Celtics get moving toward starting another streak

Celtics get moving toward starting another streak

BOSTON – Near the end of their 16-game winning streak, there were noticeable areas of slippage that you knew would catch up with the Celtics sooner or later.
Near the top of that list was ball movement, something this team did as well as any team in their run to the top of the Eastern Conference standings.


This team doesn’t move the ball like last season's team, in part because Boston has a deeper stable of talented scorers who can score in isolation.
Still, ball movement has to become contagious once again and it certainly was in the first quarter of the 118-103 win over Orlando.
Headlining the renewed emphasis on sharing the ball from one side of the floor to the other was Al Horford, who tallied seven of his career-high-tying 10 assists in the first quarter.
“The guys were knocking down the shots,” Horford said. “Early in the game, we wanted to play with a little more pace. I was being aggressively, but Orlando helped [defensively] and I was able to find guys and they were able to knock shots down.”
It was the kind of effort that far too often gets overlooked when talking about what Horford brings to the table.
“Probably the most underrated guy in the league,” said Orlando coach Frank Vogel.
Here are five below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as Boston hits the road tonight to face the Indiana Pacers:

It’s always a good time for Brad Stevens to return to Indiana, where he grew up and coached at nearby Butler. And lately, things have been good for the Celtics as well on the road against the Pacers. Boston won both road games against the Pacers last season, a major improvement under Stevens, who had previously lost five of his first six at Indiana.

The Celtics made a conscious effort to start Friday against Orlando playing with a better pace. For the season, Boston’s pace of 98.76 ranks 22nd in the NBA. But in the first half of Friday’s win over Orlando, Boston had a pace of 104.68 which would rank fifth in the NBA if it were their season average. Meanwhile, the Pacers have played with a good pace all season. They come into tonight’s game with a pace of 101.41 which ranks eighth in the NBA.

You always hear about how important it is to win the rebounding battle. But for Boston and Indiana, it literally means winning tonight. The Celtics come in with a spotless 14-0 record when they out-rebound an opponent. Indiana? They come in with a 7-0 record when they corral more boards than their opponent. The only other undefeated team when it comes to winning the rebounding category is the Milwaukee Bucks (3-0).

The Cleveland Cavaliers seem to have figured out whatever they needed to right themselves as evidenced by their league-best seven-game winning streak. Right behind them? That would be the Pacers, who are currently riding a five-game winning streak. 

Winning is on the rise for Kyrie Irving since he came to Boston, and the same can be said for his shooting. On the heels of a 30-point, 9-for-15 shooting night against Orlando, Irving is now shooting a career-best 47.6 percent from the field which is slightly up from last season in Cleveland when he connected on 47.3 percent of his shots. In the month of November, he’s shooting 49.8 percent from the field while averaging 23.6 points per game.

Brad Stevens treasures visit, annual letters from Bob Cousy

Brad Stevens treasures visit, annual letters from Bob Cousy

BOSTON — The letter arrives late spring each year with the now-familiar handwriting and the Worcester postmark. As Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens decompresses from a season recently completed, the contents inside bring him immeasurable joy. 

For each of the past five years, Celtics legend Bob Cousy has sent Stevens a handwritten note at the end of each season, applauding what Stevens and his teams have accomplished. For all the success he’s enjoyed in his short tenure as Celtics coach and all the praise that’s been heaped upon him, Stevens still marvels when those letters from Cousy arrive.

"Just ridiculous when you get a letter from Bob Cousy, and then you see it’s from Worcester. It’s kinda like it’s not real,” Stevens told NBC Sports Boston on Tuesday after 90-year-old Cousy made the 40-mile trek to speak to the 2018-19 Celtics.

"And then you read the letters, and you hear more about his reading, and his writing, and how much time he spends doing that. How much personal letters mean to him. And you pinch yourself.”

Stevens is quick to point out that Cousy is more than the Houdini of the Hardwood, with his league-changing point guard skills, and a six-time NBA champion. He is also a former coach, having spent 10 years on the sideline, first collegiately at Boston College then in the NBA with the Cincinnati Royals.


Cousy might have posted a lackluster 141-209 record as an NBA coach but maybe that makes him appreciate more what Stevens has done early in his career, particularly while the Celtics built their current roster.

“After each season, I have dropped him a note just congratulating him because, in my judgment, the basic criteria for a successful coach on any level of team sports is to simply get the most out of the materials you have to work with,” Cousy said this week during an appearance on NBC Sports Boston’s Celtics Talk podcast.

"Each year, I just congratulate him on what the team has accomplished that year and said, ‘Brad, I don’t know if they are going to give you the Coach of the Year award, but I want you to know that you’ve got Bob Cousy’s coach of the year award.”

Stevens, who sent letters to all Celtics alumni after being hired in 2013, and Cousy bonded over their snail-mail exchanges. Two years ago, Stevens made a summer trek to Worcester to sit down with Cousy and talk more about their shared passions.

That Stevens would venture to his neck of the woods resonated with Cousy, who still playfully teases those that view outside 495 as another civilization.

“[Celtics vice president of media relations and alumni relations] Jeff Twiss brought Brad out to Woo-ster, Mass.,” said Cousy, mimicking the oft-butchered pronunciation of his beloved city before playfully adding, “As you know, we still have Indian uprisings in Framingham, so you can only get through once or twice per week, but Jeff and Brad did.”

The visit still resonates with Stevens.

"We always talk about a love of learning. And how many books does he read a week? He’s an amazing thinker, he’s sharp,” Stevens said of Cousy, who sometimes spends five hours per day reading books of all variety, especially biographies and espionage thrillers. 

“[Cousy] was the highest of high achievers, just that warrior mindset he’s taken with him off the court and into life. It’s pretty impressive.”

Cousy’s visit coincided with the release of a book, “The Last Pass,” by author Gary Pomerantz that chronicles Cousy’s complex relationship with former teammate Bill Russell. In it, Cousy expresses his regret at not being a better friend to Russell as he dealt with racial tensions.

“For a basketball history buff, that is a must read in my eyes,” said Stevens. "And [Pomerantz] and Cousy came today, and Bob spoke to the team a little bit in our video room. It's the first time a lot of these guys have gotten a chance -- maybe all of these guys -- have gotten a chance to sit down with him. What he shared was great. And just appreciative of him to take that time. 

"I've said this many times before: it's one thing to have all those banners hanging above you, but when those guys come in and they’re at a game or at a practice or whatever, you just kind of say, ‘Man.' In a lot of ways, we have a lot of responsibility to the uniform we're putting on.”

As the Celtics embark on a season with great expectations, point guard Terry Rozier said Cousy’s message reminded the team of the responsibility it has to those that came before them.

"It was just great to hear him talk, share his stories about how things were so much different back then, and just basically how this organization has so much behind it,” said Rozier. "We’re not just playing for the names on the back, we’re playing for the name on the front. We’ve got a lot to represent. So just to hear him talk and hear that again was great.”

Later Rozier added, "You just read a little bit of his book. He’s an All-Star, champion, [six] championships, and he’s still talking about how he could have did more. So when you just hear a guy talk like that, just his unselfishness and his love for the game is just crazy. It’s something that could take you a long way. And obviously they weren’t getting the money that we’re getting back then. It’s just crazy. They set the tone for this to happen now, for the Boston Celtics to be how it is now.”

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Cousy's visit to practice an inspiration to current Celtics

NBC Sports Boston photo

Cousy's visit to practice an inspiration to current Celtics

BOSTON – Terry Rozier readily admits he did not know much about Celtics legend Bob Cousy other than he could really dribble.

But Rozier, among the players to meet the Celtics great on Tuesday at the team's practice facility, came away with a clearer understanding of not just the man but also what Cousy meant to laying the groundwork for the most storied franchise in the NBA. 

Cousy, 90, is the focal point of a new book, “The Last Pass,” written by Gary Pomerantz.

“It was great to hear him [Cousy] talk, share stories of how things were so much different back then,” Rozier said. “We’re not just playing for the names on the back; we’re playing for the name on the front.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens said he has read the book.

“For a basketball history buff, that is a must-read in my eyes,” Stevens said. “What he shared was great; just appreciative of him to take that time [to come to practice on Tuesday]."

And Cousy’s message of always striving for improvement – even when you’ve become the standard for others - is timely when you consider where the Celtics are right now both collectively and individually.

Boston is seen by many as the favorite to come out of the East, although they haven't played like a favorite at 2-2 thus far.

As great as Cousy was as a player, he and the rest of the Celtics know that the franchise’s growth was fueled by the play of many whose success also included a certain level of sacrifice – something this Celtics team will have to do in order to contend for Banner 18.

For more from Cousy, listen to this week's Celtics Talk Podcast where the "Houdini of the Hardwood" talks about the book and his relationship with fellow C's legend and Hall of Famer Bill Russell. 

Rozier acknowledged he did not know a ton about Cousy prior to meeting him on Tuesday.

“He’s an All-Star, champion, what, seven championships?” Rozier said. “And he still talks about how he could have done more. You hear a guy talk like that, the unselfishness, his love of the game...it’s crazy.

Rozier added, “It’s something that can take you a long way...They set the tone for the Boston Celtics to be how [we] are now.”