Celtics

Al Horford will compete in NBA All-Star skills challenge

Al Horford will compete in NBA All-Star skills challenge

BOSTON -- Al Horford will be busier than usual during All-Star weekend later this month. 

In addition to being selected as an All-Star reserve, the Boston Celtics big man will also be participating in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday, Feb. 16. 

Boston's Kyrie Irving will be a starter for Sunday's All-Star game and will play for Team (LeBron) James while Horford will play for Team (Stephen) Curry. 

Celtics second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum will play in the Mountain Dew Kickstart Rising Stars Challenge for the U.S. team.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

BOSTON –  The plan coming into this season was for the Celtics’ stars to be aligned for greatness that would give them a strong shot at being the last team standing.

But then life and injuries happened, which has forced Boston’s star-studded plans to be scrapped for most of this season and replaced with a star-by-committee approach that few outside the Celtics’ payroll thought would work.

And here they are in a winner-moves-on Game 7 with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers with the victor advancing to the NBA Finals.

Boston's journey to this point, without Gordon Hayward for all but five minutes this season and without Kyrie Irving for this entire postseason run, has been an amazing ride, to say the least.

And while there have certainly been some ups and downs along the way, Boston hasn’t made any excuses all year for not having Irving and Hayward, around.

Celtics players will tell you one by one that being without their two best players has not been something that's concerned them in this postseason journey because it’s not something they can control.

And the team’s youth?

That, too, has been a topic of non-discussion most of this season; at least among the players and coaching staff.

“I’m sure we’ve slipped on this, but I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” said coach Brad Stevens, who added that he has been asked about it frequently throughout the course of the season. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be...we need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play and our guys are looking forward to it.”

The Celtics' struggles in the playoffs on the road (the loss Friday night dropped them to 1-7; they're undefeated at home at 10-0) in the eyes of some might be because of the team's youth. 

Marcus Smart isn't trying to hear that narrative.

"It's not because we're young," Smart said. "It's the playoffs and everything is harder."

The challenge becomes even greater when there's no one player they can turn to in close games to seal victories. 

Jayson Tatum has had his moments, as well as Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Marcus Morris.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that as impressive as it has been to see them find ways to win, Game 6 served as a reminder of how daunting a task it becomes to close out a series when you don’t have a proven, battle-tested closer healthy enough to play.

Because of the points-by-committee setup, you never know who is going to get that opportunity to be the closer or, at a minimum, the guy who throws the late-game dagger to either position Boston to win or puts tremendous pressure on the opponent.

Brown acknowledged after Game 6 that he was positioned to be that guy and took the shot that would have cut Cleveland’s lead to just four with about four minutes to play.

But he missed the shot and with it went Boston’s chances of rallying for the victory – something they did better than any team in the NBA this season when facing double-digit deficits.

“That’s two games in a row on the road I missed that same shot,” said Brown, who still managed to score 27 points. “That’s going to really bug me. Yeah, it felt good. I have to make that.”

Tatum feels the same way about some of his misses.

Ditto for Rozier, Horford and Morris.

And there lies both the blessing and burden of having a team with lots of good players, but void of a definitive late-game closer.

The Cavaliers have one in LeBron James, a role he will embrace even more now that the Cavs have ruled Kevin Love (concussion protocol) out for tomorrow night’s game.

At this point, the Celtics aren’t overly concerned with who they have to turn to down the stretch.

Find a way to win.

That’s the only thing that matters now.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

With season on the line, Celtics 'ready for a dogfight'

With season on the line, Celtics 'ready for a dogfight'

BOSTON – Physicality is one of those intangibles that’s difficult to quantify, but most involved are well aware when it’s present. 

Game 7 with a trip to the NBA Finals at stake?

You can count on tonight’s game being the most physical one of a series that has had his share of dust-ups among players looking to set a physical tone. 

“It’s about winning a game now,” said Boston’s Marcus Smart. “It’s not going to be pretty. You have to get down, get dirty. You have to be ready for a dogfight; gotta be ready to come up with our noses bloodied, mouths bloodied … we gotta come ready to fight.”

And while the Celtics are well aware of what’s at stake tonight, they’re saying all the right things now that would lead you to believe that the moment won’t be too big for them to handle well enough to give themselves a chance to win. 

It's going to be a lot of fun, first and foremost,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier. “It's going to be a lot of fun. We're looking forward to it. Obviously, we came up short (in Game 6). But we need the whole city of Boston to be behind us. We know LeBron is different than a lot of other guys, but we've got to get the job done. That's no excuse, so we're looking forward to it.”

Rozier added, “You've got your fans behind you. It's a whole different feeling when you're playing at home. You're just so amped. Our crowd is unbelievable, one of the best in basketball. We're looking forward to it. It's going to be a lot of fun.”  

Said Stevens: “It’s win or go home. It’s an absolute blast to prepare for as a coach and play in as a player. It’ll be a heck of a challenge, playing a really good team with obviously a tremendous individual player who put on a tremendous show (in Game 6).”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s Game 7 matchup between the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.

MATCHUP FOR HORFORD

With Kevin Love (concussion protocol) listed as being out for tonight’s game, Al Horford won’t get an opportunity to go at his favorite Cavalier. So who will Horford likely find success against tonight? The most likely target will be Larry Nance Jr. who has been the primary defender against Horford on 55 possessions which trails only Tristan Thompson (188 possessions) and Love (61) among Cleveland players. When defended by Nance Jr. in this series, Horford has scored 14 points on 5-for-9 shooting. 

JAYSON TATUM

The collision Tatum had in the first quarter of Game 6 put Kevin Love into the NBA’s concussion protocol program and certainly left Tatum dazed along with a bump on the back of his head. All the tests he took after the game and on Saturday, showed no signs of a concussion for the 20-year-old. If that holds up for tonight, his play will once again be vital to Boston’s chances of advancing to the NBA Finals. 

 TRANSITION PLAY

Boston’s ability to get out for easy scores in transition has been among the less-talked-about ingredients when it comes to cooking up a victory. In their three wins over Cleveland, Boston has averaged 13.7 fast-break points compared to 7.7 in losses. 

BENCH PRODUCTION

With Boston limiting its second unit primarily to the two Marcuses, Smart and Morris, it’s important for the Celtics to keep the scoring gap off the bench relatively close. Since shortening the rotation to just two players in Game 5, Boston’s 1-2 punch off the bench was outscored 33-26 in Boston’s Game 5 win. But the scoring gap among reserves was greater (36-23) in Cleveland’s Game 6 win. 

MARCUS MORRIS HOME/ROAD SPLITS

The Celtics have a number of players who have performed better at home than on the road, a group that includes Marcus Morris. At the TD Garden, he’s averaging 15.3 points while shooting 43.6 percent from the field. On the road, Morris’ scoring drops to just 9.7 points (9-for-26) on 34.6 percent shooting.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE