Celtics Adapting Well to Preseason Adversity

Last season, the Boston Celtics faced a great deal of adversity with players being in and out of the lineup due to injuries and illnesses. So far this preseason, it has been more of the same, but the team is trying to adapt and overcome the circumstances at an even higher level this time around.

After making it through the first exhibition game with a full and healthy roster, Boston’s core players began dropping out of the rotation like flies. First, Jaylen Brown tested positive for COVID-19, placing him into isolation for the remainder of the preseason. A few days later, Al Horford suffered the same fate.

On Wednesday night, Coach Ime Udoka rested the remainder of his core players during a matchup in Orlando. But then his starting point guard for that game, Payton Pritchard, suffered a broken nose, forcing him out of the game and onto a flight home to Boston.

Then on Thursday afternoon, it was announced that Marcus Smart had received an internal, one-game suspension after violating a team rule, meaning the Celtics would be without four key guys heading into their preseason finale Friday night in Miami.

But rather than get caught up in their early misfortune, the Celtics are approaching it as an opportunity to test themselves and grow together. After all, preseason is the most opportune time of the year to do so.

“Everybody goes through trials and tribulations,” Robert Williams said following practice Thursday afternoon in Miami. “This will make us stronger as a team. Obviously, we're facing adversity earlier in the season, way earlier than we expect. But it's an opportunity for guys to step up."

Several guys have stepped up, which is why the Celtics have been able to win two out of their three exhibition matchups.

When Brown was ruled out for Game 2, Romeo Langford took his place in the starting lineup and delivered 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting in a 113-111 win over Toronto.

When the core guys sat out for Game 3, Aaron Nesmith, Jabari Parker, and others rose to the occasion and nearly escaped with a win over an Orlando team that was playing its full roster.

That performance, in Smart’s eyes, was a great indicator of how the team could respond to adversity this season.

“We're going to need that, especially in this league, we're going to need these young guys to be ready early,” he said. “So for them to get in there and come out of the gate and do what they did, we're ecstatic. We're excited for those guys. We're excited to see when the lights are on, and they mean something, for those guys to come in and be impactful.”

The Celtics had difficulty adapting to all the uncertainties of last season, and it showed in the win/loss column with their .500 record. This season, they hope to be more prepared.

The good news for the Celtics is that they could potentially have everyone back for Wednesday night’s season-opening matchup against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. In the meantime, they’ll continue to test out their adaptability with one final preseason game against the Heat.

“We won't get to see certain lineups that we obviously wanted to see, but we have to move along,” said Udoka. “We've done that with Al and Jaylen out as well. So we just had a nice practice, added some new things for tomorrow and the week going forward, and we'll keep it moving.”

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