Stars, studs and duds from the Celtics' 92-89 loss to the 76ers

Stars, studs and duds from the Celtics' 92-89 loss to the 76ers

AMHERST, Mass. -- For most of training camp, Al Horford has been thinking more about what he needed to do rather than simply playing the game.

That’s not unusual for a player during the early stages of being with a different team.

But on Monday, it seemed that the stars were aligning and all the plays, sets and actions he needed to perform were happening … with little to no thought beforehand.

So it didn’t come as a surprise to head coach Brad Stevens that the Celtics’ starters were the most impressive unit during the team’s 92-89 loss to the Sixers in preseason action.

“We came out, we were moving the ball. We looked really good in that first six or seven minutes,” Stevens said. “I thought everything had a purpose and I thought our second unit didn’t play as well.”

The Celtics opened the game with a 15-5 run and extended their lead to as many as 16 points (25-9) in the first.

While teams want to win all the time, one of the biggest pluses with the preseason is the knowledge gained from one game to the next.

“It’s a good lesson,” Steven said. “You can start off as well as you want; it’s a 48-minute game. And we didn’t play enough good minutes.”

Here’s a look at the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday’s preseason win over the Celtics.


* Al Horford, Boston: Big Al was the man that we all came to see, and the 6-foot-10 big man did not disappoint. He scored the game’s first basket, snatched the first offensive rebound and was very effective during his 15 minutes of court time. He finished with 8 points on 4-for-8 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and a steal.

* Joel Embiid, Philadelphia: His long-awaited debut wasn’t nearly as eventful or successful as he or the Sixers wanted, but his develop will be a process. Getting on the floor and being able to walk off afterwards is a victory in itself considering he has missed the last two seasons with injuries. Embiid had six points and four rebounds to go with two blocks while playing just under 13 minutes.

* Jaylen Brown, Boston: He only had 8 points, but he came up big when the Celtics needed him down the stretch. It's clear already that this kid has elite athleticism that will set him apart from many of his contemporaries in time.


* Terry Rozier, Boston: Down the stretch, Rozier continues to show some serious clutch genes with some of the shots he’s making. He finished with 12 points to go with three rebounds and two assists.

* Jae Crowder, Boston: He has an improved jumper and Crowder didn’t waste any time showing it off on Tuesday. He scored 11 points on 4-for-8 shooting which included an impressive 3-for-6 on 3s while also racking up three steals in 19 minutes.


* R.J. Hunter, Boston: James Young got in Tuesday’s game before Hunter, and it didn’t take long to see why. Young was once again a solid performer when he entered the game while Hunter’s regression continues. He was scoreless in eight minutes of action, missing a pair of 3s in addition to turning the ball over twice.

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

File Photo

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.


There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.


The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.


Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.


It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.


For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.


The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.


Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Blakely: Stevens has this coaching in March stuff down

Sometimes we forget that a big part of why Brad Stevens is in Boston is because of what he has done as a coach this time of year.

He led a pair of Butler teams to deep postseason runs before coming up short in a pair of national title games.

Well, he’s embarking on a different kind of March Madness in leading the Celtics to a string of improbable wins, the latest being a 105-100 victory at Portland on Friday night.

It was the kind of victory that when you start to roll out the reasons why Stevens should be this season’s Coach of the Year winner, folks will use the win at Portland as an example.

The Blazers are not only one of the better teams at home, but they came in having won 13 of 14 games with the lone loss coming to Houston, which has the best record in the NBA.

But what made the victory so unexpected was the cut-and-paste lineup Stevens has employed because of a long rash of injuries.

Kyrie Irving missed his fifth consecutive game and is expected to be lost for another three to six weeks after having a procedure to on Saturday to help alleviate some of the soreness in his left knee.

Jaylen Brown has missed several games with a concussion, but he has progressed to where he's now questionable for the game in Sacramento on Sunday night. 

Boston was also without Marcus Smart (right thumb) who won’t be back until sometime in the playoffs.

And that doesn’t factor in Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) or Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee), both out for the season.

It’s easy to chalk up Stevens’ success to great Xs and O’s work.

But he’s doing more than that.

He’s inspiring a level of confidence in players that generated results exceeding all expectations; that is, expectations outside of their locker room.

Even when this team struggled with no clear signs of hope on the horizon, they didn’t blink.

Rather than use their less-than-ideal state as a justification for poor play, they funneled that energy and focus into becoming a better team - not better players, but a better team.

Because frankly, that is what we’ve seen from this group all season. Of course, you have your star in Irving, but this team has been a get-it-done-or-else squad all year that doesn’t get too locked into the success or struggles of any one teammate.

And that has allowed Boston to withstand the kind of injuries to key players that would have crippled many other teams.

But with the lack of bodies, there has been a lack of respect for how good this team really is.

Stevens has tapped into that and used it to help focus this team on playing great and most important, giving themselves a chance to win regardless of the opponent, regardless of how dire a situation may be.

And that has created the kind of March Madness Celtics fans are absolutely lovin’ right now.