The absence of Isaiah Thomas was certainly apparent in the way the Boston Celtics played against the Brooklyn Nets, making the whole next-man-up mindset a lot tougher to execute.
But to fill the void left by Thomas and his 29-plus points per game, it would take a village of Celtics to lead them to victory – even against the Brooklyn Nets.
“We’ve done it before,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We do it for 12 to 14 minutes every game, so … I didn’t think we played great tonight on that end of the floor but I thought we were really good on the defensive end early and when our defense let down our offense got a lot better.”
Jae Crowder led the scoring barrage for the Celtics, but it was the play of several Boston scorers that was just enough for the Celtics to escape with a 98-95 win over the Nets.
Avery Bradley and Al Horford carried Boston offensively in the first half while Crowder delivered in the second.
In between, Boston got solid bench contributions from Gerald Green and Kelly Olynyk who had 11 and nine points, respectively. Also, Tyler Zeller played seven major minutes in slowing down Brook Lopez who was a major problem for the Celtics in the third quarter.
But the key to this win was the way a number of Celtics players who stepped up their game offensively in the absence of Thomas.
“Isaiah does so much for us on the offensive end,” Boston’s Al Horford told reporters afterwards. “Tonight, we had to find ways. I felt like Jae Crowder answered the call, and different guys, Gerald Green, Avery Bradley, different guys stepped up at different times and we got it done by committee.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.
Easily the biggest difference-maker for the Boston Celtics. Crowder did his part in filling the void left by Isaiah Thomas (knee) who was out, finishing with season highs in scoring (24 points) and rebounding (12 rebounds).
His encouragement on the sideline in between time-outs and leadership down the stretch were huge for the Celtics in a game that was a lot tougher to win than expected. He had 14 points, eight rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
He has been among the better scoring centers in the NBA the past couple of years, and he’s added a 3-point shot which makes him an even tougher cover for defenses. He led the Nets with 23 points along with five rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots.
This wasn’t his first time filling in as a starter, and it won’t be his last. He didn’t’ shoot the ball particularly well (3-for-12), but made some clutch free throws in the fourth quarter before finishing with 12 points along with five rebounds and three steals.
The former Harvard standout had an efficient night for the Nets, scoring 10 points on 3-for-6 shooting with seven rebounds, six assists and a blocked shot.
Arguably the biggest difference-maker besides Crowder, Green came up with 11 huge points for the Celtics on 4-for-8 shooting in addition to making a couple of nice plays defensively.
It was one of those nights that you come to expect from time to time from the rookie. He never got into any kind of flow or rhythm, missing his both of his shot attempts while grabbing just two rebounds. Most telling stat about Brown? The Celtics were -13 when he was on the floor against the Nets, the worst plus/minus of any player for Boston.