Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst

191544.jpg

Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

BOSTON If only the rest of the Boston Celtics' schedule consisted solely of the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs or any other elite team in the NBA.

They would all be tough games, but at least the C's know that focus would not be an issue.

It certainly won't be when the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town for a nationally-televised matchup against the C's on Thursday night.

But the Lake show doesn't come to town every night, which is why the Celtics (38-13) have every reason to be concerned that their hold on top of the Eastern Conference may come down to how they fare against teams in the East that, truth be told, they have no business losing to.

Teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, who defeated the C's 94-89 on Monday.

The fact that it was a back-to-back game certainly played a role in the loss. Boston has a paltry 6-7 record in the second of back-to-back games this season.

But Ray Allen sees the problem being much broader than simply placing the blame on the scheduling gods.

He sees a Celtics team that, at times, relies more on its name than its game to be successful.

"In our locker room, we always have to remember that we're not superior to any team because we're the Celtics or because we think we're good or we have All-Stars on our team or whatever the case may be," Allen said. "What makes us better is because . . . we've proven what we have done. Anything going forward, we have to prove that."

Against elite teams, that hasn't been an issue.

When you look at the top four teams in the NBA outside of Boston, the C's are 4-2.

In fact, the only team among those four (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas and the Lakers) to beat the C's this season are the Mavericks, who swept the season series with a 101-97 win at Boston on Feb. 4.

It's not that surprising the Celtics have fared so well against the top teams in the league this season.

The reason?

Because their focus is all about Banner 18.

To achieve that, they know they'll most likely have to go through one of those teams.

Those games tend to bring out the very best in the Celtics, which is usually more than enough to beat most teams.

Bringing that same level of focus and attention to detail against lesser foes like the Bobcats has been a season-long struggle for the C's.

Celtic players are quick to dismiss the notion that the rash of never-ending injuries may be catching up to the team.

"We still have five guys on the court at one time," said Rajon Rondo. "It's as simple as that."

He's right.

But with all the injuries, you're finding it less and less likely that the five on the floor are Boston's best five.

The C's are 51 games into the season, and have yet to play a single game with the rotation that you will likely see in the playoffs.

At this point, the earliest that will happen is when Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) returns, which won't be until late March or early April.

"I don't worry about that stuff," said coach Doc Rivers. "I don't care if we have six guys. The fans are still going to come, the other team will play and we're supposed to win the game. We're not going to use that as an excuse."

Kevin Garnett echoed similar sentiments.

"It is what it is," Garnett said. "This is part of the league. Everybody is dealing with injuries, and we're no different. 'Quis is probably a lot more hard on us right now, just because it was so sudden. We're just hoping he's all right. Everybody in here has to carry a load; if not, pick up a little more and go forward. That's where we're at."

Picking up that load in part means coming to play at a high level, regardless of the opponent.

That'll be easy on Thursday.

It's the Lakers.

Ray Allen needs two 3-pointers to become the NBA's all-time leader in made 3s.

It's a nationally televised game.

And it's the Lakers!

Still, those factors won't be enough for the C's to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007-08, a season that ended with the hanging of Banner 17.

But Allen isn't thinking about past success, not now.

"Anything going forward, we have to prove that," Allen said. "We can't rely on what has already happened. Too many times we've done that, especially in the losses we've had."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

Celtics-Heat preview: Do C's need to bounce back from a win?

BOSTON – The final score on the Jumbotron Friday night said the Celtics beat the Phoenix Suns 130-120.
 
But there was a clear and undeniable sense of loss on the part of the Celtics, even if Friday’s victory was their third in a row and sixth in the past seven games.
 
The Celtics (47-26) hope to continue on their winning ways tonight against a Miami Heat team currently among a handful fighting for one of the last playoff slots, but are doing so without Dion Waiters (ankle) who has been instrumental in their surge after an 11-30 start to the season.
 
Beating the Heat (35-37) will require Boston to play better than they did against the Suns, a game Boston won, but in many ways had the feeling of defeat.
 
Yes, Devin Booker’s career-high 70 points was very much a blow – a huge blow – to the pride of a team that takes tremendous pride in its defense.
 
But the sense of a loss came in the form of purpose while playing as close to their potential as possible.
 
The Celtics fell short on both fronts Friday night.
 
Being just one game behind Cleveland (47-24) for the best record in the East, the Celtics understand getting as many wins as possible is the mindset right now.
 
But coach Brad Stevens knows that while winning is important, how the team plays is even more valuable.
 
“Like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”
 
Is this Stevens’ way of trying to motivate his players after a not-so-great performance?
 
Or is he seriously concerned that his team isn’t as good as their record?
 
The Celtics, by their own standards, and to those of us on the outside looking in, know they are a better team than the one we saw on Friday night.
 
Not having Avery Bradley (sick) certainly hurt Boston’s efforts defensively.
 
Still, a Friday night’s game wore on, Booker’s confidence only grew and the Celtics’ desire to shut him down or at least slow him down, began to dissipate like an ice cube in hell.
 
And that’s a problem - a big problem - for a team that has to be connected at both ends of the floor for an extended period of time in order to play at the level their capable of and, most important, give them the best shot at emerging victorious in the postseason.
 
That’s why Stevens isn’t too caught up in the team’s chances of catching Cleveland, or whether they go into the playoffs riding a fat winning streak.
 
“I’m not going to get caught up in winning a couple of games in a row and all that stuff,” Stevens said. “I want to get caught up in playing well. We’ve shown ourselves capable of playing well, we have not sustained it throughout a game. And it’s been pretty consistent.”
 

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

Blakely: Despite their spot in East, consistency remains a problem for Celtics

BOSTON –  Devin Booker went on a scoring binge for the ages against the Boston Celtics on Friday night, the likes of which won’t be seen anytime soon at the TD Garden.

The performance was so great, even the most die-hard Green Teamers had to give the 20-year-old props for dropping 70 points – 70 points! – on the Celtics who still wound up winning, 130-120.

And as Booker continued to pour on the points and the Celtics’ double-digit lead remained just that, a double-digit lead, the narrative of what we witnessed was a lot deeper than just some young kid getting hot.

The Suns are trying lose as many games as they can, while throwing youngsters out there like Booker to play major minutes and predictably make their share of mistakes with the goal being to learn from those miscues and get better.

But the true lesson in what went down Friday night had little to do with Booker’s big night or some Celtics being a little salty about it afterwards.

Lost in all of the hoopla surrounding Booker’s big night was the repeated revelation by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens after the game about his team’s play and their record not being on one accord.

“That’s why, like I’ve said before, I’m surprised at where we are record-wise because we’ve got to play at a higher level for 48 minutes,” Stevens said. “We just don’t do it.”

And Booker’s historic night is the latest example to illustrate Stevens’ point.

Not having Avery Bradley (sickness) was a factor, obviously.

But that’s no excuse for the way they allowed Booker to do anything and everything he wanted to on the floor, allowing a really good shooter to gain confidence to the point where there was literally nothing the Celtics could do to cool him off.

The Celtics looked casual for three-plus quarters defensively against the Suns and still managed to win which says more about Phoenix and its desire to lose as much as possible, than Boston’s ability to find success and overcome a player with a hot hand.

It was another case of Boston getting away from what works while settling into what felt good and easy.

Most of the guys Phoenix played on Friday weren’t players you would consider big-time scoring threats, so the Celtics defensively didn’t play with a defensive edge other than the first six minutes of the game.

In that span, Phoenix didn’t make a single shot from the field while Boston bolted out to a 16-3 lead.

From there, the Celtics didn’t play with the same sense of urgency.

Fortunately for them, they were playing a team that didn’t want to win.

That’s not going to be the case in these remaining games, a mixture of playoff-bound clubs, wannabe playoff-bound crews and a few others with rosters full of players fighting to stay in the league who will use these remaining games essentially as an audition for next season.

If Boston plays like this in any of their remaining games, they’ll most likely lose.

And that’s why Brad Stevens continues to harp on this team not being as good as their record.

Because when you’re in the same class record-wise with teams like Golden State, San Antonio, Cleveland and Houston, there’s a certain expectation of consistency you should play with most nights.

The Warriors and Rockets have explosive scorers; the Spurs play elite-level defense most nights and the Cavs have LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love.

Those factors form the basis of their consistency in terms of winning and overall play.

But the Celtics are very much a wild and unpredictable bunch, able to knock off Cleveland and Golden State, but get blasted by Denver and lose to Philadelphia.

If inconsistent play is a hallmark of this team, their potential for having a great season will be remembered as just that, potential.

Because games like the one they played on Friday against Phoenix on more nights than not, will result in a loss which could put the Celtics very much in the crosshairs for an early playoff exit.