Friday, January 3, 2014
Pregame: Weathering the storm
By Brian Robb | Special to ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- Flying any place on game day is a rarity for an NBA team.
When Thursday night’s winter storm prevented the Boston Celtics from flying home, the team decided to stay put. The Celtics spent the night in Chicago after their 94-82 loss to the Bulls and flew out of the Windy City this morning. Boston’s team plane arrived in Boston around 1 p.m. this afternoon.
“We didn’t pick the two best cities to fly in and out of during the past 48 hours. Chicago had a ton of snow and then, obviously, here in Boston, but I’m glad we got here safely, first and foremost,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said before Friday's tilt with the New Orleans Pelicans.
With just over six hours to spare between the team’s arrival in Boston and tonight’s matchup with the Pelicans at TD Garden, it put the Celtics in a bit of a bind when it came to game preparation. Stevens said that while the team didn’t spend any time prepping for the Pelicans on the plane today, they fit in some extra scouting before the start of Friday's contest.
“We’ll get together and talk a little longer than usual before the game,” Stevens said. “We’ll start meeting 40-42 minutes before the game. Usually we meet with 35 minutes to go. It’s a quick turnaround, it’s a unique deal. Sometimes things happen, and you got to come and play. Guys that have been there and done that, and their ability to quickly process information will be helpful.”
Despite the unfavorable circumstances, Stevens doesn't expect the travel woes to affect Boston’s play tonight.
“No excuses from our standpoint. We have a game to play. Whether we get in at 3 in the morning, or 1 in the afternoon, we have to play,” Stevens said.
Boston’s travel plans don’t get much easier after Friday as the Celtics are slated to head out west for a five-game road trip over three different time zones starting Sunday night in Oklahoma City. The seven-day trip features two back-to-back sets.
A handful of other pregame notes:
- SULLINGER'S HAND A CONCERN: Jared Sullinger has labored through the team’s past four games, offensively, with a bruised right hand. The second-year center suffered the injury in late November in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats, but he has aggravated it multiple times in recent games.
The pain appears to be affecting Sullinger on the offensive end lately, as he’s hit just 31.7 percent of his shots over his last four games, while averaging a meager 6.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per game over that stretch. Despite the offensive woes, Boston’s training staff has told Stevens that Sullinger is healthy enough to play.
“We have obviously done our due diligence on that,” Stevens said. “I mean, he’s had an MRI. He has a bruise in his hand. He’s uncomfortable, but he wants to play. Unless it gets hit, there is really nothing that is a long-term issue with playing.”
Sullinger has worn a glove in recent games to protect the hand.
“It’s about the same, just protecting it,” Sullinger said of playing with the glove. “It takes a lot of getting used to, but I have to protect my hand. I need it to play basketball.”
Sullinger continued: “It bothers it a little bit, because I can’t really grip the ball like I want to, little stuff like that. I’ll be all right.”
Stevens also acknowledged that the hand injury appeared to affect Sullinger at times in recent games.
“Well, I think the biggest thing is if he gets hit. That’s why he wears that pad on there. He looked a little bit more uncomfortable last night than maybe before, so I’ll keep a pulse on that and monitor that,” Stevens said.
- BULLISH ON CHICAGO PLAY: Despite a double-digit loss to the Bulls last night, Stevens remained positive about the team’s play compared to recent games.
“We played really physically for the most part. We had some moments when we didn’t, but I think they test and challenge you as much as any team in the league in that regard," said Stevens. "Obviously, their front line is extremely agile and athletic, and also extremely aggressive. They get into the ball on defense. They affected our shooting because of that."
Stevens added: “At the same time, I thought we’ve cut harder than we cut in the last seven days in a lot of cases, and I thought we guarded and tried to rebound well. The shots didn’t go down and that’s discouraging on a day like that, but that’s just a part of the equation.”
Boston has lost five of their last six games overall.
- CHECKING IN ON BROOKS: Celtics guard MarShon Brooks played his first game for the Maine Red Claws last night in Portland. The third-year guard posted 27 points, four rebounds and three assists in 31 minutes of action, as the Red Claws defeated the Tulsa 66ers, 105-96.
“I haven’t talked to [Brooks] since last night,” Stevens said. “[Assistant coach] Jay [Larranaga] talked to him or the [Maine] coaches, and I talked to the coaches [of the Claws]. [Director of player personnel] Austin [Ainge] was up there, so we got a full report and it sounded like he played well.”