Celtics

Celtics veterans embracing TackoMania -- and all the rookie good vibes

Celtics veterans embracing TackoMania -- and all the rookie good vibes

BOSTON — Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown exploded from their seats and screamed about as loud as anyone inside a delirious TD Garden. Behind them, Marcus Smart clambered onto their vacant bench chairs and threw his hands to the sky, nearly tumbling over in his giddiness.

“I was just trying to be the same height as Tacko [Fall],” cracked Smart, referencing the 7-foot-7 big man whose second slam of the night turned the Celtics bench into human popcorn.

Moments earlier, the Garden had roared with playoff-like intensity when Fall, formally signed to a 2-way contract Sunday morning, got behind a pair of defenders and delivered an emphatic two-handed slam. Kemba Walker, Boston’s All-Star offseason signee, wrapped one arm around the neck of Smart and the other around Jaylen Brown, then lifted his feet off the ground and swung with the joy of a young child.

On a night the Celtics led by as much as 54 en route to a lopsided 118-72 triumph over the visiting Cavaliers, the veterans on the bench seemed to enjoy rooting for the rookies maybe more than building the lead.

Yes, part of the hysteria was the inescapable pull of TackoMania. It was Smart who, when coach Brad Stevens called for Fall to enter, stood up beside him and repeatedly implored the Garden crowd to get loud as Fall headed to the scorer’s table.

But Smart said the reason for Boston’s unbridled joy in watching its youngest players succeed goes beyond just Fall. The Celtics have eight rookies competing for roster spots in camp and seven of them could make the final 17-man roster. The bigger picture: Some of those first-year players are going to have to contribute when games are tenser than a breezy preseason matinee.

"I learned as a young guy coming in, confidence is big,” said Smart. "And we’re trying to give our young guys as much confidence as they can handle, as much as they need, as much as we can give because we’re going to need them. We got a lot of new faces out there, a lot of young new faces. We need these guys to have as much confidence as they can because, when things get tight, we need that confidence to keep going.

“But we’re really excited for those guys.”

So with every Max Strus 3-pointer — and there were four of them — the veterans sprang to their feet in support. Every time Tremont Waters channeled his inner-Isaiah Thomas while probing his way to the hoop for a leaning finger roll, the veterans snapped their towels in excitement.

"That’s what it’s about. That’s what a team is about,” said Smart. "Everybody succeeds. Those guys have worked hard, so it’s only right for us to go out there and cheer those guys on, because they do the same for us.”

The camaraderie of the rookies is palpable on this squad. It’s also manifested itself in a shared work ethic and a desire to improve, which hasn’t been lost on Stevens.

“[Strus], Javonte [Green], Tacko, Waters and obviously the guys we drafted, [Romeo] Langford and [Carsen] Edwards and [Grant] Williams, that's as good of a group of rookie workers as I've ever been around,” said Stevens. "They work. They all can play and they all have a good impact on our environment, which is important.

"Those guys — those guys grind. They are hard workers.”

Given the departures this summer, the Celtics will have to lean on those rookies. Williams and French import Vincent Poirier will get minutes in a new-look frontcourt, while Edwards has proven himself capable of scoring from the instant he comes off the bench. Injuries will only open more avenues for these young players to see court time in their first NBA seasons.

The younger players appreciate the way the veterans are trying to instill an early confidence.

"It’s a team game, so we’re all in it together,” said Strus, who signed a partially guaranteed deal Sunday and then put forth his best in-game case for earning the 15th roster spot. "We work together every day, non-stop. We all look out for each other and we cheer for [the veterans], they cheer for us, and it’s great to have that camaraderie on this team.”

It’s almost too easy to point to this start-of-the-year chemistry and suggest how different it is from last season when there, at times, seemed to be a divide between the “young guys,” and more established veterans. But these Celtics have worked hard to avoid comparisons between this year and last, and their actions this season are simply an understanding that everyone needs to be pulling in the same direction if this team is going to outkick the already tempered expectations.

There’s still an excitement at what this team can become and some of that will be dictated by how much younger players improve, and how much they can handle from the jump. Impossibly, players like Walker and Brown have flown quietly under the radar this preseason because some rookies have taken much of the spotlight, which amuses Stevens.

"Everybody’s flying under the radar except for Tacko,” cracked the coach. "So, that’s OK. We’ll take that.”

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Here's what the Celtics have to do to start a new win streak

Here's what the Celtics have to do to start a new win streak

The Boston Celtics, player by player, weren’t trying to fool anyone Sunday afternoon following their one-point loss to Sacramento. 

Marcus Smart’s last-second runner that hung on the rim for what seemed like an eternity before rolling out of the cylinder as time expired, would have salvaged a game that they had given away time and time again earlier.

They didn’t deserve to win that game; Sacramento did.

The Kings played harder, smarter and they were the more efficient and effective team for longer stretches than the Celtics.

With the season still relatively young, it’s a good reminder of what happens when you ease into games like the Celtics have seemingly done for a good chunk of this season.

And for Boston, there just isn’t much time for reflection or to take a deeper dive into what specifically led to Sunday’s loss, which snapped a 10-game Celtics winning streak.

Up next they play the Phoenix Suns (7-4), one of the hottest teams in the NBA. 

And while there’s plenty of room for improvement, here are three must-fix areas that require immediate attention if the Celtics are to begin a new winning streak tonight against the Suns.

FIRST-HALF OFFENSE

By the time the final stats are tallied, the Celtics come out looking pretty good offensively. But that’s in large part because of how ridiculously well they play after halftime. The Celtics have become too reliant on a strong finish propelling them to victory. Simply put, they need to begin games better than what we’ve seen this season. While players point to the not-so-great start in the last couple of games as being an issue, the truth is their early game woes run much deeper.

This season, nba.com/stats shows that Boston’s offensive rating in the first half of games is 103.4, which ranks 22nd in the NBA. And yet for the season, the Celtics have the second-best offensive rating (112.0) in the league. The Phoenix Suns have a similar first-half issue with their offensive rating in the first half of games (105.9) being ranked 16th in the league. But overall, their offensive rating (111.6) ranks fifth.

Celtics players are well aware of the need to have better starts in order to have better finishes.

“We’ve started off bad the last few games,” Boston’s Jaylen Brown told reporters following Sunday’s loss. “It’s a long season. We lost the game; it happens. We just have to continue to keep moving forward. It’s not the end of the world.  We lost a game; try and win (tonight).”

REBOUND PERCENTAGE

While some pay close attention to the total number of rebounds snatched per game, a more telling indicator as to how good or bad a team is on the boards, is their rebounding percentage. And while the Celtics are middle-of-the-pack in total rebounds, they get too small a chunk of available boards, that — as we saw on Sunday — will catch up to you eventually.

Against the Kings, the Celtics finished with a respectable rebounding percentage of .518, which is actually better than their season average (.484), which ranks 26th in the league.

However, Boston’s board work was underwhelming to say the least in the fourth quarter.

That's when the Celtics were out-rebounded 14-9 and were outscored 13-4 on second-chance points.

And their rebounding percentage in the fourth quarter Sunday was just .393.

Their opponent tonight has had their share of rebounding struggles as well, with the Suns’ rebounding percentage (.492) ranked 20th in the league.

PULL-UP JUMPERS

We give the Celtics props for looking to attack more going to the rim, than we’ve seen in past years. But with the kind of offensive firepower this team possesses, pull-up jumpers have to be a part of a successful offensive attack. 

It has been that way most of this season, with the Celtics averaging 26.8 points per game on pull-up jumpers, which ranks second in the NBA. But on Sunday, Second Spectrum Data shows that the Celtics generated just 13 points from pull-up jumpers.

Tonight they face a Phoenix team that, while ranking among the league’s highest-scoring clubs, doesn’t generate a ton of offense from pull-up jumpers. For the season, they average 16.1 points from pull-up jumpers, which ranks just 26th in the NBA. 

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

Celtics Report Card: Sobering marks as 10-game winning streak ends

Celtics Report Card: Sobering marks as 10-game winning streak ends

The Celtics were inches away from becoming the first team in NBA history to rattle off an 11-game win streak after an opening night loss.

But Marcus Smart's floater at the buzzer didn't fall, and now the C's sit at 10-2. 

Call it an overreaction and maybe this week's grades would be a bit cheerier if Smart’s layup dropped for another undefeated week, but it wasn’t a particularly inspiring seven days for the Celtics. 

Despite their 3-1 record, Boston let the lowly Wizards put up 133 points on the parquet and fell behind by 15 points to a Warriors club with the worst record in the NBA.

Now the C's have to bounce back from their second loss of the season as their road trip continues against the Suns, Clippers, and Nuggets, who own a combined record of 24-12.

But before we look ahead, let's take a look back.

Click here for the Celtics Report Card from Week 4.>>>>>

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Suns, which tips off Monday at 8 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.