The Celtics’ pregame introductions are usually filled with loud music, flashy graphics and plenty of roars. But the scene before Thursday’s game against the Warriors was considerably more subdued, as the franchise honored former Lakers star Kobe Bryant.
Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna were two of nine people killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles on Sunday morning. The NBA community has been reeling ever since, and the tributes and remembrances have flowed from all corners of the basketball world.
Thursday’s game was the Celtics’ first at TD Garden since Bryant was killed. After the national anthem, the team replaced the usual starting lineup introductions with several Bryant tributes.
First, a list of the nine crash victims was shown on the scoreboard. Then a 24-second moment of silence was held, a nod to the No. 24 that Bryant wore for much of his career with Los Angeles. As each second ticked off a clock, a different picture of Bryant was shown on the arena’s video board, including several from his matchups against the Celtics.
The silence was pierced a few times when fans shouted out their support of Bryant.
Afterward, a tribute video was played that showed various high points from Bryant’s career, from his 81-point night to his championships to his intense matchups against the Celtics. Current Celtics like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum also talked about what Bryant meant to them.
Brown said that the first jersey he ever owned was a Bryant jersey. Tatum said Bryant was the reason he started playing basketball. Near the end of the video, a clip was shown of Bryant’s final game in Boston in the 2015-16 season.
There were fans in Bryant jerseys and Lakers shirts sprinkled throughout TD Garden, and a few of them were shown on the scoreboard after the video ended.
“It’s still tough,” Tatum said earlier Thursday. “It’s still heavy on our heart and people are still thinking about it. It’s still tough.”
Coaches name Tatum to All-Star team
Tatum has been selected for his first All-Star team, one of seven reserves selected by Eastern Conference coaches.
“Definitely it is an honor,” Tatum said. “I am extremely blessed and grateful. [In my] third year, to make the All-Star team, it is a surreal feeling. I’m just very excited and it’s a dream come true.”
The third-year forward entered Thursday’s game against the Warriors averaging 21.5 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game this season. He is shooting 43.5 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the 3-point line, both of which are career lows. But he has taken on a larger scoring load this season, including 41- and 39-point nights.
The Celtics have outscored opponents by 11.1 points per 100 possessions with Tatum on the floor, the highest mark among Boston’s regulars.
“I always watched the All-Star game to see the best players on the floor at the same time,” Tatum said recently. “It was cool. I always envisioned myself one day being on that court.”
Tatum will join Celtics point guardKemba Walker, who was previously selected as a starter for the Feb. 16 game in Chicago. The Celtics’ coaching staff could still be tabbed to lead one of the All-Star teams, too. If Boston passes the Heat and Raptors and moves into second place after Sunday’s games, its coaching staff would get the nod.
Brown, who entered Thursday averaging 20.1 points and 6.6 rebounds while making 49.5 percent of his shots, did not make the squad.
“We’ve said all along the most important thing is not to be named an All-Star it’s to be playing like one,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “Both of them are playing like one, both of them have had great years.”
Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Indiana’s Domantas Sabonis, Miami’s Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons were the other players to be selected from the Eastern Conference.
In the West, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Utah’s Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert, Denver’s Nikola Jokic, New Orleans’ Brandon Ingram, Houston’s Russell Westbrook, and Oklahoma City’s Chris Paul, were selected.
Tatum returned on Thursday after missing three games because of a strained groin. He was expected to be limited to about 25 minutes. Enes Kanter missed his fourth game in a row because of a bruised hip. Kanter completed a workout at the team’s morning shootaround on Thursday and Stevens said he was “questionable at best” for Saturday’s game against the 76ers.
Javonte Green, meanwhile, returned after missing one game with a sore knee.
Zone defenses more common
As teams look for new and creative ways to slow opposing offenses down during this era of fast-shooting, 3-point spraying offenses, zone defenses have emerged as an increasingly common option.
Miami played a zone extensively during its loss to the Celtics on Tuesday. Stevens estimates that zones are being used about five times as often as they were during his rookie campaign.
“It’s interesting,” Stevens said. “We spent more time on zone offense than ever before in training camp because we thought this was going to be the year that it started to take off. With the number of 3-point-shooting teams, the old theory would be that sometimes a zone’s going to give up those looks. But now I think that’s the way that you can stay in your general areas and challenge shooters. I understand why people are playing more of it.”