Celtics

Celtics rookie Jackson understands he needs to stay ready at all times

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Celtics rookie Jackson understands he needs to stay ready at all times

WALTHAM, Mass. – The shot clock winding down and the ball in hand, Boston Celtics rookie Demetrius Jackson has simulated this scenario many times before.

On Saturday it was real as the third quarter against Charlotte was coming to an end.

And there was Jackson in position to play out what he had practiced previously.

He delivered a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the third quarter as part of Boston’s 104-86 preseason victory over the Hornets.

The shot had very little impact on the game’s final outcome, but it was a reminder as to what happens when good practice habits are put to the test in an actual game.

It also served as a reminder as to the value of always staying ready for any and all situations.

Jackson said it is something he works on with Celtics assistant video coordinator Brandon Bailey.

“With coach Bailey, he randomly grabs me at any time and we do a shooting drill,” Jackson said. “There’s a certain number that I want to reach. That simulates being grabbed off the bench. You never know when you’re going to be called and you gotta make shots.”

The second-round pick has been used sparingly thus far in the preseason, getting just seven minutes, 30 seconds of court time.

On Saturday, he played just under 15 minutes while finishing with nine points, two rebounds and two assists.

A lot of attention is paid to the talent level being so much greater in the NBA than college or overseas. But players like Jackson must also adjust to having to go long stretches and not play.

“I try to stay mentally prepared, physically prepared, try to work as hard as I can on days like today,” Jackson said. “And keep my mind on the game. Also, I have a couple things that I do that help me simulate coming off the bench and trying to make an instant impact.”

It makes for good practice, because the chances of him getting those opportunities this season are highly unlikely.

Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley are Boston’s starting backcourt, with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier also in the rotation and expected to play significant minutes.

“He’s at a deep position,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “So the best part for him is he can learn, grow and compete against those guys every day.”

And the expectations for him are not all that different than they are for Boston’s other guards.

“Just play good basketball at both ends of the floor, being in the right spot as much as possible, letting the game tell you what to do and being the best version of yourself,” Stevens said.  

And that version of Jackson won’t see too much court time this season, but understands the call to play can come at any time.

“Definitely I feel like I’m getting better coming in (games) cold,” Jackson said. “You never know when you’re going to go in.”

But we do know that when that time comes, Jackson will be ready.

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

What to make of the Celtics amid their midseason tailspin

MILWAUKEE — The Boston Celtics will arrive at the midway point of the 2019-20 season this weekend trying to pull themselves out of a tailspin that’s seen them drop five of their last seven games, including a pair of Eastern Conference showdowns with chief rivals Philadelphia and Milwaukee a week apart.

The Celtics have vacillated somewhere between enjoyable overachiever capable of pushing the East’s best to a maddening squad with fatal flaws that might prevent it from truly emerging in the conference. Sometimes they look like both in the same night.

Like on Thursday in Milwaukee when Boston dug itself a 27-point hole as the NBA-leading Bucks hit an absurd barrage of first-half 3-pointers. Just when it seemed fair to suggest that Boston’s early season success might have been the product on feasting on inferior competition, a Jaylen Brown-less Boston squad jumped on Kemba Walker’s back and nearly roared all the way back.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

As coach Brad Stevens likes to remind his team, you’re never as good as you think you are, you’re never as bad as you think you are, and you’re never far from either. The Celtics’ inability to field a fully healthy roster has clouded their overall potential and we’re left making bold proclamations off small samples of good and bad play.

Are the Celtics true contenders? Maybe, but the past couple weeks hasn’t helped their case. Boston is now 7-8 against teams over .500 and only two of those wins came on the road (both when an opponent was missing a key player). They whiffed with a chance to pounce on an Embiid-less Philly last week and then couldn’t capitalize on Giannis-less minutes after getting within single digits in the second half on Thursday night.

Do the Celtics need to make a move? Maybe, but it’d be a lot easier to judge if we could ever see all their puzzle pieces together. Boston’s bench play has been woeful at times and, for all the consternation about their lack of pure size, it sure feels like shooting is what they should be targeting. And yet it’s fair to wonder, if Brown plays on Thursday, and Marcus Smart shifts to his typical bench role, then maybe the bench production doesn’t look as meager.

Ultimately, bench pieces aren’t going to tip this thing one way or another. The Celtics are going to go as far as their five best players can carry them, as Stevens made clear after Thursday’s loss.

"We’re going to ride our best five, as we’ve talked about quite a bit, and then we just need everybody else to play a role around them,” said Stevens. "But we need those five to be awfully good.”

On this night, Walker was exceptional. On the same night that Kyrie Irving delivered one of his patented rants about roster flaws in Brooklyn, Walker challenged himself to be better after a disheartening loss to the Pistons. He responded with a 40-point, 11-rebound outburst in Milwaukee. As Stevens abridged, "Only reason we had a chance.”

The coach added, “It's not [Walker’s] responsibility to be responsible for everybody else’s energy but I’m glad that he accepts it. I’m glad that he wants that. He certainly brought it tonight. He was awfully special tonight.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum was Gordon Hayward, who has been on a bit of a roller coaster since returning from nerve pain in his foot on Christmas Day. Hayward missed nine of the 10 shots he took — including eight 3-pointers — while finishing with 7 points over 32:15.

“I thought we had some good looks, especially personally, I had some good looks. But we just didn’t make them,” said Hayward. “Have to be better next time.”

But that only accentuates Boston’s rather thin margin for error against the elite (and maybe the not-so elite, too). The team had been undefeated this season when playing without Brown but they really missed him on Thursday. The Celtics don’t have the sort of top-end talent that can win a game individually (though Walker sure as hell tried on Thursday).

A February 6 trade deadline looms. It’s hard to imagine the Celtics making a big-splash move but adding a bench piece — if for no other reason than the run of injuries this team continues to endure — remains something the team must consider. Maybe that’s using picks to help fetch a shooter, or maybe it’s just thumbing through the scrap heap for someone who can be a more steady eighth or ninth man. The youngsters on this team have had their moments but they’re also being asked to do a lot at young ages.

It was telling, though, Thursday when Boston cut its deficit to 8 and Antetokounmpo headed to the bench with just under five minutes to play in the third quarter. Boston should have capitalized but its sub lineups floundered and Milwaukee pushed its lead back up to 20 before Antetokounmpo returned at the end of the quarter. A second Boston run came up just short at the end of the game.

Stevens glowed about how the second half looked more like “Celtics basketball.” Smart insisted the team wouldn’t overreact to this rough patch.

"It’s the NBA. You can’t get discouraged off that,” said Smart. "We’ve played two back-to-back nights and stuff like that. You can’t let that discourage you. That’s part of it. We’re at the 40-game mark. It happens.”

Maybe he’s right. Still, watching this team on a daily basis, we yearn for a glimpse of this team when whole. But who knows if it’ll ever happen. Robert Williams could be a nice jolt for the center rotation if he’s able to come back after the All-Star break but that’s unlikely to alter the path of this team much.

No, the success of this team more likely hinges on Smart, Brown, Tatum, Hayward, and Walker.

“I think we’re still pretty good,” said Hayward. "I don’t think the team is down or anything like that. I think we realize we’ve got work to do and we get right back to it.”

The quest to figure out exactly what these Celtics are continues. They’re not as good as we though they were, they’re not as bad as some will make it seem now. But they’re never quite far from either.

Celtics-Bucks Overreactions: Are C's unable to contend with beasts of the East?

Celtics-Bucks Overreactions: Are C's unable to contend with beasts of the East?

The Boston Celtics now have lost five of their last seven games as they fell to the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday night, 128-123.

Kemba Walker (40 points) stepped up big-time with Jaylen Brown out due to a thumb injury, but he could only take the C's so far. Marcus Smart, who replaced Brown in the starting lineup, contributed 24 points of his own.

Here are three instant overreactions from the C's loss, which brings them to 27-13 on the year.

1. The Celtics can't contend with the beasts in the East.

Verdict: Overreaction

To say the C's looked sluggish on the second night of their back-to-back vs. the NBA's best team would be an understatement.

Outside of Walker and Smart, the offense couldn't get anything going until the fourth quarter when it was too late. Defensively, it was more of the same.

This loss, combined with the C's 0-3 record against the Philadelphia 76ers this year, isn't going to inspire much confidence in their ability to go toe-to-toe with the beasts of the Eastern Conference. But it's far too premature to declare Boston wouldn't be able to compete with them in a seven-game series.

The Celtics did manage to beat the Bucks in Boston earlier in the season. They just happened to meet up again during a time in which the C's are going through their biggest slump of the year and most grueling part in their schedule while dealing with injuries to key players.

Long story short, do not make the mistake of counting this team out in January.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

2. Celtics defense has some serious issues to work out.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

Defending the 3-ball has been a real problem for Boston all season long, and it was glaring again in Thursday's loss.

The Bucks shot the lights out through the first three quarters before scuffling in the fourth. They finished with a 51.6 shooting percentage beyond the arc and 49.4 percentage altogether. The Celtics let Donte DiVenchezno go 6-for-11 from the field and 4-of-6 from 3.

Needless to say, there's plenty for this struggling defense to clean up.

3. C's need a bench scorer, not a center.

Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Celtics needed much more from their bench throughout the contest.

Enes Kanter has been the spark off the bench all season long and tallied nine points on Thursday night, but other than his contributions and Semi Ojeleye's two 3-pointers, this was an area of concern.

If you're going to beg Boston to make a deal before the Feb. 6 trade deadline, it should be for a consistent bench scorer. Not Andre Drummond or another big man. This is an adequate rebounding team, but down the road, a lack of scoring depth could come back to bite them.

Forsberg: Green's journey to NBA a 'dream come true'

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Suns-Celtics, which begin Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.