Abdel Nader

Without Kyrie, Celtics' kids get to show off

Without Kyrie, Celtics' kids get to show off

BOSTON – You won’t find anyone connected with the Celtics that likes the idea of not having Kyrie Irving around.

Still, in the two games he has missed because of a right quadriceps injury, there has been an undeniable silver lining to his absence.

The play of Terry Rozier has stood out, obviously.

But a deeper dive reveals Rozier’s play speaks to a greater reality for this team, one where Rozier is just one of many young Celtics who are making the most of having a more prominent, impactful role.

“I just think when you’re young and you get the opportunity to play, it’s great experience when you have the responsibility of the game on your shoulders instead of just, you know, when you increase your minutes played,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.

Indeed, we have seen end-of-the-bench players such as Abdel Nader not only play more but make plays at both ends of the floor to key Celtics victories.

“Maybe Ab [Nader] hasn’t played as much in the middle of the flow of the game, where the swings with the second unit might determine the game,” Stevens said. “Terry hasn’t had as much on his plate where he’s playing four stints now, and that four-stint feels a lot different because you’ve already expended the energy in the first three, and he’s used to playing two. So, it’s just – it’s great experience, obviously, and hopefully, that bodes well, but we’ll see.”

Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 119-110 win over the Atlanta Hawks that extended the winning streak to three: 

Without Kyrie Irving, victories for Boston have to come by committee. That’s exactly what we saw on Friday night against Atlanta. The Celtics had all five starters reach double-figures scoring, four of whom had at least 17 points.

With nearly two-thirds of the regular season in the books now, that rookie wall you hear about all the time appears to have passed Jayson Tatum by Sure, he’s had a few up-and-down stretches of play, but nothing all that different than what his more seasoned teammates have experienced. The biggest adjustment you can see in Tatum’s game lately is how quickly he looks to go with a counter move when his initial approach isn’t readily available. On Friday, he kept the Hawks guessing all game before finishing with a career-high 27 points.

The Atlanta Hawks have been a bad team all season, but one thing they have been very good at is forcing turnovers. The Hawks force 15.8 turnovers per game which ranks second in the NBA. Those miscues generate a league-best 18.5 points for the Hawks. Boston kept its mistakes to a relative minimum against Atlanta, turning the ball over 11 times which led to 15 points for the Hawks.

For most of this season, Boston’s transition game has been in neutral. They average 9.7 fast-break points, which ranks 24th in the NBA. Against the Hawks, Boston got in transition to score 16 points - one of the many keys to victory for the Celtics.

It’s a four-quarter game, but the Celtics won this contest in large part due to a dominant third quarter in which they outscored the Hawks 41-20. This was a stretch in which Boston’s defense triggered easy scores at the other end of the floor. But strong defense is not unusual for the Celtics. Boston has been the league’s leader in defensive efficiency most of this season. They have been particularly good defensively in the third quarter with a league-best defensive rating in the third quarter of 97.8.



Celtics rookies and second-year players stepping up when it matters most

Celtics rookies and second-year players stepping up when it matters most

BOSTON – When you see NBA teams with a regular playing rotation littered with first and second-year players, you don’t have to take a peek at the standings to know they’re probably at or near the bottom of the standings.

But this season, the Celtics have proven to be the exception to the rule.

The Celtics (29-10) have the best record in the Eastern Conference, doing so with a regular rotation that consists of four first or second-year players.


“It’s a blessing for all of us, for sure,” rookie forward Semi Ojeleye, a-14.2-minutes-per-game player, told NBC Sports Boston. “It speaks to how much coach just wants guys to step up, especially when Gordon (Hayward) went down, like Marcus (Morris) sometimes doesn’t play so guys have to step up.”

And it’s not just the regular rookies like Ojeleye, Daniel Theis and rookie of the year candidate Jayson Tatum, either.

Abdel Nader, the D-League rookie of the year last season, has seen limited minutes as an NBA rookie this season.

But lately, the 6-6 wing has been a contributor to the Celtics’ success.

In Boston’s 99-98 comeback win over Houston on Thursday, Nader had five points and career-high seven rebounds off the bench while playing 21 minutes which was also a career-high. He did such a good job in the first half, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had him on the floor with the regular starters to begin the third quarter.

“Even though he did some things that I’m sure he’d like to have back, I thought Nader came in and gave us a great energy lift,” Stevens said after the win over Houston. “I didn’t think we looked like we were matching their level in the first half, and that’s why I started him in the second. And even though he missed a couple of shots in the second, he got some boards back, he was active, and it kind of got us started.”

Nader understands that his minutes on most nights will be limited.

The success Nader enjoyed on Thursday was aided by him getting some decent minutes against New York last week when he scored six points in just under 12 minutes of action.

Nader missed some shots in the loss to New York, but seemed to get better as the game wore on.

“That’s part of it, becoming more comfortable,” he told NBC Sports Boston. “So the next time I get this opportunity, I can perform even better.”

Tatum gets a lot of the attention when conversations center on Boston’s youngsters. But second-year wing Jaylen Brown (out currently with a sore right knee injury) has had a strong sophomore season as well.

Boston has also gotten good play out of rookies Theis and Ojeleye who have all contributed to wins this season.

For Ojeleye, getting solid minutes as a rookie was not something he anticipated when the Celtics plucked him in the second round of last June’s NBA draft.

But trades and injuries opened up a portal for the 6-foot-6 Ojeleye to play, and to his credit, he has made the most of his opportunity.

In one of Boston’s early season signature wins, Ojeleye was matched up against Oklahoma City’s Carmelo Anthony and defended him well enough to aid Boston getting the win.

He would have similar solid play against Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo.

And while holding his own against them certainly felt good, Ojeleye prides himself on not getting too high with the success or too low when he struggles which was indeed the case in the loss to the Knicks when Ojeleye and every other Celtic defender it seemed, could not stop Michael Beasley.

“Look up and down this roster, it was hard at first to see where I fit in,” Ojeleye said. “God had a plan. I didn’t know what that was. I’m just here, trying to give my best.”

He’s not alone.

Theis was an unknown by most when he arrived in Boston.

That didn’t last long.

His energy, rebounding and overall play defensively has been huge for the Celtics as they reshape their roster, one which they returned just four players from last season’s club that advanced to the Eastern Conference finals.

“I just try to help the team, however I can,” said the 25-year-old. “I just want to win; do whatever I can to help us win.”

And he’s doing just that; him and his fellow rookies this season.


Morris’ return fuels Celtics’ comeback

Morris’ return fuels Celtics’ comeback

BOSTON – Marcus Morris is a bit of an enigma these days for the Celtics.

His left knee gets sore too quickly to count on him night-in and night-out, but he’s too talented to just put on the shelf and not use at all.


So the not-so-happy medium is to play him sparingly and hope they get the best he has to offer in what will have to be limited doses for now.

That’s exactly what Boston got on Thursday in their 99-98 comeback victory over Houston.

Morris came off the bench to score 10 points on 4-for-11 shooting in just less than 20 minutes, along with four rebounds and a blocked shot.

But beyond the stats, Morris brought a toughness to the game that the Celtics desperately needed.

Because in the first two quarters, Houston absolutely owned Boston, pushing them around at both ends of the floor.

That all changed in the third quarter, with Morris’ play having a lot to do with that turnaround.

“They had us on our heels,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We tried to be more aggressive defensively; I thought Marcus [Morris] was the key to that, kind of the head of that attack.”

Here are five other takeaways from the victory.

The numbers are going to be there for James Harden to remain firmly entrenched in the race towards becoming the NBA’s MVP this season. But games like the one won’t help his cause. He had 34 points and 10 rebounds, but he also turned the ball over eight times, which includes being whistled for a pair of offensive fouls in the final 7.3 seconds. Of course, that played a major role in Boston’s miraculous comeback win.

Every second of the fourth quarter on Tuesday for Boston involved Terry Rozier being on the floor. And with all that playing time, he delivered as both a scorer and a really annoying defensive pest to the Rockets. Rozier had 15 points, which included eight in the fourth quarter along with three rebounds and two steals.

The calls for Tatum to be more aggressive offensively won’t end anytime soon, especially for those who saw him play on Thursday. He had 19 points but really attacked the rim and got to the free-throw line. In the first half, he was 6-for-8 from the line which, as it turned out, were the only free throws made or taken by the Celtics in the first half.

You don’t make a comeback like the one Boston did without a number of players chipping in. One of those under-the-radar contributors was Abdel Nader who had five points and a career-high seven rebounds. He’ll need to continue making the most of his opportunities to play, well aware that they will be few and far between.

The good players find a way when it matters most.  Al Horford was having a not-so-great night against Houston when suddenly and furiously Boston got back into the game and had a chance to win it with the ball in the hands of Horford. He’s usually looking to pass, but instead looked for his own shot which went in and would later become the game-winning shot.