Celtics find ways to win with new pieces

191544.jpg

Celtics find ways to win with new pieces

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

MILWAUKEE Maybe the Boston Celtics have some of that tiger blood Charlie Sheen has been talking about in them, because all they seem to do these days is just keep on winning.

Boston (46-15) rallied for an 89-83 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday night which extended its winning streak to five.

Beating the Bucks (23-38) is in itself nothing to be overly boastful about.

However, injuries limited the Celtics to having just nine players in uniform on Sunday.

And of those nine player, four -- Nenad Krstic, Jeff Green, Troy Murphy and Sasha Pavlovic -- have been with the team less than two weeks.

While there's no need for players to sport, 'Hello, my name is . . . ' labels, it's clear this group has a long way to go before they truly know how to play well with another.

In the meantime, all they can do is keep learning how to find different ways to win games.

"It's been tough," admitted coach Doc Rivers.

Maybe so, but it certainly hasn't reflected in the Celtics maintaining the best record in the Eastern Conference.

"Like I told you before, it really starts with our core group," said Paul Pierce, who led all Celtics with 23 points. "Until we can find a way to get the other guys adjusted to the system, and how we do things . . . it's taking some time. You could see it in lulls in the offense."

Pierce added, "But at the end of the day, we're finding a way to win."

And because of the many changes, the Celtics are getting it done in ways that should make them an even more dangerous team in the playoffs.

Fans are so used to seeing Pierce or Ray Allen come up with a big shot down the stretch.

Well now you have to worry about guys like Jeff Green, who had 11 points off the bench . . . including a 3-pointer with 4:40 to play that gave the Celtics an 82-77 lead.

"Every time I see Jeff Green I'm just more impressed, more impressed," said Kevin Garnett, who had 14 points and 11 rebounds for his 23rd double-double this season. "He's just helping so much right now. We need the fact that he can play multiple positions and he knows the 3, 4 and 5 positions. He picked it up so fast. Must be that Georgetown education. It's great for us now, because we are undermanned. He's just been big for us."

Prior to Green's big 3-pointer, Sasha Pavlovic saw his first action with the C's.

In addition to playing solid defense, Pavlovic also nailed a 3-pointer - his lone made basket of the game - that gave the Celtics a seven-point lead, their largest of the night.

Of course, Krstic continues to play well with the starting unit.

Krstic finished with 17 points, his highest point total since being traded to the Celtics on Feb. 24, and his highest scoring game since he had a season-high 18 in a 99-90 loss at Chicago on Dec. 6 when he played for the Thunder.

Boston's other newcomer, Troy Murphy, chipped in with four rebounds and two assists.

All involved understand that the Celtics are a work in progress.

But that's no excuse for anything less than success.

And like Sheen, the Celtics are all about . . . winning.

"We're definitely not where we want to be, but we're grinding it out," Pierce said. "Any way we can get the win, we'll take it. We're just finding ways to win."

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

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

Bradley's emergence as vocal leader speaks volumes about growth

BOSTON –  Terry Rozier was having a rough stretch where his minutes were limited and when he did play, he didn’t play particularly well.
 
Among the voices in his ear offering words of encouragement was Avery Bradley who knows all too well what Rozier was going through.
 
For all his time as a Celtic, Bradley has let his work on the floor do the talking for him.
 
But as the most tenured Celtic on the roster, his leadership has to be about more than just getting the job done, but servicing as a vocal leader as well.
 
For a player whose growth from one year to the next has been a constant, being a more vocal leader has been the one dynamic of his game that has improved the most during this past season.
 
And it is that kind of leadership that will carry into the summer what is a pivotal offseason for both Bradley and this Celtics franchise which was eliminated by Cleveland in the Conference finals, the first time the Celtics got that deep in the playoffs since 2012.
 
He is entering the final year of the four-year, $32 million contract he signed in 2014. And it comes at a time when his fellow Tacoma, Wash. native and backcourt mate Isaiah Thomas will likely hit free agency where he’s expected to command a max or near-max contract that would pay him an annual salary in the neighborhood of $30 million.
 
At this point in time, Bradley isn’t giving too much thought to his impending contract status.
 
Instead, he’s more consumed by finding ways to improve his overall game and in doing so, help guide the Celtics to what has to be their focus for next season – a trip to the NBA Finals.
 
While Celtics players have said their focus has always been on advancing as far into the playoffs as possible, it wasn’t until this past season did they actually provide hope and promise that Banner 18 may be closer than you think.
 
It was an emotional time for the Celtics, dealing with the unexpected death of Chyna Thomas, the younger sister of Isaiah Thomas, just hours before Boston’s first playoff game this season.
 
And then there were injuries such as Thomas’ right hip strain that ended his postseason by halftime of Boston’s Eastern Conference finals matchup with Cleveland.
 
But through that pain, we saw the emergence of Bradley in a light we have seldom seen him in as a Celtic.
 
We have seen him play well in the past, but it wasn’t until Thomas’ injury did we see Bradley showcase even more elements of his game that had been overlooked.
 
One of the constant knocks on Bradley has been his ball-handling.
 
And yet there were a number of occasions following Thomas’ playoff-ending injury, where Bradley attacked defenders off the dribble and finished with lay-ups and an occasional dunk in transition.
 
Among players who appeared in at least 12 playoff games this year, only Washington’s John Wall (7.9), Cleveland’s LeBron James (6.8) and Golden State’s Stephen Curry (5.2) averaged more points in transition than Bradley (4.7).
 
Bradley recognized the team needed him to be more assertive, do things that forced him to be more front-and-center which is part of his evolution in Boston as a leader on this team.
 
“It’s weird but players like Al (Horford) definitely helped me get out of my shell and pushed me this year to be more of a vocal leader,” Bradley said.
 
And that talent combined with Bradley doing what he does every offseason – come back significantly better in some facet of his game – speaks to how he’s steadily growing into being a leader whose actions as well as his words are impactful.