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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Danny Ainge reveals why he initially rejected Celtics GM job offer

Danny Ainge reveals why he initially rejected Celtics GM job offer

Seventeen years ago, the Boston Celtics hired Danny Ainge to be their executive director of basketball operations and general manager.

Getting Ainge on board wasn't an easy task, though.

After spending seven-and-a-half seasons as a player on the C's in the 1980s, one would think Ainge would pounce on the opportunity to run one of the NBA's most iconic franchises. However, that was not the case as he was comfortable with his role as an analyst on TNT's NBA broadcast.

Celtics owners Wyc Grousbeck and Steve Pagliuca extended the job offer to Ainge twice, but he rejected it both times before finally accepting it in May of 2003. Ainge explained in more detail why he was hesitant to take the job in a recent conversation with Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe.

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“They (Grousbeck and Pagliuca) told me that (former Celtics president) Red (Auerbach) had recommended that they hire me,” Ainge told Washburn. “I was flattered and I told them thank you. My three older kids had graduated from high school. I have my three youngest at home, so life is a little bit different. I told them I was not interested in the job and I gave them names of people in the league and some former Celtic players they should interview.

“I didn’t jump at it. It wasn’t anything I was looking to really do. As time went on, they had come a second time and a third time while I was broadcasting. I sensed my wife was warming up to the idea. Eventually, I said yes.”

With Ainge at the helm, the Celtics later won their 17th NBA title in 2008. After the championship season, Ainge was promoted to president of basketball operations.

Seems like taking the job turned out to be the right choice.

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

For Celtics, restart would quench long desire to see how good they can be

Before the Boston Celtics played their final game on March 10, Brad Stevens lamented how, "We haven’t been fully healthy very often. It almost always feels like we’ve had one of Kemba [Walker], Jayson [Tatum], Jaylen [Brown] or Gordon [Hayward] out.”

In fact, you would have had to rewind another month before that to find the last time the Celtics played with their top 7 players healthy.

What’s more, Boston had that top core rotation intact only eight times in the 64 games the team played before the coronavirus pandemic forced pro sports to shut down. One of the common refrains from the Celtics — both before the season paused, and in this awkward period since -- was a desire to find out how just good they could be when their top players are fully healthy.

Maybe they’ll actually get a chance to find out.

The NBA announced Saturday that it is in “exploratory conversations” with Disney about restarting the season in Orlando in late July. Even as momentum seemed to be growing about a potential resumption, the league’s acknowledgment made it seem just a bit more real.

There are undoubtedly plenty of hurdles to navigate — coronavirus testing, chief among them — before the NBA can truly position itself to resume games but it feels even safer to start thinking about that day now.

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The news definitely will energize Celtics players. Even with mix-and-match personnel due to injuries and illness, the Celtics still owned the fifth-best record in basketball before play paused. They had the fifth-best offensive rating, the fourth-best defensive rating, and fifth-best net rating. Boston had positioned itself for a top 3 spot in the Eastern Conference and showed that, when healthy, it could compete with any of the league’s elite.

After Enes Kanter hurt his leg on opening night, the Celtics didn’t have their top 7 healthy again until after Christmas (Dec. 28 vs. Raptors). A three-game stretch from Jan. 8-11 was the longest clip with its core healthy and Boston went just 1-2 in those games. Still, when Boston had its top 7 intact on Jan. 20 against the Lakers, it produced one of the team’s signature wins of the season.

We already ran down some of the biggest questions the Celtics will face if the season resumes. Sustained health is no guarantee, even if players will have had roughly three months to heal up before teams start to reconvene.

But the big fear the past two months is that these Celtics wouldn’t even get a chance to see how good they can be. That all the positive vibes and all the potential of the 2019-20 squad would be lost if the season was unable to resume.

It goes beyond the mere potential of the team. During a Zoom conference with Celtics reporters on Thursday, rookie Grant Williams noted the initial suspension of play stung Celtics players because, “especially with this group that we have, who enjoy each other, we enjoy being around each other, we were having so much fun during the year.” Players have openly craved simply getting back in the gym together because of how much they enjoyed each other’s company.

Players have made it clear that safety must be the first priority. If the league can ensure that and the season can resume, we can all embrace getting to see this team again. Before the season paused, the big question was whether the team had enough talent to truly make a push (with some lamenting the team’s lack of deadline and buyout activity).

All Celtics players ever wanted was a chance to answer that question, to see how good this roster could be at full strength. There will be some new variables in the equation given the unique circumstances of a restart but, as optimism about a restart grows, these 2019-20 Celtics might finally get their chance to determine their potential.