Celtics

Cheers replace typical boos for Dwyane Wade's final visit to Boston

Cheers replace typical boos for Dwyane Wade's final visit to Boston

BOSTON — Boston Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge couldn't toast Dwyane Wade’s career without slipping in at least one little jab.

In a quiet ceremony in the bowels of TD Garden before Monday’s Celtics-Heat game, Ainge presented Wade with a plaque featuring a piece of the famed Garden parquet and praised Wade for all the battles these two teams engaged in during his career.

Then, without breaking eye contact, Ainge added, “And I now forgive you for messing up [Rajon] Rondo’s elbow.”

Rondo dislocated his right elbow after being taken hard to the parquet by Wade in the third quarter of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2011. When Wade defiantly denied wrongdoing in the aftermath, he became one of TD Garden’s biggest villains and was routinely booed during visits here.

Which is why it was jarring when Wade received a loud ovation when he first subbed into the game with 5:27 remaining in the first quarter. Some of it could be chalked up to the large contingent of Wade fans that invaded for his final game in Boston, but the rest was simply Boston fans biting their tongues and paying respect to a future Hall of Famer.

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But clearly even Wade was wowed by the generosity he received in Boston.

“I appreciate [the parquet] from Danny Ainge and the owners of the team,” said Wade. “We’ve had so many battles in the playoffs. I appreciate the respect they showed me as a player to present me with that plaque, present me with a piece of the history of the Celtics. That was so cool. I definitely didn’t expect it at all. I just want to thank them for that gesture.”

With a dinged-up Miami squad fighting for its playoff life, Wade said he tried to keep his focus on the game. But knowing this would be his final visit to Boston certainly resonated with him.

"We’ve had a lot of playoff battles, a lot that I’ve lost and a lot that I’ve won,” said Wade. "This is another one of those franchises that helped myself and this organization know what it took to win and get to that next level. 

"We had to beat this organization to get there once [Miami] developed the Big Three [with LeBron James]. Appreciate them for pushing us. They were the big brother for a long time and then we initially were able to match a little bit. We’re thankful for what they did for us from their standpoint.”

Wade, who had already swapped jerseys with Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris earlier in the season, didn’t do an on-court jersey swap. Instead, he stopped near a jam-packed visitor’s tunnel where he autographed a bunch of jerseys and posters for fans craning for his attention.

Inside the Miami locker room, he inked jerseys and shoes, one pair of which at least made its way to Jayson Tatum. The Celtics dance with Wade one final time on Wednesday night in Miami — barring some wild playoff upsets — and the theme on Monday night was celebrating the meaningful games he played here in Boston.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens noted Monday how Wade has been playing like he’s got a few more seasons left in him but then playfully joked that he’s happy Wade is choosing new adventures.

Kyrie Irving celebrated Wade’s decision to call it a career.

"I think that the most important thing as you go through your life, but especially your professional career, you’re the one that’s going to know when it’s time,” said Irving. "As long as you’re at peace with yourself, I’m fully supportive of that. I think he’s invested a lot of time. He’s sacrificed a lot of his life dedicating himself to being the best basketball player he can be. 

"I mean, let my man ride off in the sunset on the white horse. If it’s time for him, then it’s time. We’ll probably see him playing in some 40-and-over summer leagues.”

Irving, who has often suggested that he’ll disappear off the map when his playing days are finished, seemed to appreciate Wade reaching the end of his NBA journey. And he liked the way Boston received Wade.

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“If he’s at peace with it and he’s happy with his career then, by all means, he deserves an ovation,” said Irving. "He gets a bunch of claps and congratulations from me because, to do it the way he did it was very special, coming in with [James], [Chris Bosh], [Carmelo Anthony], that whole class, and he separated himself early on. 

"He’s been a winner in this league. Of course, you’ve got real life that he’s dealt with outside of the court and he’s handled himself like a true professional and I idolize someone like that. He’s really taken his brand to another level, became a very savvy business man, and won championships while doing it. So I have nothing but great things and praises for D-Wade and his career.”

The Celtics presented Wade with a plaque that read, “We will always remember the epic battles played on the parquet,” with a green slab of parquet next to it. Below a picture of Wade in Boston, it read, “And congratulate you on a Hall of Fame career” with a list of Wade’s accomplishments (3x champion, 2006 Finals MVP, 13x All-Star, 2010 All-Star Game MVP, Olympic gold and bronze medalist).

Eight years ago, it was unfathomable that Wade would be cheered here. But, like Ainge, fans were able to recognize this as a day to celebrate and not begrudge.

"You try to enjoy when the crowd does an ovation, but you have to play the game,” said Wade. "That’s all I was doing, was trying to help my team get a win and trying to figure out how to do that. 

"Now you look back on it. Obviously, just a lot of moments with this organization. … Once they made that trade in [2007] to bring in Ray [Allen], to bring [Kevin Garnett] here -- I think the year before they lost like 20-some odd games in a row and immediately they were the team. I lost to them in the playoffs a few years, it taught me something. We were able to put a team together to try to compete with them because, if we didn’t, they would have continued to be winning the East for a while. They definitely had a big impact.”

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WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

WATCH: Jayson Tatum ribs Bam Adebayo after Heat star crashes interview

Only in the NBA bubble could two budding stars battle on the court one moment then ham it up in the media room the next.

Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was speaking to reporters via video conference Tuesday night after Boston's 112-106 loss to Miami when Heat big man Bam Adebayo strode into the room for his own interview session.

Adebayo wasn't in a waiting mood, though, so he tried to distract Tatum with a few incredulous looks from the corner.

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Here's the entertaining scene, as captured by ESPN's Rachel Nichols in Orlando:

Props to Tatum for maintaining his focus as Adebayo tried to run interference. The two young stars then shared a playful exchange in which Tatum appeared to chide Adebayo for benefiting from some whistles. (The Heat big man scored 11 of his 21 points on free throws thanks to 18 free throw attempts, a game high.)

"You shot free throws like you won MVP or something," Tatum appeared to tell Adebayo.

Their banter was all in good nature: Tatum and Adebayo were teammates in the 2016 McDonald's All-American Game and entered the 2017 NBA Draft together, so they go way back. But Tatum still may have had a bitter taste in his mouth after picking up five fouls and getting hit with a technical in Tuesday's loss.

Both players are also in the running for the NBA's Most Improved Player Award amid career seasons; Adebayo is averaging a double-double (16.3 points, 10.5 rebounds) with 1.3 blocks per game for Miami, while Tatum is racking up 23.4 points and seven rebounds per game as he blossoms into an NBA star.

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NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

We could sit here and scream about how poor Boston’s defense has been inside the bubble. The Celtics own a defensive rating of 117.9 after their first three seeding games, and only one team has a worse mark (the helter-skelter Sixers).

We could lament Boston’s lethargy after the team whiffed Tuesday with a chance to essentially lock up the No. 3 seed while playing a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat team that was on the second night of a back-to-back.

Boston hasn’t played with any sort of consistent energy in its three games, falling behind early against Milwaukee, coughing up a big lead against Portland, and trying to play catchup all night against Miami.

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But here’s one thought we couldn’t shake while watching Tuesday’s game: What a luxury it is for Miami to have a rookie like Tyler Herro on their bench. Herro chipped in 11 points over 22 minutes during the Heat’s 112-106 triumph.

With Marcus Smart in foul trouble — so much so that he fouled out late in the third quarter — Boston lacked a bench boost. Take away Enes Kanter’s 10 points and the Celtics’ reserve trio of Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Smart combined for 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

At one point during the second half, Celtics coach Brad Stevens dispatched Romeo Langford for his first seeding-game minutes but Langford turned in a scoreless 3 minutes, 44 seconds, in which he mostly blended into the scenery.

Herro, of course, went one spot ahead of Langford in the 2019 draft. There had been a buzz before draft night that the Celtics were fond of Herro and that he had impressed the team with his shooting in one of his workouts. There might have even been a few groans inside the Auerbach Center when Miami snagged the Kentucky product at No. 13.

The Celtics ultimately took Langford, who has no shortage of potential and might eventually be a better pro. But his rookie season got off to a slow start as he healed from hand surgery and then he dealt with a bunch of minor maladies that even limited how much floor time he got with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

Herro has now appeared in 50 games for Miami while shooting a robust 39 percent beyond the 3-point arc on 5.4 attempts per game. He wasn’t even Miami’s best rookie this season — that distinction goes to Kendrick Nunn — but Herro won Erik Spoelstra’s confidence and is now a key rotation piece while logging 26.9 minutes per game.

On Tuesday, Miami’s four-man bench combined for 43 points on 31 shots while each player logged at least 21 minutes of floor time. For Boston, Semi Ojeleye missed five of his six shots, including multiple open 3s. Smart finished 0-for-5 shooting.

Make no mistake, Boston will lean heavy on its core players when the playoffs arrive. When Kemba Walker is off his minute restriction, and combined with a hefty dose of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, that might leave only a small handful of minutes for reserves not named Smart.

Still, games like Tuesday night show how important it is to have players that can take the baton, even if it’s only on rare nights. None of Boston’s younger players have shown enough this year to earn Stevens’ unwavering trust.

Again, guys like Grant Williams and Langford could have bright futures. Maybe Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters, too. That’s especially important for Boston because of how much money they have tied up long term in their core players.

But the fact of that matter is that, right now, none of Boston’s rookies have seized their opportunity, nor has 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams, who was only inserted late in Tuesday’s game to defend an inbounds attempt with his length and bounce.

Those players could get another chance to show what they’ve got on Wednesday when Boston plays a back-to-back against the Nets. With Walker set to rest his knee and Stevens unlikely to go too heavy on starter minutes in the team’s first (and only) bubble double, younger players will need to take advantage of whatever minutes come their way.

Herro won’t be the difference between a first-round upset and a first-round exit for Miami. But the Heat are well-positioned moving into the future because of the progress their youngest players made this season. It’s critical teams develop talent if they are going to commit most of their money to their top stars.

The Celtics are left waiting for their youngest players to show they are ready.

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