Celtics

Celtics-Bucks preview: Baynes, Morris give C's flexibility with starting lineup

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Celtics-Bucks preview: Baynes, Morris give C's flexibility with starting lineup

BOSTON – One of the first questions Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is asked before every game involves his starting lineup.

That’s because for a team that has played with such consistency this season, the starting five has very much been a nightly game-time decision with head coach Brad Stevens having already used eight different starting lineups this season.

That trend will continue tonight as the Celtics (20-4) host the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that the Celtics have already played twice with each of the first two games featuring a different starting five for Boston.

Tonight’s game?

Make that three different starting lineups. 

With a healthy roster minus Gordon Hayward (ankle) who is out for the season, head coach Brad Stevens’ decision has often come down to Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris starting with the foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

Neither Baynes or Morris started in either of the first two games against the Bucks this season.

There are some Celtics fans who love the physical nature that 6-foot-10, 265-pound Baynes provides and want to see it with the first unit, which in many ways has helped Al Horford showcase his defensive versatility more than we saw last season. But there’s another segment of Boston’s fan base that loves the position-less basketball that the Celtics can play at an extremely high level with Morris, a 6-9 forward whose versatility at both ends of the floor has the makings of a potential mismatch in favor of the Celtics or could create one for another teammate.

No question, both players add value to the first unit.

And when you look at how the Celtics have fared with each in the starting lineup, it makes the decision on who to start even more of a toss-up.

They have been Boston’s two most popular lineups, with a starting five including Baynes posting a 9-1 record while the Celtics’ first unit with Morris in it has won six of their seven games this season.

Although both players have said they don’t give a ton of thought to starting or coming off the bench, there’s little doubt that Morris would much rather be with the first unit.

He was asked about starting recently and responded, “next question.”

When reminded of how special sixth men have been to the Celtics franchise historically, Morris with a grin said, “next question.”

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, there’s a certain amount of adapting he must do.

“Obviously, Kyrie’s our point guard. We play off of him,” Morris said. “The ball isn’t in my hands as much. I don’t have a problem with it. So, I adjust and try to spot up more and knock down open shots. And then when I get my chance with the second unit, I try to get my post-ups and stuff like that. “

When breaking down these two players and their impact on Boston’s starting five and winning, it really does feel like it comes down to which is more valuable at the start of games – better offense or better defense.

Because defensively, Boston has been appreciably better with Baynes who has a league-best 91.2 defensive rating. And the Celtics as a team have a defensive rating of 90.4 with Baynes, but that number balloons to 118.8 with Morris.

Morris has shot the ball better of late which comes at a time when the offense has shown clear growth. However, head coach Brad Stevens remains open-minded about which of the two will be in the starting lineup.  

“Starting or when they play doesn’t really matter,” Stevens said. “So, he’s still going to start when we feel like the matchups is … is right. And the good news is, is that you’re not as quick to pull him because of the … because of the minutes restriction as it’s been lifted or increased.”

Morris did not play in Boston’s first eight games of the season due to left knee soreness. Upon his return to the active roster, the Celtics have limited his minutes and restricted him from playing in back-to-back games.

But the past few games, there has been a slight bump in his minutes.

“You know, having 25-30 (minutes) is much different than 20-22 when you’re trying to manage a four-quarter game,” Stevens said. “So, you know, whether he starts, comes off the bench, that’s only six minutes of the game. So, it’s more important that we’re able to put our best foot forward against every opponent. And I like the fact that we have some flexibility; I mean, there are some teams you just can’t start big against, and some teams that it’s hard to start small against. So, it’s good that everybody is able to play well through that.”

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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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Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Stars, studs and duds: Tatum is not your average rookie

Win or lose, strong play or a night full of struggles, Jayson Tatum’s demeanor seldom changes for the Boston Celtics.

That alone makes him a rather unique rookie.

But then you see him play and have nights like the one he had against Memphis tonight, and you realize why this 19-year-old kid is so cool, calm and collected all the time.

There’s still a lot for him to learn about this league, but his talent, skill and feel for the game is uncanny . . . which against the Grizzlies, helped Boston pull away in the fourth quarter for a 102-93 win.

Tatum had a near double-double of 19 points and nine rebounds with seven points in the fourth, but a deeper dive is required to fully appreciate what he meant to the Celtics on Saturday and what his true value is for this team this season.

“I was trying to be in attack mode, get what the defense was giving me,” Tatum said. “Just trying to bounce back from (Friday’s 107-95 loss to Utah).”

His scoring, rebounding, defense and overall impact was as good as we’ve seen from him this season, a radically different showing than Friday night’s 7-point performance which included him missing six of his seven shot attempts.

“He does a great job of having short-term memory,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “Even in games, he might start a little slow and then he’ll pick it up. That’s a strength of his that’s very rare for a rookie. A lot of times, with rookies, when things don’t go their way, you can’t count on them. With him, it’s the opposite.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 102-93 win at Memphis.

 

STARS

Marc Gasol

The Grizzlies gave the Celtics all they could handle, and Gasol had a lot to do with it. He led all players with 30 points on 11-for-19 shooting.

Jayson Tatum

There were others who had more points than the 19-year-old, but Tatum was clutch when the Celtics really needed someone to step up. He finished with 19 points which included seven in the fourth quarter, along with grabbing nine rebounds to go with two blocks and two steals.

 

STUDS

Kyrie Irving

Once again, the Celtics’ scoring attack was led by Kyrie Irving who had a quiet 20 points on 7-for-17 shooting to go with six assists.

Al Horford

While his ability to facilitate remains a strength, Al Horford came up with some big shots in the second half as the Grizzlies tried to rally back into the game. He finished with 15 points, seven rebounds and six assists.

Daniel Theis

Playing with a broken nose and an off-the-shelf mask to protect it (he’ll get a fitted one soon), Theis had five points, three rebounds and two blocked shots in 14 minutes while playing good defense and providing some much-needed energy.

Tyreke Evans

The former rookie of the year has made an amazing transformation into a reliable 3-point shooter. That was just part of what was a really strong game from Tyreke Evans who had 25 points.  

 

DUDS

Celtics’ second-quarter play

For the second straight game, the Celtics were at their worst in the second quarter. Fortunately for them, it didn’t cost them the game as was the case on Friday night against Utah. The Celtics were fortunate to only be out-scored 28-17 which allowed them to maintain a 48-40 lead.

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