Celtics beat Clippers with big second half, 99-92


Celtics beat Clippers with big second half, 99-92

By A.Sherrod Blakely

LOS ANGELES There may be a couple of new faces to the Boston Celtics roster, but this team's identity remains the same.

No matter how many All-Stars and future Hall of Famers Boston trots out to the floor, this team's defensive DNA is alive and well.

We saw that in the second of Boston's 99-92 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

After spending most of the first half trailing, the C's (42-15) opened the third quarter with a 12-4 run capped off by a 20-foot jumper from one of the new guys - Nenad Krstic - that gave the Celtics a 52-51 lead, a lead the C's refused to relinquish.

"It was a great first day," said Paul Pierce.

Especially when you consider how down in the dumps the C's were just a couple nights ago following the unexpected trade that netted Jeff Green and Krstic from Oklahoma City, but also shipped out Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson.

In separate trades, Boston also sent Semih Erden and Luke Harangody to Cleveland, and Marquis Daniels to the Sacramento Kings.

With a third of the team traded away on Thursday, there was a sense that those moves were at work in explaining Boston's slow start on Saturday night against the Clippers.

That's not how coach Doc Rivers saw things.

"The Clippers played harder in the first half," Rivers said. "They got to all the loose balls and they created turnovers. They just played with more zip and more energy."

We have seen the C's do that from time to time this season, even when they were intact.

But for veterans such as Pierce, he admitted that the "shockwaves" experienced on Thursday were still being felt in the hours that followed.

"When the trade happened, we're suffering from the shockwaves," Pierce said. "We picked everything up; put the pieces back together, and hopefully we can get it going."

The Celtics certainly did in the second half on Saturday, primarily because they relied on what Boston does better than most teams - defend.

The C's renewed focus on defense saw a quick turnaround that proved to be more than enough to put away the Clippers, who were led by a game-high 32 points from Randy Foye along with 21 points and 11 rebounds from Blake Griffin.

Griffin was among the Clippers to recognize the Celtics brought a different level of basketball, especially on the defensive end of the floor, in the third quarter.

"They picked up their intensity," Griffin said. "They got to take advantage of some turnovers and they made shots."

More than anything else, it was a Celtics team that essentially made up its mind to not just play better, but to take over and dominate.

"You could see us getting into the game," Rivers said. "Our defense turned up, we got stops and we ran. With the bigs we have, we can run now."

And that running allows the Celtics to attack the paint, which on Saturday meant getting to the free throw line a season-high 41 times.

But Saturday's game wasn't about getting to the line, or necessarily getting used to the new guys.

It was about the Boston Celtics sticking to doing what they do best, and that's defend at a high level.

And that will not change, regardless of who is and isn't playing for the Celtics.

"We still have to keep our eyes on the prize," Pierce said. "It's to win a championship. We can't lose our focus from that."

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

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

BOSTON – There are many factors you can point to in the regular season as indicators of what may happen when two NBA  teams meet in the playoffs.

You don't have to be inside the Chicago Bulls' locker room to know that when it comes to the Celtics, they were fully prepared to face a team that took a lot of 3's but wasn’t necessarily shooting them at a high percentage. 
That reality has certainly come into focus in Boston’s first-round series against the Chicago, one the C’s lead 3-2 as they continue to try and 3-point shoot their way on to the next round – without giving a damn how many long-range shots it takes to get the job done. 

In five playoff games, Boston is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, which puts them in the middle of the pack (eighth overall) among the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason.
But when it comes to the long ball, they are on the back-nine of playoff teams, ranking 10th while shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point range while leading all postseason clubs with 38.7 3-point attempts per game.

In the regular season, the Celtics ranked 16th in field-goal percentage (.454) and 14th in 3-point shooting (35.9 percent) while attempting 33.4 3's per game, which trailed only Houston (40.3) and Cleveland (33.9) this season.  

Boston's shooting from the field mirrors what it did in the regular season, but they know all too well that their shooting percentage in this series should be much higher due to the high number of open shots they have missed. 
Take a look at Game 5.
In the 108-97 win, the Celtics shot an impressive 53.1 percent when their shots were contested.
But let the Bulls have a defensive breakdown like a failed switch, or a guy gets beat for what turns into a great opportunity for Boston to score with no resistance, and instead of burying the open shot, the Celtics have  consistently blown those opportunities. That’s evident by the C’s connecting on just 30.8 percent (12-for-39) of their uncontested field-goal attempts in Game 5.
Even the usually reliable Isaiah Thomas had issues making uncontested shots in Game 5 and this series as a whole.
He had 24 points and shared game-high scoring honors with Avery Bradley on Wednesday night, but Thomas probably should have led everyone outright in scoring when you consider he had five open shots and wound up missing four of them.
That’s why when it comes to Boston’s offense, the last thing Thomas or any of his teammates complains about is getting the shots they want.
“I’ve been getting good open looks,” he said. “My teammates have been getting me open. We just got to knock down the shots. Coach [Stevens] keeps saying one day soon we’re going to knock down the open shots that we are missing and it might be [Game 6].”


Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

Even the Bulls’ star agrees, the Bradley-Butler matchup goes Celtics’ way

CHICAGO – Jimmy Butler was outplayed by Avery Bradley.
It’s a bold statement, one co-authored by both Bradley and Butler after the Celtics’ 108-97 Game 5 win over the Chicago Bulls.
Only time will tell if we’ll see another chapter added to what was one of the more surprising narratives to develop in this series.
“I didn’t win the matchup,” Butler, visibly dejected, said after the Bulls’ loss.
Bradley confirmed his individual victory when asked about it after the game, and then added, “I’m trying to make it hard on him. Butler is a very good player and my job for our team is to go out there and defend, try not to foul, and make [Butler] work for every shot and make him work on both ends of the floor. That’s what I tried to do [in Game 5].”
The 6-foot-2 Bradley will have a similar game plan on Friday as the Celtics try and close out the series with a win and move on to Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
While Butler isn’t one to make excuses in good or bad times, there was a report in CSNChicago.com that raised the possibility that Butler might be dealing with some kind of knee injury.

In Game 5, Butler had 14 points on 6-for-15 shooting while taking just two shots from the field in the decisive fourth quarter after drilling a last-second 3-pointer that put the Bulls ahead 81-79 going into the fourth.
“"I'm good,” Butler told reporters after the loss. “Everyone's a little nicked up; I'll be all right."
Healthy or not, there was no getting around the job Bradley did against Butler at both ends of the floor.
In addition to doing a better-than-average job defensively, Bradley also had a career playoff-high 24 points on an efficient 11-of-19 shooting.
The job that Bradley did in Game 5 speaks to why Stevens has reiterated time and time again just how valuable he has been to the Celtics’ success in recent years.
“Avery’s really important to our team; we’ve said that all year,” Stevens said. “He’s played great the last couple of games and I think that Jimmy Butler’s a hard guy to guard, Dwyane Wade’s hard to guard – you’re not going to stop those guys but you just try to make it as hard as possible, and I thought all our guys did a pretty good job when they switched on to Butler [in Game 5]. But certainly Avery is the guy that starts the game on him, and has played a lot of minutes on him, and has done a really good job.”
Butler took 15 shots from the field, 12 of which were contested (most by Bradley) with only four of those makes.
Meanwhile, 13 of Bradley’s 19 field goal attempts in Game 5 were contested. But that didn’t stop him from knocking down eight of them, which was more made contested shots than any other player in Game 5.
But in the end it was Bradley’s defense that ultimately led to him winning the head-to-head battle with Butler and even more important, the game.
The importance of Bradley in matching up with Butler can be seen in a number of statistical areas, none of which is more telling than the minutes played by both players.
Butler logged a team-high 39 minutes, 17 seconds, while Bradley was on the floor for 39 minutes, 44 seconds.
Stevens acknowledged part of Boston’s game plan was to try and keep Bradley on the floor with Butler as much as possible, but still be flexible enough to switch when needed.
“As long as Wade and Butler were on the floor, yes, I felt that way,” Stevens said. “But I trust our other guys to guard [Butler].”
And they trust Bradley, a first team All-NBA defender last season who has shown himself to be up to the challenge of not just holding his own against Butler but also displaying the ability to outplay him on any given night – like Game 5.