Celtics

Boston Celtics find good vibes out west

Boston Celtics find good vibes out west

Of all the encouraging moments in the Boston Celtics’ win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night — and there was no shortage of them — one of the more notable sequences came with the game well in hand and offered a rare glimpse of the team’s togetherness.

DeMarcus Cousins had just dropped Aron Baynes with a lowered shoulder while trying to back his way to the basket. Cousins took exception to Baynes selling the whistle he drew by going to the ground hard, and Cousins stomped over to bark at Boston’s reserve center.

As Cousins started to walk away, Jayson Tatum, giving up at least 75 pounds, shoved Golden State’s big man. After Cousins gave an emphatic shove back, Terry Rozier, giving up at least 10 inches, rushed over ready to scrap as referees scrambled to separate the players.

It might not have seemed like much, but given all the scrutiny about the chemistry of these Celtics and whether these guys actually enjoy playing with each other, it was notable the way Rozier and Tatum stood up for Baynes.

For a Boston team that pledged to stay together amid a tumultuous stretch in a drama-filled season, the sequence suggested that players might truly have each other’s back. As Boston’s locker room was fighting off a “toxic” label after Jaylen Brown used that word to describe the lingering impact of Boston's losing ways, it was a tiny glimpse into the bonds that do seem to exist.

☘️ CELTICS 128, WARRIORS 95

Yes, Celtics players have spent the season frustrated by the team’s inability to play to its championship potential. Yes, finger-pointing caused some hard feelings for a young roster that has struggled to identify why things have so frequently gone awry.

It would be absurd to suggest that all of Boston’s issues and locker room strife could be washed away by a single win. But winning does tend to cure what ails a team, and maybe the Celtics found something they can build upon with Tuesday’s statement victory. Kyrie Irving suggested after the game that Boston’s six-hour plane ride, coming immediately after Sunday’s disheartening loss to the Rockets, might have been a blessing in disguise.

Before Tuesday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens referenced the “good vibes” the team was feeling since arriving out west. Irving noted how the team put an emphasis on “being connected” and “being together.”

Even TNT’s Players Only broadcast made note of the difference in Irving’s demeanor on the bench Tuesday. A week earlier he had stewed in Toronto as the Celtics fell behind by 30+ points. This time around, Irving laughed and smiled as Boston put together one of its most inspired efforts of the season, building as much as a 35-point lead and emerging with the sort of win it can cling to when the playoffs roll around.

When Guerschon Yabusele — maybe the happiest player on Boston’s roster — hit a 3-pointer in the waning moments of the final frame, the entire bench erupted in celebration, with Jaylen Brown emphatically replicating Yabusele’s bow-and-arrow celebration. Alongside, Irving and Horford looked genuinely thrilled for Yabusele (who had been deactivated for Sunday’s game with Boston’s roster at full strength).

The Celtics could very easily get steamrolled in Sacramento on Wednesday night and all the bad energy could rush back in. Maybe everyone will be sulking again by the end of the trip. But, at least for one night, the Celtics seemed to genuinely enjoy each other. There wasn’t anything toxic about them.

And they looked a lot like the team most of us expected to see earlier this season. The lingering question remains: Can they bottle up those good vibes and lean on it when the games truly matter in the postseason?

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NBA last two-minute report: Celtics' failed inbound pass vs. 76ers should have been a foul

NBA last two-minute report: Celtics' failed inbound pass vs. 76ers should have been a foul

This won't help ease the pain of Thursday night's Boston Celtics loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, but the NBA's last two-minute report at least acknowledges a mistake made by the officials on a key play in the fourth quarter.

With 25.7 seconds remaining in a 112-109 game, Jayson Tatum's inbound pass to Jaylen Brown resulted in a critical turnover. There appeared to be an obvious foul made by Josh Richardson on the play, but the refs swallowed the whistle.

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.

The last two-minute report states a foul should have been called as Richardson "clamps Brown's arm while the ball is being thrown in and affects his ability to receive the pass."

The C's went on to fall to the Sixers, 115-109. They'll have a few days to think about the botched call before they visit the Dallas Mavericks for a matchup Wednesday night.

Embiid compliments TD Garden crowd, admits it fuels him>>>

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.

NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

NBA Notebook: Could Marcus Morris be on the move from the woeful Knicks?

BOSTON -- For teams who have gone through a bit of buyer’s remorse after signing players this summer, Dec. 15 can’t get here soon enough. 

That’s the earliest teams can move on from deals they signed this offseason. 

Still, in conversations with various league officials and scouts, don’t expect to see much if any movement right away. 

“No one is in this huge rush to get from under a deal or anything like that,” a league executive told NBC Sports Boston. “There will be a deal done here and there, but I don’t think you’ll see any blockbuster deals involving the guys who signed in the summer.”

One player I’m told to keep an eye on is ex-Celtics forward Marcus Morris, now with the New York Knicks. 

He’s having a career season and the organization loves the tough, rugged brand of basketball that he brings to the floor.

“But is he worth more to the Knicks on their roster, or as a trade chip,” a Western Conference scout told NBC Sports Boston. “What’s the value for a veteran with his talents, contract and toughness?”

That’s a question the Knicks almost certainly are asking themselves as they continue to mire in a rebuild that has them again among the worst teams record-wise in the NBA. 

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.

And with Morris on a one-year, $15 million deal, there’s no long-term risk in bringing him in the fold if a team isn’t sure what his role would be beyond the remainder of this season. 

If Morris were to be traded, it won’t be because he just wants to latch on with a playoff contender. 

“Like I said in the beginning, I love being in New York, win, lose or draw,” Morris told reporters recently. “I’m here to try and help turn this thing around. I’m not really looking to get traded, that’s just my personal opinion.

He added, “That’s my approach, but this is the NBA. I’d rather help turn this thing around. Melo [Carmelo Anthony] said it best: Some guys aren’t built for New York. I’m built for New York. I’d rather be here. I’d rather help.”

DAVID STERN UPDATE

Thoughts and prayers go out to former NBA commissioner David Stern who underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. 

Stern was the longest-tenured commissioner of the league, having held the post for 30 years before passing the torch to Adam Silver in 2014. 

As important as the actual players have been in the growth of the NBA globally, Stern’s imprint on the game is undeniable with games now being not just broadcasted but actually played all over the world to sell-out crowds globally. 

One of the highlights of my career covering the NBA was getting a chance to sit down 1-on-1 with then-commissioner Stern in a 2015 preseason game in Milan, Italy, pitting the Celtics against EA7 Emporio Armani. 

MORE K-LOVE TRADE RUMORS

Cleveland’s Kevin Love remains the most talked-about player likely to be on the move between now and the Feb. 6 trade deadline. 

He is in the first year of a four-year, $120.4 million contract extension which multiple league sources have indicated will make a deal involving Love tougher to come by than it should be for a player with his talents. 

But there are concerns about his health, with Love playing 60 or fewer games in each of the last three seasons. 

And with the number of years a team will have him on the books, weighing those concerns with what the Cavs are seeking in such a trade (at least one first-round pick) is going to make getting a deal done challenging to say the least. 

The team many believe will have the toughest time figuring out whether to pursue Love or not, is the Miami Heat. 

They have been one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season, but still look to be one superstar talent away from firming up their place as an NBA Finals contender. 

However, it’s no secret that they have been doing their part to clear cap space to make a run at Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo who will be an unrestricted free agent in 2021. 

However, the success of the Bucks and Antetokounmpo’s repeated desire to be in Milwaukee may lead them to try and pull the trigger on a K-Love deal which again, would only strengthen their position as one of the top teams in the East this season. 

KNICKS COACHING SEARCH

Barring a change of direction (which you know is always, always possible with this franchise), the Knicks won’t pursue a new coach until the offseason. 

Taking that approach makes a lot of sense for the Knicks, a franchise that has made more than its share of head-scratching decisions in the past decade or so. 

Mike Miller is the interim coach and should have every shot at getting this team on track even when that seems damn near impossible for several reasons. 

If he can’t, the Knicks will go into the draft with another top-shelf draft pick. 

And on the coaching front, there will be the usual cast of characters to make the rounds (Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy, Tom Thibodeau to name a few) as well as potentially a couple of new faces from the assistant coaching ranks who should get consideration, too. 

The point is, there’s no need for the Knicks to rush in hiring a new coach. 

Because whoever is on the clock, whether it be now or next November, is going to have a hard time winning even when the bar for success is as low as it is now. 

KAWHI U DO THEM LIKE THAT!

Kawhi Leonard returned to Toronto for the first time since leaving in the summer and received the kind of reception you would expect from a guy who had been there for several years - not just one. 

In that one season, Leonard delivered the ultimate prize - an NBA title. 

And because of that, he will always be loved whenever he returns to Canada. 

But more than winning, Leonard was loved because he was genuine throughout the process of his time there. 

He never gave any indication that he was going to be back, nor did he absolutely rule it out (even though we pretty much knew he was intent on returning to the West coast). 

For him, it was business. 

I play.

I win.

I go where I want to go afterward.

The way Leonard and Raptors fans handled the situation, is a blueprint for superstars of the future to follow.

Fans are going to love you forever if you win. 

If you don’t, you shouldn’t be surprised if you get some jeers mixed in with cheers upon that first trip back. And you promised them you wanted to come back and then have a change of heart… they have every reason to have a change of heart as well in how they feel about you as a player regardless of whether the reasons for your change are legit. 

And for fans, when a player comes through with the ultimate prize - an NBA title - there’s literally nothing they can do that can top that other than winning it again which would only add to their legacy. 

Enjoy the time you have a great player, knowing that if they’re in a contract year that season is all you can bank on. 

A NEW (AND SCARY) JOEL EMBIID

Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal were known for their dunks and rebounds, but the assist they threw to Joel Embiid may become the ultimate game-changer for Embiid, the Sixers and the rest of the Eastern Conference.

After criticizing Embiid for not working as hard as he should be a dominant player, he responded with an absolute crushing performance in Philly’s win over Boston which snapped the Celtics previously-unbeaten streak of 10 home wins. Embiid finished with 38 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a ton of added respect from many who saw him taking their words and using them to get better.

No one has ever questioned Embiid’s talent. 

But his commitment to being the best version of himself, time and time again, hasn’t been there. 

We’ll see if his performance in the win over Boston was just a one-off kind of thing or whether he can truly sustain playing at the elite level that a player with his talent is capable of doing. 

If he doesn’t do it consistently, it’s not like he didn’t know what he had to do after getting called out earlier by a pair of Hall of Famers. 

FAST BREAKS

  • With a boatload of picks from the Russell Westbrook and Paul George trades, look for the Oklahoma City Thunder to be called upon to help facilitate a trade or two as the third team.
  • Denver, Phoenix and Portland are expected to be among the more aggressive teams on the trade front this season.
  • One of the more low-key deals done last summer, was the Celtics re-signing Daniel Theis to a two-year, $10 million deal. Finding a team with a starting center not on his rookie deal, making that kind of money is a steal in the NBA these days.
  • Dion Waiters was suspended a third time this season, by the Miami Heat. This suspension brings the total he’s losing this season to suspensions to about $1.4 million of his $12.1 million salary. League sources anticipate the Heat will become even more aggressive than they have been, in finding a trade partner