Celtics practice report: Brad Stevens talks injuries, free-throw rate, and player inconsistencies

"The guys that play once every three games and don't know when they're going in, they've got it, by far, the toughest."

Robert Williams,
Robert Williams attempts to block a shot by Milwaukee Bucks forward Thon Maker. –AP Photo/Elise Amendola

The Celtics practiced at the Auerbach Center Sunday afternoon — a rare occurrence during the month of January due to their demanding game schedule.

Here’s what you missed:

Player updates

Kyrie Irving: After missing two games due to eye irritation and inflammation, Irving practiced with the team and was removed from the injury report.

Marcus Morris: Morris also practiced with the team, though his status for Monday night’s game against the Brooklyn Nets is not as certain as Irving’s. Coach Brad Stevens said Morris “looked great,” but whether he is able to play depends on how he feels.

Morris, who missed Friday’s game against the Mavericks with a neck strain, said he “probably more than likely” will play Monday. (According to the injury report, his official status is probable.)  He said his neck is better, albeit still a little sore and stiff, equating the discomfort to the feeling one has after sleeping the wrong way.

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Robert Williams: Monday could be the game Williams returns to the court after missing Boston’s last five games with a left groin strain. Williams said he’s taking things “day-by-day” and “rehab session-by-rehab session.”

“I had imaging done,” he told reporters. “Luckily, it came back clean. Thank God.”

Aron Baynes: Though he did not participate in team drills, Baynes was at practice. Stevens said his activity has been limited to shooting and various conditioning exercises. Baynes is approaching the three-week mark in the recovery process for his broken left finger and is scheduled to visit the doctor for a re-evaluation early this week. The initial timetable for return was four to six weeks.

Brad Stevens does not seem concerned about the low number of free-throw attempts.

The Celtics rank 28th in the league in free-throw attempts, getting to the line just an average of 19.8 times per game. Though Stevens places an emphasis on driving the ball and getting to the rim more, the team’s low free-throw rate doesn’t faze him.

“We don’t have a ton of guys that are going to get a ton of free throws,” Stevens said. “We got some, but if we just force that issue into trying to be something we’re not or trying to make haphazard plays at the rim, that’s when you end up getting blocked, you end up missing kick-outs, you end up missing layups, and it goes the other way and they score.”

Robert Williams has a very relatable problem.

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Playing right into his “Time Lord” nickname, Williams said the biggest difference between playing in the NCAA and the NBA is that he often forgets what day of the week it is. The 20-year-old rookie said he also has mixed up hotel room numbers with ones from previous road trips.

“This might sound funny, but I literally don’t know the days of the week,” Williams said. “Like, I promise, I couldn’t tell you what today is.”

Kyrie Irving offered another indication that he plans to stay in Boston.

After announcing to a group of season-ticket holders in October that he plans on re-signing in Boston, Irving has dropped a few reinforcements throughout the season confirming his decision. On Sunday, while speaking about playing with a more consistent Gordon Hayward, he noted he is looking forward to that opportunity “not just for now but for a few years down the line.”

He knows it’s easier said than done, but Brad Stevens wants his players to ‘control what [they] can control.’

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When assessing individual inconsistencies, Stevens said it’s important for the coaching staff to remember making an impact can be more challenging for players logging fewer minutes.

“When you know your time on the court is unlimited until you wear out, it’s an easier way to play,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s so important for us as coaches to understand the guys that are playing less or really sporadically, that’s really hard to do, to be as effective as you are when you’re getting unlimited opportunity.”

As players navigate fluctuating lineups and subject-to-change roles, Stevens advises them to “focus on the task at hand in that moment.” He gave extra props to guys like Semi Ojeleye, Brad Wanamaker, and Guerschon Yabusele for being able to turn in “special performances” on nights when their playing time is unpredictable.

“The guys that come off the bench all have it a little bit tougher than the guys that start,” he said. “The guys that play once every three games and don’t know when they’re going in, they’ve got it, by far, the toughest.”

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