Paul Pierce's word of advice to youthful Celtics -- 'sacrifice'

Paul Pierce's word of advice to youthful Celtics -- 'sacrifice'

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics haven’t had as much talent on their roster as they do now, since the 2008 squad which won it all.

But unlike the 2008 squad, this group of Celtics (11-10) hasn’t hit the ground running nearly as effectively as that group.

Former Celtic Paul Pierce, an NBA analyst for ESPN now, was a central figure on that ’08 team. And in his current role, he has seen the Celtics play plenty of times.

When he watches them struggle as they have thus far, one word keeps coming to mind: sacrifice.

“Sacrifice is going to be the word I constantly say about them,” Pierce told NBC Sports Boston shortly before being honored as part of The Sports Museum’s annual gala event, ‘The Tradition,’ at the TD Garden.

For all the talent that his Celtics team had, their collective willingness to sacrifice – there’s that word again – parts of their game for the good of the team is what more than anything else catapulted them to bringing home Banner 17 in their first year together.

Although Boston brought back the core players from last year’s squad which went all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals before being eliminated by the LeBron James-led Cleveland Cavaliers, this really is more like a first season for them when you consider Gordon Hayward was out for all but the first five minutes of the season-opener last year after suffering a left ankle/leg injury.

Sacrificing was easy for Pierce and company.

Pierce, Allen and Garnett had already established themselves as future Hall of Famers when they joined forces.

So for them, the only thing left to accomplish was to win an NBA title which they each knew had to involve them sacrificing some of their game for the good of the team.

“We had a lot of older veteran guys. Right now, they’re stacked with talent,” ex-Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, the presenter for Pierce at the TD Garden, told NBC Sports Boston. “So it’s about who’s going to be willing to sacrifice.”

Perkins acknowledged it’s harder for a young player to not only accept sacrificing but do it with the kind of consistency needed to win at the highest of levels.

“It’s harder for sure,” Perkins said. “But at the end of the day, everything will simmer down. Everybody will come into their own and sacrifice more once the all-star weekend over with. It’s nothing else to play for after that.

He added, “After the all-star weekend is over with, you’ll see the Celtics get to rolling; they’ll run off 15 or 20 games.”

To Perkins’ point, this team being so much greener is what sets them apart from the ’08 squad.

Convincing players with that kind of room to grow to start sacrificing their games while still working towards establishing their niche in this league, is indeed easier said than done no matter how true their intentions may be of doing just that.

“When you got guys like Jayson Tatum … maybe on another team he’s capable of scoring 25 points a game,” Pierce said. “Same with Jaylen Brown. Same with Kyrie Irving. Same with Gordon Hayward. They have guys capable of being 20-point scorers but on this team that’s not going to happen.

Pierce added, “If you want to win, you have to sacrifice. Some nights it may be your night. Some nights it may not be your night. When me, Ray (Allen) and Kevin (Garnett) came along, I was averaging 25 points a game when they came. I said ‘You know what? I don’t need to do that. I’m going to take less shots and do more in these other areas; defend, rebound, pass, show other areas of my game.’ That’s what made it work. That’s what these guys have to realize.”

But Pierce, aware of how important it is for young players to assert themselves in the NBA and establish themselves as elite players, understands all too well the challenge awaiting Boston’s talented, youthful core.

However, Pierce said that must be put to the side in order to achieve what should be the team’s ultimate goal.

“They want to establish themselves. They want to make a name for themselves,” Pierce said. “You make a name for yourself by winning.”

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Healthy Celtics offer glimpse of what's possible in dominant win over Lakers

Healthy Celtics offer glimpse of what's possible in dominant win over Lakers

BOSTON — When his night was complete, the Celtics having built a comfortable 30-point cushion over the visiting Los Angeles Lakers with five minutes to play in Monday’s tilt at TD Garden, Kemba Walker slowly made his way down the Boston sideline dapping every person along the way.

He started at Brad Stevens, visited with each assistant coach, then all of his teammates, and kept right on going when he reached the training staff. At one point it felt like he might head straight into the crowd and start shaking hands.

For the duration of the impromptu receiving line, Walker wore his trademark smile. It's something that hadn't been quite as present in the new calendar year (truth be told, he’s always smiling but not as much as Monday night).

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Walker had missed time with the flu, then knee soreness kept him out of a game. The Celtics had lost six of eight entering Monday’s visit from the rival Lakers and it was fair to wonder if much of Boston’s early-season success had been a bit of a mirage.

Then Boston went out and produced maybe its finest effort of the season. And Walker very much reveled in the 139-107 triumph on a big stage.

"This is what we should be on a nightly basis, and what we would like to be,” said Walker. "Hopefully the way we played tonight and this win will help us build in the future.”

In the same way that there’s a danger in overreacting to a short stretch of poor play, it’d be haphazard to put too much stock into a single victory — even if it involved handing one of the best teams in basketball their most lopsided loss of the year.

Still, here’s the notion that will be hard to resist: Monday’s game offered a glimpse of what a full-strength Celtics team can be.

Boston has so rarely had all of its horses this year that it’s been hard to draw firm conclusions about the team’s potential. The injury woes made their early-season success all the more startling and, while the team never really used it as a crutch during the recent rough patch, it was fair to wonder how much injuries were conspiring against Boston when it did struggle.

Walker and Brown had been questionable leading up to Monday’s game but the team got a double shot of good news. Stevens was able to trot out his preferred starting 5 for only the 13th time in 42 games and also tightened his rotation to essentially eight players, leaning heavier on the top-sub combo of Enes Kanter and Marcus Smart instead of the batch of rookies he’s had to throw darts with lately.

The results? Boston averaged 139 points per 100 possessions, according to stats site Cleaning the Glass. That’s a mark that ranked in the 99th percentile among all games this season and was Boston’s best mark of the year. Not too shabby for a team with the sixth-ranked offense in the league.

Boston’s effective field goal percentage of 65.2 was also its best of the year, as was its offensive rebound percentage after Kanter and Co. vacuumed up 14 of the team’s 41 total misses.

Even against a Lakers team gushing with length, Boston wasn’t bashful. Thirty of its 52 makes came near the rim. Some of that was Kanter’s putback but everybody attacked the rim. No one more notably than Jaylen Brown, whose early third quarter dunk on top of James left members of Boston’s bench wobbling around the parquet like clipped bowling pins.

“It’s a great reminder [of what this team is capable of],” said Brown. "We have to hold ourselves accountable to play with this type of energy and this type of effort every night. It just can’t be against the Lakers, we got to get up and play like that against Memphis in a few days. We got to be able to be resilient, humble, poised, and continue to move forward.”

What’s different about this team when they are near full health?

"Just much more dynamic,” said Tatum, who scored a game-high 27 points in 29 minutes, then declared that his dunk over James in Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference finals was still better than Brown’s jam.

"I feel like we’re tougher to guard when myself, JB, Kemba, Smart, when everybody’s out there. It makes it tougher for the other teams to guard and it makes it easier for all of us with so many guys that can do so many different things out there. Hopefully we can continue to stay healthy. Obviously, we’d love to have Rob [Williams] back, but we’ll keep it rolling until he gets back.”

For a Celtics team that sometimes let inconsistent offense affect an already slippage-filled defense, Monday was a nice reminder to stay the course. The Lakers scored the first eight points of Monday’s tilt, James tossing an alley-oop from Springfield off the opening tip, and things could have gotten out of hand in a hurry if Gordon Hayward didn’t knock down a long 3-pointer to settle the Celtics.

Hayward, whose own inconsistencies had left him in the crosshairs of frustrated fans, finished with 16 points on 6-of-12 shooting with six rebounds and five assists. He was vital in stretches, even if he won't make a highlight reel that will be dominated by Brown’s dunk, Tatum’s smooth scoring, and Walker’s tough-finish wizardry.

It’s prudent to remember that Davis was still shaking rust after missing time with a bruised backside. The Lakers certainly didn’t put their best foot forward. And, yet, the Celtics needed a game and beggars can’t be choosers.

"We needed it. We needed it. This is a really important game for us, and we treated it like it,” said Walker. "We executed. It was just one of those games to help us realize how talented we are and how good we can be and pretty much how bad we’ve really been playing.”

The Celtics learned that, when healthy, they can counteract some size issues against elite competition. That’s important considering their season-long struggles against Philadelphia. It sure feels like Monday was the best win of the season but only if the Celtics harness the positives.

"Good to be as close to full as we’ve been from a health standpoint. I’m hoping we can maintain that and build off of it,” said Stevens.

Later he added, “I want to see if we can play well with a sustained period with more bodies available and then we can gauge where we are, how good we are and all that stuff. But there’s still a lot of unknown. This is one game. Just like I think we didn’t overreact to losing the Phoenix game, we’re not going to overreact to winning this one.”

Stevens won’t overreact. The rest of us can. Like Walker, the Celtics needed something to smile about and, unlike some of the team's early-season wins, this doesn’t feel like fool’s gold.

This was a reminder of what the Celtics can do when healthy and engaged. It’s another indication that this team can hang with the NBA’s elite. Yes, a playoff series is a lot different than a random Monday night in January, but the Celtics can sweat that further down the road.

The Celtics needed something to smile about. But it won’t mean much unless they build off it.

Enes Kanter a primary source of Lakers' frustration in Celtics' rout

Enes Kanter a primary source of Lakers' frustration in Celtics' rout

BOSTON -- We're not sure how many people still call Enes Kanter "Enes the Menace."

But he certainly lived up to that nickname Monday night.

The Celtics big man tallied a double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds) off the bench with a game-high six offensive boards, out-working the Los Angeles Lakers on the glass to help Boston cruise to a 139-107 win.

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The C's were able to rout the best team in the Western Conference by capitalizing on second chances, racking up 24 second-chance points to the Lakers' 14.

Kanter set the tone in that category, snagging all six of his offensive rebounds in the first half and converting them into 12 second-chance points.

Simply put, Kanter wanted it more than the Lakers' frontcourt of Anthony Davis and JaVale McGee, which led to plenty of frustration on L.A.'s side after the game.

"That was one of the most disappointing things for me, because I feel like that's a controllable thing: boxing out and hitting people," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said when asked about Boston's second-chance points. 

"We didn't really do it all in the first half, so I'm very disappointed in that really from the total performance."

Davis, in his first game back after missing five contests with an injured backside, agreed with his head coach.

"Offensive rebounds killed us," Davis said. "They were more physical. They basically did whatever they wanted the whole night. ... We didn't do a good job of keeping Kanter off the glass."

Lakers star LeBron James put it more succinctly.

"It was a good old-fashioned butt-whooping. That's all," James said. "They beat us in all facets of the game: from the outside, the interior, points from offensive rebounds. (Those) were the main ingredients of this L."

Kanter's work in the paint also seems to be a recipe for Boston's success: The Celtics now are 7-0 this season when the 27-year-old big man records a double-double.

"He's a monster down there," Celtics forward Jayson Tatum said of Kanter. "He gets every offensive rebound and he finishes around the rim. He definitely gives us a spark off the bench that we need."

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