Celtics

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

celtics-sixers-storylines-embiid-113017.jpg

No Embiid, but plenty of others to keep an eye on

BOSTON – The Celtics caught a bit of a break tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers keeping Joel Embiid out for the game.
 
Considering his impact and the fact that he’s not nursing any specific injury, it might seem strange that he sits out a game of this magnitude.
 
But when it comes to Embiid and the Sixers, there has been very little that has gone according to plan.

Officially this is his second NBA season, but he has been on an NBA payroll for three-plus seasons. His first two seasons were spent on the sidelines nursing injuries. Last season was his first extensive action, but that season was shortened due to injuries after having played 31 games.
 
To the casual observer, it might seem odd to have such an integral part of a team’s success not play against the team with the best record in the NBA.
 
“It is unusual but it’s an unusual circumstance,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “He played 31 games in three years. They know his body; they have good medical staff. They’re just being cautious with him. It sounds like it’s probably the right thing to do.

Ainge added, “Joel is a terrific player. He’s had a fantastic season. They’re doing all they can to be a playoff team. I think they’re probably doing the right thing for him.”
 
Without Embiid, the Sixers will turn to multiple bodies to help fill the void left by the 7-footer who is averaging a double-double of 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 blocks.
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:


 
POINT GUARD MATCHUP
Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Philly’s Ben Simmons are two of the more effective point guards in the league today, getting the job done in their own way. Irving is an elite scorer who relies on his quickness, ability to change direction at the drop of a dime courtesy of well-above-average ball-handling skills. Simmons has tremendous size (6-foot-10), strength and straight-line ball-handling to get to the rim along with exceptional court vision that collectively makes him a handful to defend. Whoever outshines the other will be key to their respective team’s chances at victory tonight.
 

AL HORFORD
If you spend enough time around Horford, you will soon learn that he’s not the braggadocious person. But when asked recently about whether he’s playing as well as he’s ever played, Horford responded, “I feel that I am. I feel that I’m playing at a really high level. I always look at ways to get better. Even now there are still some things that I’ll keep working through and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be in an even better position. I’m very confident in the way that I’m moving, the way that I’m playing.”

ON THE LINE
If the Sixers get on a bit of a roll tonight, don’t be surprised if Brad Stevens goes to the Hack-a-Ben (Simmons) strategy which we saw in Philly’s 118-113 win over Washington on Wednesday. Simmons, who ended the Wizards game with a double-double of 31 points and 18 rebounds which were both career highs, shot an NBA-record 24 free throws in the fourth quarter. While it’s highly unlikely Stevens and the Celtics will foul him that much, rest assured he’ll likely be sent to the line intentionally at some point near the end of the game or a quarter.
 

MORRIS REUNION WEEK
Indeed, it has been one familiar face after another all week for Marcus Morris. The Detroit Pistons, the team that traded Morris to Boston, was in town on Monday. Tonight Morris will face his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. And on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns will be in town. Morris spent two-plus seasons with the Suns. He has shown nothing but love for the Pistons after they traded him and said he likes the direction his hometown team is going. But Phoenix? “Well, it’s a little different from Detroit than Phoenix. I got a lot of love for Detroit, never rubbed me wrong, did me wrong.”
 


BACKUP POWER
Bench scoring has not been a strength of either team. According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics’ second unit is averaging 30.5 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixer’s backups have struggled even more, averaging 27.1 points per game which ranks 27th in the league.

C's draftee Williams: 'Happy to be around' veteran Horford

C's draftee Williams: 'Happy to be around' veteran Horford

BOSTON – There was a bit of a miscommunication on Friday which resulted in the newest member of the Celtics family, Robert Williams, speaking to Boston media via teleconference an hour later than originally planned.

That would be an omen for the conference call itself, which had its share of audio quality issues.

But there were a few themes that were crystal clear coming from Williams, who was selected by the Celtics with the 27th overall pick.

He loves to play defense, looks forward to being part of  Boston’s youth movement led by Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, and can't wait for the opportunity he’ll have to learn from veteran all-star Al Horford.

“I’m happy to be around him (Horford),” Williams said via conference call on Friday.

It makes sense, considering Williams will be competing for minutes behind Horford this season.

After the Celtics drafted Williams, one of the first to reach out to him via social media was Horford with a very succinct message

After a roller-coaster of a regular season at Texas A&M, Williams led a surprising NCAA Tournament charge by the Aggies that included a Sweet 16 berth in which they knocked off defending NCAA champion North Carolina along the way.

Even before that strong run, Williams was a prominent figure in the eyes of most NBA teams, including the Celtics.

Although they did not bring him in for a workout, Danny Ainge was quick to say that he was a player that both he and his staff had scouted extensively leading up to the draft.

“He’s a player we liked coming into this draft process,” said Ainge, the Celtics' president of basketball operations. “He’s a rim-protector and rebounder. He plays above the rim on both ends of the floor; we don’t have much of that. We have a little bit of that but not what he can give.”

And that is among the many reasons Williams is excited about being a Celtic.

He has seen from afar how Boston doesn’t have a predetermined pecking order for minutes played. Whether you’re a rookie or a five, six-year veteran, the guys who play the best will play the most minutes.

He saw that in Jaylen Brown who emerged as one of the better two-way players this past season following a rookie year in which he was named to the NBA’s all-rookie second team.

And this past spring, Jayson Tatum became Boston’s best scorer in the playoffs despite being the team’s youngest player.

There is an open mind to success in Boston where it doesn’t matter what you did or where you did it.

If you can play, you’ll play.

And for Williams, that is a message that came in loud and clear.

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Curran: Ripple effect of selecting Williams should benefit Horford

Curran: Ripple effect of selecting Williams should benefit Horford

The most intriguing question coming out of the NBA draft is just what form of human torture Bill Belichick would devise if one of his players did what Terry Rozier did while the C’s were on the clock Thursday night.

First, you have to suspend disbelief and imagine that Belichick would be able to navigate FaceTime. Then keep disbelief suspended and imagine he’d take that call from, say, Joe Thuney or Eric Rowe on the day of the draft, never mind when the Patriots were on the clock.

Then, if Belichick did take the call and Joe or Eric were able to wheedle out info and surreptitiously broadcast it for the giggling pleasure of nearby nerds and a live online audience, I predict things would go badly for Joe/Eric.

Like, you’d find an arm in Wrentham. An ear in Westerly. A couple of toes in Windham. An eye and a tongue floating in a jar off of Gay Head. Nasty stuff.

And there’d be a stern conversation with the surviving members of the team about the dangers of social media.

Terry Rozier doesn’t have to worry about that though. Nor does he – for now – have to worry about being dealt.

Because the Celtics didn’t do a damn thing on Thursday night but let the draft come to them. And when it did, they got what they needed: an offensively impotent, vine-armed center who can punch stuff into the luxury suites with regularity. That’s Robert Williams. 

There really aren’t a lot of need needs on this Celtics team right now. Offensively, they have multiple guys who can create their own shot – Kyrie Irving, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Rozier and Gordon Hayward. They share the ball, they are dangerous enough from 3. What they didn’t have – and what Williams could possibly be – is a pick-and-roll finisher at the rim.

Al Horford can do that, but he’ll just as often look to kick to the corner after rolling into the middle of the lane as he will look to finish. Which is great. Horford’s the control tower and teams can’t sag and double without the fear Horford will find whoever’s being left alone. But Horford also just turned 32. His days of rolling and picking a lob out from between the banners are gone (if they ever existed).

Williams can do that. He was described during the draft on ESPN as “the best lob catcher in this draft” and the comparisons to Houston’s Clint Capela have been frequent. So frequent that when a writer for the Washington Times made the link after a pre-draft visit with the Wizards, Williams said, “I knew you were going to say that, bro. I watched him, he’s a great player. But everybody’s different. You can’t compare him to me.”

Whether it’s scoring as the roll man or just finishing off drop-downs when wings penetrate and dish, Williams will give the C’s way more explosiveness than they had with Horford and Greg Monroe.

Defensively, Williams – or at least the image of Williams at his best – that’s where Horford will really be helped. There were times later in the postseason where Horford – after getting pounding with Joel Embiid’s prodigious posterior for a half-hour or getting bounced around by Tristan Thompson on the defensive glass – looked gassed. And played gassed. The load was too much to sustain.

Williams, 6-10 with a 7-5 wingspan, ought to be able to help there almost immediately.

"He was a player that we liked coming into this draft process,” Danny Ainge said Thursday night. “He's a rim protector and rebounder, and a guy who can play above the rim on both ends of the court. We don't have much of that. We have a little bit of that, but not what he can do. So his abilities to protect the rim and rebound and run the floor, and I think, are some of his greatest traits and uses."

The one negative “trait” Williams allegedly possesses is an inconsistent motor. Which is a diplomatic way of saying he doesn’t try hard. It’s the main (lone?) reason he was available at 27 and not gone as a lottery pick.

Friday morning, after the Celtics weren’t able to round Williams up for a conference call with local media, the cluck-clucking picked up steam.

If it’s all true, it’s all true. But that doesn’t mean that can’t change. The kid turned 20 in October. One would think there’s still some time for growth. Especially when he’s got the confirmation that teams didn’t love the way he did his business by passing on him. Over and over and over and costing him cash along the way.

This is where Horford can really make an impact. For all the times on-court Al has been assailed with “Is that all there is…” laments, nobody ever complains about his work ethic or leadership.

And while it isn’t necessarily Horford’s job to make Williams better and himself expendable, Horford doesn’t seem the type who’d shy from mentoring a kid. Especially if the kid's presence is going to make Horford's life easier. 

“He won’t have any better role models than the guys in front of him,” Brad Stevens said of Williams.

Thursday night worked out perfectly for the Celtics. They resisted all temptations to be the life of the party by making some outrageous move. They simply added a player who – if all works positively – will be really useful and pretty solid. They’ll put him in a stable situation with a well-defined role. And if it doesn’t work out, there will be no, “WHY DIDN’T THEY (fill in the contrived outrage)?!?!?!”

What else do you want at 27?

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