Celtics-Blazers preview: Extra effort goes a long way


WALTHAM - The one thing that stood out in the Celtics' 100-95 win over the Jazz Monday night was the effort the C's put forth for a full 48 minutes.

Boston had a very early lead in the first quarter before the Jazz took over until late in the fourth quarter. Even when the Celtics went down 13 points in the second quarter, they clawed back and kept the game close from the end of the second quarter all the way through.

But out of all the "effort" plays in the game, the one that stands out the most came in the final seconds of the game, when Avery Bradley's second free throw missed the mark and Amir Johnson came down with the offensive rebound.

He then got the ball back to Bradley for two more free throw attempts that made a two-point game into a four-point game.

Johnson wanted that ball more than anybody else and went and got it. Brad Stevens said that play is simply about effort more than anything.

"You have the opportunity to go for every one of those dead balls and you try to pursue as many of those as you can," Stevens said. "You hope that that works out in the end. I think that’s part of winning. If you make all the effort plays, you give yourself a chance. If you execute, you give yourself a chance.

"Then in a game like last night, when both teams are really playing and really executing and the effort is pretty equal, those things really separate themselves when it happens late. Amir’s play was big. Obviously, Avery [Bradley's] block was big. I thought we had a number of times, though, where we were really active defensively that they actually scored. It paid off in the end, I guess."

Boston scored just 11 second chance points against the Jazz, but none were bigger than the two created by Johnson.

And those two gave the Celtics 850 total second chance point on the season, good for fourth in the NBA.

But guess which team is third? Yup, the Portland Trailblazers, who come into town tonight. The Blazers have 853 second chance points on the season, but it just goes to show that they fight for those 50-50 balls just as much as the C's do.

Second chance points will be important Wednesday night, but here are a few more keys.

The Celtics have cashed in on turnovers this year almost better than any team in the league. They've scored 1,147 points off turnovers, good for third in the NBA. The Blazers? Not so much. They've scored just 887 points off turnovers this season, putting them at 27th in the NBA.

The Blazers also have given up 1,018 points off turnovers to opponents, the 9th most in the NBA. It's pretty clear that the Celtics can find an advantage in this category with guys like Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, and Avery Bradley getting their hands on balls.

Anybody who's watched the Celtics this season knows they like to get out on the break. Defense turns into offense real fast for the C's - it's how they counter a bigger opponent with small ball. The C's have scored 947 fast break points this season, 6th most in the NBA.

Despite two star guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, the Blazers don't score on the break as much. They've got just 642 fast break points this season, 7th least in the NBA.

But the Blazers also don't allow many fast break points. Only the Heat have allowed less fast break points than the Blazers, who have allowed just 616 on the season, or five less than the Celtics. But a game without fast break points hurts the C's more than the Blazers.

Well, duh. That's obviously easier said than done. Nobody has been able to find an answer for limiting Lillard over the last month or so. He just had his 8th 30-point game in nine games in New York Tuesday night.

But maybe there's hope. Lillard hasn't been that good against the Celtics. In six career games, he's averaging 14.2 points on 33-percent shooting, the lowest and second-lowest marks, respectively, against any NBA team. If he puts up numbers anywhere near that Wedneday night, the Celtics should be sitting pretty.

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