Celtics

After the L.A. meltdowns, will Celtics find joy in Philadelphia?

After the L.A. meltdowns, will Celtics find joy in Philadelphia?

With the eyes of the league fixed on the Celtics, the joy-deprived green touched down in Philadelphia on Monday afternoon. Boston's challenge on this brief trip: Pull itself out of a mini-meltdown without its best player in a national-TV matchup against a chief rival that is oozing joy since loading up at the trade deadline.

No pressure, Celts.

Ironically, this is when Boston tends to be at its best. While the burden of expectations has weighed heavy on this team for much of the 2018-19 season, there’s nothing this team has liked more than having its back against a wall. Remember, too, these Celtics have saved some of their finest ball for the East’s best.

Still, this is a daunting task, particularly without Irving, who remained home with a right knee sprain suffered before Boston puked up a 28-point lead to the Los Angeles Clippers that prompted Marcus Morris to vent some frustrations about the way the team has approached the season. The Celtics are 7-2 without Irving this year but those seven wins came against six teams with a combined winning percentage of .426 (143-192) while the two losses were against two current playoff squads (Utah, Brooklyn). 

While the Celtics have typically responded to their internal flare-ups well, it’s worth noting that, in the aftermath of Irving’s outburst in Orlando where he called out the younger players on the roster, Boston turned around and got throttled in Brooklyn (before dusting itself off in the aftermath and winning 10 of 11 before hitting the L.A. speed bumps).

It won’t be easy this time around. Philadelphia has no shortage of motivation, too. With Joel Embiid’s repeated “This is no rivalry” proclamations and Boston’s 9-2 record against Philadelphia since the start of last season — including the gentleman’s sweep in the East semis last year - the Sixers are no doubt eager to show off Tobias Harris and their new toys with a chance to suggest they’ve leveled the playing field with Boston.

Morris returns home to his native Philly having essentially called out his team’s commitment to hunting a title as a group. Boston almost has to come with energy with the eyes of the NBA watching to see whether they can bond together or if the cracks might grow.

This is the sort of test that the Celtics routinely aced last season, particularly after Irving was lost for the season in March. In the face of adversity, Boston produced some of its most inspired basketball and it bred a confidence that only mushroomed in the postseason.

This game offers the Celtics the perfect opportunity to rinse the sour taste of the L.A. stumbles out of their mouths. It’s a chance to show what this team is capable of when they rally around each other. It’s the sort of game that can infuse some much-needed joy in the locker room.

As the Pacers continue to improbably surge in the aftermath of Victor Oladipo’s injury — maybe showing shades of last year’s Celtics team with their resiliency — the Celtics enter Tuesday’s showdown with a chance to pull even with the Sixers in the standings (and ensure they own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Philadelphia in the event the teams finish the season with matching records).

Stevens is understandably bullish on the Sixers. He closed his 10-minute chat with reporters Monday gushing about new-look Philadelphia and noted, "They were already good, by the way, like really good, really well coached, great system, great energy, now they’re pretty close to ridiculous.”

Celtics big man Al Horford said the team addressed Morris’ comments at Monday’s practice and believes the team is moving forward. Stevens said he’s fine with frustrated players voicing their frustrations so long as they are willing to put their name on it.

But what will be most telling is this team's on-court response. Stevens said he must hold his players more accountable when they’re not playing to the expected standard. The Celtics have put themselves in tough spots all season long and it’s still unclear if they have the mental toughness and resiliency that has been the calling card of Stevens’ teams in recent years.

Can this team still overcome adversity and quiet the naysayers rushing to suggest Boston is falling behind its East rivals? The game in Philadelphia provides the perfect opportunity for the Celtics to show their character and to find some joy.

We’ll find out a bit more about exactly what this team is made of and whether they have it in them to fight through all the bumps in this journey.

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How Tacko Fall, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford and Tremont Waters fared for Red Claws on Friday

How Tacko Fall, Carsen Edwards, Romeo Langford and Tremont Waters fared for Red Claws on Friday

The Maine Red Claws had plenty of star power for Friday night's game vs. the Iowa Wolves. 

Tacko Fall, Carsen Edwards, Tremont Waters and Romeo Langford each suited up for Maine in its 127-121 victory. It marked Edwards' first game with the Red Claws, as well as both Tacko Fall and Romeo Langford's first game back from injury.

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.

Here's how the four Celtics rookies performed:

TACKO FALL

Tacko made his mark in his 14 minutes played on Friday night. The 7-foot-5 phenom contributed 13 points on 5-for-8 shooting while bringing down 5 rebounds.

CARSEN EDWARDS

Edwards was solid in his first game in a Red Claws uniform as he racked up 17 points on 6-of-11 shooting (2-for-9 from 3-pt).

ROMEO LANGFORD

Langford was slow out the gate, but picked it up in the second half to finish with 8 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds. The Celtics' No. 14 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft will look to simply stay healthy going forward, as he's dealt with a nagging ankle injury all season.

TREMONT WATERS

Waters, the G League Player of the Month for November, was relatively quiet in this one. The LSU product dropped 8 points while adding 3 assists in 27 minutes.

Also with standout performances were Yante Maten (26 points, 16 rebounds), Kaiser Gates (17 points, 7 rebounds), Bryce Brown (15 points, 4 assists) and Justin Bibbs (12 points, 6 rebounds).

Next, the Red Claws will take on the Grand Rapids Drive on Sunday at 1 p.m. ET.

Celtics Talk Podcast: What is your level of confidence with this Celtics team?

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File Photo

Celtics Talk Podcast: What is your level of confidence with this Celtics team?

Ahead of a strange five-day break in mid-December, the Boston Celtics are sitting at 17-7. But it's hard to figure out exactly how confident to be in this team.

On the one hand, the squad has certainly surpassed expectations to kick off the season. They have been dominant at the TD Garden and did have a 10-game home winning streak to start the campaign.

However, the C's just dropped two close games in a row to other Eastern Conference powers, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Indiana Pacers. Do those losses mean that the confidence in the Celtics that many were feeling to start the season should wane?

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.

On the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Abby Chin all weighed in on how confident they currently are in the Celtics. And despite the team's mini losing streak, they all are still fairly confident in the squad.

Chin gave the team a 7-of-10 confidence rating. She cited the performance of the Celtics' bigs against the 76ers and the "flashes" the team has shown this season as the primary reasons for that.

I feel like the Celtics bigs, Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter, did a serviceable job against Joel Embiid and held their own on the offensive end, and that gave me a lot of confidence in this team. I think that there's no way you're going to get that kind of game from Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum on the same night maybe ever again in their careers in what they put up against the Sixers. And I still think we see flashes of what this team can be here and there which is why I'm excited about them.

Blakely was a bit more non-committal on a rating, and instead gave a range of somewhere between 7 to 8 with 8.5 being their ceiling.

I see two different teams. I see a team when they're complete and I see a team when they're incomplete. When they're incomplete, I'm with you, they're a 7. They were incomplete against Philly. When you have a healthy Marcus Smart and a relatively healthy, good-to-go health-wise team, they're an 8.

Blakely also called the Celtics "a good team" and said that if every team in the Eastern Conference was fully healthy, his top two teams would be the Milwaukee Bucks and the Celtics.

Hear Forsberg's confidence in the Celtics along with more analysis from Blakley and Chin on the latest episode of "The Celtics Talk Podcast," which drops every week on YouTube and as a part of the NBC Sports Boston podcast network.

BLAKELY: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the Knicks?>>>

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.