Celtics

Jaylen Brown fueled by naysayers: 'I thrive off it'

Jaylen Brown fueled by naysayers: 'I thrive off it'

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics find themselves being counted out and discarded, a familiar place for a team that has spent most of this season exceeding expectations.

And as they gear up for tonight’s game against the Chicago Bulls, a team that checked out weeks ago and is all about rebuilding for next season, no one would fault Boston for taking a similar tact after losing Kyrie Irving (left knee) for the season after having already lost Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus, left knee) to season-ending injuries.

Irving, who was a week-and-a-half into recovering from a "minimally invasive" procedure to remove a tension wire from his left kneecap surgery in 2015, will have another surgical procedure performed on Saturday to remove two screws to address an infection in his knee.

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No Irving means the Celtics are doomed to struggle and fail to get out of the first round. At least that's the popular narrative surrounding the team now. 

That line of thought is nothing new for Jaylen Brown to hear about the Celtics this season. He has seen how the outward optimism viewed by many of the Celtics and their chances for success this season, quickly turned to doom-and-gloom with Hayward’s injury. And even as the wins piled up, there was still a sense of skepticism that this Celtics team, sooner or later, would fold.

Brown has heard all that . . . and loves it.

“I thrive off it, when people say this and say that and tell you what you’re gonna do, how successful you’re gonna be,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston. “I just smile and keep it moving.”

The injuries and all the second-guessing about how good the Celtics are has only fortified the chip on Brown’s shoulder that began to grow on the eve of him being drafted by Boston in 2016.

“At one point people said I was gonna go 15th in the draft,” said Brown who was selected by Boston with the third overall pick.

And he knows he’s not alone in feeling overlooked.

“People probably told Shane [Larkin] he wasn’t gonna make it to the NBA,” Brown said of Larkin, who was a first-round pick in 2013. “People probably told Terry [Rozier] he wasn’t going to be this or that . . . But we’re here. The makeup of our locker room has been the most significant thing for us to do what we’ve been doing. We got a lot of tough, resilient guys with a tough mindset.”

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Happy 31st birthday, Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins Game 7 duel

Happy 31st birthday, Larry Bird vs. Dominique Wilkins Game 7 duel

Thirty-one years ago today, the old Boston Garden was the site of one of the great superstar duels the NBA has ever seen.

Larry Bird vs. Dominque Wilkins. Celtics vs. Hawks. Eastern Conference Semifinal Game 7.

On a Sunday afternoon, in the first of a Garden playoff doubleheader (the Bruins and Edmonton Oilers would play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final later that night), the two Hall of Famers staged a one-on-one battle to remember.

Bird and the Celtics came out on top, 118-116. Wilkins finished with 47 points - 12 in the fourth quarter - on 19-for-33 shooting. Bird had 20 of his 34 points in the fourth and was 15-for-24 for the game. And, in an ode to how different a game the NBA was then - each player only hit one 3-pointer. 

Tommy Heinsohn was the CBS analyst for the game with Brent Musburger doing the play-by-play. Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers was in Atlanta's backcourt. Heinsohn and Rivers looked back at the game with the voice of the Celtics.

Heinsohn: "Once it started to happen, you just saw the desire of both these players." 

Rivers: "The crowd here was amazing. I gotta tell you, I fell in love with the Celtic crowd in this game."

The Celtics would go on to lose to the Detroit Pistons in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals, but this game provided a lasting memory from that postseason.

Perhaps Musburger put it best after another late Bird drive and finish: "You are watching what greatness is all about."

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Marcus Smart 'honored' by All-Defensive selection, but has one goal in mind

Marcus Smart 'honored' by All-Defensive selection, but has one goal in mind

Marcus Smart's reaction to being named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team was not all that surprising.

“I was ecstatic,” Smart told NBC Sports Boston in a phone interview. “I’m definitely appreciative of being recognized for what I do defensively. But I’m not in this for awards or accolades. I want to win games, win a championship.”

And that made for a bittersweet time for Smart, happy for his own individual accomplishment but more than willing to trade it in for another round or two of basketball for the Celtics. 

Smart also tweeted his appreciation and his desire for a title rather than individual honors.

With each passing day since their playoff exit, there has been a growing sense of discord surrounding the Celtics' season, which ended with them being eliminated in the Eastern Conference semifinals in just five games by the Milwaukee Bucks. 

Smart has been vacationing since the season ended and said he has not heard or paid much attention to the talk surrounding what happened and didn’t happen with the Celtics' season.

In his end-of-the-season interview with the media, Smart didn’t hesitate in defending Kyrie Irving from criticisms that his leadership was a problem for the team. 

“That’s bull[expletive]," Smart said at the time. "Not one of us on this team knows what Kyrie’s been through. Probably a few people in this world know what Kyrie goes through. It was hard for him as well. He was forced into a situation where it was business over the friendships, where he had to come into a situation knowing that this is a group of guys that had something going before I come here, how will I fit in? He didn’t want to disrupt that. And that says a lot.

Smart added, “This is Kyrie Irving we’re talking about. And he’s talking about coming in and disrupting us. We took him in with full arms and we tried to understand it. Like I said, we never really understood. We’re not in his shoes. So that’s just a bull(expletive) statement to say his leadership killed us. There’s four other guys out there, there’s 12, 13 other guys on the team, coaches and everything. So to blame it on one guy is bull[expletive].”

Another heavily talked-about criticism of the Celtics this past season centered around them having too much talent and not enough playing time or prominent roles to go around to keep most of the players happy. 

Smart acknowledged the team’s overflow of depth was among the challenges the players and coaching staff tried to work through, to no avail. 

“We had a lot of talent; we were stacked, one through five,” Smart said. “It just didn’t work.”

As the longest-tenured Celtic, Smart, who was drafted fifth overall in 2014, has been around the organization long enough to know that Danny Ainge, the team’s president of basketball operations, will not stand pat this summer. 

Smart said he has no idea what changes will be made, but Ainge’s track record makes it pretty obvious that the Celtics will have a different look when training camp opens in a few months. 

Smart said his confidence level in Ainge is “real high” when it comes to adding talent,  but said, “That's Danny’s job. That’s for the front office to figure out. But I do believe Danny and those guys will figure out what we need to do to be better next season.”

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