Enes Kanter

NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

NBA Restart: Celtics still waiting on any bench player to step up

We could sit here and scream about how poor Boston’s defense has been inside the bubble. The Celtics own a defensive rating of 117.9 after their first three seeding games, and only one team has a worse mark (the helter-skelter Sixers).

We could lament Boston’s lethargy after the team whiffed Tuesday with a chance to essentially lock up the No. 3 seed while playing a Jimmy Butler-less Miami Heat team that was on the second night of a back-to-back.

Boston hasn’t played with any sort of consistent energy in its three games, falling behind early against Milwaukee, coughing up a big lead against Portland, and trying to play catchup all night against Miami.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Nets, which begins Wednesday 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.

But here’s one thought we couldn’t shake while watching Tuesday’s game: What a luxury it is for Miami to have a rookie like Tyler Herro on their bench. Herro chipped in 11 points over 22 minutes during the Heat’s 112-106 triumph.

With Marcus Smart in foul trouble — so much so that he fouled out late in the third quarter — Boston lacked a bench boost. Take away Enes Kanter’s 10 points and the Celtics’ reserve trio of Grant Williams, Brad Wanamaker, and Smart combined for 14 points on 4-of-18 shooting.

At one point during the second half, Celtics coach Brad Stevens dispatched Romeo Langford for his first seeding-game minutes but Langford turned in a scoreless 3 minutes, 44 seconds, in which he mostly blended into the scenery.

Herro, of course, went one spot ahead of Langford in the 2019 draft. There had been a buzz before draft night that the Celtics were fond of Herro and that he had impressed the team with his shooting in one of his workouts. There might have even been a few groans inside the Auerbach Center when Miami snagged the Kentucky product at No. 13.

The Celtics ultimately took Langford, who has no shortage of potential and might eventually be a better pro. But his rookie season got off to a slow start as he healed from hand surgery and then he dealt with a bunch of minor maladies that even limited how much floor time he got with the Maine Red Claws of the G-League.

Herro has now appeared in 50 games for Miami while shooting a robust 39 percent beyond the 3-point arc on 5.4 attempts per game. He wasn’t even Miami’s best rookie this season — that distinction goes to Kendrick Nunn — but Herro won Erik Spoelstra’s confidence and is now a key rotation piece while logging 26.9 minutes per game.

On Tuesday, Miami’s four-man bench combined for 43 points on 31 shots while each player logged at least 21 minutes of floor time. For Boston, Semi Ojeleye missed five of his six shots, including multiple open 3s. Smart finished 0-for-5 shooting.

Make no mistake, Boston will lean heavy on its core players when the playoffs arrive. When Kemba Walker is off his minute restriction, and combined with a hefty dose of Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Gordon Hayward, that might leave only a small handful of minutes for reserves not named Smart.

Still, games like Tuesday night show how important it is to have players that can take the baton, even if it’s only on rare nights. None of Boston’s younger players have shown enough this year to earn Stevens’ unwavering trust.

Again, guys like Grant Williams and Langford could have bright futures. Maybe Carsen Edwards and Tremont Waters, too. That’s especially important for Boston because of how much money they have tied up long term in their core players.

But the fact of that matter is that, right now, none of Boston’s rookies have seized their opportunity, nor has 2018 first-round pick Robert Williams, who was only inserted late in Tuesday’s game to defend an inbounds attempt with his length and bounce.

Those players could get another chance to show what they’ve got on Wednesday when Boston plays a back-to-back against the Nets. With Walker set to rest his knee and Stevens unlikely to go too heavy on starter minutes in the team’s first (and only) bubble double, younger players will need to take advantage of whatever minutes come their way.

Herro won’t be the difference between a first-round upset and a first-round exit for Miami. But the Heat are well-positioned moving into the future because of the progress their youngest players made this season. It’s critical teams develop talent if they are going to commit most of their money to their top stars.

The Celtics are left waiting for their youngest players to show they are ready.

Enes Kanter Show: It could get ugly for opponents when Kemba’s healthy | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Enes Kanter Show: It could get ugly for opponents when Kemba Walker is healthy

Enes Kanter Show: It could get ugly for opponents when Kemba Walker is healthy

Kemba Walker continues to be eased back into action due to a nagging left knee injury, but his performance through the Boston Celtics' first two games of the NBA restart is encouraging.

Even with limited playing time, Walker has stood out as one of the best players on the court. The C's guard tallied 16 points in 19 minutes vs. the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday, and 14 in 22 minutes vs. the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday.

All signs point to Walker being on the verge of 100 percent, and the thought of that has Celtics teammate Enes Kanter excited about what's to come.

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Kanter raved about Walker in a brand new episode of The Enes Kanter Show and made it clear that opponents will have their hands full with the All-Star when he's fully healthy.

Enes Kanter Show: It could get ugly for opponents when Kemba’s healthy | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube

"Once he's 100 percent in game shape, like, oh my God. It's going to be ugly for other teams," Kanter said. "Because like, that's Kemba Walker. He was in my draft class. I played against him for nine years and I hated going against him.

"I knew there'd come a day where he's gonna be fine. Even if he doesn't play for months and months, it's just in his blood. He just can go out there and just hoop. He's just a hooper, that's it."

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens has been extremely cautious with Walker, sticking to a strict minutes restriction through the first couple of games in the Orlando bubble.

Walker understands Stevens' approach and isn't one to complain, but it hasn't been easy for him to watch his Celtics teammates compete without him.

"Oh man, he's dying [for more minutes]," Kanter said with a laugh. "Especially like the last few minutes of the game. I mean, he's a game-changer. He's a leader and a game-changer, you know? He wants to be out there and just take ownership. But now Brad is like, 'OK, this is just the beginning, take it easy. We've got a long way to go.'

"But I think that just shows his heart, man. This dude just signed one of the biggest shoe deals out there. He can just say, 'You know what, I'm just gonna rest.' But no, he just wants to go out there and be with his teammates and win. He even wants to go out there and play 25-30 minutes in exhibition games. That shows character, man. And leadership."

Also discussed on the show: Kanter described the emotion of players kneeling during the national anthem, Jaylen Brown’s leadership on and off the court, Grant Williams’ basketball IQ and the inside scoop behind Jayson Tatum’s haircut.

You can listen and subscribe to The Enes Kanter Show here, or watch on YouTube.

Gordon Hayward's play, Jayson Tatum's passing impressive for Celtics

Gordon Hayward's play, Jayson Tatum's passing impressive for Celtics

One of the biggest questions facing the Boston Celtics coming into this reboot to the season was what will we see from Gordon Hayward. 

Just before the season was suspended on March 12, the 30-year-old Hayward was playing some of the best basketball of his time in Boston. And two games into the reboot, Hayward’s strong play remains very much alive and well. 

Jayson Tatum’s bounce-back performance in Boston’s 128-124 win over Portland along with Jaylen Brown’s dominant fourth quarter showing overshadowed in many respects what was yet another strong outing for Hayward. 

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Celtics-Heat, which begins Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live followed by tip-off at 6:30 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.

Against the Blazers, Hayward had 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists. It was yet another impressive performance by Hayward, who has seemingly picked up where he left off in the first two games under the Orlando Bubble. 

Since the restart of the season, Hayward has averaged 19.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 4.5 assists with an identical 50 percent shooting from 3-point range (4-for-8) as well as from the field (12-for-24).

But he isn’t the only Celtics player putting up good numbers lately. Here’s a look at some of the Green Team standouts, by the numbers:

5: The number of points Portland players scored when defended by Kemba Walker. More telling than the point total was the fact that those guarded by the 6-foot-1 Walker were a combined 2-for-10 shooting from the field. 

7: Second-chance points scored by Enes Kanter which was instrumental in Boston taking control early in the game. Kanter has been among the NBA’s best offensive rebounders throughout most of his career, with Sunday’s performance being no exception. Kanter’s seven second-chance points nearly matched the second-chance point total (10) of the entire Blazers squad.

8: Fast-break points scored by Jaylen Brown against the Blazers as part of his 30-point game, 16 of which came in the fourth quarter. Brown’s ability to get out and finish in transition was in sharp contrast to Portland, which had a total of just six fast-break points. 

15: Points scored by Boston off of screens set by Daniel Theis, who also managed to score nine points against Portland which included him making all four of his shots from the field. 

55: Passes (a team-high) made by Jayson Tatum against the Blazers. In addition to scoring a game-high 34 points, Tatum also dished out eight assists which was a career-high for the third-year forward. 

Celtics Talk Podcast: How much does a healthy Kemba Walker raise the Celtics’ ceiling? | Listen & subscribe | Watch on YouTube