2/7/2016: Game 53 – Rondo Routed in Return to Boston

Boston 128 Sacramento 119

Boston started the game up by 20, and I assumed we were in for imminent domination. They were raining threes and forcing turnovers. But Sacramento kept composure and never let the game get out of hand. In the 4th Quarter, they were down as little as 5, but Boston hit the shots that mattered and put the game away.

The Cs finished the evening shooting 56% from the field and 54.2% (13/24) from Three. They scored a remarkable 46 in the First Quarter. Bradley (25), Thomas (22) and Sullinger (21) led the way. Zeller, E.T. and Kelly were the key cogs off the bench. The former two, especially, kept up their hot play. Zeller had 17 and 7 in 22 Minutes, thriving in the pick-n-roll with E.T., who finished with 11 (4/8), 9 and 4 with a Block. Zeller has established an ability to score in bunches, and E.T. plays distributor, while subsequently picking up easy layups and pull-up jumpers. And great to see Avery follow up his big game-winner with a better overall performance.

Rondo dished out 15 Assists, to go with 14 Points and 6 Steals. The Celtic bigs took care of Boogie, who had 31 Points, 7 Rebounds and 6 Assists, which is an impressive line, but 11/25 overall.

One pattern that needs to dissipate soon is the Cs’ habit of building 20-Point leads and then letting the opposition get back in the game. It happened in this one, and it’s happened in other more recent games. The building of big leads is indicative of Brad’s great work and the team’s preparation. Now that they’re in third place in the East, they need to keep these big leads to really be elite.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The Cs are playing tremendous basketball. Let’s hope it keeps on keeping on.

Milwaukee on Tuesday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and team dog sitter for the Boston Celtics. He feeds, walks and cleans up after the players’ dogs during road trips. His Celtics analyses and Celtic Canines Photo Album are accessible right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille. 

 

2/5/2016: Game 52: Avery Plays David to LeBron’s Goliath as Cs Grab Big Clutch Win

Boston 104 Cleveland 103

 

This shot is hardly the whole story. Boston started the game trailing 15-2. Cleveland led for most of the way, save for a couple Boston leads in the 2nd and 4th Quarters. The Cavs also missed 14 Free Throws, including a bunch down the stretch that would’ve helped put the game completely out of reach. Unfortunately for them, Brad, the mastermind, had just enough time and smarts to whittle the lead down to two with less than 20 seconds left, thanks in part to a Jae Crowder three-pointer on a second-chance attempt. After that, one thing led to another, and Marcus, while boxing out Timofey Mozgov, enabled a loose ball out of bounds under the Cs’ hoop, setting up the final play.

This was an excellent game through and through. Cleveland blew a lot chances to shut the door for good, but said lack of effort and the Cs’ resilience combined to enable Boston’s perfect storm of events.

E.T. was the MVP of the evening, finishing with 19 Points (8/16), 12 Rebounds, 6 Assists and a Block off the bench in 32 Minutes. Evan single-handedly keyed the Cs’ comeback in the fourth, never retreating to the bench. Zeller’s hot play continued, as he finished 8/10 with 16 Points. Isaiah had 22 on 5/19, and Sully filled the statsheet with 12 Points, 7 Rebounds, 3 Assists, a Steal and a 3 Blocks.

The Cs are now winners of 8 of their last 9, 11 of their last 14, etc. This victory against the East-leading Cavs is the culmination of hard work and great play. Had they lost, we’re looking at a quiet flight back to Boston with a bounce-back effort in their next game. Instead, morale is now sky-high. And this victory feels especially good because it came against a legitimately superior talent. Boston needed all 2,880 seconds to walk away victorious, but as Avery so perfectly told reporters post-game: “You should believe you’re going to win until the final horn goes off.”

There isn’t much to notice about the Cs’ recent play. It’s mostly a combination of shots falling, and recommitted defensive intensity. But one thing’s for sure: they’re solid. They’re tied for the 3rd Seed in the East, and can definitely best Atlanta for the spot, barring any unforeseen trades by either squad. Just know that this W against Cleveland was exactly what the doctor ordered. The league is now on notice.

Sacramento on Super Bowl Sunday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Assistant Television Marketing Guru for the Boston Celtics. He chooses the music to be paired with the official Boston Celtics promotional videos. His Celtics analyses and Celtics Promotional Video Soundtrack are available right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille. 

2/2/2016 – 2/3/2016: Games 50 & 51 – Celtics: Winners of Seven of Their Last Eight

Boston 97 New York 89

Boston 102 Detroit 95

The Celtics have been playing their best basketball of the 2015-16 season. It’s evident in their upbeat defense and constant hustle. After losing to the Magic on Sunday, there was brief concern about how they would respond to the end of a five-game winning streak. On paper, they should beat the Knicks, and the Pistons might give up a good fight before losing. The paper projections weren’t entirely correct, but they were close enough.

In New York, Boston trailed after 1, but took the lead soon after and never let it go. Five guys scored in double-figures, and it was a good team win. Then, against Detroit, the Cs let a 3rd quarter 24-point lead slip to 10, but held firm long enough to earn the win.

The story in New York was Tyler Zeller, who saw an unprecedented 27 Minutes of floor time, and undoubtedly made the most of it, with 16 Points (8/13) and 10 Rebounds. A friend of mine texted me in the fourth quarter, when Zeller got the brunt of his minutes, and said “Zeller and Turner pick-n-roll >” and he couldn’t have been more right. Turner is excellent at putting the ball on the floor and driving. He can step back or rise straight up for easy jumpers, he can finish under the rim, and best of all, he can dish it. When he and Zeller got in the zone together, it looked like an unstoppable duo.

The next night, Boston was up by 20 at halftime. Detroit was a different team in the second half, but once again, but the Cs didn’t let a surging opposition best them. It was their 28 Assists that best indicate the type of winning basketball that got it done.

It’s been difficult to single out individual players for their efforts, because it’s been such a team effort. Let’s hope that part stays constant, and that the Cs can keep up with their winning ways.

Big test: Cleveland on Friday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Assistant to the Secretary of the Boston Celtics Interior. He maintains plant life in and around the Celtic facilities, watering plants and peacefully introducing invasive species. His Celtics analyses and full job explanation are available right here on HeresTheDealLikeShaquille. 

1/29/2016 – 1/31/2016: Games 48 & 49 – Two in a Row Against Orlando with Highs and Lows

Boston 113 Orlando 94

Orlando 119 Boston 114

Whenever the Cs eclipse their record for number of games over .500, they always seem to follow up that win with a loss. After beating the Magic with ease at home, Boston was 27-21, six games above .500. A new best for the team in the Brad Stevens era. Fast-forward two days, and the Cs end up blowing a 14-point lead in the second half, losing a game that could just as easily been theirs.

The ultimate saving grace, though, (and predictably) is Brad Stevens. During Night Two, when the Cs allowed 16 unanswered Magic points, Brad was unflappable, imploring the guys to keep playing with the same confidence they’d been exuding just minutes before. With a minute to play and Orlando up 11, Mike and Scal were already discussing the Cs’ loss and the end to their recent win streak. Then E.T. got ejected, and the Cs started scoring. Celtics defenders hacked Aaron Gordon and Elfrid Payton, forcing the Magic’s hand at the free throw line, where they seemingly couldn’t convert two makes. When Marcus got fouled on his three-point attempt and made the shot, the tide officially turned with 17 seconds left to play. He made the free-throw and Boston was down 117-114. Unfortunately, that was as close as they’d get before the final buzzer.

But no one held their heads. Especially not Brad. In fact, the stoic leader, who always marches to the locker room after a game no matter the outcome, stayed on the court and high-fived every last Celtic. The effort was obvious. Despite Orlando’s comeback, Boston played great D all night, and the offense was scorching until it wasn’t. Orlando shot 53.7% from the floor and 41.7% from long distance. They were lights out. Their young core is exceptionally talented and starting to put all the pieces together. When they do, they’ll be a very, very good team.

But the Cs are still the better team, despite splitting the series. Isaiah and Avery scored 23 and 22 respectively, but the big story was Marcus off the bench, tying a career high with 26 Points, with 5 Rebounds and 2 Steals to boot. His hot streak continued in this one, which is the best news of all. When he’s playing to his potential, the others feed off of it. There were many glimpses during Night Two (and the last five wins too), of everyone playing within themselves and doing their jobs. When they do that, they play beautiful, poetic basketball.

New York on Tuesday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Lead Aquatics Director for the Boston Celtics. He maintains the pool, and water-related team exercises for the training staff in Waltham, Massachusetts. His Celtics analysis and water workout ideas are available right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille.

1/25/2016-1/27/2016: Games 46 & 47 – Wins in Washington and at Home Reiterate Cs’ Recent Success

Boston 116 Washington 91

Boston 111 Denver 103

A lot has happened since these two games. The Cs beat Washington lopsidedly, and then led by as many as 20 against Denver before sealing the deal on their fourth win in a row. The next day, Isaiah Thomas was named an All-Star, ending the discussion while going up against John Wall in Washington, outshining the Number 1 Pick of 2010.

Yes, the Cs have been playing great. They’ve forced 20 or more Turnovers in each of their last four wins. Against Washington, Boston combined for 29 Assists, before dishing 31 versus Denver. They’re shooting it well, and they’re keeping their own Turnovers to a minimum. They’re dialed in and it’s showing.

The reason for this return to greatness has undoubtedly been the resurrection of their stifling team defense, which can only be chalked up to continuity. First, Smart was out. Then it was Avery. Sully sat a couple games, as did Amir. Brad was forced to shuffle lineups around, and for an extended period of time, watching the Cs of old felt like they were constantly battling back from a deficit.

One of my favorite players through this recent stretch has been Amir. He’s reduced his shot selection to garbage buckets and nothing more. He’s content to sit under the hoop and corral offensive rebounds, or draw the bounce pass after penetrating guards force the big men over for help D. And he’s passing the ball. In his last five, Amir is averaging 4.5 Points, 8.5 Rebounds, 3.5 Assists, 1 Steal and 1.3 Blocks in 24 Minutes. The 3.5 Assists may not seem like a lot, but he had 6 against Denver and 5 Against Philly. He’s a heady player and he’s meshed into Brad’s system beautifully. He’s also something of an unsung hero, because he doesn’t get love like the other, more offensively gifted players on the team do. He just goes out every night and plays with grit and hustle. He’s the paradigm for the Cs’ recent success.

But it’s not just Amir. Every night, there’s a new hero. Their depth is starting to be an asset like we’d hoped for.

Orlando on Friday

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Draft Representative for the Boston Celtics. On draft night, he calls the Celtics representatives in Seacaucus, New Jersey  with the pick as relayed from Danny Ainge and Mike Zarren in Boston. His Celtics analyses and draft day photo archive are available right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille.

1/24/2016: Game 45 – Championship Defense Guides the Celtics to an Easy W

Boston 112 Philadelphia 92

Yes, it’s the 76ers, but these Sixers nearly beat the Cs in their last matchup, two months ago in Boston. Remember? The night Jahlil Okafor reached boiling point and punched a Boston fan after the game.

Luckily, this game was a no-contest after the 1st Quarter. The Cs started the night nearly perfect from long distance, and the defense was suffocating at all points. Boston had 14 Steals and forced 24 Philadelphia turnovers en route to 29 Assists and 112 Points.

Avery fell 1 Point shy of joining Isaiah and Jae with 20 Points each. Jae was electric from Three, going 4/6, and hoisting all night with confidence. The real star of the night, though, was Marcus, who finished with 16 Points, 3 Rebounds, 2 Assists and 4 Steals and a Block in 29 Minutes off the bench. He connected on his first three Three-Point attempts, and was disrupting Philly’s passing lanes all night. His energy and grit dictated the Celtics’ two-headed attack.

Marcus’ recent play has been a big positive, and cause for excitement. In his last five games, he’s averaging 12.6 Points, 4.8 Rebounds, 2.8 Assists, and 1.8 Steals in 29 Minutes per game off the bench. He’s finally hitting his offensive stride, and his defense remains tenacious. We may be witnessing the official arrival of Marcus.

After the game, Brad mentioned his approval of the defensive intensity, comparing it to efforts earlier this season, which backs up the claim that Marcus’ injury was what derailed the Cs’ hot start. I’ve already said it, but here it is again: Yes, it was Philly. But a win’s a win, and every last one is necessary to get the Cs back in a groove. They’re at full health, they’re playing to their potential, and they’re moving up in the standings. Let’s keep it up!

Washington on Monday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Assistant Video Archiver for the Boston Celics. He uses game tape to make films of where players sit after timeout calls. His Celtics analyses and chart of Players’ Favorite Seats are available right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille.

1/20/2016 – 1/22/2016: Games 43 & 44 – One Tough Loss Paves the Way for a Satisfying Celtics Win

Toronto 115 Boston 109

Boston 110 Chicago 101

These two games have showcased Boston’s increased toughness and resolve, as well as signs of a return to form, when they were 18-13, 6th in the Power Rankings, and discussed as the 2nd best team in the East. Obviously, Toronto and Atlanta have come on strong, but spots 3-8 in the Eastern Conference are separated by 3 games. Meaning, anything is possible if the Cs keep playing above-average basketball.

Toronto was nothing short of a shoot-out. Both teams finished the night shooting above 50% (Boston 50.6%; Toronto 55.4%). Unfortunately for Boston, Toronto hit more timely shots and played better defense, which allowed them to take control in the second half. Boston would eventually take the lead, but they couldn’t hold it.

Kelly’s heavy-lifting continued in this one, as he finished with 18 Points (7/10; 3/5), 4 Rebounds, and 4 Assists. Jae had 17 (7/11) 5 Rebounds, 4 Assists and 2 Steals. Avery had 19 on 8/14.

DeMar DeRozan had 34 Points on 13/25, and Jonas Valanciunas had 19 and 12 on a perfect 9/9 from the field. Once again, here’s an instance of Boston’s bigs not being able to adequately contain a powerful, opposing big man.

It was a tough loss, but it also followed the theme of more previous defeats: Boston is doing a much better job of hanging around and showing fight than they did a month ago. Winning these games requires hard work and sweat, but Brad has entrusted these guys to never give in EVER, and I do believe that sooner than later, these close losses are going to turn into wins.

After a night of rest, the Cs took on the Bulls at home, who despite a solid record (24-18) have been wildly inconsistent thus far in 2015-16. In this one, the Cs jumped out to an early lead and never looked back, riding the coattails of the Tacoma backcourt. Isaiah and Avery finished with 22 and 21 respectively, and Avery notched 4 Steals. The highlight of the evening was Sully, going toe to toe with Pau Gasol while having his game of the season, with 18 Points, 12 Rebounds, 5 Assists, 3 Steals and a Block in 30 Minutes. The big fella exerts a lot when he’s on the court, so it’s hard for Brad to keep him out there more than 30 Minutes. But after a night like this one, he’s likely on the hook for more time going forward.

Following up the defeat against Dallas, Boston looked like they had a productive day-off between games, and righted all of the necessary wrongs. Obviously hoping for this kind of consistency going forward is wishful thinking, but I’ve had faith in this team all season to play better than they have been. Before Marcus went down, I was half expecting them to catapult to the top of the conference. Obviously, things have changed a bit, but the season is only halfway done. Boston still has plenty of time to rattle off a run and really change the status quo.

After snow postponed their game in Philly last night, we’re on tonight. The Cs aren’t expecting to be handed this win, so here’s their chance to go flash that newfound consistency, get another win, and start building momentum.

Philly on Sunday.

Homer Johnsen is a freelance writer and Director of Locker Room Textiles for the Boston Celtics. He oversees the buying and cleaning of towels and other locker room linens. His Celtics analyses and textile drop-off information for TD Garden are available right here at HeresTheDealLikeShaquille.