Celtics

Horford, Celtics find motivation in Red Sox

Horford, Celtics find motivation in Red Sox

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Celtics don’t need any additional motivation when it comes to championship desires but, with the region captivated by the Red Sox in the World Series, the local nine are offering a little extra inspiration — and maybe a tiny diversion — as the Celtics ease into a season with their own championship expectations.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has routinely gushed about the Sox’ postseason exploits and players such as Al Horford have made their games appointment viewing. The Celtics are very aware of what’s happening over at Fenway Park.

“I think it’s just something special,” said Horford. “Being in Boston, and just seeing something like that, it motivates me. It motivates us to try to go out and do some special things as well.

“Right now, it's kind of their moment. It’s just good to see their group come together and play at such a high level because — that Houston series, obviously, I was just impressed because Houston’s a really good team. Right now, they’ve had tough games the first two games [against the Dodgers] and [Game 2] was very gritty. I’m just excited to see them doing well.”

Horford’s baseball-playing grandfather instilled a love of the sport and Horford has made friends with many of the MLB stars from his native Dominican Republic. It was the presence of David Ortiz and Pedro Martinez that made Horford a fan of the Red Sox even before he signed in the Celtics and, even though he doesn’t know many of the current Sox, Horford still finds himself screaming at his hotel TV while watching the games.

And it doesn’t hurt that the Sox’ success is providing nice cover as the Celtics work through some early-season growing pains.

"That’s one way to look at it,” Horford said with a laugh. “Fortunately, we’re in October...There’s a lot of expectations for our group. And when you’re not fulfilling them, you’re going to get criticized and that’s fair. We need to play better, that’s no secret.”

Both Horford and Stevens noted how much fun the Red Sox look like they’re having in their games. Celtics players have admitted they might be pressing a bit amid an underwhelming start to the season and players yearn to get back to simply having fun on the court.

“[The Red Sox] just continue to have this unbelievable mentality,” said Stevens. "I haven’t watched every World Series for the past 50 years but, at the same time, I can’t imagine any team looks like they are having more fun than the Red Sox. I think you can see that in their play, how together they are, how many smiles you see, it’s a fun team. And I hope they get it done in the next two games, but at the same time know how hard that’s going to be and you take it one pitch at a time. But, man, they are fun to watch.”

As Alex Cora pushes all the right buttons this postseason, it’s clear Stevens respects the way the Sox manager leads his team.

"He’s such a great guy, and he’s so good with people that’s it’s not a shock,” said Stevens. “You can clearly tell everybody’s on board. And the way they are supporting one another, and the way they are going about their business is a blast. 

"If you’re not from Boston and you’re just watching from afar, you’re looking for a team to root for, they’d be an easy one to pick because of the way they play and the way they pick up each other.”

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Five bold NBA predictions for the 2019-20 NBA season

Five bold NBA predictions for the 2019-20 NBA season

BOSTON -- With the Golden State dynasty a thing of the past now (we think) and with the newly-crowned NBA champion Toronto Raptors already poised to look like the Raptors of old (we know), there’s a lot of fluidity and uncertainty about this upcoming NBA season. 

Predictions about who will be the league’s MVP or Most Improved or Coach of the Year, run the gamut right now. 

But in reality, it’s the prop bet-like predictions that we wanna talk about and hear about, right? 

And those fall under the umbrella of bold predictions, something we are going to take a dive into right now with five can’t miss (we think) predictions that are going to be talked about, and/or debated, and/or picked apart this season (we know). 

Here are five bold NBA predictions for the upcoming season. 

BEN SIMMONS WILL MAKE A 3-POINTER … IN AN NBA GAME … SERIOUSLY

The time has come for Ben Simmons to do the unthinkable … make a 3-pointer. And no, we’re not talking about draining them in practice. Those don’t count. And draining one in a preseason game in a blowout win over a team from the Chinese Basketball Association? Nope. That doesn’t count, either. Simmons’ struggles shooting the ball has been well-documented. The lack of perimeter touch stands out in what is an otherwise extremely talented, well-balanced basketball game. Just as him making a 3-pointer in a preseason game sent tremors across the basketball landscape, him making one in an actual game after missing all 17 of his attempts thus far? The internet ain’t ready for that!

TORONTO WILL TRADE KYLE LOWRY

The initial thought was when the Raptors signed Kyle Lowry to a one-year, $31 million extension, it was to provide a little more security for the veteran guard. But the truth is, the deal only makes a more attractive trade chip for a title contender this season. Before the deal, Lowry was set to hit free agency in the summer of 2020. Knowing that, teams weren’t going to give the Raptors too much for an expiring contract. But the one-year extension means any deal for Lowry would likely return a pretty sizable haul in terms of talent and at least one potential draft pick, versus losing him for nothing next summer. A lot will depend on how the Raptors start the season, obviously. If they struggle as much as most anticipate, that’ll only ratchet up the likelihood that he’s moved on to a contending team that feels they are a veteran point guard away from competing for a title this spring. 

GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS WILL ADVANCE TO THE WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

As much as the Warriors demise seems inevitable, the cupboard isn’t nearly as bare as some might think following Kevin Durant’s departure to Brooklyn. They still have Stephen Curry, one of the all-time great shooters in NBA history. Draymond Green is back, and continues to be the do-it-all baller that has consistently stepped up when needed in the postseason. Klay Thompson won’t be back until sometime in March from an ACL injury suffered in the playoffs last season, which will give him a month or so to get himself back in basketball shape for the playoffs. And let’s not forget about D’Angelo Russell, an all-star in Brooklyn last season who, along with Thompson’s return, gives the Warriors a quartet of high-impact performers heading into the postseason at a time when most of the elite teams out West are going to battle with talented tandems. This is by no means the Warriors team we’ve seen steamroll over foes in the past, but they still have quality talent that more likely than not, will be peaking when it matters most. 

NEW YORK WILL … NOT BE THE WORST TEAM IN THE NBA THIS SEASON

I know, missing out on the big names last summer while coming off of a 17-win campaign, doesn’t exactly sound like a team headed in the right direction. But as bad as the Knicks may be this season, there’s no question the Cleveland Cavaliers will be worse. The Celtics left the bulk of their rotation home, went on the road and faced a Cleveland team that suited up Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson … and beat the snot about Cleveland. And mind you, if Boston’s backups - most rookies mind you - could do that, how bad will it be when teams use their regular starters? So all the jokes about how bad the Knicks will be, yes, they’ll continue to flow in for sure. But hey, Knicks fans can point to one silver lining. As bad as it is for them, it’s gonna be a lot worse for the Cavs. 

BRAD STEVENS WILL BE NAMED COACH OF THE YEAR

For years, he has been talked about as one of the better coaches in the NBA. But most recently, NBA.com’s GM survey painted a very different picture with not a single GM voting Stevens as “best coach” despite the fact that a year ago 47 percent of them felt he was that guy. As much as this season is one of redemption for the Celtics players and organization, Stevens also has a lot to prove. He is in familiar territory with a roster that’s good, but not a title-contender; on paper at least. This team will play harder, more consistently than they did a year ago in part because of Kyrie Irving’s departure but also because these players more resemble the players that Stevens has been at his best with, in the past. And that’ll result in this team winning as many or more games than they did a year ago and in many ways, exceed expectations - a key ingredient for any coach on the cusp of winning the league’s Coach of the Year award.

Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference>>>

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference before the 2019-20 season

Handicapping the NBA's Eastern Conference before the 2019-20 season

The Eastern Conference hasn't been easy to figure out in recent seasons, as the conference has seen some massive power shifts in each of the past two offseasons.

During the 2018 offseason, LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers to join the Los Angeles Lakers. The ensuing move left the Cavaliers as a bottom dweller in the conference while teams like the Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Toronto Raptors rose to the top. Meanwhile, the star-studded and deep Boston Celtics failed to live up to lofty expectations.

Now, the Raptors don't look as strong despite winning the 2019 NBA title. They lost Kawhi Leonard and their potential fall has created another opening atop the Eastern Conference. Will teams like the 76ers and Bucks step up into the No. 1 spot? And can a new-look Celtics squad rise up once again? The East will be unpredictable, but here's a look at the state of the conference ahead of the 2019-20 campaign.

Click here for Chris Forsberg and A. Sherrod Blakely's Eastern Conference expectations>>>