Stars, studs and duds: Tough decisions ahead for Stevens, Celtics

Stars, studs and duds: Tough decisions ahead for Stevens, Celtics

BOSTON -- When it comes to figuring out who will stick and who will be sent packing off the Celtics roster, coach Brad Stevens acknowledges that there’s no one factor that will make the decision easy.
Stevens is well aware that whatever decision Boston makes, it will likely mean a relatively young player will be waived or traded.
Knowing this is something his youthful players are concerned about, Stevens says the pressure of the moment is among the factors he and his staff, as well as the front office, are weighing.
“That’s one of the reasons why you don’t jump to conclusions after one game or one practice of one performance,” Stevens said. “Because that’s a lot of weight on people’s shoulders. And I have a great deal of respect for everybody in that locker room. As I’ve said many times before, just to be able to put that jersey on, whether you’re on the final roster or not … you’re a pretty special basketball player.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Monday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets.
James Young: His basketball life is on the line and Young has risen to the occasion repeatedly in the preseason. We have seen him provide intangibles such as hustling down loose balls, making the “hockey assist” and rebounding the ball better than he has at any point in the NBA. On Monday he got it going offensively, scoring 8 of his 10 points in the third quarter when Boston blew the game open. His future with the Celtics remains up in the air, but to his credit he has done all he can to make the choice as tough as possible.
Isaiah Thomas: He only played 15 minutes but Thomas made the most of his court time, scoring a game-high 19 points on a flawless 6-for-6 shooting night. Prior to Monday night’s shooting performance, Thomas had been connecting on just 38.2 percent (13-for-34) of his shots from the field. After Monday’s game, he’s now shooting a respectable 47.5 percent from the floor.

Sean Kilpatrick: He did some nice things for the Nets and made open shots when they presented themselves. He had a team-high 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting.
Amir Johnson: He was as active on the glass as we’ve seen in the preseason, finishing with six rebounds. He also chipped in seven points, two assists and a steal.
Jaylen Brown
: This was a game in which Brown had some problems defensively (he was whistled for five personal fouls in just under 20 minutes), but he remains a tough cover for many players trying to limit him. Brown was 5-for-8 shooting and finished with 12 points, which was tops among Boston’s backups.

Brook Lopez: He logged just under 19 minutes of court time, most of which was spent being ineffective. Despite having a size advantage most of the night, Lopez had six points while missing six of his eight shot attempts in addition to turning the ball over three times.

Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

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Celtics-Thunder preview: Balancing rest and rhythm

BOSTON – With the NBA playoffs looming, this is a tricky time of year for most of the league’s playoff-bound teams. 

Both players and coaches want to head into the postseason well-rested. 

But they also want to be in a good playing rhythm.

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Injuries have forced the Boston Celtics to sit some players who are likely to be able to play (and well-rested) when the playoffs. 

And tonight’s foe, the Oklahoma City Thunder, are in a similar situation as well. 

“It's something you're walking a tightrope on all the time, where a guy is really rested but you've taken him out of rhythm,” said Thunder head coach Billy Donovan. “The biggest thing is, there's gotta be communication between the players and the medical staff, coaches, of where guys are, what they need.

Donovan added, “I think rest this time of year would help any player, but there's a balance between maybe getting too much rest and maybe getting out of rhythm. The players are always walking that line during the course of the year, because you kind of get into a rhythm of playing every other day, you get into that, and then there's a back to back here or there, and you get three games in four nights, but yeah. You try to best as you can with your players, help them balance that the best they can.”

Thunder guard Russell Westbrook can see how some players might need to strike a balance between getting enough rest late in the season while maintaining a good playing rhythm.  

So, I asked him which is his preference?

“I prefer to play,” he said. “Rhythm and all that (expletive), it’s in your mind.”

For Westbrook, maybe so. 

But it is very real to a number of players in the NBA, among them being his teammate and fellow All-Star Paul George. 

“If you know why you’re in the gym and the work you’re getting, you lock in,” George said. “You prepare, get your work done. And you get off your legs, get off our feet and get your rest. It’s easy to balance the two when you know what exactly you’re doing and you know exactly what you need to do.”

Boston has worked to strike that balance with Kyrie Irving all season.

That’s why the five-time All-Star is averaging 24.4 points per game which is 11th in the league. However, he’s doing it in 32.2 minutes which ranks 55th in the league in minutes played per game. 

Lately, Irving has gotten more time off than he would like as he deals with a sore left knee that has kept him sidelined for the Celtics’ last three games. 

It doesn’t appear to be something that will limit him now.

However, having him sit out games now increases the likelihood that he’ll be ready to roll at or near full strength, when the playoffs arrive. 

Boston is also playing without Jaylen Brown who suffered a concussion when he fell on his back following a dunk at Houston on March 3. He is expected to return at some point between now and the end of the regular season which could be a blessing in disguise for the 6-foot-7 Brown who will be called upon to not only remain Boston’s next-best scoring option to Kyrie Irving, but also defend at a high level. 

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens acknowledged that they have given thought to how to find that happy medium between resting guys while ensuring as best they can, that players will be refreshed for the playoffs. 

“We haven’t been in that situation very often, where we choose to do rest except for that stretch in December when we rested Al (Horford),” Stevens said. “But everything else has kind of happened organically with guys being dinged up or whatever the case may be. I think that’s … we’ll probably be in a situation where we will continue to have those discussions.”


Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Thunder not taking shorthanded Celtics for granted

Oklahoma City All-Star Paul George knows the Boston Celtics team he and his Thunder teammates will face tomorrow night, won’t be at full strength.

But he’s wise enough to know if you focus too much on an opponent’s key losses to their roster, that same team can potentially hand you a loss which is the last thing the Thunder need right now in what’s shaping up to be a tightly contested Western Conference playoff race.

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Currently fourth in the standings, only four games separate teams No. 3-8. Only Houston (56-14) and Golden State (53-17) have secured a postseason berth. 

Which means the Celtics won’t catch Oklahoma City sleeping on them heading into tomorrow night’s game. 

“We are going to address it the same way regardless of who's in there,” George said. “We got to pick these games up. We lost the game on our floor earlier this season.”

But that was early in the season when the Thunder were still trying to figure out how its newly formed core of Russell Westbrook, George and Carmelo Anthony, could mesh.

Oklahoma City has gotten stronger as the season progressed, and are one of the hottest teams around with six straight wins, the most recent being a 132-125 victory at Eastern Conference-leading Toronto. 

Meanwhile, Boston (47-23) has lost its last two games and three of four so from a momentum standpoint, the Thunder have every reason to feel as though they’ll emerge victorious tomorrow night. 

And they also have added motivation from their Nov. 3 matchup with the Celtics in Oklahoma City that ended with a 101-94 win for Boston. 

Westbrook had 19 points and 11 assists in that game but shot 7-for-20 from the field. Carmelo Anthony had 14 points but did so on a woeful 3-for-17 shooting. And then there was George’s 25 points on 9-for-20 shooting to go with 10 rebounds. 

“We have to show who we are,” George said.

Who they are, is a team that’s fighting for home court in at least the first round of the playoffs where they are currently fourth in the West. 

And their success in the last six games has been fueled by strong play at both ends of the floor. 


In that stretch, Oklahoma City is averaging 116.2 points which ranks second in the NBA during that span. Defensively, they are allowing 104.5 points which is the 10th-fewest allowed in the last six games.

“Just making the right plays, offensively and defensively” is how Westbrook described the team’s recent run of success. 

And the Thunder have every intention of keeping it going against a beat-up Celtics squad that they know they can’t take lightly. 

“Again, we are playing really well,” George said. “A step back if we lose no matter who's in or who's out would hurt us.”