Celtics Gaining Momentum as Calendar Flips (Dec 27-Jan 3)

Russell Westbrook went on yet another rampage on Friday at the Garden, single-handedly delivering a road win for his Thunder. It would have been Boston’s fifth straight victory. Instead, it was a difficult to swallow loss. There was no defending Russ. Smart and Bradley took turns harassing Mr. Westbrook, but he may as well have been playing in his own driveway. The season has gone like that for Russ. He gets where he wants, when he wants. The three-point shooting is what made Friday so tough. Avery’s hand straight up in Westbrook’s vision did little to distract the flight of the ball. 45 points on 25 shots. 11 assists and 11 boards. Five of seven from deep. That fourth quarter.

So, instead of heading into Tuesday night’s match-up with the Grizzlies riding a six-game streak, the Celtics head in on the heels of their Christmas Day matinee win in New York. Five of their next six games will take place at the Garden. Boston has played 19 of its 31 games away from home. Only the Lakers (20) have played more.

Signs of Encouragement

  • Boston is 17–10 with Isaiah Thomas in the lineup
  • Isaiah continues to dominate, leading to East player of the week honors. In four games, not only did Thomas average 33 points and 6 assists, he did it while getting to the line at will. Free-throw numbers last week: 17–17, 8–9, 8–9, 6–8. His individual performance in Memphis was flat-out ridiculous. 44 points on 16 shots, 6 assists to 1 turnover. Clearly, Mike Conley is still working his way back into game shape, but my goodness. Despite the team’s ugly first half, IT brought Boston back and pretty much won the Memphis game by himself.
  • Boston is 12–4 with their healthy starting lineup (Thomas-Bradley-Crowder-Horford-Amir)
  • Of their 51 remaining games, the Celtics will be home for 29 of them.
  • Kelly Olynyk is finally warming up, having connected on 8 of his last 17 from deep. Olynyk adding 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench Sunday was a big plus. When Olynyk and Jerebko are knocking down their jumpers and in rhythm, the bench can sustain Boston’s leads.

Upcoming Schedule

Tue, Dec 27: vs Memphis (20–13)

If last week’s game was any indication, this will be another physically-demanding, bloody match-up with playoff intensity. Hopefully Zach Randolph keeps his elbows away from Kelly Olynyk’s neck. Marc Gasol’s always heady passing is complemented by Marc Gasol’s newfound willingness to take a 24-footer (and make it 43% of the time!), but Brad Stevens was able to scheme Gasol into an 8 of 22 shooting night last week. Mike Conley is questioning the health of his toe as I type this, which would have a serious impact on the evening’s proceedings. Aaron Harrison isn’t quite as capable.

The Grizzlies are attempting to work Chandler Parsons back into shape after lingering knee problems have kept him out all season. So far, Parsons has shown quite a bit of atrophy in limited minutes. Parsons has the range and passing to fit nicely into their playoff hopeful-lineups, but he’s clearly in rough shape at the moment. He’ll sit out tonight (back-to-back), which makes you wonder if 12 minutes on a Monday lead to 0 minutes on a Tuesday, how many minutes can he play in April?

After beating the mighty Rockets (snuffing out Eric Gordon), Memphis lost in Orlando last night. Aaron Gordon discovered how to hit a jumper and the long arms of Biyombo, Ibaka and Gordon made life tough for the Grizzlies.

Thu, Dec 29: @ Cleveland (23–7)

Any game against the Cavs feels like a game to circle on the calendar. Early in the season, the Celtics went into Cleveland without Horford or Crowder, and managed to put up a solid fight, thanks to 56 points from IT and Avery, and some inspired Jaylen Brown activity. Though it’s only 1 of 82, this game will either cement Boston’s status next to Toronto as the early-season contenders in the East, or it will remind Celtics fans that we’re still one-trade away (Bogut?), despite the gaudy 12–4 record with all starters in place. No J.R. Smith means the lengthy and pesky defense of DeAndre Liggins, but less-than-ideal spacing for Kyrie and LeBron. Expect more Channing Frye, and hope that the perimeter defense can run the Cavs off the three-point line.

Fri, Dec 30: vs Miami (10–21)

On the one hand, Miami is 10–21. On the other hand, they’ve had next to no depth because of injury for much of the year. On the other hand, they don’t have enough shooting. On the other hand, all they have is Whiteside and Dragic on offense. On the other hand, they have Whiteside’s ridiculous length to disturb any penetration. What should be an easy win will be made more difficult by the the fact that its the third game in four nights and that the battle in Cleveland just took place the night before. Threes in the corner instead of drives in the lane, whenever Whiteside is on the court.

Tue, Jan 3: vs Utah (18–13)

From Whiteside’s enormous wingspan to Rudy Gobert’s gadget-arms. Same plan. Get the big men in foul trouble, or you better find ways to score outside the paint. Utah has been heralded as the next rising team in the West, and for good reason. The addition of George Hill was a smart one, adding stingy perimeter defense and steady shooting from the point, which provides Hayward and Gobert more room to operate the pick-and-roll. Like Whiteside, Gobert catches lobs at the 12-foot mark. It changes the game plan from a horizontal defense to a vertical defense. How do you defend that? Like a defensive back in football, you play tight and jab him at the point of attack. Easier said than done. Often leads to foul trouble. Rodney Hood has been rising over the past twelve months, with his 25-foot range. George Hill’s absence (toe) over the last 13 games has forced Shelvin Mack into bigger minutes. Despite injuries to Derrick Favors (lingering knee issues), Alec Burks (ankle), and Hill, the Jazz are fighting for home court in the West. Why? Rudy Gobert is absurd, and Gordon Hayward has help in Rodney Hood.

Writing. Poetry. Personal Essays. On the NBA, MLB, media, journalism, culture, teaching and humor.

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