Celtics-Hornets preview: 'A good test' for C's in first preseason game


Celtics-Hornets preview: 'A good test' for C's in first preseason game

BOSTON – Whenever the Boston Celtics take to the floor, Brad Stevens always wants to win.

But when it comes to preseason games, success should not be measured in wins and losses which is why the focus for tonight’s preseason opener against the Charlotte Hornets has more to do with steady progress than scoring points.


“We’re going to get spun around in circles,” Stevens said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what goes well. I’m looking forward to teaching off of what doesn’t. It’s a great team to have to play against.”

The Hornets, who will also be playing in their first preseason game tonight, were a bit of a disappointment last season when they failed to make the postseason after making it in 2016.

Still, they bring back most of their core group from last season which includes all-star and former UConn star Kemba Walker who averaged a career-high 23.2 points while shooting 44.3 percent from the field and 39.9 percent from 3-point range which were both career marks as well.

Tonight’s game will also be the first time Celtics Nation will see the team’s new Big Three – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – play in a game together.

“(Tonight) is going to be a good test for us to see where we’re at, see what we need to do a lot better,” Hayward said. “It seems like it’s coming at us really fast.”

The Celtics opened training camp on Tuesday at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., and now play their first preseason game less than a week later.

“I can’t believe (tonight) is our first preseason game,” Hayward said. “I’m glad that it’s here.”

Irving added, “We still have a long way to go, but we had a good start of the week at camp, and looking forward to many more days where we can get better.”

Horford echoed similar sentiments about the slimmed down preseason slate that consists of four games as opposed to previous seasons when Boston played seven or eight games.

“The more we get to be around each other, play together, the better we’re going to be in the long run,” Horford said. “We have a lot of really good players. But we know there’s going to be some ups and downs along the way. We just have to keep at it, stay together and keep working to just get better.”

And when you talk about ups and downs, Stevens sees that as a given for his team in the preseason.

“They’ll expose us in ways, things we need to work on to get better,” Stevens said. “And we’ll know what we have to move forward and learn from. I’m looking at it as a practice day, but our guys are going to play. It’ll be really good to be out there together. Inevitably the first game you get spun around some.”

Stevens added, “I’m not putting a ton of stock into the next week of games and results; more, are we making the right progress? We’ve done a lot of good things. I’m excited where we are, all things considered. I’m realistic enough to know we got a long way to go.”


Key Matchup

Boston’s Al Horford vs Charlotte’s Dwight Howard

In the summer of 2016, the Celtics had some interest in Howard in case their top target, Horford, fell through. Horford eventually signed with Boston and Howard wound up taking Horford’s old job with the Atlanta Hawks. The lone starter back for Boston from last season, Horford will continue in his role as a major facilitator which led to him averaging a career-high five assists per game last season. Howard doesn’t dominate games as much as he did a few years ago, but he did average 12.7 rebounds per game last season (fifth in the NBA) and had a defensive rating of 100.4 which was also fifth-best in the league.


Key Storyline

First game for Boston’s Big Three of Irving, Hayward and Horford.


“Quote, Unquote”

“This is Day One of a long road ahead, of a long journey for all of us going through it together.” – Boston Celtics guard Kyrie Irving.


Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

Marcus Smart upgrade to questionable for Game 5

BOSTON –  Once considered a long shot to return by Game 7 of Boston’s first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks, Marcus Smart may be on the floor as soon as Tuesday night's Game 5 matchup.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said there was no update on Smart following the team’s practice on Monday, but the team has since upgraded Smart's status to “questionable” for Game 5 – the first time he has been listed as anything other than “out” since he had his right thumb surgically repaired last month.

In the past couple of weeks, Smart has increased his workload and made it clear that he was inching closer to getting back on the floor possibly ahead of schedule. 

Prior to Boston’s Game 4 loss, Smart discussed his potential return. 

“I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there,” Smart said at the time. “I’m just waiting for the OK.”


It appears his most recent visit to the doctor went as planned with Smart now likely cleared to practice – and with that clearance, available to play. 

The return of Smart would be a huge plus for a Celtics team that has struggled mightily in this first-round series against Milwaukee from a defensive standpoint. 

During the regular season, Boston had a league-best defensive rating of 101.5. But against the Bucks, Boston’s defense has slipped to second-to-last among playoff teams which has heavily factored into the series now being tied at two games apiece. 

You can count Boston's Jaylen Brown among the Celtics eager to get Smart back into the fold. 

“When he gets in there he changes the whole game on defense,” Brown said. “He’s definitely missed so when he comes back that’ll make a lot of our jobs a whole lot easier.”

Stevens had similar sentiments about Smart. 

“Marcus is one of our most reliable players for the last four years,” Stevens said. “No question Marcus as been a huge part of us.”

Smart has appeared in 54 games for the Celtics this season, averaging 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds while playing 29.9 minutes per game.


Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

Jaylen Brown's crucial flub in Game 4 was actually officiating error

BOSTON -- The NBA’s two-minute report on Boston’s Game 4 loss at Milwaukee revealed a trio of incorrect non-calls in the closing moments of play, two of which went against the Celtics in their 104-102 loss. 

With Boston ahead 100-99 with less than a minute to play, Jaylen Brown lost the ball on a driving lay-up attempt. 

No call was made on the play, one that Brown thought he was fouled on. 

The two-minute report confirmed “that (Khris) Middleton makes contact to Brown's arm that affects his driving shot attempt.”

Had the call been made, Brown would have gone to the free throw line with 43.5 seconds to play with the Celtics already ahead by one point. 


But on the ensuing Milwaukee possession following the non-call, Malcolm Brogdon drained a 3-pointer that put the Bucks ahead 102-100.

With 47.9 seconds to play, the two-minute report also indicated that an offensive foul should have been called against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo. The two-minute report indicated that, “Antetokounmpo extends his arm and wards off (Semi) Ojeleye's arm, affecting his ability to contest the shot attempt.”

And with 1:14 to play, Antetokounmpo was fouled by Jayson Tatum although no call was made. On the play, the two-minute report says that, “Tatum clamps Antetokounmpo's arm and pushes him, affecting his (freedom of movement) and ability to receive the pass.

On the ensuing possession following the non-call, Tatum hit a jumper that put the Celtics ahead 100-99 with 52.4 seconds to play. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has been asked about officiating quite a bit in the last few days. And his response in each instance remains relatively the same.

"I'm not going to ever say anything bad about referees because they have a really tough job," Stevens said.