Al Horford

Celtics Notes: Rivers, Brogdon, Tatum, Queta

Free agent guard Austin Rivers is interested in signing with the Celtics before the start of training camp, writes Brian Robb of MassLive. Appearing on a podcast with Bill Simmons of The Ringer, Rivers revealed that he recently reached out to the team to see if there’s a spot open for him.

“I had a great talk with (president of basketball operations) Brad (Stevens) actually like a week ago,” Rivers said.

Boston may have a need for backcourt depth after sending Marcus Smart to Memphis in a three-team deal to acquire Kristaps Porzingis. Payton Pritchard expects to see more playing time, and the Celtics added free agents Svi Mykhailiuk and Dalano Banton, but there’s no one who can fill Smart’s role as a veteran leader.

“That’s why I called (Brad),” Rivers said. “I told him I’d love to be a part of the team. He said a lot of positive things. We’ll see if that’s something that will come to fruition. I’ve always loved Brad. I’ve always been a fan of him.”

The 31-year-old combo guard spent last season with the Timberwolves, averaging 4.9 points, 1.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 52 games.

There’s more from Boston:

  • Any “bad feelings” that Malcolm Brogdon has toward the team aren’t related to his near inclusion in the Kristaps Porzingis trade, Ramona Shelburne of ESPN said on “NBA Today” (video link). She suggests the dispute is related to the “golfer’s elbow” injury that Brogdon suffered in the Eastern Conference Finals. Brogdon elected not to have surgery during the summer, and Shelburne indicated there are questions about when he’ll be available for the upcoming season.
  • With Smart gone, Jayson Tatum will spend more time running the offense this season, Shelburne adds in the same segment. She points out that Tatum frequently filled that role in the playoffs, averaging 5.3 assists in 20 postseason games. In a look at Boston’s projected starting lineup, ESPN’s Zach Lowe said he expects Al Horford to be in the middle alongside Tatum and Porzingis, with Robert Williams coming off the bench.
  • Paul Pierce tells Conor Ryan of The Boston Globe that Celtics assistant coach Sam Cassell got him involved in summer workouts with Tatum. Pierce attended numerous sessions with Tatum in Los Angeles, offering advice and joining him on the court. “He’s one of the top five players in the league, so it’s an honor to be there and see him go through his journey to see him get ready,” Pierce said. “I’m there really on some support, just to see his growth. He’s already at the top of the food chain, so I’m just part of being a support system.”
  • Neemias Queta‘s two-way deal with the Celtics covers only the 2023/24 season, Hoops Rumors has learned. Queta will be eligible for restricted free agency next summer if he plays out the contract.

International Notes: Towns, Hollis-Jefferson, Cleveland, Holland

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony Towns announced on Instagram that he will compete for the Dominican Republic in next month’s FIBA World Cup, Chris Hine of The Star Tribune relays.

As Hine notes, Towns’ late mother was from the Caribbean country. The national team’s preliminary roster, which includes Towns, features a handful of other players with varying levels of NBA experience, including Al Horford, Chris Duarte, Lester Quinones and Justin Minaya.

Towns last competed for the senior national team in 2013 during the AmeriCup tournament, according to FIBA. The president of the Dominican basketball federation previously expressed optimism that Towns would suit up for the World Cup, which begins August 25.

Here are some more international notes:

  • Former NBA forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is in the process of obtaining Jordanian citizenship in order to play for Jordan’s national team at the World Cup, according to Cesare Milanti of Hollis-Jefferson, 28, played for the Nets, Raptors and Trail Blazers over the course of his six NBA seasons, holding career averages of 9.0 points and 5.5 rebounds in 22.2 minutes per game.
  • Antonius Cleveland has inked a two-year deal with Israel’s Maccabi Tel Aviv, per a team press release (hat tip to Sportando). Cleveland split last season playing for teams in Australia and Israel. The 29-year-old holds 28 games of NBA experience over two seasons with the Mavericks and Hawks.
  • John Holland, who spent 14 months and played 25 games with the Cavaliers from 2017-18, has signed with Israel’s Hapoel Tel Aviv, the team announced in a press release. The 34-year-old swingman is a well-traveled veteran, having played for teams in France, Spain, Turkey, Russia and most recently Serbia (Crvena Zvedza) over the course of his career.

Celtics Notes: White, Smart, Game 6, Horford

Derrick White didn’t need to wait for a review to know that his game-winning tip Saturday night left his hand before the buzzer, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. White became the latest hero in the Celtics‘ long playoff history, putting back Marcus Smart‘s miss a split second before time expired to extend this year’s wildest series to a seventh game.

After inbounding the ball with three seconds left, White crashed the boards in case of a missed shot. The Heat denied passes to Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, leaving Smart to fire up a three-pointer that rattled in and out, setting the stage for White’s putback.

“That’s the only place it could have bounced to hurt us,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “I thought we had a lot of things covered on that play, and sometimes things just don’t break your way.”

The play saved the Celtics from what was shaping up to be an epic collapse with their season on the line. They led by nine points with three minutes to play before their offense stalled, allowing Miami to take the lead on three late free throws by Jimmy Butler.

White’s tip denied the Heat a spot in the NBA Finals, at least for now, and it kept alive the Celtics’ chances to become the first team in league history to overcome a 3-0 deficit.

“The group that we have is unique, the group that we have is special,” Brown said, “and sometimes you need a little bit of luck to bring it home.”

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Smart was determined to get his shot off quickly after his potential game-winning three in Game 4 against Philadelphia was disallowed because it came after the buzzer, per Brian Windhorst of ESPN. Smart told reporters that he rushed to release the shot last night to make sure that didn’t happen again.
  • A challenge used by coach Joe Mazzulla when Butler got fouled set the stage for White’s heroics. The clock was at 2.1 seconds when the whistle blew, but it was reset to 3.0 after a review of the play. The decision to change the time was made by the NBA’s review center, tweets Barry Jackson of The Miami Herald.
  • A trip to Topgolf may have turned around the Celtics’ fortunes in the series, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. After a lifeless performance in the Game 3 loss, Al Horford decided that the players needed a fun activity to reconnect with each other, so he suggested to Mazzulla that they all skip a planned film session and go golfing instead. “That moment, that small instance, that small moment really signifies everything that we’re seeing right now,” Brown said after Saturday’s win. “In that moment, we could have chose to be like, throw in the towel, and I think like that’s what everybody was expecting or seeing or feeling, that that was coming. But no, that’s not how we wanted to go out.”

Celtics Notes: R. Williams, Horford, White, G. Williams, Tatum

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla turned around the series with the Sixers by inserting Robert Williams in the starting lineup alongside Al Horford, but that pairing hasn’t been effective against Miami, writes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. In the 14 minutes that they’ve played together in the conference finals, Williams and Horford are getting outscored by 51.6 points per 100 possessions, which has made a difference in two close losses.

With the two big men on the floor together, Jimmy Butler has searched for opportunities to draw Williams away from the basket, Himmelsbach adds, and Horford has been outplayed by Bam Adebayo. After Game 1, Mazzulla was hesitant when asked whether he planned to stick with the two-big lineup, but they were both starters again Friday night. However, they played less than five minutes together as Mazzulla didn’t go back to that lineup after the Heat took an early lead.

There’s more on the Celtics:

  • Himmelsbach’s recommendation for Game 3 is to put Derrick White in the starting lineup and give him more minutes in general. He notes that White is an All-Defensive Team selection who blocked two shots by Butler in Game 2. He makes Boston a better shooting team as well, hitting 6-of-10 three-point attempts in the series. White played just 23 minutes on Friday and hasn’t topped that figure in the Celtics’ last four games.
  • Mazzulla isn’t upset about Grant Williamstrash-talking incident with Butler in the fourth quarter Friday, even though Butler responded by leading Miami’s game-winning rally, per Brian Robb of MassLive. The exchange overshadowed a nice bounce-back performance from Williams, who made 4-of-6 shots after not being used in the series opener. “I mean, he didn’t do anything wrong necessarily,” Mazzulla said. “So, I don’t think it’s emotions getting the best of him.”
  • The Celtics’ biggest concern is the continued lack of production late in games from Jayson Tatum, observes Matt Vautour of MassLive. Tatum didn’t make a shot from the floor in the fourth quarter of Game 1 or 2, leaving his teammates to try to carry the scoring load.

Celtics Notes: Horford, R. Williams, Smart, Mazzulla, G. Williams

After trailing the series 3-2, the Celtics came back to win their second-round series against the Sixers in seven games. Veteran big man Al Horford is stressing the importance of playing with a sense of urgency to his younger teammates, he tells Steve Bulpett of

If you look at it, the reality is that even though a lot of younger guys think they have opportunities and will have more of them, these doors close,” Horford said, drawing out those last three words before adding, “You know what I’m saying?

So when we’re in these positions, I think everybody is starting to understand that, you know, even though, ‘Oh, I’m young. I have time,’ and this and that, it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to be in these positions. That’s something that I feel like we understand, and that’s why we’re trying to make the most of it.”

Here’s more on the Celtics:

  • Along those same lines, fellow big man Robert Williams says the Celtics can’t keep digging themselves out of holes after dropping Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals to the Heat. “There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll come out ready to play in Game 2,” Williams said, per ESPN’s Tim Bontemps. “But the problem is we can’t keep relying on that. We can’t rely on our backs being against the wall. There’s no time for it. We have to fix it.”
  • Both Horford and Marcus Smart cited poor spacing as a deciding factor in Game 1, according to Jared Weiss of The Athletic. “We get tired of doing the little things sometimes. I think that showed exactly what we was talking about earlier, our spacing,” Smart said. “We have a lot of great players, but when we’re all on top of each other, nobody can be great. You’ve got a good defensive team like Miami, they’ll make you pay for that.”
  • Joe Mazzulla‘s reactive coaching style could cost the Celtics the series if he remains passive when the Heat are making big runs, Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe opines (subscriber link). Washburn notes the key difference in the game was the third quarter, which Miami won by 20 points, and Mazzulla didn’t switch anything up despite Boston getting thoroughly outplayed.
  • Mazzulla chose to give guard Payton Pritchard minutes in Game 1 over forward Grant Williams, an impending restricted free agent. He explained the decision Thursday, tweets Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. “We have a plan to use the depth that we need in order to give us the lineups that we think can really help us,” Mazzulla said. “…I thought Payton gave us an opportunity with his shooting, with his playmaking, his pick and roll defense. …Grant is always going to be ready. And we’ve built a lot of versatility and depth in our lineup where we can go a lot of different ways. We trust that anybody that we call in will be ready.”

Celtics Notes: Horford, Brown, Tatum, Smart

Joel Embiid‘s absence wasn’t supposed to work in the Sixers’ advantage, but Al Horford believes that’s what happened in Game 1, writes Souichi Terada of MassLive. The Celtics knew for several days that Embiid was unlikely to play because of a sprained LCL in his right knee, and Horford believes his team wasn’t as focused as it needed to be.

“We didn’t do as good a job defensively as we could,” he said. “I really believe that it happened to us last year when one of their main players was missing, and Embiid being out tonight. As much as you don’t want to say it wasn’t a factor, I think it was. We have to be better. We have to understand that we have to be able to play with whatever happens, whatever variables.”

Horford pointed out that Boston lost several times this season against teams that were missing one of their best players. He cited Game 5 of the first-round series against the Hawks when Atlanta won in Boston while Dejounte Murray was suspended, along with regular season defeats to the Thunder without Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and the Suns without Devin Booker.

There’s more from Boston:

  • The Celtics need to make sure Jaylen Brown stays involved in the offense, observes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. Brown was 6-of-7 from the field in the first quarter of the series opener, but he took just three more shots during the rest of the game. He told reporters afterward that he’s not sure what led to his reduced role.
  • Jay King of The Athletic examines how Brown and Jayson Tatum learned to mesh their games, which included watching film together last season. King notes that players typically study game film as a team or individually, but Tatum and Brown were able to use those sessions to figure out how to be effective together at a time when many observers were wondering if they should be split apart. “I felt like it was a breaking point,” Tatum recalled. “It was either going to make or break the season. And we got closer instead of separating.”
  • Coach Joe Mazzulla expects Marcus Smart to be ready for Game 2, tweets Jared Weiss of The Athletic. Smart is listed as questionable with a chest contusion.

Celtics Notes: Williams, Slump, Adjustments

Celtics center Robert Williams will be active for Tuesday’s game against the Kings, per Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe (Twitter link). Point guard Marcus Smart and big man Al Horford will also be able to suit up for Boston.

Williams has already missed 44 games this season with various maladies. Most recently, he has been sidelined for Boston’s last eight contests with a hamstring injury. The 6’9″ big man has averaged 8.4 PPG on 75% shooting for the Celtics this season. He’s also chipping in 8.6 RPG, 1.5 APG and 1.2 BPG.

There’s more out of Boston:

  • Williams’ recent extended absence, along with the lackluster shooting of Celtics All-Star forward Jayson Tatum, are big factors behind the club’s recent performative decline, opines Chris Forsberg of NBC Sports Boston. That said, the team has also suffered some inexplicable defeats recently, staggering instead of striding toward the Eastern Conference playoffs.
  • The Celtics have dropped to the East’s No. 3 seed following an 8-7 run across their past 15 contests. Jared Weiss of The Athletic outlines the steps Boston can take to pivot from this recent skid and improve their play down the season’s home stretch.
  • As we previously discussed, the Celtics could be in line to receive a very valuable bonus second-round draft pick courtesy of the Trail Blazers or Rockets, thanks to stipulations from two separate trades.

Injury Notes: Sexton, Bucks, Pokusevski, Celtics

Jazz guard Collin Sexton, who strained his left hamstring in the team’s final game before the All-Star break, still hasn’t played since participating in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday in Salt Lake City.

According to Eric Walden of The Salt Lake Tribune (Twitter link), Sexton will be reevaluated next Monday, as Utah continues to rule him out one week at a time. He has missed the Jazz’s last five games and will be sidelined for at least three more, with the team playing in Dallas (on Tuesday), Orlando (Thursday), and Charlotte (Saturday) this week.

Here are a few more injury updates from around the NBA:

  • The Bucks will be without All-Stars Giannis Antetokounmpo (non-COVID illness) and Jrue Holiday (neck soreness) when they visit Orlando on Tuesday, tweets Eric Nehm of The Athletic. However, there has been no indication that either ailment should be a long-term issue.
  • Thunder forward Aleksej Pokusevski was briefly assigned to the Oklahoma City Blue to practice with the G League team as he recovers from the left leg fracture that has kept him on the shelf since late December, per Joe Mussatto of The Oklahoman (Twitter links). Pokusevski will probably assigned and recalled for practice purposes a few more times, Mussatto adds, noting that the 21-year-old’s return isn’t imminent quite yet.
  • Jayson Tatum (left knee contusion) and Al Horford (low back stiffness) both missed the Celtics‘ double overtime loss to Cleveland on Monday. As Tim Bontemps of ESPN observes (via Twitter), Horford played 45 minutes on Sunday and still hasn’t played both ends of a back-to-back set this season, so his absence came as no surprise. Tatum sustained his injury in a collision on Sunday.

Celtics Notes: R. Williams, Mazzulla, White, Horford

Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla announced that center Robert Williams will be sidelined for seven-to-10 days with a strained left hamstring, writes Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe. However, given Williams’ history of injuries, Washburn believes he could be out longer and it might be best to shut him down until the playoffs.

Williams didn’t play Sunday after hurting his hamstring in Friday’s loss to the Nets. Washburn notes that even though Sunday’s game went to two overtimes, Mazzulla didn’t bring big men Luke Kornet or Blake Griffin off his bench. Grant Williams was used at center for long stretches of the game, and the Knicks repeatedly attacked him on the pick-and-roll.

According to Washburn, the Celtics believe they can survive the loss of their starting center with their current rotation of big men. However, he notes that the team has an open roster spot and there are numerous veteran free agents for president of basketball operations Brad Stevens to consider.

There’s more from Boston:

  • After holding the NBA’s best record for most of the season, the Celtics have now dropped three of their last four games, Washburn adds. Mazzulla said he has “zero concerns” about the recent rough patch, framing it as an opportunity for the team to grow. “You obviously want to be playing your best basketball later in the season as you get closer to the playoffs, but this is a tough stretch,” Mazzulla said. “And whatever this stretch has you have to learn from it and use it later in the year.”
  • With Robert Williams unavailable, Mazzulla went back to his early-season lineup by inserting Derrick White into the starting five, per Brian Robb of MassLive. White had 12 points, six rebounds and four assists in 32 minutes, and Robb suggests he could be considered the team’s third-most valuable player behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.
  • Al Horford believes a lack of focus is causing the Celtics to let big leads slip away, according to Souichi Terada of MassLive. Brooklyn overcame a 28-point deficit Friday night, and New York trailed by as many as 14 points on Sunday. “We’re not locking in as much as we need to,” Horford said. “This is the second time that we kind of have a lead, we feel good about it, a team makes a run and we just kind of let them back in the game. And throughout the season, you’re gonna have adversity. We’ve played pretty good basketball most of the year, and this is a time where you tighten up, you fix some of these things, some of these issues, or it goes the other way.”

Celtics Notes: Horford, G. Williams, Mazzulla, R. Williams

Al Horford seemed to accept a deal below his market value when he agreed to a two-year, $20MM extension with the Celtics in December, but an unidentified league executive tells Steve Bulpett of Heavy that Horford’s decision was likely driven by market realities as well as his loyalty to Boston. Although Horford remains productive, he’ll turn 37 this summer. Most of the teams with cap room are rebuilding and won’t be looking for older players.

“Look at Boston. This is a perfect situation — for both sides,” the executive said. “Al’s a really important part of what they do. But if they didn’t already have him — if he was a free agent last summer — they wouldn’t have been able to spend big money on him. But it’s clear he wanted to stay there now, and this deal is good for him, too. He didn’t break the bank, but after all that he’s made in his career, that probably wasn’t that important to him. He gets good money to be where he really wants to be. There’s a value in that. And by signing for two more years now, it also covers him in the event of an injury that either stops him from playing or makes him a lot less effective.”

Horford was a fixture in Boston for three years before accepting a big-money offer from the Sixers in 2019. Earlier this season, Horford told Bulpett that the disruptive atmosphere Kyrie Irving brought to the Celtics played a role in his decision to move on.

“I just think that if Kyrie would have stayed, I don’t know if it would have worked,” Horford said. “There would have had to be some major changes as far as players, because it was just clear that the group that we had just wasn’t going to be able to coexist.”

There’s more from Boston:

  • Grant Williams logged 18 minutes Friday night after not playing at all on Wednesday. A prolonged shooting slump from beyond the arc and the addition of Mike Muscala at the trade deadline have cut into playing time for Williams, who will be a restricted free agent this summer, notes Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe. “He knows what he brings to this team and the type of player he is,” Jaylen Brown said of Williams. “He’s been able to carve value out in this league, so a couple games here and there based upon whatever the coaching staff thinks doesn’t mean any more or less.”
  • Joe Mazzulla has done an admirable coaching job, but there were red flags as a 28-point lead disappeared in Friday’s loss to the Nets, writes Brian Robb of MassLive. Mazzulla was reluctant to match up when Brooklyn used smaller lineups and his bench remains disorganized beyond Derrick White and Malcolm Brogdon, Robb observes.
  • Robert Williams has been ruled out for Sunday after leaving Friday’s game with tightness in his left hamstring, tweets Tim Bontemps of ESPN.