Ainge's wish for this upcoming season? A happier Brad Stevens

Ainge's wish for this upcoming season? A happier Brad Stevens

BOSTON -- Danny Ainge has a number of things he wants to see from the Celtics after what has been a pretty active offseason following a tumultuous regular season and a poor showing in the playoffs.  

Among them?

A happier head coach. 

Ainge, speaking at WBUR’s CitySpace on Friday night, touched on a number of Celtics topics including the team’s offseason moves and the potential impact they will have. 

“My biggest concern through all of this was, I want my coach to be happy who he’s coaching and that’s the hardest job,” said Ainge, the Celtics president of basketball operations. “I’ve been at this business a long time. It’s...you gotta have fun. You really have to have joy. That doesn’t mean every minute is going to be happy. Everybody is going to face adversity and challenges and trials through the course of a season. But, it still has to be fun.”

Throughout last season, which ended with the Celtics on the short end of a five-game gentleman's sweep at the hands of the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round, players at various points talked about how there just wasn’t as much fun and joy out there when they were playing.

"Guys are just hanging their heads; it's not fun," said Marcus Morris following a home loss to the Los Angeles Clippers last season. "It's not fun. We're not competing at a high level. Even though we're still winning, it's not fun. I don't see the joy in the game."

There was the drama surrounding Kyrie Irving who wanted to come back to Boston "if you guys will have me back" in October, which soon turned into “talk to me July 1” a couple months later before he wound up leaving Boston to play for the Brooklyn Nets.

Boston never settled into a reliable rotation last season because most of the players failed to create enough separation between themselves and others to warrant steady minutes. 

Throw in the fact that so many players had personal agendas that had little to do with actually winning games, and you had the makings of a season that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons. 

“It’s good to go through some adversity,” Ainge said. “But last year was a little much.”

With a new season right around the corner, there’s a renewed optimism that extends beyond Brad Stevens’ happiness. 

“And not just Brad, all the coaches,” Ainge said. “I want them to have fun and enjoy the job. The whole organization, our fans, enjoy the product on the court; our owners who invest millions, hundreds of millions of dollars into our team. I want all those people to enjoy what we have going.”

It appears Ainge may be getting his wish with this team based on all that has transpired this summer, highlighted by the addition of three-time All-Star Kemba Walker to the roster, in addition to Enes Kanter, who is one of the league’s better offensive rebounders, which has been a weakness of the Celtics for a number of years. 

And yes, Ainge sees a happier Stevens heading into this season as well. 

“I think that Brad is really excited for the year,” Ainge said. “There’s still some uncertainty what’s gonna happen. We have a new group. He really likes the spirit of the team. He likes how many people have come to offseason workouts, much more than we ever had in my 17 years here in Boston. We have a lot more players in the gym. We’d probably have a lot more if we didn’t have six playing in the World Cup.”

Ainge is referring to Team USA’s quartet of Celtics - Walker; Jayson Tatum; Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart - as well as Daniel Theis playing Germany and Victor Poirier for France.

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Celtics content to win ugly as Gordon Hayward-less stretch begins

Celtics content to win ugly as Gordon Hayward-less stretch begins

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics were the embodiment of “winning ugly” following Monday’s win over the Dallas Mavericks.

At one end of the team’s locker room, Kemba Walker and his still-sore neck — the one that forced him out of the final minutes of regulation after his scoring outburst helped Boston separate for a 116-106 triumph — struggled to locate his cell phone, and a handful of staffers were summonsed for a mini search party. A couple stalls down, a trainer dabbed at a small gash on Jaylen Brown’s forehead. Nearby, Jayson Tatum lounged in his chair and could only laugh while licking his emotional wounds from a historically bad 1-for-18 shooting night. 

At the front of the room, in front of a pack of cameras and microphones, Marcus Smart publicly declared that he’d like to stop being kicked in the groin during NBA games.

Yup, it wasn’t pretty -- and often painful. But on the same night that Gordon Hayward went under the knife to repair the fractured hand that will sideline him until Christmas, the Celtics got a little taste of how things are probably going to be the next 19 games.

Fortunately for Boston, all ended well. A locker room attendant found Walker’s cell phone hiding under a towel, Brown downplayed the head wound, Tatum trekked to the Auerbach Center for some late-night shooting, and Smart shrugged off his bruises while noting, “It's nothing new for me.”

Ultimately, it’s the Celtics kicking the rest of the league below the belt. Boston won its eighth straight game to move to an NBA-best 8-1 overall. These Celtics keep finding ways to win games even when they don’t play the crispest basketball.

Tatum became only the ninth player in NBA history to put up at least 18 shots in a regular season game and make only one (Mike Newlin’s 1-for-22 performance for Houston in 1973 remains the not-so gold standard for single-field goal nights). But even without Hayward and despite only getting five points in 35 minutes from Tatum, the Celtics found a way to stiff-arm the Mavericks when it mattered most.

They can thank Walker, who shrugged off a quiet first half (5 points on 2-of-6 shooting) before erupting for 24 second-half points on 7-of-11 shooting. 

That included a pair of crunch-time 3-pointers as part of a 10-point fourth quarter in which Walker did all his damage over just 3:39 before colliding with Luka Doncic and suffering what Brad Stevens termed “whiplash.” Walker hit a trio of triples in a 70-second span as Boston pushed its lead to seven before the injury that left trainers working on his neck on the sideline.

Walker, who entered the night fifth in the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring, had struggled in crunch time (games within five points, final five minutes) this season. He was a mere 2-of-11 shooting overall (18.2 percent) in crunch-time scenarios but produced a familiar Kardiac Kemba outburst.

"I missed a lot early but my shot felt good all night,” said Walker. "I was just missing and then, in the fourth quarter, it’s just, naturally, the competitive nature just comes out and trying to do what I can to put the ball in the basket.”

Brown, coming off his 30-point outburst in San Antonio, put together another encouraging night by putting up 25 points and 11 rebounds. By the end of the night, Doncic, a player that looks a lot like a future MVP, said of Brown: "He deserves the contract he got. He's a great player and he's a two-way player. He can play really good defense and really good offense. He's a great pick up by the Celtics.”

Brown said that, with Hayward out, the Celtics aren’t looking for style points.

"That’s what it’s about: Find ways to win, regardless,” said Brown. "The older we get as we go through this process — we’re getting older, me, [Tatum], guys that have been here, Smart. We know how to win, so we’ve just got to continue to do that and I think today was a good example of that.”

Like Brown, many Celtics did a little extra on Monday night. Smart took on the challenge (yet again) of guarding a big in Kristaps Porzingis and helped limit the unicorn to four points on 1-of-11 shooting. Daniel Theis played through a right pinky dislocation to finish plus-27 in 22 minutes. The bench struggled to maintain leads but Robert Williams, Grant Williams, Javonte Green, and Brad Wanamaker all had good moments. Enes Kanter played his first game at the Garden after missing the last seven with a bruised knee.

The Celtics are 8-1. It’s an unsustainable pace, particularly without Hayward, and yet this team honestly feels like it hasn’t come close to playing its best basketball, and certainly not for anywhere near 48 minutes. 

But it’s content to just keep winning ugly.

"We’re just playing, we’re not even worried about the record right now,” said Walker. "It’s a great record, don’t get it twisted. I’m loving it. We’re all loving it, that we’re able to win these games. We’re playing well. I honestly feel like we still have so much growth as a group and we know that as a group, which is really special to me.”

A. Sherrod Blakely's takeaways from Celtics' win over Mavericks>>>

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Marcus Smart looking 'to figure out a solution' after taking another shot to the groin

Marcus Smart looking 'to figure out a solution' after taking another shot to the groin

So far this season, Marcus Smart has been playing some of the toughest defense in the NBA. But it has come at a cost.

Smart has been taking some shots where it hurts, and Monday night was no exception. Against the Dallas Mavericks, Smart got kicked in the groin and went down in pain.

After the game, Smart had a lighthearted press conference where he said he needs to find a solution to that rather specific problem (via the Celtics on NBC Sports Boston Twitter account).

"[Taking a beating is] nothing new for me," Smart said. "I've been taking a beating my whole life. But I don't know what it is. I keep getting kicked in the groin. I don't know what it is about that. We've got to figure out a solution to stop that. I'm used to it. It's what I do, and I pride myself on that."

Part of the reason that Smart has taken so many shots is that he's guarding players much bigger than him. Against the Mavericks, Smart (6-foot-4) played a critical role in guarding the 7-foot-2 Kristaps Porzingis and was part of the reason the team held him to just four points on 1-of-11 shooting. 

Smart is one of the toughest guys in the league, so he won't complain much about taking some shots. But if he does keep guarding big-men amid the Celtics' shortage of effective bigs, he'll have to find a way to avoid getting hit down there too much.

A. Sherrod Blakely's takeaways from Celtics' win over Mavericks>>>

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