Celtics

Celtics' Kyrie Irving has motivating message for Jayson Tatum with playoffs approaching

Celtics' Kyrie Irving has motivating message for Jayson Tatum with playoffs approaching

For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, it goes without saying that they'll need Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum at the top of their respective games.

Irving missed all of last year's postseason, but he looked on as then-rookie Tatum led the C's all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Since Tatum has that playoff experience under his belt plus an entire sophomore season, Irving expects more out of him this time around. 

Both Irving and Tatum appeared on The Players’ Tribune’s “Knuckleheads with Quentin Richardson & Darius Miles” podcast, and Irving revealed his motivating message for Tatum with the NBA playoffs right around the corner.

Irving also reminded Tatum just how special it is to have been drafted by such a storied franchise in the Boston Celtics.

Irving's treatment of the media and handling of free-agency rumors have subjected the Celtics star to plenty of criticism this season. Irving recently apologized for the way he's gone about his business during the 2018-19 campaign and pledged to do a better job of setting an example for his young teammates.

His motivational message to Tatum is a solid start.

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Al Horford on playing his former Celtics teammates: 'It's going to be weird for me'

Al Horford on playing his former Celtics teammates: 'It's going to be weird for me'

Al Horford spent the last three seasons of his career with the Boston Celtics, and as he prepares to face off against them as a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, he admitted it will be weird to go up against his former team. 

After a season where the typically overachieving Celtics fell disastrously short of expectations, Horford opted out of his contract with Boston to enter the free-agent market. A reported 'mystery team' was offering him far more money than the Celtics were comfortable with given the near-guarantee of Kyrie Irving's departure at the time.

That team turned out to be the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics' biggest rival in the Eastern Conference and a team in which Horford gave fits due to his ability to shut down Joel Embiid on both ends of the floor. The Celtics tried to pull off a miraculous three-team sign-and-trade to secure both Horford and Kemba Walker, but the veteran big man put an end to that by agreeing to a four-year, $97 million contract with Philly the night of June 30. 

The Celtics and Sixers will open their seasons in Philadelphia, so Horford's return to Boston and his reunion with the TD Garden faithful will have to wait. But it'll still feel incredibly weird to see Horford in a Sixers uniform, setting up Embiid for baskets instead of turning him away from them. 

The Celtics, meanwhile, will have to figure out a way to counteract Philly's size in the frontcourt if they have any chance of beating such a talented Sixers team this upcoming Wednesday. 

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Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga lauds Marcus Smart's defensive fundamentals

Celtics assistant Jay Larranaga lauds Marcus Smart's defensive fundamentals

Marcus Smart cemented his status as one of the NBA's best defenders after a First Team All-Defense selection last season, but he's been exceptional on that end of the floor in each of his first five seasons with the Celtics. 

We notice his sharp instincts, tenacity on and off the ball and the grittiness he shows when he guards players much taller than he is. But what probably goes most unnoticed are his fundamentals, and Celtics assistant coach Jay Larranaga detailed how fundamentally sound Smart is on the defensive end of the floor in Adam Himmelsbach's latest story on the team's heartbeat. 

Marcus is a live example of the most fundamental defense you can teach. Every year you bring in new players and you’re trying to teach them NBA defense, you have an example of a defender that has been the most fundamentally sound defender I’ve ever been around. So you can say, ‘This is how guard a corner split: Watch Marcus. This is how you get into the ball and direct it with active hands: Watch Marcus.’ You always have a guy right there to tell other players, like, just watch what he’s doing and try to emulate it.

Since Smart entered the league, Brad Stevens has had a really hard time taking him out of games. He's been a starter or a key reserve in every season of his career and has been a staple in Boston's closing lineups as well.

Here's a look at how the Celtics have ranked in defensive rating since Smart's rookie year in 2014-15:

2014-15: 12th
2015-16: 4th
2016-17: 14th
2017-18: 2nd
2018-19: 6th

Without Al Horford, who was a part of the last three Celtics defenses and Aron Baynes, who was a part of the last two, Boston will have to overcome a glaring hole in the frontcourt on defense. While Smart has expressed his confidence in playing center in the past, Stevens will have to rely on ball pressure to ensure his team stays strong on defense.

And there's a good chance Smart is leading the charge in that department. 

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