Terry Rozier

Associated Press

Even without Kyrie Irving, Celtics hold off Hornets 90-87

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BOSTON (AP) — Another game, another injury, another win for the Boston Celtics.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points, Shane Larkin added 16 off the bench and the Celtics overcame an injury to Kyrie Irving and a 12-point, fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Charlotte Hornets 90-87 on Friday night.

Terry Rozier finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, and four assists, playing an increased role after Irving left the game in the first quarter after taking an elbow to the face. Jaylen Brown added 10 points and 13 rebounds.

The Celtics extended their win streak to 11 games. Charlotte has lost four straight.

“We just got a lot of fighters, a lot of resilient guys,” Larkin said of a team that’s now seen Gordon Hayward, Al Horford and now Irving beset by injuries.

He said his teammates’ misfortunes have underlined the necessity of staying ready.

“I’m always locked it. That’s my job. I don’t know when my opportunity’s gonna be there,” Larkin said. “Tonight I hit some shots early, coach kept rocking with me, so I tried to throw my best.”

Celtics center Aron Baynes‘ elbow inadvertently struck Irving when Baynes was landing after a rebound attempt. Irving fell to the floor and was bleeding from the nose as he was escorted back to the locker room. Irving was ruled out for the rest of the game while he was monitored for possible concussion symptoms.

Larkin said Irving spoke to the team at halftime and texted them all congratulations on the win.

Kemba Walker led the Hornets with 20 points and 11 assists.

Celtics trailed by 12 after three quarters, but opened the fourth on a 16-3 run and took the lead with 4:05 to play on a basket by Brown.

The lead grew to five before Walker’s three-point play got the Hornets back within 86-85. Marcus Morris connected on a jumper, but Walker responded with a driving layup to get it back to a point.

Boston called timeout, but Rozier accidently stepped out of bounds on the ensuing inbounds play. Walker dribbled the clock down, but his jumper bounced off the back of the rim and was rebounded by Rozier. He was fouled and sank two free throws with 3.6 seconds left.

Charlotte struggled throughout the final period, going 4 of 20 from the field and committing six turnovers.

“We’re giving up huge leads. We’re not maintaining our game,” Walker said. “We’ve got to be better as a whole.”

With Irving out, Charlotte took advantage against Boston’s reserves early, stretching its lead to as many as 18 in the second quarter and taking a 16-point lead into halftime.

 

Another wing down? Celtics’ Marcus Smart likely out vs. Sixers

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The horrific, probably season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward has left the Celtics with a shortage of players on the wing.

Going up against Philadelphia Friday night, that might be getting worse, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

Looking at the pictures, I doubt Smart plays.

As noted, Smart said he hurt both ankles in the second night of a back-to-back against Milwaukee, the left one in a collision with teammate Jaylen Brown. Smart started that game and played 32 minutes. That’s a lot of time to go to lesser players.

If he’s out Friday, that likely means either Terry Rozier or Abdel Nader get the start, and both are going to see a healthy bump in minutes. Whatever happens, the Celtics would miss Smart in a game where they need to defend Ben Simmons on the wing.

Celtics attempting gambit not accomplished in decades

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The Celtics were the youngest team to win a playoff series last season.

They apparently weren’t young enough for their own taste.

Boston’s trade for Kyrie Irving was the most dramatic step in a youth movement by a team that won 53 games and reached the conference finals a year go.

The Celtics lost four of their top six in playoff minutes (Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Isaiah Thomas and Kelly Olynyk) and replaced them with – top four newcomers by value – Irving, Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward and Guerschon Yabusele. Average age of the outgoing players right now? 27.2. Average age of the incoming players? 23.5.

Most teams with seasons like Celtics keep the core together, meaning everyone gets a year older. That doesn’t apply in Boston, which shed 11 of 15 players.

Marcus Morris (27) and Aron Baynes (30) are in line for rotation roles. Al Horford is 31. They’ll hedge against the team’s average age freefalling. But returners Marcus Smart (23), Terry Rozier (23) and Jaylen Brown (20) should receive larger roles previously held by much older veterans.

The Celtics had an average age – using players’ ages Feb. 1 and weighted by playing time, the same method used in this post’s first sentence – of 25.9 in the 2017 postseason. Just three teams had an average age below 26 during a postseason in which they won a playoff series then got even younger while still winning a playoff series the following year:

  • 1956 Syracuse Nationals
  • 1959 Minneapolis Lakers
  • 1960 Los Angeles Lakers

The Celtics will try to become the fourth. They’re not only expected to advance again, but return to the conference finals – and once again face the Cavaliers.

LeBron James looms over all this, his seven-year stranglehold over the East causing many to believe last year’s Celtics had hit their ceiling. If Boston somehow got past him, the all-time-great Warriors loom in the Finals.

It’s logical for the Celtics to delay their window.

Boston has between four and six first-round picks the next two years, and the two uncertain ones will eventually convey. The Celtics possess the tools to keep getting even younger.

But, as punctuated by trading the Nets’ unprotected 2018 first-rounder for Irving, this isn’t a complete teardown.

The Celtics are attempting the rare feat of rebuilding on the fly. They’re even doing it with an added degree of difficulty – starting the process already young.

Report: Cavaliers evaluating Kyrie Irving trade after Isaiah Thomas physical

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The Cavaliers traded Kyrie Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick – pending physicals.

Boston acknowledged that Thomas’ hip injury played a role in the deal. It also might factor into the trade getting voided.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

It doesn’t take Miss Cleo to read these tea leaves. Cleveland is clearly concerned.

The Cavs don’t need Thomas ready to start the season. With him on an expiring contract, they don’t even necessarily need him to have great longevity – though he would certainly like to be healthy enough to cash in next summer, and they would ideally like to re-sign him (and LeBron James). But most of all, the Cavaliers need Thomas healthy this May and June for a playoff run that could realistically culminate with another championship.

If it appears too unlikely Thomas is up to that, the Cavs have no choice but to flunk his physical and negate the trade.

The big question: How unlikely is too unlikely?

Cleveland got so much in the deal – Crowder (a versatile wing built to match up with the Warriors), Zizic (a fine young prospect) and that sweet, sweet Brooklyn pick that alone might near Irving’s value. The Cavaliers obviously don’t need Thomas perfectly healthy to come out ahead, which is self-evident in them making the trade while Thomas is still rehabbing his hip.

The teams could always try to re-work the trade, though it wouldn’t be easy. They tried for weeks before finding this configuration.

Thomas, an All-NBA second-teamer who averaged 29 points per game last season, was supposedly key in appeasing Cavs owner Dan Gilbert’s desire to acquire a star for Irving. Maybe Boston can swap in other players – including point guards Marcus Smart and/or Terry Rozier – but that might not placate Cleveland. It’d also be superfluous for the Celtics to keep Thomas while adding Irving, at least if Thomas can play.

And just which players would Boston include in a revised deal? Marcus Morris can’t be aggregated in a trade until Sept. 7. Aron Baynes, Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis can’t be traded at all until Dec. 15. Options are narrow.

If the deal gets undone, there would be a lot of hurt feelings on both sides.

Irving, of course, requested a trade from Cleveland. How would he handle returning after believing he had moved on? How would his teammates welcome him back after coming to terms with his exit?

Likewise, Thomas might not be keen on returning to the Celtics. I wouldn’t blame him for looking around the locker room and front office and wondering whom he can trust. Even if Thomas returned to Boston and played well, there’d be no chance of pitching him with loyalty in free agency next summer.

The simplest answer might be the Cavaliers getting another pick from the Celtics, which wouldn’t affect the trade’s cap math, in exchange for taking greater risk on Thomas’ hip. That’d avoid a lot of drama.

If even amenable to that – they’re already giving up so much – the Celtics would probably want to conduct another physical of their own on Thomas. Otherwise, what would stop the Cavs from signaling concern just to extort an extra pick from Boston?

There are good reasons for both teams to take their time in evaluating this. It just must be excruciating for everyone involved.

Isaiah Thomas ‘very confident’ he’ll get max contract

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Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas is so open about his pursuit of a max contract, he has successfully branded his desire for a raise around the image of a Brinks truck.

Stephen Hewett of the Boston Herald:

Thomas was asked how confident he is that he’ll get the max money he’s seeking.

“Very confident,” he said Saturday during his annual basketball clinic at BU, where he hosted more than 400 campers. “I deserve it. I put the work in, and you can put me down against any guard in the NBA. … My numbers are up there with the best players in the world, and my team is winning. So, I mean, you have to reward that.

“At the end of the day I’m not too worried about it. I only talk about it when people bring it up, so everybody’s always like, ‘He’s always talking.’ I’m not talking about it unless somebody brings it up. I’m just going to keep working though. My time is gonna come. I have a lot of faith in God, and I just have to keep working to get better.”

I’m not nearly as confident.

Thomas provided max-level production last season. If healthy, he could do so again this season.

But that doesn’t mean he can be counted on to keep it up over the following few years.

He’ll be 29 when he hits free agency, and undersized point guards – like the 5-foot-9 Thomas – tend to fall off quickly around that age. His next team should pay for what Thomas will do during his next contract, not reward him for what he did prior.

The NBA’s financial landscape is tightening. As the salary cap levels off, teams won’t have the money to throw around like they did in 2016. Just a few teams project to have max cap space and the need for a point guard – Magic, Bulls and Pacers. That list will surely change between now and next summer, but the starting point is a narrow field.

Boston is also in line to pay the luxury tax if Thomas receives the max, which projects to be worth $177 million over five years if he re-signs (or $132 million over four years if he signs elsewhere). So, the Celtics are especially incentivized to keep costs down.

They’re also incentivized to keep a good team rolling. After trading out of the No. 1 pick and the opportunity to draft Markelle Fultz, Boston is left with Marcus Smart and Terry Rozier behind Thomas. Either of those backups would represent a big downgrade. The Celtics also aren’t in line to have cap space to sign an outside replacement, even if they lost Thomas.

So, Thomas has some leverage. Enough to extract the full max? Maybe. It’d help if he plays at an elite level again, increases his number of suitors. But even that won’t guarantee a max offer.