The fear is gone, but talent remains

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The fear is gone, but talent remains

One thing thats become increasingly evident over the course of this young NBA season and unfortunately so is that teams are no longer scared of the Boston Celtics. That the mystique and inherent intimidation that used to go hand-in-hand with facing off against Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the mighty Green is gone. Banished to Serbia with Darko. Most likely never to be seen again.

Of course, this development didnt happen all at once. More so, its taken shape over the last few years, as the Celtics stars have grown older and slower and the rest of the league has grown stronger and more confident. A series of lackluster regular seasons haven't helped matters either. While the Celtics have consistently been able to turn on their charm once the playoffs roll around, the truth is that their consistent regular season struggles (and thats obviously a relative term) have at one time or another given every team a taste of what its like to get the best of Boston. This has chipped away at the Celtics air of superiority, and left them with the reality of the 2012-13 season.

The league no longer fears them. Opponents dont sit in the pre-game locker room at home or on the road and worry about what lies ahead. Instead, they look forward to it. They see a date with Boston as a potential victory, and to this point, have consistently carried that attitude onto the court.

This was apparent on opening night at the Garden, when the Bucks strolled in and embarrassed the Celtics on their home floor. It was re-iterated the following week, when Wizards rookie Bradley Beal who was all of two years old when KG made his NBA debut told reporters: We know (the Celtics) are vulnerable. We know that they are an aggressive team but they are a lot older than we are. So, we are going to try and wear them down. (Granted, this came shortly after the Celtics beat the Wiz in consecutive games, but in both those games Washington had pushed Boston to the brink, and had done so without the services of their two best players.)

Doc Rivers pretty much implied the same thing when he called out the C's for being soft in the aftermath of the Brooklyn brawl. Basically, that times have changed. The league has changed. Boston's reputation has changed.

But for whatever reason, this reality hasnt quite clicked with the Celtics. Night after night, especially at home, its as if they still expect teams to roll over. To see No. 5, No. 34 and No. 9 across the way and immediately soil themselves with awe. This mentality has resulted in a few bad losses and a handful of unnecessarily close games. More than anything, its led to a series of really slow starts.

Do you realize that the Celtics have trailed at halftime in 11 of 18 games this season? Even worse, they've trailed at the half in seven of their 10 games at the Garden. And last night was no exception. Last night, an undermanned Timberwolves team which boasted a starting line-up that prominently featured Luke Ridnour, Malcolm Lee and the ghost of Josh Howard took the parquet and somehow appeared to take the Celtics by surprise. They outworked Boston. They out-hustled Boston. Despite the fact that the Cs shot 59.1 percent in the first quarter, Minnesota led 30-27 after the opening frame. At the half, the Wolves were up 51-47.

In the third quarter, that obviously changed. Boston started the half on a 20-10 run; they held the Wolves without an offensive rebound until the four minute mark; they imposed their will and took control. I don't if something specific occurred over the break or it was just a coincidence, but the Celtics finally awoke to a separate and far more important reality. That is, that even if these teams don't fear them anymore, Boston still has enough talent to render that confidence useless. It may not be as easy as it once was, but it doesn't have to be that hard. On some nights, sure; that's the NBA. The schedule can be brutal and can certainly wreak havoc on a team that's built around a core that's as old as Boston's. But on nights like last night when the Celtics are coming off three days rest against a team that's been riddled by injury perception doesn't matter. Reality is enough. Even if the opponent doesn't necessarily believe that Boston is the better team, there's no question that they are.

It's just a matter of waking up and playing like it.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

WATCH: Celtics vs. Rockets

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Rockets

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics play the Rockets in Houston. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

- Game Preview: Get ready for 3-point showdown

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Celtics-Rockets preview: Get ready for 3-point showdown

Celtics-Rockets preview: Get ready for 3-point showdown

Earlier this month the Boston Celtics took a season-high 42 three-pointers in a game which raised a few eyebrows. 

And you know what?

No one would be surprised if the Celtics (12-8) surpassed that total tonight when they face the Houston Rockets who have set the pace when it comes to launching 3-point bombs in the NBA this season with 37.0 attempts per game. 

The Celtics aren’t too far behind, averaging 30.8 three-pointers which ranks fifth in the NBA.

But what makes these two teams so unique is that in addition to taking a lot of 3s, they also rank among the NBA’s leaders when it comes to knocking them down. 

The Rockets (13-7) make an NBA-high 14.0 three-pointers per game while the Celtics are fifth in the league with 11.1 made 3s per game. 

And the key to that stat is that both teams shoot a surprisingly high percentage from 3-point range as well. 

Houston’s 37.8 percent from 3-point range is the fifth-best mark in the NBA while the Celtics shoot 36.0 percent on 3's which ranks 10th in the league. 

So what does all this 3-ball shooting mean? 

It means get your popcorn ready for what should be one of the more exciting, high-scoring games on the Boston Celtics’ schedule this season.

Here are some other key stats to keep tabs on during tonight’s game. 

 

FIRST QUARTER SCORING

There is no team in the NBA better at jumping on you from the outset, then Houston. They lead the NBA in first-quarter scoring with 31.2 points per game while shooting 51.9 percent in the quarter which is also tops in the NBA. But there’s a downside to their first quarter success. Houston’s first quarter defense is pretty bad, ranking 27th in the league in first-quarter points allowed (28.5) while allowing teams to shoot a league-worst 52.3 percent from the field in the game’s first 12 minutes. 

 

FOURTH QUARTER SCORING

As impressive as Houston is to start games, the Boston Celtics are just as dominant offensively in the fourth quarter. Boston averages a league-best 29.1 points per game in the fourth compared to the Rockets whose 24.4 points in the fourth ranks 21st in the NBA. Boston’s strong finish to games is aided by a defense that seems to save its best work for the fourth quarter. Opponents are shooting just 40.6 percent against the Celtics in the fourth which ranks as the third-best fourth quarter defense in the NBA.

 

OFFENSIVE REBOUND PERCENTAGE

Boston’s struggles on the boards are well documented which includes - but is certainly not limited to - offensive rebounding. The Rockets will present a major problem to Boston when it comes to trying to avoid Houston getting second and third-shot opportunities. The Rockets rank fifth in the NBA in second-chance points (15.3) per game while the Celtics’ defense allows 15.2 second-chance points which ranks 27th in the league. And Boston’s offensive rebounding percentage for opponents ranks dead-last in the NBA at .265.

 

BALL MOVEMENT

Both teams rank among the league leaders in assists per game with Boston’s 24.4 assists per game average No. 2 in the NBA and Houston’s 24.3 assists ranks fourth. But more telling is how the Celtics rely more heavily on keeping the ball moving, more so than the Rockets. You see this in Boston averaging 329.2 passes per game which ranks third in the NBA while the Rockets’ 273.5 passes per game average is 29th in the league. Still, Houston’s passing game is to be respected especially when you consider the lofty assists numbers they’ve racked up in addition to them getting 59.2 points created via the assist according to nba.com/stats

 

TURNOVERS

These two are at opposite ends of the basketball world when it comes to turnovers. Boston commits 12.3 per game which is the fourth-fewest committed in the NBA while the Rockets are turning the ball over 16.1 times per game and that ranks 27th in the league. And these two remain widely far apart in the fourth quarter which is when the Celtics turn the ball over a league-low 2.2 times per game in the fourth while Houston turns the ball more than twice as much (4.5) which ranks 29th in the league.