Celtics-Bobcats review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Bobcats review: What we saw . . .

CHARLOTTE, N.C. The Boston Celtics are a team that prides itself on being able to execute down the stretch in close games, which was exactly what they did in defeating the Charlotte Bobcats, 94-82. Beating the Bobcats is nothing to brag about. Teams have been doing it - a lot - all season. But for Boston, known for playing down to the level of their competition, to get the win without Ray Allen (ankle), Paul Pierce (toe) and Kevin Garnett (rest), speaks volumes to how deep the C's are this season.

"They have so many good players," said Bobcats guard Gerald Henderson. "Toward the end of the game, we just couldn't come up with the plays and the stops to make a run."

Charlotte cut Boston's lead down to just four points with 6:55 to play following a dunk by Derrick Brown. The C's responded with a 10-2 run that put them up by double-digits, a position of control they were able to maintain for the rest of the game.

For Boston, making all the right plays in a close game isn't anything new.

But doing so without Allen, Pierce and Garnett, well that's a little different.

"It builds their confidence, and for some guys it just lets you know, be ready," said C's forward Brandon Bass. "To constantly work on your game throughout the year and on a night like tonight, your number might be called."

Indeed, the C's collectively being ready to play was a factor in Saturday's victory. Here we'll re-examine some keys to the game identified earlier, and how they actually played out.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: When facing a team like the Bobcats, it's important for Boston to establish control of the game from the outset. That shouldn't be a problem against a Charlotte team that is next-to-last in the NBA in first-quarter points, with 21.7 per game. Meanwhile, the C's boost a defense that gives up 22.6 points in the first quarter - only five teams in the league give up fewer points in the first quarter.

WHAT WE SAW: After a fairly close first quarter, Boston closed the first out with an 11-2 run to take a comfortable 34-23 lead going into the second quarter which sent a clear message that despite being without their Big Three, the C's meant business. "You could see before the game, they really wanted this game; they really did," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "They assume when you sit guys, you're just going to show up and play. And our guys, you could see in their demeanor in the locker room I didn't know if we were going to win or not, but I knew we were going to play hard and right."

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Brandon Bass vs. Byron Mullens: Bass' ability to defend and rebound at a high level, have been huge factors in Boston's success of late. In Mullens, he faces a player with the size of a true center, but with great range - even past the 3-point line - on his shot. It'll be important for Bass to use his quickness at both ends of the floor for the C's to win this matchup.

WHAT WE SAW: Mullens only played about 22 minutes off the bench, and was a non-factor with just six points and three rebounds. Bass delivered another strong game for the Celtics with 22 points along with nine rebounds. He also was a factor defensively by blocking three shots and contesting a number of other Charlotte misses. "Brandon is the unknown guy," Rivers said. "He's been doing the exact same thing, rebounding and making shots."

PLAYER TO WATCH: If Kevin Garnett does not play, that will most likely mean Greg Stiemsma will start and Ryan Hollins will become the first (and only) big man off the bench. We have all seen what Stiemsma has done when given an opportunity to play a more meaningful role. It'll be interesting to see how Hollins handles this chance to play decent minutes.

WHAT WE SAW: Arguably the one Celtic who has maximized his opportunity to play, Stiemsma was solid in the middle for Boston. Filling in for Garnett at center, Stiemsma had eight points while making all four of his shot attempts, along with grabbing five rebounds and of course, blocking a few - OK, quite a few - shots along the way. Stiemsma was credited with six blocked shots - that was one more than the entire Bobcats team. "Greg, defensively, is a force," Rivers said. "He's a great shot-blocker. I don't think the officials even know that yet because the way he goes after them."

STAT TO TRACK: Charlotte has been a team where a sizable chunk of their scoring comes from their bench. So for Boston, it'll be important to not allow the Charlotte starters to catch fire. This season, the Bobcats starters average 54.2 points which ranks 29th in the NBA. Conversely, the C's first group has averaged 68.5 points which ranks seventh in the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW: Charlotte got 61 points from its starters, although one of them - Derrick Brown - had 15 points and usually did most of his damage against Boston off the bench. The Celtics' patchwork starting lineup did a good job defensively in addition to finding various ways of generating their own scoring. Boston's starting five on Sunday tallied 83 of the team's 94 points which included the C's Big Three - on this night anyway - of Rajon Rondo (20 points), Avery Bradley (22 points) and Brandon Bass (22 points) combining for 64 points. "Those were the three guys we said we had to get points from and they did it," Rivers said. "So that was nice."

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

Opportunity knocked in Game 3, and Celtics answered

CLEVELAND -- Marcus Smart sat at his locker stall late Sunday night, soaking in the moment for all it was worth. 

The Celtics were just minutes removed from one of the biggest playoff upsets ever, knocking off Cleveland, 111-108, a game in which Boston was a 16.5-point underdog.
 
Smart’s play had a lot to do with the win as he scored a career-high 27 points, which included a career-best seven made 3-pointers.
 
But this win was about more than Smart having the game of his life.
 
It was about opportunity, an unspoken rallying cry that has galvanized this Celtics team through what has been a season in which they defied the odds and naysayers time and time again.
 
Boston was supposed to be pretty good this season, but no one predicted the C's would finish with the best record in the Eastern Conference.
 
Isaiah Thomas had a breakout year in 2015-16, but few anticipated he would be even better while putting up numbers that rank among the greatest single seasons in the storied franchise’s illustrious history.
 
Then Thomas goes down with a right hip injury that will keep him out of the remainder of the playoffs, and the Celtics hit the road while trailing the defending champion Cavaliers 2-0. 
 
So what do they do? Oh, not much. 

They just come up with the most epic playoff comeback win ever against a LeBron James-led team.
 
You can dissect what happened Sunday night all you want, but in the end, it came down to one thing: Opportunity.
 
Which is why Boston’s Game 3 win was so sweet. And for those of us who have followed the ups and downs of this team this season recognized it was another example of the Celtics making the most of their opportunity to shock the world.
 
Look no further than Smart, a gritty physical defender whose shot-making isn’t exactly top-10 worthy.
 
No, I’m not talking about top 10 in the NBA. I’m talking top 10 on his team.
 
And yet there he was, delivering his usual strong play defensively while channeling his inner Isaiah Thomas to get big-time buckets in the second half, which included 11 points during a 26-10 run to close out the third and bring Boston within 87-82 going into the fourth.
 
With the surge came more opportunities for other Celtics like Kelly Olynyk, who gets the superstar treatment in Cleveland with more boos than any other Boston player. (They have not forgotten about that Olynyk-Kevin Love incident a couple years ago, apparently.)
 
Olynyk soaked in the boos while coming off the bench to splash the Cavs defense for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting.
 
“Keep fighting, keep fighting,” Olynyk told me when I asked him about what Game 3’s win says about this team. “You can knock us down but we’ll keep getting back up. That’s what we did out there.”
 
Opportunity.
  
The Celtics had their moment on Sunday night, reminding us just how tough-minded a bunch they can be when they are boxed in a corner and left with two choices: Fight or face inevitable elimination.
 
Because had they lost Game 3, they would have been down 3-0 in the series. And no one needs reminding that no NBA team has ever come back from an 0-3 playoff deficit.
 
Fortunately for them, that’s no longer an option.
 
Instead, they have a chance to even this series up and regain home court advantage if they can win Game 4, which, much like Game 3, seems a long shot.
 
They don’t care.
 
It has never been about being the favorite or underdog. It’s about the opportunity, something the Celtics gave themselves with Sunday’s win.