BOSTON – The NBA calendar says we are near the end of the first week of the regular season.
But for Brad Stevens and the Celtics, the past few days have had more of a training camp-like feel.
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A season-ending injury to All-Star Gordon Hayward just five minutes into the season, along with an ankle sprain to Marcus Smart (the same left ankle that earlier kept him out for long stretches) has left Stevens no choice but to make significant, on-the-fly, in-season changes.
“We’re changing a little bit of our emphases, specifically our emphases late game,” Stevens said.
Coming out of camp, the Celtics were planning to keep either Kyrie Irving or Hayward on the floor most if not all the time, and, down the stretch, the two would play together.
With no Hayward, the Celtics have to modify their late-game approach, which was evident by them losing two of their first three games having a lead in the fourth quarter of each game.
Having had a day to practice this weekend and not a game to play right away was critical for the Celtics to begin working in earnest on the best way to navigate the rest of their season without Hayward, the team's prized offseason free-agent signing.
Getting Irving and Al Horford in better positions to be effective late in games, as well as more post opportunities for young wing players Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, are just some of the slight modifications Boston will be looking to implement more of going forward.
“We’re kind of, we’re adding more of that stuff, subtracting a little bit of what we put in at the start of the year which now seems like a long time ago,” Stevens said.
He added, “I almost felt like in the last [few] days, it’s been like we’re early in training camp again in a lot of ways.”
In camp, there’s always a sense, even among those who aren’t expected to play much, that as long as you’re on the roster there’s a chance you’ll get an opportunity to play.
Well, that’s not just wishful thinking anymore.
That’s the reality of where the Celtics are because of injuries, a scenario in which anyone on the roster – even a guy signed to a two-way contract such as Jabari Bird – will get a chance to play meaningful minutes.
Bird did just that in the 102-92 win over the Sixers on Friday night.
A last-minute call-up due to Hayward’s injury, Bird had no idea he was going to get a chance to play against Philadelphia.
All he knew was that he would suit up, just as he did the previous game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
He didn’t make a single shot for the Celtics (he was 0-for-1 from the field, 3-for-5 from the line), but he made the most of his shot at playing and in doing so, scored major points in the eyes of the coaching staff and his teammates with his defense against Sixers sharpshooter J.J. Redick who finished with a team-high 19 points despite missing three of his four shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
Bird played seven minutes, 31 seconds of the fourth quarter with the only Celtics logging more time in the quarter being his former teammate at Cal, Jaylen Brown (10:48) and Al Horford (10:16).
Despite coming up big in the Sixers win, Bird said things were status quo for him at the Celtics’ practice on Saturday.
“I try to stay ready for any moment,” Bird said. “Practice was real light, just got up shots and went over plays. It’s nothing too different for me. It’s not like I went out [Friday] night and dropped 50. I just came into the game to provide a spark on defense., that’s all; nothing too crazy.”
But Bird making the most of his opportunity to play when there were very few signs if any that it would happen, speaks to how every player on this roster has to be thinking there’s a chance that they too might be called upon to step up and contribute with very little advance notice.
And for the Celtics, that’s a good thing.
“Every one of them should think there’s a good chance to impact the game on Tuesday night [against New York],” Stevens said. “There’s not a guy on this roster that shouldn’t think that right now. It may or not be there every night, but ultimately we’re in a situation where we need everybody; we need everybody to be at their best and prepare to be at their best. Whether you played no minutes like [Semi] Ojeleye [Friday] night, or you played a ton of minutes like others, we need you prepared like you are going to play a lot, every game. It’s going to be really important.”