Celts take advantage of small-ball lineup in Game 1

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Celts take advantage of small-ball lineup in Game 1

BOSTON With all the injuries that the Boston Celtics have endured this season in the front court, they've had to rely on a smaller lineup more often than they would like.

Well all that "small ball" practice paid off in Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win over Philadelphia in the second round of their best-of-seven playoff series.

In fact, it was Boston's smaller lineup that allowed them to erase a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter and rally for the win.

"We have to do a better job of when they go small, and understanding what we have to do," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "It doesn't change you as much offensively as it does defensively. When Paul Pierce goes to and plays like the power forward, they run a lot of screen-roll, him and (Kevin) Garnett. And what are you going to do on the coverage now when you have a lot of other guys who can shoot the ball? When they have one less big, it becomes more on the defensive end than it does on the offensive end."

It has to be that way for the Sixers, a team that ranks among the NBA's worst in rebounding due to a lack of frontcourt size.

Because of that, Collins says he can't approach dealing with the Celtics' smaller lineup in the manner in which he would like to.

"We're not a team that can pound you inside," Collins said. "You end up having to match up small. My philosophy has always been if a team goes small against you, then you pound them. But we don't have that kind of team."

Philadelphia has fared well when teams have tried to go with a small lineup, in part because of the play of Thaddeus Young.

At 6-foot-8, Young has the ability to play both forward positions. But when teams go small, he slides over to the power forward spot where his quickness and ability to get to the basket usually causes major problems for opponents.

In the regular season, Young averaged 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench. His playoff numbers, however, are off.

He's averaging 6.9 points in the playoffs this year.

Young's versatility wasn't on display as much as Philadelphia would have wanted to in Game 1 courtesy of a knee to the shin from Boston's Ryan Hollins in the second quarter. The shin injury led directly to Young rolling his ankle as well.

"He's wild, man," Young told CSNNE.com about Hollins. "That dude is wild."

The injury limited Young to just under 22 minutes played, as he scored five points.

"Not having Thad (for long stretches), not being able to play small ball when the guys go small-ball, would hurt the team," said Sixers big man Elton Brand.

Said Collins: "(Small lineups) helps Thad. We just didn't take advantage of that (in Game 1)."

Not only did the Celtics do a better job in terms of their offensive execution with the smaller lineup, they were a surprisingly dominant rebounding team once they went into full blown small-ball mode.

The Celtics had a small lineup on the floor throughout the entire fourth quarter.

After being out-rebounded for most of the first three quarters, Boston's small-ball lineup allowed them to grab 15 rebounds compared to just eight for the Sixers.

"You gotta pick up those long rebounds," Collins said shortly after Saturday's loss. "Boston scrummed out some balls and beat us on some hustle balls. It wasn't' like their big guys were rebounding. It's where everybody's gotta get back and rebound the ball."

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”