Celtics prepare for hungry opponents

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Celtics prepare for hungry opponents

By Jessica Camerato
CSNNE.com

Being the target of lesser teams is nothing new for the Boston Celtics. It has been that way ever since the establishment of the new Big Three, and Wednesdays loss to the sub-.500 Los Angeles Clippers showed that wasnt changing any time soon.

But this is the point in the season where the Celtics are targeted by a different kind of opponent - one that can gain more than just a boost of confidence by upsetting the Cs.

With the postseason only a month away, the Celtics face hungry teams desperately fighting for a playoff berth.

On Friday the Celtics lost to the Philadelphia 76ers, who improved to 8-2 over their last 10 games as they inch their way up the lower seedings in the Eastern Conference. Their win over the Celtics put them just half a game behind the New York Knicks for the sixth spot.

Up next is the Milwaukee Bucks (25-38) on Sunday at TD Garden. The Celtics are 2-0 against the Bucks this season, although both wins have been decided by single digits. The Cs won, 105-102 in overtime, on November 3 in Boston, and left Milwaukee with an 89-83 victory last Sunday.

After battling through a season plagued by injuries (Andrew Bogut is now back on the court), the Bucks are fighting for the eighth and final spot in the East. Wins over the Washington Wizards and Cleveland Cavaliers have them closing in on the Charlotte Bobcats and the struggling Indiana Pacers.

"The team is picking up, but these are games we should win," said Brandon Jennings, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "So we can't be parading around here like we've done something. We've still got a long way to go."

The Bucks are aware their chances are winding down and every win or loss could have an impact on whether or not they make the playoffs. The significance of each regular season game is magnified at this point in their season.

"The season hasn't gone the way we wanted, but we're in a position where we still can
accomplish our goal," Earl Boykins, who scored 18 points on Wednesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers said, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

"And that's playing in the playoffs. It's definitely a second chance, especially with winning the last few games. They're games we had to win. And earlier in the year they could have been two losses. I think guys realize now is the chance. We don't have any more time."

The Celtics have plenty at stake in this game, too. After losing to the Clippers and 76ers, the Cs (46-17) have just a half-game lead over the streaking Chicago Bulls (46-18) for the top seed in the East.

We expect to win every game, Ray Allen said following the loss to the Clippers. But any team at any point in this league is capable of winning any game. Were not better than them because of our record. Were better than them because we play hard every night and we play together. Walking into a game, record doesnt get you the next win.

You have to take a team like that and youve got to show them why they dont belong on the same floor as us.

Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

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Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

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Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.