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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 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.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brooklyn Nets, Jae Crowder, Jaylen Brown
Defensive versatility is everything to Brad Stevens, and Terry Rozier ready ‘to take care of business’ 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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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Terry Rozier,
Classy move by Celtics for always-classy Craig Sager 10.25.16 at 8:08 pm ET
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WALTHAM — The battle of Craig Sager has been one that has touched nearly everyone in the NBA.

The most colorful broadcaster in sports is again battling acute myeloid leukemia.

After practice and before speaking with reporters, coaches and players put on multi-colored spotted shirts, symbolic of the bright and colorful suits only Sager could wear. The team then took a picture and shouted the words “Sager Strong!” to a camera for the purpose of sending get-well wishes to the man who has become an institution on NBA sidelines over his long and successful career.

The shirts are for sale for $29.99 at the SagerStrong Foundation website, with proceeds going to benefit the foundation’s mission of cancer research and education. 

For Sager, who announced in March that his cancer had come out of remission, the prognosis is not great, and that was evident again on the face of Isaiah Thomas Tuesday after Celtics practice.

“These [shirts] are Craig Sager. A guy that means a lot to this game of basketball,” Thomas said with a heavy heart. “A guy who means a lot to the NBA, the NBA family. And we just wish him well, and we’re praying for him and his family daily. The shirts are nice. They look like something he would wear. I wouldn’t wear them but I know he would.”

Sager’s son, Craig Jr. helped save Sager’s life as he was a match for the bone marrow transplant needed to push Sager into remission in 2014. But in March, doctors had told him that he had 3–6 months to live without treatment. On July 29, Sager underwent bone marrow surgery.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Craig Sager, Isaiah Thomas, NBA
Isaiah Thomas on season: ‘If we put it all together, we could be special’ at 3:40 pm ET
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WALTHAM – Isaiah Thomas is well aware of the lofty expectations of most Celtics fans this season. 

The All-Star guard from a year ago has his own goals heading into the 2016-17 season opener Wednesday against the Nets. 

“To be another All-Star. All-NBA. Win a playoff series and go from there. That wasn’t in order, but those are definitely goals of mine. And first off, I definitely want to win a playoff series. So that’s the most important. But individual things, I have a lot of goals I want to achieve.” Thomas said after Tuesday’s final practice before the opener. 

The Celtics are coming off a 48-34 season in Brad Stevens’ third year with the team. What is the next step? What is the potential of this Celtics’ unit?

“If we can put it all together, we could be special,” Thomas said, before hedging. “I’m not going to say we’re going to go to the NBA Finals or do none of that, but like I said before teams know we can be really good. We just have to put it together and find our identity, which is on the defensive end. And if we do that everything else will take care of itself.” 

Thomas was asked if he’s going to be paying any attention to the season of his opponent Wednesday night, the Brooklyn Nets. If the Nets finish with the worst record in the league, the Celtics will have a very good chance of the top overall pick. 

“I worry about scoring the ball, getting my teammates involved and winning games,” Thomas said. “I don’t know nothing about those first-round picks. And I wasn’t a first-round pick so I don’t care about first-rounders.”

What Thomas has seen so far in practice and the preseason gives him plenty of reason to be optimistic. 

“We played pretty well. I think overall as a group we’re ahead of the curve. We showed glimpses of how good we can be, and then we also showed glimpses of we’re not that great at the same time. But that happens in preseason. So hopefully we got all the kinks out and we can be perfect [Wednesday].”

Thomas sounded anxious to get past the preseason and the practices and start playing games that count.

“They’ve been important,” he said of preseason games. “Paying attention to detail more. Just trying to lock in on the things we do well and get better at the things we don’t do as well, and worry about us. Now it finally means something to play. So, we’re ready. I’ve been ready. I’ve been ready for the preseason to be over and things to start counting.”

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Marcus Smart out for 2 weeks to start season: ‘It sucks’ at 2:57 pm ET
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WALTHAM – When Marcus Smart went down with a left ankle injury against the Knicks in the preseason finale, he knew the timing was bad.

Smart has been working hard ever since the end of Game 6 of the Hawks series to be the leader of a Celtics team ready to take that next step. Then he took a wrong step against the Knicks last Wednesday and his season has been put on hold for at least two weeks, as he announced after Tuesday’s practice. 

“A couple weeks. That’s the projection that they gave me, really just not trying to rush anything and just trying to make sure that we can limit this from happening again,” Smart said. “We’re taking every precaution we can with it.” 

But that means Smart, the projected sixth man for Brad Stevens, won’t be suiting up against the Nets when the season tips off Wednesday at TD Garden. 

“It sucks. It does suck just because you work so hard and, especially with these guys out here, you’ve been in the battles in practice and the fighting, and preseason,” Smart lamented. “I mean, the last game of preseason you get hurt, everything’s going wrong for you. But I’m optimistic about it and this team is. I’m just waiting to come back and get on the court with those guys.”

The best sign Tuesday was the sight of Smart on the sideline, chirping at his teammates and not wearing a boot on the injury foot.

“I’m feeling better. The swelling’s going down,” Smart said. “I’ve been in the training room, working with those guys and trying to help strengthen the ankle and get all the fluid out. It shouldn’t be too long. But like I said, better safe than sorry.”

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart,
Celtics cut Ben Bentil, hint that Gerald Green has made the roster 10.21.16 at 6:01 pm ET
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Ben Bentil

Ben Bentil

In the effort to trim the roster down to the maximum 15 players by next Wednesday’s opener against the Nets, the Celtics have said goodbye to another draft pick. 

The team announced Friday that Ben Bentil, the second round pick out of Providence this June (51st overall), has been released while veteran swingman Gerald Green will make the final roster to begin the season. Bentil does receive a $250,000 guarantee after signing his rookie deal after the draft. ESPN’s Chris Forsberg was the first to report the news. 

Bentil appeared in three preseason games for the Celtics, averaging 5.0 points, and 4.3 rebounds in 12.9 minutes per game.

Friday’s move means the Celtics roster stands at 16, one above the roster limit to start the season. Ainge indicated that former first-round picks James Young and R.J. Hunter are likely to battle it out for that last spot, unless he can swing a deal with a team, exchanging a player or two for a future draft pick. That would free up a roster spot and allowed the Celtics to finalize their opening night roster. 

Ainge indicated that he and the organization would likely take the weekend to consider all possibilities before making a move on Monday. Green said Friday he had not been formally told he had made the team and said he was still trying to prove himself after missing time at the start of camp with a hip flexor injury.

Friday’s move means the Celtics have just two of eight picks left on their roster from June’s draft: No. 3 overall pick Jaylen Brown and No. 45 selection Demetrius Jackson out of Notre Dame. 

On Thursday, the Celtics began their roster trimming by releasing camp invites Marcus Georges-Hunt, Damion Lee and Jalen Jones. All three players are expected to land with the team’s D-League affiliate in Maine, a possible destination for Bentil as well. 

Read More: Ben Bentil, Boston Celtics, Gerald Green, Providence College
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