Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston will keep looking to next man up

Celtics-Hornets preview: Boston will keep looking to next man up

BOSTON -- When Gordon Hayward (ankle) went down, it took the Boston Celtics (10-2) about 24 hours to get from under the storm clouds of disappointment, and see his absence for what it was -- an opportunity for others to step up. 

That next-man-up mantra has become the identity of this team, a team that comes into tonight’s game against the Charlotte Hornets having won 10 straight which has them sitting atop the NBA standings. 

Their advancement in the face of adversity has been the talk of the NBA this season, and could be potentially be put to the test once again tonight against the Hornets. 

Jayson Tatum suffered a right ankle injury in the first half of Boston’s 107-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. X-Rays that night came back negative. Ditto for the MRI test Tatum had taken on Thursday. 


Still, his status for tonight’s game is questionable. 

But one thing that’s not up for debate is the resiliency that this Celtics team has shown all season. 

So the idea that they might be short a starter, doesn’t faze them . .. at all. 

“Everybody has been stepping up,” Terry Rozier III told NBC Sports Boston. “I feel like everybody has been ready and everybody has been holding each other accountable to be ready. From the coaches on down, everybody just buying in.”

They have played all but the first five minutes of the season without Hayward.

Marcus Morris (left ankle) missed the first eight games, and still hasn’t been given the green light to play in back-to-back games even with minutes restrictions still in place.

Al Horford is in the NBA’s concussion protocol program following a blow to the head in Boston’s 110-107 win at Atlanta earlier this week. He has already been ruled out for tonight’s game, with his return still up in the air.

“I don’t think this is as bad as the concussion he had last year,” Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show, on Thursday. “But listen, with a concussion you have to be really cautious. The symptoms got a little worse over the course of a couple days.”

Charlotte (5-6) has had an up-and-down start to the season in part because the Hornets have had their own injury-related issues and off-the-floor personal matters to deal with. 

However, things are starting to turn up for the Hornets who are expected to welcome Michael Kidd-Gilchrist back to the lineup tonight. He had missed the Hornets’ last three games reportedly with an “excused personal absence.”

Although he’s not expected to play tonight, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum is also near a return to action after tearing a ligament in his left elbow on Oct. 4. 

In their absence, the Hornets have leaned on former UConn guard Jeremy Lamb as well as a pair of rookies in Malik Monk and Dwayne Bacon. 

While Clifford likes a lot of what the young players have done thus far, he’s looking forward to having veteran core guys around so that all of them, the young and more experienced players, can settle into the roles required for success.

“We’ve got to get to our (planned playing) groups; we’re 11 games in,” Clifford told the Charlotte Observer. “It will take some time. But when they get back, they’re going to start.”

The same is true for Boston’s veteran players, although head coach Brad Stevens has repeatedly said that there will be a certain amount of fluidity to his starting lineup based upon matchups. 

“I’ve gone into every season thinking that’s a reasonable thing to do,” Stevens said. 


WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks


WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

Tune into NBC Sports Boston to watch the Celtics play the Mavericks in Dallas. You can also click here to watch the Celtics livestream presented by Nissan on the NBC Sports App. Coverage begins at 7:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live Presented by ACE Ticket.

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.


He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”