Celtics

Bean: With Warriors on tap, I finally miss Gordon Hayward

Bean: With Warriors on tap, I finally miss Gordon Hayward

Kyrie. KD. Steph. Goatford. Draymond. President Jaylen. 2018 NBA Finals MVP Jayson Tatum. So many stars will play Thursday night. 

Yet I’m thinking about Gordon Hayward. For the first time since the shock of his disgusting ankle injury wore off, I’m actually pissed the Celtics don’t have him. 

This, of course, is all about the Warriors game. Thursday night matches the best team in the East against the best team in the, well, world. Both teams will be on lengthy win streaks, and it will be impossible to pick who should be gunning for whom more: the hottest team in the league trying to beat the defending champions or the defending champions trying to shut up the NBA’s hot new thing. Either way, it doesn’t quite feel the same without the Celtics being able to throw absolutely everything they have at Golden State. 

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If that sounds like an excuse, it is. The Warriors didn’t cry about not having Kevin Durant when the Celtics beat them last year because the Warriors are the better team. Durant not being there was part of what made the game winnable for the Celtics. 

But if Golden State ekes out a 101-96 win Thursday night at the Garden? You bet your bippy I’ll be whining about Hayward. So should you. In fact, call up one of the radio shows and join the discussion about how sick the Celtics are going to be next year once they *do* have Hayward, because that conversation will for sure be happening. Adding a scorer who averages 20 points a night to a team that shows it can maybe hang with Golden State? Gahdamn. 

Make no mistake: The magic of this team has in large part been a direct result of Hayward’s absence. Tatum has been a starter and a terrific one at that. Kyrie has had to take over games late by himself. Maybe the latter still happens with Hayward on the floor, but the former certainly doesn’t, and next season’s team will be better for it. 

The immediate returns on Tatum, who would be coming off the bench if Hayward wasn’t lost for the season, have been terrific. The extent of his offensive growing pains have been minimal — really, it’s him not finishing as well at the rim as he probably will. Other than that? Stud city: 14 points a night, 50 percent from the field and 49 percent on threes. Also, dope at rebounding. God, Jayson Tatum rules. 

So, in the weirdest way, the argument could be made that Hayward’s absence has actually made the Celtics more exciting given that such production is coming from a 19-year-old. Yet nobody should mistake an outstanding start to the season as an indication that the Celtics are that much better than we thought they’d be. 

Their path is probably the same as it was: They’ll probably be the No. 1 seed in the East due to Cleveland’s various issues, they’ll reach the Eastern Conference finals and maybe even win. They won’t beat the Warriors in a seven-game series, just like they weren’t going to even if they had Hayward. 

But in a regular-season meeting in mid-November? Thursday will test just how good the NBA’s hottest team actually is. It should be a great game as is. But for a team that has found a way for every night for over a month now, the task of facing the league’s best might finally require Hayward, the player a lot of Celtics fans might not realize how much they miss. 

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

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Celtics bench needs to keep improving

When you look at the Boston Celtics’ bench, you’re not going to find many (any?) players who are consistent shot-makers.

But defensively, in this small-ball era we live in, the potential for Boston’s second unit to put the clamps on teams defensively is apparent.

We saw that in Boston’s 102-93 win over Memphis in the fourth quarter when the Celtics opened with a 16-0 run that put them ahead for good.

During the run, the Celtics forced four turnovers along with creating seven straight misses by the Grizzlies to start the quarter.

“Shane (Larkin) and Terry (Rozier) did a great job on the ball,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “We had to change some coverages because of (Marc) Gasol. And then just kind of stayed with it.”

The Grizzlies wound up shooting 33.3 percent (6-for-18) in the fourth quarter which was heavily impacted by Boston's fourth quarter defensive rating being an impressive 90.1.

And while the play of starters Jayson Tatum (19 points, seven in the fourth quarter), Kyrie Irving (team-high 20 points) and Al Horford (15 points, seven rebounds, six assists) was key to the victory, the second unit’s play defensively to start the fourth was ultimately what paved the way for Boston to improve its East-leading record to 25-7.

In a interview with NBC Sports Boston prior to Saturday’s game, Rozier discussed the need for the bench to step up in every aspect of the game.

“When the starters are doing good, we have to keep it going and when they struggle a little bit, we have change the game up, get the momentum back on our side,” said Rozier who in addition to playing good defense on Saturday, also had 10 points and four rebounds.

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis on Saturday.

FAST START

This was one of the more dominant starts to a game we’ve seen from the Celtics all season. They had 31 points in the first quarter, which was one of the higher scoring starts for them this season. But more telling was that they allowed just 12 points, the fewest given up by the Celtics in the first quarter of play this season.

TERRY ROZIER/MARCUS SMART TANDEM

 When it comes to the Boston’s bench being effective, Rozier and Smart are often the barometers for that success. They had their ups and downs against Memphis, but really locked in at both ends of the floor in the second half. And maybe most significant, they provided some much-needed bench scoring as they combined for 21 of Boston’s 26 points off the bench.

JAYSON TATUM

Like the Boston Celtics, back-to-back bad games doesn’t seem to be part of his DNA. Against the Grizzlies, he had 19 points – seven of which in the fourth quarter – which was a major improvement upon the seven points he scored against Utah on Friday while missing five of his six shot attempts.

MARC GASOL

This has been a horrible, injury-riddled season for the Memphis Grizzlies. And while Marc Gasol doesn’t dominate games as consistently as he did a couple years ago, he’s still an extremely talented big man who would plenty of potential suitors if the Grizzlies ever felt inclined to put him on the trading block which is not the case currently. The Celtics had major problems limiting him on Saturday before Gasol finished with a double-double of 30 points and 10 rebounds.

CELTICS DOMINATE THE WEST

Beating the Grizzlies in itself isn’t all that impressive. But it continues what has been a season-long trend for the Celtics in being able to beat on teams from the Western Conference. This season, Boston has a 10-2 record against the West. And Boston’s .833 winning percentage against Western Conference foes is tops among Eastern Conference teams.

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Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

Increased usage of starters helps fuel Celtics victory over Grizzlies

The Boston Celtics got the win over Memphis, with the team’s second unit chipping in for the victory.

But they still have too many offensive lulls, something head coach Brad Stevens recognizes and to his credit, is continuing to search for ways to address appropriately.

We’ve seen him utilize a starter playing with the backups.

But in Saturday’s 102-93 win at Memphis, Stevens elected to play a pair of starters with the second unit for longer stretches which on this night at least, helped them get the victory to extend their East-leading record to 25-7.

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In fact, Boston had at least two starters on the floor in the fourth quarter for all but the final 28.4 seconds of play.

“It’s one of those things, it’s probably going to go back and forth,” Stevens said. “Based on who’s available.”

A key missing part of the Celtics’ bench rotation is Marcus Morris who continues with rehab on his sore left knee.

Morris, who did not make the trip with the team, is out indefinitely although the Celtics maintain that he’s close to resuming action.

Stevens was asked about his use of Jayson Tatum and Al Horford together, with a trio of reserves.

“If Marcus Morris is here, maybe you don’t play either of them with that group,” Stevens said.

Morris has appeared in 16 games (nine starts) for the Celtics this season, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game.

Indeed, bench production has been an issue for the Boston Celtics all season.

According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics bench came into tonight’s game averaging 30.5 points per game which ranked 23rd in the NBA. However, Boston’s defense has limited second units to 32.6 points per game which ranks 8th in the league.

Against the Grizzlies, Boston only had three players off the bench score (Marcus Smart, Terry Rozier and Daniel Theis) who combined for 26 points.

But as limited as they were scoring the ball, Memphis was even worse with a second unit scoring total of just 15 points.

Of course, rotations are a season-long, always-evolving process that is dependent heavily on not just who is available, but how those who are available to play are performing.

The Celtics’ second unit has had their moments this season, but by and large the team’s success has been heavily fueled by the play of the starters.

Stevens has made it clear, he’ll continue to find ways for those guys to be put in the best positions to succeed individually as well as for the Celtics.

And as long as Morris remains out, you can expect Stevens will continue to find ways to fill that void with increased usage from his starters.

“As long as Marcus Morris isn’t playing,” Stevens said, “We need to be alert to that and guys are going to have to play different rotations.”

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