Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY Sports

Celtics Notebook: Celtics already leaning heavily on youth

WEEI
October 23, 2017 - 9:31 pm

BY PATRICK GILROY

This certainly is not the way they drew it up. 

When Danny Ainge, Brad Stevens and the rest of the Celtics' braintrust finally settled on Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving as the two stars that would join Al Horford to make up the Celtics newest “Big Three,” the team and their leadership put their team on the fast track to contention.  Unlike the Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen-led Celtics, this version of the Celtics was trying to kick open an extended championship window with a combination of young NBA veteran All-Stars and budding stars in Jalen Brown and Jayson Tatum. 

The 2017-2018 Celtics were trying to emulate and duplicate the long-term & sustainable success of perennial contenders like the Spurs and Patriots.    

As both the Spurs and Patriots have learned injuries happen and can derail even the steadiest of trains.  For these Celtics, the loss of Hayward will have a ripple effect, felt all the way to their G-League affiliate in Maine.  Through the first three games of the new season both Brown and Tatum are starting, and averaging 35 minutes per contest. For a team that just a week ago had NBA Finals aspirations, the loss of one player -- one very important player -- has forced the development of both Brown and Tatum into overdrive.

When the NBA season kicked off last week fans probably noticed opening night seemed earlier this year.  In the past, Opening Night was closer to Halloween than Columbus Day.  This year, the NBA in partnership with the players association decided to move up the start of the season in an effort to eliminate four games in five nights, reduce back-to-back games, and most importantly for the Celtics increase practice time. Heading into this Tuesday's game with the Knicks, the Celtics will have enjoyed three consecutive days of practice between games, a luxury rarely seen in the past. With a roster featuring six rookies, the need for additional practices is quickly becoming the new normal.

For Stevens, expectations have never been higher and practice time has never been more critical.  The Celtics are being forced to adjust everything on the fly, and following their win in Philadelphia the Celtics head coach likened the first three games to a “second training camp”.  In their home opener, a loss to the Bucks, the first-year pro Tatum played 36 minutes, and those 36 minutes were more than the total combined minutes of all rookies under Doc Rivers between 2007 and 2013. A staggering and sobering reality for a team that just a week ago, was planning for a deep playoff run. 

While a deep playoff run is still possible, it’s also completely dependent on the development of a handful of guys that legally were unable to celebrate their first win of the season with a celebratory drink. 

Now that’s a sobering reality.

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