Celtics-Magic preview: Celtics on the rebound - literally

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Celtics-Magic preview: Celtics on the rebound - literally

BOSTON For years, rebounding has been one of the many challenges facing the Boston Celtics.

This year has been no exception.

But there are clear signs that the C's rebounding is well, on the rebound.

With Rajon Rondo out for the season, rebounding becomes more of a necessity for the Celtics to jump-start an offense that has put a greater emphasis on getting out in transition.

Although it is a very small sample, the two games since Rondo's season-ending torn right ACL injury, have produced some decent rebounding numbers for Boston.

According to NBA.com, the C's rank 13th in rebounds in the two games. That's a major jump from the Celtics' next-to-last rebounding status in the league this season.

Even before Rondo went down, the C's were on the rise rebounding-wise.

In fact, the Celtics are the league's top defensive rebounding team (35.8) over the last five games according to NBA.com.

And that will be a major factor against Orlando tonight, a team that has lost 18 of 19 games this season in which opponents had more defensive rebounds.

Here are some other keys as the Celtics look for their third straight win and in the process extend what has been a miserable season for a Magic team that has now dropped 18 of its last 20 games.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Boston will try to get out and run early and often, something that worked out quite well in Boston's win over Sacramento on Wednesday.

That might be easier said than done against Orlando.

Despite what has been just a miserable season for the Magic, they have actually done a decent job with their transition defense. They come into tonight's game giving up 12.5 fast-break points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Avery Bradley vs Jameer Nelson: A Bradley highlight reel wouldn't be complete if it didn't have at least a few clips of a flustered Nelson in it. Bradley's transformation into an on-the-ball defensive monster began about a year ago, with Nelson serving as Bradley's first victim of note.

PLAYER TO WATCH: No question it has to be J.J. Redick who for weeks was considered a player of interest to the Boston Celtics. A free agent this summer, Redick has been one of the few bright spots for Orlando this season. He's averaging a career-high 15.3 points while shooting 46 percent from the field and 40.5 percent on 3s.

STAT TO TRACK: Even without Rondo, it's important for the Celtics to continue racking up the assists. This season, the C's are just 2-17 in games in which their opponent tallies more assists.

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.