Celts take advantage of small-ball lineup in Game 1

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Celts take advantage of small-ball lineup in Game 1

BOSTON With all the injuries that the Boston Celtics have endured this season in the front court, they've had to rely on a smaller lineup more often than they would like.

Well all that "small ball" practice paid off in Boston's 92-91 Game 1 win over Philadelphia in the second round of their best-of-seven playoff series.

In fact, it was Boston's smaller lineup that allowed them to erase a double-digit deficit in the fourth quarter and rally for the win.

"We have to do a better job of when they go small, and understanding what we have to do," said Sixers coach Doug Collins. "It doesn't change you as much offensively as it does defensively. When Paul Pierce goes to and plays like the power forward, they run a lot of screen-roll, him and (Kevin) Garnett. And what are you going to do on the coverage now when you have a lot of other guys who can shoot the ball? When they have one less big, it becomes more on the defensive end than it does on the offensive end."

It has to be that way for the Sixers, a team that ranks among the NBA's worst in rebounding due to a lack of frontcourt size.

Because of that, Collins says he can't approach dealing with the Celtics' smaller lineup in the manner in which he would like to.

"We're not a team that can pound you inside," Collins said. "You end up having to match up small. My philosophy has always been if a team goes small against you, then you pound them. But we don't have that kind of team."

Philadelphia has fared well when teams have tried to go with a small lineup, in part because of the play of Thaddeus Young.

At 6-foot-8, Young has the ability to play both forward positions. But when teams go small, he slides over to the power forward spot where his quickness and ability to get to the basket usually causes major problems for opponents.

In the regular season, Young averaged 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds per game off the bench. His playoff numbers, however, are off.

He's averaging 6.9 points in the playoffs this year.

Young's versatility wasn't on display as much as Philadelphia would have wanted to in Game 1 courtesy of a knee to the shin from Boston's Ryan Hollins in the second quarter. The shin injury led directly to Young rolling his ankle as well.

"He's wild, man," Young told CSNNE.com about Hollins. "That dude is wild."

The injury limited Young to just under 22 minutes played, as he scored five points.

"Not having Thad (for long stretches), not being able to play small ball when the guys go small-ball, would hurt the team," said Sixers big man Elton Brand.

Said Collins: "(Small lineups) helps Thad. We just didn't take advantage of that (in Game 1)."

Not only did the Celtics do a better job in terms of their offensive execution with the smaller lineup, they were a surprisingly dominant rebounding team once they went into full blown small-ball mode.

The Celtics had a small lineup on the floor throughout the entire fourth quarter.

After being out-rebounded for most of the first three quarters, Boston's small-ball lineup allowed them to grab 15 rebounds compared to just eight for the Sixers.

"You gotta pick up those long rebounds," Collins said shortly after Saturday's loss. "Boston scrummed out some balls and beat us on some hustle balls. It wasn't' like their big guys were rebounding. It's where everybody's gotta get back and rebound the ball."

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

Young getting on floor more for Celtics, including key fourth-quarter stints

SOUTHFIELD, Mich. – For most of his life, basketball has come easy to James Young.
 
So, the idea that in training camp he wasn’t just fighting to get playing time but also to stay in the NBA, was a jarring eye-opener.
 
To Young’s credit, he rose to the challenge and beat out R.J. Hunter for the Celtics' final roster spot.
 
And while Young’s playing time has been sporadic, he has done a much better job of maximizing his opportunities.
 
So, as the Celtics roll into Detroit to face the Pistons, Young finds himself playing his best basketball as a pro, good enough to make coach Brad Stevens not hesitate to put him in the game in the fourth quarter of a close matchup.
 
“It’s exciting to come back home,” Young, who grew up in nearby Rochester Hills, Mich., told CSNNE.com. “A lot of my family will be there. I’m not thinking about me. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team.”
 
And lately, he’s getting an opportunity to do just that beyond being someone who helps in practice.
 
We saw that in the 107-97 loss at Toronto on Friday. Young came off the bench to play four minutes, 36 seconds in the fourth quarter with only two other Celtics reserves, Marcus Smart (8:39) and Jonas Jerebko (5:10) seeing more action down the stretch.
 
“It means a lot,” Young said. “He’s starting to trust me a little bit more. That’s a good thing. I’m just trying to do little things; rebound, get defensive stops and score when I get a chance.”
 
The fact that his scoring is just starting to take shape helps shed some light on why he has been buried so deep on the Celtics bench.
 
For his first couple seasons, Young seemed a hesitant shooter physically overwhelmed by opponents too strong for him to defend as well as too physical for him to limit their effectiveness.
 
But this season, he has done a better job at holding his own as a defender while making himself an available scoring option who can play off his teammates.
 
Young is averaging just 2.9 points per game this season, but he’s shooting a career-high 48.9 percent from the field and 41.7 percent on 3’s, which is also a career-high.
 
Getting on the floor more often has in many ways provided yet another boost of confidence to Young.
 
“I’m getting used to the flow of the game playing more consistently,” Young said. “I know what to do. It’s slowing up a little more and it’s getting easier.”
 

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

Blakely: Raptors newcomers show Celtics what they're missing

TORONTO – It’s far too soon to say if the Celtics’ decision to stand pat at the trade deadline was a mistake.
 
But the early returns aren’t encouraging.
 
Their 107-97 loss Friday night to the Toronto Raptors wasn’t because of Kyle Lowry (right wrist), who didn’t even play, or DeMar DeRozan, who played out his mind while scoring a career-high 43 points.
 
The game will be remembered by the new guys Serge Ibaka and P.J. Tucker, both acquired at the trade deadline by the Raptors.
 
Ibaka, who was a bad fit, and on most nights a bad player, in Orlando, looked like the O-K-C Ibaka while scoring 15 points to go with seven rebounds against the Celtics – numbers that were better than his two games combined against the Celtics this season with the Magic when he scored a total of just 12 points while grabbing eight rebounds.
 
And then there was Tucker, who got a crash video course on Raptors playbook just hours before the game, and proceeded to show the kind of toughness at both ends of the floor that has made him one of the league’s more underrated defenders as he finished with a near double-double of nine points and 10 rebounds.
 
It was their first game with their new team, but you would have thought they had been with Toronto all season long with how seamless they seemed to fit in.
 
Ibaka draining jumpers, Tucker causing chaos defensively, while absolutely crushing the Celtics on the boards...their play was a painful reminder of what could have been for the Green team.
 
Both were rumored to have been in the Celtics’ crosshairs prior to the Thursday 3 p.m. trade deadline. The Celtics were lukewarm at best on Ibaka (they didn’t want what would have been a 25-game rental) and just couldn’t quite strike a deal and cross the finish line for Tucker.
 
It’s too soon to hit the panic button and rip Danny Ainge for not getting a minor deal done like adding Tucker or Ibaka.
 
Still, his players have to embrace the truth behind what transpired this trade season.
 
Ainge went big-game hunting, focusing most of the team's efforts on landing a major difference-maker, a la Jimmy Butler or Paul George.
 
When that didn’t work out, he settled for the next best thing, which was to keep this group together.
 
The onus is now on them to prove that trust Ainge has in them, was well-placed.
 
Putting too much stock in the first game after the break is a risky proposition that no one should subscribe to.
 
But in the loss, it revealed many of the concerns and weaknesses of this roster that tend to get magnified in defeat while glossed over when they manage to win despite those flaws.
 
Isaiah Thomas may be the best scorer in the fourth quarter, but he’s human.
 
There will be games when Mr. Fourth Quarter can’t get it done.
 
Friday night was that kind of game for him. He scored just four of his team-high 20 points in the fourth.
 
And as the Raptors blitzed him repeatedly with two and three defenders, his teammates failed to step up when the opportunity was there to make impactful, game-altering plays down the stretch.
 
Watching the Celtics’ defense in the second half was painful.
 
DeRozan got whatever he wanted, when he wanted it.
 
And when he missed, the Raptors controlled the boards, got all the 50/50 balls and repeatedly out-worked Boston.
 
It exposed Boston in a way that’s painful to see, especially when those inflicting the greatest amount of damage could have been in the Celtics huddle and not the one on the other sideline.