Forsberg: Celtics fans should be thankful for new-look Celtics

Forsberg: Celtics fans should be thankful for new-look Celtics

BOSTON — Boston Celtics fans spent much of Wednesday night gleefully needling old friend Kyrie Irving about his absence from his new team’s first game in Boston. Fans loudly inquired about Irving's whereabouts, then switched it up to suggest that Irving is bad at his vocation. As Jayson Tatum would correctly note, "I mean, we all know Kyrie don’t suck.”

True, but since when do fans allow facts to get in the way of a good emotional purging?

Many Boston fans still feel betrayed that Irving would profess his intention to re-sign here and then call an in-season audible to join forces with buddy Kevin Durant in Brooklyn. Some fans remain upset that Irving’s general unhappiness contributed to a disastrous Boston season that fell woefully short of expectations and led to a roster haul far heftier than expected this summer.

Irving telegraphed his plan to avoid this initial return to Boston, sitting out recent games due to a right should impingement. Unfazed, Celtics fans hung signs outside TD Garden suggesting Irving was as cowardly as the Wizard of Oz lion, then 19,156 fans piled into the arena with an assortment of signs that pledged an allegiance to both the team’s new All-Star point guard (Walker) and a new No. 11 in town (Enes Kanter).

Walker erupted for a season-high 39 points — this just five days after he was stretchered off the court in Denver — helping Boston to a 121-110 triumph. That Walker played and Irving did not spoke volumes alone.

But an hour after the game, Irving took to social media and posted a 300-word screed (evidently a shoulder impingement doesn’t impede your typing abilities) in which he suggested sports mean “very very little in the real world” and decried how, “the game isn’t meant to be controlled and shown as a drama.”

Like many of Irving’s postgame ramblings here, it was hard to parse his intensions given the verbose nature of his post. It needed a TL;DR — “I don’t appreciate fans booing me.”

A few minutes before Irving's post to his Instagram story, Jaylen Brown, one of the players who best handled last year’s headaches, might have offered the finest perspective from inside the Celtics’ locker room.

"I think everything worked out for the better for everybody,” said Brown. "I don’t think anybody in Boston should have anything to complain or boo about, to be honest. I think we’re winning, playing good basketball, the Celtics look good, Boston fans should be nothing but happy. I think the energy should shift from that to being more positive.”

He’s not wrong. The Celtics, as an organization, have tried really hard since Irving officially declared his intention to return home in late June to take the high road. Boston players, coach, and front office staff have all been emphatic that not all the blame for last year’s struggles fall on Irving and players like Brown have gone out of their way to make public comments that us shade-craving reporters might have yearned for.

That pattern continued after Wednesday’s game. Brown said he thought the Irving chants were probably “unfair.” Tatum admitted they were odd. Walker said he didn’t pay attention to them.

All the Irving attention took away from another quality victory for a team that’s now 13-4 overall and tied for the fourth-best record in basketball. Walker has been everything that Irving is not, from his perma-grin demeanor to fully embracing the younger players around him, to being all-in on Boston.

The only downside to Irving avoiding the game is that the storyline lingers. It’ll bubble up again Friday in Brooklyn, then it’ll jump up when the Nets return here in March. If Irving doesn’t play in that game it might just fester until 2020 or 2021, whenever Irving gets around to visiting the arena where he previously wanted to hang No. 11.

Heck, closure might never come. Irving doesn’t go back to Cleveland very often. That’s just part of the ultra-talented package. Teams have to sacrifice a little bit of themselves to cater to a star. And he still might leave you despite it all.

Alas, that’s the danger with free agency. The Celtics knew that when they traded for Irving. The two-year dice roll was still worth the pain points that emerged.

Celtics fans got to release some pent-up emotions Wednesday night and it clearly resonated wherever Irving was watching from afar. Both sides should probably just move on. As Brown noted, everybody got what they wanted. Irving is back near his New Jersey roots with one of his best basketball buddies to lend support. The Celtics swapped in another All-NBA guard who is everything that a Boston fan has ever wanted and has the Celtics eyeing a path back to title contention.

With the lessons learned from last season, Brown has elevated his play. Tatum has a better shot profile and more of a killer instinct. Marcus Smart is getting MVP chants, not just for retrieving lodged balls with a mop, but for embodying all that it means to wear the Celtics uniform.

The Kyrie experiment didn’t go exactly to plan. It happens. The Celtics might not be so optimistic about where this team is headed without the lessons learned last season.

Celtics fans have a lot to be thankful for on this holiday. Instead of lingering on the negative of a year ago, they should follow Brown’s advice and celebrate the positives that they have.

And, hey, the Instagram screed is a friendly reminder of what they DON’T have to deal with any more, too.

Blakely: C's and their fans should be thanking Kyrie>>>

Get ready for Celtics-Nets on Friday with Celtics Pregame Live at 11:30 a.m., then Mike & Scal have the call at 12 p.m. on NBC Sports Boston, or you can stream them here through the MyTeams App.

Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Tacko Fall has quickly become a household name despite playing very little in the NBA. The 7-foot-5 center for the Boston Celtics became a star in the Las Vegas Summer League and since that time, the star hasn't faded.

Everywhere Fall has gone, attention has followed. It was Tacko Time, all the time at NBA All-Star Weekend. And every time he checks into games, home or away, he gets a massive round of applause.

Fall has mostly been focusing on improving his game in hopes of signing a non two-way contract ahead of next NBA season but has humbly embraced his star status, too. And his modesty was on display when he met another celebrity on Friday night, professional wrestler John Cena.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Fall met the WWE star at Friday Night SmackDown in Boston. Here's a clip of the two meeting, via the league's official Twitter account.

This is a really great moment for the two and it seems that they share a mutual admiration. And it was nice of Cena to take some time to meet Fall before the game.

Fall, for one, won't forget this moment. And he surely seems to think that his grandmother will be excited that he got a chance to meet Cena.

Fall is currently dealing with a toe injury and sat out his last G League game with the Maine Red Claws. With Robert Williams rejoining the Celtics, it seems likely that any minutes he gets at the NBA level down the stretch of the season will be late in games that are already decided. But nonetheless, it'll be an opportunity for him to continue to develop.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.

Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

BOSTON — It’s unfair to expect too much from Robert Williams when he returns to the Boston Celtics’ active roster Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, but Williams is undeniably a wild card for the Celtics and their hopes of title contention down the stretch of the 2019-20 season.

Williams, the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft, has missed the last 35 games due to a sore left hip. The team shut him down for two moths starting in early December hoping to combat the lingering issue, then ramped him up for much of February.

A scan Thursday showed no degradation from the recent uptick in activity and coach Brad Stevens said Friday that Williams has been cleared to return to play again. The team formally listed him as probable against the Rockets.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

So what can the Celtics reasonably expect from Williams?

Stevens said Williams would be “very limited for the first couple of games.” Williams, who was only averaging 14.2 minutes per game in 19 appearances earlier in the year, will undoubted display some rust but his adrenaline should carry him early. Stevens said that energy was evident at Friday’s practice.

“He had a little extra bounce in his step today,” said Stevens. "You can tell, he’s been antsy to go for a while now, so we’re happy that he’s going to be able to be back.”

Added Stevens: "We’re excited, nobody moreso than Rob.”

Boston decision-makers have offered encouraging updates on Williams in recent weeks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had routinely noted that Williams looked spry in small-group work. Stevens said earlier this week that Williams was dunking “at 13 feet,” suggesting he still had his pre-injury explosion. Teammates gushed about the loud alley-oop dunks that Williams threw down after returning to full-team practice before the recent west coast trip.

Williams noted that, during his time away, he worked on being more disciplined. One of Williams’ biggest weaknesses early in his pro career has been leaving his feet and chasing blocks. Williams, who is averaging 1.2 blocks per game for his career, has pledged to be more selective when trying to swat shots.

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The Celtics, with their perpetual injury woes, have a need for depth. As good as starter Daniel Theis and backup Enes Kanter have been in tag-teaming the big-man minutes, Williams can provide a different look and verticality at the center position. Williams’ lob-catching potential will be a welcome addition to a bench that’s offered limiting scoring output, particularly recently with Kemba Walker sidelined and Marcus Smart elevated to a starting role.

Williams projects as part of Boston’s top 8 rotation, though his playing time could hinge on how effective Theis and Kanter are on certain nights. A team like the Rockets, with their micro-ball ways, might be exactly the sort of situation that Williams can help the Celtics (at least when he’s at full health).

Offensively, Williams’ passing will be a nice addition to the second unit, and he can facilitate from the high post when he’s not rim running. Williams doesn’t need shots and is content to score off lobs and putbacks. He does need to be more careful with the ball and avoid some of the careless turnovers that took away from his quality play early in the year.

A return Saturday gives Williams seven weeks to ramp back up before the playoffs arrive. He played sparingly a year ago (13 minutes in three appearances) but is at least familiar with playoff intensity, unlike the rookies at the end of Boston’s roster.

Williams isn’t going to radically alter the Celtics’ ceiling but he can help and maybe more than any buyout candidate might have. How appropriate, too, that a man nicknamed Time Lord is making his return on Leap Day.

Expectations should be low, but Williams can still be very impactful in a small role. There’s been glimpses of his potential already this season, like a loud performance in San Antonio in which he registered 11 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting while adding seven rebounds and six blocks in 22 minutes during a lopsided Boston win.

The Celtics came into the season with big hopes for Williams. The injury has set him back. It’s unfair to expect too much from him the rest of the way, but he can still very much impact Boston’s quest to contend based on the team’s overall collection of talent and the unique lineups they can trot out.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.