Five under-the-radar storylines for Celtics-Hornets
BOSTON -- From the very outset, Celtics coach Brad Stevens has embraced the idea that he would have a starting five by committee, one that could fluctuate based upon certain matchups. But as much as fluidity exists within his starting group, Stevens also sought a certain amount of stability from his bench.
And that stability has a name: Terry Rozier.
The third-year guard is one of five Celtics (Aron Baynes, Jaylen Brown, Kyrie Irving and Jayson Tatum are the others) to appear in all 12 games this season, but the only one of the group without a single start to his name.
Like any player in the NBA, Rozier would love to be with the first unit. But he understands that for the Celtics to be successful, he needs to be a steadying force off the bench who can provide defense, playmaking and maybe most important, a consistent scoring punch. He's posting career highs in just about every statistical category. In addition to averaging a career-high 9.4 points per game, he’s also putting up career-best numbers in rebounding (5.2), assists (2.3), steals (1.25) and minutes played (24.2).
But of all the areas in which he has to impact the game for Boston to be successful, scoring stands out. Boston averages 103.8 points per game this season, which ranks 21st in the NBA.
“I know I need to score the ball more,” Rozier told NBC Sports Boston. “I’m just so worried about having the same effort every night, try to be consistent. I know things will pick up for me; got a long season ahead, lots of ups and downs. I’m just trying to stay consistent and bring a lot to this team.”
Here are five under-the-radar story lines heading into tonight’s game against the Charlotte Hornets where the Celtics will look to extend their league-best winning streak to 11 straight.
It’s not a matter of if, but who will be the rookie(s) that steps up to contribute for the Celtics tonight. Normally you can count on Jayson Tatum being at least one of the first-year players to do a decent jobs. But he’s questionable to play tonight due to soreness in his right ankle, an injury suffered in Boston’s 107-96 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday. X-rays and an MRI test both came back negative, but if Tatum can’t go, look for first-year players Daniel Theis or Semi Ojeleye to get first crack among the rookies to play a meaningful role. Abdel Nader and Guerschon Yabusele are two other possible options who might see some spot duty tonight as well.
THE UNDERCARD: BAYNES VS. HOWARD
Aron Baynes and Dwight Howard got into a little tussle in the preseason, so no one should be surprised if these two get after each other tonight. Baynes is coming off a 21-point, 8-rebound performance in Boston’s win over the Lakers, a season-high scoring total for the veteran center. In a five-point loss to New York on Tuesday, Howard had an almost-identical stat line with 21 points and 9 rebounds. The winner of this head-to-head matchup will go far in helping their respective team come away with a victory.
ACTIVATE BACKUP POWER
With all the injuries and uncertainties about who will be available tonight for the Celts, it becomes imperative that they get good production from their bench. That doesn’t mean they need a bunch of guys to score a bunch of points. What it does mean is that whoever gets in the game needs to do what this second unit has been doing all season which is deliver a first-rate performance and give this team a shot at success. Terry Rozier (9.4 points per game) has been their best scorer off the bench, but don’t be surprised if Marcus Smart or Shane Larkin plays a major role in tonight’s outcome, either.
THE MAIN EVENT: IRVING VS. WALKER
Kyrie Irving hasn't faced too many elite point guards so far this season, which makes tonight’s game against Kemba Walker and Charlotte Hornets a must-see matchup to pay attention to. Irving leads the Celtics with 22.0 points and 5.7 assists per game while Walker is doing essentially the same for Charlotte with a team-highs in scoring (21.8 points) and assists (6.2).
SCORING ON THE RISE
Boston still has the stingiest defense in the NBA, giving up a league-low 95.6 points allowed per 100 possessions this season. And it seems the offense is starting to catch up. In the first six games of the season, the Celtics only surpassed the 100-point mark three times and averaged 100.5 points, which ranked 21st in the NBA. However, the C's have scored at least 101 points in their last six games and that span have averaged 107.2 points per game, which ranked 16th in the league. You won’t get Boston’s offensive output confused with Golden State or anything like that. But its offense is trending in the right direction.