It didn’t take long for Marcus Smart to question his team’s defensive heart, lasting three games into exhibition season before he called out teammates.
But the Celtics guard feels a lot better on all fronts heading into tonight’s season opener against Philadelphia.
“Tremendous, tremendous, especially with a lot of guys like Gordon (Hayward) especially,” said Smart. “He was a little rusty coming in, and he’s out here dunking the ball off the ankle and everything. It’s good to see that, and Kyrie (Irving) with the knee he’s been having, for him to come out feeling as good as he ever has. A good sign for us. Everybody’s bodies (are) feeling good, and everybody is in the groove of things, running, catching our wind, staying on the court. So that’s a good sign for us being ready to go.”
This anticipated readiness comes at a good team – heading into the first game of the season against one of the few Eastern Conference teams capable of challenging the Celtics for conference supremacy.
“I think that when you play for the Celtics, that expectations always kind of there from everyone. But this year it’s probably more real than any other year that I’ve been here,” said Horford. “And you feel it. People are excited. They want us to do well. And I was telling the guys we’re not going to win a championship tomorrow. That’s not going to happen any time soon. So we have to make sure we’re building the good habits and playing the right way. And hopefully at the end of the year we’re playing at that level that we need to play. Because last year in the playoffs we were playing at a high level. And obviously it’s the preseason so we haven’t been there yet. But tomorrow we’ll be tested. And I know Philly, they’ll be ready to go. That will be a good measure for us tomorrow.
“It’s exciting. This year I was looking forward to this all summer,” he said. “You can ask me next year, but it’s not getting old. I’m excited about it, I can’t wait to start the season with the guys. I feel like the beginning of the season, all 30 teams we all have high hopes, everything is great and that’s what it is. So I don’t take it for granted.”
ROZIER MOVES BEYOND CONTRACT TALK
Terry Rozier will draw a lot of attention when he becomes a restricted free agent next summer, which is why few expected the Celtics guard to accept a rookie extension offer from the team with an average of roughly $12 million per year. This is, approximately, the same deal that Smart turned down last fall, before signing for similar money this summer after his market failed to develop.
But Rozier is glad to move beyond contract talk.
“This is where I started. This place is like home for me,” he said. “I just want to get on with the season and focus on what we’re doing right now. I don’t want to worry about any of this contract stuff.”
Philadelphia plans to start Markelle Fultz tonight after a productive preseason. The Celtics, who swapped picks with the Sixers in 2017 due to a lack of interest in Fultz, thus taking Jayson Tatum at No. 3, now get their first prolonged look at the guard. A shoulder injury and subsequent complications with his shooting essentially wiped out Fultz’s rookie year.
“I know they’ve started differently at the start of halves, or at least talked about that,” Brad Stevens said of Sixers coach Brett Brown’s plan. “I think that Markelle is an outstanding young player. He can get to the basket, he’s one of the best, if you give him space, at getting into the body and spinning off contact. He gets to the foul line, he can play off pick-and-roll. And in the preseason he shot it.
“He made that one three in the corner against Orlando when he looked really comfortable pulling up and shooting, and I’ve seen him as a shooter for a long time,” said the Celtics coach. “He’s an outstanding player, and Redick whether he starts or comes off the bench is—you’d better have a great deal of urgency to play against him. You watched that China game where he goes 10-for-10 and the guy has unbelievable conditioning and unbelievable desire cutting. It’s a great challenge early in the season to go against a guy like that.”