Celtics

Noel makes the most of minutes vs. hometown Celtics

Noel makes the most of minutes vs. hometown Celtics

BOSTON – This was not Nerlens Noel’s first trip back home to play in front of family and friends who make the twice-a-year pilgrimage to see the Everett, Mass. native play against the Boston Celtics.

There have been rumors about him potentially returning for a longer stay – via trade to Boston – for months.

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Noel spoke out angrily after playing just eight minutes against the Los Angeles Lakers, but cooler heads have prevailed since then in large part because his biggest complaint – playing time – doesn’t seem to be as big an issue anymore.

Noel certainly made the most of his time on the floor Friday night, but it wasn’t enough to knock off his hometown team the Boston Celtics who prevailed with a 110-106 victory over the Sixers.

The 6-foot-10 forward certainly did his part to help the Sixers’ cause, scoring 13 points off the bench on 6-for-8 shooting with eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

It was his second-highest scoring game this season, one in which injuries have limited him to having appeared in just nine games.

“When I get out there I’m going to play my game,” Noel said. “I’m going to play at a high level. I’ve been able to stay mentally focused throughout this whole process, not let it affect my game. As time goes along, I’ll continue to keep progressing in the right way.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges he has faced this season is developing a rotation for the team’s glut of big men which includes Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor and Dario Saric.

In Boston’s win over Philadelphia on Thursday, Okafor did not play (coaches decision).

“There’s a body of work now that is enough to make some assumptions, some decisions in a more reasonable way,” Brown said. “It’s not like we all just met each other. We’ve been doing this for a while. The great challenge is sometimes pairings aren’t as successful as you wish they were. What does that mean? The ripple effects when you put people in different positions trickles down to other positions.  You’re trying to walk this line of development and finding wins; trying to find ways to compete.”

As challenging as it has been for Brown, dealing with it has required a level of patience that Noel admits has tested him.

“It’s been challenging,” he said. “But it’s trials and tribulations; you have to go through this in order to get to where you want to be. It’s been a long process the last three, four years. I’ve stayed with it and kept working on my game and try to make strides. I’ve done that but I still got some ways to. I really have to worry about what I can control.”

And despite all the rumors about being traded potentially to Boston, there’s absolutely nothing he can do about that one way or another.

“No matter what I’m still the same player,” Noel said. “Nobody can change me if I’m playing eight (minutes) or 38. I’m gonna go out and do my thing. Always have the mentality that I’m going to assert myself in any kind of situation. Time goes on and things take care of itself.”

Forsberg: A year later, these Celtics don't crack from adversity

Forsberg: A year later, these Celtics don't crack from adversity

After the Boston Celtics’ 20th game of the 2018-19 season, Marcus Smart was speechless. And not in the good way.

On that night in late November, the Celtics lost for the fourth time in five games while dropping to 10-10 overall. A smoldering Smart, who had already bristled after a rough road trip out west earlier in the month, considered his team’s general lethargy and fumed, “Until we [change our ways], we’ll continue to get our ass whooped.” Kyrie Irving wondered if the team was near, “rock bottom."

Fast forward a year and, no longer encumbered by the heavy burden of expectations, it’s all sunshine and puppy dogs in CelticsLand. The 2019-20 Celtics are 15-5 and, despite being pegged a Tier 2 team in the East, they have asserted themselves as a legitimate East contender even while playing at less than full strength for nearly the entirety of the season.

And therein lies the biggest difference between last year’s Celtics and this year’s squad. When last year’s team encountered adversity, or things started to go sideways, that group splintered and cracked. When this year’s squad hits bumps in the road, the players stick together.

Take Wednesday night against the Heat as an example. Boston, playing without two starters, fell behind early by double digits. Last year’s team probably would have packed it in; this year’s team ripped off a late first-half run and controlled the rest of the game against a team that had been ahead of them in the standings.

That resiliency is a particularly endearing trait of this year’s team. This year’s Celtics squad competes every night. Take away a jagged opening-night loss in Philadelphia and Boston has stuck close in every other game this season, their other four losses coming by a combined 13 points.

It’s almost certainly unfair that we keep comparing and contrasting last year’s Celtics team to this year’s version. This year’s version has stressed a desire to focus on the now. Alas, the juxtaposition is undeniably stark and you can’t acknowledge where the Celtics are now without remembering what they went through.

Last year’s team internalized their struggles, which caused unnecessary friction and things always seemed tense around the team. This year’s squad gets contributions throughout the roster, celebrates each other’s successes, and then engages in a playful team snowball fight.

How this year’s team reacts to large-scale adversity remains to be seen. Boston’s longest losing streak is two games and, even then, the Celtics came away encouraged with the fight they showed while losing to the championship-favorite Clippers out west and fighting back after Kemba Walker’s injury scare in Denver.

The next few weeks will tell us a lot more about this year’s team and its resiliency. A rematch with the Nuggets looms Friday night and then a challenging Indiana-Philadelphia back-to-back highlights next week’s schedule. A visit to Toronto awaits on Christmas day.

Boston could soon be back at full strength, with Gordon Hayward seemingly trending toward an early return as he rehabs from a left hand fracture. Jaylen Brown has been so good in his absence that the only question is whether there are enough shots to go around for four star-caliber players the way Walker, Hayward, Brown, and Jayson Tatum have all performed this season.

That visit from Philadelphia could help answer the question of whether Boston truly needs to make a move for another big, the sort that could engage in hand-to-hand combat with the likes of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Games against Indiana and Toronto will tell us if Boston is definitely a top-tier team in the East or part of the pack trying to get on Milwaukee’s level.

But even with the question marks that remain, the outlook is a lot rosier than it was a year ago through 20 games. Last year’s Celtics squad actually played their best ball after that 10-10 start, performing so well in the stretch that followed that Danny Ainge kept the roster intact the rest of the season.

The next few weeks will tell us if Ainge needs to make any changes for this year’s squad. We’ll get a better idea of where this team stands. And, maybe most importantly, we’ll see just how long these positive vibes can persist fr the 2019-20 Celtics.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

How Tremont Waters, Vincent Poirier fared for Maine Red Claws vs. Wisconsin Herd

How Tremont Waters, Vincent Poirier fared for Maine Red Claws vs. Wisconsin Herd

Tacko Fall (knee) remains out for the Maine Red Claws, and Romeo Langford suffered another ankle injury, so that put Tremont Waters and Vincent Poirier in the spotlight on Thursday.

Waters has been sensational to begin his tenure in Maine. So good, in fact, that he earned NBA G League Player of the Month honors for November. 

For Poirier, Thursday night marked his first game playing alongside Waters with the Red Claws.

Here's how the two Celtics rookies performed in the 123-118 loss:

TREMONT WATERS

Waters filled the stat sheet again with a double-double as he notched 13 points (5-for-15 shooting) and 10 assists. The Celtics' No. 51 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft knocked down 3 of his 9 3-point attempts.

VINCENT POIRIER

Poirier made an instant impact in his first game in a Red Claws uniform. The Frenchman contributed 14 points while going 6-for-9 from the field and bringing down nine boards.

Next, the Red Claws will take on the Delaware Blue Coats on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. You can tune in to that matchup right here on NBC Sports Boston.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off today at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.