Celtics-Magic preview: Young reserves get another chance to shine

Celtics-Magic preview: Young reserves get another chance to shine

Celtics guard/forward Abdel Nader shows up to practice, does his part in pre-game preparation, knowing more nights than not he’s not going to play. 

“You guys know I’ve been getting minutes like, garbage minutes here and there, maybe I’ll get in the game every now and then,” Nader told NBC Sports Boston. “To get solid minutes throughout a whole stretch of a game, it’s big time.”

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And for all of the injury-related issues the Celtics have been dealing with, Nader, as well as some of Boston’s other seldom-used players having a more prominent role, is indeed a silver lining in this injury-riddled period of time. 

Nader will be among the Celtics to see action tonight as Boston tries to bounce back from a hard-fought, 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington when they take on the Orlando Magic tonight. 

And while Boston lost the game, it afforded players like Nader a shot at playing significant minutes which is a huge plus for a team that has to be even more about their collective sum with so many core guys out. 

“It gives you confidence, the more you play,” said Nader who had a career-high-tying 10 points against the Wizards. “You can read-and-react to things faster … everything comes more natural.”

Celtics coach Brad Stevens knows his roster better than anyone. So he’s not the least bit surprised when players who see limited action perform well when their number is called. 

“Ab’s a good player,” Stevens said. “But Jayson [Tatum] and Jaylen [Brown] and Marcus Smart and all those guys are good players, too. And unfortunately, somebody has to sit – but it is good to have an opportunity. The NBA always gives you an opportunity at some point during the season.”

And that opportunity is now for Boston’s youthful reserves who will see more action than normal tonight. 

Reportedly, Smart will have surgery today and is lost for the remainder of the regular season at least.  Brown (concussion) is not with the team during their two-game road trip that begins tonight in Orlando and moves on to New Orleans on Sunday. Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) is with the team and might play against the Pelicans. Al Horford (illness) is also on the trip, and is probable for tonight’s game against the Magic. 

While there’s a heightened level of uncertainty with several key Celtics players, the same can not be said for the opportunity that exists for players who normally don’t play a lot. 

“Whether you’re playing or not, you have to stay ready to enter the game,” Boston’s Semi Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “Everybody has done a great job with guys being out the whole year. Different guys have had to step up. I think we’re all prepared for this moment since Gordon (Hayward) went out. We’re all going to have to step up at different times.”


NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Breaking down the NBA offseason

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Pod: Breaking down the NBA offseason

1:26 - Kyle Draper, Mike Giardi and Steve Buckley react to Tom Brady’s comment on a Patriots Instagram post that said he’ll be showing up to camp early. Is Brady making up for lost time?

6:56 - Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Mike Giardi break down the NBA offseason moves that have happened so far and rank the best and the worst.

10:56 - The Red Sox picked up right where they left off, winning their first game back from the All-Star Break, 1-0, vs. the Tigers. Tom Giles, Michael Holley and Danielle Trotta break down the game and David Price’s performance.


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.”