Rivers has no choice but to play rookies now


Rivers has no choice but to play rookies now

BOSTON The Boston Celtics recognize the need to develop their young players. They also want to play the guys who give them the best chance at winning.

Three games into the season, and the C's may be moving closer towards doing both this season.

As the Celtics look for ways to get that elusive first win, the team's three rookies - JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore and Greg Stiemsma - may provide just the boost needed off the bench.

Very little went the Celtics' way in their 97-78 loss at New Orleans on Wednesday. However, the play of Stiemsma was among the few highlights. The rookie center had two points and an impressive six blocked shots, most of which came when the game was still up for grabs.

His play coupled with the struggles of Jermaine O'Neal, may open the door for his role to only grow. Establishing a defensive presence was Stiemsma's strength in college and in the D-League.

Not a lot has changed now that he's in the NBA.

Within seconds of entering the Hornets game, New Orleans center and former UConn star Emeka Okafor tried to dunk on him, only to have Stiesma reject the shot.

"I don't have to meet some of these super athletes at 12, 13 feet," Stiemsma said. "I just gotta meet them at 10-6, at the right time. I try to use that as my thinking."

And Moore, one of the best players for the C's during the preseason, has been battling Avery Bradley for the role of being the team's fourth guard behind starters Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen, and veteran Keyon Dooling.

The race isn't over yet, but Rivers told reporters following the loss to the Hornets that Moore has moved ahead of Bradley in the pecking order - a move that comes as a surprise to no one based on how the two have fared in the preseason.

How that translates in terms of playing time is uncertain, especially when you consider Bradley's minutes were limited.

But with Moore, the C's lose a bit of athleticism in comparison to Bradley.

However, they gain a player who can play both guard positions - Rivers said earlier this year that the team was only going to play Bradley at the off-guard position - and has had more big-game experience despite being a rookie while Bradley is in his second season.

"Basketball is basketball, no matter where it's played," Moore said. "That's how I feel when I'm out there on the court. When I go out there, I stay confident and go out there and play hard."

Johnson was the last Celtic to enter Wednesday's game, but he too might be in store for more minutes depending on how long Chris Wilcox (left shoulder) will be sidelined.

Throughout the preseason, Rivers has been impressed with Johnson's perimeter-shooting skills.

"He can really, really shoot the ball," Rivers said. "But he's a rookie; he's young. He'll be fine."

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.”