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Al Horford ‘happy to finally get out there’ in his Celtics debut 10.26.16 at 11:25 pm ET
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Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin (7) works the ball against Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Al Horford shows his defense on Jeremy Lin during Wednesday’s game at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

The Al Horford era in Boston is officially underway.

In Wednesday’s season opener, the Celtics’ prized free agent had a modest yet serviceable outing in his Celtics debut, scoring 11 points in 27 minutes of work. He managed to grab five rebounds with six assists and four blocks as well.

“It’s a relief more than anything,” Horford said. “[I’m] happy to finally get out there, start the regular season, I was proud of our guys and how we handled everything.

“It felt great, it’s a really good feeling just to think of the rich history here. I really do appreciate being here, so for me it was a lot of fun.”

Well regarded around the league as a team-first player, Horford noticeably opened the floor for his teammates from the start. Though in large part his numbers were not staggering, the opportunities he facilitated for fellow Celtics made as big a difference as his own numbers, best validated by his plus-13 rating that was good for second on the team.

“For me, I’m about winning, I’ve always been about winning, I want to win and I want to do whatever I can. I want to make sure my teammates feel comfortable with me, that we play the right way, that’s my biggest emphasis. As long as we’re moving the ball, doing what we’re supposed to do, we’ll be fine,” Horford said.

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Mike Petraglia, Josue Pavon talk about Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown, Celtics holding on for win 10.26.16 at 11:18 pm ET
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The Celtics open with a win over the Nets at TD Garden. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a lot to work on afterward. WEEI’s Mike Petraglia and Josue Pavon have your report inside TD Garden.

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Fast Break: Isaiah Thomas (25 points), Jae Crowder (21) open strong as C’s hold on for dear life in season opener 10.26.16 at 10:02 pm ET
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Oct 26, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) drives the ball against Brooklyn Nets guard Jeremy Lin (7) in the first quarter at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Isaiah Thomas drives the ball against Nets guard Jeremy Lin in the first quarter at TD Garden. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

And we’re off.

Facing a team predicted to be one of the worst in the league, the Celtics held off a late surge from the Nets in a 122-117 victory at TD Garden. 

Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley all found the form off the tip that has made them indispensable in their tenures with the team. Crowder was a knockdown shooter from the field, garnering 21 points with four boards, a pair of assists and steals and a block.

Already having a solid game through one half, Thomas was untouchable in the third, cruising to a 25-point performance while one assist shy of a double-double. Compared to Crowder and Thomas, Bradley’s first non-preseason game since leaving the postseason with an injury in April paled in comparison, as he put up 17 points with five assists and nine boards.

Al Horford had 11 points , five rebounds, six assists and four blocks in his Celtics debut. 

“The first 40 minutes I thought we really played with great presence and purpose. And the last few we didn’t. It’s a reminder of how quickly this thing can turn in this league,” coach Brad Stevens said.

It wasn’t smooth sailing throughout the game, however. Despite going up by double digits in the second quarter, the C’s allowed the Nets to get within five late in the period. This after a streaky first quarter that saw an eight-point lead to get whittled down to one. The Celtics then proceeded to allow the Nets to make a late 18-2 run to close to within three in the final minutes of the fourth quarter before the Celtics starters returned and closed it out.

“It was 110-87 and we started shooting bad shots and not guarding and throwing it to the other team. That’s how quickly it can change, we all know that. I was hopeful not to have to put [the starters] back in, but I probably went a little bit longer than I normally would have,” Stevens said.

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Reports: R.J. Hunter nearing deal with Bulls 10.26.16 at 7:39 pm ET
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R.J. Hunter

R.J. Hunter

The Celtics may not need to wait too long before they see R.J. Hunter as an opponent. According to The Vertical, Hunter is nearing a deal with the Chicago Bulls, the only team with an open roster spot — who will also face off against the Celtics on Thursday in Chicago.

Earlier in the day, Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe reported that Hunter was “very close” to a deal.

Hunter was waived by the Celtics on Monday after being passed on for the final spot on the roster in favor of James Young. 

Described as a pure shooter when the Celtics took him in the first round, 28th overall out of Georgia State in the 2015 draft, the 23-year-old struggled to find his form with the C’s, shooting 36.7 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from 3-point range.

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Celtics Pregame Notes: On Opening Night, Celtics not looking to get ahead of themselves 10.26.16 at 6:25 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

With the start of the Celtics season set to begin Wednesday night against the Nets, it will also be the first regular season indication of what the 2016-17 Celtics — and all the hype, expectations and concerns surrounding them — have to offer.

Speaking prior to the game Celtics head coach Brad Stevens isn’t trying to get ahead of himself.

“I just hope we play well tonight. That’s the bottom line, there’s 82 of these,” Stevens said. “The last thing anybody is thinking in there is what happens down the road. We have to play well, and you look at this stuff, and I’ve said this before, we’re as close to second as tenth. So I understand [the pick to be contenders in the East], but I understand we better play well.”

The roster won’t necessarily have the look Wednesday that it will as soon as mid-November due to injuries to Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, but that notwithstanding, there will still be indications left and right of what the Celtics look like both offensively and defensively.

And with some new faces via both the draft and free agency, there’s new roles to be established and claimed in the early going.

“I’m anxious to see what we look like on both ends of the floor. We’re going to have some guys that haven’t played as much here that are going to have to contribute for us to have success, so I think that’s another thing I’m interested to see how that goes,” Stevens said.

“We’re going to have to play well, and that’s going to be a constant thing. The team that plays the best and the team that plays the most together and the hardest and everything else usually wins and we’ve got to really challenge ourselves to be the best version of ourselves in as many of the 48 minutes as possible.”

There will be a void off the bench, however, as Kelly Olynyk is still some time away from returning to game action, something the 7-footer didn’t see any of during the preseason with a right shoulder injury. He saw the surgeon that performed the surgery on Tuesday, and though him timetable has become more clear — which was as much detail as Stevens divulged — he is still a few weeks 

“He’s still probably a couple of weeks away, but he’s doing 5-on-5 and it’s just a matter of ramping it up so that the next day the fatigue is less and less. He will not participate in every 5-on-5 segment, but each day will be ramped up and increased a little bit more. Again, it’s more about the fatigue in his shoulder after the fact,” Stevens said.

Even still, Stevens has an idea of how many players he’s trying to utilize in his rotation, even though Olynyk and Smart won’t be available anytime soon.

“Not tonight, just simply because the fact that two of them that are probably in it, or at least have been mainstays in it, are out,” Stevens said when if he knew who the guys are that will be consistently in the rotation. “I think ideally you’d like to play in the 9-to-10 range. I’ve got an idea right now, but it’s based on a month of work and the exhibition games and everything else. But this is why these are such important games for the guys that get to play when others are out, because this establishes a trust of consistency, right, so that you can see them doing their job on every possession.”

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Defensive versatility is everything to Brad Stevens, and Terry Rozier ready ‘to take care of business’ 10.26.16 at 11:54 am ET
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Terry Rozier

Terry Rozier

WALTHAM – How will the Celtics cope without Marcus Smart for the first two weeks of the season? 

Ask Brad Stevens that question and he’ll give the same answer that he has for everything involving his defense-based system. 

“I think we were third or fourth last year, so it was pretty good. The bottom line is we have to be more versatile defensively,” Stevens said Tuesday when Smart and the team announced that his left ankle would sideline him for at least two weeks.

“You have to be able to do more things. We have to be able to tweak on the fly, we have to be able to adjust if something is killing us and be able to play either big or small. I think it will be interesting to see what our best lineups are that separate themselves. But our idea is that we should have some versatility. But, again, I think defense is one of those things that you gotta go out there and do it. It’s not about talking about it. It’s not about the anticipation of how good we can be. That’s an everyday commitment and thus far we’ve done it at a pretty good level, but we’ll see.”

Smart’s injury also means significantly more opportunity for Terry Rozier to continue what he showed in Summer League and camp and preseason. 

“He comes off the bench and he’s not playing, so it’s a bigger opportunity for me,” Rozier said of Smart. “It’s a step up, something where I have to be ready when my number is called. Be ready to take care of business. I want to come in and play my part, whether it’s scoring some nights, or just getting starts. The main thing is I want to play hard and do that every night.”

In Rozier’s mind, the best preparation for an increased role has been facing Isaiah Thomas and Avery Bradley every day in practice. 

“I think IT said it best – when you play against those two every day in practice, when you get out there in a real game it’s looser,” Rozier said. “You’re not having guys all over you like it is in practice. That’s a big help, something you have to take advantage of when you get out on the court, because in practice you’re not getting that breathing room.

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NBA preview 2016-17: Can Celtics close gap on Cavaliers? 10.26.16 at 11:20 am ET
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Horford-Al-Celtics 10-4-16

With Al Horford on board, the Celtics are a popular pick to reach the Eastern Conference finals this season. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

As the Celtics begin their journey to Banner 18 with Wednesday night’s opener against the lowly Nets, optimism runs high in Boston. And it should, because this team should have an entertaining and successful regular season.

But any Celtics fan rooted in reality knows this to be true as well: This team is not built to win a title.

No doubt you’ve already read plenty of breakdowns about how a team needs a true star to win an NBA championship, and even the C’s front office has acknowledged there is a piece missing from this club.

On the positive side, the offseason acquisition of free agent center Al Horford was a good one, and it presents an apt comparison for this Celtics team in Horford’s former employers.

Two years ago, a smart young coach took a team with rising stars but no superstar and led that squad to an impressive 60-22 record — best in the Eastern Conference (by a whopping seven games over the Cavaliers) and second best in the entire NBA. In the playoffs, Mike Budenholzer’s Hawks took out the underwhelming Nets and Wizards in six-game series. Then, faced with LeBron James’ Cavs in the conference finals, Atlanta became the fourth No. 1 seed in NBA history to be swept in a playoff series.

The postseason awards were telling. Budenholzer was named Coach of the Year, but no Hawks were on the All-NBA first, second or third teams. Nor was there a Hawk found on the All-Defensive first or second team, or the All-Rookie first or second team.

In a nod to the team’s balance, the entire starting lineup — Horford, DeMarre Carroll, Kyle Korver, Paul Millsap and Jeff Teague — was named Eastern Conference Player of the Month for January after Atlanta went 17-0 to start the year. But that was it for major awards.

Like those Hawks, these Celtics have solid balance and depth, crucial factors to help overcome injuries that are sure to pop up during the season. And with the Eastern Conference perhaps even less challenging than the last couple of years, a run at 60 wins is not out of the question. But come playoff time, temper those expectations.

Fortunately for the Celtics, even if this year turns out similarly, they are in a much better position to rectify the situation, as they are likely to draft in the top three the next two years, courtesy of the Nets. Or, if another general manager has the guts to deal with Danny Ainge this season, the Celtics could acquire a proven star and make a run at a championship next spring.

For now, let’s focus on a regular season that is sure to entertain the TD Garden crowds.




1. Raptors, 54-28 — Toronto will battle the Celtics for second place in the Eastern Conference (with both teams ready to pounce if the Cavaliers get stung by the injury bug), but the Raptors lost a key piece in defensive stopper/rebounder Bismack Biyombo, and the team’s only offseason acquisition, former Celtics big man Jared Sullinger, already is injured.

2. Celtics, 52-30 — Evan Turner has his detractors, but he did come up big in the clutch a number of times for this team last season. This is the biggest concern for this team: Can the C’s close out tight games, especially with their questionable outside shooting and the lack of a proven finisher outside of All-Star guard Isaiah Thomas?

3. Knicks, 42-40 — Jeff Hornacek takes over a team that added former Bulls stars Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah to a roster led by Carmelo Anthony and Kristaps Porzingis. As Tuesday’s season-opening blowout loss to the Cavaliers showed, this team isn’t likely to be a threat, although if the stars are healthy they could make a little noise.

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