The Celtics did not make a deal prior to Thursday’s trade deadline, and on Friday the players said they were pleased that they will be able to move forward with the roster that helped the team to a 35-15 start.
“We like our team,” guard Marcus Smart said. “We like the team we have and we like our team against anybody in the league right now. So the old saying is ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ For us, nothing’s really broke right now. I’m sure we can get better in other aspects that people see. But for us, we like the team and we’re glad.”
Head coach Brad Stevens said that it was one of the quieter trade deadlines of his tenure, and he added that the team’s health will be more important than a minor move. The Celtics could still explore options on the buyout market in the coming weeks.
For now, though, point guard Kemba Walker is pleased with the group as it stands.
“It says that [Danny Ainge] has great confidence in us,” Walker said. “Yeah, that’s really all it is to me. I feel like he has confidence in the group. He knows how well we get along. I think trades can sometimes mess up chemistry sometimes. I don’t think he wanted to mess that up. We’ve got a group that, I mean, we get along maybe a little bit too well. We’ve got a good group with some great guys that are really fun to be around.”
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When the NBA held its All-Star game draft on Thursday night, Giannis Antetokounmpo selected Walker for his team from the pool of starters and LeBron James selected Jayson Tatum for his squad from the pool of reserves. After James picked Tatum, Antetokounmpo winced and said he was hoping to select Boston’s 21-year-old forward.
That means that Walker and Tatum will play against each other in the Feb. 16 All-Star game in Chicago. Tatum joked on Twitter that he would go right at Walker during the game.
“I seen what he said, how he’s going to go at me,” Walker said, smiling. “But he don’t know that I’m going to go at him. That’s what he don’t know. But nah, I’m sure as it comes closer we’ll talk about something. But it’s going to be fun. I’m excited. Super excited for him. [There’s] nothing like your first one. So I know he’s pumped up.”
Smart said he was looking forward to watching from afar as his teammates battled each other.
“It’s funny as hell to me,” he said. “Especially on the banter they have. I’m interested to see that, and I’m intrigued to watch that game and see how they match up. I have my money on Kemba. His whole life, he’s been kind of overlooked because of his size. We all know how that goes when you have a smaller guy that has been overlooked like that can be, so I’m excited to see it.”
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Walker returned to face the Hawks on Friday after missing three games with a sore left knee, and Smart came back after missing two games with a quadriceps contusion.
“The quad has gotten a lot better,” Smart said. “Having those days off to really recuperate and rest and get as much treatment as I can and rehab was what I needed.”
But the Celtics have been undermanned for the majority of this season, and Friday’s game was no different. Jaylen Brown sat out due to the ankle sprain he suffered in the final minute of Wednesday’s win over the Magic, Daniel Theis missed his second game in a row because of a sprained ankle, and Gordon Hayward got a night off to nurse assorted bumps and bruises.
The Hawks, who have dealt with some nagging injuries of their own and are still waiting for some new acquisitions to be activated, were even more shorthanded on Friday. Atlanta was without All-Star guard Trae Young, along with Dewayne Dedmon, Cam Reddish, Clint Capela, DeAndre’ Bembry, Bruno Fernando, and Skal Labissiere.
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Vince Carter received a partial standing ovation when he checked into Friday’s game with 6:22 left in the opening quarter. The 43-year-old future Hall of Famer was playing his final game in Boston. He was presented with a piece of the parquet floor prior to the game. But this is not just a wave-and-smile farewell tour. Carter had 10 points and 9 rebounds, and he received another ovation when he checked out with just over a minute left in the game.
Carter’s first NBA game was actually played in Boston, in the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season.
“I remember excitement, overly excited,” he said. “But it all happened so fast. Everything happened so fast. It was like a couple days of camp, two preseason games against the same team and then opening night against the same team. Obviously I knew Paul [Pierce] from the McDonald's game, but I was just excited. I'm finally here and getting my chance. I will always remember, every kid will always remember, just don't shoot the ball over the goal. From the nerves and excitement, I didn't want to shoot a 3. I remember driving to try to get as close as I can and I remember I shot that baseline floater like that and it went in and I was like, 'All right we can play now.'”
After Friday’s game, Carter gave his jersey to Celtics All-Star Jayson Tatum.
“That’s special,” Tatum said. “He’s been in the NBA 23 years. I’m only 21.”