Celtics-Wizards review: What we saw . . .

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Celtics-Wizards review: What we saw . . .

BOSTON The Boston Celtics have proven to be one of the NBA's top teams in limiting opponents scoring in the first quarter. There's good defense, and there's shut 'em down defense that was on full display in Boston's 88-76 win over Washington. The C's shot an impressive 63.2 percent in the first quarter, but even more impressive was their ability to limit the Wizards to just 13.6 percent shooting from the field in the first which generated a paltry 12 points - the fewest an opponent has scored against the C's in the first quarter of a game this season.

Such out-the-gate dominance was indeed a major factor in the Celtics extending their season-best home winning streak to six in a row.

But there were other factors that played a role in the game's outcome. We highlighted a few keys to the game before tip-off. Now we'll review how those actually played in Boston's victory which gave them a four-game regular season sweep of the Wizards - the first time that has happened since 1982.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR - Boston has been surprisingly efficient offensively of late to start games. In their last two games, Boston has averaged 33.5 points per game in the first quarter, a significant bump over their 22.7 points per game average, 26th in the NBA, that they have scored in the first this season. In Washington, Boston faces a Wizards team that has had its struggles defensively in every quarter. But their first quarter scoring defense (25.3 points per game, No. 24 in the NBA) is actually their best in terms of where it ranks compared to the rest of the NBA.

WHAT WE SAW - After scoring 21 points after about eight minutes of play, the C's could muster just six for the remainder of the first quarter. While they failed to reach the 30-point plateau, their dominance was still significant as Washington could only score 12 points in the quarter - that's about half of their season average (23.4 points per game).

MATCHUP TO WATCH - Kevin Garnett vs. Nene: This is where Garnett's ability to stretch a defense with his perimeter shooting skills comes in handy. Nene is a strong, bullish big man who seems to have adjusted to a Wizards system that's built more for what he does best - score with his back to the basket. In his three games with Washington since being traded from Denver, Nene has averaged 16.3 points and 8.7 rebounds.

WHAT WE SAW - Nene (back spasms) was a late scratch, so fans had to settle for a Garnett-Kevin Seraphin matchup. I know, not quite the same. Garnett didn't have the hot hand, but in typical Garnett fashion, he found other ways to make an impact besides scoring. He had 10 points on 3-for-10 shooting, but he also had six assists, five rebounds and two steals.

PLAYER TO WATCH - Although his numbers might suggest different, Marquis Daniels is gradually getting back to being a contributor to the Celtics' second unit. With Mickael Pietrus (concussion) expected to not play in the next couple games, along with Ray Allen (left ankle) questionable, Daniels may in fact see his role expand soon. After having played a total of 19 minutes this month, Daniels has played 20 minutes in each of the Celtics' last two games. In those two games, he has averaged seven points and 2.5 rebounds while shooting 55.6 percent from the field.
WHAT WE SAW - Daniels saw playing time and is clearly back in the rotation ahead of Sasha Pavlovic. He played nearly 17 minutes, finishing with two points, two rebounds and two assists.

STAT TO TRACK - With the Celtics thin on bodies, keep an eye on team fouls for both teams. This season, Boston is committing 20.2 fouls per game which ranks in the league's bottom-10, at No. 21. Fortunately for Boston, they face a Washington team that's used to being in foul trouble as well. They too are ranked among the NBA's bottom-10, averaging 21.5 fouls per game which ranks No. 26 in the league.
WHAT WE SAW - Because of the lopsided nature of the game, foul trouble was never really an issue for either team. Avery Bradley, who had arguably the toughest defensive assignment in dealing with Jordan Crawford, had four fouls. As a team, the C's committed just 18. Meanwhile, Washington had three players (Chris Singleton, Kevin Seraphin and Jan Vesely) who each had four personal fouls. And like the C's, they too were whistled for 18 team fouls.

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.