Celtics

A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

A big summer boosts chances of Celtics trio

BOSTON – As good as someone may look in summer league play, it should never be viewed as a sole barometer for NBA success. 

There have been countless players who dominate the floor this time of year, only to become NBA doormats when the games really count. 

More than anything else, summer league helps teams get a better feel for their bench – a place where most summer leaguers will be if they are even on a roster at all.

And the Celtics must feel pretty good about their second-unit players who were on the floor in Boston’s summer league run.

Semi Ojeleye, Guerschon Yabusele, and Jabari Bird were all reserves (or in the case of Bird, a two-way contract player), who are likely to have opportunities to play more prominent roles this season.

All were viewed as having a significant area in need of improvement heading into the offseason.

Ojeleye was essentially a talented defender who, offensively, was a catch-and-shoot guy who only took corner 3’s last season.

In summer league, Ojeleye put the ball on the floor more than we’ve ever seen in addition to finishing at the rim for lay-ups or dunks.

And Yabusele, who at times looked dazed and confused on the floor, was far more assertive in his decision-making – qualities he needs to display when camp starts in September and he’s competing for minutes off the bench.

Bird was the breakout star for the Celtics this summer, solidifying himself as a player who will be on someone’s NBA roster - if he’s not back in Boston - this season.

The athleticism that has been a hallmark of Bird’s game for years was on full display in Las Vegas. More than anything, he showed a heightened level of attention to detail while being consistent at both ends of the floor – traits he’ll need to display more of if he’s back with the Celtics and wants to compete for minutes off the bench.

So as Celtics fans are impressed with the strong play of Ojeleye, Yabusele, and Bird, keep in mind that all three are reserves who likely won’t be the first option off Boston’s bench this season.

Still, they have all shown skills that at a minimum, give Boston hope that when called upon, they will be ready to step up and contribute at a level greater than what we saw last season.

And as we know with all Brad Stevens-coached teams, players must always stay ready to play regardless of how deep they might be buried on the depth chart.

Ojeleye is a great example of this.

A second-round pick last year, Ojeleye played limited minutes most of the season only to find himself inserted into the Celtics’ starting lineup about midway through their first-round series with the Milwaukee Bucks.

And while Yabusele saw sporadic minutes, that was in large part due to him not being effective in the minutes he was allotted. Still, the Yabusele we saw last season wasn’t nearly as mobile, athletic or impactful as the one we saw that helped Boston to a 4-2 summer league record.

Bird, on a two-way contract last season, has done enough to at least warrant serious consideration for a spot on the 15-man roster.

All three players raised the level of expectations for fans, and while it was certainly a good sign, by no means does it alone mean they are ready to make major contributions this season.

A strong showing in summer league play can certainly be part of the puzzle for a Celtics team that heads into the season as the odds-on favorite to reach the NBA Finals.

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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.