Celtics

His high school coach says Fultz will embrace whatever role Celtics need

His high school coach says Fultz will embrace whatever role Celtics need


BOSTON – If the Celtics do as expected and take Markelle Fultz with the No. 1 overall pick in the NBA draft, the 19-year-old will find himself in an unfamiliar position.
 
Since bursting onto the national landscape as a high school junior, Fultz has fought to cement a place for himself as one of the game’s best players among his peers.
 
In Boston, he’ll be fighting for something else: playing time.
 
The 6-foot-4 guard will join a Celtics roster that’s stuffed with backcourt talent, some of which will likely not be around by the time he would arrive in the fall.
 
But even if the Celtics were to trim a roster spot or two in the backcourt, the fight for minutes will still be great.


 
While it’s far too soon to say how much Fultz would play as a rookie, his high school coach Mike Jones doesn’t believe his former pupil will have a hard time adjusting to whatever role he has been cast to play.
 
“He wants to win so whatever, whoever he plays for, if it’s Boston and they decide Markelle, ‘this is the role we need you to play in order for us to be a championship contender or a championship team,’ Markelle's going to embrace that and do as well as he can,” Jones said in an exclusive interview with CSN. “I would never bet against him, in terms of whether or not he’s going to play.”
 
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If anything, seeing limited time will only make him work harder to get on the floor.
 
Jones, who has been a coach with Team USA, in addition to coaching Victor Oladipo in high school, has seen first-hand how Fultz responds to adversity.
 
As a sophomore at DeMatha Catholic High School in Hyattsville, Maryland, Fultz tried out for varsity but did not make the team.
 
Fultz was just 5-foot-9 at the time. Jones said he had not yet to hit his growth spurt which was a big factor in why he cut him.
 
“Obviously with the talent that he had, we did not want to have him basically playing sparse minutes on the varsity level,” Jones said. “We figured that if he played on the JV level with some really good players he would have an opportunity to really grow into a leadership role and that's exactly what he did. That was probably one of the best JV teams we've ever had in our school’s history and Markelle was definitely the catalyst for everything they did. So much so that when we moved him up to the varsity level at the end of the season, he hit the ground running. There was no adjustment needed, and obviously, he was the best player in the DC area, he was the player of the year.” 
 
His play on the junior varsity level got the attention of many, including an assistant coach at the University of Washington, who was passing by at the time but took note of Fultz and began to recruit him afterward.
 
Fultz, who played at the Washington for one season, learned how to handle initial setbacks, without allowing it to affect his own growth as a player – an important quality for a player taken as high as he will be, in joining a team like the Celtics that’s among the best teams in the NBA.
 
“No matter who or what guards are on the Boston Celtics roster, Markelle is able to play on the ball, off the ball, he’s able to play with other really good players, and I think that’s going to be something that’s definitely to his advantage. A lot of other guys are going to have that adjustment; he’s not going to.”
 

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

Smart out of Celtics' Game 6 starting lineup, Ojeleye in

MILWAUKEE— Brad Stevens is not averse to shaking up the Boston Celtics starting lineup, regardless of where a playoff series may stand.

And as eager as it may be for some to see Marcus Smart roaming the floor with the first unit in tonight’s close-out game against Milwaukee, both Smart and Stevens shot the idea down quickly.

“We haven’t talked about (me starting),” said Smart, who returned to the lineup for Game 5 following a right thumb injury that sidelined him for almost six weeks. “We actually like our starting lineup.”

Boston inserted rookie Semi Ojeleye into the starting lineup for Boston’s 92-87 Game 5 win, in place of Aron Baynes.

“Semi Ojeleye has been doing a great job on Giannis (Antetokounmpo). He matches up really well,” Smart said. “When you got somebody his size, his determination, that’s good for us. We like our matchups, the way we are to starting off the game and me coming off, bringing that energy off the bench.”

Stevens was more succinct when asked if he was considering inserting Smart into the starting lineup.

“No,” Stevens said.

While there is no mistaking the huge impact that Smart’s return for Game 5 had after missing almost six weeks with a right thumb injury, Stevens usually makes changes when there’s an area in which the Celtics need to address immediately.

In the first round of the playoffs last season against Chicago, Boston needed a jolt offensively with the first unit. 

In came Gerald Green who helped Boston win four straight over the Bulls after falling behind 2-0 in the series. 

Boston, up 3-2 in the best-of-seven series, are in a much different place right now.

They come into tonight’s Game 6 matchup coming off their best defensive performance of this series.

And while Smart played a major role in that happening, Boston’s Game 5 win was a victory fueled by an across-the-board defensive effort.

Smart’s impact will be felt whether he’s starting or not.

Plus, inserting him at this point for Ojeleye or Terry Rozier, is a risk that based on where this series is and how Boston is playing, isn’t worth taking.

Rozier hasn’t been nearly as good on the road in this series as he has been at the TD Garden.

But having him in the starting lineup keeps the Bucks more honest defensively, well aware that Rozier is a better shooter and scorer than Smart.

Plus, benching Rozier at this point in the series would be a major blow to his growing confidence which is part of why he has had more strong games in his role as a starter for Kyrie Irving (left knee recovery), than weak ones.

One of the keys for Boston will be to get off to a better start, something that Smart can impact either as a starter or getting the call early off the bench.

In Boston’s Game 3 loss, Milwaukee began the game with a 16-6 run. And in Game 4, the Bucks closed out the first quarter with a 19-5 run before holding on for a two-point win.

Ultimately, Game 6 will be determined by which team does the better job down the stretch.

And for the Celtics, that usually involves Smart being on the floor.

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Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

Ojeleye gets chance to limit Giannis again in Game 6

MILWAUKEE – No matter how detailed you may want to get in dissecting how to beat the Milwaukee Bucks, it always comes back to Giannis Antetokounmpo.

A 7-foot playmaker who covers ground like a world class long jumper with pogo stick-like leaping ability, Antetokounmpo is a living, breathing mismatch the moment he steps on to the floor.

But he is human, something the Boston Celtics reminded us of in their 92-87 Game 5 win in which Antetokounmpo came one assist shy of a triple-double but only took 10 shots from the field.

“I had open shots but they weren’t my shots,” Antetokounmpo said after the Game 5 loss. “My teammates did a great job finding me … come Game 6 I gotta be more aggressive, make more plays.”

Boston’s Semi Ojeleye was inserted into the starting lineup for Game 5 and will likely stay there for tonight’s close-out game.

His role is to give Antetokounmpo a different look defensively in addition to a more versatile defender who matches up better on pick-and-roll switches than Aron Baynes has in this series.

In Game 5, mission accomplished.

Ojeleye discussed the challenges one faces when tasked with defending Antetokounmpo.

“His aggressive mindset,” Ojeleye said. “Every play, every possession, transition, he’s always looking to attack. You have to be aware of that at all times and just be ready. If he sees you relaxed, he’s going to try and take advantage of that.”

And while Ojeleye will be the first to admit that defending Antetokounmpo is a team effort and not the task of any one individual, it’s clear that he’s as good a Celtic as there is when it comes to defending Antetokounmpo. 

 “Giannis is a really hard guy to guard,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Semi has great lateral athleticism and obviously as strong as anybody in the league when he gets hit on a drive, and Giannis brings as much force on the drive as anybody in the league. He’s a hard guy to guard and he’s trying to make it as difficult as possible.”

According to NBA.com, Ojeleye has defended Antetokounmpo for 73 possessions, 40 of which came in Game 5.

Antetokounmpo has scored 22 points on 9-for-15 shooting against Ojeleye.

And in Game 5, Antetokounmpo scored seven points on 3-for-5 shooting when defended by Ojeleye.

Upon first glance, those numbers aren’t all that impressive.

But a slightly deeper dive reveals that Ojeleye defended Antetokounmpo on 40 possessions.

That means Antetokounmpo took a shot with Ojeleye defending, once every eight possessions the two were on the floor at the same time.

As Ojeleye mentioned, defending Antetokounmpo is not a one-man job. 

It is a team effort, but it’s clear thus far that Boston’s best shot at minimizing Antetokounmpo’s impact begins with Ojeleye as the team’s primary defender. 

“It’s big-time what Semi can do,” said Boston’s Marcus Morris. “We all know he can defend well. He’s finally getting a chance on one of the biggest levels and he’s coming through.”

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