Celtics

New-look Celtics know they have still have to 'bring their game'

New-look Celtics know they have still have to 'bring their game'

WALTHAM, Mass. – After being acquired via trade from Detroit this summer, Boston Celtics forward Marcus Morris will be suiting up for his fourth team in seven seasons.

But this season will be unlike any other for Morris as he joins a Celtics’ roster that was significantly strengthened in the offseason with a roster overhaul that, now that the dust has settled, leaves them with a lineup that includes three All-Stars – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford.

“That’s a big change for me,” Morris, who will miss the first week of the season due to right knee soreness, told NBC Sports Boston.

The same is true for the rest of his teammates as they gear up for the season opener at Cleveland on Tuesday.

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Boston has not gone into a season with this level of excitement and heightened expectations since Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen were donning the green and white.

While Cleveland remains the team to beat in the East, the Celtics aren’t that far behind.  

And while the KG-Pierce-Allen triumvirate was credited with much of the success Boston enjoyed during their time, their success was a collective effort because of the contributions of many who understood and embraced their roles.

For the most part, the current group of Celtics have done just that.

But the true test of their selflessness, of their willingness to put the team first and foremost, won’t have a chance to materialize until Tuesday’s season opener against the Cavs.

Marcus Smart, the longest-tenured Celtic on the roster, has played starter-like minutes his entire career in Boston and was under strong consideration to be in the starting lineup.

After going back and forth with the idea prior to preseason games, coach Brad Stevens ultimately decided to keep Smart coming off the bench to help lead what’s shaping up to be an extremely young second unit.

While Smart would love to start, more important to him is being a player that’s significantly contributing to the team’s success which often means being on the floor in the decisive fourth quarter of games.

“I’ve been a starter my whole life,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston. “I’ve also come off the bench as well. We have a lot of great players. It doesn’t really matter. It’s easy to be in the game and play when things are going well. The buzzer just goes off, it’s tip ball. Everybody just getting warmed up. It’s hard to play at the end of the game, Eastern Conference finals and the game is on the line. Your nerves are going crazy and it’s your first time there. Those are the moments you want to be in. So, it doesn’t matter if you start or not. You want to be in at the end of the game. That’s when it really counts.”

And there’s a very good chance that he’ll be on the floor with Boston’s new Big Three who each bring a different set of skills to the floor that collectively give the Celtics hope that they can take one more step forward after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals last season.

As important as it is to figure out the best way to mesh their skills with the Big Three, it’s also vital that they remain true to who they are as players and not get into defer-mode which would do more harm than prove helpful to the Celtics’ chances at success.

Everyone has a role on this team.

It’s that simple.

“If I don’t come to play and I don’t bring my grittiness and my game and my scoring, I would be letting the team down,” Morris said. “Even though we have three All-Stars, we need everybody to bring their game every night and play. I’m still gonna step up and do what I gotta do.”

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Horford knows Celtics need to take it one day at a time

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Horford knows Celtics need to take it one day at a time

LOS ANGELES – Al Horford is credited for consistently being someone whose play contributes heavily to winning games.

But it was in defeat in the playoffs nearly a decade ago to the Boston Celtics that has shaped him into the player we see before us today.

“They were a tough team,” Horford said of the eventual NBA champion Celtics. “Defensively, just as good as they come. They looked like a very together group.”

Horford added, “It helped me tremendously. It helped that team that I was with in Atlanta, a lot. To have that experience, to go against the eventual champions but at that time a veteran team like the Celtics, it really but really made me realize the level I needed to play and the things I needed to do to for the team to be successful.”

And those lessons have helped shape the 31-year-old into being a five-time all-star whose teams have been to the playoffs every year he has been in the NBA.

“That first year could not have gone any better. It was a great learning experience and I felt it helped set up the rest of my career,” Horford said.

These days, Horford finds himself as the voice of experience on a Celtics team that has been among the NBA’s best squads for most of this season.

Horford has an open-door policy when it comes to doling out advice and tips for improvement, to his younger teammates.

But he knows first-hand the greatest teacher is experience.

“You can say things but you have to live through different things,” Horford said. “The biggest thing I try to emphasize to them and coach (Brad Stevens) talks about, is embracing the now. It’s about taking advantage of what we have now. 

Horford added, "I've been in the league, this is my 11th year, you never know if you’re going to have the same teammates next year. That happened to us last year. We had a great year and I look around and it’s only four of us remaining. I just think it’s embracing and taking advantage of doing the best you can with the group you have.”

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Horford can cross skills challenge off his bucket list

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Horford can cross skills challenge off his bucket list

LOS ANGELES – After making a near-perfect pass during the early stages of the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Al Horford was feeling good about his chances of winning.

But near the end, the final stage – knocking down a 3-pointer – proved to be Horford’s undoing as Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid eliminated Horford in the first round after Horford missed three consecutive three-pointers.

“It happens. It was fun,” Horford said.

Embiid, who was eliminated in the next round by Chicago’s Lauri Markkanen, said he was nervous before the event.

“I don’t know why. My heart was beating so fast,” Embiid told reporters. “I have no idea. But I thought it was fun.”

Although Horford has been a part of all-star weekend four times prior to tonight, this was the first time he participated in the Skills Challenge.

“It’s different. I normally come as a fan,” he said. “This time it was a little different, just getting your mind set and come out here and compete and win. It’s good to be a part of it. Now I can just scratch that off.”

When I asked him about tips or advice from teammates, he said the only thing they told him was he “had to win it.”

“I let them down so I have to make it up in the season,” said Horford, grinning.

Brooklyn’s Spencer Dinwiddie wound up winning the event, over Markkanen.

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