It's like Celtics 'are early in training camp again' says Stevens

It's like Celtics 'are early in training camp again' says Stevens

BOSTON – The NBA calendar says we are near the end of the first week of the regular season.
But for Brad Stevens and the Celtics, the past few days have had more of a training camp-like feel.


A season-ending injury to All-Star Gordon Hayward just five minutes into the season, along with an ankle sprain to Marcus Smart (the same left ankle that earlier kept him out for long stretches) has left Stevens no choice but to make significant, on-the-fly, in-season changes. 
“We’re changing a little bit of our emphases, specifically our emphases late game,” Stevens said.
Coming out of camp, the Celtics were planning to keep either Kyrie Irving or Hayward on the floor most if not all the time, and, down the stretch, the two would play together.
With no Hayward, the Celtics have to modify their late-game approach, which was evident by them losing two of their first three games having a lead in the fourth quarter of each game. 

Having had a day to practice this weekend and not a game to play right away was critical for the Celtics to begin working in earnest on the best way to navigate the rest of their season without Hayward, the team's prized offseason free-agent signing.
Getting Irving and Al Horford in better positions to be effective late in games, as well as more post opportunities for young wing players Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, are just some of the slight modifications Boston will be looking to implement more of going forward. 

“We’re kind of, we’re adding more of that stuff, subtracting a little bit of what we put in at the start of the year which now seems like a long time ago,” Stevens said.
He added, “I almost felt like in the last [few] days, it’s been like we’re early in training camp again in a lot of ways.”
In camp, there’s always a sense, even among those who aren’t expected to play much, that as long as you’re on the roster there’s a chance you’ll get an opportunity to play.
Well, that’s not just wishful thinking anymore.
That’s the reality of where the Celtics are because of injuries, a scenario in which anyone on the roster – even a guy signed to a two-way contract such as Jabari Bird – will get a chance to play meaningful minutes.
Bird did just that in the 102-92 win over the Sixers on Friday night.
A last-minute call-up due to Hayward’s injury, Bird had no idea he was going to get a chance to play against Philadelphia.
All he knew was that he would suit up, just as he did the previous game against the Milwaukee Bucks.
He didn’t make a single shot for the Celtics (he was 0-for-1 from the field, 3-for-5 from the line), but he made the most of his shot at playing and in doing so, scored major points in the eyes of the coaching staff and his teammates with his defense against Sixers sharpshooter J.J. Redick who finished with a team-high 19 points despite missing three of his four shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
Bird played seven minutes, 31 seconds of the fourth quarter with the only Celtics logging more time in the quarter being his former teammate at Cal, Jaylen Brown (10:48) and Al Horford (10:16).
Despite coming up big in the Sixers win, Bird said things were status quo for him at the Celtics’ practice on Saturday.

“I try to stay ready for any moment,” Bird said. “Practice was real light, just got up shots and went over plays. It’s nothing too different for me. It’s not like I went out [Friday] night and dropped 50. I just came into the game to provide a spark on defense., that’s all; nothing too crazy.”
But Bird making the most of his opportunity to play when there were very few signs if any that it would happen, speaks to how every player on this roster has to be thinking there’s a chance that they too might be called upon to step up and contribute with very little advance notice.
And for the Celtics, that’s a good thing.

“Every one of them should think there’s a good chance to impact the game on Tuesday night [against New York],” Stevens said. “There’s not a guy on this roster that shouldn’t think that right now. It may or not be there every night, but ultimately we’re in a situation where we need everybody; we need everybody to be at their best and prepare to be at their best. Whether you played no minutes like [Semi] Ojeleye [Friday] night, or you played a ton of minutes like others, we need you prepared like you are going to play a lot, every game. It’s going to be really important.”

Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

Celtics-Cavs Game 7 preview: Right at home

BOSTON –  The plan coming into this season was for the Celtics’ stars to be aligned for greatness that would give them a strong shot at being the last team standing.

But then life and injuries happened, which has forced Boston’s star-studded plans to be scrapped for most of this season and replaced with a star-by-committee approach that few outside the Celtics’ payroll thought would work.

And here they are in a winner-moves-on Game 7 with the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers with the victor advancing to the NBA Finals.

Boston's journey to this point, without Gordon Hayward for all but five minutes this season and without Kyrie Irving for this entire postseason run, has been an amazing ride, to say the least.

And while there have certainly been some ups and downs along the way, Boston hasn’t made any excuses all year for not having Irving and Hayward, around.

Celtics players will tell you one by one that being without their two best players has not been something that's concerned them in this postseason journey because it’s not something they can control.

And the team’s youth?

That, too, has been a topic of non-discussion most of this season; at least among the players and coaching staff.

“I’m sure we’ve slipped on this, but I’ve tried my best all year to try and not talk about their age,” said coach Brad Stevens, who added that he has been asked about it frequently throughout the course of the season. “It’s not about that. They’re really good basketball players. They’re really committed to each other. We all have a job to do and that’s go out and try to play the best we can. That’s regardless, Game 7, Game 1, a game in November, whatever the case may be...we need to be ready to play. We will be ready to play and our guys are looking forward to it.”

The Celtics' struggles in the playoffs on the road (the loss Friday night dropped them to 1-7; they're undefeated at home at 10-0) in the eyes of some might be because of the team's youth. 

Marcus Smart isn't trying to hear that narrative.

"It's not because we're young," Smart said. "It's the playoffs and everything is harder."

The challenge becomes even greater when there's no one player they can turn to in close games to seal victories. 

Jayson Tatum has had his moments, as well as Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Marcus Morris.

Still, it’s worth pointing out that as impressive as it has been to see them find ways to win, Game 6 served as a reminder of how daunting a task it becomes to close out a series when you don’t have a proven, battle-tested closer healthy enough to play.

Because of the points-by-committee setup, you never know who is going to get that opportunity to be the closer or, at a minimum, the guy who throws the late-game dagger to either position Boston to win or puts tremendous pressure on the opponent.

Brown acknowledged after Game 6 that he was positioned to be that guy and took the shot that would have cut Cleveland’s lead to just four with about four minutes to play.

But he missed the shot and with it went Boston’s chances of rallying for the victory – something they did better than any team in the NBA this season when facing double-digit deficits.

“That’s two games in a row on the road I missed that same shot,” said Brown, who still managed to score 27 points. “That’s going to really bug me. Yeah, it felt good. I have to make that.”

Tatum feels the same way about some of his misses.

Ditto for Rozier, Horford and Morris.

And there lies both the blessing and burden of having a team with lots of good players, but void of a definitive late-game closer.

The Cavaliers have one in LeBron James, a role he will embrace even more now that the Cavs have ruled Kevin Love (concussion protocol) out for tomorrow night’s game.

At this point, the Celtics aren’t overly concerned with who they have to turn to down the stretch.

Find a way to win.

That’s the only thing that matters now.


No Love for Game 7 doesn't necessarily mean advantage Celtics

No Love for Game 7 doesn't necessarily mean advantage Celtics

BOSTON –The idea of the Cavs going into a must-win Game 7 without Kevin Love, who's in the NBA concussion protocol and won't play Sunday night, should put the Celtics at a significant advantage, right?

Not exactly.

One of the keys to Boston’s success has been the impact Al Horford makes offensively, particularly at home. Horford has been at his best as a scorer in this series when matched up against Love.

In this series, Horford has scored 31 points on 61 possessions with Love as the primary defender, shooting 76.5 percent from the field (13-for-17) and 60 percent (3-for-5) from 3-point range in that matchup.

Horford will get a much heavier dose of LeBron James, Jeff Green and Larry Nance Jr., who combined to do a really good job on him in Game 6 when Horford scored just six points on 2-for-8 shooting.

But again, Horford has been a very different (read: better) player offensively at the TD Garden than on the road, regardless of who he’s matched up against.

Another byproduct of no Love for Game 7 is the potential for Boston to play Aron Baynes more.

Love’s ability to stretch the floor from beyond the 3-point line made him a tough cover for Baynes, who does his best work defensively around the post.

Baynes should have better luck defending Tristan Thompson, who had a series-low six rebounds in Game 5 at TD Garden.

Knowing Love won’t be out there, the Celtics have to brace themselves for a full 48 minutes of LeBron James, who had 46 points in 46 minutes in Game 6.

James will certainly look to be even more aggressive and impactful than we’ve seen in the first six games. And while he continues to score in bunches, the Celtics have done a slightly better job defensively against him at home than on the road.

At TD Garden, he’s averaging 27.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 8.7 assists while shooting 47.8 percent from the field.

When he’s in the comfy confines of Quicken Loans Arena, James’ numbers improve to 39.0 points, along with 7.0 rebounds and 8.0 assists, while shooting 55.4 percent from the field.

The bottom line is clear: With or without Kevin Love in the lineup, the Celtics are going to be challenged by a Cleveland team on several fronts as Boston tries to do what hasn’t been done in nearly a decade – send LeBron James home for the summer without a trip to the NBA Finals.