Boston Celtics: 2014Game6
- RIVALRY REINTERPRETED: Well, this feels different. Every visit to Miami used to be a big deal in recent seasons, especially when there was a sense that the two teams would cross paths again in the playoffs. With Boston navigating a murky transition period, a joust with the two-time defending champs loses a bit of its luster (particularly a random Saturday night matchup in November). Boston did its part by winning its last two games to spice things up a bit (and Miami has won three straight).
- TOO HOT TO HANDLE? Miami ranks second in the league in offensive rating (109.1), and its Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh can put up points in a hurry. The Celtics will lean hard on a defense that climbed to eighth in the league in defensive rating (97.3) after Friday's win in Orlando. But playing the second night of a back-to-back during a travel-heavy week will add a wrinkle of difficulty for Boston.
- MISTAKE-FREE BASKETBALL: The Celtics were rather atrocious offensively Friday in Orlando (35.8 percent shooting) but still managed to escape with the win after taking care of the basketball (only 11 turnovers for eight points) and limiting second-chance opportunities (Magic grabbed 16 offensive rebounds but were held to 10 second-chance points). Jordan Crawford deserves a lot of the credit for slowing things down and helping Boston value the ball, taking a great deal of ballhandling responsibility off Avery Bradley.
- WHAT ELSE? Jeff Green erupted for 43 points versus the Heat at the Garden in March (it lit his late-season fuse). Despite a rather nondescript start to the 2013-14 campaign, Green is vital to any success Boston will enjoy this season. Green does lead the team in scoring at 15.8 points per game this season. ... The Celtics were 2-of-14 shooting beyond the arc Friday. Through six games, Boston is shooting 26.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc. ... The Celtics are wrapping up a trip that featured five games in five cities over seven days.
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And therein lies the secret to Boston's little two-game winning streak over the past three days: late fourth-quarter execution. The Celtics haven't been perfect -- far from it -- but they clearly learned from those four losses and have found a way to make enough plays to win the past two games.
With that in mind, here are five plays in particular from the final minutes of Friday's 91-89 triumph over the Orlando Magic that deserve some additional attention:
- STEEZ PLEASES: Stevens called Jordan Crawford a "calming presence" during the fourth quarter of Wednesday's win over the Utah Jazz. On Friday, Crawford's late-game actions left Stevens suggesting he was "the most excited I've been since I moved to Boston." The play that fired him up? A timeout. With the Celtics up 5 with 4 minutes to play, Jameer Nelson missed a 3-pointer and Avery Bradley stripped rookie Victor Oladipo soon after he hauled in the offensive rebound. The ball trickled loose in front of the Boston bench and Crawford crashed to the floor to corral it -- with both he and Stevens adamantly calling timeout the moment he gained possession. Boston ultimately squandered the offensive possession coming out of the stoppage, but it was a heads-up play to simply ensure the Celtics kept the ball at a crucial juncture.[+] EnlargeAP Photo/John RaouxJordan Crawford has provided a "calming presence" for the Celtics, according to coach Brad Stevens.
Analysis: The Celtics are 2-0 since Crawford entered the starting backcourt. Boston's offense gets a jolt with him on the floor, but most importantly, the turnover percentage has plummeted (a mere 12.2 percent when he's on the floor the past two games). In fact, plays like this show that Crawford is saving possessions instead of giving them away.
Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 91-89 on Friday night at the Amway Center:
THE NITTY GRITTY
You'll hear the word "scrappy" used to describe this one (it's the polite way to say "ugly"). The Celtics shot 35.8 percent (34-of-95 overall) and the Magic weren't much better (39.8 percent) but turned the ball over 20 times, which led to 25 Boston points. The two teams combined for a ridiculous 35 offensive rebounds, which translated to an impossibly low 20 second-chance points (10 apiece). Regardless, the Celtics were down 12 early in the second quarter and -- keeping with the theme of the 2013-14 season -- rallied back. Following the more recent trend, they made some key plays down the stretch to win their second straight. Brandon Bass led six Boston players in double figures with 16 points, while Avery Bradley had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 3 steals and a block. Arron Afflalo scored a game-high 23 points for the Magic.
The Celtics were clinging to a two-point lead with under 3 minutes to play when Jeff Green -- quiet for much of the night outside of a couple loud dunks -- swooped in for a well-timed putback. Bass blocked a shot at the other end and Jordan Crawford got a layup in transition as Boston led 86-80 with 2:32 to go. Some ill-timed shooting fouls helped Orlando make things interesting, with the Magic pulling within one with 26 ticks to go. Bass hit a couple pressure-cooker free throws, which were huge when Afflalo had his feet on the line while trying to tie the game from the corner with 4.6 seconds to go. Orlando fouled, Bradley made only one freebie, but rookie Victor Oladipo missed a 3-point heave at the buzzer.
C's WIN IT WITH DEFENSE, BALL SECURITY
The Celtics turned the ball over only 11 times for eight points. Combine that with some stifling defense and it allowed Boston to emerge despite its 35.8 percent clip from the floor (and 14.3 percent beyond the 3-point arc).
Crawford was a team-best plus-11 in plus/minus, turning in 13 points, 5 assists and 3 rebounds over 30:36. ... Gerald Wallace was at the opposite end of the spectrum in a reserve role, finishing minus-13 on a foul-plagued night in which he finished with 2 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists over 19:52. ... Keith Bogans did not play and left the bench in the second quarter due to illness. ... Even with rookie Kelly Olynyk in foul trouble, Kris Humphries played only 52 seconds late in the first half. .... MarShon Brooks earned another DNP (his fifth in six games).
WHAT IT MEANS
The Celtics are streaking. After four tough-luck losses to start the season, the team is finding a way to make plays down the stretch now. It wasn't always pretty, but it's a win and a chance for a young team to grow additional confidence. Boston plays the second night of a back-to-back on Saturday in Miami. That will cap a stretch of five games in seven nights in five cities. Boston gets some home cooking next week with three consecutive games at TD Garden -- starting Monday versus Orlando.
- MAGIC MAN: After winning a mere 20 games last season, the Magic have started strong (winning three straight against the Pelicans, Nets, and Clippers). Brad Stevens thinks rookie Victor Oladipo is a big reason for that success. "If he wasn’t the best player in college basketball last year, he was one of them," said Stevens. "When we played against [Indiana], the play that I remember most vividly last year was, our guys were still diving on the loose ball that he had already picked up and laid in. He’s pretty impressive athletically. The thing I love about Victor Oladipo, one of the many reasons why Orlando continues to make great strides, is he’s an energy giver. That guy raises the energy level in the room, he’s a great teammate. He’s a hard-worker. When you’re most ballyhooed players act like that, it’s a pretty good thing."
- PUTTING THE D IN ORLANDO: The Magic rank third in the league in defensive rating through five games. What's more, they rank third in points allowed per possession (0.846 per Synergy Sports data). Boston must find a way to generate consistent offense, especially in halfcourt sets. For the Celtics, it's another young and talented opposing frontcourt with Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic leading that defensive charge. The Magic have been vulnerable to cutters, something Boston is hoping it can exploit, particularly with a second unit that now features Gerald Wallace running with excellent passing bigs in Kelly Olynyk and Jared Sullinger.
- BACKCOURT IN FOCUS: The Celtics started slow Wednesday night against Utah, but Brad Stevens plans to go back to a new-look starting group that features Jordan Crawford sharing point guard duties with Avery Bradley. "I thought [Crawford] did a great job, especially in the second half," said Stevens. "I thought, at the end of the day, he controlled the end of the game when we needed a calming presence. He did a good job with that. One thing about Jordan, and I said this [Thursday] in our staff meeting, when Jordan’s not playing basketball any more, he’ll probably find a game somewhere on [any given] night. That’s what you know about him. He’s going to show up every time he there’s because he loves the game." The Celtics hope Crawford's presence can also allow Bradley to thrive in a more natural shooting guard role.
- WHAT ELSE?: The Magic are playing without Tobias Harris (ankle) and old friend Glen Davis (foot). ... Stevens loosed his rotation last time out, playing both Phil Pressey and Kris Humphries as part of an 11-man rotation. He keeps telling his players (like little used MarShon Brooks) to stay ready for their opportunity. ... The Celtics play the Magic twice in the next four days as Orlando visits TD Garden on Monday.
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