Celtics-76ers preview: Young talents on display for both teams


Celtics-76ers preview: Young talents on display for both teams

PHILADELPHIA – In Boston’s 108-100 loss to Milwaukee on Tuesday, four different rookies saw action for the Celtics. 

At times, they delivered on making some memorable moments while other stretches for them involved making mistakes.

There is a need for Boston to use its younger players, even more so now that Gordon Hayward (left ankle) will likely be out for the rest of the season. 

And while their talent certainly makes having them around a blessing, their inexperience and the growing pains that are sure to come because of that, will at times be a burden for a Celtics team considered by most as a top-tier club with aspirations of greatness this season. 

There is still hope for an amazing season, but the degree of difficulty in making that happen has certainly increased with Hayward’s injury, which occurred five minutes into Boston’s 102-99 season-opening loss at Cleveland. 

And with that, Boston will find itself even more reliant on its youthful players who will be thrust into roles that they may not have necessarily anticipated coming their way this quickly. 

“We’ve got a lot of young guys,” said coach Brad Stevens. “I’m hopeful that we can find the right combinations; we obviously didn’t anticipate going maybe this far into the bench this early.”

The first player off the bench for the Celtics on Wednesday was Abdel Nader. 

Taken by Boston with the 58th overall pick in the 2016 NBA draft, Nader was the D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the Year last season with the Maine Red Claws.

He is one of four rookies who saw action for the Celtics on Wednesday, a clear sign of just how valuable the youngsters will be to their chances at success this season. 

“I don’t want to make the excuse that we’re a young team, but we are,” said Kyrie Irving.

Look at Irving, who is only 25 years old and yet is the team’s most accomplished player when it comes to All-Star appearances (4) and, even more significantly, NBA titles (1). 

They face a Sixers team that has ranked among the league’s more youthful team for years. And that lack of experience has been among the key reasons for them to be consistently among the league’s worst clubs. 

But this season is different on so many levels for Philadelphia. 

For starters, they have a relatively healthy Joel Embiid, who ranks among the most difficult big men to contain and may be getting his wish to play more without having his minutes restricted.

Rather than continuing to double-down on youth the Sixers actually went out and spent some money this offseason, adding experience with former Celtic Amir Johnson and ex-Los Angeles Clippers guard J.J. Redick. Both signed one-year deals, worth $11 million and $23 million, respectively. 

However, Philadelphia is still building around a young core that includes Embiid, last year’s runner-up for rookie of the year Dario Saric, as well as Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in last June’s NBA draft, and 6-10 point-forward Ben Simmons.

Philadelphia (0-1) comes into tonight’s game having played a hard-fought game at Washington which ended with the Wizards winning, 120-115.

“Good, but not good enough to win” has been an all-too common reality for the Sixers in recent years. 

But the mindset this season?

Very different.

“I don’t like taking positives from losses,” Redick told reporters after the Sixers loss in Washington. “We need to clean up a lot of stuff. We need to be better. It takes a lot to win in this league. We need to figure that out, and we will. We are good enough to do that.” 

Redick added, “We’re not going to try to lose this season and take a bunch of positives from that. we’re trying to win, trying to be in the playoffs this year. That has to be the mindset.”

Hawks may buy out Ilyasova; would Celts be interested?

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Hawks may buy out Ilyasova; would Celts be interested?

A buyout seems to be looming for the Atlanta Hawks power forward Ersan Ilyasova. 

The 6-foot-10 inch forward is averaging 10.9 points and 5.5 rebounds in 46 games played this season. He's on a one-year, $6 million contract with the Hawks.

If he hits the open market, as seems likely, he might be worth a look from the Celtics. A stretch forward who can make 3-pointers is a notable addition to any team.

Ilyasova could ultimately add some size and depth to a guard-heavy Celtics team that's looking to make a deep playoff run come April. 


Celtics get back to work, but are thinking ahead

Celtics get back to work, but are thinking ahead

Earlier this week, Celtics big man Al Horford referred to the matchups following the All-Star break as “rehearsal games” for what really matters – the playoffs.

As important as it is to win, it’s even more vital to start building good habits at both ends of the floor, the things that become absolutely essential to a team’s pursuit of going deep into the playoffs.

And as much as the Celtics try to stick to the “one day at a time” mantra that all teams talk about incessantly, they are no different than most teams near the top of the standings.

They want to get to the playoffs and are well aware that how they handle themselves and grow in the coming weeks will have a major impact on their postseason success or struggles.

“I believe this is the time where you start doing this now in preparation for the playoffs,” said Jaylen Brown. “I remember with the group we had last year, everybody started making sacrifices mentally, physically, and prepared themselves for the long haul. And now you can see the same thing happening with this team. Especially physically, just knowing what we have to do to be a team that plays in the long, long end part of the season.”

Al Horford is proud of his Dominican Republic roots, but often it’s forgotten that he played his prep basketball in Michigan. The big man and his family moved to Michigan in 2000 where Horford played for Grand Ledge (Mich.) High School and become a four-star recruit before taking his talents to the University of Florida where he helped lead the Gators to back-to-back national championships.

Grand Ledge is about 90 minutes northwest of Detroit.

Despite playing fewer minutes than any of Boston’s starters, there’s no getting around the impact Aron Baynes has had when he plays. This season, the Celtics have a defensive rating of 96.4 when he’s on the floor. That number jumpers to 103.5 for a team-best differential of 7.1.

Celtics fans definitely come away feeling they got their money’s worth when the Green Team plays most nights. This season, Boston has won a league-high five games by one point. The last time they had more one-point wins in a season was the 1995-96 season when they won six games by a single point. The franchise record of one-point victories (seven) was set in the 1981-82 season.

When Jaylen Brown scores, good things tend to happen for the Celtics. This season, Boston is 8-1 when he scores at least 18 points.

Kyrie Irving loves to get baskets at the TD Garden, but has shown an ability to elevate his scoring even more on the road. His numbers in several categories are indeed better on the road than they are at home. He’s averaging 23.7 points at home, but that number increases to 25.8 on the road. His shooting on the road is a strong 50.3 percent, up from 46.8 at home. And from 3-point range, Irving connects at 42.8 percent rate on the road compared to just 36.6 percent at home.