Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Celtics not only held Chicago to nine first-quarter points in Sunday’s 100-80 blowout victory, they also played with the kind of defensive intensity that should put them in great position to grab the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and hold onto it.
The Celtics’ defense set the tone early as the Bulls finished the first quarter 3-of-22 from the floor. Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder were very physical with Chicago’s best scorers — Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade — and kept them in check throughout the afternoon. Wade (8 points) and Butler (5 points) combined for just 13 points on 6-of-22 shots.
The Bulls never led once.
Isaiah Thomas finished with a game-high 22 points, Bradley added 17 points, 6 rebounds and three steals and Al Horford chipped in 12 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. Six Celtics players scored in double figures.
What a great response to that awful Nuggets loss. The Celtics defense — aided by the horrific play of Chicago’s offense — had its best game of the season, allowing only 80 points and posting an 85.2 defensive rating, both season highs.
Everything seems to be night-and-day, jekyll-and-hyde with this Celtics team. On Friday, Denver played with an unmatched physicality, and Chicago beat Boston twice this season largely because of their physical play. The Celtics responded with one of their more dominating wins of the season.
Jimmy Butler — Celtic Nation’s favorite trade target — scored only 5 points on 2/11 shooting. He was hampered throughout the afternoon by Bradley and Crowder, unable to get going following the Bulls 1 of 19 shooting start. Boston held Chicago to 28 percent shooting from three-point range and 38 percent overall. Robin Lopez (5/6 for 13 points) was the only Bull to shoot above 50 percent.
The Celtics are 5-5 since the all-star break. Over this stretch, they defeated the two best teams in the league (Cleveland and Golden State) but got blown out by Denver and Atlanta, and lost in embarrassing fashion against Phoenix. The Celtics defense has certainly improved. Their defensive rating since the all-star break is 105.1, which would qualify for third in the NBA. Their offensive rating during this time, however, has slipped.
But defensive woes have been a major headline of the Celtics season. Yesterday’s performance elevated them to the 15th-ranked defense, allowing 108.5 points per 100 possessions. It’s not the top-rated defense many projected it would be prior to the season, but it’s finally in the top half of the league. With upcoming games against Minnesota, Brooklyn, and Philadelphia, their defensive stats should see another week of positive movement.
Page 2: Jaylen Brown keeps playing well
Brown has a pretty good line on Butler’s thinking. The two share a trainer and worked out together last summer.
“Yeah, that’s what I want for him,” Butler said. “I want the kid to be the greatest, because that’s what he wants. As long as he’s pushing himself each and every day, there is no ceiling for him. Nobody can put a ceiling on anybody. You’ve just got to want to be better.
“You’ve got to want to be great, and I can tell from hanging around him this past summer that that’s what he wants. He loves to compete against the best. As long as he keeps that edge and that confidence, man, you can’t put a ceiling on that.”
Some scouts are likening Brown’s game more to a — take a deep breath, Greenhearts — Kawhi Leonard. But the rook is looking in more than one direction for ideas and inspiration.
“I like to take bits and pieces from a lot of people’s games,” Brown said. “It’s tough to say just one person that I think plays like me or plays how I want to play in the future. I can’t really put a name to that, but I like a lot of guys. I like Jimmy. Jimmy is a mentor of mine. I like his game. I like Kawhi. I like (Russell) Westbrook. I like Kyrie (Irving). I like what they do with the ball. I try to pull bits and pieces from everybody’s game.”
Jaylen Brown’s role has steadily increased throughout the season, and since the all-star break he’s playing 24 minutes per game, averaging 11.5 points on 54.4 percent shooting and 46.7 percent from 3. He’s increasingly earned Brad Stevens’ trust and now serves as a valuable cog in the Celtics rotation.
Brown’s catch-and-shoot game has noticeably improved, as he’s silencing the draft “experts” who claimed his shot was broken. After not getting selected for the Rising Stars Challenge, he will likely make one of the all-rookie teams, which is not a huge accomplishment in this weak rookie class, but it wasn’t looking like he’d be selected earlier in the season.
The perception of Brown has certainly evolved since his selection was booed on draft night. He was largely booed because the Jimmy Butler trade didn’t materialize. We all saw how flawed a roster the Bulls have, and if they keep falling in the standings, they may feel inclined to move Butler after the season. If that happened, they would definitely call the Celtics, and probably ask for Jaylen Brown.
But let’s save the speculation until after the season, and enjoy plays like these:
Page 3: Celtics and Wizards Deadlocked in Standings
“I went to dinner with Isaiah after the Denver game, and he was pretty pissed because the (Washington) Wizards had won and gained second place,” Crowder revealed Sunday after the Celtics topped the Chicago Bulls, 100-80. “I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. We have a lot of games left and we’ll get them back. We just have to take care of each game at a time.'”
With the win Sunday, the Celtics essentially tied Washington for second place, but the Wizards still own a one-game advantage in the loss column and a tiny lead in winning percentage.
Only five of the Celtics’ final 15 games are on the road. According to PlayoffStatus.com, their remaining opponents have the lowest combined winning percentage (44 percent) in the Eastern Conference. That could set up a strong finish for Boston, which is finally fully healthy after lifting the minutes restriction on Avery Bradley.
The Wizards have been surging. They’ve won five straight, which includes an undefeated west coast road trip. Their 41-24 record is even more impressive considering they started 3-9. Washington has proven to be the Celtics toughest non-Cleveland opponent in the east.
They two teams play in Boston on March 20th. The matchup will surely get national attention and significant build up. Before they play, Celtics have games against the Timberwolves, Sixers, and Nets. The Wizards will also play the Timberwolves, in addition to the Mavs, Bulls, and Hornets. It will be tied or close to tied in the standings. Get ready.
As of now, we don’t know what color clothes Washington will wear to the game.
The public displays of love continue with Paul Pierce and the Celtics.
The Rest of the Links:
Providence Journal: Bradley at Full Health