Celtics wary of potential traps against hungry teams

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Celtics wary of potential traps against hungry teams

By Rich Levine
CSNNE.com

SALT LAKE CITY The Celtics went into the All-Star break having completed the toughest stretch of their season. But just because the schedule has looked easier (and will continue to do so) down the stretch doesnt mean the Cs are in for an easy go of things.

Its a trend thats followed the Big Three over their three-plus seasons together, and one that was once again in effect during Monday nights win in Utah. Essentially, when the Celtics take the floor, you can throw out the records, because regardless of where the other team is, or how much they might be struggling, theyre going to have their best for Boston.

I think every night a team feels that way, said Doc Rivers after the win, so that doesnt change. Thats probably good for us in some way. I dont know what, but it has to be good for us. Every night teams want to beat us. That pushes us.

On Monday, it pushed the Celtics into the most exciting game of the second half, one that saw a Jazz team that was down all sorts of luck they were 5-15 in their last 20, recently lost their coach and even more recently lost their franchise player push Boston to the brink before skill and experience took over in a 107-102 victory.

Im always concerned if were going to meet the other teams intensity, said Rivers, because theyre always giddy about playing us and sometimes you dont feel like we return that. But somehow we find a way to win the games.

Boston will have to continue to find ways over this upcoming stretch.

Of their next 15 games, only six will come against current playoff teams, and of those six games, two are against the 26-32 Pacers (currently the Easts eighth seed). The other four would-be playoff opponents are the Sixers, Knicks, Hornets and Grizzlies, but really, thats not a huge concern. The Celtics have consistently shown they can beat and remain focused enough to beat the best this season. And even though they havent exactly struggled with the bottom of the league, theres always the worry that down the stretch as has already happened this season with losses to Cleveland, Toronto, Washington, Detroit and Charlotte theyll look past and get trapped by an inferior opponent.

But they are aware of the potential traps. They know the dangers presented by teams who appear down on their luck and come out playing like their seasons are on the line. As Paul Pierce said, Weve been in a lot of big games together, so that kind of atmosphere doesnt really faze us.

And the veteran Cs have been around long enough to know that regardless of record, theres no such thing as an automatic win in the league.

Nothings easy, said Kevin Garnett. Nothings easy in this league. Sometimes getting up out of your chair is hard. Nothings easy.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”