The 'Celtic way' starts with mentoring at the top

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The 'Celtic way' starts with mentoring at the top

BOSTON It wasn't that unusual to watch the Boston Celtics play this season and see Avery Bradley peppering Ray Allen - the man he replaced in the C's starting lineup - with questions before, during and after games.

If you continue to scan the C's sideline, rookie forward JaJuan Johnson could at times be found soaking in every syllable uttered by Kevin Garnett during time-outs, a player that Johnson would like to someday succeed one day as the Celtic's starting power forward.

Keyon Dooling is a 12-year veteran who won't hesitate to drop a few knowledge bombs on rookie guard E'Twaun Moore who has spent most of this season fighting for minutes as a backup guard, along with Dooling.

As much as you have a Celtics team full of young - and not so young - guys that want to play, there is an ever-present mentoring dynamic at work that players believe has been one of the secret weapons to their success this season.

Players believe it helps explain why they have been able to overcome what has been a season's worth of injuries and unexpected setbacks to be where they are now, Atlantic Division champions about to begin their postseason journey with a Game 1 first round series matchup at Atlanta on Sunday.

"Not playing, it's easy to bea cancer," said Celtics forward Marquis Daniels, who has been in and out of the C's rotation this season. "You could easily be like complaining, moaning, whining, but we got some great young guys on this team. We (veterans) don't want to put bad fruits in them; you want give them a good foundation so that they can have something to lean on. I stay after everyday to get a workout in. I make sure E'twaun and JaJuan staying, and make sure they stay in shape."

Back when the Celtics were struggling just to get to the .500 mark earlier this season, C's coach Doc Rivers consistently talked about his team in the kind of glowing terms that were in stark contrast to their record at the time.

"I like our spirit," Rivers said. "We're showing resolve. You can see the camaraderie; it's just a good group, a good group to coach. And the future will say how good we are as a basketball team. But they're a good group to coach, and I'm a coach, so that's good."

And the mentoring is done on many levels.

There's the in-game stuff such as offering tips on how to handle different on-the-court situations. And then there's the stuff that you seldom see or hear about, such as Kevin Garnett spending time after a rare practice this season, working one-on-one with Ryan Hollins.

Hollins, who had a chance to play in pick-up games in California with Garnett and Paul Pierce this past summer during the NBA lock-out, doesn't take for granted the time that Garnett has spent with him.

"It's huge," said Hollins, who signed with the Celtics last month after being released by the Cleveland Cavaliers. "You got somebody like that in your corner. It's him, in the back of your mind, whether he's saying something or not. His attention to detail, preparation for the game, the teammate that he is it rubs off and really helps."

Hollins is just one of the many young players that Garnett has been a mentor of sorts to this season.

One of the first to latch on to the ways of Garnett was Johnson, whose lanky, lithe frame and ability to stretch the floor with his perimeter shooting is in some ways similar to Garnett's style of play.

Said Garnett: "I'm not a force-feeder, but when I do see him struggling with things, I do give him advice. I do encourage him (Johnson) to speak up a little more because I can't read minds. And use the guys in here. I always tell him that you have a lot of guys in here with a lot of different experiences. You should get to know them. When I do have the young boys on the plane, when I have them individually, I just like to talk to them about just life, this league and the journey and all that. So I open up to them a little bit from that standpoint; just about NBA life; it can be difficult for young guys.

"I don't think it's enough veterans out here on teams, all the teams, to say, to speak and guide some of these young guys and let them know how important hard work is. Having a work ethic, love for the game, respect for the game, respect for yourself, respect for your family, those things. I'm sort of that on this team. I like to always make sure the young guys understand that, as players that come before you, you gotta respect that."

And it's not just the players working with players, either.

Following a recent practice, Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, was on the floor providing a few pointers to Johnson.

"I just enjoy learning," Johnson said.

Fortunately for Johnson, he's surrounded by a long list of willing teachers - something that isn't necessarily the case with most teams.

And those lessons taught, players agree, begins with the Big Three of Garnett, Pierce and Allen.

This is Dooling's sixth NBA team, and he has never seen a trio of leaders such as the C's Big Three who have led both by their work and their word.

"It's just been a phenomenal experience," Dooling told CSNNE.com. "It's good that these young guys get to see those guys, these high-caliber guys come in here and really get their work in. Because if they can come in and do it, you (as a younger player) should be doing 10 times more."

That certainly has been part of what has driven Bradley, who has emerged as one of the NBA's most improved players this season.

"He wants to get better," Rivers said. "He genuinely wants to get better, and our older guys appreciate that."

Even guys no longer with the team still play the role of mentor.

Bradley recalls a conversation he had recently with Jermaine O'Neal who underwent season-ending wrist surgery last month and has since been waived by the C's to make room for Sean Williams.

When O'Neal was with the Celtics, he would often tell Bradley about his struggles early on his career when he wasn't playing much in Portland, and how he was determined to make the most of his opportunity once he was traded to Indiana when he finally had a chance to play.

With Bradley's emergence, he finds himself having similar conversations with players like Johnson.

"Me and him were in kind of similar situations," said Johnson, referring to himself and Bradley. "We talk about it a lot."

Said Bradley: "I help people out just like Jermaine and those guys helped me out, telling me their stories."

Today, Bradley is a starter having unseated a future Hall of Famer (Allen) in the process who is, when healthy, still one of the most lethal shooters in the NBA.

Ainge sees the mentoring dynamic of the Celtics as being a collection of all involved - players, coaches and the front office - recognizing that none of them can achieve greatness without the help of the others. And that involves teaching - and having players willing to learn which hasn't always been the case with the Celtics.

"We're patient with young guys, as long as young guys want to be taught," Rivers said. "It took me about a year of coaching to realize potential with character turns out to be good player. Potential with no character turns out to be the guy that keeps being traded. You get impatient with that, where you try to get a guy to be a better player, and they can't get out of themselves; they're so much into themselves, they're unteachable."

Yes there is indeed teaching that goes on with mentoring. But more than anything, it's about being professional - something that all of the C's veterans take great pride in.

"Being a professional is something you don't have a choice; something you have to do everyday," Garnett said. "Along with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, those guys are true professionals. They are great examples of that. When you're consistent with something, that's what you are and that's what we've established here."

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

Brown taking opportunities with Celtics as they come

BOSTON -- Compared to most high draft picks, Jaylen Brown doesn’t log a ton of minutes for the Boston Celtics.
 
Playing on an experienced team with legit hopes of making a deep playoff run, rookies seeing limited minutes is a given.
 
Knowing playing time will come in a limited supply, Brown understands all too well the importance of taking advantage of every opportunity he gets on the floor.
 
He did just that on Saturday in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia, and he hopes to do more of the same on Monday when the Celtics take on the Houston Rockets.
 
When you look at Brown’s stat line, nothing about it looks impressive. He played 15 minutes, scored two points with one rebound and one blocked shot.
 
But beyond the stats was the fact that he was on the floor for seven minutes in the fourth quarter in a close back-and-forth game on the road. Rookies on the floor in crunch time is not the norm in the NBA.
 
“It means a lot,” Brown told reporters after Saturday’s win. “I try to be as best I can be for my team; try to put my best foot forward every night out.”
 
And he did just that on Saturday.
 
In the fourth quarter with the Celtics leading 87-83, Brown blocked a Gerald Henderson shot that wound up in the hands of Jae Crowder. Moments later, Jonas Jerebko hit a 3-pointer that gave the Celtics their largest lead of the game, 90-83.
 
And just two minutes prior to the blocked shot, he was out in transition following an Isaiah Thomas steal and threw down a dunk that pushed Boston’s lead to 86-83 with 7:11 to play.
 
Brown acknowledged making the most of those opportunities bodes well for him and the franchise.
 
“It’s great for our team in general; not just for me,” Brown said. “Those plays helped us to pull the game out in the end. So I’m glad we got the win. I think we should have played a little better than we did.”
 
The continued pursuit of self-improvement is a hallmark of what Brown’s focus and desire are at this stage of his pro career. He has talked often about not wanting to be just one of the best in this draft class but also one of the best in the NBA overall.
 
But he’s also learned that to get there takes time and experience developing both physically and mentally. Part of that mental growth entails having the right approach to games.
 
“Usually you try to tell yourself not to mess up,” Brown said. “Now that I’m getting more comfortable, it’s just play basketball, bring energy, things like that; come out and do what you’re supposed to do. A lot of times you try to tell yourself to not mess up and it’s counteractive; just come out and play basketball and have fun.”
 
And by doing so the minutes will come.
 
“You can’t control that. I just have to control what I can control,” Brown said. “I trust coach (Brad Stevens); I trust my coaching staff. I have to come out and in the minutes I get, play my hand as best I can and take advantage of what I do get and impact this team as much as possible.”
 
This season, Brown is averaging 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds while shooting 41.9 percent from the field.

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Sixers' success against C's defense shows Boston still has room to grow

Avery Bradley was a member of the NBA’s All-Defensive first team a year ago. And Al Horford has been among the league’s best interior defenders for a number of years.

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But as talented defensively as they may be, the Celtics are still learning how to play with each other as well as off of one another.

Injuries have slowed down the chemistry developing as quickly as some might expect. Horford missed nine games due to a concussion, and another game due to wife giving birth to their second child, Alia Horford.

And in Boston’s 107-106 win over Philadelphia on Saturday night, defensive chemistry -- not only among Horford and Bradley, but with all of the players -- remains a work in progress for sure.

Boston had a number of defensive issues in the first half which factored in the Sixer shooting 46.1 percent from the field while shooting 9-for-18 from 3-point range.

But the second half was an entirely different story as Boston’s defense picked up his intensity and focus level which would prove to be just enough to beat a scrappy Sixers team.

The Celtics (12-8) are four games over .500 for the first time this season currently have the third-best record in the Eastern Conference behind Cleveland (13-5) and Toronto (14-6). 

And while the players point to a handful of games that they felt they gave away, Avery Bradley reminds all that the success of this team this season has for the most part come with key players out of the mix or limited in some capacity.

“We haven’t played that many games with the full roster,” Bradley told reporters after the win. “We’re still learning how to play with each other.”

Bradley pointed out a moment in Saturday’s victory where a miscommunication between him and Horford led to a defensive miscue.

Boston has had similar mistakes made on offense this season, too.

“We haven’t really been in pick-and-roll that much,” Bradley said. “Every single game we need to improve.”

And that improvement has to continue evolving on the defensive side of things for this team to achieve its goals this season which include being among the last teams standing in the East.

Doing that will likely mean Boston re-establishing itself as a defensive force, something that should come with time and experience playing with each other.

Horford, who signed a four-year, $113 million deal with Boston in the offseason, says it’s an ongoing process for all involved.

“I have to learn to play with our concepts, the guys have to learn to play with me,” Horford told reporters after Saturday’s win. “We just have to make sure we keep playing the right way, be more consistent with that. I feel like we’re getting better but there’s still some work that we need to do.”