Celtics

Kyrie Irving a man of few words after Rockets loss

Kyrie Irving a man of few words after Rockets loss

BOSTON — Boston Celtics All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving wasn’t in a particularly talkative mood following Sunday’s 115-104 loss to the Houston Rockets, answering nine questions with a total of just 39 words.

Irving scored 24 points on 7-of-11 shooting over 36 minutes on Sunday but only attempted one shot — a miss — while playing a mere 5:35 of the fourth quarter when the Rockets fended off Boston’s furious second-half charge. Boston trimmed as much as a 28-point deficit to single digits but couldn’t get over the hump down the stretch.

A full transcript of Irving’s postgame media session, that lasted just 80 seconds (some questions shortened for length but Irving’s responses in full): 

HOW TOUGH WAS THAT ONE FOR YOU TONIGHT?
“It was tough.” 

WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FIRST HALF?
“We just didn’t play well.”

IN YOUR CAREER, HAVE YOU EVER GONE THROUGH ANYTHING LIKE THIS?
[Nods, inaudible response]

WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO TURN IT AROUND?
“Just play better."

BIGGER CHALLENGE TONIGHT: SHOOTING STRUGGLES OR DEFENDING ROCKETS?
“Probably a bit of both.”

WHAT TWEAKS NEED TO DEFEND 3-POINT LINE BETTER?
“Just our rotation stuff. Getting better on rotations”

YOU SAID YOU WANT TO BE A LEADER OF THIS TEAM, WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO TO KINDA TURN THIS THING AROUND AS A LEADER?
“Just gotta play better.”

TAKE ANYTHING FROM FOURTH-QUARTER RALLY?
“Not result in a win. Just got to play better.”

DO YOU THINK YOU GUYS CAN COME TOGETHER ON THIS ROAD TRIP?
“We’ll see.”

And, with that, the session ended. Irving was one of only two Celtics players to talk before the team raced out for a six-hour cross-country flight to the west coast and a four-game road trip that starts with a visit to the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night.

☘️ ROCKETS 115, CELTICS 104

Irving has often offered pithy responses amid Boston’s struggles but this was by far his most succinct session as the Celtics have dropped seven of their last 10 games overall and sit 2.5 games back of the No. 4 seed in the Eastern Conference. 

While Irving’s words — or lack thereof — will continue to be highly scrutinized, and his “we’ll see,” response to the final question wasn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, he wasn’t the only one at a loss for what ails these Celtics.

Boston big man Al Horford, the only other player to talk to the media horde inside the locker room, couldn’t put his finger on it, either.

“I'm really not sure [what’s going wrong],” said Horford. "I just think that we’ve had some good moments, and right now unfortunately, we’re going through a really bad stretch. This is when our group, we need to make sure that we stay together and even closer, because I know it’s hard. We’re the first ones that don’t want to lose. We just need to continue to work, because we feel like we can be better than this.”

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.

The key to Jayson Tatum's breakout season that's not being talked about

The key to Jayson Tatum's breakout season that's not being talked about

BOSTON — Practice was over and Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum was nowhere in sight. 

The 6-foot-9 forward headed straight to the weight room immediately after the team’s post-practice huddle broke up. 

Trying to bulk up a little bit, huh? 

“Something like that,” Tatum said with a grin. 

It makes sense for Tatum to try and get bigger in what many anticipate will be a really big, breakout-type season for the third-year forward. 

And while much of the attention Tatum has drawn in the past often focused on his scoring, Tatum’s improvement defensively may be what takes his overall game to another level this season. 

While no one expects Tatum’s defensive rating in the preseason (69.1) to hold up once the regular season starts, it is clear that he’s focused on elevating his play at that end of the floor akin to what we saw during his rookie season. 

Acquired via trade with the Sixers on draft night in 2017, Tatum’s penchant for scoring was evident from Day One. 

But with a roster that included Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford in addition to Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier and Marcus Smart, Tatum wisely figured out early that scoring was not going to get him on the floor as a rookie. 

So the only way he would see time, was to prove his worth to head coach Brad Stevens as a defender, which Tatum readily admits was a bit of an adjustment for a variety of reasons. 

“It’s a lot of things you have to learn,” Tatum said in an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Boston. “It’s a whole new system, new terminology, a whole new way to guard …  everybody in the NBA is so much more talented, so you have to pay attention to the scouting report. It’s a different ball game when you come from college. you really have to focus and pay attention to all the details.”

It certainly worked for Tatum during his first year in Boston.

“Jayson Tatum’s defense is beyond his years,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said in 2017, Tatum’s rookie season. “He’s very savvy. He’s very long. He uses his length; his arms are out and he gets his hands on balls, deflects passes and discourages drives just because of his length. So, I think he’ll continue to get better and better.”

He was one of just three rookie forwards (Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons and Kyle Kuzma of the Los Angeles Lakers were the others) in 2017 who averaged at least 30 minutes of court time, with Tatum’s defensive rating of 100.8 being the best among the group. 

But last season, one in which Tatum was being looked upon to be significantly more of a scorer, he averaged more points (15.7 compared to 13.9 as a rookie) but saw his defensive rating slip to 105.1.

Part of Tatum’s process now when it comes to improving as a defender, is to improve his strength. 

Since arriving in Boston, Tatum estimates he’s gained about 10 pounds of muscle and now weighs 215 pounds. 

We have seen the added strength at work during his time with Team USA as well as what he has done in the preseason with the Celtics. 

But that added weight will also benefit him as a defender, with Tatum likely to play both forward positions this season and potentially some center depending on the opposing team’s lineup. 

“I’m trying to be the best player I can be,” Tatum said. “Just trying to make a bigger jump from year to year and be a better version of myself.”

Indeed, Tatum’s statistics improved in several categories last season. In fact, most of his numbers were similar to Toronto’s Pascal Siakam who was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player last season. 

But Tatum’s play last season, while better statistically in a number of categories in comparison to his first season, was roundly criticized in many circles and viewed as underachieving in others. 

Tatum has said on more than one occasion that he didn’t play his best basketball a year ago, and is determined to make amends for that with what he and Celtics Nation are hoping will be a breakout system.

And the best way to do that is to make strides towards becoming a more complete, two-way talent for Boston.  

“I want to be one of the best players on both ends of the court,” Tatum said.

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.

Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 rookies to target in your draft

Fantasy basketball 2019: Top 10 rookies to target in your draft

With the 2019-20 NBA season less than a week away, now would be a good time to educate yourself on which first-year players are worth adding to your fantasy basketball roster.

Obviously, it's ideal to draft a rookie with a clear path to significant playing time. Unfortunately, outside of guys like Zion Williamson and Ja Morant, it's difficult to predict which young guns will get their opportunity to shine in Year 1. That's why we're here to give you a few names that have the best shot at making an immediate impact and stuffing the stat sheet.

Here's a look at the top 10 rookies to target in your fantasy basketball draft this year:

1. Zion Williamson, PF, New Orleans Pelicans

This one's a no-brainer. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft will be the first rookie taken off the board in the vast majority of fantasy drafts. Williamson is positioned to make an immediate impact in New Orleans and can be taken as early as the second round.

2. Ja Morant, PG, Memphis Grizzlies

The Grizzlies are all in on Morant as the new face of their franchise after trading Mike Conley and selecting the Murray State standout with the No. 2 overall pick. If all goes according to plan, Morant could be this year's Trae Young with his scoring and playmaking ability. That should tell you all you need to know about the value he could bring to your fantasy lineup this season.

3. R.J. Barrett, SG, New York Knicks

There's a pretty sizable dropoff after Williamson and Morant, but that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of other draftable rookies in fantasy this year. Barrett, Williamson's sidekick at Duke, should rack up the minutes with New York which means we can expect a respectable output from the No. 3 overall pick in his inaugural campaign.

4. Darius Garland, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers

Garland, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, will be one of the main attractions on a rebuilding Cavaliers team this season. He'll get plenty of minutes in Cleveland's backcourt alongside Collin Sexton and can be a solid fantasy asset if he proves to be a consistent threat from 3-point range. That's where most of his value lies.

5. Brandon Clarke, PF, Memphis Grizzlies

Clarke probably isn't getting enough attention heading into the new season with Williamson and new teammate Morant stealing most of the headlines. The former Gonzaga star has the chance to put up some seriously impressive numbers this year on a rebuilding Grizzlies squad. While his jumper needs some work, Clarke proved in college he can stuff the stat sheet and defend at a high level.

6. De'Andre Hunter, SF, Atlanta Hawks

Speaking of great defending, Hunter should be thrown right at the top of the list when discussing this year's rookie class. The Virginia product isn't going to wow anyone on the offensive side but can be sneaky with his 3-point shooting prowess. He's a safe option for later on in your draft.

7. Rui Hachimura, PF, Washington Wizards

Hachimura should have the opportunity to start right away for a Wizards team that, outside of Bradley Beal, doesn't exactly boast the most talented roster. The minutes will be there for the taking for the former Gonzaga big man, it's just a matter of what he'll do with them. He's worth a gamble as he could prove to be a consistent scorer and rebounder.

8. Tyler Herro, SG, Miami Heat

If you're looking for an under-the-radar sharpshooter in your draft, look no further than Herro. The former Kentucky Wildcat probably will backup Dion Waiters to begin the season but should still rack up the threes with Miami.

9. Jarrett Culver, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves

Culver isn't the most efficient shooter, but he still has plenty of fantasy value. He'll get plenty of minutes right off the bat in Minnesota and could be a serious sleeper if his 3-point shot improves.  The Texas Tech standout looked impressive in the NBA preseason, so that's certainly worth noting as you prepare for draft day.

10. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, SG, New Orleans Pelicans

Alexander-Walker is low on this list solely because he may not have the opportunity to be a valuable fantasy asset right away on a Pelicans team that has plenty of wing and backcourt depth. If he does get his time to shine, he'll be a consistent scorer just as he was at Virginia Tech and during summer league when he racked up 24.3 points per game.

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.