Celtics

Which Celtics are best suited for bubble games in NBA playoffs?

Which Celtics are best suited for bubble games in NBA playoffs?

The big unknown as we wait for the NBA to restart its season inside the fan-less Disney bubble is how exactly players will respond to such a unique game experience.

It’s been suggested that the Boston Celtics, despite their relative youth, could be well-positioned to succeed in a bubble environment because of coach Brad Stevens’ ability to keep his team laser focused. At least one of his players buys this notion.

"The mindset is the most important,” said Enes Kanter. "The game of basketball is like 80 percent mental. If you’re off, it doesn’t matter how good of a player you are.”

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Stevens has repeatedly implored his players to stay one week away from their best shape and Kanter said that has forced players from letting their minds wander too far from basketball during this three-month pause in activity. 

"Even this [quarantine] period that we have, the past two, three months, I didn’t go like, ‘Woo, it’s a vacation.’ I did gain weight, I'm not going to lie, but my mindset [was there]. My body, of course, was healing and resting. But my mind was like, ‘OK, I’m going to play any minute. We can come back any minute.’ I think the Celtics did a really good job of makings sure [players stayed focused].”

So which Celtics players are best positioned to thrive in Orlando? Trying to determine how anyone will fare in a rather unprecedented game environment is guesswork at best. But that doesn’t mean we can hunt for clues.

For this exercise, we looked at Celtics’ players home/road splits this season for clues about how location might impact performance. Those players with little variance in stat lines would seemingly be ideal for a neutral-site game, able to block out the elements around them and focus on the task at hand.

Those players who had divergent splits, particularly those that soared at home and struggled on the road, would seemingly be less likely to thrive in the bubble while allowing performance to be impacted — positively or negatively — by environment.

A handful of splits that jumped out:

JAYSON TATUM Home/Road Splits

The epitome of evenness. Tatum’s stat lines are jarringly equal. Most impressively, his overall shooting was slightly better on the road and his 3-point percentage didn’t waver between locations. Six of his 10 double-doubles this year came on the road and he was generally more active in both rebounds and steals away from home.

Yes, the bigger question with Tatum is simply whether he can pick up the momentum he had before the season paused but, if he struggles, it shouldn’t be because of environment.

MARCUS SMART Home/Road Splits

Smart’s splits were as pronounced as any rotation player with his stat line slumping on the road. This isn’t exactly surprising considering Smart’s emotional nature and the way he tends to feed off the Garden crowd. But Smart shot 43.3 percent overall at home while averaging 15.3 points per game and that dove to 33 percent shooting and 11.8 points per game on the road.

Smart’s 3-point shooting also plummets, dipping from 38.2 percent at home to 31.3 percent on the road. Smart’s intensity rarely wavers but the Celtics need him to be a consistent offensive threat given their lack of experienced offensive weapons off the bench.

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DANIEL THEIS Home/Road Splits

Entering the exercise, we figured Theis might be one of the more varied splits. Surprisingly, he’s steady. His shooting does fall off a bit on the road — particularly beyond the 3-point arc. Alas, all five of his double-doubles have come on the road this season where he grabs 1.4 more rebounds per game. 

GORDON HAYWARD Home/Road Splits

Much like Tatum, Hayward is noticeably even based on location, his road scoring average slightly higher than his home. Hayward shoots better overall on the road but worse from beyond the arc. Like Theis, Hayward saves the majority of his big stat nights for the road (right, Timberwolves?)

Six of Hayward’s eight double-doubles this season came on the road.

GRANT WILLIAMS Home/Road Splits

It’s been well documented how role players tend to thrive at home and struggle on the road, especially in the postseason. It’s part of the reason why home-court advantage is so important to teams.

Williams needs to keep teams honest with his shot in order to be a rotation presence in the playoffs. He didn’t shoot the ball well at either location but shooting sub-40 percent overall and 22 percent beyond the 3-point arc on the road doesn’t inspire confidence.

KEMBA WALKER Home/Road Splits

Another Celtics starter with very steady splits (and you can add Jaylen Brown to that list, too). The big question with Walker is how he responds to the playoffs stage, having appeared in only 11 postseason games for his NBA career.

His collegiate exploits are a testament to his abilities on big stages. His splits suggest the location won’t matter when he gets a chance to taste postseason ball with the most talented group of teammates he’s ever had.

ENES KANTER Home/Road Splits

Another role player who tends to thrive more at home than on the road. Kanter averages 9.5 points on 62.5 percent shooting in Boston, and that dips to 6.8 points on 49.7 percent shooting on the road. Matchups are probably more important than environment with Kanter but he’ll have to adapt to having no crowd to feed off.

ROBERT WILLIAMS Home/Road Splits

An extra half-block per game on the road for Time Lord, who also shot markedly better on the road. Now, all of this might be a product of that one big game in San Antonio but since it conveniently fits our argument that Williams can emerge as an X-factor for the restart Celtics, we had to mention it here.

Watch the full "Celtics At Home" episode below, or on our YouTube page:

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker sheds light on decision to sign with Celtics over Knicks

Kemba Walker was this close to becoming a New York Knick instead of a Boston Celtic last summer.

Before signing a four-year, $141 million contract with the C's, Walker considered the Knicks in free agency. The 30-year-old said last fall he believed Boston was "just a better fit" for him despite New York being his hometown team.

Walker shed more light on whether he had serious interest in joining the Knicks during this week's episode of The Ringer's "R2C2" podcast.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

“To be honest, yes. Yes. Very serious, very,” Walker said ... "Before Boston actually came along, the Knicks were one of my top priorities, actually, because I was thinking they were gonna get another player. But it didn’t work out.”

Watch below:

New York was rumored to be in the running to sign Kyrie Irving and/or Kevin Durant, but both stars chose the Brooklyn Nets instead. It was a rough offseason for the Knicks, to say the least.

In his first year as a Celtic, Walker is averaging 20.8 points and 4.8 assists per game. The four-time All-Star has dealt with a nagging knee injury over the last several months but is encouraged by the progress he's made in the Orlando bubble.

"For me to feel like myself again, it definitely feels good. Just gives me a lot of confidence heading into those games," Walker said on the "R2C2" podcast.

The C's will need a healthy Walker if they're to have a shot at Banner 18.

To listen to the full episode, go here.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Romeo Langford, Robert Williams shine vs. Raptors?

The Boston Celtics gave their best performance of the NBA's restart in Wednesday night's blowout win over the Brooklyn Nets, and a boost from two of their most recent first-round picks played a key role in the victory.

Boston's bench scoring has been hit or miss in the seeding games so far, but the second unit didn't disappoint against the Nets. Second-year center Robert Williams scored a career-high 18 points with five rebounds and three blocks. Rookie guard Romeo Langford didn't make a huge impact offensively with only four points, but his defense was fantastic. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Raptors, which begins Friday at 8 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 9 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

The Nets are one of the worst teams in the Orlando bubble, so while the performances of Williams and Langford are no doubt encouraging, the Celtics need these guys to make a similar impact versus the top teams in the Eastern Conference, too. 

On a new episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast, our C's insider Chris Forsberg gives his take on Williams' and Langford's play so far, and what the future holds for them with the playoffs approaching.

"Here's what I think Brad will take away. He'll sit back and he'll say, none of these guys have really stepped up and grasped their opportunity through the scrimmage games and early seeding games, and with a chance because Kemba (Walker) was out and the starters didn't play a lot of minutes (against the Nets), (the young guys) finally sort of grasped the opportunity," Forsberg said. "But again, it's what you do from there. ... It's not like you have one good game and (Celtics coach Brad Stevens) just throws you in there. If I had to guess which rookie is still most likely to have the biggest impact, I'm starting to lean toward Langford because he has shown defensively that you can put him in there and even in small bursts of minutes be able to give you something, and to be a steady presence. I think that's important.

Celtics Talk Podcast: Can Rob Williams, Langford help C's carry momentum vs Raptors? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"It's nice to see Rob Williams out there, and there were still a good amount of defenses lapses -- a lot of which he makes up for because he's so athletic. But when I convene the Robert Williams fan club for our weekly meeting tonight, I'm going to tell the congregation, look, let's not get too high or too low, we have to see Rob come back and build off (Wednesday night). My hope is that Rob is the first guy in the gym, even on an off day after two games. That he's in there working, busting his butt and showing that he's ready for that opportunity. If he does that, he's got a better chance to get some minutes. If he got a DNP (against the Raptors), I wouldn't be shocked because that's how Brad operates. But Grant (Williams), Romeo -- one of those guys is going to get a chance in the playoffs and they have to be ready for that opportunity."

Robert Williams could see some action versus the Raptors for the simple fact that Toronto is a pretty big team. He would be a good matchup against Raptors center Marc Gasol or power forward Serge Ibaka. Grant Williams also has good size and a high defensive IQ, so he could match up against those Raptors big men as well. 

Coaches typically shorten their rotations in the playoffs and only give minutes to players they can trust. But there are plenty of scenarios, including foul trouble, injuries, etc., that force guys at the end of the bench to play a role. For the Celtics to make a deep playoff run, they'll need young players such as Langford and both Williams' to give them some good minutes against contending teams. 

One of the best ways to find out which players are capable of handling that burden is actually giving them minutes before the playoffs, and Friday's game against the Raptors is a good opportunity to see how these young guys respond.

Check out the latest episode of the Celtics Talk Podcast on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube below.