Celtics-Lakers review: Pierce fuels Boston

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Celtics-Lakers review: Pierce fuels Boston

BOSTON Paul Pierce seemed to have a little more pep in his step Thursday night which isn't all that surprising when you consider it was the Boston Celtics facing the Los Angeles Lakers.
Pierce, the longest-tenured Celtic, embraces this heated rivalry more than any of his teammates.
And his play backs that up, as Pierce scored a team-high 24 points in Boston's 116-95 blowout win.
"I like these type of games," Pierce said. "You know, a game that has a playoff feel to it, you can feel the energy every time the Lakers come into the building."
But C's coach Doc Rivers believes there's even more to Pierce's knack for getting amped up in games against the Lakers.
"Well, he's from L.A.," Rivers said. "So he has the double whammy; he's with the Celtics playing the Lakers, and he's from LA. And he lives in LA in the off-season. So its' probably really important for him to play well and win, so he can walk the streets and talk, as Paul probably does."
While there's likely some -- OK, a lot -- of truth to that, there's no mistaking the respect Pierce has for the rivalry that exists between two of the more storied franchises in the NBA.
"It's never going to change," he said. "You walk down these hallways and when you come in here you see the whole rivalry, pictures, you see throughout the decades how it goes, regular season, playoffs, championships. It mean it's always going to have that extra little edge to this game."
And the C's certainly played with an edge on Thursday with an emphatic victory that snapped a three-game losing skid to the Lakers.
Here are some key factors outlined prior to tip-off, and how those keys played out during the game.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston will try to make Kobe Bryant do what Kobe does best and that's score. When he's being a facilitator as well, the Lakers become an extremely difficult team to beat.
WHAT WE SAW: Bryant was in his element on Thursday, scoring a game-high 27 points on an efficient 9-for-15 shooting performance. However, most significant was the fact that he did not have a single assist -- the first time that has happened since a Jan. 1 home loss to Philadelphia.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Earl Clark: Bass has become a more reliable rebounder as well as facilitator ... yes. "No Pass" Bass does in fact pass the rock every now and then. As for Clark, he'll have his hands full trying to do his job in addition to that of Pau Gasol who is out for at least a month with a foot injury.
WHAT WE SAW: This was a virtual wash statistically, although the edge in terms of impact had to go to Bass. He had eight points on 4-for-5 shooting along with four rebounds in 25 minutes of action.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Terry was one of the few Celtics players that didn't put up impressive numbers at Toronto on Wednesday. The C's will need a lift from someone not named Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. This would be a good night for the Jet to take off and have a big game.
WHAT WE SAW: Terry had a solid game off the bench for Boston with 15 points on 5-for-6 shooting. The Celtics' second unit combined to score 46 points compared to just 40 for the Lakers.

STAT TO TRACK: The 3-point shot has been a part of both Boston's and the Los Angeles Lakers' success of late, but in a different way. In the last five games, Boston has limited opponents to 5.2 3s made per game, the fifth-best mark in the league during that span. The Lakers have connected on 8.2 3s in the last five games, which is the fifth-highest mark in the league during that span of time.
WHAT WE SAW: The Celtics didn't give the Lakers too many good looks from the perimeter, limiting them to just 5-for-23 shooting on 3s.

NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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From now until training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the NBA and the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the NBA MVP?

BOSTON – It’ll be months before we have a feel for who the best players in the NBA will be this season.
 
But it’s never too soon to start looking at potential NBA candidates, is it?

This year’s MVP race will have plenty of contenders of course, some being familiar faces while there’s likely to be at least one or two who emerge as the season progresses.
 
Here’s a look at five players who should emerge as league MVP candidates this season:
 

5. Damian Lillard, Portland
 
Only 26 years old, the former rookie of the year award winner has been selected to a pair of All-Star games. But that’s not what will make him an MVP candidate this season. He plays for the Blazers, a team whose rebuild following LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, has taken off quicker than expected.
 
Expectations were extremely low for a Portland team that shocked the NBA world and finished with the fifth-best record in the West and advanced to the second round last season.
 
Terry Stotts emerged as one of the league’s better coaches and guard C.J. McCollum garnered the league’s Most Improved Player award.
 
But the engine that makes the Blazers go is Lillard.
 
The 6-foot-2 guard’s ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and all points on the floor, makes him an extremely difficult cover.
 
And while the addition of ex-Celtic Evan Turner will help take some of the playmaking pressure off Lillard, this is still his team and will go only as far as he can lead them.
 

4. LeBron James, Cleveland
 
As we saw in Cleveland’s run towards the franchise’s first NBA title last season, James can become the most dominant player at both ends of the floor when the game matters most. And while those qualities will certainly make him one of the best in the game, James isn’t likely to be as dominant as we’ve seen in past years.
 
And the reason can be summed up in two words: Kyrie Irving.
 
Irving really had a coming out of sorts in the NBA Finals when he outplayed two-time league MVP Stephen Curry which was one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland’s championship aspirations coming to fruition.
 
And let’s face it.
 
James can win this award every year and those who vote for him would have plenty of legitimate reasons to do so.
 
But this season, James will likely be sharing more of the limelight than ever with Irving who may be called upon to pick up more of the offensive slack depending on how things play out with free agent J.R. Smith.
 

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
 
As the reigning league MVP each of the past two seasons, it will be difficult for Curry to do enough to garner a 3-peat.
 
When he won his first MVP award, Golden State was poised to win its first NBA title in 40 years. And last season’s MVP hardware came at the tail-end of an unprecedented season in which Golden State became the gold standard for regular season success with 73 wins.

But this regular season will be one in which Curry’s numbers are likely to take a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Still, Curry will continue to be the player most of the league’s shooting guards are measured against and far more often than not, fall short in their efforts to be as good as Curry.
 
The addition of Durant will certainly shift some of the immense on-the-floor attention Curry usually gets, which should make for an easier time for Curry.
 
But here’s the thing.
 
Just like opponents will be focusing more attention towards Durant, the same holds true for the media and fans which means Curry may in fact become a more efficient player this year with fewer folks actually recognizing it.
 

2. Paul George, Indiana
 
With a year back in the game following a horrific knee injury, Paul George is poised to re-enter the league MVP race with a vengeance.
 
The 6-9 George comes into this season with a number of factors working out in his favor to at least give his candidacy a legitimate shot of getting started.
 
For starters, he’s as healthy as he has been in years. In the past few years, that has been one of the biggest factors that has kept him from being in the league MVP conversation. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has assembled a talented group whose collective strengths work well with what George brings to the game.
 
And speaking of the Pacers, those additions along with George’s ability should lift Indiana into being among the top five or six teams in the East. The closer to the top they finish, the better George’s chances become.
 

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

Even though Durant has joined a Golden State team that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons, he will come in and immediately become the alpha male of this team.

Durant probably won't wind up winning a fifth scoring title, but he will still be among the leagues’ top scorers and lead the Warriors offensively.
 
And while the success of Golden State will hinge heavily on the contributions of many, their regular season success will be credited in large part to the addition of Durant which can only enhance his chances of winning league MVP for a second time in his career.
 
He will be the first to tell you that his focus going into this season has absolutely nothing to do with being the NBA’s MVP.
 
And I believe him.
 
Durant signed with Golden State to win a championship; it’s that simple.
 
And in doing so, he bypassed the comfort of staying with Oklahoma City or penning a new narrative in his basketball journey by joining a team trending towards a championship but not quite there yet.
 
But for him to win a championship, it would mean continuing to be a dominant force while meshing his skills with an even more talented group of teammates.
 
For Durant to put up numbers similar to those he has in the past AND win more games towards a title, will be more than enough to assert his place among the game’s top players.
 
It’s what you would expect from the MVP. 

Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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Celtics Question of the Day: Is Brad Stevens' honeymoon over?

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From now until the opening of training camp, we'll be asking a question about the Celtics and the upcoming season. Today: Is the honeymoon over for coach Brad Stevens?
 
BOSTON – When the Celtics convinced Brad Stevens to leave behind an incredibly successful college coaching career at Butler (two national title runner-up finishes) to become their head coach in 2013, the Celtics were immediately credited with having added one of the brightest young basketball minds to the family.
 
Three years into the job and Stevens has shown tangible improvement with Boston having won more games from each season to the next.
 
But this 2016-2017 campaign will be unlike any that Stevens has had while at the helm in Boston.
 
While the expectations each year have been greater than their immediate predecessor, Boston now finds itself going into the season as one of the hunted in the East as opposed to being well entrenched among the hunters.
 
Westgate Las Vegas Sportsbook released its win total odds last week for NBA teams., predicting the Celtics (51.5) will be one of five teams (Golden State, Cleveland, San Antonio and the Los Angeles Clippers were the others) expected to win at least 50 games.
 
But as we all have seen, expectations and actual results don’t always mesh.
 
Stevens has enjoyed a tremendous amount of support from the franchise and fans throughout his first three seasons.
 
But if Boston fails to live up to the increased expectations, does that mean the honeymoon for Stevens is over?
 
While anything is possible when it comes to Celtics Nation, it will take more than one sub-par season for him to lose the support of the team’s fan base.
 
Here are three reasons why regardless of how the Celtics fare this season, "In Brad we trust" will remain in effect.
 
YOUNG NUCLEUS
 
Boston has a roster full of what league execs like to refer to as "Young Veterans."
 
A great example of this is 27-year-old Isaiah Thomas who is heading into his sixth NBA season.
 
Thomas, a first-time all-star last year, has seen enough of the league to not be confused with a youngster. That said, he’s still young and has enough upside to where you can’t classify him as a grizzled veteran, either.
 
Because that makes up the majority of this Celtics roster, it speaks volumes about how this group still has a tremendous amount of room to grow going forward.
 
And because of that potential and Stevens’ track record of getting the most out of his players, you won’t see him or the Celtics panic if this season doesn’t play out the way they envision it.
 
STRONG FOUNDATION
 
In Stevens’ first year coaching the Celtics, there was a definite talent gap between what Boston put on the floor and what they had to deal with on the opposing bench.
 
And yet there they were most nights, fighting and clawing their way towards a competitive game that no most nights ended with a loss.
 
The silver lining in that 25-win season was how this Celtics team played with a never-give-up mentality, a trait they saw first-hand from their coach Brad Stevens.
 
Regardless of whether they were up 25 points or trailing, Stevens maintained an even-keeled demeanor that quietly accomplished a number of things.
 
For starters, it provided a sense of confidence among the players that their head coach wasn’t going to get rattled by a rough night or a stretch of rough nights.
 
Regardless of the results, Stevens was going to continue working towards getting better.
 
That was his approach when they were struggling to win games, and it remained in place last season when they spent a good chunk of the year ranked among the top teams in the East.
 
So with that being established as part of the foundation under Stevens, that foundation combined with better talent collectively led to more wins.
 
EVEN-KEELED LEADERSHIP
 
Stevens and the Celtics are now at a crossroads in which the steady improvement we’ve seen now must take that all-important next step and become one of the elite teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
Again, it is much easier said than done but as every Celtics player will tell you, is definitely doable.
 
While Cleveland remains the standard bearer in the East, it is very wide open afterwards with Boston, Toronto and Atlanta the most likely teams to contend for the No. 2 spot in the East.
 
The mood is always a positive, upbeat one on the eve of training camp.
 
But the Celtics have more reasons than usual to be optimistic about their upcoming season which kicks off with training camp this week.
 
They have better depth with the additions of rookie Jaylen Brown and veterans Gerald Green and four time all-star Al Horford. Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder all return with the mindset being to build off of what worked for them last season.
 
And then there’s Stevens who has quickly established himself as a bright, up-and-comer in the coaching world.
 
But at some point, all that promise and potential he has shown as a coach has to ultimately lead to big-time production.
 
And the pressure that comes with that tends to build when the honeymoon that all coaches enjoy, is officially over.
 
Stevens is getting close to that point, but he isn’t there yet.
 
Much of his success will still be based on players striving towards reaching their potential.
 
Because of that, he won’t catch too much heat if the team underachieves in what will be a season in which the expectations have never been higher.
 
But that’s OK.
 
Because regardless of how the stakes may be, Stevens will continue to be an even-keeled, level-headed leader that Celtics Nation won’t turn its back on anytime soon.