Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Against Magic, C's do what they're supposed to

Beating one of the few teams already eliminated from the playoff race is in itself not that big a deal.

It’s called doing what you’re supposed to do.

But for these Celtics, their 92-83 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday night was more than just another victory.

It was the latest installment in a season filled with teachable moments and lessons that can bolster in some fashion their chances at a deep playoff run.

While there’s no way they’re going to go far without their core guys Kyrie Irving, Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, getting guys to fill in for them and still manage to win, is important in this team’s overall development in both the present and future.

No one on the Celtics’ roster can score like Irving, the league’s 11th-ranked scorer at 24.4 points per game.

Still, getting his fill-ins Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin to go for 17 and 10 points certainly helps.

And Jaylen Brown’s ability to play both ends of the floor at a high level is huge, but rookie Abdel Nader has shown he too has some potential to be a solid two-way talent.

Smart’s defense sets him apart from others, but the Celtics collectively were able to make up for that with an impressive defensive rating of 83.1 against the Orlando.

And their collective efforts serve as yet another teachable moment for the Celtics.

Here are five takeaways from a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score might lead one to believe: 

There may not be another Celtic whose stock has risen more than Terry Rozier’s this season. He has become a reliable two-way talent off the bench whose capable of giving you starter-like production when needed. He had 17 points against the Magic along with seven rebounds and five assists.

With Marcus Smart (right thumb) out for the rest of the regular season, Terry Rozier in the starting lineup along with Marcus Morris, those are three really big chunks of Boston’s second unit no longer coming off the bench. The second unit players might have been different, but that didn’t affect the Celtics’ bench from impacting the game in a significant way. Against the Magic, they outscored Orlando’s backups, 39-28. 

He signed with the Boston Celtics at a time when a role for him was far from defined. His patience and Boston’s faith in him has paid for both as Larkin continues to be that utility player that Brad Stevens has leaned on at times. Larkin was solid off the bench, scoring 10 points.

This may be one of the closest Coach of the Year votes we have ever had in the NBA. Regardless how short the list may be, you can bet Brad Stevens will be on it. The way he has been positioning the Celtics to be among the last teams standing despite all the injuries they have endured this season, speaks to his ability to not just draw up X's and O’s but also his ability to develop players who when called upon to play, are more than ready for the challenge.

It’s fair to expect the Celtics are going to be short-handed for the rest of the season, which means those still around have to step their game up – Horford included.

For Horford, stepping up involves being more assertive as a scorer and not rely as much on his skills as a play-maker. We saw that from Horford on Friday, as he tallied a near double-double of 15 points and nine rebounds but more important, he took a game-high 18 shot attempts.


Even more expected now from Tatum

Even more expected now from Tatum

For most rookies, that first year in the NBA is one filled with lots of learning. From that standpoint, Jayson Tatum is not all that unusual.

Still, with injuries up and down the Celtics roster, Tatum, now 20, will be looked upon to provide more than what we saw this season.

And what we’ve seen this season is pretty good.

Going forward, with players in and out of the lineup because of injuries or just rest, Tatum’s impact has to continue to expand.

We saw an aggressive Tatum at both ends of the floor in the 125-124 double-overtime loss to Washington and the Celtics will need him to bring a similar attack-mode mentality to the floor tonight against Orlando.

There’s no way to look past his missed free throw at the end of the first OT or his 3-pointer at the end of the second OT that hit the back of the rim and clanged out. 

Between all that, Tatum was getting to the rim whether on a straight-line drive or a spin move along the baseline for a dunk.

It was the kind of performance that, minus the missed free throw, was the kind of game Boston wanted and going forward, will need from the rookie who for most of this season did not play like a first-year player.

When the season began, Tatum talked about trying to fit in and feel out his teammates to see what he can do to help the team be successful.

With most of the guys he tends to play off of (Kyrie Irving, Al Horford, Marcus Smart) dealing with illnesses or injuries, more will be expected of the rookie. 

And whether he’s on the court or not, rest assured Irving will continue to remind Tatum of just how important it is for him to play with a heightened level of aggressiveness.

“I’m here to remind him of that throughout the game, throughout the season,” Irving said. “Just take advantage of the opportunities he’s afforded out there offensively. He can make a huge impact. He’s aware of that. As a developing young player, the best thing he can do is continue to learn how to be consistent. That’s a trait you have to develop over time. I think he’s doing a great job of learning on the fly.”

Here are five other below-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on tonight as the Celtics look to be back on a winning track at Orlando:

This has been arguably the best season the Celtics have had under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens and a big part of that has been the team’s ability to win on the road. Boston comes in with a 23-9 road record, which is tops in the East and trails only Houston (27-8) and Golden State (25-9) in the NBA.

Boston has been a different team shooting the ball since the All-Star break, with only three teams (Golden State, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Denver Nuggets) shooting better from the break than the Celtics who have connected on 48.7 percent of their shots from the field. And they face an Orlando team that has struggled in several areas since the break, especially defensively. Opponents are shooting 48.1 percent against the Magic since the break, which ranks 24th in the NBA in field goal percentage defense.

The book is still out on Orlando Magic rookie Jonathan Isaac, selected with the sixth overall pick in last June. Injuries have limited him to just 23 games this season. And as it turns out, injuries have led to Orlando inserting him in the starting lineup the past four games. For the season he has averaged 4.8 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.

Injuries have forced the Celtics to play a scrappier brand of basketball. And the upside to that has been noticeably improved play when it comes to creating second-chance scoring opportunities. In fact, Boston is tops in the NBA this month, averaging a league-best 16.8 second-chance points per game.

Al Horford is often criticized for not scoring more points. But that has certainly not been the case this season after Horford has missed a game or two. The first game back from an illness or injury has seemingly brought out the best in Horford as a scorer. In those initial games back to the floor (he has had four of them this year), Horford has averaged 17.5 points while shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 58.3 percent (7-for-12) from 3-point range.


Irving, Horford, Smart all out tonight vs. Wizards

File photo

Irving, Horford, Smart all out tonight vs. Wizards

BOSTON -- Tonight's injury list for the Celtics is out, and it's not good . . . 

This will create opportunities for other players. Like, for instance, Semi Ojeleye.

Ojeleye has been a strong, physical guy for as long as he’s played the game of basketball. So as he got older and become more perimeter-oriented, he never strayed too far from having a certain amount of comfort around the rim.

That familiarity is likely to come in handy in these final weeks of the season as the Celtics try to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation heading into the playoffs.

Injuries have been part of the Celtics’ entire season, but the team’s current injury list looks more like their starting five plus a key rotation player or two.

Gordon Hayward (dislocated left ankle) has been out all season minus the first five minutes of the season opener. Joining him on the injured list are Daniel Theis (left meniscus tear), who is also out for the season. Marcus Smart (right thumb sprain) is expected to miss significant time.

And then there’s Kyrie Irving, whose left knee soreness will likely keep him out for a few games as well (including tonight's). 

Those injuries will afford backups a chance to play meaningful minutes; players like Ojeleye who will get some of the minutes that went to Theis.

He’s excited about the opportunity, the kind of opportunity rookies taken in the second round of the NBA draft seldom get.

But under Brad Stevens, the all-too common coaching mantra of “always stay ready” isn’t just lip service.

“[Stevens] might call you in to play in the fourth quarter after you haven’t played all game,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “So you have to stay ready because you really never know when your number is going to be called.”

That said, every player on this roster is aware that at some point, an opportunity to play will present itself, which makes it easier to put in those long hours in the gym or in the weight room with an opportunity being a when and not an if, proposition.

“It gives you confidence that he trusts guys to go in there, and help us win,” Ojeleye said.