Rookies prove their worth in crunch time


Rookies prove their worth in crunch time

HARTFORD -- With five seconds left in regulation, Doc Rivers pulled his crunch time unit together for a final huddle.

Jared Sullinger, Kris Joseph, Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, and Micah Downs gathered on the court. Five rookies, including three undrafted players and a training camp invitee, were on the court to close out the game against the New York Knicks.

"He didn't say it," said Christmas, "But we knew once the fourth quarter came and he left us out there, we knew what time it was."

With the veterans on the sidelines, the group of young players, including fellow rookie Fab Melo, finished out the fourth quarter and played all of overtime in their 98-95 loss to the Knicks. While winning is always the focus, the players took away valuable experience being on the court.

"It felt good as a rookie knowing that he had that much confidence in our rookies," Smith said of Rivers. "For us to go out there and finish the game, unfortunately we didn't win, but just knowing that he had that confidence in us was pretty cool."

The young players have kept their ears open in practice. Even though they have several teammates ahead of them in the rotation, they have listened attentively to the strategies and schemes outlined by the coaches just in case they are called upon.

"We do a lot of different drills where we're down," explained Smith. "Sometimes we do a drill where we're down six with a minute-and-a-half left. We do a lot of different situational things, and I think that helped us more than anything."

While the young Celtics do not have that much experience in NBA games, they have plenty of it playing together. The rookies reported to practice facility in Waltham in August. They also bonded with the team during the trip to Europe. Getting to know one another helped them to communicate and reach their teammates late in the game.

"Just being with these guys every day, and especially being in Europe for the week, we saw each other all day long, every day," said Downs. "When you're in that type of situation, you get to learn the ins and outs of each other, not only on the court but off the court -- what people like, what their interests are, things like that. When you know that about your friends and your teammates, it makes everybody come together better and be more cohesive."

The Celtics veterans have also pushed their younger teammates throughout training camp, day in and day out in practice.That tough love is already paying off.

Said Sullinger, "Going against the starting five every day, playing against those guys, and trying to compete with those guys really helps us out at the end of the day."

They showed it in only their third preseason game.

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Raptors

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Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

Celtics-Raptors preview: DeRozan, Lowry a challenge for Bradley, C's

BOSTON – Avery Bradley doesn’t mind being a standout, but this is probably not what he had in mind. 

Injuries have ravaged the Boston Celtics’ starting five to the point where only one player, Bradley, has been with the first unit in all 22 games this season. 

Just like Bradley was looked upon to step his game up in the absence of Isaiah Thomas (right groin) at Orlando on Wednesday, he will once again be challenged to lead Boston (13-9) to victory tonight when the Thomas-less Celtics face the Toronto Raptors. 

Bradley’s emergence as a two-way talent this season has overshadowed at times what has been another season of elite play defensively. 

And he’ll need to be on top of his defensive game tonight against a Raptors All-Star backcourt of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. 

Both Lowry and DeRozan present a different kind of challenge for Bradley who will spend time defending each of them at various points during the game. 

Lowry has good size, strength and deceptive quickness in addition to an under-rated perimeter game that will keep Bradley on his toes for sure. 

This season he's averaging 20.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and a career-high 7.6 assists while shooting 42.9 percent on 3's which is also a career mark. 

And DeRozan is having the kind of season that might get him a few league MVP votes. 

His 28.0 points per game ranks fifth in the NBA, but making his numbers even more impressive is that unlike most guards DeRozan doesn’t generate much offense from three-pointers.

DeRozan averages 1.8 three-point attempts per game which is the fewest attempts among any player ranked among the league’s top-25 scorers.

The 6-foot-7 All-Star is the master of the mid-range game which accounts for 31.5 percent of the points he scores. And when he’s not shooting the mid-range, he’s working a defender in one-on-one iso-situations. 

That helps explain why 76.4 percent of his two-point made field goals are unassisted. 

But here’s the thing about Bradley. 

As much as we give him props for what he does defensively, it’s his offense that has put him on the map as a potential All-Star this season. 

Bradley is averaging a career-high 17.9 points while shooting 47.2 percent from the field. He’s also averaging a career-high 7.8 rebounds per game in addition to shooting a career-high 40.7 percent on 3's.

But for Bradley, individual accolades are only going to come his way by the Celtics winning games; preferably against above-average teams like the Toronto Raptors.

And that would make both Bradley and the Celtics stand out this season.