Celtics

Walker wiggles into No. 8 for Celtics — and more from Kemba and Enes Kanter

Walker wiggles into No. 8 for Celtics — and more from Kemba and Enes Kanter

Kemba Walker endeared himself to a lot of longtime Boston Celtics fans when he elected to wear No. 8, giving new life to all those old Antoine Walker jerseys that had been collecting dust in closets across New England.

At his formal introduction on Wednesday at the Auerbach Center, Kemba joked about the difficulty in finding a number in Boston.

"It was hard. There’s no numbers available. Every number is retired,” said Kemba, offering a familiar lament of Celtics newcomers. "But the reason I took 8 was because my birthday is May 8, and 8 was available. So I just went with it. But it’s cool to wear Antoine Walker’s number. I spoke to him and he gave me the blessing as well, so I’m excited.”

In the spirit of the No. 8-wearing Walkers, here’s eight more leftover thoughts and nuggets after Kemba and Enes Kanter were formally introduced at the Auerbach Center.

1. 3N3S KANT3R?

The Celtics want Kanter to soar with strengths, especially cleaning up on the glass and generating second-chance points. But the 27-year-old big man knows he must modify his game a bit, particularly in coach Brad Stevens’ offense.

“The league is changing and you’ve gotta change with the league,” said Kanter. "Now you see the back-to-the-basket players — you don’t really see a lot of it any more. So that’s why the league is changing, so that’s why this summer one of my plans was to just add that to my game. I think it’s very important to just stretch the floor. It will be amazing, I think. And then Coach gives me confidence, so that’s going to make me feel comfortable out there to start taking it.”

Later he quipped, "Aron Baynes, Al Horford, they become a splash brother, so I think it could change for me, too. I believe it."

Kanter is a career 29.4 percent 3-point shooter but has only hoisted 143 triples in his eight-year career.

2. MAKING A POINT

It was interesting to hear Walker cite how the success of Boston’s previous point guards under Stevens was a key selling point to why he thought he could thrive here.

"The point guards are very successful. They score a lot,” Walker said with a chuckle. “But, yeah, the point guards are very successful. [Stevens is] a great coach. I know he watches tons of film. I’ve just been around him a few days and I know that. But I’m excited. I’m excited to get things going and learn him some more, him learning me more. 

"I only got a chance to play against him so there’s still a lot that we both have to learn from each other, but we’ll get there. There’s nothing more important to me than having a great relationship with the head coach, so we’ll get there.”

The successes of Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving has clearly left other score-first point guards intrigued by Boston. The lingering question, of course, is how much did Horford’s presence make it easier for those guards, and can Boston’s new batch of bigs help Walker become an even more efficient player here.

3. SUMMER SUMMER SUMMERTIME

Danny Ainge raised eyebrows when he noted that developing camp invite Tacko Fall is a “high priority” for the Celtics but he praised many of the key contributors to Boston’s summer squad.

"I thought Robert Williams played really well in summer league and will be able to contribute this year,” said Ainge. "I think that Grant Williams played really well this year in the summer league and can help us in some capacity. Same with [second-round picks] Carsen [Edwards] and Tremont [Waters] also. Tremont was good. 

"Javonte Green, I don't know what is ahead in his future but he played really well for us in this summer too and he's proven he can find a good role in the NBA too if that's what he wants.”

The Celtics have an open roster spot that could be utilized to add a summer standout — whether one from their squad or elsewhere. Waters and Max Strus were ticketed for two-way deals but either could be converted to the full-time roster if Boston wanted a two-way spot for another player.

4. BONJOUR, VINNY!

Earlier this week, the Celtics made official the signing of French big man Vincent Poirier, who inked a two-year, $4.6 million pact. Ainge offered a brief scouting report on the 25-year-old center.

"Vincent is a — he’s just a 7-foot-1, 9-4 ½ standing reach, active, athletic player,” said Ainge. "So he’s just another big body for us, with some things that we need to fine tune. In our frontcourt, I think that he’s going to have a chance.”

The Celtics accentuated Poirier’s rebounding numbers in international play when they announced his signing and that aspect of his game could help him earn time given the lack of pure size in Boston’s new-look frontcourt.

5. TRAVELING VIOLATION?

Kanter avoided trips to London and Toronto last season out of fear he might be arrested or harmed after being an outspoken critic of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Asked about his travel situation for the upcoming season, Kanter expressed hope he could make the trips to Toronto.

"When I was in Portland, one of the conversations was, if we made the NBA Finals, if I could travel to Toronto or not,” said Kanter. "In Portland, U.S. Senator Mr. Ron Wyden sent a letter to the Canadian government and they said, 'We don’t see an issue to come into our country.’ So I’m actually going to meet with Senator [Ed] Markey next week and I’m going to talk to him about some of the issues. I don’t think it will be a problem, but we’ll see.”

6. 11 WANTS TO MEET 12

Like many athletes that arrive in Boston, Kanter would like to meet the quarterback that plays down I-95.

“I’m actually a very big fan of Tom Brady,” said Kanter. "I actually want to meet him but I wasn’t going to say it in a press conference. But I’m like, ‘Should I do it or not?’ But I’m definitely a big fan of him and I would love to meet him. What he does on and off the court is amazing, not just for football, for sports. 

"So if he’s listening right now, I want to meet you, my man.”

Given Brady’s social media explosion in recent years, the two could seemingly be fast friends.

7. THE HORFORD CONUNDRUM

Ainge wondered out loud if Horford might have given stronger consideration to a Boston return if he had known Walker would be joining the team.

"I don’t know if Al makes the decision he makes if he knows that Kemba is coming,” said Ainge. "I have no idea if that makes [things different] — but that’s how free agency is, sometimes you gotta make decisions before you know other certainties. But I’m not worried about that. We just have two new guys that have chosen to come play for us that really want to be here and we wish them well. I’m grateful for Al and Kyrie choosing to come play in Boston and grateful for all that they gave us.”

The Celtics would have needed to do some serious cap gymnastics, and likely part with draft assets to entice the Nets to do a sign-and-trade, but there was still a slim possibility of retaining Horford after the team nabbed a Walker commitment. But that ship might have sailed.

“Once we felt like we had Kemba, and we talked with Al’s agent, and talked with him about the circumstance, it was made clear where we were,” said Ainge. "But I think a decision had already been made.”

8. IT’S ABOUT TO BE CRAZY, K

Walker admitted the NBA summer of 2019 was pretty wild but he thinks it could lead to some very intriguing basketball next season across the league.

"It’s been crazy. It’s been fun. It’s been fun to watch,” said Walker. "A lot of changes. I think a lot of basketball fans are really excited about a lot of teams — I guess I could use the word, ‘Even.' It’s just a lot more open. A lot of guys are going to other teams and it’s fun. It’ll be fun.”

Ainge clarifies details on Kyrie-Celtics breakup>>>>>

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Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

Next step for Celtics: More poise under pressure

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics’ fourth-quarter execution the past two games can be summed up in one sequence.

After clawing their way back into Thursday night’s visit from the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston found itself down 3 with 25.7 seconds to go with the ball. But the Sixers applied full-court pressure and inbounder Jayson Tatum panicked a bit while waiting for Jaylen Brown to race back to receive the pass. Brown ultimately got tangled with Josh Richardson and fell to the floor as Tatum’s pass sailed wide and bounced out of bounds near the Sixers' bench.

Painful as it would have been, the Celtics could have burnt their final timeout. They could have simply handled Philadelphia’s pressure better and not fumbled the ball — and the game — away.

Ultimately, great teams find a way to win this sort of game. Or the one 24 hours earlier when Boston kicked away a double-digit fourth-quarter lead in Indiana.

Save the excuses about available bodies and bad calls and whatever else you want to blame. The Celtics, seemingly unflappable in the face of in-game adversity early in the year, wilted twice against primary Eastern Conference rivals the past 48 hours.

Because of that, Boston arrives at a very random five-day December break in its schedule at a respectable 17-7 overall, but with a bit of a sour taste from dropping two games against potential East playoff foes. The Celtics have slipped to fourth in the conference with Philadelphia executing a leapfrog after Thursday’s 115-109 triumph at TD Garden.

“We just have to learn how to win,” said Kemba Walker, who scored a team-high 29 points against Philadelphia but got limited to 8 points with only one field goal after the intermission. All this one day after Boston wasted a 44-point outburst when Indiana rallied for a 122-117 victory.

"We have a lot of lapses during these games. We have stretches where we’re playing super well. And then we have lapses,” said Walker. “We just have times where we’re just — it’s bad. It just looks really bad. So we just have to tone that down a little bit, just try our best to put a 48-minute games together. And that’s going to take everybody.”

Maybe it’s greedy to suggest the Celtics should win these sort of games. After an opening-night loss in Philadelphia, Boston ripped off 10 straight wins and had won six of seven entering this week’s back-to-back. These young Celtics had been so cool under pressure that it’s been a bit jarring to see them get sloppy and shoot themselves in the foot with mental miscues.

"I think, going in, when you look at the schedule you know this is going to be a tough one but, once you’re in the heat of the moment, you’re not really feeling those effects,” said Gordon Hayward, who departed Wednesday’s game in Indiana after getting hit in the nose but didn’t look overly hindered against Philadelphia.

"I think two emotional losses for us. Certainly, it’s tough in games that go down to the wire. I felt like we had chances in both. But it is what it is. It’s a long season, it’s part of it. We’ve got to try to learn from it and move on but we can’t blame it on legs. We’re professional athletes. We should be able to handle that.”

Yes, Marcus Smart would help in these situations. But the Pacers were playing without Victor Oladipo, and the Sixers didn’t have Al Horford, who got a standing ovation when shown on the Philadelphia bench at the start of the second quarter.

The Celtics, if they want to be honest-to-goodness contenders, need to win these sort of games. It was one thing to find a silver lining when they took the Clippers to overtime last month on the road but the last two games have lacked the defensive focus displayed during much of Boston’s early-season success.

To be sure, there are positives to pluck from these two games. Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter held up surprisingly well while jousting with Joel Embiid. Philadelphia’s All-Star big man finished with 38 points on 12-of-21 shooting with 13 rebounds and 6 assists. He did a nice job dominating in 1-on-1 matchups and showcased his passing skills while generating open looks for teammates when Boston sent multiple bodies at him.

Kanter turned in his best game of the year and Theis played well for much of the night. The duo combined for 36 points and14 rebounds, essentially negating Embiid’s output (though his impact went far beyond those two stat categories).

The next step for these Celtics is consistently staying poised in high-pressure moments. Players have to avoid careless turnovers, they have to be willing to work for good looks on the offensive end, and they can’t lose focus on the defensive side.

While it’s obvious the Celtics never consider themselves out of a game, they’ve got to be better when things get tense.

"One thing I love about us is that we’re not quitting. We’re still fighting through adversity,” said Walker. "When things are getting rough we’re not putting our heads down, man. We’re competing at a very high level. So it can only go up from here.”

Unfortunately for Stevens, it’s plays like the inbounds turnover that will gnaw at him until the Celtics get back on the practice court next week. Boston doesn’t play another game until Wednesday night in Dallas.

That’s a lot of time to ponder how Thursday’s game got away. And Wednesday’s before it.

“We didn’t get the ball [inbounds],” Stevens said after Thursday’s loss. "I think that’s obviously -- you gotta be able to do those things in the biggest moments and we didn’t get that done.”

Blakely's Takeaways: Kanter shows his worth despite losing effort>>>

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

Joel Embiid pays Celtics fans the ultimate compliment ... but still loves silencing them

BOSTON -- Few professional athletes embrace hate like Joel Embiid.

The Philadelphia 76ers big man channeled recent criticism from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal into a tour de force performance at TD Garden on Thursday night, tallying a season-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and six assists to hand the Boston Celtics their first home loss, 115-109.

Embiid also fed off the Garden crowd, which booed the big man heartily throughout the night.

The 25-year-old tipped his cap to the Boston faithful after the game, admitting the loudest crowd he's ever dealt with in an NBA game was the Garden during a second-round playoff game in 2018.

"They've got great fans. They're loud," Embiid said. "The loudest (game) I've ever been a part of was actually here in Game 2, two years ago in the playoffs.

"We were up by 20 and they made their run. It was loud and my ears were popping. That's the loudest (it's) ever been (for me) in an arena."

The Celtics stormed back to win that game 108-103, taking a 2-0 series lead over Philly en route to a five-game series win.

A year and a half later, Boston wasn't so lucky.

Embiid had been in a bit of funk over his last few games but seemed revitalized by the hostile Garden environment, relishing in making big plays like this dagger 3-pointer in the fourth quarter:

"They talk a lot of trash, and I like that," Embiid said. "It gets me going. I had that fun mentality about me tonight. Just reacting to them and playing off it."

Boston and Philly will meet twice more this season, with the Sixers coming to the Garden again on Feb. 1. Celtics fans can boo Embiid all they want, but they should be warned that it may not have the desired effect.

"Joel really set the tone of how we were going to play today," Sixers teammate Tobias Harris added. "His energy, his interactions at timeouts and dead balls: He was the man today."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Mavericks, which tips off Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike & Scal have the call at 9:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.