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Brad Stevens on Celtics defense: ‘We don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better’ 01.03.17 at 7:15 pm ET
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Brad Stevens

Brad Stevens

Before taking on the Jazz at TD Garden, coach Brad Stevens discussed how inconsistent the Celtics have been on the defensive end this season and why it’s important for him to make the proper adjustments going forward. 

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full on Tuesday, facing one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. The Jazz lead the league in fewest points allowed (94.5), are currently fourth in the Western Conference and riding high on a four-game winning streak. 

Stevens broke down stretches throughout the season where he’s seen his team defend poorly and why going to a ‘small-ball lineup’ against particular teams hurts them on the defensive end. 

“Sometimes when we go small, we’re really small so we’ve had to adjust that,” Stevens explained. “First seven games we were atrocious, defensively — which would actually be a compliment to how we were. And then the last seven [games] we haven’t guarded late, the middle 20 we were third in the league. So, we gotta be great, we gotta be great on that end if we wanna improve. Hopefully, we can be better at that as we head into this month and a half before the All-Star break because we don’t have a chance to compete at a high level if we don’t guard better.”

The Celtics will certainly have their hands full in the low post, facing one of the league’s most impressive big men in Rudy Gobert. Utah’s defensive juggernaut is second in the league in blocks per game (2.60) behind Anthony Davis (2.62) and fifth in rebounding (12). 

Offensively, he leads the league in field goal percentage shooting at a 69 percent clip.

“He’s so big,” Stevens said about Gobert. “If he catches the ball on a roll and even if you’re there and he’s inside six [or] five feet of the basket, there’s a good chance you and the ball are both going into the basket together. He’s great at lobs. He’s gotten better, I think at finishing in traffic from what I’ve seen.

“He’s a good offensive rebounder. And then they have a bunch of guys that can really shoot the ball so he gets looks because you’re worried about the 3-point line. He’s a really good player and he’s having a great year.”

Another player who’s having a great season for the Jazz is their leading scorer, Gordon Hayward. Hayward is in the midst of the best season of his career, averaging 22.4 points a game while shooting 45 percent from the floor.

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Read More: Brad Stevens, Gordon Hayward, Rudy Gobert,
Full Court Press: Brad Stevens comes to grips with mediocrity, effects of new CBA on Celtics 12.17.16 at 12:34 pm ET
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Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens is patiently waiting for his team to rise from mediocrity. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

Everyone knows injuries have impacted the Celtics to start this season of promise. 

But what Brad Stevens is trying to get across to his team is that the losses due to man-games missed has not been the biggest issue. The Celtics have simply been a mediocre team just under a third of the way through the year. 

And Stevens can’t blame it all on injuries. 

What does he think of the record so far?

“It’s 13-12,” Stevens said before Friday’s win over Charlotte that improved it to 14-12. The Celtics entered Friday’s action actually a half-game behind the 14-12 Knicks. 

Satisfied?

“It is what it is. I thought this was going to… I thought we had a lot of tough, tough challenges, especially at the start of the season, ahead of us,” Stevens said. “There were a couple of things, obviously, that you can’t predict going into a new year, with regard to availability. But I said at the beginning of the year, we’re as close to second or third as we are 10th. Still are.”

Al Horford missed nine games with a concussion and one due to a paternity leave. Jae Crowder missed eight games with an ankle sprain. Thomas returned Friday after a four-game absence due to a sore groin. Marcus Smart missed three games with a bum ankle. 

“I don’t think we should use that as an excuse,” Stevens said. “I think at the end of the day, that’s part of the game. Certainly, we’ve missed some guys [who have] missed some games. My hope is that we can get a little bit of a steady play here and see how we look healthy.” 

 Avery Bradley took it a step further before Friday’s game.
 
“We know we need to get back to playing the right way,” Bradley said. “And pulling off some wins in a row is important for us. I would call it a must-win after losing three close ones. We always want to take care of home, and like you said it’s a team that’s in the East that we’re going to see again. These games really count for us. It really matters when it comes down to the end of the year as far as seeding in the playoffs.”

The Celtics and Hornets are very similar in their approach this season. They are two teams looking to take that next step after making a late-season run last season. The Celtics and Hornets finished tied with the Hawks and Heat with 48 wins.

“Yeah, there’s no question. It’s been that way for the last couple of years and I think it boils down to… we always talk about you’ve got to maintain an even keel and you’ve got to control what you can control, and that is playing as consistent as possible every single night. I thought we played some really good basketball against Toronto last week, some really good basketball against Oklahoma City, not as good against San Antonio. But I think we have to do what we are doing, better, to beat those teams.”

Charlotte is 14-12 and that’s good enough, despite a three-game skid, to be leading the Southeast Division. 

“I was talking to Brad before,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I hesitate to even look at standings at this stage of the game, because the schedule is such a big part of it. Some teams played a lot more games on the road, other teams have been out West already and we haven’t. I think until you play 40-45 games… obviously you don’t want to lose contact with everybody, but you just have to worry about your team and building a team game that’s balanced.”

New CBA and the Celtics: On Wednesday, the NBA announced that the league and the Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, pending ratification by players and team owners. 

In the statement, the league announced that “in order to give both sides enough time to review the terms of the agreement and vote to ratify, the parties have agreed to extend the mutual deadline to opt out of the existing CBA from Dec. 15, 2016, to Jan. 13, 2017.”  

Multiple reports indicate that the deal is for at least six years and the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps has a thorough explanation of some of the leaked details of the new pact, including what exactly is the new “designated player exception” (DPE).  

What does that mean for the Celtics? 

The new rule has the potential to impact free agents, like Blake Griffin, as well as potential trade targets like Paul George or the always-coveted but highly flammable DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings could still decide they would rather move on from the Boogie man, but now have the option to offer Cousins a longer, more lucrative extension this summer. In other words, the league is trying to provide incentives to teams like Sacramento and Indiana to hold onto their own free agents instead of just dumping them. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have to more closely weigh short-term goals versus long-term planning and how the Nets’ likely lottery pick is going to figure into all of this. Then there’s Kevin Durant. If Ainge thinks he can lure Durant to Boston and if Durant opts out in Golden State after one year, that could significantly change how Ainge views the marketplace and more importantly, Boston’s place in it. 

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Charlotte Hornets
Report: Celtics boss Danny Ainge ‘wants to do a deal,’ eyes Gordon Hayward, but overvalues players like Marcus Smart 12.15.16 at 10:35 am ET
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Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge

Danny Ainge’s hunt for a superstar continues.

Noted NBA insider Adrian Wojnarowski said on his Vertical podcast (fast-forward to 35-minute mark) on Wednesday that Ainge is itching to pull the trigger on a deal for a star, but as usual is finding the going rough.

One name to keep an eye on: impending free agent swingman Gordon Hayward of the Jazz, who played for Celtics coach Brad Stevens at Butler and has emerged as a potential All-Star this year.

“Danny’s wanted to strike and, like everybody else, get that big star, get that big player,” Wojnarowski said. “[Al] Horford was a big play and a great get in free agency. They can still keep their eye on Gordon Hayward from Utah who’s an unrestricted free agent this summer who played for Brad Stevens at Butler. I think there’s still strong hope in Utah that he’ll want to stay there.”

One problem hamstringing Ainge, according to Wojnarowski, is that he’s overvaluing players in trade talks, particularly misfiring guard Marcus Smart.

“Boston’s interesting in that (they have) some good young players, they have draft picks they can put in deals and they have some veterans that hold some interest in places,” Wojnarowski added. “I do wonder sometimes if Boston might overvalue some of the players they have compared to what the rest of the league sees in them. I think Marcus Smart might be starting to fall into that category. His name’s been in some talks previously, and they’ve been pretty careful about who they’d give him up for.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Brad Stevens, Celtics rumors, Danny Ainge, Gordon Hayward
5 keys for Celtics to beat Spurs without Isaiah Thomas 12.14.16 at 7:46 pm ET
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Brad Stevens is looking for his first win over the Spurs (Troy Taormina/USA Today Sports)

After back-to-back losses to the Raptors and Thunder, the Celtics’ schedule doesn’t get any easier as the C’s are in San Antonio to take on the second-best team in the league without their best player.

Without Isaiah Thomas (groin), the Celtics will face a tall task of pulling off an upset on national TV (ESPN) and prove how good they are without their All-Star guard.

Winners of 14 of their last 16 games, the Spurs haven’t lost a game at home since Nov. 29 — a surprising loss, not only because it was against the Magic but because the Spurs suffered only one loss at home last season (40-1) and already are 6-4 this year at the AT&T Center.

San Antonio actually plays better on the road (13-1) than at home, but that certainly doesn’t negate the fact that the Celtics will have their hands full on Wednesday.

The Celtics aren’t the only ones playing without a member of their starting unit — Spurs forward LaMarcus Aldridge (rest) will sit out against the Celtics — although San Antonio still has plenty of firepower behind the rest of its starting lineup and has guys who can produce off the bench.

If the Celtics are to pull off what would be their biggest win of the season, here are five things that would go a long way toward helping that happen.

1. Jae Crowder comes through with his season-best effort

Coming off an ankle injury that forced him to miss eight straight games, Crowder needed just two games to find his offensive rhythm. The scrappy small forward followed up a 15-point, 6-of-11 performance in Brooklyn on Nov. 23 by scoring 18 points on 7-of-12 attempts against the Spurs at home.

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Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Gregg Popovich, San Antonio Spurs
Full Court Press: Does Brad Stevens really want his team swinging for the fences so much? Depends 12.03.16 at 9:24 am ET
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Nov 30, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley (0) takes a shot while guarded by Detroit Pistons point guard Ish Smith (14) during the fourth quarter at TD Garden.  The Detroit Pistons won 121-114. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Avery Bradley is one of the Celtics leading the 3-point barrage this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The 3-point shot is the home run of basketball. It’s a play that can get you back in a game and one that can close the door just as fast. 

Stevens, who earned three letters apiece in high school basketball and track, also earned on in baseball in his days at Zionsville, Indiana. On Wednesday, he used a baseball metaphor to make his point about shot selection and tempo. 

Brad Stevens, the man who wore No. 31 in high school after idol Reggie Miller, certainly saw the down side of it on Wednesday in a 121-114 loss to the Pistons, during which his team took 42 shots from beyond the arc. The Celtics made a reasonable number (15) and percent (35) but that doesn’t tell the whole story. His team committed just six turnovers and shot 44 percent. 

“I think we’re taking care of the ball, pretty obviously, really well. I wasn’t overly happy with some of our shots. I felt like some of shots were rushed. But again, when we play good offense we’re really good on that end of the floor. But we have a tendency when teams are making runs against us or things aren’t going our way to try to get it all back at once, and you just can’t do that. You have to keep hitting singles.”

The Celtics are averaging 31.1 3-point attempts a game (making 11.3). The 31.1 figure is fifth in the NBA, just behind Golden State. The three other teams ahead of Boston are Houston (37.0), Brooklyn (34.9) and Cleveland (34.3).

The problem Wednesday wasn’t the 42 threes the Celtics took. It was the 27 misses. Long shots usually lead to long rebounds, and that’s a problem for a team that can’t rebound. The Celtics were battered again on the glass Wednesday (52-33) and many of those were Detroit hauling in the long rebounds from the missed shots. 

While Stevens indicated that he wanted more “singles” after Wednesday’s game, he seemed to clarify that before Friday’s game with Sacramento, suggesting the Celtics were taking the right kind of threes.

“They are,” Stevens said. “At the end of the day, we want layups. If we don’t get layups, we want the floor to be shrunk. The defense shrinks in and you’re able to touch the paint and kick it out, in two of our last three games, maybe three of our last four games, two-thirds of our possessions we’ve touched the paint or shrunk the defense with a roll. That’s kind of our objective. Hey, we’re not a team that gets to the foul line a lot, we’re not a team that rebounds at a high rate, and we haven’t scored it in transition so to be able to be sitting where we are, offensively, I think a big reason is because we space the floor.”

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WEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

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Can the Celtics reel in Marcus Smart? Jae Crowder and Brad Stevens are working on it 11.29.16 at 8:15 pm ET
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WALTHAM — Jae Crowder could see and hear Miami coach Erik Spoestra trying an old trick Monday night to get under the skin of Marcus Smart. 

Crowder and everybody else familiar with Smart knows the third-year guard came out of Oklahoma State with a reputation for letting his intensity turn into anger and frustration, eventually leading to technical fouls or worse. 

“It’s funny because I was telling him [Monday] during the game, Spoelstra was saying, ‘He’s a hothead. He’s a hothead.’ So obviously that was part of the game plane to try to get under his skin a little bit,” Crowder said with a brotherly smile after practice Tuesday.

“A lot of teams know he wears his emotions on his sleeves so they’re going to do stuff like that. And you just have to be more cautious of it and know that it’s just a game they’re trying to play with him. I’m sure as the season goes on he’ll be more aware of it. And hopefully he gets better.”

Tired of getting hacked by Goran Dragic, Smart indeed took a technical foul when he complained about a double-foul with 2:26 left in the game. There’s clearly a fine line for Smart to walk and always has been since he came into the NBA in 2014. 

“I was begging for Spoelstra to get a technical foul because he was saying a lot of stuff. He was everywhere last night, but that’s one of the things he did say. When they went to intentional foul Marcus it was obvious that what they were trying to do was more than just foul. They were trying to get under his skin and play a little physical, and knowing he wanted to retaliate for the most part. So it’s just part of the scouting report on I guess Marcus that he wears his emotions on his sleeve.”

Crowder got his wish when Spoelstra was finally T’d up with 2:11 left as the Celtics pulled away for the 112-104 win. 

“It’s a very fine [line]. He as a person, as an individual, has to control it,” Crowder said. “We as teammates can keep being on him about it, but it’s about him and being able to control it. A lot of players and coaches in this league know he’s an emotional type of guy, so they’re going to try to do everything they can to get under his skin and in his head. But he has to want to put his pride aside and put his emotions aside for the team’s sake. And take care of business.”

Can Crowder see a maturity in Smart?

“Of course. He has not gone backwards in that regard,” Crowder said. “But he’s playing more minutes now than he was when he was a rookie. He’s playing a bigger role now, so we need him to be more locked in on that standpoint. You can’t just give away points at the free throw line on technicals and flagrants and stuff like that. So, we’ll keep pounding it in his head, and he keeps [telling] us he wants to change, so he’ll get better, hopefully.” 

Brad Stevens is also keeping a close eye on Smart’s on-court intensity. 

“I think toughness is such a critical component of a team and everybody brings their own levels of skill to the table and everything else but you have to have a competitiveness and an ability to figure out a way to win that possession,” Stevens said. “He’s able to do that on a lot of possessions.”

There’s an obvious irony to what happened Monday as it’s usually Smart and his intense defense that agitates and gets opposing players out of their game. 

“Well, he plays physical. For the most part, a lot of guys don’t like to play physical,” Crowder said. “They want an easy-flowing game and Marcus don’t play like that. That alone just gets under guys’ skin, just him playing physical and him being a presence on the basketball court with his body and his stature. A lot of players don’t like it. [Hassan] Whiteside is one of those guys who doesn’t like to play that physical. He likes to play physical as long as guys don’t play physical back with him. So, he didn’t like the foul Marcus laid on him late in the first quarter.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Erik Spoelstra, Jae Crowder
Celtics notes: Al Horford doesn’t ‘really read into’ criticism over paternal leave, Brad Stevens has his back at 4:24 pm ET
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WALTHAM — There were some who criticized Celtics star center Al Horford for taking a one-game leave of absence Monday to be with his wife for the birth of their second child, Alia. Horford clearly wasn’t bothered and had his priorities in line. 

“I don’t really read into anything. I don’t read Twitter and stuff, and the radio and all that,” Horford said after rejoining the team for practice Tuesday. “I just kind of focus on the court, on my job here, and then off the court on my family.

“Everybody has their opinion. I respect anything that anybody has to say. I care a lot about the group and our guys. For my family’s sake, it was important for me to be there for them. Just with our transition and everything. So that’s that. Now I can put that behind me and get focused again on [Wednesday] night.”

The Celtics, the team paying Horford $113 million over four seasons, made it clear Tuesday, the day after Horford missed Boston’s 112-104 win in Miami, that they had no such issues with the one-game leave. 

“I don’t know from a culture standpoint as much as it is just I think our greatest responsibilities are as sons, husbands, fathers. I think that’s your No. 1 job,” coach Brad Stevens said. “We’re thrilled for the Horfords and we’re thrilled to have Al back at practice today and be ready to go tomorrow. Obviously, family is really really important.”

Horford and former Miss Universe (2003), Amelia Vega married in 2011 and had their first child, a son named Ean Horford Vega in Feb. 2015.

“It means a lot. My family’s very important to me,” Horford said. “For me. I’m in more of a unique situation because this is our first year hear and my wife, we all moved in the middle of the pregnancy. And just a lot going on. So I just felt like it was important for me to really be there, supporting her. And we have a son as well. So for her, it’s been a lot thrown at her these past few months. So I know that it meant a lot for me to be there with her, and knowing our schedule ahead and everything. So I’m just very happy that the Celtics really take the time and they consider us not only as players but as people. And people that have families.”

And how is baby Alia?  

“Everybody’s healthy. That was the most important thing,” Horford said. “And she’s been great so far. Her and my wife, today she got released so she’s home and resting. The guys were supportive. It was hard for me but I felt like it was the right thing for me to be next to my wife. And they supported me throughout. That’s always helpful. Just excited. Everybody was happy to have me back. And I’m happy to be back here, and we can put everything behind and get looking forward ahead to [Wednesday’s] game.”

Horford did watch Monday’s game, in which Tyler Zeller started in place of Horford.

“I was able to watch it and I was just very proud with our guys, how they responded,” Horford said. “I feel like in our short season already we haven’t been fully available, all of us, through all the games. It’s just impressive to see a guy like Isaiah not making any excuses. And the list goes on. Not only Isaiah. All the other guys, but everybody just making sure they go in and they put in the work. And they don’t make excuses.

“I’m looking forward for us to keep getting better as a group. The encouraging thing is that there’s a lot of room for growth with our group. Now we have some tough tests ahead, and I’m just looking forward to get it rolling. I waited long enough throughout the summer. Now that I’m here, now we can finally really get focused on that.”

JBL_CMYK_NoHarmanNoRBallWEEI is how you listen to Celtics coverage. JBL cutting-edge wireless headphones and speakers are how you feel like you’re there. As the official Sound of the Celtics, Isaiah Thomas and the NBA, JBL is Made for the Biggest Stage.

Read More: Al Horford, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens,
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