Celtics

Celtics youth working through their growing pains

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Celtics youth working through their growing pains

LOS ANGELES – You never like to put too much stock into any particular stretch of the season.

But listening to the Celtics following their 103-95 loss to the now-14 win Orlando Magic, the Celtics head west searching for continuity, a rekindled resolve and maybe most important, a clearer path towards where they are and just how far they can go with this current crew.

So as basketball junkies crunch the numbers, analyze and then over-analyze the data, there’s one factor in all this that has for the most part been ignored in their ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference mountaintop – their youth.

We talk about it in the context of 19-year-old Jayson Tatum who does some amazing things that players who have been in the league for years, do not do.

But as you start to look at tis roster and see players like rookie Semi Ojeleye, 25-year-old fellow rookie Daniel Theis from Germany and Tatum play in crunch time, it’s a reminder that these kids have grown up pretty fast all things considered.

However, they are still prone to make the mistakes of youth and maybe just as significant, have stretches when they just don’t play with the kind of consistency required to be one of the top teams in the NBA.

Boston (34-13) has shown itself capable of playing with the big boys in the NBA, despite being a team littered wit bunch of young pups in terms of experience and chemistry.

And while what many may see as a team that’s trying to find its way through a rough patch of games, that’s not what’s going on.

These are growing pains, the kind that every team goes through to some extent.

But the struggles seem more pronounced with a team with so many young players.

That’s why the idea of adding a player (a shooter please) is one that the Celtics are seriously looking into on all levels of play.

Now mind you, Boston has an $8.4 million disabled player exception from the Gordon Hayward injury which they can use to add a player who is in the final year of his contract.

Most teams let it lapse without using it, but I’m told the Celtics have every intention of using it because as we’ve seen of late, there’s a clear and undeniable need for this team to add a scorer, be it in the frontcourt or on the perimeter.

They need a steady perimeter scorer, the kind of player that can hit the ground but more important, hit shots.

Boston is first going to go the G-League route which has led to them signing Jarell Eddie to a 10-day contract with the hope that he can show more promise than their current roster that’s full of perimeter players who have been inconsistent shooters all season.

Even during their season-best 16 game winning streak and later when they reeled off seven in a row, their success was rooted in good defense and ho-hum offense.

We’re deep enough into the season to have a pretty good feel for who the Celtics are, and yet there’s still enough time for them to make a radical change and still have plenty of time before the postseason arrives.

That’s why this west coast trip is about more than just trying to right the ship; it’s about determining if Danny Ainge needs to switch up the crew with some addition by subtraction.

It’s no secret that the Celtics could use some added depth in a number of areas.

But the most glaring weakness right now is perimeter shooting, which is why Jarell Eddie is here.

The Celtics signed him to a 10-day contract because the players they have already signed to guaranteed deals have been anything but a guarantee to make shots.

And while some perceive that as something lacking in the players, the only thing we know for sure that they lack is experience which is something time takes care of as this Boston team continues to come of age, one youngster at a time.

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Brad Stevens becomes fifth Celtics coach with 250 career regular-season wins

Brad Stevens becomes fifth Celtics coach with 250 career regular-season wins

BOSTON -- There were no celebratory cake or poppin’ bottle moments, but the accomplishment nonetheless was noteworthy. 

Boston’s 107-99 win over the Miami Heat on Monday was victory No. 250 in the regular season for Brad Stevens as the Celtics’ head coach. 

Just to put that in perspective, there are only four coaches in the franchise’s illustrious history with more regular-season triumphs: Red Auerbach (795); Tommy Heinsohn (427); Doc Rivers (416) and K.C. Jones (308).

The win total isn’t what stands out about Stevens’ still-developing legacy. He knows as well as anyone that winning an NBA title, something he has yet to do, is the ultimate criteria for greatness with this franchise. The four men ahead of him on the list all won at least one NBA title in Boston.

But what makes what Stevens has done thus far so impressive, is the fact that he has been around long enough to do it. 

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The NBA -- pro sports as a whole, honestly -- has delivered an increasing amount of impatience with coaches who don’t deliver instant results. 

Stevens came into the league as part of one of the largest coaching shifts in league history. Fourteen teams hired new head coaches in 2013, the Celtics among them. 

And of those 14, the only ones still with their respective teams, are Stevens, Brett Brown of Philadelphia and ex-Celtics coach Doc Rivers, now with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Continuity as well as coaching acumen come into play when you’re talking about doing this job for an extended period of time. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra has been the Heat’s head coach since 2008 after having served in a variety of roles within the organization for more than a decade. That experience exposed him to how important the culture of an organization can be to a coach's longevity, something he recognizes as having helping Stevens.

“We wish there were more places like Boston that have great ownership, management, and stability,” Spoelstra said. “They know how tough this profession of coaching is. Then when you add in an extremely talented coach, like Brad, there is a reason why they have banners and reasons why they have had success. You have to have continuity and consistency practically when times get tough. They have had tough times and they have been able to weather those and take the benefits.

"Brad is a tremendous coach and has been a great addition to the league bringing in a different background, a college background, and has done a phenomenal job.”

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Kyrie elevates to another level

Kyrie elevates to another level

BOSTON — Maybe all you need to know about Kyrie Irving’s recent hot streak is that it feels like we've been hearing the phrase, “became the first Celtics player since,” an awful lot around here over the past six days, and that aphorism seems to always end with, "Larry Bird."

Irving has produced four eye-popping stat lines the past four games including a 26-point, 10-assist, 8-steal effort on Monday night while steering the Celtics to a 107-99 triumph over the visiting Heat at TD Garden.

Irving became only the ninth player in NBA history to reach benchmarks of 20-plus points, 10-plus assists, and 8-plus steals since the league started tracking thefts back in 1974. He was the first player to hit those thresholds in more than 31 years, or since Fat Lever in Nov. 1987. Irving was the first Celtics player to reach those levels since Bird did it twice in 1985.

What’s more, Irving is now the first Celtics player to register at least 10 games of 20-plus points and 10-plus assists in a single season since Bird during the 1986-87 season.

Irving is simply sizzling at the moment. He sat out last Monday night in Brooklyn — a much-needed day to rest both his body and his mind after frustrations bubbled over during Boston’s 0-3 road trip — then responded with 27 points and a career-high 18 assists in a win over East-leading Raptors. Two nights later, Irving put up 38 points, 11 assists, and 7 rebounds while flirting with a triple-double in a win over the Grizzlies. It was a “quiet” 32-point/5-assist/3-rebound effort in Atlanta on Saturday.

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

His four-game averages: 30.8 points while shooting 60.3 percent overall and 56 percent beyond the 3-point arc. He’s added 11 assists and 2.5 steals per game and the Celtics are 4-0 in that span.

Before Monday’s game, Celtics coach Brad Stevens was asked if he felt like Irving had gone to another level recently. Stevens hesitated to suggest that was even possible while noting, "He’s been awfully good. I don’t know if I ever feel it go next level, I think he’s just -- that’s how good he is.” 

But it doesn’t seem farfetched to suggest that Irving might be muscling his way onto some MVP ballots if he keeps up what he’s doing. After Monday’s win, Irving sat 15th in the NBA in scoring, 11th in assists, and 10th in steals. All while playing a mere 32.5 minutes per game.

Irving isn’t just playing well, he’s playing with an extra scoop of sizzle.

After Irving chased down a loose ball for his fifth steal during Monday’s game, he broke out the other way. Exploding towards the basket, he encountered a couple Heat defenders impeding his path so, without breaking his righthand dribble, Irving delivered a no-look between-the-legs bounce pass to Marcus Smart beyond the 3-point arc. Smart ensured highlight material by splashing the triple in what would be a third quarter where the Celtics outscored Miami 37-18. 

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

When Miami rallied within five in the final frame, it forced Irving to expend some extra energy to put the game away. He did so with a flurry of three buckets off strong drives in a 95-second span. 

The first, Irving exploded past Tyler Johnson near the 3-point arc, then calmly banked home a leaner closer to the hoop. Next trip down, he split three Heat defenders while bursting into the paint and finishing with a righthanded layup. A short time later, he probed from the perimeter, and danced through three black jerseys for another tough layup that pushed the lead to double figures.

“We have to play perfectly, offensively, when you're dealing with Kyrie Irving on the other end,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra. "It seemed like he made every single play. When we were trying to get the ball out of his hands, he was just brilliant at the end.”

Echoed teammate Al Horford: "Having that kind of player and that kind of luxury, where we can just let him kind of take over, feels good."

Irving, who has been noticeably more business-like in his postgame briefings this past week maybe trying to simply keep the focus on winning rather than the frustrations Boston hopes are behind them, shrugged off his heroics.

"I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” said Irving. "Being aggressive. That’s really pretty much it. Trying to make plays for myself and my teammates. The ball is in my hands and I’ve just got to make the right plays.”

We’ve come to expect the otherworldly from Irving, offensively, but it’s maybe the elevated defensive play that's even more remarkable. We’ve said it in this space before: Irving isn’t perfect and he still has lapses where he loses his man or gets caught cheating a bit too aggressively. But with plus-defenders surrounding him in Boston’s starting lineup, Irving has a bit of a freedom to roam and try to create some havoc.

Irving’s eight steals on Monday were a combination of being in the right spots and picking opportunities to gamble. There were times when he’d stray in hopes of pickpocketing a careless dribble but other times he had simply himself in the right spot to pounce after tipping a careless feed or entry pass.

“He had a couple [steals] where he saw an opportunity and gambled a little bit. But I thought the rest of them were really good positioning and those -- those are really good,” said Stevens. “Those are exciting because, when you get those, you’re not only making them take a tough shot, you’re in there to take the ball. And he was active with his hands, he was active on tags on the baseline, I just thought he was really locked in.”

Confirmed Horford: "All year he’s been more committed to being better on the defensive end. And tonight he seemed to be at the right spots every time. And that’s a credit of him preparing for the game. I’m just happy to see him having an impact, not only on offense, but on defense as well.”

☘️CELTICS 107, HEAT 99

Turns out that Irving actually battled some nerves the night before Monday’s game. The Celtics asked their star guard if he wanted to deliver some remarks on the Martin Luther King Day and Irving wanted to make sure he got his tribute right.

He did. Wearing an “I Have A Dream” T-shirt, Irving noted how King Jr. was, “a man who truly embodied what it means to be a leader, a visionary, and a dreamer.”

Asked about the moment, he said later, "I was kind of nervous thinking about it, last night, just what to say that would really explain how great of a man he was and what he meant to our society and what he means to me,” said Irving. "For me to be standing here today, to know that the sacrifices of him and countless others have enabled me to be here today and play a game that I love and to spread a message to other young people that have a lot of history to learn about, of what this world actually looked like in the past and what it looks like going forward.

"The next generation is next up and it's my job to continue to be a pioneer and speak up on social justice, inequality and, ultimately, peace. So just happily obliged to do it.”

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