Celtics

Nicolas Batum on Celtics center Vincent Poirier: "It's a good pick-up for Boston for sure"

Nicolas Batum on Celtics center Vincent Poirier: "It's a good pick-up for Boston for sure"

Team USA didn't finish the FIBA World Cup as expected, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the tournament if you're a Celtics fan. 

Not only did Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart contribute to Team USA and certainly took some lessons from playing under Gregg Popovich, but Daniel Theis (Germany) and newly signed Vincent Poirier (France) got invaluable experience they can carry into the 2019-20 NBA season. 

Poirier signed with the Celtics during free agency on a two-year contract and should have plenty of opportunities to earn playing time in a Celtics' frontcourt that hopes to replace Al Horford and Aron Baynes. 

Poirier's French teammate Nicolas Batum, who played with Walker in Charlotte over the last four years, dealt out some praise of the rookie center after France beat Australia for the FIBA bronze medal. 

"This guy, I think, just started basketball 5 years ago, so he's had a special career," Batum told John Schumann. "His energy was great. We can't count on Rudy (Gobert) every game... He was huge. He wasn't scared by Bogut & Baynes... He was amazing tonight."

France knocked the U.S. out of the knockout round by besting them in the quarterfinals. Poirier didn't play in that game, but has played a big role for France behind All-Star big man Rudy Gobert. 

"It's clear that he's a center that can block shots and control the paint," Batum said. "He's a terrific roller, can really catch a lob, and obviously has a lot of energy. It's a good pick-up for Boston, for sure."

The Celtics responded to Horford's departure and trading Baynes to Phoneix by signing Poirier and Enes Kanter to join Theis and Robert Williams at the center spot. Boston will probably have to solve their hole at that position by committee, but if Poirier can play consistent defense, rebound and protect the paint as Batum describes, he could earn himself backup minutes behind Kanter. 

Either way, it should be an interesting training camp to say the least for this new-look Celtics team. 

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Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

Gordon Hayward's return will help Celtics the most in these four areas

BOSTON — With Gordon Hayward set to return possibly as early as Monday night’s game against Cleveland, he’ll be rejoining a squad that’s playing great basketball which has them among the NBA’s top teams.

But here’s the thing. 

Before suffering a fourth metacarpal fracture in his left hand which has been surgically repaired, Hayward and the Celtics were playing the best basketball of any team in the league. 

Can they get back to where they were with Hayward?

If they do, look for Boston to make notable strides in the following areas of play. 

OFFENSIVE OPTIONS

Now keep in mind, even when Hayward was healthy, the Celtics weren’t exactly killin’ the game with a ton of points or red-hot shooting. 

What they did more than anything else was create a pick-your-poison scenario on a game-to-game basis for defenses.

While there’s some element of that still around in his absence, there’s no debate that Hayward’s presence makes Boston a much more dangerous team to defend. 

And upon his return, the Celtics will be even more dangerous, thanks to the emergence of Jaylen Brown, who has been delivering All-Star quality production with Hayward out, along with the solid contributions Boston has been getting all season from Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker. 

DEFENSIVE VERSATILITY

The NBA is all about creating mismatches on the floor, so teams with the ability to switch effectively on defense will find success. The return of Hayward gives Boston another body who has the size, strength and mobility to defend multiple positions. 

When he was healthy, the Celtics' defensive rating of 101.5 was the fifth-best mark in the NBA, which was surprising when you consider they lost defensive anchors Al Horford (Philadelphia) and Aron Baynes (Phoenix) in the offseason.

Boston’s defensive rating without Hayward dipped to 104.7, which still ranks seventh in the NBA. 

And while Hayward’s defensive ability has been questioned in the past, his defensive rating of 100.6 stacks up well relative to his teammates. 

WING DEPTH

If you want to win in the NBA, you better have wings — and that’s plural, not singular. And the Celtics have more than their share of talented ones, which is why the return of Hayward is so vital to the team’s overall success. 

Hayward has the ability to do many things on the floor, evident by his stats this season which touch on all the key categories. 

In addition to averaging 18.9 points per game, Hayward is also grabbing 7.1 rebounds to go with 4.1 assists per game.

Those are good numbers for sure. 

But what makes the Celtics so dangerous is they have not one but two others delivering similar production or better from the wing position, in Jayson Tatum (21.2 points, 7.0 rebounds) and Jaylen Brown (20.0 points, 6.9 assists).

STRONGER BENCH

The Celtics’ second unit has taken its share of hits this season because they don’t score as much as some — OK, most — other reserve groups. Of course that’s partly because Boston has one of the highest-scoring starting fives in the NBA, which means limited opportunities for the backups and thus, less points. 

Because of that, it puts a greater premium on their bench players to come in and impact the game at the defensive end of the floor. 

And the return of Gordon Hayward will provide that group some much-needed depth with what will likely be the return of defensive ace Marcus Smart back to that unit which has been solid this season. 

According to hoopsstats.com, Boston has allowed opposing second units to score 33.4 points per game which is the fourth-fewest allowed in the NBA this season.  

That number will likely take a drop with Smart directing that group more than he is currently. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

Celtics injury report: Robert Williams ruled out vs. Cavaliers

The Boston Celtics will be missing some size on their bench for Monday night's game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Robert Williams has been ruled out with left hip soreness, the team announced Sunday. Rookie Romeo Langford was also ruled out as he continues to recover from the ankle injury he suffered during a game with the Maine Red Claws.

On the bright side for Boston, Gordon Hayward could make his long-awaited return to the court after missing the last month with a fractured left hand.

Hayward originally was slated to return from his injury around Christmas.

The Celtics (16-5) and Cavaliers (5-17) will face off at 7:30 p.m. ET on Monday.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Cavaliers, which tips off Monday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Tommy & Mike have the call at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.