Celtics

Brad Stevens' decision to start Shane Larkin pays off

Brad Stevens' decision to start Shane Larkin pays off

Shane Larkin was anything but an obvious choice for Brad Stevens when it came to pick who would start in place of Kyrie Irving who was out with a sore left knee.

Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier have been the guys to fill in for Irving in the past. And with both playing so well off the Celtics bench, it would have made a lot of sense for Stevens’ pool of possible replacements for Irving was a pool of two.

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And while we’ve heard Stevens speak of how he’s confident in any player on the roster, these are the times when Stevens’ words are put to the test.

His decision to go with Larkin worked well for both the player and the team as Boston had no problem beating the Chicago Bulls 105-89.

Larkin, making his first start for the Celtics and first in the NBA since 2016, had nine points on 3-for-3 shooting to go with four rebounds and four assists. 

“I felt good,” Larking told reporters after the game. 

Although Larkin was filling in for the Celtics’ leading scorer, he knew his role wasn’t about replicating what Irving brought to the table. 

Aware that the Celtics have others who can score besides Irving, Larkin was more concerned with his defense and making sure he got his teammates the ball where they could play their game.

“I was trying to get in the lane and let those guys be effective,” Larkin said. “I felt it was a good job today.”

Said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens: “He was great; he was great. We talked about who should start and everything else. When you trust all three of those guys, then it becomes who do you want to play off the bench. He was really good tonight.”

His teammates echoed similar sentiments. 

“It was nice to see him step up to the challenge,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Shane is a professional, very professional. He stays ready. It was good to see him with that … he brings a lot of energy anytime that he comes on the floor. And tonight we needed it.”

And unlike some games we’ve seen pitting the Celtics against a cellar-dweller, they did not give the Bulls any hope that this game would be anything other than a blowout. 

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Larkin, making his first NBA start since 2016, was mindful of how important it would be for the Celtics to get off to a good start. 

Boston did just that as they more than doubled up the Bulls in the first quarter which ended with the Celtics holding a commanding 35-16 lead.

“It was very important for me and the team,” Larkin said. “Last time we were here they jumped on us early. Today, we wanted to make sure we hit them early. On my end, every time I’m out there I’m trying to make positive impact play.”

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NBA rumors: Should Celtics be interested in a trade for Pacers' Domantas Sabonis?

NBA rumors: Should Celtics be interested in a trade for Pacers' Domantas Sabonis?

An intriguing young big man is reportedly available on the trade market and, given the question marks in the Celtics’ frontcourt entering the 2019-20 season, it begs the question whether Boston should be intrigued.

The Athletic reported Friday that the Pacers have engaged in trade talks involving 23-year-old big man Domantas Sabonis with the sides far apart in negotiations on a rookie extension in advance of Monday’s deadline.

Sabonis’ name was one that Celtics fans repeatedly invoked this summer after the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. The Pacers last season struggled to find ways for Sabonis and center Myles Turner to coexist. Given Boston’s glut of wings, the two sides seemed like potential trade partners.

Now, it appears the Pacers are motivated and Boston still has an obvious need for a frontcourt upgrade entering the season. The trouble in finding a deal: Indiana’s asking price might simply be more than Boston is willing to pay, especially knowing they will have to pay a high price tag to retain the player after the season.

If the Pacers are simply not committed to try and make the Sabonis/Turner combination work then their leverage in the trade market is weakened. The Athletic’s report noted the Pacers’ asking price, however, has been too high.

The Celtics would not be immediately interested in putting Jaylen Brown into a potential package. The team has been engaged in extension negotiations with Brown and is intrigued to see the strides that he makes this season when Brown’s role won’t be as muddy as it was last season.

Maybe their willingness to move Brown — or another wing — will elevate as the season progresses but the team is eager to see how its youngest stars like Brown and Jayson Tatum perform outside the shadows of Kyrie Irving.

Trying to build a trade package that might interest the Pacers without Brown is a bit more daunting. Celtics first-round pick Romeo Langford, an Indiana native who played at Indiana University and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2018, would seemingly intrigue the Pacers and makes the money work in a deal. Still, the Pacers would seemingly be seeking an immediate impact player and/or some of Boston’s future first-round picks, which might be more than Boston is willing to pay given the commitment it would take to maintain Sabonis.

Sabonis has no shortage of potential in a bigger role. He averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists over just 24.8 minutes per game last season while utilized almost exclusively as a reserve (five starts in 74 appearances). Sabonis is an excellent rebounder, ranking 10th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (26.9) and 12th in total rebound percentage (18.4).

Defensively, he’s not quite the Joel Embiid/Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper that the Celtics so clearly need to truly contend in the Eas,t but Indiana’s defensive numbers with Sabonis on the court last season were encouraging. The Pacers limited opponents to 103.8 points per 100 possessions with Sabonis on the floor over 1,811 minutes and that number spiked to 106.1 in the 2,082 minutes that Sabonis was on the bench.

Sabonis’ defensive stats were aided by Turner’s presence as Indiana’s defensive rating dropping to 99.2 in the 434 minutes the duo shared the court. And the more noticeable spike with Sabonis on the court without Turner was on the offensive end as Indiana’s offensive rating shot to 109.4 but it was negated slightly by the defensive rating spiking to 104.

Ultimately, the Pacers might simply be gauging Sabonis’ trade value in advance of the tough decision about how to proceed with their bigs. The Celtics should be intrigued but also do not need to rush into a deal before getting a glimpse of how all their new bigs look at the start of the season.

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Our crew that covers the Celtics has you covered as we preview the season and look ahead to Wednesday's opener in Philly against the Sixers.

2:00 - Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Brian Scalabrine give their expectations for the Boston Celtics this season. 

6:00 - How big of a year is this for Jaylen Brown? What do we see happening with his contract? 

9:00 - What expectations do we have for Jayson Tatum?

12:00 - What level can we expect Gordon Hayward to return to?

14:00 - Abby Chin hosts ‘Rookie Watch’. Where our crew debates which rookie will have the biggest impact for the Celtics this season. 

19:30 - Paul Hudrick covers the Sixers for NBC Sports Philadelphia. He joins the crew to preview the Celtics-76ers opening night matchup. (21:00) How does Al Horford fit into the mix with the 76ers? (22:00) How much pressure is on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? (27:00) How do people in Philadelphia feel about the Boston Celtics this season?

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