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For (preseason) openers, Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder shine, Jaylen Brown wows in loss to Sixers

10.04.16 at 9:24 pm ET
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AMHERST —  The growth spurt officially is underway. 

With expectations sky high entering the preseason, the Celtics didn’t disappoint Tuesday night, showing off a new-look roster that is loaded with offensive options and tenacious defense. 

Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each scored 11 points in the first half while Al Horford made his debut, scoring eight points in a 92-89 loss to the injury-plagued Sixers in front of a sparse 4,532 fans at the Mullins Center. The game was officially a home preseason game for Philadelphia, as their parent company, Comcast/Spectacor manages the building. But nearly every fan was cheering for the Celtics. 

Jaylen Brown fired up the crowd with several athletic moves, including a one-handed jam late in the fourth to bring the Celtics close. The first-rounder out of Cal finished with eight points. Isaiah Thomas also had 11 points in his 19 minutes. 

Terry Rozier led the Celtics with 12 points. 

The Celtics showed their intensity on defense to the very last possession. Marcus Smart forced a Philadelphia turnover with 12 seconds left on the sideline, giving Boston a chance to tie. Smart missed a fadeaway three from the left wing with six seconds remaining and the loose ball went out of bounds to Philadelphia. Then after a Smart foul, the Sixers tried to inbound but turned the ball over, giving Boston one final chance with 3.6 seconds left. Jordan Mickey missed a three with one second left to end the game. 

With just under three minutes left in the third quarter, a loud “Let’s Go Celtics” chant broke out. 

And early on, the fans had plenty to cheer about.

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Brad Stevens compliments players’ anthem statement Tuesday as ‘incredibly thoughtful’

10.04.16 at 8:08 pm ET
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AMHERST – Brad Stevens likes a lot more about his players than just their basketball skills. 

The Celtics coach made that clear before Tuesday’s preseason opener at the Mullins Center when he articulated the sensitivity of his players and how well they communicated their desire to make a public statement about unity. 

That statement came in the form of a crossed-arms chain with each other during the national anthem before the game with the Sixers. 

“We’ve had  a lot of sit-down discussions about it,” Stevens said. “We’ve had a lot of individual discussions. We’ve had three or four meetings after practices, sometimes just players, sometimes just us, sometimes people we’ve invited in from the outside to spend time with our guys.

“Our guys have been incredibly thoughtful and I think, like from what I’ve seen across the NBA early on, I think our guys are really focused on promoting positive unity, togetherness, progress, and all those types of things. But those have been, as far as deep, certainly good discussions, they’ve been great. And I commend our guys for sharing and for thinking and for really looking at this in a really insightful way.” 

Stevens says he’s constantly learning about his team and their individual personalities. 

“I think one of the great things about being a part of a team is you all come from different backgrounds and you learn about each other and you all come together for the common cause, and that’s why we all love sports, right? We can all rally around that common cause and we can rally around teams,” Stevens added.

“But I think when you really get into deep, impactful stuff, those are special conversations and sometimes those are uncomfortable and sometimes there can be tension around those, but I think that’s the beautiful part about our group, is that they all appreciate one another, really support one another. And again, I think you’ll see, like I think they’re very much into what the teams that I’ve seen thus far, in talking about togetherness and continued progress.”

Shortly after the anthem, the team released a video statement from the players on why they decided it was appropriate to make a “Unity” statement before Tuesday’s game.


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Pregame report: Brad Stevens says preseason ‘totally about growth’

10.04.16 at 6:47 pm ET
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Brad Stevens addresses reporters before Tuesday’s preseason opener. (Mike Petraglia/

AMHERST — Brad Stevens finally is getting the chance to see what his new-look team can do against an opponent. 

Stevens knows full well that a preseason opener against the perpetually health-jinxed Sixers does not rise to the level of what his team will be in three weeks when they open the season against the Nets on Oct. 26. But still, Stevens put out a lineup that projects to opening night when Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson took the floor. 

“Just want everybody to play well when they have their opportunity in the game,” Stevens said of the first of seven preseason games. “I think there’s guys that we’ll limit minutes-wise but the bottom line is that will kinda be as we go in the game. I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want keep guys at. But whether they play first half or first stint of the third quarter, I’m still not completely decided on.

“So we’re one week in. I think the one thing about both those guys is they are both pretty versatile, they both pass the ball well. They both can roll or pop, they both can defend a couple of positions. But we’ll keep evaluating whether or not that’s our best group moving forward. And we’re still very much in the evaluation stage.

“You have to balance some of [lineups], but also I want these guys to get good stints. It’s not important that they play 30 minutes tonight. But it is important that the stints they play are hard and they get good conditioning out of it. Again, we’re a week in. We didn’t start thinking or talking about playing a game tonight until this morning. We still have a long way to go to get to where we want to be from a performance standpoint on both ends of the floor.”

Safe to say, the Celtics are playing more against against themselves than worrying about a Philly team that will be without No. 1 draft pick Ben Simmons indefinitely after surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his foot. 

“Everybody practices hard, everybody plays hard, there’s seven exhibition and 82 regular-season games — it’s just an unfortunate of this, that there will be injuries,” Stevens said. “You always hope that they are not long term, you always hope that they’re not something that somebody can’t recover from quickly. And, at the same time, we have 20 people on our roster right now and we’ll play whoever is available.”

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Practice report: Gerald Green points to return next week after nursing hip, intensity picks up

09.30.16 at 12:10 am ET
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WALTHAM  –  Gerald Green knows he’s no longer the 18-year-old the Celtics drafted 18th overall in the 2005 draft. 

Now, the 30-year-old 6-foot-7 shooting forward comes to camp working harder to stay in shape and get ready for the season. In this process, Green suffered a minor setback. 

While working out in two-a-days this week, Green strained his hip in practice.

“I don’t think I stretched properly,” Green said Thursday. “I’m not 25 no more, so just trying to come out there and go full speed, just one of those things I’ve got to learn now since I’m 30.”

The hip didn’t keep him from firing up jumpers at the end of practice and working up a sweat. 

“Sometimes it’s hard to watch,” Green added. “I kind of like to work a little bit. I’m not pushing myself too hard, just enough to where I can get a nice little sweat.”

Coach Brad Stevens didn’t seem overly concerned about it after Thursday’s sessions. 

“Gerald is still the only person that didn’t participate in any of the practice drills, but obviously he’s out here shooting and should be good to go by the start of next week,” Stevens said.

How exactly did it happen?

“I can’t really recall. I just did some research on it. A lot of times you strain a hip flexor it’s from not warming up properly,” Green added. “I think now since I’m 30 I’m at the age where I have to start stretching a lot more. It’s feeling better, having a second day off of practice and today, just doing a lot of treatment right after practice and coming back this evening and doing treatment, so kind of just almost like precautionary thing, making sure it doesn’t get worse.

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It already looks like make-or-break time for Celtics guards Terry Rozier, James Young

09.29.16 at 8:59 pm ET
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Celtics guard Terry Rozier hopes to take a step forward this year. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Celtics guard Terry Rozier hopes to take a step forward this year. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Terry Rozier didn’t explode into the NBA. After a lackluster rookie season, he opened some eyes in the playoffs, but he still comes to camp without the guarantee of a roster spot.

Five practice sessions into 2016, however, the improvement in the former first-round pick’s game is palpable — and it’s not going unnoticed.

“You can see Terry’s a different guy year two than he was in the first couple of days of year one, he just stands out right now,” head coach Brad Stevens said. “And I think that’s probably pretty typical because of the comfort level of going through camp again, for the first time versus again.”

Part of the growth process for Rozier has simply been experience. He’s no longer a rookie, and he’s clearly more comfortable. The challenge will be improving his ball-handling and decision-making.

“Things move really fast for everybody, and when you’re the guy with the ball, it moves even faster because you’ve got to be able to not only gauge what you need to be doing, but you’ve got to make sure everybody else is there,” Steven said. “And he’s got the ball a lot, I think he’s doing really good job of attacking and picking the spots he should attack, we can all get better at that.”

Isaiah Thomas also noted Rozier’s massive improvement, which he attributes to hard work.

“The biggest thing I’ve always said about Terry is he’s going to improve, because the guy works,” Thomas said. “From the minute we met him in the draft process, it was like this guy — there are work ethics and there are real work ethics and he’s got a real work ethic — and so I think he’ll do well.”

There’s no argument that the 22-year-old Rozier has skill. He’s torn up the D-League and summer league. He’s less of a sure thing in the NBA.

The same goes for James Young. Entering his third season at age 21, Young has yet to earn more than occasional garbage minutes. And given the team’s need for a pure shooter, Young could have filled that void some time ago.

But the reality is he’s competing for a roster spot.

“He’s improved a lot, and you can see the way he’s playing here, he’s really stepping up and we like that and that’s good for him,” Marcus Smart said. “He’s just more aggressive. The first couple of years he was a little timid, a little shy, but now he’s definitely been more aggressive, attacking the paint and playing great defense.”

Added Thomas, “He’s played well, he’s playing with confidence. I think that’s the biggest thing from previous years that I’ve been here, he’s playing like he’s confident, like he knows what he’s doing and he’s very aggressive. And he needs to be like that, for him to be successful he has to be like that.”

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Isaiah Thomas explains how he recruited Gerald Green (back) to Boston

09.29.16 at 7:50 pm ET
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Gerald Green

Gerald Green

WALTHAM – He didn’t think about it at the time, but Isaiah Thomas played a big role in a big Celtics reunion this summer.

When Gerald Green decided to return to Boston this summer, 11 years after being drafted by Danny Ainge and the Celtics in 2005, the Celtics were getting back a player who, at just 21 years of age, served a critical role in the acquisition of Kevin Garnett. 

“It was tough when I was younger because obviously I wanted to be a part of a championship team but as I grew up and got older and started becoming a student of the business I understood it was the right the for the Celtics to do and I understood that move more than I did at the time,” Green, now 30, recalled on Thursday. 

Eight NBA teams and an excursion to Europe later, Green decided to sign with the Celtics in late July, agreeing to a one-year deal for $1.4 million. The biggest influence? Isaiah Thomas, a player he teamed with in Phoenix for a year (2013-14). 

“It kind of began in Phoenix,” Green said. “He was a genuine guy, came in really humble. I see the talent was there I knew he could be one of the best point guards in the league, and right away when we both stepped on the court we both had the same mentality. By any means necessary, go get a bucket and go get stops.

“We both had the same mentality, just try to push the first team because we were both coming off the bench. Just try to make the first team better and that’s what we did every day. We were able to finish games as a unit at both ends of the floor. Now, me teaming up with him here, we’re gonna try to do the same thing.”

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Jaylen Brown getting used to Boston, high expectations

09.29.16 at 5:00 pm ET
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Jaylen Brown (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

Jaylen Brown hopes to make a name for himself with the Celtics this season. (Nick Laham/Getty Images)

The Celtics have had selected in the top three of the draft only three times since the 1960s, choosing Len Bias second in 1986, Chauncey Billups third in 1997 and Jaylen Brown third this year. Thus, it’s fair to say there is some pressure surrounding the 19-year-old Brown to succeed.

Speaking at his first professional media day Monday, Brown was calm and direct, taking all the questions in stride.

“To me first it’s a blessing just to be drafted just as high and be on a team that’s winning,” the rookie said. “I like to win. That’s what it’s about. I think this year is going to be a great year for me. It won’t be difficult at all because I’m winning. So that’s how I look at it. That’s kind of my mindset about it. I’m learning a lot and things like that. Just going forward, I’m about that more than the individual kind of statistics.”

In most cases, players drafted as high as Brown are taken by teams coming off forgettable seasons, and they are looked at with high expectations as part of a rebuilding process. In Brown’s case, the expectations still are high, but he’s on a team looking to win right away.

“There’s going to be highs, there’s going to be lows. Just the peaks and valleys,” he said of his acclimation to the NBA. “But, just to stay with the process, just to keep confidence and keep working. Just stay with the process.”

Known more for his defense than his offense, Brown knows right off the bat that his parlay into playing time is through his defense, but also the need for him to hit shots.

“Defensively I think I add it right way,” he said. “I think I talked to Brad [Stevens] a lot about that. Just being able to get on the floor, defending at a high level. It would be one thing, and just hitting open shots would be another. Those are two key things to get me on the floor and that will help me add to this team.”

From an administrative standpoint, big things are expected of Brown as well. President of basketball operations Danny Ainge carried on about his prized pick’s fit in the system more so than his skill. And while that garnered much criticism when he was initially drafted, with training camp now underway, the practicality of the pick seems much more useful than a big-splash, high-risk, high-reward pick.

“Systemically, he’s perfect for what we need: versatile defender and a guy that can play multiple positions defensively,” Ainge said. “I think that Jaylen has to learn our terminology and learn our system. He seems like a bright kid and a hard-working kid and a kid that wants to learn and is capable of learning. I’m excited about him this year.”

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