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.”


Kyrie elevates to another level

Kyrie elevates to another level

BOSTON — Maybe all you need to know about Kyrie Irving’s recent hot streak is that it feels like we've been hearing the phrase, “became the first Celtics player since,” an awful lot around here over the past six days, and that aphorism seems to always end with, "Larry Bird."

Irving has produced four eye-popping stat lines the past four games including a 26-point, 10-assist, 8-steal effort on Monday night while steering the Celtics to a 107-99 triumph over the visiting Heat at TD Garden.

Irving became only the ninth player in NBA history to reach benchmarks of 20-plus points, 10-plus assists, and 8-plus steals since the league started tracking thefts back in 1974. He was the first player to hit those thresholds in more than 31 years, or since Fat Lever in Nov. 1987. Irving was the first Celtics player to reach those levels since Bird did it twice in 1985.

What’s more, Irving is now the first Celtics player to register at least 10 games of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists in a single season since Bird during the 1986-87 season.

Irving is simply sizzling at the moment. He sat out last Monday night in Brooklyn — a much-needed day to rest both his body and his mind after frustrations bubbled over during Boston’s 0-3 road trip — then responded with 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in a win over East-leading Raptors. Two nights later, Irving put up 38 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds while flirting with a triple-double in a win over the Grizzlies. It was a “quiet” 32-point/5-assist/3-rebound effort in Atlanta on Saturday.

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

His four-game averages: 30.8 points while shooting 60.3 percent overall and 56 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He’s added 11 assists and 2.5 steals per game and the Celtics are 

Before Monday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked if he felt like Irving had gone to another level recently. Stevens hesitated to suggest that was even possible while noting, "He’s been awfully good. I don’t know if I ever feel it go next level, I think he’s just -- that’s how good he is.” 

But it doesn’t seem farfetched to suggest that Irving might be muscling his way onto some MVP ballots if he keeps up what he’s doing. After Monday’s win, Irving sat 15th in the NBA in scoring, 11th in assists, and 10th in steals. All while playing a mere 32.5 minutes per game.

Irving isn’t just playing well, he’s playing with an extra scoop of sizzle.

After Irving chased down a loose ball for his fifth steal during Monday’s game, he broke out the other way. Exploding towards the basket, he encountered a couple Heat defenders impeding his path so, without breaking his righthand dribble, Irving delivered a no-look between-the-legs bounce pass to Marcus Smart beyond the 3-point arc. Smart ensured highlight material by splashing the triple in what would be a third quarter where the Celtics outscored Miami 37-18. 

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

When Miami rallied within five in the final frame, it forced Irving to expend some extra energy to put the game away. He did so with a flurry of three buckets off strong drives in a 95-second span. 

The first, Irving exploded past Tyler Johnson near the 3-point arc, then calmly banked home a leaner closer to the hoop. Next trip down, he split three Heat defenders while bursting into the paint and finishing with a righthanded layup. A short time later, he probed from the perimeter, and danced through three black jerseys for another tough layup that pushed the lead to double figures.

“We have to play perfectly, offensively, when you're dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "It seemed like he made every single play. When we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, he was just brilliant at the end.”

Echoed teammate Al Horford: "Having that kind of player and that kind of luxury, where we can just let him kind of take over, feels good."

Irving, who has been noticeably more business-like in his postgame briefings this past week maybe trying to simply keep the focus on winning rather than the frustrations Boston hopes are behind them, shrugged off his heroics.

"I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Irving. "Being aggressive. That’s really pretty much it. Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands and I’ve just got to make the right plays.”

We’ve come to expect the otherworldly from Irving, offensively, but it’s maybe the elevated defensive play that's even more remarkable. We’ve said it in this space before: Irving isn’t perfect and he still has lapses where he loses his man or gets caught cheating a bit too aggressively. But with plus-defenders surrounding him in Boston’s starting lineup, Irving has a bit of a freedom to roam and try to create some havoc.

Irving’s eight steals on Monday were a combination of being in the right spots and picking opportunities to gamble. There were times when he’d stray in hopes of pickpocketing a careless dribble but other times he had simply himself in the right spot to pounce after tipping a careless feed or entry pass.

“He had a couple [steals] where he saw an opportunity and gambled a little bit. But I thought the rest of them were really good positioning and those -- those are really good,” said Stevens. “Those are exciting because, when you get those, you’re not only making them take a tough shot, you’re in there to take the ball. And he was active with his hands, he was active on tags on the baseline, I just thought he was really locked in.”

Confirmed Horford: "All year he’s been more committed to being better on the defensive end. And tonight he seemed to be at the right spots every time. And that’s a credit of him preparing for the game. I’m just happy to see him having an impact, not only on offense, but on defense as well.”

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

Turns out that Irving actually battled some nerves the night before Monday’s game. The Celtics asked their star guard if he wanted to deliver some remarks on the Martin Luther King Day and Irving wanted to make sure he got his tribute right.

He did. Wearing an “I Have A Dream” T-shirt, Irving noted how King Jr. was, “a man who truly embodied what it means to be a leader, a visionary, and a dreamer.”

Asked about the moment, he said later, "I was kind of nervous thinking about it, last night, just what to say that would really explain how great of a man he was and what he meant to our society and what he means to me,” said Irving. "For me to be standing here today, to know that the sacrifices of him and countless others have enabled me to be here today and play a game that I love and to spread a message to other young people that have a lot of history to learn about, of what this world actually looked like in the past and what it looks like going forward.

"The next generation is next up and it's my job to continue to be a pioneer and speak up on social justice, inequality and, ultimately, peace. So just happily obliged to do it.”

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Ainge jokes about Riley in exchange with Spoelstra

Ainge jokes about Riley in exchange with Spoelstra

The legendary animosity between Danny Ainge and Pat Riley spans all the way back to the peak years of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry in the 1980's, and has been littered with jabs and occasional uppercuts over the decades since.

Following Boston's 107-99 win over the Heat on Monday night at TD Garden, the Celtics President of Basketball Operations had a chance to catch up with Miami coach Erik Spoelstra. The two didn't pass up an opportunity to bring up that feud with the Heat's longtime team president, per the South Florida Sun-Sentinel's Ira Winderman:

Who can forget, of course, the time Riley literally said "Danny Ainge needs to shut the f*** up and manage his own team" -- through a team spokesman, no less -- in response to Ainge's criticisms of how LeBron James complained to referees.

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