has had little to no impact in this series, while the Sixers bench - namely Young and Allen - have been arguably the two biggest reasons this series is tied at two games apiece. Young's ability to score and Allen's defense on Kevin Garnett have paid huge dividends for the Sixers thus far. Boston's backups have to contribute more than they have in order to lessen the impact of Philadelphia's dynamic backup duo.

PLAYER TO WATCH -- It has to be Kevin Garnett. The most dominant figure in this series through the first three games, the Sixers limited Garnett to just nine points while he connected on just 25 percent (3-for-12 shooting) of his shots in Game 4 - the worst shooting percentage Garnett has had as a member of the Celtics in a playoff game. You can expect the C'sa to use multiple sets offensively to try and get Garnett the ball deeper in the lane where he has been next to unstoppable in this series.

STAT TO TRACK -- Rebounding is always going to be a challenge for the Celtics, but a bigger concern for them has to be limiting their turnovers. In their two playoff wins over Philadelphia, Boston has averaged 10 turnovers that led to 10.5 points for the Sixers. In the two losses, the turnover numbers rise to 18 per game and led to 12.5 points for Philadelphia.

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
 
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
 
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
 
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
 
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
 
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
 
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”
 

 

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”