The roster is largely the same this season, but this is a different Celtic world. And it’s not just because Gordon Hayward is back after playing five minutes and a few seconds last year and Kyrie Irving is again healthy.
Even some who played the full season are new, or at least not the same as when last we saw them in the Eastern Conference finals. One week out from their first game, the Celts are still trying to figure how improved people like Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown may have to downshift to keep the car firing on all cylinders.
“Oh yeah,” Irving said before practice yesterday. “I was talking to J.T. about this, as well as J.B. I mean J.T. wasn’t expected to score 18 last year. J.B. wasn’t expected to take 12 shots last year. Gordon was supposed to be our second scorer, and now you think about that whole triangle of guys and Gordon’s coming back trying to prove himself, J.T. is trying to be at that next level, J.B. is trying to be at that next level, so they all want to do everything. And at the end of the day we can’t all do everything, including myself. Me and Al (Horford), we talk about it, as well as J.B. and J.T. We’re just open to talking about it and see how it fits with all of us.”
That would seem to be at least part of the reason why the Celts looked so ragged in their four-game exhibition run, though the usual unsteady preseason rotation and treating the games like practices has an effect, as well.
And, according to Irving, Brad Stevens is asking his troops to do more than just run plays. They have to be able to make reads on the fly and sight adjustments, sort of like the Patriots’ receivers.
“Brad is doing a great job of teaching us and just putting in sets and putting in structure for us to follow,” said Irving. “Now it’s up to us as players to make that conscious choice to do it at a very high level consistently.
“We’re asking a lot of our players to be like basketball savants now, rather than just basketball players — like just going out there, you have nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, just got out there and play. We’re not that team anymore. We have to be a lot smarter. We have to be a lot more diligent in what we’re doing out there, a lot more communicative. And it’s going to take some time for us to figure that out because we don’t have 1-2-3-4-5 set in stone. Like 2, 3 and 4 is like up in the air for us, so you can see that our wings are having somewhat of a struggle just figuring out, ‘OK, who is the 4, who is the 3 here?’ Which is normal. It takes a lot more thinking of the game, it takes a lot more film watching, a lot more of us being together and talking about what we want as a group rather than Brad telling us like this is what we want to do. He’s leaving it up to us. I appreciate that.”
What Stevens isn’t telling the Celts is that they should be happy with coming within a game of the 2018 NBA Finals.
“We did a lot of good things last year, (but) we didn’t do what we all want to do,” said the coach. “So at the end of the day we got a lot of pats on the back for coming close. Unfortunately, I’ve been a part of teams like that before, and that doesn’t always help you at the start of the season.
“I think that we need to look at more of how we can play now and worry less about how good or how we haven’t played well in the last couple of weeks, or how good we played at the end of last season.”
Stevens didn’t get too critical with Marcus Smart, but he made his point in the wake of his guard being fined $25,000 by the league for escalating an altercation during Saturday’s game in Cleveland. (J.R. Smith was fined $15,000.)
There was relief that Smart didn’t get a suspension, and the coach reiterated that flirting with such a penalty is unacceptable.
“I think that ultimately we need him available for games,” Stevens said. “That’s the bottom line. There’s obviously history there with those two guys, and he just reacted and escalated a situation, and that’s why he got kicked out and fined. But we need to understand that we need to be available for games.”
Smart said he wasn’t surprised at all by the fine.
“I figured something was coming,” he said. “I didn’t know exactly what it was, but I knew something was coming. It’s all good. It’s done with. Moving on.”
On being happy to avoid a suspension, Smart said, “Yeah, I mean, like I said, I didn’t know what was going to come out of it. But whatever did, you know, like I said, I would man up and take the consequences. You know, the league issued what they issued, and now it’s time for us to move on as a team.”
As for Stevens’ comments and the need to handle things differently, he said, “I mean, yeah, in that aspect so I don’t miss games and hurt my team. That’s how I’ve always been though. That’s me. Nothing’s going to change. Nobody’s going to change nothing at all. I’m going to continue being me. That’s how I was raised; that’s who I am. But obviously I’ve just got to think about the team. I’m important to my team and my teammates need me, so I can’t be missing any games. I need this team, and they need me.”