Celtics

Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

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Celtics-Hornets preview: Trying to build chemistry while staying healthy

BOSTON – When it comes to the preseason, teams play with three goals in mind.

Stay healthy, get better as they inch towards the opener and if possible, win games.

But if the basketball gods only give them one to choose from, it would be a unanimous vote for good health.

Tonight’s game between Boston and Charlotte features two teams that to varying degrees, have felt the sting of the preseason injury bug.

Boston’s Aron Baynes suffered a knee injury in Boston’s 113-96 win over Philadelphia that wouldn’t allow him to return in the second half. He is questionable for tonight’s game.

Meanwhile, Charlotte’s Nicolas Batum has an elbow injury that will keep him out for at least six weeks.

While coaches are sensitive to losing key players to injuries, there’s a clear understanding that there’s no time to dwell on what happened or who is not available. 

Despite the shortened preseason schedule, the Boston Celtics have a pretty good feel for how their rotation will play out when the regular season starts.

Based on the first three preseason games, the Big Three – Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Al Horford – will start, along with Jaylen Brown. The fifth starter is named Vanilla Ice.

In fact, don’t be surprised if you see Gordon Hayward or Kyrie Irving on the floor for the bulk of most games.

For that to happen, it means that both players will have to work on not only meshing their games with the starting group but also with key role players off the bench.

“You want to play the game the same,” Hayward said. “The personnel changes a little bit; you’re trying to help guys maximize their strengths. You have to be conscious of that when different guys come in, or when you’re with a different group, knowing what those guys like to do.”

KEY MATCHUP

Kyrie Irving vs Kemba Walker

The two All-Star guards have been going at each other for years, which tends to bring out the best in each player. While neither player is expected to see a ton of minutes, look for Walker to be a bit more aggressive scoring the ball with Nicolas Batum (elbow) out for at least another six weeks. 

KEY STORYLINE

 If Marcus Morris makes his debut for the Celtics tonight, will he be in the starting lineup? And if so, how long will he play?

"QUOTE, UNQUOTE"

 “He is without a doubt extremely competitive and extremely driven. He’s been like that from Day One. Even when you drafted him, you knew that … everybody says everybody is that, but he’s really driven and really competitive. So that’s been – that’s been his … I think he leads authentically that way.” – Celtics head coach Brad Stevens on Terry Rozier.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

Blakely's takeaways: C's put entire league on notice

BOSTON – You had to figure Golden State’s explosive offense would probably come up a little short scoring-wise against the Boston Celtics and their top-rated defense. 

But for them to score 88 points – that’s about 32 below their average – was very one of those, “where the hell did that come from?” moments. 

And it was exactly what the Celtics needed to escape with a 92-88 win that extended their winning streak to 14 in a row but maybe most important, put the entire league on notice that this streak they’re on right now … it’s real. 

“They wrote us off coming in, saying Golden State was gonna beat us, and do this and do that,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “We came out and played basketball. Even though we got down, the make-up of our team is staying in; we’re resilient.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s signature win of the season, 92-88 over Golden State which extended Boston’s winning streak to 14 straight. 

 

BROWN’S GROWTH

Jaylen Brown was playing with a heavy heart less than 24 hours after the death of his best friend. But as we’ve seen in this still-young season, Brown is very much one of the league’s emerging talents. He certainly played that role on Thursday in leading Boston with 22 points with seven rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots.  

 

TALE OF TWO HALVES FOR TATUM

There’s something about the second half of games against elite players that brings out the best in Jayson Tatum. When Boston opened the season at Cleveland, Tatum was noticeably better in the second half than the first. And in Thursday’s win over Golden State, it was more of the same. In the first half he had just two points only to finish with a 10-point second half (7 coming in the fourth) for a 12-point game on 2-for-5 shooting. 

 

AL HORFORD

As well as he’s played, a strong case can be made for Horford being a league MVP instead of their leading scorer, Kyrie Irving. Horford tallied a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds to go with a pair of assists. Horford now has six double-doubles this season which equals his double-double total from all of last season. 

 

MARCUS SMART

As much as you know Smart makes great effort plays consistently and does indeed make a difference when he’s on the court, his shooting woes are reaching critical mass even as Boston continues to gobble up wins. In the last five games, Smart has averaged 7.6 points. That’s not too bad, right? But then you look and see that he’s shooting 19.2 percent (10-for-52) in that span. Ouch! So far, the Celtics have been able to find success despite his shooting struggles. But you have to anticipate at some point it’ll catch up with them. 

 

SHORTENED ROTATION

For most of this season, pretty much everyone who suits up for the Celtics, have played. But against the Warriors, it had the feel of a playoff-like rotation with head coach Brad Stevens playing 10 guys with nine reaching double digits in minutes played. Considering how the second unit struggled to make shots (they missed 17 of their 19 shot attempts), it’s understandable why head coach Brad Stevens leaned a little heavier than usual on his second unit.