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Note: Opinions expressed are those of the author exclusively and do not necessarily represent those of the Boston Celtics.
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Tuesday, January 28 - Celtics at Knicks
Pregame - Rondo Nearing Another Step in Comeback
Rajon Rondo has made impressive strides since he returned to game action on Jan. 17 against the Los Angeles Lakers. Brad Stevens thinks his star point guard may be on the verge of taking another important step in his recovery from last year’s ACL surgery.
“We haven’t talked about it yet, but I don’t think he’s definitely out tomorrow,” Stevens said, speaking of Boston’s game against Philadelphia tomorrow night at TD Garden. “So that might be the next stride that we make.”
That isn’t a guarantee that Rondo will play Wednesday night, but the possibility is clearly open. That would be a big step for both Rondo and the Celtics as he continues to make important checkmarks on his to-do list.
Boston has held Rondo out of back-to-back games since his return to the lineup. He missed Wednesday’s 113-111 overtime win over the Wizards. This news, coupled with the fact that Rondo just played 30 minutes against Brooklyn on Sunday, indicates that the point guard is inching closer and closer to unrestricted playing time.
Reaching that milestone will put Rondo’s mind at ease. As Stevens noted before tonight’s game, these restrictions have prevented No. 9 from catching a groove on the court.
“It’s hard to play those five-minute intervals and get any rhythm or routine,” said Stevens.
Thankfully, Rondo’s five-minute intervals have quickly gone by the wayside. His minute totals looked like this after his first five games of the season: 19, 21, 26, 22, 30. Rondo’s minutes continue to increase and so do his numbers.
“I thought the other day, part of the reason he played better was he got a better rhythm,” Stevens said, referring to Rondo’s 13-point, eight-rebound, eight assist performance against Brooklyn. “So hopefully we can play him seven to eight minutes a quarter and feel better.”
Rondo has almost said sayonara to playing restricted minutes. Come tomorrow, he may say goodbye to sitting out back-to-backs as well.
- Marc D'Amico
Tuesday, January 22 - Celtics at Wizards
Pregame - C's To Play with Short-Handed Backcourt
Brad Stevens said before tonight’s game that there has been a “changing of the guard” in Boston’s locker room due to their recent string of injuries.
His pun was likely unintentional, but it was spot on.
Boston will be playing tonight’s game without Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley and Jerryd Bayless. Rondo is sitting out for precautionary reasons in the second night of Boston’s back-to-back, Bradley is fresh off of a sprained right ankle, and Bayless continues to recover from a left big toe injury suffered Sunday night in Orlando.
Who does that leave in Boston’s backcourt? Well, you might know one of the guys. His name is Phil Pressey and he has been a fantastic assist man for Boston thus far in his rookie season. The other two guards the Celtics have at their disposal, Chris Johnson and Vander Blue, are in the midst of 10-day contracts with the team.
That trio of guards is a far cry from what the Celtics ran onto the floor Friday night against the Lakers. A changing of the guard, to say the least.
Stevens told reporters that he plans to insert Gerald Wallace into the starting lineup, shifting Jeff Green over to the starting shooting guard spot. That change will help to eat up some of the team’s minutes at shooting guard but Stevens still must figure out his point guard situation.
Pressey stands as the only available point guard for tonight’s game. Stevens explained that he is still trying to figure out how he’s going to handle the point guard position tonight.
“How we’ll manage the minutes at the point guard situation tonight, I’m not exactly sure,” Stevens said. “That may be a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants call, but I’ve got a few things in mind depending on how the game goes and who they’re playing.
“You never know how we’ll decide to go with that,” he continued, “and I’d be lying to say that I could map it out right now. I’m going to go with my gut as we go through it. Today is a lot more about feel than it is about anything proven.”
There’s no doubt that the Celtics would be happy to have Rondo, Bradley and Bayless available tonight. They’re three of the better players on this team. The C’s do, however, feel confident in what Johnson and Blue bring to the table.
“Chris was unbelievable last night. I mean really, really, really good. Not just serviceable.” Stevens said, referencing Johnson’s 11-point, three-rebound performance in Miami. “He played great on both ends of the floor, so you hope that that can continue.”
The coach then gave a quick scouting report on Blue, who placed against Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs during his time at Marquette.
“Vander is a tough kid. Vander is a guy who is a competitor,” said Stevens. “You look around the league and a lot of those Marquette guys have done really well in the league. You look at the (Wesley) Matthews and the (Jimmy) Butlers and that. I think he kind of fits that mold of a tough guy.”
Stevens then touched on Blue’s scoring ability – he just dropped 35 points in a D-League game on Monday – and what he brings to the table as a defender.
“He manufactures points in different ways. His shooting percentages were never the greatest, although he shot about 70 percent against me last year,” Stevens said. “And he’s a tough defender. He can get into the ball and is a good athlete.”
Stevens would not guarantee that Blue would make it onto the floor but it’s almost a given considering how short-handed Boston is in the backcourt. There is no Rondo, Bradley or Bayless, but there is Pressey, Johnson and Blue.
A changing of the guard, indeed.
- Marc D'Amico
Tuesday, January 21 - Celtics at Heat
Pregame - Stevens Calls Pressey "The Guy"
Phil Pressey probably didn’t expect to be called “the guy” during his rookie season in Boston. In fact, no one probably expected that to happen after the 5-foot-11 point guard went undrafted out of Missouri.
Well, Brad Stevens had a surprise for everyone prior to Tuesday night’s game against the Miami Heat.
“You look at our roster right now and with (Rajon) Rondo with minute limitations and with Jerryd (Bayless) out, Phil is the guy,” Stevens said. “If Rondo plays 24 minutes, Phil is probably going to at least play the other 24 and maybe some with him.”
In any normal instance, it would probably be a bad thing for an NBA team to be leaning on a 5-foot-11, undrafted point guard for heavy minutes in January. Thing is, Pressey is anything but normal.
The speedy guard has been fantastic during his rookie season and put up the third-highest assist-to-turnover ratio (3.76) in the NBA among point guards who have played in at least 10 games. He started for the first time in his NBA career six days ago and opened up the record books. Pressey notched 10 assists while not committing a turnover in that game, something that hadn’t been done by a rookie point guard since Armond Hill (11 assists) did it on Jan. 28, 1977, according to Elias Sports Bureau.
Talk about impressive. Pressey has proven to be a steal for the Celtics, a player who can orchestrate the offense despite all of his shortcomings (pun intended).
“He gets that thing moving pretty well,” Stevens said. “He plays with great pace, just generally. It’s kind of who he is. He’s a little guy and he’s figured out ways to be successful in a big person’s game.”
There is just one more thing Pressey needs to do to establish himself as one of the top up-and-coming point guards in the league, and that is to establish his shot. Pressey has been passive in his shot selection. His coach, who has seen way more of Pressey than any of us outsiders have. wants to see that change.
“Phil puts in a lot of hours. Phil is probably in our practice facility as much as anyone on our team,” Stevens said of his rookie floor general. “I expect it (his shot) to go in. I think the biggest thing is, for him to pass up an open 3 to take a one-dribble pull-up… take the open 3. Step into it with a great deal of confidence and let it fly, because everybody on the bench expects you to let it fly.”
Pressey has shown plenty of confidence in his passing abilities during this early stage of his NBA career. Now it’s time to knock down those open jumpers. With the playing time he’s expected to receive tonight, he should have plenty of opportunities to fulfill his coach’s wish.
- Marc D'Amico
Sunday, January 19 - Celtics at Magic
Pregame - Matchups are at the Forefront of Tonight's Game
There is one word you hear more than all others during the NBA playoffs: matchups. We aren’t in the playoffs on Jan. 19, but that didn’t prevent Brad Stevens from discussing some matchup issues the Orlando Magic will pose tonight.
Orlando will be missing its starting center, Nikola Vucevic, tonight. He’ll be missing his seventh consecutive contest since suffering a concussion on Jan. 6. His absence drastically changes the Magic’s lineup and rotation.
The Magic list their probable starters as Jameer Nelson, Victor Oladipo, Arron Afflalo, Tobias Harris and Glen Davis. That’s small ball at its core, with three guards, a small forward and a power forward. Stevens discussed the challenges that three-guard lineup could cause for Boston tonight.
“Afflalo is a bear, the way he’s scoring it,” Stevens said. “Nelson and Oladipo and Afflalo, any of those guys could go for 25-plus a night. That makes it very difficult.
Stevens noted that he has a plan as to how he’ll defend the Magic, but that he may alter that based on how Orlando’s guards perform.
“You start a certain way which you think might fit best, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to change throughout the course of the night,” said Stevens. “You just have to be flexible. Sometimes if one of those guys gets going, even if the other two aren’t, you want to make a change just to kind of slow him down and break a rhythm.”
The most probable player out of that group to pour in 25-plus points has to be Arron Afflalo, who comes into tonight’s game with a scoring average of 20.9 points per game. He’ll start at small forward, which means Jeff Green will have the responsibility of defending him. That will certainly be a unique matchup for Green that could give the Magic an advantage when they’re on offense.
“[Green’s] got to guard a really good player, but he’s got to make sure, maybe more so than some of the 3s he’s guarded, he’s got to be there on the catch, though Afflalo is very good in the post,” Stevens said. “It will be interesting to see how they play them, if they decide to go that way, but I certainly think that’s an advantage to have all three of those guys out there on the court.”
The difficult matchups don’t end there. Orlando also has a stable of big men who possess an inside-outside game. Stevens touched on those players as well.
“With that rotation on the frontline with Harris, Davis, (Andrew) Nicholson, (Kyle) O’Quinn, those guys, you have all skilled guys that can make shots,” said Stevens. “You do have some matchup problems the other way, because a guy like Harris, who is probably more of a traditional 3, can do a lot of things to put your 4s in a bad position.”
We may not be minutes away from tipping off a playoff game, but matchups remain the name of the game. Matchups are what make this game so great. One team says, “This is what we bring to the table.” Then the other team says, “Well this is how we’re going to stop it.”
We’ll see if the Celtics can figure out a way to counter this unique Magic lineup tonight.
- Marc D'Amico
Tuesday, December 10 - Celtics at Nets
Pregame - Pierce Will Play; Coaches Discuss Emotions
It’s official: Paul Pierce will play his first regular-season game against the Boston Celtics tonight.
Nets head coach Jason Kidd announced before tonight’s game that Pierce, returning from a broken right hand, will return to the lineup tonight and come off of the bench for Brooklyn. Pierce hinted at the possibility of coming off of the bench on Monday, and Kidd explained tonight why he’s turning that possibility into reality.
“One, to get him comfortable with the glove,” Kidd said, referring to the protective glove that Pierce will be wearing on his shooting hand. “Two, there’s no reason to push him to the starting lineup. I want him to get a feel of the glove.”
The fact that Pierce is coming off of the bench does not change the storyline of this game. He is playing his first regular-season game against the Celtics, and Kevin Garnett will play his first game against Boston since March 4, 2007. They will surely be hit with some form of emotion when they take the floor tonight. Kidd revealed the advice he gave to his two future Hall of Famers as they head into tonight’s game.
“To breathe and to relax and to enjoy the moment,” said Kidd. “It will probably be, for Paul or for KG, a period of reflection of what they accomplished in Boston and winning the championship. And then being the competitors they are, they’ll be ready to play.”
While Kidd expects that period of reflection, Brad Stevens thinks his players have clear minds heading into this contest. He was asked if he sensed any extra emotions or energy from his group prior to his pregame press conference, and he replied with a very short answer: “No.”
Stevens did follow up that one-word answer with an inside look at the emotional – or, emotionless – side of the Celtics.
“They’re not a huge rah-rah group, generally,” Stevens explained. “They’re pretty business-like. They’ve pretty much been normal. When you first get together (in training camp), you don’t know how to read that, and now I just think that’s who they are. And I like that, because it’s pretty business-like.”
That might be the perfect approach for a game like this one. The Celtics and Nets, two teams that pulled off a blockbuster trade on July 12, will meet for the first time this season at 7:30 p.m. And contrary to what we all thought a week ago, Paul Pierce will be on the floor… at some point.
- Marc D'Amico
Sunday, December 8 - Celtics at Knicks
Pregame - Anthony, Knicks Pose Great Challenge for C's D
You don’t have to tell Brad Stevens that he and the Celtics face a hefty task today in trying to contain Carmelo Anthony. He knows that full well.
“I think he’s a really difficult challenge,” Stevens said before today’s afternoon matinee. “I think he’s one of the few handful of players in the league where you go into the game knowing that you’re probably going to have to put two guys on him at some point or bring another guy to him at some point.”
The Celtics haven’t faced off against many players this season who are on that “I Command Double-Teams” list. Of the players on that list, Boston has only seen LeBron James, James Harden and Paul George. In other words, the C’s haven’t had much practice with double-teams and traps on athletic wings.
So the question looms: What is Stevens’ comfort level with using these aggressive defensive schemes?
“Fine,” he said to that question. “But your comfort level is never good with that, because if you have to do it, there’s a reason. Again, you’re picking your poison. So if you have to bring two (defenders) to the ball, you’re creating something, and that’s because of your respect for the individual player.”
What Stevens means by “creating something” is that his defense would be opening up a shot for someone other player if it double-teams Anthony. That has been a dangerous situation against this Knicks team of late. Anthony’s teammates have been torching opponents over the past two games.
“I think if you have to bring two to [Anthony], which is a problem, which has to happen a lot in a lot of games,” Stevens said, “then you’ve got guys like (Tim) Hardaway (Jr.) and (J.R.) Smith who go 10-for-14 in the last game or 10-for-16 in the last game, and now you’ve got an issue. All of those guys are very capable shooters.”
Yep, this is one heck of a defensive challenge for the Boston Celtics. The good news is that they understand that and have been preparing for it over the two days.
- Marc D'Amico
Saturday, November 9 - Celtics at Heat
Pregame - Stevens Discusses Preparing for LeBron
Brad Stevens has had a lot of firsts over the past few months. This one has to be the most unpleasant one yet.
Stevens has spent the past 24 hours preparing for the game’s greatest player, LeBron James. James is coming off of his second consecutive MVP and Finals MVP season. The C’s will do their best to contain him, but accomplishing that goal is quite the feat.
I asked Stevens before tonight’s game what it has been like preparing for James for the first time in his coaching career. His answer said it all.
“Unenjoyable... might be the right word?” Stevens said after struggling to come up with the most appropriate term. “He’s the best player on the planet right now, and at the end of the day that makes it really hard to guard. He’s a great combination of skill and strength and speed, and then on top of that he’s got to be in the top few players in the world in savvy. He’s really a special player.”
James would be difficult to defend in any setting, but when he’s on the floor with this Heat team that challenge becomes even greater. As Stevens mentioned, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has created the perfect offense for James and his teammates.
“The other thing that sometimes goes without being said is how good their system is for all of those guys,” Stevens said. “[Speolstra’s] really done a great job of coaching that team and putting them in position to just take advantage of their strengths and play basketball, but also a really organized setup for what would usually be an undersized team in the league to be an absolute nightmare to guard.”
That nightmare will become a reality tonight for Stevens and the Celtics. However, they might have a weapon to make that nightmare a bit less frightening.
Brandon Bass has been very successful in defending James in the past. He hasn’t shut James down, but he has made life very difficult on the four-time MVP. Stevens let it be known that Bass will be tasked with defending James yet again tonight.
“Obviously [Bass is] a guy that’s going to see some time on LeBron, as are other people,” said Stevens. “I think Brandon Bass is a versatile defender and I think that makes our team better.”
The question is, does he make the Celtics good enough to take down the defending champs? If the answer is yes, that would make Stevens’ first matchup with James quite memorable.
- Marc D'Amico
Friday, November 8 - Celtics at Magic
Pregame - Stevens Says Pressey Can Learn from Nelson
There is always a ripple down effect when a lineup change occurs for an NBA team. In Boston’s instance, Jordan Crawford’s insertion into the starting lineup doesn’t only affect him, it also touches the rest of the starters and trickles down to the bench.
One of the players who’s affected the most is rookie point guard Phil Pressey. Pressey hadn’t played in Boston’s first four games of the season. When Brad Stevens shook up the lineup on Wednesday with Crawford as the starting point guard, it meant that Pressey was in line for his first regular season appearance as a pro.
Pressey is now the point guard for the second unit. He played 17 minutes Wednesday night and finished with two points, three assists, one steal and no turnovers. He played well, and Stevens now has confidence in both Pressey and that new second unit.
Confidence, however, won’t make Pressey any taller. The point guard went undrafted out of Missouri for a reason, which is his height. Pressey stands at just 5-foot-11.
He has managed to make it this far by figuring out a way to overcome that disadvantage at every level. Stevens believes that Pressey can continue to figure out ways to be successful at the NBA level.
“Obviously, he’s going to run into some matchups that are tough for him, simply because of size,” Stevens said before tonight’s game in Orlando. “But he has to use size to his advantage. We always talked about that when I was at Butler, was just using your leverage to your advantage if you’re a smaller guy. So he’s going to have to do that, because he’s going to play.”
Ironically, someone who will be on the other sideline tonight is a perfect example for Pressey to look up to. Nelson came into the league in 2004 at a 6-foot point guard out of Saint Joseph’s. That height hasn’t deterred him one bit, as he has made an All-Star team and been a consistent performer for the past decade.
“I like Jameer Nelson, and I have since college,” said Stevens. “He’s always struck me as a winner. He’s always struck me as a competitive guy. To play in this league and be as effective in this league at that size as he is, it tells you, No. 1, he’s really quick and really fast, and No. 2 is he has a great mindset and some great stuff about him.”
Stevens continued that statement by comparing Nelson and Pressey.
“Phil does too,” he said. “Phil is much younger in this process, and Jameer may have been even a little bit more ready from a body and physical standpoint when he came in the league, but he can certainly learn from him.”
Pressey will get a first-hand opportunity to watch and learn from Nelson tonight. Maybe even in a one-on-one setting.
- Marc D'Amico
Wednesday, October 30 - Celtics at Raptors
Pregame - Stevens Tossed Faverani into Starting Lineup
Brad Stevens finally announced his starting lineup for Boston’s season opener tonight. It’s not the one that started the final game of the Celtics’ preseason, but it’s pretty darn close.
Stevens is calling on Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Gerald Wallace, Brandon Bass and rookie Vitor Faverani to start tonight’s game. Bass is the only change from the final preseason game, as he replaces Kelly Olynyk at power forward.
The story of this group, however, is Faverani, who will be starting in his NBA debut. Stevens chose Faverani after his phenomenal exhibition performance against Brooklyn on October 23 that included 15 points, seven rebounds and six blocked shots.
“I think we need some size and length, whether it be Vitor or Kelly, in our starting lineup,” Stevens said before tonight’s game. “I think that showed itself in a few of those exhibition games at the start of those games. It’s throwing a young guy out there in an NBA opener on the floor right out of the game, but like we talked about this morning, he’s been a pro for a long time and he’s experienced some great environments. So better soon than never.”
In his first NBA game, Faverani will be faced with a difficult task. He’ll need to keep up with Jonas Valanciunas, who has shown vast improvement during his young career.
“I think Valanciunas is a very, very good second year pro,” Stevens said. “He looks like he’s very much trending upward.”
But it’s not like Valanciunas is in a totally different class than Faverani. Stevens likes what he’s seen out of his big man, too.
“I think V is a good player, and we’ll see whether or not (he can contain Valanciunas),” commented Stevens.
On top of being a good player, Faverani is also an experienced player despite the fact that he’s an NBA rookie.
“I think the most important part is he’s been through a lot,” the coach said of his starting center. “He has been a pro. He’s played in great environments, like I said, but he also understands how pros operate, how they take care of their bodies, what the season’s like. Even though he hasn’t been through an NBA season, he’s been through quite a bit.”
Tonight, however, will be different. Faverani is starting for the Boston Celtics in their season opener against some of the most talented players in the world. Add this storyline to the intrigue of Opening Night.
- Marc D'Amico
Wednesday, October 30 - 2013-14 Season Begins
Celtics Tip Off Season in Toronto
The Celtics will tip off their 2013-14 regular season campaign against the Toronto Raptors on October 30. Stay tuned to the Ford Post Ups Notebook for game night updates throughout the season.