Celtics

Celtics gear up for training camp 2.0

Celtics gear up for training camp 2.0

BOSTON – Saturday’s loss at Cleveland was the denouement to the Boston Celtics’ preseason schedule of games.

As one preseason door closes, the Celtics find themselves ready to start another chapter on Tuesday with a game-free stretch of practice time in preparation for the season-opener against Philadelphia on Oct. 16.

Disappointing just doesn’t do justice to what we saw from the Celtics at the start of training camp.

And while some may point to the unusual start of the training camp with so many games front-loaded, players aren’t using that as an excuse for their struggles.

“It’s different but one of the things coach (Brad Stevens) always talks about, is us dealing with different situations, adversity,” said Al Horford. “That happens to be the schedule. We have to go through it.”

Indeed, there was more going on than Boston losing three of four preseason games which concluded with a 113-102 loss at Cleveland on Saturday.

The bigger concern going forward was how the losses came about.

In those four preseason games, Boston was routinely out-worked, didn’t defend anywhere close to the level expected from a unit with all its core guys back, and the offense was an inconsistent mess that lacked fluidity or any semblance of cohesiveness that’s required to be successful.

 “This week has to be completely focused on team and completely focused on we and that’s what we’re going to get to,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens.

Terry Rozier, one of the more consistent Celtics thus far in the preseason, felt the team needed a couple days off to come back with the right mindset for what’s shaping up to be a critical week.

“At the same time, we gotta get out there and find our way,” Rozier said.

Like most of his Celtics teammates, Rozier has heard and seen and read all about how awesome the Celtics are supposed to be this season.

So have their opponents, which is why it’s a given that Boston’s foes will approach every matchup with a heightened level of focus, force and intensity with one goal in mind: knocking off the Celtics.

The Celtics know they’re going to get the best punch from every team on the schedule.

But knowing that and responding to it, as we saw in the preseason by the Celtics, is an entirely different matter.

Boston has established itself as a gritty club that more nights than not, found ways to claw itself to victory.

But now as a prohibitive favorite almost every time they step on the floor, recognizing the change and handling it properly remains a challenge they’re going to have to work through here in the preseason in order to have the kind of season they envision for themselves.

“We feel like we arrived or something, like we won something,” Rozier said. “Teams know that, people talking about us every time you turn on the TV. So, that’s going to motivate them to beat us, second string, third string, it don’t matter who it is. So, we have to stay grounded and go back to playing Boston Celtics basketball and who we are instead of thinking we’re above everybody.”

Stevens added, “We’ll see if we’re good enough next week or 10 days from now and then it will start,” Stevens said. “If you’re not good enough, you’re in trouble.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Terry Rozier 1-on-1, what’s been the key to Celtics' 7 game win streak?

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Terry Rozier 1-on-1, what’s been the key to Celtics' 7 game win streak?

1:30 - Terry Rozier joins Celtics Post Up and talks about the Celtics thrilling OT win over the Wizards. 

7:15 - Evan Drellich joins Early Edition to discuss rumors that the Red Sox are out on Craig Kimber, and the latest from the MLB Winter Meetings. 

12:30 - Chris Simms of NBC Sports discusses the Patriots heartbreaking loss to the Dolphins, and gives his pick for the Patriots matchup against the Steelers. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

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Even Kyrie can't stop watching Marcus Smart highlights

Even Kyrie can't stop watching Marcus Smart highlights

WASHINGTON, D.C. — On his way to meet with reporters on Wednesday night, Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving took a moment to dap up teammate Marcus Smart as they crossed paths near the media scrum. It wouldn’t be the only time that Irving showed appreciation for his new partner in Boston’s starting backcourt.

“I’m so grateful he’s on our team, you know, really,” said Irving, who might not have had a chance to hit all the big late-game shots if not for Smart’s energy jolt that woke up a lethargic Celtics team in the second half when they rallied from 11 down to win.

Smart has been a double shot of espresso for a Celtics team that stumbled groggily through the first 20 games of the season. Boston is 7-0 since Smart and Marcus Morris elevated to starting roles last month, and Smart’s impact isn’t lost on Irving.

"I just watched some of [Smart’s] highlights in college, as well as some of his playoff highlights, defensively and offensively, and it’s just unmatched,” said Irving, a well-documented connoisseur of basketball highlights from all levels. 

Then Irving paused a moment, seemingly to allow reporters to digest the notion of him combing the YouTube archives for Smart sizzle reels.

“So, yeah, in my downtime I watch Marcus Smart highlights.”

NBA players, they’re just like us! It makes sense that Irving would be consuming Smart film, likely trying to figure out how the duo could work best together as a stating tandem. Or maybe, like the rest of us, Irving just found himself falling down a Smart wormhole after watching any of Smart’s floor-burn plays.

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Smart was spectacular in the second half of Wednesday’s win, a game in which coach Brad Stevens asked him to essentially serve as the team’s center in super small late-game lineups. And whenever the Celtics really needed a bucket, it was Irving running high pick-and-rolls as Smart gleefully set the sort of screens typically reserved for lumbering big men.

All this while Smart spent handfuls of defensive possessions guarding the likes of 6-foot-10 Markieff Morris or 6-foot-11 Thomas Bryant at the other end of the court.

"Smart now has officially done it all because he's played every position for us [because] he's never played the 5 and I think, [Wednesday], at the end of the game, Markieff [Morris] was guarding him and he was the one setting a lot of the screens,” said Stevens.

Smart guarding opposing bigs for a couple possessions is nothing new. He’s taken turns in the past on the likes of Kristaps Porzingis or Anthony Davis. But he usually had someone like Al Horford nearby to help in a pinch. On Wednesday, the Celtics were playing without Horford, all while Aron Baynes was restricted coming back from an ankle injury and Daniel Theis found early foul trouble. So Smart took on the challenge of defending bigs, joking his game plan was simply, “don’t get buried in the post.”

Smart changed the tenor of the game with his usual hustle and grit. He chased down loose balls, he took charges, he boxed out opposing bigs wile denying second-chance opportunities, and he even came up with some game-changing offensive boards of his own in crunch time.

Smart wasn’t perfect and Bradley Beal and Kelly Oubre Jr. both produced strong shooting numbers against him (the Wizards wings combined for 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting versus Smart, per the NBA’s data tracking). And yet Smart’s energy so clearly changed the complexion of the game and eye test confirmed his positive impact.

The NBA’s defensive tracking data reflects strongly on Smart’s play this season. Opponents are shooting 38.8 percent against him this year, per NBA data, or 5 percent below what those players have averaged overall this season. Smart has relentlessly contested perimeter shots and opponents are shooting 29.5 percent against him on anything beyond 15 feet.

Synergy Sports’ defensive data has Smart allowing a mere 0.77 points per play. That number alone ranks Smart in the 90th percentile among all NBA players but, narrow to those with at least 250 possessions defended this season, and Smart elevates to fifth overall among 113 qualifiers. The only guard allowing less points per play is Memphis’ Mike Conley (who ranks 1st on that list at 0.686 ppp). 

But stats may never tell the full story with Smart. He just  has a knack for making impact plays — hence his “Young Gamechanger” nickname and the #winningplays hashtag that so frequently appears when he’s on the court in the fourth quarter.

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Some grumbled when the Celtics signed Smart to a four-year, $52 million extension this summer. Smart had found a cool market as a restricted free agent but Boston clearly wasn’t willing to let him play his way into a big payday from somebody else next summer. Boston signed Smart to a deal that, at an average value of $13 million, will almost certainly seem like a bargain as salaries continue to inflate.

Those that obsess over Smart’s offensive numbers lose sight of what makes him so vital. Smart has quietly put together one of his more efficient offensive seasons, shooting a career-best 38.5 percent overall, all while attempting a career-low 3.4 3-pointers per game. Smart’s 6.9 points per game is by far the lowest of his NBA career and yet he has maybe never been so impactful as he is this season.

Teammate Marcus Morris was detailing some of Smart’s big-play moments from Wednesday night when he stopped to sum up those contributions.

"You know, Smarty type of things,” said Morris.

Pressed on what Smart brings to the Celtics, the typically loquacious Morris struggled to put it into words.

"Can't describe it,” said Morris. "You know, he's a bulldog. He's been doing that since he's been in the NBA. Even when I was on a different team, he was doing the same thing. He continues to do it. He's a guy that you love to have on your team.”

Just ask Irving. Or anyone else in Boston’s locker room.

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