Celtics starters look to fine-tune their game in season's final month

Celtics starters look to fine-tune their game in season's final month

BOSTON –  This time of year, every NBA coach with a playoff-caliber team is trying to find that balance between finishing the regular season playing well while finding time to rest key players for what they hope will be a long postseason journey.
And then there’s the Celtics, who will host the much-improved Minnesota Timberwolves tonight. Boston will try to fine-tune its play to close out the season with momentum heading into the playoffs.
“We have had that [rest] naturally,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “We’ve had tons of guys miss games with injuries. And enough so that you’re not as concerned about rest. Obviously, if you can have situations like [a blowout victory Sunday against Chicago] where you’re fortunate enough not to play a couple guys late, save minutes, that’s not all bad. We’ll manage the practices and shoot-arounds appropriately too.”
While most teams near the top have relied on their core players leading their ascension up the conference ladder, the Celtics have been in cut-and-paste mode all season.
At least one member of Boston’s preferred starting five – Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Amir Johnson – has missed a game with an injury, ranging from Johnson being out one game with an ankle sprain to Bradley missing a total of 23 (22 with a sore or strained right Achilles').
But when they have been on the floor together, it has been a beautiful thing for the Celtics.
In the 27 games they have started together, Boston has an impressive 20-7 record.
To put that in perspective, consider this:
That 20-7 mark is a .741 winning percentage, which if they maintained throughout this season, would be tops in the Eastern Conference and third overall behind Golden State (53-14, .791) and San Antonio (52-14, .788).
That’s why this final month of the season is so vital to the Celtics, not only in terms of their record but also in getting their starters on the floor together so they can continue to play good basketball and have a nice, steady rhythm before the playoffs.
“Being consistent; that’s what we have to be,” said Isaiah Thomas. “If we’re consistent and play like we know how to play, we’ll take care of business with these last 15 games. If we’re not, we’ll be up and down like we’ve been the past couple of games. Everybody is realizing what’s at stake and guys are locking in.”
And making things even more favorable for the Celtics (42-25) is that 10 of their 15 remaining regular-season games are at home.
No team has fewer home games remaining than the Celtics.
As important as padding their win total is to the team’s focus, even more significant to Stevens will simply be getting his main starters playing together to enhance their chemistry.
“This is about getting back or get to playing our best version of ourselves from a basketball standpoint,” Stevens said. “The negative part about being unhealthy has been, this group hasn’t played together as much as you like. It’s good to still have a month left to hopefully get their rhythm.”

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

NBCSB Breakfast podcast: Maybe next year will be the Celtics' year

1:31 - With the results of Kyrie Irving’s second opinion on he knee looming, the Celtic’s season is certainly up in the air. A. Sherrod Blakely, Chris Mannix, Kyle Draper and Gary Tanguay debate how and if Kyrie should be used if he returns.

6:02 - Back in October Michael Felger prematurely said the Bruins season was over. The B’s marketing team featured Felger in an ad for playoff tickets now that the Bruins have clinched the playoffs. Felger, Trenni and Gary react to the commercial and discuss the Bruins playoff chances.

11:47 - The Patriots are making moves! on Tursday the Pats made deals with LaAdrian Waddle, Marquis Flowers and Patrick Chung. Phil Perry, Michael Holley, Troy Brown and Tom Curran discuss how despite these moves, the Patriots should still be in search of a left tackle.

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

File Photo

Greg Monroe looking forward to his 2nd taste of playoffs

BOSTON – We live in a world filled with success stories that came about by accident. 

The invention of the microwave oven.

Post-It notes.

The creation of potato chips.

The Boston Celtics’ game-winning play against Oklahoma City earlier this week qualfies; a play in which there were multiple miscues made by the Celtics prior to Marcus Morris’ game-winning shot. 


All these Celtics injuries have made Brad Stevens a mad scientist of sorts with some unusual lineups that may be on display tonight against the guard-centric Portland Trail Blazers. 

In Boston’s 100-99 win over the Thunder on Tuesday, we saw Stevens utilize a lineup with Al Horford and Greg Monroe, in four different stints.

Monroe, who had 17 points off the bench - the most he has scored as a Celtic -  enjoyed playing with Horford.

“Al’s so smart. He’s seen it all in this league,” Monroe told NBC Sports Boston. “He’s an all-star. Very cerebral player, unselfish. So it’s easy playing with him. He can space, drive, make plays. I feel like I can make plays, driving. It’s fun playing with him. I look forward to getting out there with him more.”

Horford had similar praise for playing with Monroe.

“Coach (Brad Stevens) made a great move bringing Greg back in, in the fourth, playing us together,” Horford said. “He made some great plays, passing the ball and just … timely plays. It’s one of those things, the more we play with each other the more comfortable we’ll get. I thought it was very positive.”

Monroe’s role has become significantly more important with the season-ending injury (torn meniscus, left knee) to Daniel Theis. And his ability to play well with various lineups will only improve Boston’s chances of weathering this latest storm of injuries which comes on the eve of the playoffs. 

And while there’s a certain amount of pleasure all players take in being on a playoff-bound team, Monroe understands better than most NBA veterans just how special it is to be headed towards the postseason.

In his eighth season, this will only be Monroe’s second time participating in the playoffs. 

The first time? 

That was last year, with the Milwaukee Bucks. 

“This is what everybody plays for, I hope,” Monroe said. “This is what I play for, to get into the postseason, make a run. It’s the best situation. I’ve been through a lot in my career, this year. I’m grateful. I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going to do whatever I can to help the team.”

And he has done that lately.

Monroe comes into tonight’s game having scored in double figures each of the last four games, a season high for the 6-foot-11 center. 

Having spent most of his NBA career watching instead of participating in the playoffs, Monroe is out to prove that he can in fact be a significant contributor to a team that’s postseason-bound.

“For sure. You have to have a little chip, a little fire, at least in my eyes,” Monroe said. “I’ve never doubted myself. It’s about being between those lines and being the best player I can be. That’s what I’m focused on.”