Celtics

Kyrie Irving unplugged on Celtics' 'young guys,' approach to defending Hornets' Kemba Walker

Kyrie Irving unplugged on Celtics' 'young guys,' approach to defending Hornets' Kemba Walker

Kyrie Irving didn’t say much following Boston’s 124-117 loss at Charlotte. 

But on Saturday, Irving delivered a stinging rebuke of his teammates as well as a not-so-subtle dig at the coaching staff in their approach to defending Charlotte All-Star Kemba Walker. 

“The game was over in the beginning of the fourth quarter,” Irving told reporters. “We took our foot off the gas pedal; it got to a five-point game, momentum shifted from there.”

He was then asked what does the team talk about following a game like this, one in which the Celtics had an 18-point lead in the fourth quarter only to allow the Hornets to close out the game with a 30-5 run. 

“Being more mature down the stretch,” Irving said. 

To see Boston lose a game in this fashion isn’t all that surprising when you consider one of the stronger character traits of this team is their ability to let huge leads go to the point where they eventually result in a loss. 

Remember, this is the same Celtics team that blew a 28-point lead AT HOME to the Los Angeles Clippers which came right after blowing another double-digit lead at home to the other Los Angeles team, the Lakers. 

But that’s in the past, something that has little impact on the present … until you have games like the one we saw Saturday night when it seems the mental toughness that should be developing in losing games just isn’t there. 

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As Irving pointed out, the Celtics were playing the Hornets without some key players in the lineup. 

Al Horford was resting his sore knee while Aron Baynes (foot) and Gordon Hayward (concussion protocol) were out with injuries

Replacing Horford in the starting lineup was rookie Robert Williams III, but he left shortly before the half after taking a hard spill to the floor. He was unable to return after team officials determined he had suffered a lower back contusion. 

“Judge us when we have our full lineup,” Irving said. “But obviously when we come out and play like this with a bunch of young guys down the stretch, figuring things out … things are bound to happen but there’s no excuses.”

The difference-maker in the game was the play of Charlotte’s Kemba Walker who tallied a near triple-double with 36 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists.

Marcus Smart would have been the primary defender on him, but Smart was on the bench after committing a series of offensive fouls. 

And while Jayson Tatum’s length does him well when it comes to defense, Walker’s ball-handling and ability to create space off the dribble was too much for Tatum and the Celtics to handle with Walker tallying 18 of his 36 points in the fourth. 

“It’s one-on-one,” Irving said. “Down the stretch, I try to come in and help as much as possible. We should have probably trapped him more like every other team does in the league but we didn’t. He torches us every time we play them so it’s no surprise.”

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Enes Kanter Show podcast: Back from break healthy, preparing for boos in Utah

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Enes Kanter Show podcast: Back from break healthy, preparing for boos in Utah

It's a 28-game dash to the playoffs for the Boston Celtics that begins in Minnesota Friday night and Enes Kanter is focused on one key element as the C's return to the court for the first time since the weeklong All-Star break.

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"Please stay healthy," the Celtics big man told Chris Forsberg on the latest episode of The Enes Kanter Show podcast. "If we all stay healthy, we can beat every team on every floor."

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When we last saw Kanter, he was limping off the floor late in the C's double-overtime victory over the Clippers. He's been bothered by a hip injury but he said he'll be good to go Friday. 

Also on the mend from a hip issue is fellow big man Robert Williams. Though he won't play on Boston's upcoming four-game trip, Williams has had his practice restrictions lifted and Kanter liked what he saw Wednesday as the C's got back to work.

"Rob was amazing. He can change the game,"  Kanter told Forsberg."He hasn't played for like two months and he got a lob and dunked the ball on his first possession. This is special. He just needs to get into game shape."

Kanter also talked about his 1-on-1 battles in practice with Marcus Smart. 

"It's always good because now the NBA is going small, right?" the 6-10 Kanter said of matching up with the 6-3 guard.  "Marcus Smart is one of the best, if not THE best defender out there. When I go against him, I get better. To be able to go against a small guy and try to guard him, it makes him better and makes me better."

Forsberg captured a portion of their showdown on video:

I always try to get under his skin," Kanter said of Smart, "but he's tough mentally."

This trip takes Kanter and the Celtics to Utah, where his NBA career began from 2011-2015. Will he get a warm welcome from Jazz fans?

"I wonder who's going to get more booed me or [Celtics forward and ex-Jazz star] Gordon [Hayward]? Every time I touch the ball, I get booed there," Kanter said.

Because Hayward is a more recent departure, Kanter said he might be able to escape most of the fans' wrath.

"I feel good this time because I've got Gordon."

Check out the Enes Kanter Show each week on NBC Sports Boston Podcast network. 

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.

Robert Williams travels with Celtics, but won't play on four-game trip

Robert Williams travels with Celtics, but won't play on four-game trip

BOSTON -- There’s a good chance that at some point on Celtics Pregame Live on NBC Sports Boston before the game Friday in Minnesota, viewers will see Robert Williams III on the floor taking shots. 

Don’t get too excited, Celtics fans. 

Yes, Time Lord will be traveling with the team, and yes, that gimpy hip of his is feeling a lot better. 

But coach Brad Stevens says Williams won’t be playing at any point on the four-game trip. 

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Still, that he'll be with the team is the kind of progress that indicates his return to games is sooner rather than later. 

Stevens said Williams will another check-up in about a week to make sure that the physical activity that he’s doing between now and then, has not had an adverse effect on his hip which has kept him sidelined for the last 33 games. 

“I’m getting anxious, just knowing I’m a couple of games away,” said Williams. “My first game back, I think is a home game,  so it’s special to me.”

Boston embarks on a four-game trip beginning with Minnesota on Friday, followed by stops in Los Angeles to play the Lakers, then Portland and Utah. The Celtics' next home game is Feb. 29 against the Houston Rockets. 

With no restrictions now at practices, Williams readily admits it can be challenging to contain himself.

“They let me [be] free now, no limitations on anything I’m doing,” Williams said. “So, I want to windmill every time I dunk. But I still have to play it cautious a little bit.”

This Friday is Jayson Tatum Day here at NBC Sports Boston. Be sure to check out our exclusive content around Tatum throughout the day, both online and on the broadcast of Celtics-Timberwolves, which begins Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream it on the MyTeams App.