Celtics

Replacing Al Horford not the average challenge for the Celtics

Replacing Al Horford not the average challenge for the Celtics

BOSTON — When the news of Al Horford’s departure to Philly began to spread, there was a sense of mixed emotions for most of the Boston Celtics. 

As much as they will surely miss Horford, they knew Big Al well enough to know that the decision was one made with careful thought and consideration. 

But that doesn’t change the fact that him latching on with the Philadelphia 76ers was a double-whammy in weakening their roster while significantly bolstering the title hopes of a rival. 

And so on the eve of the first meeting against Philly with Horford in tow on Wednesday, it only magnifies the loss of Horford being anything but an average blow.

Kyrie Irving’s decision to sign on with the Brooklyn Nets certainly hurt Boston’s depth in terms of talent, but to lose him and gain Kemba Walker significantly softens the loss. 

But in losing Horford, Boston finds itself with little choice but to go with a bigs-by-committee approach heading into Wednesday’s season opener at Philly. 

And of the bigs in that mix, none can defend or stretch the floor beyond the 3-point line the way Horford did for years in Boston. 

Marcus Smart is the longest-tenured Celtic, having seen lots of teammates come and go through the years. 

But Horford’s decision to opt-out of the final year of his deal in Boston and re-sign with Philadelphia admittedly caught him off guard. 

“In a way, yeah, but not really,” Smart said when asked if he was surprised Horford signed with the Sixers. “He stayed in the East. They’re a championship-contending team. They’re really good. Al wants to win. He gave his time here and he felt it was time for a new chapter in his life.”

Jaylen Brown, who recently agreed to a four-year deal worth as much as $115 million, said he has not spoken to Horford since he signed with Philly but quickly added, “But I always wish him the best. That’s my guy."

Brown quipped, “He’s probably sitting back somewhere, icing his knees. That’s my guy.”

While many Celtics fans were stunned when Horford opted out of his contract with Boston and signed elsewhere, Horford’s decision to leave did not come as a surprise to Brown. 

“Not a lot surprises me; the NBA is crazy,” Brown said. “It wasn’t that I was expecting him to leave, but I wasn’t surprised that he did. Everybody has to do what’s best for them. Al’s been in this league a long time; he’s a vet. He earned every paycheck he’s gotten. I wasn’t surprised he went and took care of his family.”

The Celtics will see first-hand Horford’s impact on both ends of the floor — not so much in what he does but what his presence opens up for the Sixers and their All-Star center Joel Embiid. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will counter with a variety of big men that Boston will be counting on to help soften the blow of losing Horford.

But no one within the Celtics organization is disillusioned to believe that the loss of Horford will be easily filled by one of the players that comprises Boston’s bigs-by-committee group. 

“Al was a great guy; he taught us young guys a lot when he was here,” Boston’s Daniel Theis, in the running to start at center for Boston on Wednesday, told NBC Sports Boston. “None of us are going to go out there and be Al. That’s not who we are. We just have to do things a little differently now that he’s not here; that’s all.”

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Load management works for Kawhi Leonard, so what about Celtics' Kemba Walker

Load management works for Kawhi Leonard, so what about Celtics' Kemba Walker

BOSTON — When it comes to NBA players, the more you're around them, the more you learn. 

Take Kemba Walker for example. 

Before becoming a Celtic, I knew all about his killer step-back shot and the cross-over. I knew he was far more competitive than most folks outside of Charlotte realized. And how he was a pesky defender; not Marcus Smart pesky but definitely part of irritante family of NBA players at that end of the floor. 

But what I didn’t anticipate was how often he gets knocked around on a night-to-night basis. 

And how from time to time, he’ll linger on the floor a little longer than most Celtics fans feel comfortable with, fearful that this will be the hit that he can’t bounce back from quickly. 

But as each hit passes he eventually rises to his feet, displaying an unflinching level of durability few players in the NBA possess in this era of self-preservation cloaked in the verbage known as “load management.”

And the Celtics are doing their part to keep Walker upright by giving him something in games he didn’t get nearly as much of while in Charlotte. Rest. 

The Celtics aren’t in full-blown load management mode when it comes to Walker, but there’s no mistaking how they have gone about finding a balance between him playing superstar-like minutes while still getting proper in-game rest along the way. 

The results thus far have been impressive. 

Walker is still putting up All-Star level numbers (23.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.5 rebounds) for a Celtics team that at 11-2 has the best record in the Eastern Conference. 

And here’s the kicker. 

He’s doing it in 33.5 minutes per game, the fewest he has averaged since his rookie season. 

Walker is following the path blazed by Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving as far as being a more efficient All-Star, both in terms of his play and how his playing time is being utilized with the Celtcs. 

And while his durability is unquestioned (he has missed six games total in the last four years), we know at some point all those minutes logged will catch up to him and make playing at the elite level that he’s at now, far more difficult than it is currently. 

No one is giving too much thought to how many minutes Walker is playing and its impact down the road. 

But as the wins keep piling up and the confidence of this team keeps growing, at some point sooner rather than later, the Celtics have to do all they can to best ensure that Walker is as close to being 100 percent health-wise going into the postseason. 

We see teams across the league resting their top players from time to time for no other reason than to give them a night off, with the intent being to keep them as fresh as possible for when the games matter most. 

The success that the Toronto Raptors had last season while resting Kawhi Leonard spoke to the best-case-scenario for using “load management” to benefit your top players. 

Now with the Los Angeles Clippers, we see that Leonard continues to be on load-management restrictions. 

The Clippers will host the Celtics on Wednesday, with no indication whether Leonard will play for the first time with his new running mate Paul George, who recently returned to the lineup following offseason surgery on both shoulders. 

And while the Clippers (8-5) haven’t been nearly as successful in the regular season than the Leonard-less Raptors were a year ago, that doesn’t matter. 

The Clippers are playing for an NBA title this year, and are confident that a healthy Leonard — regardless of their playoff seeding — can make that happen. 

Meanwhile, Boston didn’t come into the season with a roster built to compete for and potentially win an NBA title. 

But with their fast start to the season, along with the growth of Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum among others, and Walker’s play, the calculus for the expectations of this team has been modified. 

While it’ll be difficult for them to come out of the East and get to the NBA Finals, there’s a brighter flicker of hope at the end of the tunnel of self-doubt that maybe — just maybe — this Celtics team can shock the world and be one of the last teams standing. 

In order to do that, they will need Kemba Walker to continue playing at an upper-echelon level as far as impacting the game, a process that becomes more doable if his minutes continue on a load management-like schedule. 

C's Director of Player Development Allison Feaster joins The MichaeI Holley Podcast:

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.  

 

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Clippers live stream: How to watch online

Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Clippers live stream: How to watch online

The Boston Celtics (11-2) look to keep it rolling on Wednesday night when they take on the Los Angeles Clippers.

The C's had their 10-game win streak snapped by the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, but bounced back with a dominant 99-85 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Monday night. Jayson Tatum was outstanding, dropping 26 points and adding 11 rebounds in the win.

Boston will look to carry its momentum into L.A., but it won't be easy. The Clippers could have Kawhi Leonard back just in time for the matchup according to head coach Doc Rivers, meaning it may be their first time having the feared Leonard/Paul George pairing this season.

Be sure to tune into NBC Sports Boston for Celtics Pregame Live at 9 p.m. ET, followed by the game at 10 p.m. or stream it via the MyTeams app. 

HOW TO WATCH

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ANALYSIS AND REACTION

BEFORE THE GAME: At 9 p.m., Celtics Pregame Live presented by TD Bank gets you ready for the game with reports from Kyle Draper, Chris MannixMike Gorman, Brian Scalabrine, A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Forsberg, and Abby Chin. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AT HALFTIME: Tune in to watch a breakdown of the first two quarters on Halftime Live presented by Ace Ticket. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream.

AFTER THE GAME: As soon as the game ends, tune to Celtics Postgame Live presented by New England Ford for analysis, commentary and player reaction. Watch on NBC Sports Boston or click here for the live stream

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Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Clippers, which tips off Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 10 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.