Celtics pleased with youthful size in first round

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Celtics pleased with youthful size in first round

BOSTON -- With only four players under contract for next season, the Boston Celtics needed front court depth and youth as they rebuilt their veteran roster. They got both in the first round of the 2012 NBA Draft on Thursday night.

The Celtics selected forward Jared Sullinger (The Ohio State University) and center Fab Melo (Syracuse University) with the 21st and 22nd picks, respectively.

"We think we've developed a good culture here, said Celtics assistant general manager Ryan McDonough. The Big Three have set the tone along with Rajon (Rondo) and we look for guys that can fit into that culture. We think this draft kind of fell perfectly almost for us because we got guys that we consider to be potential starters down the road at the power forward and the center position. By all accounts, they're good kids and hard workers."

Sullinger and Melo come from nearly opposite basketball backgrounds. Sullinger has been one of the top players in the country for years. Melo, on the other hand, grew up playing a completely different sport in Brazil and is fairly new to the game in comparison to others in his draft class.

"Jared's been one of the best players in his class his whole life, said McDonough. He was one of the top high school players in the country. He was one of the top freshman in the country last year at Ohio State. This year he put up stats that are almost identical to what he did last year and led his team to the Final Four. He's played against the biggest, longest, most athletic guys in AAU, in high school, in college, and had good success at all levels."

He added, "Jared is one of the better rebounders in the country. He has a great feel for where the ball's going to come off, he has terrific hands, his rebound rate per minute is very good. He's also able to step away from the basket and make shots. And that's an area that he's improved in rapidly I think over the past few years. He was a back-to-the-basket player in high school. He was always the biggest, strongest guy around and he's developed a pretty nice face-up game."

While Melo has not been involved in basketball as long as Sullinger, McDonough has noted quick improvement and willingness to learn.

Fab grew up as a soccer player in Brazil, he said. He's come into the game a little late. I thought he struggled some his freshman year at Syracuse and then I thought he improved rapidly this year. Their coaches gave him great reviews. The difference in their team when he was on and off the court was fairly significant. He's one of the few guys in the country who can block shots and take charges, so he's a defensive presence right now. We also think he's an over-the-top threat on lobs and he's able to step out and make 15-to-17-foot jumpers.

The Celtics explored moving up in the first round but were pleased with the talent available at their picks. With Sullinger and Melo on their draft boards, they are happy they didnt give up either selection.

Were excited, said McDonough. We had these two guys ranked as lottery talents. I think the beginning of the night, we all would have been very pleasantly surprised if you had told us they were going to be there at 21 and 22.

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
 
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
 
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
 
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
 
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
 
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
 
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”
 

 

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”