Marcus Smart steps into starting lineup with Isaiah Thomas out

Marcus Smart steps into starting lineup with Isaiah Thomas out

CLEVELAND -- As any NBA coach in the postseason will tell you, the playoffs are in large part about having the ability to make adjustments.
But the one Boston has to make right now -- replacing Isaiah Thomas in the starting lineup -- is one that they'd rather not have to make.
The Celtics don’t have a choice after the re-aggravated hip injury of Thomas kept him out of the second half of Boston’s Game 2 loss and ended his season. 
Brad Stevens said on Sunday that Thomas will take the next few days to talk with hip specialists before determining the best course of action.
Without Thomas, the Celtics will turn over the keys to Marcus Smart.
The third-year veteran made 24 regular season starts in 2016-17, averaging 11.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
“Marcus Smart has done a great job of filling his void (Thomas’) when he’s absent,” said Jae Crowder. “We have to make up for it by playing good team ball and playing the right way and getting whatever shot we want on the offensive end we want. And defensively, the matchups are a little better for us to slow them down a little bit. But at the same time, it’s a team effort at both ends of the court.”
Said Smart: “Everybody has to step up once again. This is an opportunity for everybody to make a bigger impact on the game. It’s devastating not to have Isaiah. Not just because of his scoring ability, but just because he’s a big part of our team. He’s one of our brothers and he’s down. We understand it. We respect everything that he’s done. But now is the time for everybody else to step up.”
Of course that’s a lot easier said than done, especially against a Cavaliers team that’s motivated to not just beat them, but do it in spectacularly dominant fashion with the first two games won by an average of 29.0 points each.
“It’s gonna take a whole team effort to get back into this thing,” Smart said. “As coach (Brad Stevens) likes to say, hit singles not home runs.”
The Celtics’ season has not been any bleaker than it is right now. The mantra now among the players is to simply do what you do, but better.
“We don’t need any one player to become Isaiah from a scoring standpoint, overnight,” said Stevens. “We all just need to play better in our role and make up for his points otherwise.”
It also affords some of the bench players like Terry Rozier who grew up on Youngstown, Ohio, an opportunity to see more time and do so in front of family and friends.
“That’ll be cool,” Rozier told CSNNE.com recently. “But my main focus is to help this team win, score, rebound, cheer from the bench, I’m all about doing whatever it takes for us to have a chance to beat a really good Cavaliers team.”
And while the chances of Boston winning a game let alone this series remains slim, they are motivated in part by the beatdowns in Boston to at least go down swinging.
“It’s a great opportunity for us to go there and prove that we’re going to play hard no matter what,” said Boston’s Avery Bradley. “And give ourselves a chance to win.”

WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

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WATCH: Boston Celtics at New Orleans Pelicans

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Pelicans in New Orleans. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 5:30  p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

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Celtics-Pelicans preview: Can C's slow down Anthony Davis?

As the NBA trade deadline drew near, Celtics Nation was hoping tonight’s matchup between Boston and New Orleans would be Anthony Davis returning to where his pro career began.

He’s still with the Pelicans, doing what Davis has done for most of his career – dominate play.

But there’s a new twist now … he’s also winning. 

That’s why the 6-foot-10 Davis is no longer seen as a player that might be on the move anytime soon. 

He’s not just one of the league’s best players, but a bonafide MVP candidate whose stock as an elite player is even greater since New Orleans lost DeMarcus Cousins (ruptured Achilles tendon) for the season on Jan. 26. 

Since Cousins’ season-ending injury, New Orleans (39-30) has a 12-9 record with Davis averaging 31.1 points, 12.8 rebounds, 3.2 blocks and 2.3 steals per game in that span. 

Davis is also averaging 7.8 free throws per game which ranks fourth in the NBA, although you wouldn’t know he was among the league leaders in that category based on the postgame rant by his coach Alvin Gentry following New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday night. 

“A.D. (Anthony Davis) never gets a call,” a visibly angry Gentry told reporters following the loss. “He never gets a call. We talk about them holding him. We talk about them grabbing him on rolls. We talk about them coming under him on post-ups. He never gets a call; not one. And you know why? Because he doesn’t (bleep) complain about it. He just keeps playing the game.”

Regardless of how often he gets to the line, Davis is still putting up MVP-caliber numbers this season in Cousins’ absence. 

But it’s not like Davis’ stat line this season overall – 28.0 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 2.4 blocks and 1.5 steals – didn’t stand out for all the right reasons, either.

However, Davis’ shine isn’t quite as bright now with the Pelicans losing four of their last five games which has dropped New Orleans (39-30) down to the eighth and final playoff spot and just 1.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers (37-31).

So, the Celtics come into town facing not only one of the better teams in the West, but a club that is absolutely starving for a win.

While Boston (47-22) certainly wants to come into the Big Easy and get a victory, its impact on the Celtics’ playoff hopes is non-existent. 

Boston has the second-best record in the East and trail Toronto (52-17) by five games with 13 remaining. They face the Raptors two more times this season, but even if they win both of those games and thus the head-to-head series, it likely won’t come into play because of Toronto likely finishing with the best record in the East. 

And behind Boston in the standings is Cleveland (40-29), another injury-riddled team that’s seven games behind the Celtics in the standing and has shown no signs of threatening to gain ground on Boston. 

So regardless of how the Celtics fare, it’s likely they will remain sandwiched between Toronto and Cleveland in terms of playoff seedings are concerned. 

And that might factor into who plays – and who doesn’t – for Boston in these final few games of the regular season. 

Boston’s Daniel Theis suffered a season-ending torn meniscus injury in his left knee, and Marcus Smart’s right thumb injury will keep him out for the rest of the regular season with the earliest he might be back being the latter stages of the first round of the playoffs, or sometime during the second round if the Celtics advance that far. 

Boston must also make sure Kyrie Irving and his sore left knee, are good to go for the playoffs. In addition, the Celtics must work Jaylen Brown back into the fold after he suffered a concussion that has kept him out of Boston’s last three games. 

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made a point of not allowing himself or his players to use their injury situation as an excuse for not playing good basketball. 

But he knows good basketball for his injury-riddled roster, involves players elevating their play.

“We’re going to be in the process of really looking at ourselves and redistributing responsibility on our team without guys going outside of what they do best,” Stevens said, adding, “We’re going to have to figure out how to play our best basketball.”