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Tensions Flare In Boston, As the Celtics Loss Again

The roller coaster of a season for the Boston Celtics goes on as tensions continue to raise amongst players, and in last night’s 105-103 loss to the Orlando Magic a brief disagreement was caught between head coach Brad Stevens and superstar point guard Kyrie Irving.

First it was Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown’s brief scuffle during a timeout in Thursday’s loss to the Miami Heat, and last night an argument was witnessed between Stevens and Irving over a drawn up play for the last shot of the game. At the end, Gordon Hayward inbounded the ball to Jayson Tatum, who then attempted a fade away over Magic guard, Wesley Iwundu, with 2.7 seconds remaining in regulation. After the game, Irving seemed frustrated over Hayward’s decision to give the ball to Tatum for the last shot, Irving can be seen telling Hayward, “You had Al,” who was open at the top of the key.

Irving Critical of Young Teammates over Lack of Experience

After the game Irving and Al Horford both questioned their young teammate’s inconsistent play, “We play hard at times. We don’t play hard all the time,” Horford said.

We’ve reached the mid-way point of the season and the Celtics continue to show inconsistency on both sides of the floor. Boston seemed to have figured it out after their team meeting occurred after their loss to Milwaukee on December 21. The Celtics won 7 of their last 9 games after the meeting took place, but their losses to non-playoff teams in the Heat and Magic over the week have the players thinking if the problem has resurfaced.

Irving was critical of his young teammates and how they’ve played this season, “The young guys don’t know what it takes to be a championship-level team. And if they think it is hard now, what do they think it will be like when we’re trying to get to the finals?” said Irving.

Time heals all Wounds

Even throughout these low points in the season Irving still believes in this team’s potential, “I know from the majority of the fact that we’re better than most teams in this league,” said Irving. “It’s just going out and proving it every single night and demanding it and actually showing it.”

Irving emphasized how experience has been a major issue to why this club hasn’t lived up to their potential. This is the most stacked team in the NBA and Brad Stevens has to find a way to mesh the egos of nine legit starting players into accepting new roles, which includes less playing time, low productivity and bench roles. Guys like Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum who were playing at an All-Star level last season have seen their productivity decline since Irving and Hayward returned this season.

Time will tell if the Celtics can bounce out of their inconsistency and FINALLY make a run at the number one seed. Home court advantage is going to play a major role in the playoffs with teams like Milwaukee, Toronto, Philadelphia and Indiana gunning for a spot to represent the East in the Finals since LeBron James departure to the West. We’ll see if Boston can get it together before it’s too late.

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Are the Boston Celtics Finally Ready to Steamroll through the East?

Last night’s showdown between two red-hot Eastern Conference teams seemed to be no problem for the Boston Celtics as they rolling through the Indiana Pacers 135-108.

The four game home stand was something the Celtics needed after winning one out of four games on their West coast road trip two weeks ago. Boston have now won four straight and are 15-5 at TD Garden. They play a back-to-back today as they take their talents to South Beach and play the Miami Heat.

Boston’s Depth on Full Display

At the start of the season the talk around the league was the amount of talent the Celtics have, they have eight legit starting caliber players and last night’s victory showed that. The Pacers were out gunned yesterday, even with their talented duo of Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis. Boston had seven players that reached double figures, which now makes it four consecutive games where at least five players have scored in double figures.

The team was led by Marcus Morris and Jaylen Brown, who each scored 22 points to go along with eight and seven rebounds. Jayson Tatum showed out offensively as he scored 20 points while shooting 60 percent from the field on 9-of-15 shots. Another positive takeaway was the performance of Gordon Hayward, who has been more consistent on the offensive end over the last couple of games. He finished with 14 points on 5-of-7 from the field.

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Starters, Kyrie Irving and Marcus Smart celebrate with teammates as they cruise by the Indiana Pacers. (Photo credit: NBA.com)

It was one of those games that allowed Kyrie Irving to take a break offensively, he played only 24 minutes and scored only 12 points. Al Horford also had a laid-back night, playing only 18 minutes and chipped in with six points and eight assists.

The True Test for Boston Begins in the Coming Weeks

Since airing out their frustrations after the loss to Milwaukee back in December, the Celtics are now 7-2 over their last nine games with their only losses coming to the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs. The home stretch provided an extra boost of confidence for the Celtics, but in the upcoming weeks they will play legit championship contenders like the Toronto Raptors, the Golden State Warriors, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Celtics and Raptors will square-off on Wednesday at TD Garden. Their even at 1-1 over their last two meetings with Boston taking the second game in overtime when Irving exploded for 43 points.

A potential NBA Finals match-up with the Warriors will take place on Saturday the 26th, as both teams continue to get back to playing championship level basketball. Although the Celtics could be one of the first teams to face a returning DeMarcus Cousins with Golden State, as he’s scheduled to return from an Achilles tear in mid-to-late January.

Celtics Cruise by Nets, 116-95

The Boston Celtics won a wire-to-wire victory over a Brooklyn Nets team that never really looked like a threat throughout the game. The C’s crushed the Nets by 21 points, 116-95, winning their third consecutive game to start the New Year.

The Celtics had eight players in double figures led by Kyrie Irving who scored 17 points and dished out six assists. Second year forward Jayson Tatum continues his stellar play this season as he racked up 16 points along with four rebounds and four assists.

Boston’s Defense shuts down Brooklyn’s PG Duo

The Nets on the other hand didn’t look like a team that had just won eight of their last 10 games, their leading scorer D’Angelo Russell didn’t show up for Brooklyn. Russell came into last night’s game averaging 18.4 points per game and scored over 22 points in his last three games, but last night he had one of his worse performances of the year. Russell scored only five points on 2-6 shooting from the field and had six turnovers.

Sixth man of the year candidate, Spencer Dinwiddie, also had trouble scoring against Boston’s defense, he managed to score 15 points while shooting 40 percent from the field. What hasn’t been working for Dinwiddie this season is his three point shooting and last night was no different. On the season Dinwiddie is shooting 36 percent from behind the arc, against Boston last night he shot 1-of-6 from three.

Total Team Effort on Both Ends of the Floor

The Celtics came out strong in the first quarter, outscoring Brooklyn by 12 to end the quarter up 34-22. But as we’ve seen on multiple occasions with this Boston squad they’ve been having some issue holding a lead at the start of the third quarter. Against the Spurs they gave up 46 points in the third, against Minnesota they gave up 39 points and verse the Rockets they were outscored 35-31 in the third quarter.

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Kyrie Irving dances around Nets, Shabazz Napier. (Photo credit, MassLive.com)

Boston held an 11 point lead heading into halftime and in the third Brooklyn made a run that cut the deficit to five points with 9:39 remaining. It might have been the team Boston was up against, but they managed to reel a run of their own and end quarter up 12 points, 86-74.

Marcus Morris, Al Horford, Marcus Smart and Gordon Hayward each scored 12 points, Terry Rozier contributed with 10 points and four assists and Daniel Theis scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds off the bench.

Boston will continue their home stretch as they host the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday. Indiana has won seven of their last 10 games and sits in the fourth seed in the east, just 2.5 games behind the first seeded Milwaukee Bucks.

NHL: The New York Islanders and Montreal Canadiens will make the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

The All-Star break is two weeks away, there is roughly 40-42 games left in the season and we have to start talking playoff hockey now. The Eastern Conference is not all that difficult to guess this season, aside from the Sabres, Canadiens and Islanders having surprisingly good seasons, the rest of the East is what we expected it to look like. The Atlantic and Metro are not going to change, aside from maybe the Penguins moving to the one spot and Bruins moving to the two spot, we essentially know six of the playoff teams in the East right now. The question is though what teams will have the wild card(s) spot? Let’s break it down.

Montreal Canadiens:

A major surprise this year after going 29-40-13 finishing 6th in the Atlantic and 14th in the Conference the Canadiens have come into this year playing rather consistent hockey, and even so some of it has been without Shea Weber and Carey Price. The Canadiens are 22-14-5 with 49 points, 4th in the Atlantic and in the 2nd Wild Card spot right now behind Buffalo by one point.

The Canadiens score the 12th most goals in the league (128) but the 6th most goals among Eastern Conference teams. They allow 128 goals against as well (11th), they average 3.12 goals per game (12th) and allow 3.12 goals per game the 10th most among NHL teams. There power play is ranked 30th in the NHL at 13.1 percent while their penalty kill is at 77.4 percent coming in at 22nd in the NHL. Aside from special teams, they are near the top-15 in terms of scoring/defense and have the 3rd most shots on goal per game in the NHL.

Not to mention the Canadiens played 24 games without their captain Shea Weber, as well as 10 games without their number one goalie Carey Price. They have Max Domi and Jonathan Drouin over-achieving on many levels right now as well as the right role guys getting the job done. In a sense this Canadiens looks very similar to the New Jersey Devils from last year. Looking at the Canadiens production this year with three guys at 30+ points, five at 20+ points and two at 15+ points they are getting solid depth production. Tomas Tartar with 31 points, Jeff Petry with 29 points, Phillip Danault with 27 points, Andrew Shaw and Brendan Gallagher with 24 points the players the Canadiens needed the most to step up and rise to the occasion this year have so far and it is a major reason why they are a border line playoff team 40 games into the season. Realistically the Canadiens are over-achieving a little bit right now, but the race is so close and the Canadiens can get back a healthy Carey Price they can sneak into the playoffs. Truthfully, I see the Canadiens making it.

New York Islanders:

A pleasant surprise here, we all knew Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz would turn this team around after the departure of John Tavares but we did not think this fast. The Islanders were a bit of a disappointment last season finishing 11th in the East and 7th in the Metropolitan division they needed to get back to the drawing board. That board included letting Tavares walk but singing some much needed depth guys, a Stanley Cup winning coach and storied general manager.

Well, the Islanders are now one point out of a playoff spot, 22-13-4 with 48 points and two games in hand on Buffalo and Montreal. They score just 115 goals on the year (22nd) but also only allow 101 (the least among all NHL teams). They average 2.95 goals per game (17th) and allow 2.59 goals per game. Their power play comes in at 23rd in the NHL at 16.4 percent while their penalty kill is 25th at 77.0 percent. Again like the Canadiens their special teams do not click but the Islanders young blue line and dual goalie-tandem has proven they can stand the test this season.

The Islanders dealt with a little bit of dry spell per say from Matt Barzal where many fans and reporters where questioning the young forwards capability and consistency. Luckily the Islanders relied on veteran forwards like Anders Lee, Valtteri Filppula as well as Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner in net. With the recent spark of Barzal, the Islanders are starting to make their case for playoff hockey now. If they can get a little more CONSISTENT production out of forwards like Jordan Eberle, Josh Bailey and Brock Nelson this team can be a sure playoff team.

Barzal leads all Islanders with 38 points in 39 games, along with 26 assists and third in goals. Anders Lee leads the Islanders with 14 goals, Nelson has 13 and Barzal with twelve. The Islanders have seen a huge upgrade on defense, not necessarily adding players but their current top-six defenseman have done a great job on the back end, as well the Islanders goaltending has been A LOT more consistent this season. The only doubt I have in this Islanders team is their goaltending, their offense will continue to produce at around 3-3.2 goals per game, therefore if their goaltending and back end can hold up, the Islanders could potentially be a playoff team. I believe the Islanders do crack the wild card this year, and make that final wild card spot.

The verdict: 

I know we did not touch on the Buffalo Sabres in this article, as they are one point ahead of Montreal and two ahead of the Islanders, I did not touch on them because I believe the Sabres fall out. They have been super inconsistent, they do not have enough veteran leadership in that locker room, they have been way to streaky to get a true grip on them. Honestly, I believe when push comes to shove around the 62 game mark the Islanders and Canadiens are going to be better built for that tough stretch and edge out Buffalo.

Celtics Win Wire-to-Wire Game Against Minnesota, Hayward Drops 35

It seems that Gordon Hayward loves to play against the Minnesota Timberwolves, in their December meeting Hayward scored a game high 30 points and in yesterday’s match-up he dropped a season high 35 points. Hayward torched the Timberwolves defense all game scoring as he shot 14-of-18 from the field to go along with five assists to lead Boston to a 115-102 victory at home.

“He’s going to make a lot of shots, because he’s got a lot due,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He was disappointed in how he shot the ball, obviously, in San Antonio and got back in the gym this morning.”

Hayward is still working his way back from the gruesome leg injury suffered on opening night of the 2017-18 season that sidelined him all of last season. “When you see the ball go through the hoop, and it give you a little bit of confidence. Getting stuff in transition, some easy ones, kinda get yourself going, that stuff always feels good,” said Hayward after the game.

Terry Rozier stepped up in Irving’s absence

From the start of the game you can see Terry Rozier had that bounce in his step, as he started for the injured Kyrie Irving. In the first quarter Rozier was a perfect 5-of-5 from the field with some impressive shot making and fancy lay-ups to the basket. He would finish the game with 16-points and five assist on 32 minutes of action.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Toronto Raptors

There’s no denying that Rozier is a true starting point guard in the league, his numbers as a starter differ from those when he comes off the bench. Rozier’s numbers are noticeably higher as a starter than as a reserve, in 22 minutes off the bench this season he’s averaging 8.1 points per game (PPG), 2.5 assists per game (APG), 3.8 rebounds per game (RPB) all while shooting 36.8 percent from the field and 34.8 percent from three-point range.

In his three games as a starter this season Rozier is averaging 16 PPG, 4.7 APG, 5.3 RPB, is shooting 56.7 percent from the field and 47.1 percent from behind the arc. Rozier’s confidence as a start results in a greater impact on the floor for Boston, before Wednesday’s game his mentality was simply to “go out there and kill.”

Third Quarter Problems Continue For the Celtics

For the second straight game the third quarter was a problem for Boston, in their prior game against San Antonio they gave up 46-points in the third. Against the Timberwolves last night the same issue came into play, the Celtics were up by 18 at the half and in the third quarter Minnesota punished Boston in the paint scoring 39 points in the quarter.

Center, Karl-Anthony Towns stuffed the stat sheet in the second half, with only four points at the half Towns finished with 28-points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. A lot of it had to do with the absence of Aron Baynes for Boston and their undersized big men in Al Horford, Daniel Theis and Guerschon Yabusele.

The Celtics continue their home stretch as Luka Doncic and the Mavericks visit TD Garden on Friday, a game Boston would very much like to win after losing their first meeting in November.

C’s Ring in the New Year Losing to San Antonio

The third and final game of Boston’s west coast road trip resulted in a 120-111, loss to the San Antonio Spurs. Boston dropped the ball in the third quarter allowing the Spurs to score 46 points in the quarter, matching their total points of the first half. The Spurs shot 19-of-25 from the field and connected on all five of their three-point attempts.

The collapse was due to the Celtics defense, with their offense also having their same old struggles of bad shot selection and ball movement. At the start of the second half you could see how the absence of Boston’s big, Aron Baynes, was exploited by San Antonio’s guards. Derrick White repeatedly broke down the defense by attacking the paint for open layups or finding teammates. LaMarcus Aldridge was the primary beneficiary of White’s aggressiveness, he made 5-of-6 shots in the quarter for 12 points.

Aron Baynes rim protection and his effort to challenge shots without fear is something Boston has missed in their games against Milwaukee, Houston and San Antonio.

Jaylen Brown Scores a Season High 30-points

Jaylen Brown had his best offensive performance of the season on Monday, he finished with 30-points and 4 rebounds off the bench. Brown seems to be getting his grove back after dealing with injuries and role changes. Monday’s game was the best version of Brown the Celtics have seen all season, his aggressive play on both ends of the floor was a welcoming sight for Boston fans.

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Marcus Morris on the other hand continues to play stellar basketball for Boston, he finished with 18-points, and made big shots after Kyrie Irving left the game with an eye injury. All season Morris has been Boston’s most consistent player, in what has been a career-year.

Gordon Hayward could forget about yesterday’s game and continue to move forward. Hayward missed all six of his shots and went 0-of-5 from behind the arc.

Kyrie Irving Goes Down with a Scratched Eye Injury

Kyrie Irving left the game in the fourth quarter after suffering what he called a scratched left cornea injury. Irving suffered the injury after he and Spurs guard Marco Belinelli attempted to secure a rebound of Irving’s missed 28-foot attempt. Belinelli swiped at the ball and hit Irving in the eye.

Celtics coach brad Stevens wasn’t sure whether the injury could force Irving to miss time. “Kyrie has a scratched eye,” Stevens said, “so he’ll have antibiotics for that. I don’t know what that means beyond tonight.”

Irving addressed the media after the game wearing a pair of sunglasses to cover the injury, “I’m wearing sunglasses, so not too good. I’ll be all right, though. He smacked the s— out of me. He just caught me pretty good,” Irving said.

If Irving would happen to miss some time it could be a big opportunity for Terry Rozier to find his game, after being moved back to the bench with Irving’s return. Last year in Irving absence Rozier had a career year, making big shots in the postseason while coming one game away from reaching the NBA Finals alongside Jayson Tatum and Brown. Rozier has struggled offensively coming off the bench, he’s played 22 minutes a game as opposed to the 33 minutes he played last year as a starter. Off the bench he’s averaging 8.6 points per game and 2.6 assists per game.

 

 

 

Kyrie Lights up TD Garden in OT win over 76ers

Down by two with less than 30 seconds to go in regulation the Boston Celtics turned to their closer/superstar in Kyrie Irving. With Jimmy Butler playing air tight defense on him, Irving used his signature turn around fade away jumper to send the game into overtime. In overtime Irving would carry the Celtics to a 121-114, victory over Philadelphia, finishing the game with 40-points and 10-rebounds.

“I’m about used to it now,” said Marcus Morris, “when he first came, it was crazy. But some of the s— don’t even surprise me no more with how often he does it.”

It would be the second time in a Christmas Day match-up against a playoff opponent where Irving would lead his team to victory. In 2016, Irving hit a similar shot over Golden States Klay Thompson, to give Cleveland the victory. Even before the game Irving told his teammates he was going to be “acting up”, “I told my teammates, ‘My family is here to watch me play. I have 20-lpus people from my family here, so I’m acting up,” said Irving. “

“I don’t really get a chance to have family all in one place, and most my family came tonight, so it means a lot to me. To have them here on Christmas, I was like a kid…. its Christmas spirit, man, and I missed it.” 

To Embiid there is no Rivalry with Boston

The second meeting between these two teams ended in the same result as the Celtics once again overcame the Sixers in a thriller, Joel Embiid once again reiterated his comments that the Sixers and Celtics isn’t a rivalry. “We lost again. Like I said at the beginning of the season, I don’t know what a rivalry is. I think I do, but this is clear as day, this is no rivalry,” said Embiid.

Embiid first made those comment on opening night at Boston, when he said that he does not consider the Sixers and Celtics a rivalry because they always lose. Despite the loss, Embiid was still his usual self, notching 34-points and 16-rebounds.

Players and Coaches Praise Kyrie’s Performance

Even Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown had to praise Irving’s clutch performance, “Kyrie was elite tonight,” said Brown. “That’s what people, and there aren’t many, in his sort of weight class do.”

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Kyrie shows emotion after scoring a game high 40-points in a win over the Sixers. (Photo credit, NBC Sports)

For teammate Al Horford he’s glad Irving is now in his team and is doing it for their club, “I remember Kyle Korver when we played with Kyrie (in Cleveland), one of the things he told me was he makes shots in big moments,” Horford said. “He’s the guy that we would go to here, and it’s just great because Ky, taking those big shots, making the right play, just having the ball in his hands. It was a lot of fun. The crowd went crazy for the second (overtime 3-pointer). So just emotions running high.”

Irving is no stranger to big time moments, his 41-points in Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals to force Game 6, his 57-point performance against Greg Popovich and the San Antonio Spurs in 2015 and who can forget his shot over Stephen Curry in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals that brought a championship to Cleveland.

“I always talk about being on those big stages, said Irving. “It’s just so much fun. It’s competition at its highest. I love going against the best.”