Scalabrine: Chemistry is overrated, Celtics must attack the basket

Scalabrine: Chemistry is overrated, Celtics must attack the basket

CANTON, Mass. — Here’s what I think about the Celtics starting a new season: I think that a lot of things that this team went through last year, from coach Brad Stevens to the lowest guy on the roster and everyone in between, is that a lot of things got swept under the rug.

I'm not a big believer in that at all. I think issues need to be addressed and dealt with as the season is going along.

The idea that Kyrie Irving came out and said the team would be fine in the playoffs because he was there, that's the wrong mindset to have, even if you believe that. Listen, we know LeBron James is like that, but that's LeBron. He's a different animal. He's older, and he knows how to manage the season. He's so accomplished. Back in the day, the superstars didn't coast during the regular season. They played hard. They wanted to win at all cost.

Nowadays, the regular season is becoming like an afterthought for some guys as they prep for the postseason.

But if you're a young team that's unproven like the Celtics, you can't think like that. I don't think it's even about home-court advantage, like people point to the record and getting home court in the playoffs. It's not, it’s about developing habits. I always used this term last year: When things start going sideways, teams that take the regular season seriously can right to ship. Things went sideways for the Celtics in the playoffs. There were some monumental runs against them and they had no idea how to react and adjust.

I don't believe in chemistry. I believe in fit. I believe in basketball being played a certain way. When you play that way, everyone thinks you have great chemistry. This team can love each other, they can have S’mores, singing “Kumbaya" with guitars out there. If they don't get to the restricted area and they don't get to the free-throw line, especially with this defensive frontcourt they have, this team is not going to be that good.

Now, if the C's can attack the restricted area -- and I look a lot at Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward -- if those guys are attacking the restricted area and getting to the free-throw line, that’s a good sign. A lot of times they want to attack and they want to swing out, which is fine. I don't have a problem with that. But I want to look at the numbers in the restricted area. When the ball hits the restricted area, whether it's a shot or a free throw or a kick out, what are the points per possession? When that stuff happens, I think chemistry is good. When that doesn't happen, and you're not getting to the free-throw line, and you're taking pull up jump shots, I think people will point to chemistry, but it's just because it's not good basketball.

People aren't emphasizing what this team needs to, which is attack the rim, make the right play. That could have been solved a lot about Kyrie being sad about his grandfather or whatever the issue might have been. You just have to have that mentality. Coach Stevens has always talked about, we want to get layups. Well, this team needs to get layups. How do they do that? I think they've got to play a lot faster this year. I think they've got to be north of 5-6 possessions more per game than they did last year — which is a lot. But they played slow last year. They have to up their pace because I just don't think we’re going to be that good defensively.

How small can this team play? I don't know. But I guess if anybody can do it, Brad can do it. I like Tatum and Hayward at the 4 and 5. It was clear as day last year, you needed to have Marcus Smart out there. If you have Kemba Walker,  you have to have Smart. Brown has the ability to guard bigger guys. Look, Danny Ainge has that DNA in his blood to play small with his old Phoenix teams. So maybe Grant Williams at the 5 at times. Maybe Robert Williams at the 5, he’s a good passer. It’ll be interesting to see how small they can go. But even then you still have to rebound out of it.

It will be interesting when I get a chance to sit down with Brad and just start talking to him about what are the points of emphasis this season. When you start scratching away at basketball, there's going to be three things that he's going to emphasize all season. I’ll know what those things are and it'll probably happen maybe two weeks after training camp starts and he’ll be, 'These three things are what we have to do; if we don't we won't be good.'

Who is the X-factor on this year’s team? I think Gordon Hayward is going to be good. My expectation of Gordon Hayward is for him to be like he was in Utah. So I don't think he needs to exceed that. Obviously, he has to be better than he was last year. I think Tatum might be the X-factor. Tatum has to be so much more dominant. I can't call a game and not mention his name for a quarter. He's got to impact the game in so many ways. Crazy big shoulders, long arms, he’s got game. I don't want to see all his shots end up in Kobe Bryant's 18-foot step-backs. Get to the free-throw line, which he is capable of doing and get to the restricted area, which he is capable of doing.

I think Jaylen is going to be great. I think Tatum has the ability to really take that next step. But, to me, the result of that for Tatum is going to be 8 free throws per game, 10 free throws per game, which is -- we have to see more of that. Because Tatum has so much game and people can't stay in front of him. But you can't be settling for those shots, even if you make them. I'll just remind everybody that Kobe, his first couple years in the league, all he did was go to the basket and dunk on people. Yes, after like 15 years in the league, when he busted his Achilles, he turned into a jump shooter. But, early on, he was attacking the rim.

So, get the young players to attack the rim and then you can worry about that other stuff when you're old and can't move.

And if the Celtics do attack the basket, that so-called "chemistry" issue they had last year will be a thing of the past.

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Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Celtics center Tacko Fall meets John Cena at Friday Night SmackDown

Tacko Fall has quickly become a household name despite playing very little in the NBA. The 7-foot-5 center for the Boston Celtics became a star in the Las Vegas Summer League and since that time, the star hasn't faded.

Everywhere Fall has gone, attention has followed. It was Tacko Time, all the time at NBA All-Star Weekend. And every time he checks into games, home or away, he gets a massive round of applause.

Fall has mostly been focusing on improving his game in hopes of signing a non two-way contract ahead of next NBA season but has humbly embraced his star status, too. And his modesty was on display when he met another celebrity on Friday night, professional wrestler John Cena.

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Fall met the WWE star at Friday Night SmackDown in Boston. Here's a clip of the two meeting, via the league's official Twitter account.

This is a really great moment for the two and it seems that they share a mutual admiration. And it was nice of Cena to take some time to meet Fall before the game.

Fall, for one, won't forget this moment. And he surely seems to think that his grandmother will be excited that he got a chance to meet Cena.

Fall is currently dealing with a toe injury and sat out his last G League game with the Maine Red Claws. With Robert Williams rejoining the Celtics, it seems likely that any minutes he gets at the NBA level down the stretch of the season will be late in games that are already decided. But nonetheless, it'll be an opportunity for him to continue to develop.

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Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

Why Robert Williams is the Celtics' wild card

BOSTON — It’s unfair to expect too much from Robert Williams when he returns to the Boston Celtics’ active roster Saturday night against the Houston Rockets, but Williams is undeniably a wild card for the Celtics and their hopes of title contention down the stretch of the 2019-20 season.

Williams, the 27th overall pick in the 2018 draft, has missed the last 35 games due to a sore left hip. The team shut him down for two moths starting in early December hoping to combat the lingering issue, then ramped him up for much of February.

A scan Thursday showed no degradation from the recent uptick in activity and coach Brad Stevens said Friday that Williams has been cleared to return to play again. The team formally listed him as probable against the Rockets.

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So what can the Celtics reasonably expect from Williams?

Stevens said Williams would be “very limited for the first couple of games.” Williams, who was only averaging 14.2 minutes per game in 19 appearances earlier in the year, will undoubted display some rust but his adrenaline should carry him early. Stevens said that energy was evident at Friday’s practice.

“He had a little extra bounce in his step today,” said Stevens. "You can tell, he’s been antsy to go for a while now, so we’re happy that he’s going to be able to be back.”

Added Stevens: "We’re excited, nobody moreso than Rob.”

Boston decision-makers have offered encouraging updates on Williams in recent weeks. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge had routinely noted that Williams looked spry in small-group work. Stevens said earlier this week that Williams was dunking “at 13 feet,” suggesting he still had his pre-injury explosion. Teammates gushed about the loud alley-oop dunks that Williams threw down after returning to full-team practice before the recent west coast trip.

Williams noted that, during his time away, he worked on being more disciplined. One of Williams’ biggest weaknesses early in his pro career has been leaving his feet and chasing blocks. Williams, who is averaging 1.2 blocks per game for his career, has pledged to be more selective when trying to swat shots.

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The Celtics, with their perpetual injury woes, have a need for depth. As good as starter Daniel Theis and backup Enes Kanter have been in tag-teaming the big-man minutes, Williams can provide a different look and verticality at the center position. Williams’ lob-catching potential will be a welcome addition to a bench that’s offered limiting scoring output, particularly recently with Kemba Walker sidelined and Marcus Smart elevated to a starting role.

Williams projects as part of Boston’s top 8 rotation, though his playing time could hinge on how effective Theis and Kanter are on certain nights. A team like the Rockets, with their micro-ball ways, might be exactly the sort of situation that Williams can help the Celtics (at least when he’s at full health).

Offensively, Williams’ passing will be a nice addition to the second unit, and he can facilitate from the high post when he’s not rim running. Williams doesn’t need shots and is content to score off lobs and putbacks. He does need to be more careful with the ball and avoid some of the careless turnovers that took away from his quality play early in the year.

A return Saturday gives Williams seven weeks to ramp back up before the playoffs arrive. He played sparingly a year ago (13 minutes in three appearances) but is at least familiar with playoff intensity, unlike the rookies at the end of Boston’s roster.

Williams isn’t going to radically alter the Celtics’ ceiling but he can help and maybe more than any buyout candidate might have. How appropriate, too, that a man nicknamed Time Lord is making his return on Leap Day.

Expectations should be low, but Williams can still be very impactful in a small role. There’s been glimpses of his potential already this season, like a loud performance in San Antonio in which he registered 11 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting while adding seven rebounds and six blocks in 22 minutes during a lopsided Boston win.

The Celtics came into the season with big hopes for Williams. The injury has set him back. It’s unfair to expect too much from him the rest of the way, but he can still very much impact Boston’s quest to contend based on the team’s overall collection of talent and the unique lineups they can trot out.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Rockets-Celtics, which begins Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live. You can also stream on the MyTeams App.