Celtics

Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

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Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hawyard share a Kobe Bryant connection

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward share more than just the same March 23 birthdate.

They also share a connection with Kobe Bryant who for years was a pain the Celtics you-know-what, but since retirement has been a voice of encouragement and assistance to past Celtics, such as Isaiah Thomas, as well as Green Team newcomers.

MORE: VIDEO: 1-on-1 interviews with Irving, Hayward and Ainge

One of the many reasons the Celtics made Hayward a top priority this summer when he became a free agent was because of the steady growth in his game that, in part, was aided by Hayward spending time with Bryant last summer.

Part of that growth came about last summer when he spent a week working out with Bryant.

“He's one of the best to ever do it," Hayward told ESPN’s Zach Lowe. “And it was one of my best weeks ever."

Hayward wanted to become a more diverse, more efficient scorer.

In addition to averaging a career-high 21.9 points per game, which garnered Hayward his first All-Star selection, he also shot a career-high 50.6 percent on his 2-point attempts.

And as Hayward struggled with the tough decision between leaving the Utah Jazz after seven seasons to play elsewhere, Bryant (as well as LeBron James) was part of a six-minute video put on by the Celtics highlighting how great a sports town Boston was, even for visiting foes.
 
That would eventually become one of the many influences that ultimately played a factor in Hayward’s decision to sign a four-year, $127.8 million deal with the Celtics.
 
As for Irving, his relationship with Bryant really took off in 2012 when Bryant was part of Team USA and Irving was on the Team USA select team of younger players who practiced against Team USA.
 
Irving’s respect for Bryant was evident from the very beginning.
 
But don’t get that confused with deference or fear of the Black Mamba, whom Irving challenged to a game of 1-on-1.
 
Bryant wasn’t interested.
 
“He thinks he’s talking to a high school kid?” Irving says into the camera.

Kobe’s response?
 
“You just came out of high school, kid,” Bryant said. “You played two games [it was actually 11] in college.”
 
That exchange set the foundation for a mentor/mentee relationship that has led to Irving reaching out to Bryant in his highest moments, like having a FaceTime moment with Bryant in 2016 when the Cavs won the NBA title or in 2015 when foot and knee injuries made him ineffective in Cleveland’s second-round series that year against Chicago.
 
“During the Chicago series he was the first person I called when I had my knee issues," Irving told reporters. “I asked him a few things. He knew a little bit about [Tom] Thibodeau's defense and how they are going to corral me and what they are going to do knowing I'm hurt and he just told me how to be more effective in the scoring areas as well as on the defensive end.

Irving added, “We talked for about 30 minutes and he gave me as great a talk as I needed at that time. I was in a terrible mental space knowing I couldn't be as effective as I wanted to be. He was the first person I called and we've had a great dialogue over the last few years so it's been great."

During Thomas’ amazing playoff run for Boston shortly after the untimely death of his younger sister, Bryant was once again assisting a Celtics player.

Thomas described how Bryant would help him break down video to see things that, frankly, only Bryant would see.

“He’s definitely helped,” Thomas said during the Celtics’ second-round series against Chicago last season. “Tells me what he sees and what I should be watching for on film.”

Other players throughout the league have from time to time called upon the Black Mamba for assistance.
 
But to know how passionate the rivalry between Boston has been before and during Bryant’s time with the Lakers, it’s refreshing to see he’s not the least bit stingy with his basketball wisdom.
 
“Every time we played since I was a rookie, I was just trying to earn his respect," Irving told reporters earlier. "Guys that have come before me, I never forget their groundwork. Even guys that have come before Kobe, that allowed him to leave a legacy on this game that will last forever."
 

Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic

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Morris returns to Celtics starting lineup vs. Magic

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics will turn to a familiar starting lineup as they try to get back on their winning ways following Wednesday’s loss at Miami.
 
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said Marcus Morris will be in the starting lineup tonight against Orlando, joining the usual Celtics foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

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Morris’ availability tonight was not a given, similar to it being in question prior to Wednesday’s game against the Heat.
 
Morris has been dealing with soreness in his left knee which kept him out for the first eight games of the season and has limited his playing time since then.
 
Stevens said Morris will likely not play against Indiana on Saturday but no final decision has been made. Since returning to the lineup, the Celtics have played Morris with a minutes restriction in addition to not allowing him to play in any back-to-back games.

Morris has made it clear that he does not like having his playing time limited while not playing in any back-to-backs, but has repeatedly he understands why it is being done and won’t fight what the coaching and medical staff believe is best for him and the team.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

BOSTON – When it comes to bouncing back from defeat, the Celtics don’t have a ton of experience with that this season.
 
As impressive as their 16-game winning streak was, a truer sense of where this team is at lies in how they respond.

MORE CELTICS:

 
Their first chance to bounce back comes tonight against the Orlando Magic (8-10) who will put Boston’s team cohesion to the test.
 
With so many new players to the roster this season, it has been somewhat surprising how well players have come together. It was instrumental to Boston’s winning streak, which was the fourth-longest in franchise history.
 
“It’s two things,” said Al Horford. “A lot of credit to coach [Brad Stevens], really setting the emphasis on the things that he expects from our group. And then credit to our younger guys and our guys in general, to pick up those concepts and play for each other out there on the defensive end. That’s what we try to do every night.”
 
When you talk about Boston’s young players, it begins with the rapid improvement of second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.
 
“I just think that they’re starting to see, to understand the game more especially on the offensive end,” Horford said. “I think they’re starting to identify reads. It’s a process. They’re going to keep learning; it’s a long season. But that’s the one thing, from the beginning of the season until now, I feel like they have the ability to read plays and make plays for themselves and others.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game at TD Garden: 
 


STREAKING MAGIC
The Magic are on a bit of a streak, but not the kind any team would like to have. They come in having lost six in a row. The Magic have struggled to knock down 3-point shots and rebound in that span. They're ranked among the league’s bottom 10 in both categories.
 

THE PAINT GAME
Boston has had its problems scoring in the paint this season, averaging 38.5 points, which ranks 27th in the NBA. But that might change tonight against a Magic team that has been among the worst limiting points in the paint all season. Scratch that. They are the worst, giving up a league-high 51.0 points in the paint this season.
 

WICKED TOUGH SCHEDULE
Boston’s 16-game winning streak was impressive, especially when you consider their schedule which included their past eight games being played in a 16-night stretch with a game every other day. It’s not so much the challenge of so many games close together, but the inability to have any time to practice. “For a young team like ours, practice is really important,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “But the schedule is what it is. You play every game as best you can, practice when you can practice and go from there.”
 

BACKUP POWER LOW
The Celtics got 34 points from their bench in Wednesday’s loss at Miami, an improvement over what the second unit has been able to deliver most of this season. They come into tonight’s game ranked dead-last in the NBA in shooting (33.5 percent) and next-to-last in 3-point shooting (27.7 percent). Scoring-wise, they average 28.6 points, which ranks 24th in the league, but log an average of 18.8 minutes which ranks 14th in the NBA. So why do they get major minutes? Because more often than not, they find a way to come out ahead of their second unit brethren. For the season, Boston’s bench has a plus/minus of +1.6 which ranks eighth in the league.
 

REBOUND SUCCESS
One of the biggest concerns for the Celtics coming into this season was rebounding. So far, so good. The Celtics average 47.2 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. To put that in perspective, if Boston maintains that average, it would be the franchise’s highest rebounding average in 40 years (49.8, 1977-78).