Celtics

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways: Jaylen Brown stars as Celtics win in bittersweet fashion

A. Sherrod Blakely's Takeaways: Jaylen Brown stars as Celtics win in bittersweet fashion

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Monday at 7:00 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call of the game at 7:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.

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It was a bittersweet night for the Boston Celtics following a 135-115 blowout win at San Antonio. 

It was the first time under Brad Stevens that Boston won in San Antonio, but the victory came at a huge cost - Gordon Hayward. 

He scored nine points but suffered a left fractured hand injury in the second quarter that may require surgery.

Losing Hayward impacts the Celtics on so many levels

But after his injury, the Celtics did what we’ve seen them do whenever someone is lost to an injury- they moved on and found a way to win. 

The victory gave Boston its seventh in a row and keeps the Celtics atop the Eastern Conference standings while capping off a three-game road trip with nothing but victories 

Here are three takeaways for the East-leading Celtics following their win over the Spurs.

JAYLEN BROWN 

Even before Hayward’s injury, Brown was well on his way to a strong night before finishing with a season-high 30 points. The illness/infection that kept Brown sidelined is very much a thing of the past now as he returns looking even more impactful than he was earlier. 

For years, Brown has quietly gone about doing a lot of the little things to help the Celtics win, while some of his higher-profile teammates garnered much of the attention. But as you watch Brown now, he looks and acts the part of a player who is ready to be more than just a key contributor but also a difference-maker at both ends of the floor.  

DEFENSE

Much of the talk following Saturday’s game will center around Boston dropping a season-high 135 points on the road against a San Antonio Spurs team that has been a defensive force for years. But the defense Boston played - particularly against the Spurs’ top two players - was far more significant. 

LaMarcus Aldridge, a perennial all-star forward, was a non-factor. The only impact he made that was significant, was him being involved in the broken left hand injury suffered by Boston’s Gordon Hayward. Aldridge finished the game with 3 points on 1-for-4 shooting from the field and a plus/minus of minus-12. And San Antonio point guard Dejounte Murray, one of the most improved players in this still-young NBA season, was held to just four points on 2-for-8 shooting with as many turnovers (4) as assists. Limiting the opposing team’s inside-outside tandem is a good omen for the Celtics who will face one of the best in the NBA on Monday when Kristaps Porzingis and MVP candidate Luka Doncic come to the TD Garden. 

MARCUS SMART

This was yet another game in which Marcus Smart was called upon to pick up the slack, and the veteran guard delivered. He finished with 16 points on 5-for-10 shooting which included 4-for-9 from 3-point range. His defense was strong as ever on Saturday, and they’ll need that going forward with Hayward’s return yet to be determined. 

But Smart’s shooting which continues to fly below the radar even as his percentage steadily rises, has to continue along the path of consistency. We have all seen Smart get jacuzzi-hot from 3-point range in the past. But going forward, Smart has to do a better job of not falling in love with the long ball and instead use his strength and quickness off the dribble to get into the lane and score off the dribble via floater or possible lay-ups. The Dallas Mavericks will surely tempt him to shooting 3’s, but he has to make getting into the paint a priority. Boston came into Saturday’s game with four players averaging at least 10 drive attempts per game with Hayward leading the way. Smart has to pick up where Hayward left off in order for Boston to continue its winning ways. 

MORE BLAKELY: What Gordon Hayward's injury means to the Celtics>>>

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Forsberg: A year later, these Celtics don't crack from adversity

Forsberg: A year later, these Celtics don't crack from adversity

After the Boston Celtics’ 20th game of the 2018-19 season, Marcus Smart was speechless. And not in the good way.

On that night in late November, the Celtics lost for the fourth time in five games while dropping to 10-10 overall. A smoldering Smart, who had already bristled after a rough road trip out west earlier in the month, considered his team’s general lethargy and fumed, “Until we [change our ways], we’ll continue to get our ass whooped.” Kyrie Irving wondered if the team was near, “rock bottom."

Fast forward a year and, no longer encumbered by the heavy burden of expectations, it’s all sunshine and puppy dogs in CelticsLand. The 2019-20 Celtics are 15-5 and, despite being pegged a Tier 2 team in the East, they have asserted themselves as a legitimate East contender even while playing at less than full strength for nearly the entirety of the season.

And therein lies the biggest difference between last year’s Celtics and this year’s squad. When last year’s team encountered adversity, or things started to go sideways, that group splintered and cracked. When this year’s squad hits bumps in the road, the players stick together.

Take Wednesday night against the Heat as an example. Boston, playing without two starters, fell behind early by double digits. Last year’s team probably would have packed it in; this year’s team ripped off a late first-half run and controlled the rest of the game against a team that had been ahead of them in the standings.

That resiliency is a particularly endearing trait of this year’s team. This year’s Celtics squad competes every night. Take away a jagged opening-night loss in Philadelphia and Boston has stuck close in every other game this season, their other four losses coming by a combined 13 points.

It’s almost certainly unfair that we keep comparing and contrasting last year’s Celtics team to this year’s version. This year’s version has stressed a desire to focus on the now. Alas, the juxtaposition is undeniably stark and you can’t acknowledge where the Celtics are now without remembering what they went through.

Last year’s team internalized their struggles, which caused unnecessary friction and things always seemed tense around the team. This year’s squad gets contributions throughout the roster, celebrates each other’s successes, and then engages in a playful team snowball fight.

How this year’s team reacts to large-scale adversity remains to be seen. Boston’s longest losing streak is two games and, even then, the Celtics came away encouraged with the fight they showed while losing to the championship-favorite Clippers out west and fighting back after Kemba Walker’s injury scare in Denver.

The next few weeks will tell us a lot more about this year’s team and its resiliency. A rematch with the Nuggets looms Friday night and then a challenging Indiana-Philadelphia back-to-back highlights next week’s schedule. A visit to Toronto awaits on Christmas day.

Boston could soon be back at full strength, with Gordon Hayward seemingly trending toward an early return as he rehabs from a left hand fracture. Jaylen Brown has been so good in his absence that the only question is whether there are enough shots to go around for four star-caliber players the way Walker, Hayward, Brown, and Jayson Tatum have all performed this season.

That visit from Philadelphia could help answer the question of whether Boston truly needs to make a move for another big, the sort that could engage in hand-to-hand combat with the likes of Joel Embiid and Giannis Antetokounmpo. Games against Indiana and Toronto will tell us if Boston is definitely a top-tier team in the East or part of the pack trying to get on Milwaukee’s level.

But even with the question marks that remain, the outlook is a lot rosier than it was a year ago through 20 games. Last year’s Celtics squad actually played their best ball after that 10-10 start, performing so well in the stretch that followed that Danny Ainge kept the roster intact the rest of the season.

The next few weeks will tell us if Ainge needs to make any changes for this year’s squad. We’ll get a better idea of where this team stands. And, maybe most importantly, we’ll see just how long these positive vibes can persist fr the 2019-20 Celtics.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nuggets, which tips off Friday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Tommy have the call at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

How Tremont Waters, Vincent Poirier fared for Maine Red Claws vs. Wisconsin Herd

How Tremont Waters, Vincent Poirier fared for Maine Red Claws vs. Wisconsin Herd

Tacko Fall (knee) remains out for the Maine Red Claws, and Romeo Langford suffered another ankle injury, so that put Tremont Waters and Vincent Poirier in the spotlight on Thursday.

Waters has been sensational to begin his tenure in Maine. So good, in fact, that he earned NBA G League Player of the Month honors for November. 

For Poirier, Thursday night marked his first game playing alongside Waters with the Red Claws.

Here's how the two Celtics rookies performed in the 123-118 loss:

TREMONT WATERS

Waters filled the stat sheet again with a double-double as he notched 13 points (5-for-15 shooting) and 10 assists. The Celtics' No. 51 overall pick in this year's NBA Draft knocked down 3 of his 9 3-point attempts.

VINCENT POIRIER

Poirier made an instant impact in his first game in a Red Claws uniform. The Frenchman contributed 14 points while going 6-for-9 from the field and bringing down nine boards.

Next, the Red Claws will take on the Delaware Blue Coats on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET. You can tune in to that matchup right here on NBC Sports Boston.

Don’t miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Kings, which tips off today at 3 p.m. ET with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call of the game at 3:30 p.m. You can also stream the game through the MyTeams App.