Celtics-Wizards preview: C's looking to bounce back quickly

Celtics-Wizards preview: C's looking to bounce back quickly

Returning home following a 114-108 loss at Toronto, you always wonder about how a team will respond the second night of a back-to-back, particularly coming off a loss.

“It’s hard. But you know, this is the way the NBA works,” Boston’s Al Horford told reporters following the Toronto game. “We have another one (tonight). A team that beat us pretty bad the first time. We need to get back home, rest up and get ready for (tonight).”

While fatigue is always a concern, the second night of back-to-back games seems to create a greater level of focus which usually results in wins.

Boston comes into tonight’s game against Washington with a 5-3 record on the second night of back-to-back games, with their last second night of a back-to-back being a 117-108 win over New Orleans on Jan. 7.

As far as any residual effect following Tuesday’s loss, a game in which the Raptors closed out the game by outscoring Boston 23-6, that seems unlikely with this team.

“We’ll leave it here,” Thomas told reporters in Toronto following the loss. “Once we get on that plane it’s on to the next one; focus on Washington. This week is big for us. Take care of home court (tonight) and go into Atlanta and get one there.”

While that may be the goal, it’s a lot easier said than done.

This is especially true for tonight’s game against the Wizards (19-18) who are currently eighth in the Eastern Conference after winning six of their last eight games.

During those eight games, Washington has been an effective team at both ends of the floor. Offensively they are shooting 50.1 percent in that span which ranks fourth in the NBA. And the Wizards’ effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) is .562.

Defensively, Washington has limited opponents to 36.9 made baskets which is the sixth-lowest total in the last eight games in the league. In addition, the Wizards have a defensive rating of 102.7 which ranks fifth in the league in the last eight games.

And that defense can only be helped by watching the video from Boston’s loss to Toronto on Tuesday.

Toronto did more than just beat the Celtics.

They showed exactly how effective a team can be which makes a strong, conscious effort to keep the ball out of Isaiah Thomas’ hands.

The Raptors didn’t come up with the “Thomas Rules” or anything like that.

After all, Thomas still made an impact scoring the ball as he finished with a team-high 27 points on 8-for-19 shooting. Thomas also had seven assists with just one turnover.

You can rest assured that the Wizards will also try and get the ball out of Thomas’ hands as much as possible, and force Boston’s other players to step up and make plays which was something they did not do enough of on Tuesday.

“We have to figure out how to play when guys do that,” Thomas said. “Guys have to make plays on that end.”

Dissecting all that went wrong in Tuesday’s loss as a precursor to tonight’s game, can be an exhausting endeavor that doesn’t necessarily bring about any closure or improvement for the Celtics.

“My biggest thing is we have to get a lot better,” Stevens said. “I probably saw more encouraging signs of progress than I did negative.”

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Kelly Olynyk's 3-point game is helping him produce all over floor

Waltham, mass. – Kelly Olynyk is in a good place right now. 

He’s playing a key role on one of the top teams in the NBA, doing more than just stretch the floor with long-range jumpers and 3-pointers. He has been a solid positional defender most of his time in the NBA, but lately he has become one of the team’s best rebounders … really!

But more than anything, Olynyk is in the best shape of his career both mentally and physically, delivering strong play in several categories.

“When he plays aggressive and with confidence, that’s when he’s at his best,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. 

And lately, the best of Olynyk has been in steady rotation for the Celtics who will host the Phoenix Suns tonight. 

Olynyk attributes his recent strong play to seizing his opportunity to help the Celtics in what has been a season-long area of weakness. The fourth-year big man is a threat to score from 3-point range whenever he’s on the floor. Because of that, teams are overly concerned about his long-range shooting which has allowed him to be an effective driver into the paint and finisher around the rim. 

He has also benefited by being healthy, something he could not say was the case on the eve of the Celtics’ postseason run last season which ended in the second round to the Atlanta Hawks. Olynyk was hampered by a sore right shoulder injury that limited him in the playoffs against Atlanta, and later required surgery which sidelined him for the start of this season. 

But those pain-filled days where he gave more thought to his shoulder rather than shouldering a greater load for the Celtics, are behind him now. 

“It’s something that I had to deal with and I had to get surgery,” Olynyk said. “Now it feels better than it has. I feel strong, confident, ready to roll.”

Boston has won five of its last six games, and the play of Olynyk off the bench has been among the reasons for the team’s latest run of success. In those six games, Olynyk has averaged 10.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.5 assists while shooting a team-high 64.9 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from 3-point range in 20.5 minutes per game – all better than his season average in those respective categories. 

And among Celtics players who have averaged double-digit minutes in that span, Olynyk has a team-best rebounding percentage of .170 in addition to an effective Field Goal Percentage (eFG%) of .689 which is also tops among Boston players during their last six games.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens isn’t surprised to see Olynyk playing as well as he has now that he’s injury-free.

“I don’t think there’s anything more important than playing with clear minds and fresh legs,” Stevens said. “I just think that, and not being injured is a big part of that.”

For Olynyk, part of the challenge he has had since coming to the NBA was finding that balance between being aggressive and assertive, while making sure he got teammates involved when the opportunity presents itself.

“There’s definitely a fine line between being aggressive, forcing things, over-aggressive and create and open things up for others,” Olynyk said. “It’s kind of a balance, kind of like a yin and yang; just go out and play basketball the way you know how to play it. That’s what’s going to make you the best version of yourself and your team the best version they can be.”

Olynyk’s teammates encourage him often (Avery Bradley and Thomas are probably the two most consistent in his ear) to be more assertive, but they recognize he tends to be hesitant far too often for a player with his skillset.

“When he’s second-guessing and … shot-faking when he should have shot, just not being the aggressive player that we need him to be … we don’t need him to be like that,” said Thomas. “We believe in him. He just has to remain confident at all times. When he’s confident and aggressive, he’s a hell of a player.”

Five takeaways: East top seed well within Celtics' reach

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Five takeaways: East top seed well within Celtics' reach

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