Nuggets adjustments too much for Celtics

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Nuggets adjustments too much for Celtics

DENVER Somewhere in the first chapter of the NBA manual on playercoach cliches, you'll find some reference to what happens on the floor being "a game of adjustments."

Well the Celtics can attest to that following Tuesday's 97-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Denver was still smarting after last week's 118-114 triple overtime loss in Boston, a game that Nuggets head coach George Karl makes no secret about feeling as though his team should have won it.

"I think our guys know we should have won that game in Boston," Karl said prior to the game.

As much as emotions such as revenge and redemption might come into play, the bigger contributor to the Celtics loss was some of the subtle and not-so-subtle adjustments made by Denver in comparison to last week's game.

Nobody experienced this more than Paul Pierce who had just 10 points on 2-for-14 shooting from the field. He also had six rebounds and six assists after fouling out after picking up - yup, you know it - his sixth personal foul.

Following the loss, Pierce acknowledged the Nuggets were doing some things differently in trying to limit his impact.

"In the pick-and-rolls, they trapped a little bit more," Pierce said. "They switched out, loaded up on defense a little more. Driving lanes definitely weren't there. But I have to make the extra pass and find guys. There's other ways I can beat teams other than my scoring. I have to do a better job at that."

Those adjustments put a greater amount of pressure on those around them to step up; specifically Courtney Lee and Avery Bradley who had 15 and 17 points, respectively, against Denver.

"We were just playing off each other," Lee said. "We were able to get stops and get out and run. We were executing on the offensive end. When you got KG and you got Paul, they're going to draw a lot of attention. They draw doubles, so me and Avery are open."

There were other adjustments that were even more subtle, like Nuggets head coach George Karl constantly telling his team to pick up the pace, well aware of how short-handed the Celtics are because of injuries.

"George knows what he's doing. He's been around a long time," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "There's a reason he didn't call a time-out. He could see us. The one time I was trying to get Kevin (Garnett) off the floor, and George, you could see him ... he looked like Roy Williams today, just waving, let's go. You could see us starting to go downhill."

Rivers added, "Pace in this place is rough."

So is the dealing with the altitude in the Mile High city that often leads to players becoming fatigued sooner than usual.

"It's hard," Rivers said. "I always thought as a player, it's more the first half. Honestly today it was the second half. It got to us. You could clearly see it. We had to rest Kevin several times when we probably didn't want to, but we had no choice in the matter."

Rivers added, "they're so deep. They just keep bringing in guys. They play at that pace and I thought it got to us tonight."

Boston faces the Los Angeles Lakers only 24 hours later, and like Denver they too will look to make some adjustments with the goal being to exact revenge on the C's after Boston handed them a 112-105 loss in a game that was not as close as the final score might lead one to believe.

That loss, the fact that it's Boston-Los Angeles and it's their first game after the All-Star break is enough subplots to work through.

Throw in the fact that it'll be an even more emotionally-charged game due to the recent passing of team owner Dr. Jerry Buss, and the C's will indeed have their hands full.

"It's a lot of stuff to handle," Rivers said. "And we're going to be right in the middle of the firestorm. That's the league. You know how that works."

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.