Celtics focused on the fundamentals for Game 3

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Celtics focused on the fundamentals for Game 3

By A.Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM When breaking down video from a loss, there's a tendency to focus on what improvements need to be made from an X's and O's standpoint.

If only it were that simple for the Boston Celtics.

Their problems thus far against the Heat are more about fundamentals. They are the kind of issues that are troubling -- but far from being uncorrectable.

"It's things that we do," said coach Doc Rivers. "I would be more concerned if I was looking at this and saying, 'There's things I don't know if we can fix.' I didn't see one of those on video."

Yes, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade have been the best players on the floor in the first two games, a big reason why the Heat have a comfortable 2-0 lead. But just as important as their scoring has been in this series, a series of minor gaffes by Boston has also played a role in the series being so lopsided.

James was given much love for his 35-point performance in Game 2, including how he dominated play during a critical 14-0 Miami run in the fourth quarter that broke open an 80-80 tie. But one of the keys to that Heat surge that was overlooked was Mario Chalmers, whose wide open 3-pointer gave Miami an 83-80 lead.

Confusion, as well as Celtics players being a step or two late, have been killers for the Celtics' defense throughout this series.

It's a result of the fact that the Celtics haven't played with the kind of consistent force, focus or fire needed to compete -- let alone win a game -- thus far.

When asked what it would take for the Celtics to turn this series around, Boston forward Jeff Green said, "Play harder and just have a sense of urgency. They got to a lot of loose balls last game. They executed better than we did. It's all stuff we can control. We just have to go out there and play harder than they are. That can be done."

It's distressing that the Celtics even need to discuss playing hard and having a sense of urgency at this point in the season. Playing hard and having a heightened sense of urgency should be a given this time of year.

But these Celtics have shown that they aren't like most teams, which is why even with a 2-0 series deficit, it's too soon to count the C's out entirely.

That's why while watching the video from Game 2, there was more a sense of disappointment than despair, a clear sense of frustration at the many lost opportunities they had.

"We know we're a better team, no matter what five guys are on the floor," Green said. "Collectively, we're still the best team in this league. Looking at film, we see our effort we put out and we know we can do better."

Part of that improvement starts with Green, the central figure for the Celtics in their four-player trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in February.

Like most players in the NBA, Green has had his troubles defensively against James.

Although Green and James are both 6-9, James' significant weight advantage makes defending him an even greater challenge for Green.

Because of James' ball-handling skills, he has the ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the basket as well as any player in the league.

And when he's knocking down jumpers, "he's tough to guard," said Green. He added, "He's a big body, and then you have to respect his shot. And if he gets past you, he can put that body on you. There's nothing you can do about it. You just have to contest every shot, make it tough on him and hope he misses."

The Celtics should also benefit from the return of Shaquille O'Neal, who is expected to play for the first time since April 3.

Looking back on the first two games, the C's squandered a number of scoring opportunities around the basket -- an area that O'Neal should help even if he's on the floor for just a few minutes.

Rivers showed his players a video clip on Thursday that included "35 in-the-paint, inside-the-charge circle misses in two games," Rivers said. "That's a lot."

The Celtics must also do a better job of freeing up their shooters.

After scoring 25 points in Game 1, Ray Allen had just eight points in Game 2 on 2-for-7 shooting from the field.

Setting screens may seem inconsequential to many, but Allen knows all too well that it's one of the intangibles that has to be done well in order to succeed this time of year.

"Just paying attention to the small things," Allen said. "You always need to be reminded, that those . . . setting screens, stutter-stepping one side to the next, those things get your teammates open, those things get screens set. You may not score, but your team scores."

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

WATCH: Celtics vs. Rockets

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Rockets

Tune into CSN to watch the Celtics play the Rockets in Houston. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by McDonald's on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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- Talk about the game via social media on CSN's Pulse, presented by Ford

Celtics-Rockets preview: Get ready for 3-point showdown

Celtics-Rockets preview: Get ready for 3-point showdown

Earlier this month the Boston Celtics took a season-high 42 three-pointers in a game which raised a few eyebrows. 

And you know what?

No one would be surprised if the Celtics (12-8) surpassed that total tonight when they face the Houston Rockets who have set the pace when it comes to launching 3-point bombs in the NBA this season with 37.0 attempts per game. 

The Celtics aren’t too far behind, averaging 30.8 three-pointers which ranks fifth in the NBA.

But what makes these two teams so unique is that in addition to taking a lot of 3s, they also rank among the NBA’s leaders when it comes to knocking them down. 

The Rockets (13-7) make an NBA-high 14.0 three-pointers per game while the Celtics are fifth in the league with 11.1 made 3s per game. 

And the key to that stat is that both teams shoot a surprisingly high percentage from 3-point range as well. 

Houston’s 37.8 percent from 3-point range is the fifth-best mark in the NBA while the Celtics shoot 36.0 percent on 3's which ranks 10th in the league. 

So what does all this 3-ball shooting mean? 

It means get your popcorn ready for what should be one of the more exciting, high-scoring games on the Boston Celtics’ schedule this season.

Here are some other key stats to keep tabs on during tonight’s game. 

 

FIRST QUARTER SCORING

There is no team in the NBA better at jumping on you from the outset, then Houston. They lead the NBA in first-quarter scoring with 31.2 points per game while shooting 51.9 percent in the quarter which is also tops in the NBA. But there’s a downside to their first quarter success. Houston’s first quarter defense is pretty bad, ranking 27th in the league in first-quarter points allowed (28.5) while allowing teams to shoot a league-worst 52.3 percent from the field in the game’s first 12 minutes. 

 

FOURTH QUARTER SCORING

As impressive as Houston is to start games, the Boston Celtics are just as dominant offensively in the fourth quarter. Boston averages a league-best 29.1 points per game in the fourth compared to the Rockets whose 24.4 points in the fourth ranks 21st in the NBA. Boston’s strong finish to games is aided by a defense that seems to save its best work for the fourth quarter. Opponents are shooting just 40.6 percent against the Celtics in the fourth which ranks as the third-best fourth quarter defense in the NBA.

 

OFFENSIVE REBOUND PERCENTAGE

Boston’s struggles on the boards are well documented which includes - but is certainly not limited to - offensive rebounding. The Rockets will present a major problem to Boston when it comes to trying to avoid Houston getting second and third-shot opportunities. The Rockets rank fifth in the NBA in second-chance points (15.3) per game while the Celtics’ defense allows 15.2 second-chance points which ranks 27th in the league. And Boston’s offensive rebounding percentage for opponents ranks dead-last in the NBA at .265.

 

BALL MOVEMENT

Both teams rank among the league leaders in assists per game with Boston’s 24.4 assists per game average No. 2 in the NBA and Houston’s 24.3 assists ranks fourth. But more telling is how the Celtics rely more heavily on keeping the ball moving, more so than the Rockets. You see this in Boston averaging 329.2 passes per game which ranks third in the NBA while the Rockets’ 273.5 passes per game average is 29th in the league. Still, Houston’s passing game is to be respected especially when you consider the lofty assists numbers they’ve racked up in addition to them getting 59.2 points created via the assist according to nba.com/stats

 

TURNOVERS

These two are at opposite ends of the basketball world when it comes to turnovers. Boston commits 12.3 per game which is the fourth-fewest committed in the NBA while the Rockets are turning the ball over 16.1 times per game and that ranks 27th in the league. And these two remain widely far apart in the fourth quarter which is when the Celtics turn the ball over a league-low 2.2 times per game in the fourth while Houston turns the ball more than twice as much (4.5) which ranks 29th in the league.