Celtics

After Ben Simmons' extension, the Sixers are in a familiar place the Celtics were a year ago

After Ben Simmons' extension, the Sixers are in a familiar place the Celtics were a year ago

BOSTON -- So Philly went out and got Al Horford this summer, bolstering its title aspirations for the present. And now the Sixers have reportedly just cut another fat check -  a five-year, $170 million dollar one - to Ben Simmons which on the surface strengthens their core for a basketball eternity like, you know, the next three or four years. 

In looking at their core of Joel Embiid, Tobias Harris and now Simmons all signed to deals that’ll last through the 2023 season, there’s no question they’ll be in the conversation as the team to beat in the East. 

And as you start to look at their success being fueled in large part by their young core, you look over at Boston’s youth movement and … the optimism isn’t nearly as bright. 

Jayson Tatum remains the one member of the Celtics’ youth group who has shown flashes of having all-star makeup. You love what Jaylen Brown does most nights, and how he has shown progress as a player every year he has been in the NBA. 

But an All-Star in the making? 

Probably not. 

And we won’t even get into Robert Williams III whose promise ranges from being a starter to not playing at all. 

The rookies they drafted are all nice players.

But high impact players in the NBA?

Not really.

It all adds up to a Celtics team that when you talk about youthful talent, is not on the same level as the Sixers whose young core of Embiid, Harris and Simmons are all either All-Stars or in the case of Harris, a player with All-Star caliber talent. 

Boston’s hopes of remaining in the conversation for years to come in the East will hinge on more than just the development of its young players. Even more invaluable will be Danny Ainge’s ability to wheel and deal his way to building another title contender via trades and free agency. 

The addition of Kemba Walker who signed a four-year, $141 million deal certainly helps. The same could be said for Gordon Hayward bouncing back and playing more like last-year-in-Utah Gordon Hayward versus up-and-down, on-the-mend Gordon Hayward we saw last season. 

The reality is this. 

The Sixers have built a team that is poised to compete both in the present and future, but Celtics fans know all too well how quickly that can all come crashing down in a hurry. 

First Gordon Hayward got hurt, followed by the team’s up and down start. Kyrie Irving struggled to be the kind of leader this team needed, only to leave this summer for Brooklyn and soon after, so did Al Horford for Philly. 

I give the Sixers credit for doing all the things a franchise needs to do to best position themselves for long-term success. 

But even with Simmons locked into a long-term deal, how long will it be before rumors start to be floated that Simmons is making goo-goo eyes at playing with the Los Angeles Lakers and LeBron James and Anthony Davis? 

The fact that Simmons has signed a long-term deal means nothing; not in this NBA era when players with years - plural not singular - left on their contracts all but force a trade to the team of their choice if they don’t like the team they’re on as much. 

There are a series of other plausible factors that could torpedo the efforts Philly has made to insulate itself from the teams coming at them both now and in the future, similar to what the Celtics just experienced. 

And that’s why while the rest of the East should definitely be on guard for the Sixers building themselves into a potent squad, by no means should their core group be deemed an insurmountable unit that’s impervious to change. 

They have a good team, one that on paper is clearly better than Boston is right now in terms of their overall unit and their youthful core. 

But things change in a hurry in the NBA, where teams built upon talented youth are suddenly torn down by too many egos and not enough shine to go around. 

We’ll see if the Sixers become the latest to succumb to that, or if their young core of Embiid, Harris and Simmons will lead them into an era where that youth comes of age in time to win a title. 

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Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ fourth-quarter execution the past two games can be summed up in one sequence.

After clawing their way back into Thursday night’s visit from the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston found itself down 3 with 25.7 seconds to go with the ball. But the Sixers applied full-court pressure and inbounder Jayson Tatum panicked a bit while waiting for Jaylen Brown to race back to receive the pass. Brown ultimately got tangled with Josh Richardson and fell to the floor as Tatum’s pass sailed wide and bounced out of bounds near the Sixers' bench.

Painful as it would have been, the Celtics could have burnt their final timeout. They could have simply handled Philadelphia’s pressure better and not fumbled the ball — and the game — away.

Ultimately, great teams find a way to win this sort of game. Or the one 24 hours earlier when Boston kicked away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Indiana.

Save the excuses about available bodies and bad calls and whatever else you want to blame. The Celtics, seemingly unflappable in the face of in-game adversity early in the year, wilted twice against primary Eastern Conference rivals the past 48 hours.

Because of that, Boston arrives at a very random five-day December break in its schedule at a respectable 17-7 overall, but with a bit of a sour taste from dropping two games against potential East playoff foes. The Celtics have slipped to fourth in the conference with Philadelphia executing a leapfrog after Thursday’s 115-109 triumph at TD Garden.

“We just have to learn how to win,” said Kemba Walker, who scored a team-high 29 points against Philadelphia but got limited to 8 points with only one field goal after the intermission. All this one day after Boston wasted a 44-point outburst when Indiana rallied for a 122-117 victory.

"We have a lot of lapses during these games. We have stretches where we’re playing super well. And then we have lapses,” said Walker. “We just have times where we’re just — it’s bad. It just looks really bad. So we just have to tone that down a little bit, just try our best to put a 48-minute games together. And that’s going to take everybody.”

Maybe it’s greedy to suggest the Celtics should win these sort of games. After an opening-night loss in Philadelphia, Boston ripped off 10 straight wins and had won six of seven entering this week’s back-to-back. These young Celtics had been so cool under pressure that it’s been a bit jarring to see them get sloppy and shoot themselves in the foot with mental miscues.

"I think, going in, when you look at the schedule you know this is going to be a tough one but, once you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re not really feeling those effects,” said Gordon Hayward, who departed Wednesday’s game in Indiana after getting hit in the nose but didn’t look overly hindered against Philadelphia.

"I think two emotional losses for us. Certainly, it’s tough in games that go down to the wire. I felt like we had chances in both. But it is what it is. It’s a long season, it’s part of it. We’ve got to try to learn from it and move on but we can’t blame it on legs. We’re professional athletes. We should be able to handle that.”

Yes, Marcus Smart would help in these situations. But the Pacers were playing without Victor Oladipo, and the Sixers didn’t have Al Horford, who got a standing ovation when shown on the Philadelphia bench at the start of the second quarter.

The Celtics, if they want to be honest-to-goodness contenders, need to win these sort of games. It was one thing to find a silver lining when they took the Clippers to overtime last month on the road but the last two games have lacked the defensive focus displayed during much of Boston’s early-season success.

To be sure, there are positives to pluck from these two games. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter held up surprisingly well while jousting with Joel Embiid. Philadelphia’s All-Star big man finished with 38 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He did a nice job dominating in 1-on-1 matchups and showcased his passing skills while generating open looks for teammates when Boston sent multiple bodies at him.

Kanter turned in his best game of the year and Theis played well for much of the night. The duo combined for 36 points and14 rebounds, essentially negating Embiid’s output (though his impact went far beyond those two stat categories).

The next step for these Celtics is consistently staying poised in high-pressure moments. Players have to avoid careless turnovers, they have to be willing to work for good looks on the offensive end, and they can’t lose focus on the defensive side.

While it’s obvious the Celtics never consider themselves out of a game, they’ve got to be better when things get tense.

"One thing I love about us is that we’re not quitting. We’re still fighting through adversity,” said Walker. "When things are getting rough we’re not putting our heads down, man. We’re competing at a very high level. So it can only go up from here.”

Unfortunately for Stevens, it’s plays like the inbounds turnover that will gnaw at him until the Celtics get back on the practice court next week. Boston doesn’t play another game until Wednesday night in Dallas.

That’s a lot of time to ponder how Thursday’s game got away. And Wednesday’s before it.

“We didn’t get the ball [inbounds],” Stevens said after Thursday’s loss. "I think that’s obviously -- you gotta be able to do those things in the biggest moments and we didn’t get that done.”

Blakely's Takeaways: Kanter shows his worth despite losing effort>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

BOSTON -- Few professional athletes embrace hate like Joel Embiid.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man channeled recent criticism from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal into a tour de force performance at TD Garden on Thursday night, tallying a season-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss, 115-109.

Embiid also fed off the Garden crowd, which booed the big man heartily throughout the night.

The 25-year-old tipped his cap to the Boston faithful after the game, admitting the loudest crowd he's ever dealt with in an NBA game was the Garden during a second-round playoff game in 2018.

"They've got great fans. They're loud," Embiid said. "The loudest (game) I've ever been a part of was actually here in Game 2, two years ago in the playoffs.

"We were up by 20 and they made their run. It was loud and my ears were popping. That's the loudest (it's) ever been (for me) in an arena."

The Celtics stormed back to win that game 108-103, taking a 2-0 series lead over Philly en route to a five-game series win.

A year and a half later, Boston wasn't so lucky.

Embiid had been in a bit of funk over his last few games but seemed revitalized by the hostile Garden environment, relishing in making big plays like this dagger 3-pointer in the fourth quarter:

"They talk a lot of trash, and I like that," Embiid said. "It gets me going. I had that fun mentality about me tonight. Just reacting to them and playing off it."

Boston and Philly will meet twice more this season, with the Sixers coming to the Garden again on Feb. 1. Celtics fans can boo Embiid all they want, but they should be warned that it may not have the desired effect.

"Joel really set the tone of how we were going to play today," Sixers teammate Tobias Harris added. "His energy, his interactions at timeouts and dead balls: He was the man today."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.