Celtics see results after turning up fourth-quarter intensity

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Celtics see results after turning up fourth-quarter intensity

BOSTON -- The Celtics saved their best for last.

Just as they got better as the regular season went on, they got better as Saturday night's Game 1 went on. With the way it started though, it was hard to get worse.

Boston spotted the 76ers seven points before getting on the board themselves, and trailed by double digits at the end of the first quarter. They stuck around throughout, even taking the lead in the third, but with under 11 minutes to play in the game, the C's were down 10 points.

Enter energy. Witch led to defense. Which, in turn, led to offense.

The Celtics came alive in the fourth quarter, playing the clamp-down defense they've been so known to play over the years. The result? A Philly team that watched its ten-point lead evaporate as each minute went by, finally disappearing with a Rajon Rondo jumper with 3:47 to play.

The Sixers would retake the lead on the next possession, but it was the next play that would sum up the fourth quarter run by the Celtics. An Avery Bradley block on Lou Williams led to a fast break in which Rajon Rondo found Kevin Garnett for the layup and lead the C's would never relinquish.

Yeah, I mean our defense really picked it up there in the 4th quarter," Paul Pierce said. "You know the Sixers are a good team, you cant take nothing away from this. Theres a reason they are here, they are good at executing their plays and make the extra pass, they play unselfish but we just gathered ourselves, gathered ourselves, kept grinding, kept grinding. We started rebounding the ball a lot better and the defense really settled in and thats why we took the lead and overcame.

The Celtics grabbed 28 of their 45 rebounds in the second half, compared to just 16 second-half boards for the Sixers (41 overall). The C's were out-rebounded badly by the Sixers in the regular season, but snapped out of it in the second half of the fourth game since the regular season began.

"You know, I told them at halftime, Listen, they cant be more athletic and play harder. That combination will never work for us." Doc Rivers said. "We had to at least match their intensity, and I thought we did that.

"From a defensive standpoint we didn't do a good job in the first half," Keyon Dooling said. "They kind of picked us apart with their pick-and-roll offense, especially their interior passing. They really carved us up on the inside. We made some adjustments at halftime but more so than anything I think our intensity and our effort turned up. Got a little bit of momentum, took some easy transition baskets, made some hustle plays."

The transition game that resulted from the defensive pressure in the fourth is exactly what the Sixers were hoping to have success in against the C's. But Boston scored seven fast break points in the fourth quarter alone, 14 for the game. The Sixers were held to 13 total.

"We're a very resourceful team," Dooling said. "We can play in the half court. When there's opportunities we like to run. But yeah, no doubt they're a better team in transition -- not to say they can't execute in the half court, but their strength is their transition game so we definitely want to keep them out of it."

Chris Mannix: 'Great chance' Celtics capture No. 1 seed

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Chris Mannix: 'Great chance' Celtics capture No. 1 seed

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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.”