Celtics

Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

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Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

BOSTON – When it comes to the preseason, teams play with three goals in mind.

Stay healthy, get better as they inch towards the opener and if possible, win games.

But if the basketball gods only give them one to choose from, it would be a unanimous vote for good health.

Tonight’s game between Boston and Charlotte features two teams that to varying degrees, have felt the sting of the preseason injury bug.

Boston’s Aron Baynes suffered a knee injury in Boston’s 113-96 win over Philadelphia that wouldn’t allow him to return in the second half. He is questionable for tonight’s game.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum has an elbow injury that will keep him out for at least six weeks.

While coaches are sensitive to losing key players to injuries, there’s a clear understanding that there’s no time to dwell on what happened or who is not available. 

Despite the shortened preseason schedule, the Boston Celtics have a pretty good feel for how their rotation will play out when the regular season starts.

Based on the first three preseason games, the Big Three – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – will start, along with Jaylen Brown. The fifth starter is named Vanilla Ice.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you see Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving on the floor for the bulk of most games.

For that to happen, it means that both players will have to work on not only meshing their games with the starting group but also with key role players off the bench.

“You want to play the game the same,” Hayward said. “The personnel changes a little bit; you’re trying to help guys maximize their strengths. You have to be conscious of that when different guys come in, or when you’re with a different group, knowing what those guys like to do.”

KEY MATCHUP

Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker

The two All-Star guards have been going at each other for years, which tends to bring out the best in each player. While neither player is expected to see a ton of minutes, look for Walker to be a bit more aggressive scoring the ball with Nicolas Batum (elbow) out for at least another six weeks. 

KEY STORYLINE

 If Marcus Morris makes his debut for the Celtics tonight, will he be in the starting lineup? And if so, how long will he play?

"QUOTE, UNQUOTE"

 “He is without a doubt extremely competitive and extremely driven. He’s been like that from Day One. Even when you drafted him, you knew that … everybody says everybody is that, but he’s really driven and really competitive. So that’s been – that’s been his … I think he leads authentically that way.” – Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on Terry Rozier.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

New deal in hand, Marcus Smart says, 'Boston loves me, I love Boston'

Marcus Smart is right where he wants to be, a member of the Celtics.

But Smart, 24, who signed a four-year, $52 million deal on Thursday, readily admits that there was a time not that long ago when he wasn’t sure about his future in Boston when negotiations didn't go nearly as smooth as he would have liked.

“At one moment, I didn’t really know what to think,” Smart said in a conference call with reporters on Friday. “My main focus has been on my mom and my family.”

His mother Camellia Smart was recently diagnosed with bone marrow cancer.

“When you go through adversity with something like this in your family, it puts things in perspective and everything else becomes kind of a blur to you,” Smart said.

One thing that is clear has been his Smart's impact on the Celtics.

The 6-foot-4 guard has been among the league’s top on-the-ball defenders for years, showcasing a level of defensive versatility that stands out.

Boston allowed just 99.5 points per 100 possessions when Smart was on the floor, which ranked among the league's leaders among guards who played 41 or more games.

And while he is often criticized for his shooting struggles (a career 36-percent shooter from the field, 29.3 percent from 3-point range), Smart still averaged a respectable 10.2 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game last season primarily as Boston’s first guard off the bench.

Despite a solid season, the free agent marketplace was not kind one to him.

One of the main reasons for that? Smart was a restricted free agent, which meant the Celtics would have the right to match any offer sheet he signed.

Smart was also hurt by the fact that there were fewer teams with the kind of financial flexibility to put forth an offer sheet that would make the Celtics strongly consider letting him walk.

But even before Smart hit free agency, Danny Ainge and the entire Celtics organization made it absolutely crystal clear that they wanted him back.

And as the free agency period dragged on, the Celtics - at least in their words - never hedged from that position.

In the end, those words were put into action. 

"Keeping Marcus in a Celtics uniform was a top priority, said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. "His intensity is unmatched, and the level of toughness that he brings to the team throughout the course of the entire season is second to none."

Smart acknowledged that the process became a bit frustrating at times.

“I didn’t know where I was going to end up at,” Smart said.

And while that uncertainty was difficult to deal with, Smart actually looks back upon the experience and describes it as “a fun thing.”

“As frustrating as it is,” Smart added, “not many people in the world can say that they’re in talks to play for an NBA team, to make a dream become a reality. Being able to do things they never imagined they would be able to do. This whole time, even with everything going on, me not knowing where I could end up, it was still fun, exciting for me.”

And those fun, exciting times will continue for the longest-tenured member of the Celtics.

“Boston loves me, I love Boston. Boston wants me to be here, I want to be here,” Smart said. “I am here so, we made it work.”

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Marcus Smart is back, but is he worth the money?

1:32 - Marcus Smart is back! Michael Holley, Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta discuss the 4-year, $52 million deal the guard signed with the Celtics on Thursday and debate whether or not he’s worth the money.

7:36 - According to Greg Bedard of the Boston Sports Journal, the issues between Bill Belichick and Tom Brady haven’t been resolved, but then we have Danny Amendola on Barstool’s “Comeback Szn Podcast” disputing this. Phil Perry, Tom Giles and Michael Holley try to make some sense of it all.

12:49 - After J.D. Martinez said that this Red Sox team is like a family, it has Tom Giles and Danielle Trotta wondering if the club has an identity and what that might be.

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NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE