CelticsHub Boston Celtics Blog for information, in-depth analysis and discussion about CelticsHub. 2016-04-29T02:43:19Z http://www.celticshub.com/feed/atom/ Jesse Alling <![CDATA[Deja Vu All Over Again: Celtics Fall to Hawks in Game 6, Season Ends]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58236 2016-04-29T02:43:19Z 2016-04-29T02:43:19Z   Other than the jersey colors, Game 6 ran pretty much the same path as Game 5. The Celtics played great D early and forced several turnovers, but they only got 3 points off of them and struggled to hit shots overall. This led to various players forcing shots, and Atlanta was eventually able to […]

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Other than the jersey colors, Game 6 ran pretty much the same path as Game 5. The Celtics played great D early and forced several turnovers, but they only got 3 points off of them and struggled to hit shots overall. This led to various players forcing shots, and Atlanta was eventually able to respond and pull away by halftime.

Isaiah Thomas’s call for his teammates to step up and help him were met with a couple of sparks, but not much else. Jonas Jerebko hit a couple of big threes, Marcus Smart made a few successful drives to keep it close, and Jae crowder finally got hot after 23 quarters to pull the deficit to respectability late. But Thomas was aggressively doubled again, and Boston struggled to make Atlanta pay for it.

Defensively, the team struggled again. There could be a myriad of factors attributed to that – Avery Bradley’s absence, the team looking exhausted, frustration from missed shots, you name it. Whatever the reason, Atlanta got to the hoop at will, rotations were missed, and the Hawks put the game mostly to bed with a 37 point third quarter.

This was a terrible matchup from the start. Atlanta’s defense found a way to snuff out what,little offense Boston could muster, and Boston’s defense seemed to run out of gas by the middle of game 4. It was going to be hard for Boston to pull it off at full strength, let alone with all the bumps, bruises, strains, and sprains they suffered as the series went on.

A plethora of questions need to be answered about this team, both as a result of this series and the season as a whole. But there’s plenty of good to take from what happened this year. The team improved as a whole, in record, standing, and ability. Thomas looks like a legit offensive piece to build around. Crowder is a dangerous multi-tool player. Stevens is suddenly a legitimate recruiting piece this offseason. Lots of questions remain, but lots to look forward to, as well.

Lots more to come, about tonight and the offseason, in the coming days. But be proud of this team for now. The past few days sullied it a bit, but the future is very bright.

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Nick Altschuller <![CDATA[Celtics-Hawks Game 6 Preview: Can the Celtics Get Even Smaller?]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58231 2016-04-28T15:46:23Z 2016-04-28T15:43:36Z As Jesse noted yesterday, this series is a lesson in punch, counter punch. In Game 3, Brad Stevens decided to go small, with Jonas Jerebko starting in the frontcourt instead of Jared Sullinger. In Game 5, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer responded to a rough first seven minutes by going smaller, taking Al Horford out of […]

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Feb 25, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics forward Jonas Jerebko (8), guard Evan Turner (11), guard Isaiah Thomas (4), forward Jae Crowder (99) and guard Marcus Smart (36) celebrate against the New York Knicks during the second half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

As Jesse noted yesterday, this series is a lesson in punch, counter punch. In Game 3, Brad Stevens decided to go small, with Jonas Jerebko starting in the frontcourt instead of Jared Sullinger. In Game 5, Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer responded to a rough first seven minutes by going smaller, taking Al Horford out of the game and moving Paul Millsap to center. With their backs against the wall in Game 6, one strategy open to the Celtics would be to go all in with this nesting-doll of a series. So if Game 5 proved the Hawks are looking to fight someone their own size, perhaps the Celtics should counter by becoming even smaller.

Let’s consider how this might work:

1.  There’s no getting around the fact that Atlanta has a frontcourt advantage. That would be the case even if Kelly Olynyk’s shoulder was 100 percent. Jared Sullinger hasn’t been able to keep pace with the game speed, and as a result he’s averaging just 14.8 minutes in the series, and his shooting (32 percent) hasn’t provided an adequate counterbalance.

The (sorta) good news is that Millsap’s solid performance (16 points, 9 boards, 47 percent shooting) hasn’t been magnified by support from Horford. Perhaps hampered by a groin injury, Horford has struggled offensively in the last three games. He was 2-11 on Tuesday, and has just 19 points on 27 percent shooting since Game 2.

Jerebko and Jae Crowder should be able to keep up their excellent defense, and I think Tyler Zeller should see some more time, as he can both body up Horford and play fast in a way Sullinger cannot. If he can hit some of his smooth 15-footers? All the better.

Yes, playing a seven-footer isn’t exactly a sign of playing small, but let’s see what I have planned for the backcourt.

2.  Double teams on Isaiah Thomas disrupted the Little Guy’s flow all night. A tweaked ankle isn’t going to help Thomas rediscover his form. If the Celtics play two other primary ball-handlers alongside Thomas (some combination of Turner, Smart and Rozier), IT will be able to work off the ball in half-court sets. Working off-ball should be a little easier on the ankle, it takes away the Hawks option to immediately double-team, and it would allow Celtics “bigs” to set off-ball screens that could get Thomas easier looks.

A three-point-guard lineup would also allow for a defensive scheme that I don’t think we’ll see, but I wouldn’t be opposed to Stevens giving it a shot. In Game 5, Stevens tried a 2-3 zone. The Hawks bombed that zone from long range until that side of the court was just splinters and ash. A 3-2, however, could give Atlanta some trouble.

As discussed, the Atlanta frontcourt is dangerous, but it’s not where the Celtics chances are made or broken. (Even 45 points from Millsap couldn’t stop Boston from winning Game 4.) If the Celtics can get more defensive speed on the perimeter, perhaps they can counter the screens and passing that gave Atlanta so many good looks from outside in Game 5. Because Kyle Korver is who the Celtics really have to be concerned with. If he’s off, like he was in Game 1, that’s a mark in Boston’s favor. But since Game 1, Korver is 16-31 from three. That’s terrifying, and if that hot shooting continues, the Celtics season does not.

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Jesse Alling <![CDATA[Game 5 Analysis: Celtics Shouldn’t Change Much; They Just Need to Score]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58220 2016-04-27T15:45:30Z 2016-04-27T15:39:43Z A popular recurring theme when talking about a playoff series is the “chess match” that goes on between the coaches and their rosters, the tweaks in rosters and schemes that happen between games. Punch-counterpunch. So it might be tempting to say last night was the result of the latest chess move by Mike Budenholzer in […]

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A popular recurring theme when talking about a playoff series is the “chess match” that goes on between the coaches and their rosters, the tweaks in rosters and schemes that happen between games. Punch-counterpunch. So it might be tempting to say last night was the result of the latest chess move by Mike Budenholzer in an extended match between the Hawks and Celtics.

I think at this point, though, the chess match is over. Tomorrow will mark the tenth time these two very evenly matched teams have faced each other this season. There’s very little either could do at this point that would come as a surprise. This is now a rock fight, and last night, the Hawks had a much bigger rock.

Sure, there were a couple tweaks Atlanta made that are worth noting. They aggressively trapped Thomas behind the three-point line, often with a double team featuring longer defenders like Bazemore or Sefalosha – Thomas’s Achilles heel thus far in his Celtics career. He made several correct decisions early in the game, but as time went on, those decisions turned into mistakes and turnovers.

The Hawks also finally broke out their own small lineup – one I was expecting to see a lot more in this series for its offensive potency. Boston has done a fantastic job thus far of containing Horford and (besides game 4) Millsap, preventing the majority of their post-up opportunities, effectively poking the ball away in the paint, and muscling them up with smaller but more brutish defenders. So, Atlanta took Horford out, put Millsap at the 5, and put everyone around the perimeter. It helped that the shots were falling, but the Celtics looked a bit frazzled trying to cover the extra shooter, and frazzled quickly lead to exhausted in the third quarter. For the first time this series, Boston actually looked like a tired and beat-up team.

But none of that should really surprise anyone from a strategy standpoint. The book on Isaiah is well known: get a long, quick defender on him, and he becomes way less effective as a scorer. The Hawks simply decided to split that defender into two parts – a quick point guard to bother him on the perimeter, and a long wing to prevent him penetrating and to trap when available. The small lineup they broke out was always there, it just took until game 5 for Budenholzer to trust it for an extended run.

The real issue is much simpler: the Celtics aren’t hitting their shots.

The first quarter should have been a real warning bell for Celtics fans. Atlanta started their aggressive double teaming of Thomas almost immediately, and he was initially able to find open guys around the perimeter for WIDE open threes. I’m actually pretty sure he had more passes out of shots than actual shots in the first quarter. But no one could hit them.

Thomas is best as a lightning-quick penetrator; his perimeter shooting is a secondary weapon. He can’t execute when he’s facing the kind of tight zone defense he saw last night. Take a look at any possession Thomas tries to initiate offense as a ballhandler and see how much Atlanta is collapsing when he enters the paint. That is the case for just about any Celtic trying to make a move in the interior – Turner, Crowder, Smart, etc.

The Hawks have seen Boston for nine games, and they have decided they literally don’t care how open a lot of their players are from outside. They’ll take their chances. But Isaiah is not going to beat them inside if they can help it.

Imagine if just one or two of the open threes Boston got in the first quarter went in. Suddenly, the trapping up top doesn’t look as smart, and maybe Atlanta has to lay off a little bit. Maybe there’s a bigger cushion to withstand the Hawks going full NBA Jam in the third quarter. Maybe Crowder finally snaps out of his schneid and returns to Dark-Horse All-Star Replacement Candidate Jae Crowder. Maybe Thomas finally gets some room to operate inside. At the very least, it’s a much closer game.

Instead, Atlanta continued to pack any area inside 15 feet, Thomas began to force shots, the rest of the team began to panic and force the issue, and Atlanta was off. A big reason the Celtics eventually collapsed on defense was the number of transition opportunities the Hawks got off missed shots and turnovers. You can’t set an aggressive ball-denial defense up if you’re constantly moving.

So obviously, Thomas needs some help. It doesn’t really matter from where. Smart had a superb Game 4 and looked to be continuing it at the start of Game 5; he just needs to cut down on the forced passes when he faces the Atlanta wall. Turner has been doing as much as he can, but the Hawks love when he shoots on the perimeter, and he’s also caught the turnover bugaboo lately. Amir Johnson has his moments cleaning the offensive glass.

Other candidates you feel less confident in. Jerebko at the 5 has been a revelation, but he hasn’t really capitalized from deep enough to make the Hawks consistently worried (29% for the series). Crowder has handled the interior on defense well, but his slump continues. Sullinger has no matchup in this series. Olynyk should be taking his minutes, but he still doesn’t trust his shoulder, and last night was an out-and-out catastrophe; it’s debatable if Stevens should even use him at this point. Rozier has already overextended his ceiling for contributions in this series, and he still makes plenty of rookie mistakes on both sides of the ball.

This was always going to be the case, though. Thomas was a sure thing, and fans had to feel reasonably good about Turner coming to perform. Both have done their jobs, for the most part, and now other players have to hit their shots.

The good news is, if that happens, this should be an easy fix that doesn’t require a rapid transformation. The offense, as a unit, was running effectively when it was in control. The right guys were getting open shots most teams would love to have on a regular basis. That small Atlanta lineup being gushed over should, in theory, be a defensive sieve, so if Boston plays under control, they should continue to find opportunities. They just need to go in.

The bad news is, in all honesty, they now have to go in. The Celtics are out of time to have guys work out of shooting funks. Whether it’s Jerebko at the 5, Crowder finding his stroke, or Smart going Smart at the right time, this team needs to find its offensive rhythm. Otherwise, Atlanta will keep packing the paint, and Boston will be packing it in for the summer come Thursday.

 

Follow Jesse on Twitter:@JesseAlling

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Brian Robb <![CDATA[Hawks Crush Celtics 110-83 In Game 5]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58218 2016-04-27T03:48:57Z 2016-04-27T03:48:57Z Post written by Jeff Wasserboehr Not even new shoes for Isaiah Thomas at halftime could help him—or the Celtics—buy a bucket in this absolute slaughtering in Atlanta. The Celts will return to the TD Garden for Game 6 on Thursday, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with the Hawks. In a relatively close first half […]

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Post written by Jeff Wasserboehr

Not even new shoes for Isaiah Thomas at halftime could help him—or the Celtics—buy a bucket in this absolute slaughtering in Atlanta. The Celts will return to the TD Garden for Game 6 on Thursday, down 3-2 in the best-of-seven series with the Hawks.

In a relatively close first half that saw multiple lead changes, and even a 10-point Celtics lead, this game was won definitively by the Atlanta Hawks in the third quarter. While the Celtics scored more points in the third than any of the other quarters, their measly 23 points were no match for the Hawks’ 42.

For as badly and low-scoring as the first two quarters were, the Hawks flipped a switch in the third, going over 70 percent from the field, with Kent Bazemore as the main scoring catalyst. Meanwhile for the Celts, nobody, it seemed, could make any real meaningful offensive contributions—and they lacked the presence of a real superstar capable of taking over [or keeping a team in] a game.

Evan Turner led the Celtics scoring efforts with 15 points, and Jerebko, in his newly-acquired playoff starting role, chipped in 8 solid rebounds. Atlanta did a great job taking Isaiah Thomas out of the game with double teams, and the Celts had no other reliable scoring threats.

Down 24, it was evident Stevens threw in the towel when, two minutes into the fourth quarter, every young buck on the Celtics was on the floor. The result? A fourth quarter that was essentially entirely garbage time; the two teams’ bench players getting double-digit minutes of playtime before an emptying Atlanta Phillips Arena.

One other concern: Isaiah’s early exit after he made an awkward landing on a layup, spraining his ankle. He says he’ll be ready for Game 6.

More analysis to come on this one.

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Griffin Connolly <![CDATA[Four Takeaways from Game 4 and Looking Ahead to Game 5]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58206 2016-04-25T15:09:59Z 2016-04-25T15:09:59Z On Sunday night, in one of the wonkier games in recent memory, the Boston Celtics evened their first round series at two games apiece with the Atlanta Hawks after pulling away for a 104-95 victory in overtime. In honor of this Game 4 win, here’s a quartet of lessons we can take away:   1. […]

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Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 4.50.14 PMOn Sunday night, in one of the wonkier games in recent memory, the Boston Celtics evened their first round series at two games apiece with the Atlanta Hawks after pulling away for a 104-95 victory in overtime.

In honor of this Game 4 win, here’s a quartet of lessons we can take away:

 

1. Atlanta has a forcefield around the rim.

The Celtics are shooting just 45.9 percent at the rim when at least one Hawk is in the restricted area, per NBA.com. In the regular season, the Hawks allowed opponents to shoot 51.1 percent in such situations––still a stingy mark good for tenth in the league.

They don’t have any particularly good shot-blockers; center Al Horford stands just 6-foot-10 and Paul Millsap is two inches shorter than that. So how do they do it?

What Atlanta lacks in size they more than make up for in athleticism and mental acuity. Their perimeter players––Kent Bazemore, Jeff Teague, Thabo Sefolosha––are quick defenders and can dart to close out on kick-outs after taking a few extra steps toward the paint to clog things up. Look how attentive all five guys are to the drive on this play:

 

Screen Shot 2016-04-25 at 9.30.53 AM

 

Horford and Millsap are rarely left to defend the basket by themselves, too. The team doesn’t have one specific swatter––instead, the Hawks gang up to protect the rim as a team, like a swarm of Drosophila fruit flies jittering around a rotten strawberry:

 

Hawks_Swarm

 

The Celtics converted half their contested shots at the rim last night, including a layup with 15 seconds to go in the fourth by Isaiah Thomas to send the game into overtime. That’s still a pretty stiff mark, but it’s better than the first two games. Inserting Jonas Jerebko into the starting lineup has provided some breathing room for Thomas and Evan Turner to probe the paint. It’s probably best if Jared Sullinger plays nothing but spot minutes here or there for the remainder of the series.

It’s tough to loosen Atlanta’s tight grip on the interior, but Stevens’s adjustments have made a notable dent.
2. Sometimes, you’ve gotta try weird things on defense.

And by “weird” we mean tasking the 6-foot-4 Marcus Smart with defending the 6-foot-8 Paul Millsap.

In his autobiography, University of North Carolina coach Roy Williams says a lot of dumb, college coachy stuff. A lot of smart stuff, too, no doubt, but still a bunch of those college-game cliches. One passage, though, has stuck out to me and struck as extremely wise:

Essentially, if an opposing team is in an offensive groove, it’s sometimes smart to stick a mismatched defender onto one player to disrupt the other team’s flow. The idea is that your opponents will recognize the mismatch, force-feed the ball to it, thus halting their movement and rhythm.

Paul Millsap had 41 points by the under-9 official timeout, scoring every which way and within the flow of Atlanta’s team offense. At that point, Stevens was grasping at straws on how to defend him. Because Millsap was scoring every which way––post-ups, snag-and-go-drives, catch-and-shoot threes––the Celtics couldn’t really double him.

So he channeled his inner Roy Williams and told Smart, “He’s yours.”

The theory held up. The Hawks, recognizing the perceived mismatch, did exactly what they were supposed to do––they posted Millsap up and cleared everyone else to the other side of the floor. And things like this happened:

 

Millsap_Airball

 

Or this:

 

Smart_Steal

 

Smart clearly doesn’t have the length to bother Millsap in certain ways, but he was able to use his quickness to stay between the ball and the basket. Stay in front of your man, keep him as far away from the basket as possible, put your hands straight in the air, and you can make medium-range shots tough for anyone.

Stevens and Atlanta head coach Mike Budenholzer both mentioned that Smart was defending Millsap late in the game––after he’d already played 35-plus minutes. That matters. Your legs start to go, you can’t get as much lift on your shots, lateral explosiveness is draining rapidly.

But you could make the same excuses for why Smart shouldn’t have been able to plug the defensive gap. It was a remarkable, if unsustainable, effort, the kind of bizarro match-up deliciousness that only happens in the playoffs.

 

3. It’ll take heroic efforts from multiple guys to beat the Hawks.

I mean, just look at the box score. Marcus Smart scored twenty points and nailed two huge––repeat: H-U-G-E––3-pointers in the middle of the fourth quarter to give the Celtics an 85-84 lead.

Jonas Jerebko scored 10 of 12 points for the Celtics at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth, including this spinning, turnaround, “oops, I forgot I’m supposed to come back down to the floor” jumper we’ll likely never see him pull off again:

 

Jerebko_Jumper

 

And then, 22 seconds later, he gave us this equally improbably gem:

 

Jerebko_Finger_Roll

 

The playoffs are nutty, and the Celtics thrive on nuttiness. Paul Flannery of SB Nation wrote a wonderful article today on how this first-round match-up pits the control-craving Hawks against the chaos-mongering Celtics, and he couldn’t be more correct.

Team personality radiates in the playoffs, and last night was the ultimate Boston game. Bonkers plays by bonkers players.
4. The Hawks should have won.

Boston’s defense yielded 23 “wide open” jump shots to the Hawks yesterday, according to NBA.com’s shot-tracking data.* The Hawks made just six of those, including only 5-of-17 shooting from beyond the arc.

The Hawks offense produced 24 “open” shots, but Atlanta converted those into points just seven times.

Kyle Korver finished a respectable 3-for-9 from deep but missed some looks he customarily buries. Kent Bazemore, a 35.7 percent 3-point shooter this season, was unable to knock down a handful of uncontested three-balls.

On the series, the Hawks have generated the most wide open looks per game of any of the 16 teams in the playoffs, yet, oddly, they have the second-worst field goal percentage and third-worst effective field goal percentage (which adjusts for the extra point in a 3-point shot).

Boston has played inspired defense throughout much of the series, but Atlanta’s struggles to convert on open shots likely won’t continue. There’s still work to be done as the teams head back to Atlanta for Game 5 on Tuesday.

 

*Wide open jump shots are defined as shots from 10 feet or greater where the closest defender was six-plus feet away.
**Open jump shots are defined as shots from 10 feet or greater where the closest defender was between four and six feet away.

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Griffin Connolly <![CDATA[Celtics Outlast Hawks in Kookiest Game of Playoffs]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58203 2016-04-25T01:21:04Z 2016-04-25T01:21:04Z What. A. Game. After 53 minutes (five of them free!) of unthinkably delicious action, the Boston Celtics came out on top 104-95 to even the series with the Atlanta Hawks at two games apiece. Atlanta’s Paul Millsap finished with 45 points––one shy of his career mark––on 19-of-31 shooting. He did it every which way: drives […]

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What. A. Game.

After 53 minutes (five of them free!) of unthinkably delicious action, the Boston Celtics came out on top 104-95 to even the series with the Atlanta Hawks at two games apiece.

Atlanta’s Paul Millsap finished with 45 points––one shy of his career mark––on 19-of-31 shooting. He did it every which way: drives to the hoop against slower defenders, post-up bullyball when being checked by smaller dudes, 3-pointers.

But in the fourth quarter, he went cold. With about eight minutes to go, Brad Stevens stuck Marcus Smart, six inches shorter, onto Millsap, and it worked. He only scored two baskets on six shots the rest of the way.

Everyone, it seemed, made big contributions. Isaiah Thomas snuck a layup between two defenders at the rim to send the game into overtime. Smart nailed two 3-pointers and slammed home a dunk to give the Celtics a lead in the middle of the fourth. Amir Johnson’s defense was subtly spectacular.

Jonas Jerebko, starting in his second straight game, provided some timely offensive sparks, especially at the end of the third quarter and beginning of the fourth with a particularly impressive/heroic/comedic stretch of spinning fallaways, 3-pointers, and open-court chops.

Boston had five players finish in double figures (nearly six––Johnson had nine).
The Hawks and Celtics meet up for again for Game Five on Tuesday in Atlanta.

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Cameron Tabatabaie <![CDATA[Breaking Down Isaiah Thomas’ Historic Game 3]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58188 2016-04-23T21:56:28Z 2016-04-23T21:56:01Z Facing on 0-2 series deficit against the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics returned to the TD Garden in hopes that some home cooking would yield positive results. Not only did the C’s grab a rather convincing win – the first playoff victory in Brad Stevens’ NBA career –  but Boston’s feisty All Star point guard Isaiah […]

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Facing on 0-2 series deficit against the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics returned to the TD Garden in hopes that some home cooking would yield positive results.

Not only did the C’s grab a rather convincing win – the first playoff victory in Brad Stevens’ NBA career –  but Boston’s feisty All Star point guard Isaiah Thomas had himself a career night.

IT finished with 42 points, his highest scoring total ever as a pro. He set the tone with some aggressive play and hit some important shots down the stretch. The Garden was absolutely rocking, and when the game clock expired, Isaiah found himself among some very illustrious company.

In the entire history of the Boston Celtics, just a handful of men have netted 40 points or more in a playoff game. Friday night, Isaiah became the 9th player to achieve this feat. Here’s the list in its entirety:

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 11.22.47 PM

Isaiah finished with a 50 percent clip from the field, including 5-12 from three. He also turned in 4 rebounds and a steal. The way IT got his 42 points is rather interesting. He was an efficient 13-15 from the free throw line, but beyond that, there was a pretty discernible pattern to Isaiah’s game. Light it up, or take into the teeth of the defense.

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After the game, I asked Isaiah what it meant to find himself among so many Celtics legends. Through a suppressed smile, IT reiterated a focus on results. Jonas Jerebko, who started in place of Jared Sullinger and ended with postseason career highs in points, assists, and rebounds, joined Isaiah on the podium postgame.

Throughout the course of the night, Isaiah was ready whenever Boston needed a bucket. The C’s went up 19 points at one point in the third quarter, only to see the same lead disappear by the end of the period.

With just a one-point cushion heading into the fourth, Isaiah and the Celtics managed 32 points in the final frame, keeping Atlanta at bay and snagging the team’s first win of the series.

The Garden crowd was absolutely bananas all night, and Isaiah and the gang really fed off the energy. Even Kyle Korver admitted after the game that the crowd was a factor for the C’s, and with a few celebrities in house, Isaiah shared a moment with Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount after the contest.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 4.50.14 PM

At times, things were a little testy between the Hawks and Celtics, and there were several flagrant and technical fouls issued in response to physical play and some pugnacious antics.

At one point, Isaiah struck Atlanta guard Dennis Schroder, and following the game, many speculated that he could face a penalty in the form of a suspension. As Chris Forsberg reported, the league has issued a retroactive flagrant foul, and IT will be available Sunday evening for Game 4

“I’m focused on Game 4, man. They made the call of what it was, a flagrant-1, whatever it was. I’m glad I’m able to play.” Isaiah said at Celtics practice on Saturday.

Here’s the play in question:

I’ll abstain from making any judgement concerning intent on Isaiah’s part, but outside of the incident in question, Isaiah was unwavering the face of some tight Atlanta defense, and deserves praise for his toughness. Whether he was pulling up from a few feet beyond the three point line or fighting among the trees in the paint, he showed incredible resolve and confidence.

It was a performance for the ages, an instant classic in this latest chapter in Celtics basketball. To compare IT to the likes of a Paul Pierce or Larry Bird would be misguided, but for one night, Isaiah Thomas did in fact earn himself a place among the greatest to ever wear Celtics green.

Despite everything, the Celtics are still sitting on the wrong end of a 2-1 series deficit, and with a big game on Sunday, Boston will need to bring the same enthusiasm that was on display Friday night.

Please follow me on Twitter @CTabatabaie

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Jesse Alling <![CDATA[Celtics Get Back to Basics: Strategy Notes from Game 3]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58182 2016-04-23T07:02:40Z 2016-04-23T06:59:17Z My musings, notes, and questions, in no particular order, from a very entertaining game of Celtics’ playoff basketball: – I didn’t see anything particularly radical in Boston’s offensive gameplan tonight. Much was made in the moment of the small lineup Boston deployed in the last five minutes, featuring Jerebko at the 5. It really shouldn’t […]

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My musings, notes, and questions, in no particular order, from a very entertaining game of Celtics’ playoff basketball:

– I didn’t see anything particularly radical in Boston’s offensive gameplan tonight. Much was made in the moment of the small lineup Boston deployed in the last five minutes, featuring Jerebko at the 5. It really shouldn’t have been that surprising, though. The Celtics finally found a semblance of offensive rhythm during the season when they deployed the three guard lineup anchored by Crowder and Olynyk in the frontcourt. The prevalent lineup tonight was essentially that formula with Jerebko subbing in as a faster, poorer shooting version of Olynyk.

Tonight represented a return to past success more than anything else. This team has been, and always will be, at their best when they play under control, move the ball, and create enough space to operate. They just needed to see some shots fall to reaffirm their good work. Not a ton of them did tonight, but enough did.

– It really is remarkable, though, how much better the offense ran with Jerebko and IT on the floor together than when one or both sat. Jerebko never really took longer than a three minute break at any point during the game, and Brad Stevens had to be clever with timeout usage to buy Thomas as much time as possible resting without losing game minutes. When one of them was missing, the paint contracted on itself, and the offense became a slog of isolation misfires and poor shot selection on the perimeter.

Minutes for those two, particularly Jerebko, are going to become a factor sooner than later as the series continues. Thomas should be fine, but Jerebko can’t be expected to play 37 minutes a game efficiently when he has barely played more than 20 for any extended run during the year.

– A neat defensive wrinkle that stood out tonight: the Celtics pretty much routinely sent both defenders underneath on-ball picks. This was clever – the Hawks are a good shooting team, but they are decidedly less confident shooting off the dribble. Teague may punish you once in a while, but they would much rather catch and shoot off of four or five separate screens.

This also gummed up a lot of the Hawks’ offensive sets inside the three-point line. Teague and Schroder had a field day when they were allowed to get a head of steam going in, but set plays were much less successful. Turner and Smart were able to pick off a lot of cross court and kick out passes because they were already in position to intercept. Good stuff from the scouting department there.

– Sullinger received fewer minutes tonight than Rozier, and that gap may honestly widen as the series continues. Sullinger played poorly tonight, the one member of the Celtics who stood out as a consistent turnstile when it came to defensive rotations. His strengths don’t match up well against a quicker Hawks team, and Amir Johnson has been playing very well as of late in Sully’s preferred center position. It’s just hard to see where he fits in to the Celtics’ current formula for victory.

– Crowder’s injury has been well-documented, but he managed tonight to cover Millsap well, forcing into a number of unforced errors and rip rebounds away. Where he continues to come up well short is shooting the ball, and this is a major issue. His shot, already not pretty to look at, looks like a baby calf figuring out how to walk. There was a legit conversation if he was going to be too much of a liability to use in crunchtime tonight. There isn’t another obvious solution other than to have him keep shooting and hope he figures out, but the Hawks will have no problem continuing to allow him to try 3’s at will if he’s going to keep shooting 1-11.

– Marcus Smart is a zero-sum game when it comes to tallying his good plays vs bad plays, but his good plays are just ridiculously breathtaking, you have to just laugh and roll with it. An above average job tonight impersonating Avery Bradley as an on-ball defender, but he’s not quite quick enough to stay with Teague or Schroder. He compensated well by bullying them at times. He also needs to understand that Kyle Korver is still a very good shooter, and going underneath screens set for him is a bad, bad, very bad idea.

We’re just gonna pretend that thing in the fourth with Korver didn’t happen. If you want notes on that, check out Twitter or Vine, they’ve got you covered.

– Is Thomas going to get suspended for his slap at Schroder in the second quarter? It’s probably going to depend on exactly what shade of gray the league assigns to their view of what really happened. The letter of the law says a hit to the head is a one-game suspension, automatic. But it was only kinda-sorta intentional (probably was meant more as a bothersome wave than a full-on smack), and it looked worse than I think it was. Dwight Howard delivered a forearm shiver to Andruw Bogut’s face last year in the Western Conference Finals and wasn’t suspended, but he also got a flagrant foul called at the time. It’s really up in the air. My guess would be the league retroactively gives Thomas either a flagrant 1 or a technical, no suspension, but I don’t feel super confident about it. Either way, not the smartest play by Thomas, to say the least.

– That was just about the only mistake he made on the night, though. God, when Thomas is flying around at top speed, he is so much fun to watch. This was the first playoff game in a Celtics uniform where Thomas really looked completely in control throughout. Part of that is scheme – Boston has a more cohesive look to their ball movement, and that only gets amplified when shots are falling. But part of that is also Thomas finally not feeling the need to force the action every time he has the ball. The Hawks may use Bazemore on him more next game, and his length may prove to be more successful similar to how Iman Shumpert always plays Thomas well for the Cavs. But tonight, Thomas had the green light, and he responded with his best game ever.

Sometimes, when your back is against the wall, you need to employ a key defensive adjustment or move around your rotations. Both certainly helped Boston’s cause tonight. But sometimes, you just need your All-Star to pull 40 points out after struggling for his entire playoff career. Either or both work.

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Cameron Tabatabaie <![CDATA[Isaiah Thomas Drops 42 as Celtics Win Game Three Over Hawks 111-103]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58161 2016-04-23T02:49:19Z 2016-04-23T02:49:19Z An explosive first quarter, an excellent fourth and 42 big points from Isaiah Thomas fueled Boston, and the Celtics grabbed their first victory of the series to the tune of 111-103. Perhaps a trip home was all the Celtics need. Even before the opening tip the crowd was singing and cheering, letting the players know […]

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An explosive first quarter, an excellent fourth and 42 big points from Isaiah Thomas fueled Boston, and the Celtics grabbed their first victory of the series to the tune of 111-103.

Perhaps a trip home was all the Celtics need. Even before the opening tip the crowd was singing and cheering, letting the players know what it means to protect home court. And the C’s responded in kind.

Brad Stevens attempted to infuse some life into his Celtics by switching up the starting line up. Before the game began, he confirmed that both Evan Turner and Jonas Jerebko would join the starters, replacing Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger, respectively.

After a few less than stellar performances from deep in games one and two, Stevens called on Jerebko to spread the floor, despite the fact that he had not started a game since Mar. 11, 2013 as a member of the Detroit Pistons.

“We’ve gotta do a great job of staying spaced and Jonas will help that,” said Stevens before the contest “We’re going to have to knock down some shots, and I believe that we will.”

In just his first seven minutes of playing time, Jerebko had 5 points, 4 rebounds and an assist. He finished with 11 points, 12 rebounds, and 4 assists.

The entire Celtics team seemed to be feeling it from deep. In the first quarter alone, they went 5-10 from distance. In the first two games of the season, Boston shot just 25.4 percent from 3-point range.

Isaiah Thomas, meanwhile, was really feeling himself in this one. His 42 points are a career high, and whether it was from deep or from the stripe, the little man had it going on wire to wire.

The Celtics remained in the drivers seat through the second quarter, when things started to get a little chippy. After a few dust-ups, Isaiah Thomas and Hawks guard Dennis Schroder had this interaction:

Though nothing came of it, it’s certainly worth keeping an eye on.

After a monster 1st quarter, Boston’s handle on the game began to slip. Though the Hawks were just 2-17 from deep in the first half, they managed to outscore the C’s 25-20 in the 2nd period. Boston held a 12 point lead into halftime.

The C’s returned to action and tore open a 19-point deficit, but Atlanta hung tough, chipping away and eventually tying things up. Back-to-back flagrant foul calls only heightened the tense atmosphere as the game approached the final quarter. A nifty floater on a broken play by Jerebko gave the Celtics a 79-78 lead with just 12 minutes to play. Again, Atlanta outscored Boston in the period, 33-22.

A flagrant foul on Schroder brought back some energy to the fans and the players, and the quarter very quickly became an absolute shoot-out. With 5 minutes to play, Boston held just a 6 point lead.

From there, Isaiah Thomas lead a hard-fought, some-what ugly charge, willing the team to victory. Boston narrowly escaped disaster considering some of their struggles in the 2nd and 3rd quarter, but __ 4th quarter points and IT at the helm was enough to bag a victory and bring the series standing to 2-1.

Please follow me on Twitter @CTabatabaie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tom Westerholm http://celticshub.com <![CDATA[Brad Stevens And The Boston Celtics Could Sure Use A Playoff Win]]> http://www.celticshub.com/?p=58158 2016-04-22T16:58:07Z 2016-04-22T16:58:07Z One of the things I try to avoid most completely as a writer covering the Boston Celtics is reacting too quickly to a chain of events, or a small sample size. The NBA, after all, is a highly complex and complicated league in which 30 teams play a highly complex and complicated game. Broad patterns (Kelly Olynyk’s […]

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One of the things I try to avoid most completely as a writer covering the Boston Celtics is reacting too quickly to a chain of events, or a small sample size.

The NBA, after all, is a highly complex and complicated league in which 30 teams play a highly complex and complicated game. Broad patterns (Kelly Olynyk’s 35.1 percent shooting from long range in his rookie season, for example) are much more likely to be indicative of future success than small ones (Olynyk’s 25.6 points per game in the last three games of his rookie season). Context is crucial in the NBA, and few things offer context better than a large sample size.

So when I — like hundreds of others already have — point out that the Boston Celtics have begun the Brad Stevens-era 0-6 in the postseason, I want to be very clear that in no way am I saying Stevens can’t coach in the postseason, or that his teams are unable to deal with pressure-packed situations. That would be an incredibly hot (and also bad) take, similar to saying that when the 2013-14 Celtics started 0-4, Stevens didn’t know how to win a regular-season basketball game.

That being said, for an antsy Celtics fanbase, it would be very comforting if Boston could just pull out tonight’s game.

There was always a very real chance that the Celtics would lose in the first round this season, no matter what seed they received, and those chances rose when they had the poor luck of drawing the Atlanta Hawks. A 48-34 record is better than many analysts predicted for Boston before the season, which should make any kind of postseason success gravy on an already gravy-laden pile of potatoes. Future picks! Great contracts! Flexibility! The Celtics lead a charmed rebuilding life where any success is celebrated guilt-free at the expense of the Brooklyn Nets’ failures.

Given that context, a second-consecutive winless postseason should barely rankle, but it does. This is largely due to Boston’s proven ability to outperform expectations, particularly under Stevens. Sure, the Celtics have limits, but they have shown the ability to overcome them in some capacity every season. As unfair as it seems in the broader picture, those successes make any postseason failures difficult to deal with.

CelticsHub’s Ryan Bernandoni smartly pointed out after Game 2 that Stevens needs to make some adjustments, and that making those adjustments can be difficult for him — Stevens also has an aversion to overreaction, which is part of the reason for my own.

But getting a win would not be about Stevens, no matter what the narrative will say. It would be about a beaten and bruised team missing several of its best players, most notably its best shooters, overcoming an Atlanta team that is quite frankly more talented. That’s not a surprise — if both teams were completely healthy (a construct that almost never happens in the postseason), the same would probably still be true.

Getting a win would be about the players — about Jae Crowder and Isaiah Thomas battling through injuries that have visibly limited them in the first few games, Marcus Smart making winning plays, Amir Johnson continuing his level of play. Any win the rest of the way will reflect on them far more than it would reflect on the coaching staff.

Brad Stevens is probably going to be with this team for as long as he chooses to be, no matter what his postseason record is going into the 2016-17 season. The same is not true of Boston’s core. You can bet Danny Ainge, Mike Zarren and the Celtics decision makers are watching this postseason run with significant interest. Those men are well aware of context — they know that the Celtics would be a lot more likely to a win postseason game if Bradley could play, and if Crowder, Thomas and Olynyk were all fully healthy. But they also know that this is a team with clearly defined limits, and if putting together a team whose limitations are less clearly defined means moving players around, they won’t hesitate to do so. Winning a game or two — making this series competitive without full health — would muddy the limits on the current roster.

Postseason failures won’t define this current iteration of the Celtics — this gritty, determined, hard-working group that resonates so perfectly with the aesthetic of the city of Boston. But overachieving in the postseason actually could define them. That’s pretty important context to follow tonight.

Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.

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