West surprises in his return to action


West surprises in his return to action

By A.Sherrod Blakely

BOSTON Usually when players are out of action for a while, there's noticeable rust upon their first game back.

Delonte West wasn't perfect on Wednesday, but for a guy who had been sidelined for the past couple of weeks because of a sprained ankle, he didn't look any worse for wear in helping the Celtics defeat the Indiana Pacers, 92-80.

West had two points and three assists, which isn't exactly the kind of high-impact return that catches your eye.

But that's the beauty of West's game. Numbers mean little.

His impact on the game, however, is undeniable.

Following the win on Wednesday, coach Doc Rivers didn't sound convinced that West had been idle the past couple of weeks while his ankle healed.

"He's been playing somewhere," Rivers said. "Because his rhythm was too good. He's been in a rec league, or something."

No, he's just hungry to get on the floor and make the most of a season that by anyone's estimation, hasn't quite gone according to plan.

When the Celtics signed West, they did it with the knowledge that he would begin the season serving a 10-game suspension for pleading guilty to weapons charges last summer.

But a broken wrist injury along with a sprained ankle have limited West to eight games -- no, make it nine following his return on Wednesday.

Although West acknowledged he felt a bit winded on Wednesday, he didn't look like a guy who had missed such a significant portion of the season.

"I have fresh legs still from the summertime," West said. "I've just been sitting around, waiting for my opportunity to get out there."

And when that opportunity came, West made the most of it.

His game offensively is still a work in progress, but he's ready to roll defensively.

While his on-the-ball defense is a strength, West showed that he can play defense above the rim as well.

About halfway through the fourth quarter, Indiana's Paul George drove into the lane for what appeared to be a lay-up or a dunk. Out of nowhere came West to block the shot.

It was one of several strong plays made defensively by West.

"Well, that's just him," Rivers said. "I mean, he's a tough dude."

And it is that toughness from West that the Celtics will count on the rest of the regular season and into the playoffs.

"He's such a poised player," said Paul Pierce, referring to West. "Even though he has been out for so long, you can see how he kind of smoothes out the second unit. Especially with his passing, his defense and his hustle."

And while West's strong return may have surprised some, don't count Pierce among them.

"The first time he came back from the wrist injury, he seemed pretty sharp after missing a couple months," Pierce said. "He does a good job of being in the gym, staying in shape, doing the necessary things it takes to be ready when he steps out there."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached atsblakely@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win


Horford-Celtics partnership gives both stability, chance to win

BOSTON –  This is not where Al Horford thought he would be right now.
Back in May, the Atlanta Hawks had just been swept out of the playoffs by the soon-to-be NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers.
Disappointed with the outcome obviously, Horford was a free agent-to-be who was confident that he would be back in Atlanta and the Hawks would retool by adding to their core group which he was a major part of, and they would be back to making another run at it this season.
First there was the draft night trade of point guard Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers. 
And during Horford's negotiations with the Hawks in July, they were also negotiating with Dwight Howard and ultimately signed the Atlanta native to a three-year, $70.5 million contract. 
Before the Howard deal was complete, the Celtics had already made a strong impression on Horford during their presentation to him. 
So the choice was pretty clear.
Return to Atlanta and potentially have a major logjam up front with himself, Howard and Paul Millsap, or join a Celtics team that’s on the rise where his five-tool skillset – passing, rebounding, defending, scoring and making those around him better – could be put to great use on a team that’s clearly on the rise. 
Horford chose the latter, giving both himself and the Celtics exactly what they wanted – stability and a chance to win at the highest of levels.
The first shot to see how this basketball marriage looks on the floor will be tonight when the Celtics kick off the 2016-2017 season at the TD Garden against the Brooklyn Nets. 
The preseason isn’t the best indicator of what’s on the horizon now that games count, but Horford’s presence was undeniable.
Boston’s starters which includes Horford, Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson, each finished with a positive, double-digit plus/minus in the preseason. 
“He just makes the game so much easier for all of us,” Johnson told CSNNE.com. “He can do so many things out there at both ends of the floor. He’s going to be big for us this season.”
And his impact can be felt both on the floor and inside the locker room, similar to what he brought to the Atlanta Hawks.
“With the way that I go about it is, I’m trying to win,” Horford told CSNNE.com. “I’m gonna work, put in my work, try to help guys get better not only on the court but off the court as well. That’s how I carry myself.”
 And it is that approach to the game that has made his transition to the Celtics a relatively seamless one. 
Horford holds many fond memories of his time in Atlanta, a place that will always be near and dear to his heart. 
But he’s a Celtic now, coming in with the same single-minded focus that drives this organization to continue pursuing the only thing that truly matters to them – an NBA title. 
"Even though I’m leaving a lot behind, as a player you always want to be in the best position you can,” Horford said. “I felt for me being on this team would put me in a position to be able to contend and win an NBA championship. That’s my ultimate goal.”

Rozier's confidence, hard work earning him more minutes in Celtics rotation


Rozier's confidence, hard work earning him more minutes in Celtics rotation

BOSTON – You’ll have to pardon Terry Rozier if he doesn’t have that deer-in-the-headlights look about him when he takes to the floor tonight for what should be the first of many meaningful stretches of playing time.
You see, being harassed with the defensive pressure of Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart while trying to become a pest to Isaiah Thomas (which I’m told Rozier is frequently in practice), has instilled in Rozier the kind of confidence that’s not easily shaken.
That’s one of the main reasons why the Celtics aren’t freaking out about the departure of Evan Turner to Portland this offseason and more recently the sprained left ankle injury to Marcus Smart that’ll keep him out for a few games.
When it comes to filling those two voids, all eyes will be on Rozier.
“When somebody’s hurt, the next guy has to step up,” Thomas said. “Terry has shown he’s ready for that opportunity. He’s worked very hard this summer. I’m proud of him. I’ve been in that position before. He’s been waiting for that opportunity. He’s ready.”
Rozier had an impressive run during summer league as Boston’s best player. And in training camp, he hasn’t let up in being one of the standout performers.
It has led to the second-year guard being exactly where he thought his hard work in the offseason would take him to, and that’s a prominent spot in the Celtics’ rotation.
And in doing so, Rozier knows it’ll likely mean taking some minutes from his veteran teammates like Isaiah Thomas who he credits for always being there to help him grow as a player.
“I’m trying to get better, but I want to play too,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “Getting his (Thomas’) minutes, anybody’s minutes, I’m going for it. But I know he’s not going to lighten up and make it easy for me. I know that. I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
It certainly looks like it for Rozier who has shown growth in just about every phase of his game since he was selected by Boston with the 16th overall pick in the 2015 NBA draft.
There were many who questioned Danny Ainge’s decision to draft a guard so high when he already had Thomas, Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart in the fold.
But Rozier has shown the promise that Ainge saw in him coming out of Louisville.

Now it’s just a matter of Rozier getting the kind of minutes and producing, that will ultimately validate the trust and faith Ainge and his coaching staff showed in selecting Rozier.
For Rozier, not being looked upon all that favorably is just par for the course when it comes to his basketball career.
“I’ve been doubted all my life,” Rozier said. “It ain’t hurt me. I always tell myself, ‘they’re gonna fall in love with me because I play hard and they’re gonna fall in love with my intensity level. People didn’t know who I was when I came here; that’s fine. They’ll fall in love with me and my game sooner or later.”