C's Johnson looks for strong summer

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C's Johnson looks for strong summer

ORLANDO, Fla. As the Celtics arrived in Orlando Friday afternoon, JaJuan Johnson was among the players on the C's summer league team being asked to take picture after picture by fans near the baggage carousel awaiting their checked-in luggage.

As one flashing light followed another, Johnson gave them all exactly what they wanted -- something to remember.

Now with an NBA season under his belt, he's hoping to deliver in a similar capacity to the Celtics beginning what he hopes will be a strong showing for the Celtics' summer league team with play beginning on Monday.

"It'll be a little different," Johnson told CSNNE.com of his post-rookie life in the NBA. "But at the end of the day, it's playing basketball."

That's something he didn't really do much of as a rookie last season, appearing in just 36 games (out of a possible 66 due to the lockout) while averaging 3.2 points per game.

As a grade-point average, 3.2 is not too shabby.

Scoring average in the NBA?

Not so good.

But impact is directly related to opportunity. Something Johnson did not get much of last season.

Part of that had to do with Boston's frontcourt depth which was repeatedly put to the test courtesy of a slew of unfortunate injury-related circumstances.

A bigger factor was that Johnson, to be frank, wasn't ready to be the kind of difference-maker the Celtics needed in the frontcourt.

And part of that had to do with the lithe 6-foot-9 forward not really establishing himself as a viable option at the power forward position.

Celtics assistant coach Tyronn Lue is coaching Boston's summer league team.

He said Johnson will play primarily at power forward, but he'll also experiment with him some at small forward, too.

"Doc (Rivers, Boston's head coach) said, 'we might have a (Kevin) Durant and not even know it.'" quipped Lue.

While Johnson is in no way being compared to Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant, Johnson does have some small forward-like skills that the Celtics would be wise to at least explore this summer.

Johnson is open to playing small forward, power forward, any position that will get him on the floor.

"Everybody wants to play and help the team win," Johnson said. "I'm no different than anybody else. But I know you have to be patient. But yeah, I do think my time to contribute is now. I just have to do what I can to make sure I'm ready for the opportunity when it comes."

A big part of Johnson's preparation last season was listening to the sage words of wisdom that he found himself hearing from the lips of Kevin Garnett who will return to Boston armed with a three-year, 34 million contract.

The two have talked a couple times and exchanged text messages this summer, with those interactions primarily centering around their families.

As far as any message or words of advice from Garnett this summer, Johnson grinned and then said, "just go hard. That's pretty much what he said; that's pretty much the way he goes."

E'Twaun Moore, Johnson's teammate with the Celtics as well as in college at Purdue, said he has noticed a definite change in his good friend.

"His work ethic is definitely better," Moore told CSNNE.com. "He's working a lot harder. He has to work hard - we all have to work hard - to be successful."

For Johnson, that is essentially what it comes down to this season.

Finding ways to not only help the Celtics win, but also prove his worth to a team that spent both of its first-round picks adding frontcourt size with players that will be competing for minutes off the bench just like Johnson.

"Everyday you have to compete, but they are your teammates still," Johnson said. "You have to help your teammates out. They are your teammates still; we have to help each other out. I had help when I got here. It's my job to help the younger guys come along, too."

The best way he can do that is simply doing the things that made the Celtics so high him leading up to the 2011 draft when they sent the draft rights of Marshon Brooks to New Jersey in exchange for his rights and a future (2014) second-round pick.

When asked what he would like to see out of Johnson this summer, Lue said, "being athletic, explosive, scoring, rebounding, just playing free. I want him to go out and play free, have fun and just take away what he learned this year from KG and those guys and try to use it during the summer league."

And if he were to do that, Johnson would be giving the C's something similar to what he gave those ear-to-ear grinning fans at the airport -- something to remember.

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.”

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth-quarter performance

Stars, studs and duds: Thomas churns out another strong fourth-quarter performance

The pressure that comes with a tight game in the fourth quarter can be a weighty proposition for some NBA players.

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Then there’s Boston’s Isaiah Thomas who continues to save his best work for the fourth quarter.

Saturday’s 107-106 win at Philadelphia had yet another Thomas-like finish for the Celtics as the 5-foot-9 guard was at his most dominant state in the game’s final minutes.

Thomas finished with a season high-tying 37 points which included a stretch in the fourth in which he scored 12 straight.

“I just love the fourth quarter,” Thomas told reporters following the win. “I just want to win. Whether it’s making plays for myself or making plays for my teammates, it’s about making the right play. I get ultra- aggressive in that fourth quarter. That’s what I’ve always done.”

And his teammates appreciate how Thomas elevates his play in the game’s most pivotal moments.

“A lot of the credit is to Isaiah, how he was able to finish the game tonight,” said Avery Bradley. “He was able to make shots when we needed him to.”

And while Thomas knows his shots won’t fall all the time down the stretch, his fourth quarter mentality does provide him with a level of confidence that no matter what the defense does to him or what the score may be, he can swing the game’s momentum in his team’s favor.

“Some guys get a little tight, they get a little timid (in the fourth quarter),” Thomas said. “I embrace it. I want to be great. I want to be somebody my teammates can call on when the game is close.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Saturday night’s game.

STARS

Isaiah Thomas: There was no more dominant player on Saturday night than Thomas. He finished with a game-high 37 points along with seven assists.

Dario Saric: It was a breakout game for the 22-year-old rookie who led the Sixers with 21 points as well as 12 rebounds for his third double-double this season. Both his points and rebound totals tied his career highs in those categories.

STUDS

Avery Bradley: Boston’s surge towards victory did not kick in until the third quarter which is when Bradley elevated his play offensively. In the third he scored 10 of his 20 points on the night, to go along with a team-high nine rebounds.

Ersan Illyasova: He finished with 18 points which included a pair of three-pointers in the closing seconds of the game. He also grabbed six rebounds and two assists.

DUDS

Celtics first half defense: There wasn’t much to like about Boston defensively in the first half. The Celtics struggled to take away or limit Philadelphia’s only strength Saturday night which was three-point shooting. The Sixers nailed nine of their 18 three-point attempts in the first half in addition to hurting the Celtics’ transition defense which gave up seven fast-break points to Philly compared to Boston scoring just one point in transition.