Celtics' timeshare at center yields good competition


Celtics' timeshare at center yields good competition

BOSTON -- A year ago this time, Amir Johnson was on the verge of unseating Tyler Zeller as the Boston Celtics’ starting center.
Could we be seeing a bit of role reversal now?
The two are once again sharing minutes at the center position with Johnson starting and Zeller serving as his backup, and while it is very small sample size, Zeller has been as good -- and in some cases better -- than Johnson thus far.
“It’s been fun,” Zeller said recently. “Our first group is very talented and fun to play with. I haven’t had a lot of time with them.”
When head coach Brad Stevens made the lineup change last season after three games, the Celtics had dropped two of their first three. But with this season’s team having won two of their first three games, there may be greater reluctance to make a change especially if the difference between Johnson and Zeller’s play isn’t as significant as it was last season.
Johnson has averaged 18.8 minutes compared to 16.3 for Zeller, although Zeller is averaging more points (7.0) than Johnson (5.0).
In addition to scoring, Zeller has shot the ball better from the field (58.8 percent compared to 50 percent for Johnson), averages more assists (1.7 compared to 1.3) and blocks (1.7 compared to 0.3) while both are averaging 4.3 rebounds per game.
But Johnson has the better defensive rating (98.5 compared to 105.3 for Zeller) in addition to allowing Boston to play with a higher Pace (102.85 compared to 98.53 with Zeller) which is pivotal to Boston being able to control the flow of games.
Johnson’s defense more than anything else is what makes him such a key part of Boston’s starting five. Because of his length, size and versatility, Johnson has the ability to serve as both a good individual defender as well as someone who can run the floor quickly to help prevent teams from scoring in transition.
Boston has the top-ranked defense in limiting fast-break points in which the Celtics are giving up a league-low 6.5 points per game. And Boston’s interior defense has been solid as well, giving up 40.0 points in the paint per game which is the seventh-lowest mark in the league.
But Zeller as a defender, while not as versatile as Johnson, isn’t too shabby either. According to NBA.com, the defensive differential on shooters guarded by Zeller is -7.8.
In other words, players shoot 7.8 percent less from the field when Zeller is defending compared to what they normally shoot overall. It becomes even more impressive when you consider Johnson has a defensive differential of -6.0.

Whether he's starting or coming off the bench, Zeller's approach to the game remains the same.
“I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help the team, and be ready when my number is called,” Zeller told CSNNE.com recently. “That’s all I can really do. And when I do get a chance to play, just make the most of the opportunity.”

Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas isn't ruling out return to Celtics

Isaiah Thomas back in green? Maybe there's a chance after all.

The former Celtics guard, now with the Lakers, started a Q&A session on Twitter and was asked whether he'd consider returning to Boston this offseason. This was his answer...

That's not a no.

Thomas has had a rough go of it since leaving the Celtics. His brief tenure in Cleveland didn't go according to plan, and things haven't gotten a whole lot better out in L.A. The 29-year-old is averaging 15.3 points per game just a year after averaging 28.9 with Boston.

Let the speculation begin.


Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Horford not making any excuses after C's rough outing vs Pelicans

Al Horford understands that there’s plenty of blame pie to go around following Boston’s 108-89 loss to New Orleans. 

Considering how Pelicans stud Anthony Davis dominated the game on so many levels Sunday night, Horford was quick to acknowledge his role in the loss. 

“He (Davis) was able to get behind our defense a lot,” Horford told reporters after the loss. “Some mistakes on my end; gotta give him credit. He dominated tonight. I’ll definitely take the blame for that.”

Davis finished with a double-double of 34 points and 11 rebounds, a total that would have been higher if not for the game being so lopsided which allowed Davis to head to the bench early in the fourth. 

MORE - Blakely's stars, studs, and duds from C's-Pelicans

And Horford’s struggles defensively were just as problematic on offense as the five-time All-Star tallied just six points on 3-for-11 shooting to go with four rebounds and three assists. 

Boston has been a team whose collective sums have fueled their success. 

But Horford understands he has to be a high impact performer, a job that’s even more vital when key starters like Kyrie Irving (left knee soreness) and Jaylen Brown (concussion) are out as well as top reserves Marcus Smart (right thumb) and Daniel Theis (torn meniscus). 

And by Horford’s own admission, he just didn’t bring it on Sunday at a level to give him and the Celtics a legit shot at winning the game.

“Defensively we had too many breakdowns,” Horford said. “And the game got away from us in the second half. So there’s no excuses. I didn’t give us a chance, either; missing a lot of looks offensively. I just need to be better.”

And he’ll have to be if Boston (47-23) is to get back on track with a win on Tuesday against a talented Oklahoma City squad led by Russell Westbrook, Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. 

At full strength, the Thunder would be a significant challenge for the Celtics. 

But having a roster with a number of key players out with injuries, it becomes even more imperative for Boston’s top players to elevate their play. 

And as you scan this Celtics roster and examine those who are healthy enough to play, it’s clear that Horford more than any other Boston player, has to find a way to become more impactful.

Certainly, more points and rebounds would help. 

But as we’ve seen time and time again with Horford, often his greatest contributions to winning games don’t necessarily show up in the final box score. 

That being said, a six-point, four-rebound game doesn’t cut it. 

Horford has to be better, something he knows better than anyone. 

“I’ll definitely look at the film and see how I can be better individually,” Horford said. “The good thing about the NBA, is we have a chance to play on Tuesday. Hopefully we’ll learn from this game and be ready to go Tuesday at home.”