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Celtics coach Brad Stevens: ‘We’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters’

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The Celtics might be too deep.

They won 55 games last season with Gordon Hayward missing nearly the entire season. They reached the conference finals without Kyrie Irving and Hayward in the playoffs.

All five regular-season starters – Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes – return. So does playoff starter Terry Rozier. So does Hayward. So does Marcus Smart, whom Boston coach Brad Stevens has called the team’s “sixth starter” for years. So does Marcus Morris, who started in Detroit before joining these stacked Celtics and remains in his prime.

Make no mistake: Teams around the league envy this challenge. But it’s still a challenge.

Stevens on the “Yahoo Sports NBA: Chris Mannix” podcast:

I think all of our guys realize that we have a really good thing going.

Part of being on a team is all being understanding that there’s nothing like experiencing winning together.

For me, it’s more about, we have a unique thing, and I think we all have to recognize that. The starting thing, the finishing and everything else – we’re going to have different lineups  out there, and everybody’s going to get an opportunity and lots of opportunities to make an impact.

We’ll just do it like we’ve always done it. Marcus Smart has come off the bench for two years, and I’ve never considered Marcus Smart to be a non-starter. I just think that you – we’re fortunate enough on our team that we’ve got eight, nine, maybe 10 guys that are starters. So, we’ll figure that out as the time comes.

And I do I think that our guys have a recognition overall about that’s not what it’s about. It’s about trying to be the best that we can be collectively. If we all do what we do to the best of our ability, it will benefit everybody individually.

But you only get so many chances to be part of a special group. And we’re pretty fortunate to be in this position. We need to take advantage of it.

Ten is probably pushing it. But the Celtics might actually have nine starting-caliber – i.e. top-150 – players.

How will that work?

Boston’s team success will help plenty. It’s harder for players to grumble about playing time when the team is winning.

Stevens also does a great job of giving players roles and getting them to buy in. These players fit different positional archetypes, allowing Stevens to give them each turns depending on situation.

And maybe only Rozier and Morris are playing for their next contract. As long as he stays healthy, Irving will likely command a max contract in free agency next summer no matter what. Horford ($30,123,015) and Baynes ($5,453,280) will probably opt in, though there’s a chance they’re playing to prove they deserve new contracts. Hayward, Tatum, Brown and Smart are locked in for multiple years.

Rozier has consistently struck the right tone in balancing his personal ambition with playing his role in Boston. That’s contagious. Stevens is adding to the culture with preemptive positive reinforcement.

The Celtics could get tangled in playing-time disputes, but they’re at least off to the right start for making this work.

Celtics top Cavaliers in Game 5, setting up Game 7 in Boston?

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LeBron James and a couple Cavaliers teammates left the court well before the Celtics dribbled out their 96-83 Game 5 win Wednesday.

The Cavs are already moving on.

Game 6 will be Friday in Cleveland, and the Cavaliers – down 3-2 in the Eastern Conference finals – must win to avoid elimination. The way Boston has played on the road, it’s even easy to look ahead to Game 7, which is scheduled for Sunday in Boston.

Still, the Celtics bought themselves leeway with their decisive win in Boston tonight. They led by double digits the final 20 minutes, breaking the Cavs’ momentum after two straight wins in Cleveland.

“It’s tough going on the road, playing against somebody else in their house with their crowd,” said Jayson Tatum, who had 24 points, seven rebounds, four assists, four steals and two blocks tonight. “So, we were just comfortable. We came back home and defended home-court like we have all playoffs.”

Boston is now 10-0 at home this postseason – but just 1-6 away. Fueled in part by that historic split, no game in this series has been close. All five have been decided by at least nine points, and the average margin of victory – 18 – is in the 97th percentile for largest ever in a 3-2 best-of-seven series.

So, just as two big Celtics wins in Games 1 and 2 didn’t deter the Cavaliers, this one likely won’t, either. The Cavs should be heavily favorited in Game 6.

Beyond, if it gets that far? That’s a much bigger tossup.

Teams up 3-2 in a best-of-seven series have won 85% of the time. But Boston is missing a key reason it secured home-court advantage, including a chance to break the 2-2 at home rather than on the road – Kyrie Irving. And LeBron James is downright scary in a Game 7, even on the road.

The Celtics at least took care of business tonight, showing a far greater sense of urgency than Cleveland. Brad Stevens changed his starting lineup, inserting Aron Baynes for Marcus Morris, and tightened his rotation to just seven players until garbage time. Boston ran the floor much harder than the Cavs, decisively outrebounded them and beat them to loose balls. Even in altercations, the Celtics had a man advantage.

LeBron (26 points, 10 rebounds five assists and six turnovers) never made his presence felt in the way usually necessary for the Cavaliers to win. Cleveland’s four other starters combined to score just 24 points, two fewer than LeBron did himself.

After Boston seized control early, the Cavaliers made few adjustments in strategy or effort – as if they’re saving those for later.

Tyronn Lue sounds like he will start Tristan Thompson in Game 2

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Boston’s passing, player movement, and pace torched the Cavaliers defense in Game 1 — and they did it getting inside. Boston had 60 points in the paint and met little resistance there, shooting 22-of-30 at the rim and 8-of-15 from floater range. Al Horford did as he pleased against Kevin Love and started 7-of-7 shooting, while the Cavaliers recognition and help rotations were unimpressive. To put it kindly.

All that led to a lot of speculation the Cavaliers would start Tristan Thompson in Game 2. At an off-day practice Monday, Tyronn Lue sounded like a guy who was going to start Thompson on Tuesday night, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“Looking at the statistics, over the last three years with at least 30 possessions [defending him], out of all the guys that have guarded Al Horford, Tristan is No. 1 in the league defending Al Horford,” Lue said. “So that’s a good thing, you know?”

“We weighed (starting Thompson) before the series started, but we’d won seven out of eight and we weren’t going to adjust until someone beat us and we didn’t play well with that lineup that got us to this point,” Lue said.

All of that happened Monday. Nothing is official, and this is the playoffs so smokescreens are everywhere, but this sounds like Lue is leaning toward going big (which would move Kyle Korver to a bench role).

Thompson wasn’t exactly dominating in Game 1, but he did have eight points and 11 rebounds — four offensive — in 21 minutes off the bench. He was -12 in those 21 minutes, Love was -13 in his 30. Still, Thompson provides a level of defense and presence in the paint Cleveland lacked and Boston exploited in Game 1.

The biggest challenge for the Cavaliers in starting Thompson is he can’t space the floor as a shooter, allowing Horford — or Aron Baynes, who would get more playing time — to stay close to the rim and protect it. This is the Celtics, the coaching staff will have thought through how to attack when Thompson is on the floor, and the players will stick to the game plan with religious fervor.

Whoever starts, Cleveland is going to be better in Game 2. LeBron James is going to look a lot more like the best player on the planet, the Cavaliers are not going to shoot 0-of-12 from three in the first half, and the defensive effort should be better. Game 2 is not going to be a blowout. But will all that and more Thompson be enough to take one on the road? That’s another question.

PBT Podcast: Getting on NBA teams’ draft radar through Professional Basketball Combine

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Most of the NBA Draft focus right now is on the handful of guys at the top of the draft — Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, and others.

However, at any given time up to 20 percent of the guys in the league were undrafted — guys such as Robert Covington, Jeremy Lin, Seth Curry, Aron Baynes, Wes Mathews, and Kent Bazemore, all went undrafted and had to find another route to the NBA.

How do those guys get the attention of scouts and GMs and get their chance? Jake Kelfer with the Professional Basketball Combine joins me to talk about his event and that path — a May combine-style couple of days where teams can watch players not at the NBA Combine — and how those players can get a foot in the door. Last year, that included Antonio Blakeney, who got a two-way contract with the Bulls, Charles Cooke (who got a two-way contract with the Pelicans) and others who went on to play in the G-League and overseas. The goal at the combine is to play well enough to get invited to work out for teams (from there it’s usually a Summer League invite and maybe the chance to attend a team’s training camp, where they can earn a spot).

This year, the list of players includes LiAngelo Ball, who will be coming to the PBC at the IMG Academy in Florida trying to show to scouts exactly what he can do.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

LeBron James has ‘zero’ concern after Cavaliers’ lopsided Game 1 loss

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BOSTON (AP) LeBron James has made Boston’s TD Garden his personal playground during the playoffs in recent years.

The Cleveland Cavaliers entered the Eastern Conference finals with a 9-3 record against the Celtics in games played at the Garden over the last four years, including six straight wins.

James’ 979 postseason points against Boston were the most by any player against any opponent in the last 50 years. And his 21 playoff wins against the Celtics were also the most against them during that span.

But none of that mattered Sunday in Boston’s dominating 108-83 win over Cleveland in Game 1 , in which James committed seven turnovers while being held to just 15 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

It would be solid night for most NBA players, but was pedestrian by the super-human standard that LeBron has set for himself this postseason, at times single-handedly carrying the Cavs to victories.

But he was clear that his concern level down being 1-0 was “zero.”

“I didn’t go to college, so it’s not March Madness,” he said. “You see ways you can get better throughout the series. But I’ve been down 0-1, I’ve been down 0-2. I’ve been down before in the postseason.

“But for me, there’s no level of concern no matter how bad I played tonight with seven turnovers, how inefficient I was shooting the ball. … We have another opportunity to be better as a ballclub come Tuesday night and we’ll see what happens.”

James said the Celtics deserved credit for the defensive strategy they employed against him, which started with Marcus Morris challenging him from outset, limiting him to 2-of-6 shooting in the first quarter as Cleveland fell into a 36-18 hole.

“I think they had a great game plan in Game 1, and he was the start of it,” James said. “He was my matchup and I think they did a great job of communicating throughout the whole game, knowing where I was and all of my teammates was. (Celtics coach) Brad (Stevens) did a great job.”

“We have an opportunity to look at some film tomorrow and see ways they was making us uncomfortable.”

The Celtics showed James several different looks throughout the game, switching as many as five different players on him.

Morris, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Aron Baynes all took turns guarding James at times. Boston frequently sent a double team when he got the ball in the post. It forced him to settle for jump shots early and limited his ability to get to the rim.

That in turn kept James from creating shots for his teammates. For the game Cleveland was outscored by 18 points with James on the floor.

“We are just going to try to make it as tough for him as we can,” Rozier said. “The other guys, obviously, (Kevin) Love and J.R. Smith, we don’t want to give them open looks. … That has been a big emphasis the last couple of days. We did a good job of that and we just have to keep it up.”

When the Cavs did finally show a little momentum, cutting Boston’s lead to 14 at the end of the third quarter, the Celtics responded with a 7-0 run at the start of the fourth.

James was asked afterward what happened during that flurry and he responded with a verbatim recitation of each play , down to Tatum’s coast-to-coast layup off a Eurostep move in the lane.

When he was finished James leaned back in his chair, spread his arms and wryly said, “There you go.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

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