Celtics look to get what they paid for with Irving

Celtics look to get what they paid for with Irving

BOSTON -- Danny Ainge loves Isaiah Thomas. The Boston Celtics' franchise, from ownership on down, feels the same way. 

No one knows fully how tough it was for them to part with him for a package centered around Kyrie Irving, who'd made it clear that he wanted out of Cleveland. 
For those who question Irving’s motives as well as the Celtics’ desire to part with a player like Thomas -- who made such a huge impact in so little time -- here’s what you need to know.
You do that deal if you're Boston because you feel that, going forward, Irving gives you a better shot at winning a title.


You do that deal because you know that adding Irving to this culture would be a win-win for both the player and the franchise. 
You do this deal because you believe Irving can elevate your franchise in a way that makes you, at a minimum, in the conversation to compete and ultimately win a championship. 
Thursday’s game against Golden State?
That’s why you did the deal. 
Because for all the second-guessing that went on relative to the blockbuster trade with Cleveland, the end-goal was to be positioned to win games like Thursday night’s battle with the defending NBA champion Warriors. 
And making the matchup all that more enticing is that the Celtics (13-2) come in with the league’s best record -- not Golden State -- and have done it in impressive, emphatic and historic fashion. 
After struggling with losses in their first two games this season, success has been all the Celtics have known since as they’ve ran off 13 straight wins -- something no team in NBA history has ever done after dropping the first two to start the season. 
It has created a level of excitement and interest in the Celtics that we have not seen in years, certainly not in the Brad Stevens era. 
And while there have been several pieces to this puzzle coming together so quickly, there is none more significant that the addition of Irving. 
The 25-year-old has the kind of resume that speaks to his advanced playing skills. A four-time All-star and Olympic Gold medalist, he is a living, breathing example of what this Celtics franchise is about -- competing in the present, planning for the future. 
Irving has the talent and experience to be around for both if he chooses. 
Considering the things that he wanted in whatever team he wound up with after requesting a trade from Cleveland, Boston has been everything he asked for. 
His role as a leader? Check.
A chance to compete at the highest level now? Check.
A chance to grow with the franchise and its players? Check, check.
And a coach who isn’t going anywhere, anytime soon? Check. 
Let’s not forget that Irving had four different coaches in six seasons with Cavs, and each had their own ideas of how to best utilize Irving and his strengths. They all seemed to believe those strengths were limited to his ball-handling, occasion play-making and ability to score. 
But in Boston, he has a coach in Stevens who has challenged him to think of his impact being much bigger than buckets. 
Irving, a notoriously bad defender in Cleveland, has suddenly emerged seemingly out of nowhere to be, at a minimum, solid at that end of the floor. 
Credit Stevens for putting him in situations where he can take advantage of one of his better talents that doesn’t get much attention when he’s on defense -- his footwork. 
As impressive as he may be in breaking folks down with his ball-handling, a lot of that success has to do with how well he moves his feet. 
Why can’t that work on defense? 
So far, it has. 
And then there’s Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier, well-versed on Stevens’ system, just chomping at the bit to get into games. That, too, has helped Irving elevate his game from a defensive standpoint. 
But for all the improvements, it always comes down to one thing -- winning games.  And the Celtics are doing it better than anyone in the NBA, with Irving leading the charge. 
Still, Irving knows his success, his dreams of making this change work, all come down to how he and the Celtics perform on the biggest stages -- like Thursday night’s matchup against Golden State. 
It’s a chance for Boston to do more than just extend its current winning streak.  It's a chance to send a strong message to the rest of the league that the Celtics may be closer to being a title contender than anyone not on their payroll had imagined. 
A victory would also serve as yet another reminder why the Celtics jumped at the chance to trade for Irving, who is doing exactly what he wanted to do when he joined this franchise: Grow personally and collectively, and win at the highest levels against the best teams. 

They don't get any better than defending champion Golden State.


Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

Hayward wishes he was playing Jazz, a game he circled on his calendar

BOSTON – On the road, Utah’s Joel Ingles had dinner last night before with Gordon Hayward, an all-too-familiar routine.

But nothing has been normal or routine about the Jazz and Hayward, not after he left after seven years to sign with the Boston Celtics this summer.

And with tonight’s game being the first time the two teams have squared off since Hayward’s decision, there was indeed a noticeable build-up to it even with Hayward (dislocated left ankle) unable to play.

“It makes it harder for me. I wish I was out there,” said Hayward who suffered his ankle injury in the season-opener at Cleveland on Oct. 17. “It makes it harder just to sit back and watch. This was a game I circled as well. I know they did. In front of my now-home crowd, it would have been a lot of fun.”

Ingles enjoyed his time playing with Hayward in Utah, but says he and the team have moved on and are now focused more on what they can do as a team to improve from one day, one game to the next.

Without Gordon, Ingles says things are “obviously different,” adding, “But I really like who we have and what we have. Nothing really changes for us. We play a very similar style. Obviously different personnel. You draft guys, you sign guys, whatever it is. It’s a little different, but adding all those new pieces is a little bit of an adjusting time we’ve kind of gone through. We’ve had some great games, we’ve had some bad games. At the end of the day, you want to keep evolving, keep getting better and I think we’ve done that. That’s not going to result in wins all the time, but I think in the long run, the long-term for this team it’s gonna really help us.”

And Hayward’s decision, he believes will also pay off for both him and the Celtics.

“I don’t regret anything,” Hayward said. “I unfortunately got injured, but happy to be here in Boston and happy to be part of this team.”


Celtics continue to look for ways to rest Morris' knee


Celtics continue to look for ways to rest Morris' knee

BOSTON – Al Horford is back in the Boston Celtics’ lineup for tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz. But the news isn’t as encouraging for Marcus Morris.

Horford (rest) missed Boston’s 124-118 win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, a decision the Celtics had decided on several weeks prior due to the way the Celtics’ schedule was breaking down.

Put it like this: the Celtics will be at game No. 41, the official halfway point of the season, on Jan. 3 when they host the Cleveland Cavaliers.

And with the 31-year-old Horford being the oldest member on the team and leading them in minutes played, it made sense for the Celtics to have a strategic rest plan in place for the four-time All-Star.

As for Morris, the Celtics will continue to seek out ways to provide him enough downtime to help strengthen his left knee, while also getting him on the floor.

“We don’t have an update on a timeline for him,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “He’s feeling better as the week has gone on.”

I asked Stevens what does Morris have to do at this point to get back on the floor.

“The biggest thing is, feeling better consistently, day to day and not having these setbacks,” Stevens said. “With the schedule we’re in the midst of now, playing every day would not be the answer. I think getting him to feel as good as he can … he’s had a couple different opinions, everybody has come up with the same result and that is strengthen it, work diligently on it, and it shouldn’t be a long-term thing. But let’s make sure that we rest over the next couple of weeks, appropriately.

Stevens added, “He’s had a little bit of a setback here, but it doesn’t sound like it’s going to be long-term.”