Celtics-Nets preview: Protecting home court

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Celtics-Nets preview: Protecting home court

BOSTON The Celtics (8-6 overall, 4-3 at home) haven't had as much success as they would like -- or as much as they expect -- when playing at home this season.

And while there are many areas to which they can point in need of major improvement at the TD Garden, turnovers should not be one of them.

Boston comes into tonight's game against the Brooklyn Nets having committed fewer turnovers than their opponent in each of their seven home games this season.

The only time the C's had a streak this long came during the 1997-1998 season when they reeled off 10 such performances at home.

Triggering Boston's low-turnover brand of basketball is Rajon Rondo, who continues to rack up a ridiculously high number of assists with very few turnovers.

In addition to his 13.5 points and NBA-best 13.7 assists per game, Rondo is only turning the ball over 4.14 times per game.

Among players who log 30 or more minutes per game, Rondo's nearest competitor is Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul who averages 9.5 assists per game and has an assist-to-turnover ratio of 3.91.

Rondo's ability to keep his turnovers low as well as the C's overall turnover tally, will be among the keys in tonight's Atlantic Division matchup.

Here are some other keys to tonight's game as the C's try to even the head-to-head series at one game apiece . . .

WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Brooklyn has the ability to post-up teams at just about every position within their starting five, the kind of luxury that makes it difficult to keep them from scoring in the paint. The Nets average 43.4 points in the paint which ranks 10th among NBA teams. That would be a pretty average night against a Celtics defense that ranks 28th in allowed points in the paint, at 43.6.

MATCHUP TO WATCH: Kevin Garnett vs. Brook Lopez. The Big Ticket will have his hands full against Lopez who has established himself as one of the best centers in the East this season. Lopez is averaging 19.2 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.7 blocks per game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brandon Bass has emerged as a solid rebounding presence for the Celtics, something he'll need to continue doing against a Brooklyn team that's among the NBA's best rebounding squads. Bass is averaging 5.7 rebounds per game this season, but has snatched eight per game during the C's last three games.

STAT TO TRACK: Boston's fourth-quarter offense will be put to the test against a Brooklyn team that has made life difficult for most during the game's final moments. The Nets are giving up 21.3 points per game in the fourth quarter, the NBA's third-lowest total in the fourth. Meanwhile, the Celtics' fourth-quarter offense is churning out 25.3 points in the fourth, fifth in the NBA.

Carson Smith 'had to take a step back' in recovery from Tommy John

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Carson Smith 'had to take a step back' in recovery from Tommy John

Neither set-up man the Red Sox traded for under president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith, is throwing off a mound presently.

Smith, on his way back from Tommy John surgery, felt soreness after throwing a bullpen session and is back to doing long toss. 

"He’s had to slow down," Sox manager John Farrell said Thursday. "Once he got on the mound with some aggression and good intensity, was throwing the ball well. And as a result there’s been some soreness that has kind of reared its head. So have had to back him off, back into long toss, he’s thrown out to about 110 feet here today. We’re hopeful that in the very near future that mound progression resumes.

"The unique thing about Tommy John recovery is that every situation is going to be different. In this case, we’ve had to take a step back a little bit and get back to flat ground."

Smith is in Boston as part of a previously scheduled meet-up with the team, Farrell said. When the season began, Smith was rehabbing in Florida. He was put on the 60-day disabled list on Thursday, a formality that opened up a 40-man roster spot for new acquisition Chase d'Arnaud.

Smith was put on the disabled list on April 3, so he can return June 2 at the earliest, but may now need more time.

Thornburg (right shoulder impingement) is building up his long-toss distance.

In other injury news, Brock Holt (vertigo) may begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday or Saturday, Farrell said.

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

Despite series lead, Celtics lament their inability to hit open shots

BOSTON – There are many factors you can point to in the regular season as indicators of what may happen when two NBA  teams meet in the playoffs.

You don't have to be inside the Chicago Bulls' locker room to know that when it comes to the Celtics, they were fully prepared to face a team that took a lot of 3's but wasn’t necessarily shooting them at a high percentage. 
 
That reality has certainly come into focus in Boston’s first-round series against the Chicago, one the C’s lead 3-2 as they continue to try and 3-point shoot their way on to the next round – without giving a damn how many long-range shots it takes to get the job done. 

In five playoff games, Boston is shooting 45.3 percent from the field, which puts them in the middle of the pack (eighth overall) among the 16 teams that qualified for the postseason.
 
But when it comes to the long ball, they are on the back-nine of playoff teams, ranking 10th while shooting 32.4 percent from 3-point range while leading all postseason clubs with 38.7 3-point attempts per game.

In the regular season, the Celtics ranked 16th in field-goal percentage (.454) and 14th in 3-point shooting (35.9 percent) while attempting 33.4 3's per game, which trailed only Houston (40.3) and Cleveland (33.9) this season.  

Boston's shooting from the field mirrors what it did in the regular season, but they know all too well that their shooting percentage in this series should be much higher due to the high number of open shots they have missed. 
 
Take a look at Game 5.
 
In the 108-97 win, the Celtics shot an impressive 53.1 percent when their shots were contested.
 
But let the Bulls have a defensive breakdown like a failed switch, or a guy gets beat for what turns into a great opportunity for Boston to score with no resistance, and instead of burying the open shot, the Celtics have  consistently blown those opportunities. That’s evident by the C’s connecting on just 30.8 percent (12-for-39) of their uncontested field-goal attempts in Game 5.
 
Even the usually reliable Isaiah Thomas had issues making uncontested shots in Game 5 and this series as a whole.
 
He had 24 points and shared game-high scoring honors with Avery Bradley on Wednesday night, but Thomas probably should have led everyone outright in scoring when you consider he had five open shots and wound up missing four of them.
 
That’s why when it comes to Boston’s offense, the last thing Thomas or any of his teammates complains about is getting the shots they want.
 
“I’ve been getting good open looks,” he said. “My teammates have been getting me open. We just got to knock down the shots. Coach [Stevens] keeps saying one day soon we’re going to knock down the open shots that we are missing and it might be [Game 6].”