Celtics-Hawks preview: C's hope to halt losing streak

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C's hope to halt losing streak

ATLANTA The Boston Celtics are on the road again, looking for what continues to be an elusive victory.

And the losses are now piling up to the point where you have to dust off some of the history books just to see when things were this bad.

With five straight losses, a sixth consecutive defeat would lump this group into the same category as the 2006-2007 squad which is considered by many the worst Celtics team ever.

That squad lost six or more games on three separate occasions. Among those three stretches of futility was a franchise-worst 18 straight losses.

Only two players from that team - Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo - are still around.

Players aren't talking about, let alone thinking, that this season is going to be one of the worst ever.

There's too much talent and way too much time left in the season, for such thoughts.

But with each setback, there is a growing sense that the Celtics are running out of time to turn their season around.

And it seems every game, a new reason pops up as to why they are losing.

Early in the season, it was their defense. Then it was the bench not being productive enough. Then the starters played poorly. Now it's the entire team unable to knock down shots.

It's enough to create a game within the game involving second-guessing on the part of coaches and players.

But things have not digressed to that point ... yet.

"We definitely don't point fingers around here," said Kevin Garnett. "We are going to keep working as a group."

And it is that group mentality that still gives this team hope that they can eventually string a bunch of victories together despite a growing mountain of evidence to the contrary.

"We know that we have good players and we're a good team," C's guard Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We haven't played like it, I know. But we're going to keep working at it, keep grinding and we'll get there. This team has too much talent to be down for too long. We'll figure it out and get it going."

The C's can take an important step in that direction tonight against Atlanta which has had its share of problems of late having lost seven of its last 11 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Points will be hard to come by for both teams which both two of the NBA's better scoring defenses. The C's come in giving up 95.8 points per game which ranks 8th in the league while the Hawks have limited opponents to 95.5 points per game which is the NBA's 6th-best scoring defense.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs Josh Smith: Bass continues to struggle at both ends of the floor for Boston, while Smith once again finds himself on the short list of all-star snubs. His omission has more to do with the Hawks slide than anything he did or didn't do statistically.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Leandro Barbosa was scoreless in about nine minutes on Thursday, but don't be surprised if he continues to get minutes off the bench. The C's offense is in a major funk right now, and Barbosa is one of the few guys whose strength is the ability to score in bunches.

STAT TO TRACK: Celtics need to keep the score below 100 points. The Hawks have split their last eight games, going 4-4. In the four wins they scored more than 100 points every night while averaging 105 points per game. In the four losses, they averaged just 80.8 points per game.

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

BOSTON – When the fourth quarter rolled around on Friday night, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a down-to-the-wire fight with the Sacramento Kings. 

It was the kind of game that in the past has brought out the scrappy, get-it-done-somehow brand of basketball that has in many ways come to define the Celtics under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. 

And it was on full display Friday night as the Celtics made all the big plays at both ends of the floor down the stretch to beat the Sacramento Kings, 97-92. 

After Sacramento cut Boston’s lead to 90-87, Al Horford drained a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game again. 

Isaiah Thomas came up with a pair of free throws that turned out to be huge, because shortly after he made them the Kings got a 3-pointer from DeMarcus Cousins that made it a 95-92 game.

The Kings had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth when Horford was credited with his sixth block of the game, this time on DeMarcus Cousins.

Horford was immediately fouled and went to the free throw line where he sealed the victory by making a pair.

Those were the kind of plays we saw often last season being made by the Celtics who finished in a tie for the third-best record in the East. 

This year, not so much. 

“For the most part we got what we wanted (in the fourth quarter) and we got the stops we needed even,” Thomas said. 

Which is the kind of game Jae Crowder and the rest of the guys who have been here awhile, have grown accustomed to.

“We got back to being the aggressive team,” Crowder said. “We came out and imposed our will early; that helped. But if the game comes down to what it was tonight, we have to be the team that comes out on top. It was like a playoff game, real physical. We have to grit it out, grind it out.”

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

 

STARS

Al Horford

So this is what an ultra-aggressive Al Horford looks like? The four-time All-Star had a season-high 26 points which included knocking down four three-pointers to go with eight rebounds and six blocked shots – yes, six blocked shots.

DeMarcus Cousins

While his fiery temper hasn’t died down completely, his incredible offensive skills and brute strength is what folks are talking more about, finally. He led the Kings with a game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and four blocked shots.  

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

His streak of being Boston’s outright scoring leader ended at 14 games, but he’s more than happy to take a back seat for one night if it means getting a victory. Horford led the charge on Friday night, but Thomas still chipped in with 20 points, seven assists and two steals. 

Matt Barnes

Although he missed eight of his 11 shots from the field, the 36-year-old Barnes was rewarded for his hustle and effort as he finished with a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

Jae Crowder

Boston needed tough plays to be made on Friday and Crowder was up the challenge all night. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists and a steal. Good things happened when he was on the floor, evident by his game-high plus/minus of +15.

 

DUDS

Rudy Gay

He finished with 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting but the Kings needed more from their second-leading scorer who finished almost seven points below his 19.6 points per game average. That stands out on a night when the Kings lost by just five points.