BOSTON — While the Celtics took the floor against the 76ers for a stunning win led by their bench contributors — several hours after the Celtics scratched Robert Williams III and Al Horford — the NBA trade deadline began early.
“Early in shootaround, there might’ve been some knowledge of like, maybe, who knows, we’ll see,” Luke Kornet told CLNS Media post-game. “But then it wasn’t until we get to the game that we knew (Horford and Williams would sit). Fortunately, I was ready to play as is, and then, obviously … more minutes, especially going against Philadelphia, (centers are) a little more active in the game. It’s part of the job, just be ready to play, it was a fun team effort, everyone got involved. We enjoy the games like that.”
Players shuffled into Boston’s locker room wondering what happened during the game. The Lakers traded Russell Westbrook for D’Angelo Russell in a three-team deal. The Trail Blazers sent Josh Hart to the Knicks moments after Boston’s 106-99 victory concluded.
As Malcolm Brogdon said at shootaround, it’s easier said than done to ignore the noise of deadline day, especially while trying to assess how the competition stacks up when entire teams change. Some even wondered about what picks moved. Uncertainty remained about the futures of numerous contributors who keyed the win in the room, including Grant Williams, Sam Hauser, Kornet and Payton Pritchard. A resilient performance alleviated that.
For a moment.
Pritchard continued to share optimism for a larger role, in Boston or elsewhere, this week and his name appeared alongside Danilo Gallinari’s in a Yahoo report on the Celtics’ pursuit of Jakob Poetl. Toronto acquired the Spurs big man on Wednesday night for a protected 2024 first-rounder, Khem Birch and multiple seconds. Gallinari expressed hope for an eventual return to the Celtics earlier this week, and teammates Derrick White and Kornet know from recent experience the difficulty the deadline places on those who move.
“I sure hope that nothing happens to me or anybody else,” Kornet told CLNS. “But obviously that’s the game and how it works. I’m just controlling what I can and enjoying every moment I have with every person on this team, and you never know if anything will or won’t happen, so I just try to live life as normal and business as usual, and take everything in stride … it’s not a fun thing to be traded, and so obviously the situation can depend on how excited you are or aren’t, but it’s still a very difficult situation … it was hard for me the first time and I know it’s hard for a lot of people. It’s not a fun thing to have to randomly move and uproot your life.”
Kornet, who returned from an ankle injury suffered against the Suns last week, caught a fourth quarter alley-oop from White on an in-bounds play with 0.5 seconds on the shot clock. Joe Mazzulla didn’t call that play exactly in timeout, but White and Kornet made eye contact, saw how the 76ers lined up and went for it to deliver Boston a 100-95 lead with 3:16 remaining. Kornet scored eight points with four rebounds and two blocks. White added 19 points and two more important rejections, including a chase down block on Tobias Harris. Blake Griffin hit five threes, Hauser finished 4-for-4 from deep and Grant escaped a lingering offensive slump with 15 points and five assists.
Grant’s deadline arrives with as much uneasiness as any for him and the team, who both wanted to come to an agreement in the summer on a long-term extension, but couldn’t finalize a number. Both expressed optimism to return to the table in the summer. CelticsBlog reported a rising price tag for Grant could lead the team to get ahead and trade him before the deadline. Grant spoke about setting a standard with his salary as a NBAPA vice president in training camp. He also wants to remain with the Celtics — a theme on Wednesday.
“You control what you can control,” Williams told CLNS. “That’s the one thing I’ve learned in this league, you can’t control where you’ll be, what you’re doing, what your playing time is … that’s what we have in this locker room, a bunch of guys who, no matter what’s going on around them, they do a great job of coming in with a great attitude, with the right mentality of making the team better, no matter if they’re going to be here or not. We’re fortunate to have this group of guys, and hopefully we have these guys throughout the whole season, including myself. That’s our priority right now, focusing on one another and controlling what we can control.”
Pritchard lingered by his locker as chatter filled the room, playing only five minutes on a night where the Celtics lacked depth. They won again, a focus he leaned on throughout the start of the season before making his desire known to Brad Stevens and the front office. Flanked again by Griffin, who helped position him to succeed in a small role on a winning team early this year, it is possible Pritchard and Gallinari could be the players Boston utilizes to improve its roster on Thursday.
It won’t be an easy decision for the front office, nor would the Celtics like to see Pritchard go, given the contributions he provided while Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Jaylen Brown missed time. Brown is expected to sit through the all-star break with a facial fracture he suffered in Wednesday’s win, according to Shams Charania. Griffin, taking the podium after scoring 15 points, made one last appeal for his friend.
“I think (Pritchard) handled it well. This is his third year, and it’s not easy,” Griffin said. “No matter who you are, the trade deadline can make you feel a certain type of way. It’s not a very normal thing to experience in life. He’s such a great player and he’s so competitive. We’ve seen what he can contribute to a team. He’s instant offense when he comes in. Defensively, he does a great job. He came in the fourth quarter and picked up full court.”
“He came up with that huge defensive rebound down the stretch, so I think as players, we really appreciate how hard he plays, how hard he works and how good he is. I don’t know if the rest of the world knows how good he is, but we believe in him. We want him to be happy, and I think I speak for all of us when I say, we want him to be here, because he’s big for our team, but we’ll see. That’s out of everybody’s control.”