Blakely: Celtics hope to navigate road to success


Blakely: Celtics hope to navigate road to success

AMHERST -- Throughout the course of an NBA season, there will be ample opportunities for a team to bond. We saw one prior to Tuesday night’s preseason game against Philadelphia, when Boston Celtics players locked arms during the National Anthem as a sign of unity during the growing social unrest that’s sweeping the country. 
Players will get another opportunity to build off that -- and other bonding experiences thus far in training camp -- as they hit the road to play the Charlotte Hornets in Greensboro, N.C. on Thursday. 
Although Tuesday’s 92-89 preseason loss to Philadelphia at the Mullins Center on UMass-Amherst’s campus was technically a “road” game (Philadelphia was officially the home team), it really wasn’t. Every time they've stepped on the floor thus far this season, they have been greeted by a cascade of cheers. A number of players have managed to feed off that during games. 
But Thursday night’s game against the Hornets will be different. 
Road success will be one of the many factors that will contribute to the success or struggles the Celtics experience this season. 
Under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics have been on a steady level of improvement in several areas, which includes road success. 
During his rookie season in 2013-14, the Celtics won just nine road games. He followed that up by more than doubling the team’s road win total from the previous season, with 19. And last season they improved to 20-21 on the road. 
The next step for this group will be to finish this regular season with a winning road record, something the Celtics have not done since 2010-11. 
And while all the Celtics have played in front of road crowds before, every season brings about a different team with a slightly different identity regardless of how many of the pieces remain the same. 
Winning on the road often comes down to a team’s ability to execute in the closing moments of games. That's where, more likely than not, the departure of Evan Turner will be most pronounced for the Celtics. 
They have players who can help fill that void, but doing takes time and maybe just as important, opportunities. 
Putting teams away on the road, regardless of whether it’s the preseason or not, is a good litmus test for where a team stands in that regard and what they need to do in order to get better going forward. 
That’s why this first real road game for the Celtics has value beyond the usual player development and improvement that playing games provides. And while it may not count in the grand scheme of things as far as wins and losses, there's much to gain with a good showing in front of fans that don’t have their back.
“It gets you ready; on the road, hostile environment as such where it’s not your home court,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “You don’t know if your fans will be there or be outnumbered. Your team learns how to come together.”

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Reserve-heavy Celtics keep at it, top Trail Blazers

1:13 - The Celtics came away with a 105-100 win in Portland on Friday night. Find out why Chris Mannix is calling this the best Celtics win of the season.

6:05 - Mannix discusses details about Kyrie Irving’s ‘minimally invasive’ procedure on his knee and what his level of concern is with A. Sherrod Blakely and Gary Tanguay.

10:03 - Michael Holley and Tom Curran discuss what NFL players, including Devin McCourty, are doing beyond the gridiron by being active in criminal justice reform discussions held at Harvard this week.



Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

Morris getting it done for Celtics on both ends of the floor

When you think about Marcus Morris these days, big-time scoring immediately comes to mind. 

But in Boston’s 105-100 comeback win over Portland, Morris’ contributions went beyond the game-high 30 points he dropped on the Blazers.

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“Coach (Brad Stevens) is doing a great job of getting me the ball in my spots and my teammates are finding me,” Morris told reporters after the win. “And I’m just coming through.”

He’s providing strong play and a tremendous presence at both ends of the floor which has been critical to the team navigating some choppy waters with a number of regular rotation players – namely Kyrie Irving – out with injuries.

“One thing is, he’s healthy,” said Boston’s Al Horford, referring to the sore knee that limited Morris earlier this season and at times forced him to miss games. “And the other is, he’s just more confident, he’s playing very assertive. He’s playing great right now, in a really good rhythm.”

Said Stevens: “That’s been him (Morris). As he’s continued to feel better; I think physically he’s felt as good as he’s felt. He’s comfortable in our system and we need him to score. If you’re a basketball player and your job is to score, that’s a pretty good job.”

And it’s one that even with all the injuries Boston has played through, few envisioned him being such an integral part of the offense. 

Morris’ calling card prior to arriving in Boston was his defense. 

But Morris has made it known that his focus on the floor is to be as complete a player as possible.

“I’m not trying to just limit myself to just being that scorer,” Morris said. “Also, on the defensive end I think I’m bringing it; my defense has gotten a lot better, especially my on-the-ball defense. I’m trying to be that all-around player and not just an offensive player … but I can score.”