A. Sherrod Blakely

What can we expect from the Horford-Baynes tandem?

What can we expect from the Horford-Baynes tandem?

BOSTON – If you swung by the Celtics’ practice facility early in the morning recently, there was a good chance you would have found Al Horford and Aron Baynes already there having worked up a good sweat.

The two oldest Celtics (Horford is 32, Baynes 31) are often the first in the gym which only reinforces a Teflon-strong bond that began to take shape last season, their first as teammates.

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And while that familiarity will certainly help going forward, they embark upon a new season with greater expectations than ever.

So, what should fans expect from a Horford-Baynes tandem this season?

ELITE DEFENSE


For a team whose foundation lies in their play defensively, Boston could not have two better pillars at that end of the floor than Horford and Baynes. According to NBA.com/stats, they played together 13.3 minutes per game last season. Among Boston’s two-man units, the Horford-Baynes combo had the best defensive rating (95.0) for those tandems that shared the floor for at least 10 minutes. Their importance to this team defensively is undeniable.

FLOOR SPACERS


Al Horford has shown tremendous growth in his 3-point shooting in recent years, and Aron Baynes exploded in the postseason from 3-point range as well. But the true mark of their presence on the floor when it comes to 3-point shooting, comes in the form of how the team fares. And when these two are on the floor, Boston has been pretty damn good from 3-point range. In fact, the Celtics shot 44.4 percent on three-pointers when these two were on the floor last season which is second to none of the team’s other two-man units.

BALL MOVEMENT


It’s one thing to be a big man who is a willing passer. It’s another matter entirely when you have two bigs on the floor with that similar mindset. Boston has that in Horford and Baynes. As a tandem, assists tend to come at a really good clip with Boston’s assists ratio (the number of assists per 100 possessions of play) being 18.5 which according to NBA.com/stats, ranked second on the team last season.

LEADERSHIP


As Boston’s two oldest players, that brings about a certain amount of leadership responsibilities. But with Horford and Baynes, that leadership is shown in their actions both on and off the court as well. Horford’s leadership skills have been known for years, dating back to his days at Florida when he helped lead the Gators to back-to-back national championships. And Baynes has been an ideal complement to Horford’s leadership. His game is rooted in strong play defensively and expects that level of effort from those around him. In addition, he’s the only player outside of Kyrie Irving to have been part of an NBA championship team. And when you see him never grumble or gripe about playing time even when he plays well, it becomes much easier for players to buy into the team-first mindset that he adopted many years ago. Between the two of them, a lack of leadership will not be an issue for this team.

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The next Clint Capela? Plenty of parallels with Robert Williams

The next Clint Capela? Plenty of parallels with Robert Williams

BOSTON – On a draft night when there was very little drama, intrigue or surprises to speak of, the Celtics landing Texas A&M’s Robert Williams certainly qualifies as an unexpected pairing.

Williams was seen by most as a potential lottery pick (top 14). who might slip into the late teens.

But all the way to 27?

To have such a precipitous fall, there are likely factors weighed by NBA teams that passed on him that go beyond his ability.

Of greater concern for the Celtics, is how good can he be in Boston?

As far as the floor for him as a player, you can go in a lot of directions, from Stromile Swift, who was one of the bigger draft busts in recent memory, to former Celtic Amir Johnson, who has been a solid-but-not-spectacular pro for more than a decade.

In looking at current NBA players who seem very similar to where Williams is now, Houston’s Clint Capela in many ways mirrored the promise and potential problems that many see in the 6-foot-10, 241-pound Williams.

Here’s a look at five traits that give the Celtics reason to be cautiously optimistic that they may have landed this draft’s version of Capela:

Late first-round picks

Clint Capela was considered one of the best athletes to ever come to the NBA, from Europe. Despite some impressive physical traits, he slid down the board before ultimately landing with the Houston Rockets, who selected him with the 25th pick in 2014. Williams is talked about in a similar vein when it comes to having elite athleticism. And, like Capela, he, too, saw his stock take a draft-night dip to where he was finally scooped up by the Celtics at 27.

Rim-runners

The term “rim-runners” is relatively new to the basketball lexicon, but it has been around for a while and it really does matter. Players who can run the floor effectively not only create shot attempts for themselves, but also puts stress on a defense that allows the teammates of elite rim-runners to get great looks at the basket. As talented as James Harden and Chris Paul are, they benefit from Capela’s ability to get up court in a hurry. Williams has a similar skill to his game, but wasn’t surrounded by the type of quality shooters to which that strength of running the floor was on display enough. In Boston, he’ll make the guys around him better offensively by doing what he does best and that’s run the floor and, when given the opportunity, play above the rim.

Defensive Mindset

Since coming into the NBA, Capela has been a stabilizing force for a Houston team that has steadily improved collectively on defense. He has great timing, above-average length, and instincts at that end of the floor that has served him well. His 1.9 blocks per game last season ranked fourth in the NBA. Williams comes into the NBA with similar potential at that end of the floor. In both his seasons at Texas A&M, Williams was named SEC Defensive Player of the Year. In addition, he led the SEC in rebounds (9.2) and was second in blocked shots (2.6 per game), despite playing just 25.6 minutes per game.

Bad free-throw shooters

When you fall as far in the first round as Capela and Williams, you know there are some warts to their overall game. The one thing both share unequivocally is a knack for not making free throws. Capela is a career 48.2 percent shooter from the free-throw line, but the good news for Rockets fans is he made a career-best 56 percent last season and has actually improved from the line every year he has been in the NBA. Williams has been just as woeful from the line. In his two seasons at Texas A&M, he shot 54.1 percent from the line, but that included last season when he connected on just 47.1 percent of his free throws.

Established, successful franchises

When the Rockets drafted Capela, they were coming off a 54-win season with a roster that included Harden, Chandler Parsons (when he was healthy), Dwight Howard and Jeremy Lin (who like Parsons, was healthy then). So, he knew early on that by playing to his strengths – rebounding, defense, running the floor – he would be a contributor in a year or two. Williams is walking into a similar situation. Boston has established veterans ahead of him in the frontcourt, but the strengths of his game – rebounding, defense and running the floor – provides an element that Boston won’t get from anyone else. And by playing to his strengths, he’ll only enhance the success of a team that has already built to contend for an NBA title this season.

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Celtics-76ers Game 2 preview: C's still gotta come out hungry

Celtics-76ers Game 2 preview: C's still gotta come out hungry

BOSTON – Taking Game 1 over Philadelphia by a surprisingly comfortable 16-point margin, the Celtics clearly did a lot of things that worked well.

And while it goes without saying that the Sixers will try and make adjustments leading up to tonight’s Game 2 matchup, don’t expect the Celtics to sit back and rest on the merits of their Game 1 victory.

“We have to play better defensively,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We have to play better on offense. If you don’t get better in Game 2 than Game 1, then you probably get beat.”

Despite the Celtics win, Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid absolutely dominated, finishing with 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists.

The Sixers also went to the free-throw line for 35 attempts compared to 19 for Boston.

And Boston came up short on the boards 45-36, which was a factor in Boston being outscored 18-13 on second-chance points.

“That’s what film’s for,” said Boston’s Terry Rozier. “Look at it, get better and move on in Game 2.”

Rozier understands much of the talk leading up to tonight’s game will center on areas in which the Sixers will look to improve upon.

“They could have done better, we could have done better too,” Rozier said. “So that’s why it’s even more scary and this series is going to be a lot of fun.”

Game 1 was a striking contrast because of how both teams arrived at the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Boston advanced after a grueling, seven-game series with Milwaukee.

Meanwhile, the Sixers had little problem disposing of the Miami Heat in five games which created a large vacuum of time for Philly without games that was indeed a factor in how Philadelphia played on Monday.

“Had a little too much time off,” said the Sixers’ Robert Covington. “We kind of got out of rhythm. We know what we gotta do and we know what it came down to. Once we get back on the floor compared where we had been like the last series, this team bounces back right when we need to be.”

Philadelphia will also try and get more mileage from 3-point range.

The 3-point shot was a big part of Philly vanquishing the Heat in no time, connecting on more than 10 per game.

But against the Celtics in Game 1, the Sixers lost their long-range touch, making just 19.2 percent (5-for-26) from 3-point range.

“There’s a lot of things we can do better,” said Philly guard J.J. Redick. “I’ve watched the game, (Monday) night and again (Tuesday) morning, I don’t necessarily think it’s an adjustment thing. I think we need to be better at what we do. We weren’t great at what we do. Our communication wasn’t great, our switching wasn’t great. Pick and roll coverage wasn’t great. When they got switches in the post, we didn’t bring a guy from the baseline … we messed up a lot of stuff. We have to be better.”

And while Boston may have taken the first game, they come into tonight’s Game 2 matchup with a similar mindset.

“Our focus is on us,” Stevens said. “Clearly, they may make some tweaks, they may make some changes. That is probably what’s going to happen. But at the end of the day, we have to focus on playing well and do what we do best and reacting appropriately to any tweaks or changes they make. It goes back to the same stuff. You gotta run back in transition, you gotta rebound, fight for balls, be smart on offense. If you do that, you give yourself the best shot.”

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