Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst


Celtics' aim: Be at their best against the worst

By A. Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON If only the rest of the Boston Celtics' schedule consisted solely of the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat, San Antonio Spurs or any other elite team in the NBA.

They would all be tough games, but at least the C's know that focus would not be an issue.

It certainly won't be when the Los Angeles Lakers roll into town for a nationally-televised matchup against the C's on Thursday night.

But the Lake show doesn't come to town every night, which is why the Celtics (38-13) have every reason to be concerned that their hold on top of the Eastern Conference may come down to how they fare against teams in the East that, truth be told, they have no business losing to.

Teams like the Charlotte Bobcats, who defeated the C's 94-89 on Monday.

The fact that it was a back-to-back game certainly played a role in the loss. Boston has a paltry 6-7 record in the second of back-to-back games this season.

But Ray Allen sees the problem being much broader than simply placing the blame on the scheduling gods.

He sees a Celtics team that, at times, relies more on its name than its game to be successful.

"In our locker room, we always have to remember that we're not superior to any team because we're the Celtics or because we think we're good or we have All-Stars on our team or whatever the case may be," Allen said. "What makes us better is because . . . we've proven what we have done. Anything going forward, we have to prove that."

Against elite teams, that hasn't been an issue.

When you look at the top four teams in the NBA outside of Boston, the C's are 4-2.

In fact, the only team among those four (San Antonio, Miami, Dallas and the Lakers) to beat the C's this season are the Mavericks, who swept the season series with a 101-97 win at Boston on Feb. 4.

It's not that surprising the Celtics have fared so well against the top teams in the league this season.

The reason?

Because their focus is all about Banner 18.

To achieve that, they know they'll most likely have to go through one of those teams.

Those games tend to bring out the very best in the Celtics, which is usually more than enough to beat most teams.

Bringing that same level of focus and attention to detail against lesser foes like the Bobcats has been a season-long struggle for the C's.

Celtic players are quick to dismiss the notion that the rash of never-ending injuries may be catching up to the team.

"We still have five guys on the court at one time," said Rajon Rondo. "It's as simple as that."

He's right.

But with all the injuries, you're finding it less and less likely that the five on the floor are Boston's best five.

The C's are 51 games into the season, and have yet to play a single game with the rotation that you will likely see in the playoffs.

At this point, the earliest that will happen is when Marquis Daniels (bruised spinal cord) returns, which won't be until late March or early April.

"I don't worry about that stuff," said coach Doc Rivers. "I don't care if we have six guys. The fans are still going to come, the other team will play and we're supposed to win the game. We're not going to use that as an excuse."

Kevin Garnett echoed similar sentiments.

"It is what it is," Garnett said. "This is part of the league. Everybody is dealing with injuries, and we're no different. 'Quis is probably a lot more hard on us right now, just because it was so sudden. We're just hoping he's all right. Everybody in here has to carry a load; if not, pick up a little more and go forward. That's where we're at."

Picking up that load in part means coming to play at a high level, regardless of the opponent.

That'll be easy on Thursday.

It's the Lakers.

Ray Allen needs two 3-pointers to become the NBA's all-time leader in made 3s.

It's a nationally televised game.

And it's the Lakers!

Still, those factors won't be enough for the C's to sweep the season series for the first time since 2007-08, a season that ended with the hanging of Banner 17.

But Allen isn't thinking about past success, not now.

"Anything going forward, we have to prove that," Allen said. "We can't rely on what has already happened. Too many times we've done that, especially in the losses we've had."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

Horford's all-around play key in first regular season game with Celtics

BOSTON – The Al Horford love fest continues with the veteran big man delivering yet another impressive performance for the Boston Celtics.

And this one?

Unlike his play in the preseason, Wednesday night's game counts.

Horford’s all-around play was pivotal to Boston holding on for a 122-117 victory over the Brooklyn Nets.

The four-time All-Star made several high-basketball IQ-type plays that in hindsight, were major key moments in Boston pushing its lead to as many as 23 points.

In the third quarter with Boston ahead 71-65, Horford took advantage of Brooklyn closing out too hard on him and drove into the lane. As the Nets defenders collapsed to take away a shot attempt in the lane, Horford swung the ball to Jae Crowder whose jumper triggered a 14-5 run.

Boston would lead by double figures until the last couple of minutes of the game.

“We have to keep playing the right way, for 48 minutes,” Horford said when asked about the team’s late-game collapse.

The late-game struggles aside, there was a lot to like about how the Celtics played throughout the first 40 minutes.

And a big part of that strong play has to be credited to Horford whose ability to help keep the ball moving allowed the Celtics to finish with 36 assists on 48 made field goals, the kind of opening night assist numbers that haven’t been seen around these parts in decades.

Horford was among those getting into the act, scoring 11 points to go with five rebounds and six assists.

To see him racking up guard-like assist numbers isn’t unusual when you consider he was third in the league last season in assists per game (3.2) for a center.

“Guys were moving the ball very well,” Horford said. “It’s kind of contagious.”

Said Crowder: “I never saw coaches clap on a three-second call. We moved the ball in the first quarter so much we got a three-second call. We passed up a lot of open shots. It just shows how unselfish we are playing as a unit.”

And while that selfless brand of basketball was on display at times last season, the addition of Horford seems to have taken it to another level.

“He opens the floor, he makes it easier for everybody; he’s always in the right spots, he’s a threat at all times,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “He can hit the 3, hit the mid-range, and also post up so he has the full package; a guy that makes it easy for everybody.”

Stars, studs and duds: Win vs. Nets 'a good learning experience' for Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Win vs. Nets 'a good learning experience' for Celtics

BOSTON –  Throughout the course of this season, the Boston Celtics will learn plenty of lessons about itself.

Sometimes it takes time to sift through the nuances of a game and figure out what should be extrapolated from it.

Following Wednesday’s 122-117 it-should-have-never-been-that-close victory over the Brooklyn Nets, there was no mistaking the Celtics came away feeling as though they survived a game in which they let up too soon and allowed a scrappy Nets team to make it more of a game than it should have been.

After Tyler Zeller drained an 18-foot jumper with 7:36 to play, Boston held a commanding 112-89 lead.

Brooklyn went on a 28-8 run to make it a one-possession game with 6.8 seconds to play.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens explained the late-game collapse afterwards.

“We started shooting bad shots and not guarding and throwing it to the other team,” Stevens said. “It’s how quickly it can change; we all know that.”

Because Boston had such a commanding lead and they were opening the season with a back-to-back with a Thursday night game at Chicago, it made sense for Stevens to give his core guys a chance to rest in the fourth quarter.

“I was hopeful not to have to put those guys back in but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have, not doing that,” Stevens said. “So we’ve got to play better in that moment.”

Boston’s Jae Crowder acknowledged he and Boston’s other starters were not as locked in as they should have been when Stevens put them back in the game with 2:07 to play.

“We had checked out a little bit mentally and physically,” Crowder said. “Our bodies were not warmed up enough to do what we did. But we got it done. We’re just going to learn from it and move on to Chicago.”

Said Horford: “That’s the NBA sometimes; it’ll humble you. It’s a good learning experience for our group.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s season-opening win over Brooklyn Wednesday night.



Isaiah Thomas

He was there when the Celtics needed him most, making a pair of free throws with 1.9 seconds to play that sealed the victory. He finished with a game-high 23 points and nearly had a double-double with nine assists to go with six rebounds and two steals.

Jae Crowder

Crowder set the tone in the first quarter, and it was his shot-making early in the third that led Boston to being well-positioned for victory. He would finish with 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting to go with five rebounds two assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Bojan Bogdanovic

His 3-point shooting in the second half was a major key to Brooklyn’s rally to within just three points. He led Brooklyn with 21 points on 9-for-17 shooting.



Al Horford

He doesn’t put up the sexiest, eye-grabbing numbers, but Horford’s steady play continues to impress. He had 11 points on 5-for-8 shooting, in addition tallying six assists, five rebounds and four blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

The 6-foot-2 guard had a strong game that easily glided under the radar of some of his teammates. But Bradley still finished with 17 points which included a put-back lay-up of his own miss in the fourth quarter for Boston’s only field goal in the final 4:18 of play.

Justin Hamilton

Make no mistake about it, Hamilton will become a prominent part of the scouting report when these two teams meet again. He came off the Brooklyn bench to finish with a double-double of 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting, to go with 10 rebounds.



Brook Lopez

At no point did Lopez look comfortable or impactful for the Nets. He was a non-factor in every sense of the word, missing six of his seven shot attempts to finish with just seven points and five rebounds.

Celtics bench

This group had flashes of good play here and there, but their inability to close out the game in the fourth was a bit disturbing. Not having Marcus Smart (left ankle sprain) was a factor. That said, a 23-point lead with under eight minutes to play should be more than enough of a cushion not to require the starters to have to come back in the game.