Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

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Melo being patient, working on game with Red Claws

Fab Melo looked out his hotel room window from inside the Best Western in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

"I see a bunch of cars covered in snow," he said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. "That's all I see. It's really cold. Really, really cold. I'm not trying to get to know how cold it is."

1,300 miles away the Boston Celtics were getting ready to take on the Los Angeles Clippers at the Staples Center, kicking off the first of three games they will play in California.

Melo was looking forward to watching the matchup. With temperatures reading 12 degrees outside, there was little else he was interested in doing.

The Celtics rookie is on a road trip, too, only his travels have taken him from Idaho to South Dakota for back-to-back games against the Skyforce with the Maine Red Claws, the C's NBA Development League affiliate. Melo has appeared in 10 games for the Red Claws, averaging 23.5 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 11.5 blocks in his last two contests, and set a new D-League record with 14 blocked shots in a single game last Saturday.

The 22-year-old seven-footer is improving. He is making strides and developing skills he believes will help him contribute to the Celtics. Yet as he looks on to a frigid snow-covered parking lot, he also knows a weekend in Sioux Falls is beneficial for him at this stage in his career.

"I think this is the best situation for me right now," Melo said. "I am getting playing time, I'm just playing basketball, and that's the thing I needed to be able to do. I can improve my game that way, so I'm not complaining."

The Celtics understood they were acquiring a work in progress when they selected Melo with the 22nd overall pick in this summer's NBA Draft. The big man from Syracuse University had potential, but given that he did not start playing basketball in Brazil until he was 17, he has a ways to go to reach it.

The Celtics assigned Melo to the D-League early in the season. He would be able to receive the playing time on the Red Claws that would not be available to him on a veteran NBA squad.

"I've been working on what the Celtics want me to do -- develop my defensive game," said Melo. "And I've been working on my offensive game, that's something I've been doing every day. Me and J.P. (Clark), one of the assistant coaches, we work every day on post positions, we work on defensive rotations, we watch films to correct the things that I do wrong in the games. I'm just developing my basketball game. On offense, I'm working on my baby hook. That's one thing that has been pretty good for me right now. I've been working on getting post position, running up and down the court, and working on my post moves, things like that."

The foundation of the Celtics system is defense. With limited basketball experience and a college system that played a zone defense, Melo had a lot of catching up to do.

"My biggest improvement has been on the defensive rotations," he said. "I know what I have to do on the rotations and I defend the screens better. That's the thing I was struggling with in the beginning, and now that I know the rotations we have in the game, I think I'm doing better.

"Because of Syracuse I played zone. Now my pick-and-roll defense is a way better. I'm learning how to defend, I learned what I have to call out to my teammates, the coverage. I just learned how to do it and now I'm doing it naturally. I had to think before. Now it's just become an instinct, and that's what it's becoming better for me."

Then there are the 14 blocked shots. Melo followed them up with another nine (to go along with 32 points and nine rebounds) on Wednesday night.

"They kept driving to the basket and I was just getting a lot of blocks in the first half," he said of his record-setting performance against the Erie BayHawks. "I felt really good so I just blocked everything. I had an idea (I had blocked a lot of shots) but I didn't know how many it was. 14, that's a good number for blocks. It felt great that I broke the record. That's the thing I do best, I block shots. That's the thing I want to be part of my game (in the NBA). Not just blocking shots, but changing shots too because that can affect a lot."

Melo's 14 swats came at what could have been seen as "the perfect time" for the Celtics. The following afternoon, Doc Rivers announced forward-center Chris Wilcox could miss up to a month with a thumb injury. This news left the Celtics even more shorthanded at a position at which they already lost Darko Milicic earlier in the season. Yet with a need for a big man, Rivers quickly squashed any speculation Melo would be called on to fill that void.

"I haven't talked to anyone that thinks he's ready to come up yet," Rivers said.

Later that day the Celtics signed D-Leaguer Jarvis Varnado from the SkyForce. Melo was not discouraged by Rivers' assessment or the Celtics decision to look elsewhere.

"I want to put in more work," he said. "I think I have a long way to go with my game, but I really think I can be really good in the NBA someday. I think this is a good situation for me right now and I can get a lot better with this situation."

Melo already had a taste of the NBA life before being assigned to Portland. He joined them for their trip to Istanbul and Milan, experienced flying on private team planes, and stayed in five-star accommodations. While he still receives perks for being an NBA player, such as a first class airline seat and no roommate on the road, he now travels on commercial flights and buses, and his hotel rooms don't exactly rival the Ritz Carlton.

His life may not be as glamorous as his teammates' on the Celtics, but it is all part of the making his way back up to the pros.

"Of course I wanted to be in the NBA and play the game and travel with the team and stuff like that, but what I'm trying to do is move forward with the process," he said. "I'm being patient. I really think I can be good in the NBA someday, so I'm enjoying the process and getting better through it."

Melo is excited to return to Portland later this weekend for the Red Claws' next home game on New Year's Eve. After growing up in Brazil and attending soccer matches in some of the most energetic sports environments, he looks forward to playing in front of those who truly love basketball.

"It's pretty cool because people who go to these games are basketball fans and really appreciate the game," he said. "They like to see an NBA player play for them. They really appreciate that, and I really enjoy playing in front of them."

Melo's long-term goal is to play in front of the TD Garden crowd. But he is taking it one game at a time, knowing the importance of giving it his all in front of the Sioux Falls Skyforce fans on Friday night.

"I feel like an NBA player learning on the Red Claws right now," he said. "What fans should know is that I'm working very hard. I'm working on every part of my game and trying to improve. I think there are good things about to come."

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

Horford admits he was 'very emotional' after 'special' win

CLEVELAND – For about 30 or so seconds following Boston’s 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland, Al Horford was not Al Horford.

He’s a passionate player, but seldom is it on display in as outwardly a fashion as it was following their Game 3 victory.

In an interview with CSN’s Abby Chin after the game, Horford tried to put into words what the victory meant.

But the aggressive high-fives to teammates passing him by, the intense way he looked into the camera … that spoke volumes about what this game meant to the veteran big man.

“It’s big, it’s big!” Horford said in between high-fives with Jonas Jerebko and other Celtics who came past him.

“A lot of people doubting us out there!” Horford said, staring intently into the camera as if he was saying, ‘yeah, I’m talking about you!’”

Less than 24 hours after the game, Horford’s emotions had cooled down considerably.

“It was an emotional game,” he told CSN following a short practice at the Q Arena on Monday. “Just, having to hear … since the blowout, everybody counting us out. Everybody really believing that it was over.”

The Celtics came into Game 3 having lost both Games 1 and 2 at home by a combined 57 points which includes the worst playoff loss (Game 2, 130-86) in franchise history.

So with that as the backdrop, knowing full well that no one outside of their locker room gave them an ice cube in hell’s chance at winning Game 3, the victory brought about a level of satisfaction that Celtics players had seldom experienced before if at all.

“The emotions at that time were high for our group,” Horford admitted. “And it shows what we’ve been talking about all year, a resilient group that has a lot of fight in them. We were hit with some adversity with Isaiah being down but our group responded.”

Thomas re-aggravated a right hip injury in Game 2, and was later ruled out for the rest of the playoffs. 

After falling behind 77-56 in the third quarter, the Celtics closed out the third with a 26-10 run to come within 87-82 going into the fourth quarter. During the run, Marcus Smart had 11 points which turned out to be equal to LeBron James’ scoring output … for the entire game.

This is Horford's 10th NBA season, all of which have included a trip to the postseason.

That, combined with having won a pair of national championships when he played at the University of Florida, serves as a reminder that the 30-year-old has been on the winning ledger of big games before.

But even he acknowledged Sunday’s Game 3 win was … different.

“I have had plenty of moments like this,” Horford said. “But this was definitely emotional. This was very emotional, exciting, on the road, no one really giving us any chance. To be able to come through like that, it just felt great. I’ve been part of emotional wins, but this one was a special one.”

That was evident in Horford’s energy-charged, post-game comments.

“Heart! Heart! This team got heart!” he yelled. “We got beat bad (in Game 2), but it’s all about how you rebound!”

And we get that message, loud and clear!

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

'Ecstatic' Thomas was with Celtics teammates via FaceTime after Game 3 win

CLEVELAND – Gone but definitely not forgotten.

Isaiah Thomas, out for the rest of the playoffs with a right hip injury, wasn’t in the Q Arena physically, but his presence – and his face via FaceTime – were inside the locker room in the initial moments following their 111-108 Game 3 win over Cleveland.

“We called him right after the game,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “He got to celebrate with us a little bit. It’s sad that he’s not here. We wish he was here with us. We just want him to get better.”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens added, “I didn’t even realize that had happened until later on. one of my first text messages was from Isaiah.  He’s hurting not being out there but he’s completely invested, for sure.”

He initially suffered the injury on March 15 at Minnesota, but re-aggravated it in the first half of Boston’s Game 2 loss to the Cavs. Less than 24 hours later, Thomas was deemed out for the remainder of the playoffs.

Instead of Thomas being the rock of sorts that the Celtics lean on with his play, he has become their rallying cry for the remainder of the playoffs.

“All we can do is play hard for him,” Bradley said. “He was excited with the way we played. We’re a family. Other guys got an opportunity to step up for us. Marcus (Smart) had a big game for us. It could be somebody else next game.”

Smart led the Celtics with a career-high 27 points which included a career-best seven 3’s going down.

And most important, the Celtics avoided going down 3-0 which would have all but sealed their fate in this series considering no team in league history has ever come back for a 3-0 series deficit.

Doing so without Thomas, the Celtics’ leading scorer and the top regular season scorer in the Eastern Conference, made the win all that more impressive for Boston.

“It meant a lot,” Horford said. “We know, Isaiah gives us so much and gave us so much this year. For him, we definitely wanted to come out and fight for him and our season and our team. It felt good to keep believing despite being down big. Just felt good to win the game and bring life back to our locker room. Because going down 3-0, that’s a death sentence pretty much. This was big.”

Not only to the Celtics players but also to Thomas who also texted head coach Brad Stevens full of excitement following Boston’s surprising win.

“He was excited,” Horford recalled. “He was ecstatic. I know he wishes he was here being part of it. We just need to keep doing it for him and our group and doing the best we can.”