Celtics

While Marcus Smart lost his composure, Celtics kept theirs for a change

While Marcus Smart lost his composure, Celtics kept theirs for a change

On a night where Marcus Smart losing his composure will dominate the headlines and highlights, it’s maybe more noteworthy that the rest of the Boston Celtics did not.

Saturday’s visit to Atlanta was exactly the sort of game the Celtics have routinely fumbled away this season. Inferior, well-rested opponent playing against a heavy-legged Boston team on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. It’s been a recipe for disaster.

Which is weird, because these sort of games used to be the ones that Brad Stevens-coached teams feasted on. While much of the league seemed content with so-called “schedule losses,” Stevens never let his team use back-to-backs or travel as a crutch for underperformance. But this year’s team simply hasn’t shown the mental toughness needed to grind through these type of games, and you need only look back to Boston getting stomped in Miami to kickstart a disastrous 0-3 road trip last week for a prime example.


So when Atlanta jumped Boston, scoring 50 points in little more than 15 minutes and opening a 16-point lead, it seemed like the Celtics might be headed for another head-shaking, momentum-breaking loss. Stevens tried desperately to inject some energy into his team, going 11 deep with his rotation, including early second-quarter playing time for third-string point guard Brad Wanamaker.

Ultimately, it was a more familiar savior, with Kyrie Irving’s late first-half offensive outburst singlehandedly dragging Boston back into the game. Smart, before his double-technical fueled ejection, helped ratchet up Boston’s defensive intensity, and the Celtics eventually rallied ahead in the final frame en route to a 113-105 triumph at State Farm Arena.

"We needed that kind of response … no question about it,” said Stevens who deemed Saturday’s triumph a “good win.”

That’s a hard sell with Atlanta’s 14-31 record. But the Hawks entered with recent wins over Philadelphia and Oklahoma City, hanging 142 points on the Thunder before enjoying three days off leading up to Boston’s visit.

There was really no reason that Boston should have been able to rally back to win this game. Especially when typical energy-infuser Smart got the heave-ho for too much gum-flapping (both to referees and opposing players). Smart nearly made a bad situation worse when he tried to charge at Atlanta’s DeAndre’ Bembry while enraged about something that was said as tempers flared following the double technical as players lined up for a jump ball.

Backup point guard Terry Rozier took the intensity baton and continued his recent trend of applying occasional full-court pressure, which disrupted the Hawks’ offense. Rozier brought the same energy to the defensive glass, grabbing a season-high 11 rebounds overall and helping a Gordon Hayward-less bench overcome its shooting woes to change the tenor of the game.

Rozier and Jaylen Brown combined to make just 7 of 22 shots but were about as impactful as any players not named Kyrie. Irving finished with 32 points, 23 of which came in the first half.

The Hawks had an offensive rating of a measly 83.3 when Brown was on the court. His plus-26.7 net rating in 28 minutes of play leaped off the NBA’s advanced stats box score. The bench also got quality minutes from Wanamaker, Semi Ojeleye, and Daniel Theis to fuel the turnaround.

Aron Baynes remains spectacular since returning from a hand injury. Boston's defensive intensity spikes when he’s on the court. In the three games since Baynes' return from a broken hand, the Celtics own an absurd net rating of plus-31.1 during his 53 minutes of court time. That number shrinks to minus-7.7 in his 91 minutes on the bench.

Jayson Tatum shrugged off a dud against Memphis to score 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting, with all his attempts coming inside the 3-point arc. He added some solid defense, most notably intercepting Smart as he charged Bembry. Al Horford also ramped up his second-half defense and could be seen barking at his teammates to finish out the win after a late defensive lapse.

Saturday’s win won’t exactly be featured prominently in the 2018-19 season yearbook but it is another sign of progress for a Celtics team trying desperately to avoid the inconsistencies that plagued it for the first half of the season.

Smart now awaits his fate — be it a hefty fine or, depending on what discipline-deciders see on the tape, a brief suspension from the NBA — and he’ll have to explain how his temper got the best of him again. That’s too bad because Smart has been so solid at both ends of the floor recently that moments like this only detract from the progress he’s making.

He can find solace in the way his teammates reacted to the adversity of his exit. Boston players had every excuse to roll over and, instead, they found a way to grind out a win.

That's progress for a team that’s still shaping its identity and trying to find some of the magic of past seasons.

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NBA Rumors: Romeo Langford will be cleared for full basketball activities by start of Celtics training camp

NBA Rumors: Romeo Langford will be cleared for full basketball activities by start of Celtics training camp

With Celtics training camp set to begin on October 1, there is a bit of good news on one of the team's first round rookies. 

According to Keith Smith, Romeo Langford, who missed all of Summer League recovering from thumb surgery, will be cleared for full basketball activities by the start of camp. 

Langford is the youngest of the Celtics first round picks and arguably the player who needed the most reps during Summer League to get ready for his rookie season in the NBA. While those Summer League reps can't be regained, Langford will at least won't have to miss extra time getting acclimated to his new team. 

In early August, Langford told Tom Westerholm that his thumb was "basically" back to normal, but he hadn't participated in any contact activities. So over the past month-and-a-half, Langford has been healthy enough to continue to work on his jump shot, which the Celtics have begun to overhaul with a ping pong paddle

The Celtics will have to deal with a relatively uncertain future following Kyrie Irving and Al Horford's departures and the arrival of Kemba Walker. They'll need to hit on their draft picks in order to build a young core that can either contend with Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart or one that can be exchanged for a superstar talent that will. Having Langford ready to go at the start of training camp is at least a step in the right direction. 

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Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who will be the Celtics' most impactful rookie?

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NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Countdown to Celtics Camp: Who will be the Celtics' most impactful rookie?

When the Boston Celtics open training camp next month, they will have a whopping eight first-year players on the court. That number will include four drafted rookies, two summer league standouts on camp invitations, an undrafted two-way player, and a European import.

In the fourth installment of our Countdown to Camp series, we asked our NBC Sports Boston panel to pick which of those rookies will have the biggest impact on the Celtics during the 2019-20 season.

Boston drafted four rookies in Romeo Langford (14th overall), Grant Williams (22), Carsen Edwards (33), and Tremont Waters (51). They later signed undrafted swingman Max Strus to one of their two-way deals, while summer league standouts Javonte Green and Tacko Fall are coming to camp with a chance to compete for a final roster spot. The Celtics also signed French 7-footer Vincent Poirier to add another body to their frontcourt.

That’s a lot of youth and inexperience but, then again, only four Celtics players have more than three years of NBA experience overall in Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, Marcus Smart, and Enes Kanter. Which is to say that there will be plenty of opportunities for younger players to make an immediate impact if they prove themselves ready for immediate minutes.

Typically, you might lean towards the lottery pick but Langford missed all of summer league while rehabbing from thumb surgery and will be playing a bit of catchup when camp opens.

Given Boston’s new-look frontcourt following the departure of Al Horford and Aron Baynes, it would seem a solid bet to suggest that Grant Williams or Poirier might have the clearest path to contributing. As you’ll read below, our panel leaned heavy in that direction and we’d probably be inclined to agree with their pick.

But we could also make the case for Edwards, an elite bucket-getter at the college level who showed at summer league that he’s not bashful about getting up shots. The departure of Terry Rozier could open an opportunity for backup guard minutes and if Edwards can give a little offensive jolt to the second unit, he could carve out minutes.

Scoring against rotation NBA players won’t be as easy as it was against rookies and roster hopefuls at summer league but Edwards can create his own shot, brings some rugged defense, and will have a chance to stake his claim for backcourt minutes.

Abby Chin: Grant Williams

The Celtics need all the help they can get in the frontcourt. The opportunity is there. And I feel like there’s a lot of hype surrounding the smart, versatile, if a little undersized, Tennessee product. I’m expecting big things.

 

A. Sherrod Blakely: Grant Williams

The team's lack of depth and overall uncertainty in the frontcourt means all their bigs, Grant Williams included, will get a chance to play. He won't wow us with his numbers but his basketball savvy will come in handy on some nights and play a role in the Celtics winning more games than most anticipate.

 

Max Lederman: Grant Williams

Williams already has an NBA body (strength wise, at least) and is a smart, winning player. I was also really impressed with his willingness to let the game come to him in summer league, which shows me he'll be fine in whatever role the team asks him to play. He's also a concrete wall setting screens.

Countdown to C's Camp: Awards predictions>>>

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