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Xavier Tillman and Jaden Springer talk acclimating to Celtics weeks after trade


Jaden Springer arrived at Madison Square Garden three hours before game time on Saturday — before even Bus One made its way to the arena. That required his own transportation, and along with assistant coaches Tyler Lashbrook and Jermaine Bucknor, Springer took advantage of the extra time on the court before anyone else arrived.

“We’re working on playing out of this system here,” Springer told CLNS Media/CelticsBlog in New York. “Playing out of reads that I’ll probably have in the game and situations that I’ll be in. So, I feel like that’s the biggest thing that’ll help me for when I have the chance to go out there and be on the court. I feel like (in) Philly … they had a big guy in Joel Embiid, so the offense ran through the big man or the point guard, and them going pick-and-roll with each other. Coming here, it’s more of a balance. You got a bunch of guys that can hoop on the floor that all play in different situations, all guys that can attack and make plays for each other. It’s a big difference.”

As Celtics advisor Jeff Van Gundy looked on, Springer shot threes out of the corner, then moved into attacking Bucknor downhill as he contested Springer with blocking pads on his hands. Springer dunked through him, then several tries later tried to call a foul. Lashbrook, who also worked with Springer in Philadelphia, said they don’t call fouls in their drills. After working out for roughly 30 minutes, Springer went on to play one minute in the win, life for now as he and Xavier Tillman Sr. acclimate to their new team after the trade deadline.

While Springer got in the gym between several stops, including a Florida vacation, during his break, Tillman got away completely for the week after a frantic move from Memphis to Boston that included the shock of city traffic.

Neither player has earned rotation minutes yet. Joe Mazzulla said recently they’ll appear situationally as they catch up to Boston’s system, while both players are familiar with their new routine of playing sporadically and taking advantage of the stay ready runs that happen early in the morning alongside staff and other bench players.

“Back in Memphis, they called them play groups,” Tillman told CLNS/CelticsBlog. “That’s when we had opportunities to play four-on-four, five-on-five with coaches and played like a game situation. In my opinion, that’s the only way I can get better. Obviously, you can work out and get shots up, but that’s not the same as what you’re gonna do in the game. I remember my third season, I requested to be assigned to the G, because going into the season, my situation looked pretty similar to the year before where I wasn’t gonna get a lot of minutes and I just didn’t want to waste any opportunities sitting on the bench and working out. I’d rather be playing no matter where I’m playing at. The stay ready groups, as far as us getting down … that’s been really good, along with getting cardio as well.”

Sources expect both players to receive some playing time later in the year as rest, particularly for the big men, come into play before the playoffs. The Celtics play two back-to-backs in March against the Wizards and Pistons, then in Detroit and Chicago. A third comes in April, both at home against the Knicks and Hornets. Boston already leads the east by 8.0 games and the NBA by 4.5. Five test games against Cleveland and four top-end stars from the west happen over the next week before the schedule softens to one of the weakest closing stretches any team in the league will play (28th in win pct.).

It’s less clear how much either player will factor in when the games matter again in the postseason. Mazzulla has said Boston’s bench will be Al Horford, Sam Hauser, Payton Pritchard and Luke Kornet when healthy, naming Oshae Brissett on the edge of that mix this week. The 21-year-old Springer faces longer odds playing behind three effective guards while he sorts out his shooting struggles.

His former head coach Nick Nurse wished him well before Tuesday’s game, emphasizing his youth as Brad Stevens did when he acquired the guard shortly before the deadline, a surprise as Springer has noted multiple times. Philadelphia used him in effective spot coverage on Luka Dončić and Steph Curry before the trade, moments that wowed two-way teammate Ricky Council IV.

“It was sad to see him go, but I’m definitely happy for him, because (that’s) a good opportunity for him on the best team in the league,” Council IV told CLNS/CelticsBlog. “I haven’t seen too many defenders better than him. We’ve played almost every team in the league so far. I’m seeing him lock up some of my favorite players, so I’m like, keep that up and then his offense is gonna come along as well. He puts the work in … physicality, strength, quickness, I don’t know what it is. Dog in him. He got it.”

Big man coach D.J. MacLeay and Bucknor have taken on Tillman’s individual work since his arrival in Boston. They’ve also worked out early before games, going to some post touches along with outside shooting, with some expectation that he’ll have to space the floor whenever he isn’t in dribble handoff sets. Howeer, they’re mostly focused on the paint, he said. Tillman carries some offensive limitations from a rough season on that end in Memphis, but believes in his ability to post more often and crash the offensive glass.

A more polished, connected skill set on that end has maintained Luke Kornet’s standing as the third big in front of him though. Per 36 minutes, Kornet has averaged 12.1 points, 9.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists on 69.8% shooting in another season of growth. His narrow role on defense opens the door for Tillman to break through in certain matchups as one of the higher-rated and versatile big defenders in the game. He’s also played extended minutes in two playoff series, something Kornet has never done. They sat together at a team dinner in Chicago, an early bonding opportunity between new teammates vying for minutes at the same position. Kornet said he welcomes the addition — and doesn’t see it that way.

“D.J. and Buck have been very good,” Tillman said. “D.J. has been very good with the techniques, with my shooting, with my finishing in the post as far as footwork goes and showing the ball and different stuff like that. Buck has been really good, because Buck can hoop. I’m guarding him and he’s hitting jumpers, so I’ve gotta adjust the way I’m guarding. He’s a good look as far as what I’m gonna get on the court … I’m looking to lock him up every single time. We just started the shooting game. He thought he could shoot better than me because I set a lot of screens. I can hoop.”

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