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Why you should care about Wednesday’s Celtics win: Marcus Smart had his best game, Jared Sullinger can rebound 10.22.14 at 10:09 pm ET
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Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart

The Celtics wrapped up the preseason with a 100-86 victory over the Nets at the TD Garden on Wednesday night (check out the box score here). Brooklyn rested its starters, while Rajon Rondo was out once again with a broken left hand for the Celtics.

Brad Stevens only played starters Jeff Green and Avery Bradley in the first quarter, while Marcus Smart and Jared Sullinger shined in their final tune up before the regular season.

Here are other reasons why you should have cared about the Celtics‘ preseason finale:

Marcus Smart had a very strong showing back in the starting point guard role

Smart opened up the game by swishing a 3-pointer out of the corner, which was nice for Celtics fans to see since shooting is one of his biggest weaknesses. However, Smart did a much better job of slashing through the lane than he has in previous games. He was able to connect on three layups in traffic, while also going 4-for-4 from the free throw line. Attacking the basket might be Smart’€™s biggest strength, so it was certainly positive to see him do so efficiently before the preseason came to an end.

Smart never saw the floor in the second half, but the damage was done. He racked up 16 points in just 15 minutes of action, adding four assists, a rebound and two steals. Perhaps most importantly, he did it on 5-for-8 shooting from the field — all three of his misses coming from downtown. Good things happen when Smart gets into the paint.

Jared Sullinger was a beast on the boards once again

Sullinger is a very good scorer, but he is a phenomenal rebounder. After ripping down 19 boards on Sunday, Sullinger grabbed 13 in the first half alone Wednesday. He finished the game with what is becoming a classic Sullinger stat line — 15 points and 17 rebounds. Sullinger did so while shooting 7-for-10 from the field in 26 minutes of action.

James Young returned from a hamstring injury

Young hurt his hamstring while warming up for the first preseason game, but kept that information to himself and ended up by playing in the game. Young posted 10 points in his debut, but then has missed each preseason contest since. He also didn’t play in a summer league game following a car crash.

The rookie wasted no time Wednesday, nailing a 3-pointer on his first possession in the game. He finished with just five points and four rebounds, but keep in mind it was just his second professional game. Young has plenty of room to grow this season.

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Read More: Brooklyn Nets, Jared Sullinger, Marcus Smart, Rajon Rondo
Celtics practice notes: Rajon Rondo improves, Jeff Green returns, rotation starts coming together 10.14.14 at 2:01 pm ET
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The Celtics kicked off the preseason with a busy stretch of four games in just six nights. They since have had an off day, then practice resumed on Monday and Tuesday in Waltham leading up to Wednesday’s game against the Raptors in Maine.

Here are some notes from prior to Tuesday’s practice.

Rajon Rondo shows improvement

Rondo has been on the court shooting the ball prior to each preseason game, which is a very good sign. He also has been doing ball handling with his broken left hand (with a brace on it). All signs point to Rondo being right on schedule in his recovery, if not ahead of schedule.

“We’ve increased his conditioning within workouts,” Brad Stevens said. “So what we’ve done is, the last couple of days, we’ve actually worked him out with a couple of other guys early in a small group. And then he’ll do all of the non-contact stuff in our workout, which [Tuesday] will be most of the workout. So that’ll be good. He’s getting there, it’s just a matter of he can’t be involved in contact.”

Jeff Green returns from calf injury

Green has been practicing this week, and Stevens indicated he will be in shape to play against Toronto.

“Yeah, he’ll play [Wednesday],” Stevens said. “That’ll be part of his conditioning.”

With the emergence of Evan Turner so far this preseason, Stevens would like to find ways to get Turner and Green on the court at the same time now that Green is back. It’s something Turner sees going well.

“I think Jeff and I have a good rapport,” Turner said. “It’s all about communication, and once again, [Green] is our go-to-guy. I just want to play, so whatever he wants I’m going to do.”

Turner expressed confidence that he and Green will be able to play off one another.

“We attempted to,” he said with a laugh. “We played together before he got hurt, too, so I think clearly he will have to get re-acclimated because he hasn’t played in the last couple of weeks, but it should be fine.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Evan Turner, Jeff Green, Rajon Rondo
Rebuild Spotlight: Who could we see shipped out this season? 10.09.14 at 10:03 pm ET
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With two preseason games in the books, the Celtics are off to a somewhat impressive 2-0 start. Let’s not overreact to a couple of dress rehearsals, but Danny Ainge has veterans who could be valuable contributors on contending teams — something the Celtics will not be this season no matter how many preseason victories they accumulate.

Obviously, the ideal move for the future would be to bring in a star to go alongside Rajon Rondo and Boston’s young core. The problem is that a player like that doesn’t exist on the trade market this season, at least for the moment. Anything is possible, but with the current drought of available star power not expected to change, the Celtics might need to continue shedding veteran contracts for assets of sorts. Digging deeper into the youth movement might sound like a long haul, but it could prove to be the faster path to return to contention.

Last year Ainge shipped Jordan Crawford off to the Warriors and Courtney Lee to the Grizzlies — both trades currently seem to be working in Boston’s favor for one reason or another. The Crawford deal was successful because they traded an overachieving player and brought back assets in the form of draft picks. Ainge has some players who fit the bill for that type of trade.

Outside of Rondo (who will be the topic of the final Rebuild Spotlight feature), the Celtics have three expiring contracts that could make sense to move. Ainge likely will let Joel Anthony‘s $3.8 million expire in Boston this season, but if his salary is needed to complete a larger trade he would gladly be shipped out. However, Brandon Bass ($6.9 million) and Marcus Thornton ($8.6 million) could be valuable contributors off the bench for a team that feels they are in the mix.

Both players already are providing a spark off the bench in limited minutes in Boston, what’s to say they can’t do that elsewhere? We already know what Bass has been during his time in Boston, and Thornton is averaging 13 points in just 17 minutes per game in his first two stints in green. Just last year the Nets added Thornton at the deadline to try to give Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce the help they needed in Brooklyn. It proved to be too little, but the point is: Why wouldn’t a team want to do that this season now that he and Bass are in the final year of their contracts? They are perfect rental players.

While Bass and Thornton are good candidates to be moved for future assets, the Celtics also have some Courtney Lee-style trade pieces. Lee had multiple years left on his contract when he was sent packing for Jerryd Bayless, who arrived on the last year of his deal. The whole idea of the trade was that Lee would not be worth paying in the future, so Ainge brought in Bayless, who only had to be paid until the end of last season.

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Why you should care about Monday’s Celtics game: Marcus Smart, James Young debut; Evan Turner shines 10.06.14 at 10:29 pm ET
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As if the start of basketball season starting up wasn’t reason enough for you to care about the Celtics‘ preseason opener on Monday night, then Marcus Smart and James Young making their NBA debuts — and leading the Celtics to an easy 98-78 victory over the 76ers — should be. (See the box score here.)

Smart spoke before the game about being nervous: “Of course, [there's] always nerves,” he said. “First game at a different level, there’s always going to be nerves, but [I've] just got to figure out how to calm them down.”

His nerves were evident as he finished with just two points (0-8 FGs). Despite not shooting the ball particularly well, his effort on both ends of the floor was unmatched. He played lockdown defense on each and every possession coming up with three steals in the process. Although his shots weren’t falling, Smart did a good job running the offense, particularly leading the fast break. He ended up with six assists in his 27 minutes.

Young began the game cold, and his nerves were perhaps most evident when he missed his first two free throws just moments after stepping onto the floor. But he picked up the slack in the second half and was able to finish in double figures with 10 points on 3-8 shooting. Young was just 1-5 from 3-point land, but had several unlucky bounces off the iron.

OTHER REASONS YOU SHOULD HAVE CARED ABOUT MONDAY’S GAME

Evan Turner shined while playing multiple positions.

In the absence of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green, Turner was exactly what the Celtics needed to fill both roles. Turner started the game at small forward and started the second half at point guard for Brad Stevens, yet was the C’s best player regardless of position. Turner flirted with a triple-double in his 31 minutes, posting 15 points and 10 rebounds to go along with six assists.

Jared Sullinger still is a rebounding machine.

Sullinger got the start at power forward and was his usual self in terms of crashing the glass. Like much of the team, Sullinger did not shoot the ball well (4-15 FGs) but he still found ways to be effective. Sullinger ripped down 13 boards and still managed to score 10 points.

There still are some veterans who can score.

Not many people came into this season excited about Brandon Bass or Marcus Thornton, but they can both still fill it up. Bass finished with 15 points and nine rebounds in just over 19 minutes of action, while Thornton scored 14 in only 14 minutes off the bench. Bass and Thornton don’t figure to be a big part of the future in Boston, but with both of their contracts expiring at season’s end, their strong play makes them both viable trade candidates.

The Celtics will take on the Knicks in Hartford on Wednesday night.

Read More: Evan Turner, James Young, Marcus Smart,
Tyler Zeller impresses Celtics teammates in training camp 10.02.14 at 2:29 pm ET
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Tyler Zeller

Tyler Zeller

As the Celtics continued their training camp in Waltham on Thursday, one newcomer’s performance has commanded the attention of his teammates. Tyler Zeller’s name has been the first out of many players’ mouths when asked who has impressed them most in camp this fall.

“When you ask that question, it’s got to be somebody new, so it really narrows the list down,” Zeller joked. “But it’s one of those things where it’s really an honor for somebody to say that about you. But at the same time I’ve got to continue to prove that and continue to get better.”

Brad Stevens spent time recruiting the Zeller brothers for years while at Butler — all three of them. Ironically, Tyler may have been the brother that Stevens felt he was least likely to end up coaching one day.

“When I was an assistant I recruited Luke, who is the oldest, very hard and didn’t get him,” Stevens said. “And then [I] figured out we weren’t going to get Tyler pretty quickly. And then I recruited Cody, the youngest one, probably the hardest because I had known him since I recruited Luke.”

Joked Stevens: “But clearly, if he wanted to come, I would have taken him.”

Now that Stevens got his guy, or at least one of them, he is seeing a lot of things in Zeller’s game that are going to earn him minutes in his first year in Boston.

“Like I’ve said all along, he just runs the floor,” Stevens said. “He’s a very unselfish player, he’s a smart player. He stands out because he does little things well. He’s a guy that can score on the block in the right matchup, but his strength is in beating people to spots.”

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Tyler Zeller,
Celtics open training camp, Brad Stevens ready for more aggressive approach 09.30.14 at 7:04 pm ET
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The Celtics kicked off training camp Tuesday with two-a-days at the team’€™s training facility in Waltham. It’€™s somewhat of a new trend for the team, which has journeyed to Newport, Rhode Island, for training camp the last several years.

Brad Stevens had a simple state of mind as to why the team is staying local.

“Because my office is here,” he said. “The computer is there, the TV I know how to work is in the same place. The equipment guys don’€™t have to carry thousands of bags. The video guys don’€™t have to move their whole life. It made a lot more sense to stay here. … The kind of work we get done is a lot more important than anything else, like where we do it.”

Stevens indicated he may have moved things along a bit too slowly last season and wants to take a more aggressive approach this time around.

“I’ve got a great idea about how fast or how slow I need to go,” he said. “Right now, in a lot of ways I’€™m trying to throw as much at them as possible in the next three days and then we’€™ll break it down after that.”

Added Stevens: “I thought I was too gradual last year and so we’€™re going to be a lot quicker in that. But at the same time, at the appropriate time, after a couple of days we’€™ll stop and hopefully break it down.”

With Rajon Rondo out of camp with a broken hand, Stevens briefly explained the team’s point guard situation on the first day of camp: “We had three teams, Evan [Turner], Marcus [Smart] and Phil [Pressey].”

Turner is less of a true point guard than Smart and Pressey, but that doesn’t concern Stevens.

“One thing is you don’€™t really know [is how Turner will respond], but he’€™s better with the ball than not,” Stevens said, adding: “Not withstanding Rondo, he’€™s as good of a pick-and-roll player as we have.”

Continued Stevens: “We have one point guard healthy that has NBA experience and that’€™s Phil Pressey. And that’€™s not a lot of it. I’€™m not as worried about [the point guard position] because I think people are going to put you in a box for your position, and I’€™m just not going to do that. I’€™m not going to worry about it. [Turner'€™s] a ball handler, he can make plays, he’€™s smart. And then I think that keeps our other guys in the positions that they’€™re most comfortable.”

The Celtics continue camp in Waltham all week before hosting a practice at the TD Garden on Friday for season ticket-holders.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

Read More: Brad Stevens, Evan Turner, Marcus Smart, Phil Pressey
Avery Bradley looks forward to defending alongside Marcus Smart 09.29.14 at 9:23 pm ET
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The Celtics have yet to name a temporary starting point guard while Rajon Rondo heals from a broken left hand that he suffered on Thursday. In all likelihood it will be Phil Pressey, who had experience in that role last year when Rondo missed time with a torn ACL. But it’s still too early to eliminate Marcus Smart’s name from the conversation.

Brad Stevens most likely will try multiple options during the preseason before deciding on his opening night starter. Whether it’s Pressey, Smart or even Evan Turner who steps into the role, we do know that we will be seeing more of Smart sharing the backcourt with Avery Bradley early in the season — a scary thing for opposing guards.

“First off, he’s a really good kid off the court,” Bradley offered on Smart. “He comes in every single day and works hard … and these were workouts that weren’t mandatory. He’s an amazing defender; he can really run a team. He’s a very good player, I’m excited to get a chance to play on the same court with him.”

Asked if he had thought about playing defense alongside Smart, Bradley said: “No, I haven’t pictured it. But a lot of people make jokes and say, ‘Man, I would hate to play on the opposite team against you and Marcus. Bringing the ball up the court and you guys taking turns picking people off full court.’

“It’s definitely cool to know that people are already nervous to play against me and Marcus on the same team on the court together. I’m excited, like I said, to get a chance to play with him and for us to be able to learn from each other.”

Smart was happy to hear Bradley’s comments.

“It means a lot,” he said. “Nobody wants to be known as not a hard worker or somebody that doesn’t work at all. You want to have that reputation of working hard and it’s just a sign of respect that that’s what people think of me.”

Added Smart: “Right now, yes, Rondo is out. And this team has taken a hit from that. I’m just going to come in and work my tail off just like if he was here. I’m going to embrace it.”

Although Smart never mentioned taking on the starting point guard role, he seemed very motivated to make good on the extra minutes he is sure to receive one way or another during Rondo’s absence. If there’s one positive to Rondo missing time from a fan’s perspective, getting to watch Bradley and Smart spend extra time hounding opposing backcourts is certainly going to be it.

Follow Julian Edlow on Twitter @julianedlow

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