Celtics

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

Celtics' bounce-back ability put to the test

BOSTON – When it comes to bouncing back from defeat, the Celtics don’t have a ton of experience with that this season.
 
As impressive as their 16-game winning streak was, a truer sense of where this team is at lies in how they respond.

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Their first chance to bounce back comes tonight against the Orlando Magic (8-10) who will put Boston’s team cohesion to the test.
 
With so many new players to the roster this season, it has been somewhat surprising how well players have come together. It was instrumental to Boston’s winning streak, which was the fourth-longest in franchise history.
 
“It’s two things,” said Al Horford. “A lot of credit to coach [Brad Stevens], really setting the emphasis on the things that he expects from our group. And then credit to our younger guys and our guys in general, to pick up those concepts and play for each other out there on the defensive end. That’s what we try to do every night.”
 
When you talk about Boston’s young players, it begins with the rapid improvement of second-year wing Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum.
 
“I just think that they’re starting to see, to understand the game more especially on the offensive end,” Horford said. “I think they’re starting to identify reads. It’s a process. They’re going to keep learning; it’s a long season. But that’s the one thing, from the beginning of the season until now, I feel like they have the ability to read plays and make plays for themselves and others.”
 
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game at TD Garden: 
 


STREAKING MAGIC
The Magic are on a bit of a streak, but not the kind any team would like to have. They come in having lost six in a row. The Magic have struggled to knock down 3-point shots and rebound in that span. They're ranked among the league’s bottom 10 in both categories.
 

THE PAINT GAME
Boston has had its problems scoring in the paint this season, averaging 38.5 points, which ranks 27th in the NBA. But that might change tonight against a Magic team that has been among the worst limiting points in the paint all season. Scratch that. They are the worst, giving up a league-high 51.0 points in the paint this season.
 

WICKED TOUGH SCHEDULE
Boston’s 16-game winning streak was impressive, especially when you consider their schedule which included their past eight games being played in a 16-night stretch with a game every other day. It’s not so much the challenge of so many games close together, but the inability to have any time to practice. “For a young team like ours, practice is really important,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston earlier this season. “But the schedule is what it is. You play every game as best you can, practice when you can practice and go from there.”
 

BACKUP POWER LOW
The Celtics got 34 points from their bench in Wednesday’s loss at Miami, an improvement over what the second unit has been able to deliver most of this season. They come into tonight’s game ranked dead-last in the NBA in shooting (33.5 percent) and next-to-last in 3-point shooting (27.7 percent). Scoring-wise, they average 28.6 points, which ranks 24th in the league, but log an average of 18.8 minutes which ranks 14th in the NBA. So why do they get major minutes? Because more often than not, they find a way to come out ahead of their second unit brethren. For the season, Boston’s bench has a plus/minus of +1.6 which ranks eighth in the league.
 

REBOUND SUCCESS
One of the biggest concerns for the Celtics coming into this season was rebounding. So far, so good. The Celtics average 47.2 rebounds per game, which ranks fourth in the NBA. To put that in perspective, if Boston maintains that average, it would be the franchise’s highest rebounding average in 40 years (49.8, 1977-78).
 
 
 

Kyrie's injury doesn't appear to be long-term, Morris' knee another story

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Kyrie's injury doesn't appear to be long-term, Morris' knee another story

The quad injury that will keep Kyrie Irving off the floor tonight against Chicago doesn’t appear to be a long-term issue.

The knee bruise that had Al Horford’s availability in question - NBC Sports Boston's Abby Chin says he will play tonight - isn’t a serious thing, either.

But it’s unclear just how big a deal Marcus Morris’ left knee issue is going forward.

Prior to Sunday’s 91-81 win at Detroit, the Pistons announced that Morris would miss that game as well as tonight’s matchup against Chicago.

A Yahoo Sports! report said that Morris will miss “extended time” due to the left knee injury that has resulted in him missing 13 games which includes tonight’s game.

“Just like I said the other day, when we found out that he wasn’t feeling as good, we decided that he wasn’t going to play in these two games, we’ll re-evaluate it tomorrow with our docs,” Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters prior to tonight’s game against Chicago. “That meeting has already been scheduled.”

Morris missed the first eight games of the season to give the left knee soreness a chance to heal and not be as sore. The Celtics began him with a minutes restriction, and increased his playing time gradually while not allowing him to play in back-to-back games.

And this latest flare-up comes at a time when Morris seemed to find a groove at both ends of the floor while providing Boston with some much-needed offensive punch off the bench.

“He played so well against Philly and Phoenix … I thought he looked really good,” Stevens said. “Played that Monday against Milwaukee and then missed the Dallas game, it’s just been kind of going back and forth. And it’s what we said from the get-go, we didn’t want that to happen. But we’ve got to figure it out for him so that he feels great.”

The Chicago Bulls will be short-handed as well tonight.

In addition to Zach LaVine (left ACL) and Cameron Payne (right foot), Chicago will also be without rookie Lauri Markkanen (back spasms) who is averaging 14.3 points and 7.9 rebounds which ranks fifth and second, respectively, among rookies this season.

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Irving out, Horford questionable for C's vs Bulls

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Irving out, Horford questionable for C's vs Bulls

We have seen the Boston Celtics reach deep into their bench this season, but nothing like what we’ll see tonight against the Chicago Bulls.

Along with Gordon Hayward (left ankle fracture) who is out for the season and Marcus Morris (left knee rehabilitation) who was ruled out for tonight’s game prior to last night’s win at Detroit, the Celtics will be without at least one of their two remaining all-star players.

Kyrie Irving has been ruled out due to a left quad contusion. And Al Horford, who briefly went to the Celtics’ locker room after a knee-to-knee collision with Pistons forward Anthony Tolliver, is question for tonight’s game with a right knee contusion.

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Horford was able to return to the Celtics’ lineup following the knee-on-knee blow, finishing with a near double-double of 18 points and nine rebounds to go with six assists.

If both Irving and Horford are unable to go, that leaves Boston void of its best scorer (Irving) and most complete player (Horford).

You have to wonder in the case of Horford, whether tonight’s opponent may factor in the decision to sit him or not.

Chicago (5-20) has the worst record in the NBA this season. And while the Celtics respect all opponents, if they are going to give guys some “strategic rest” in season, this would qualify as one of those nights considering the opponent in addition to knowing there won’t be any practice or a game tomorrow (the Celtics, like most teams, take the day off when they play back-to-back games).

We know Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and most likely Aron Baynes will be in the starting lineup. Beyond that, you're probably looking at Marcus Smart or Terry Rozier filling in for Irving, while Horford’s possible replacement will likely be from the trio of Daniel Theis, Semi Ojeleye or potentially Guerschon Yabusele.

Smart (four starts, 3-1 record) and Theis (two starts, 2-0 record) are the only ones from that group to have been in the starting lineup this season. 

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