Celtics

'Next man up' Celtics continue to find ways to win

'Next man up' Celtics continue to find ways to win

BOSTON – Five minutes into the season, the Boston Celtics had little choice but to embrace a “next man up” mentality.

Since then, this approach to the game has been fine-tuned and is now at a point where it doesn’t seemingly matter who is missing from the Celtics lineup.

Short-handed or fully stacked, this team continues to find ways to win, with the latest victory being a 97-90 win over the Dallas Mavericks which came with a pair of key Celtics players out.

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Marcus Morris (left knee rehabilitation) did not play after experiencing more soreness than usual, earlier in the day. And Jaylen Brown (right eye inflammation) was out as well, leaving the Celtics extremely thin at the wing position.

Boston went deeper into its bench than usual against the Mavericks, with rookies Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader getting spot duty.

And to their credit, they each contributed with Yabusele draining a 3-pointer while dishing out three assists in six minutes, 35 seconds. And Nader, last year’s D-League (now Gatorade League) Rookie of the year, also hit a 3-pointer along with tallying a steal and a blocked shot while logging seven minutes and one second of playing time.

“They both did a pretty good job,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “And those guys work really hard. I mean, nobody’s in the gym more than Nader. And it’s good to see that first shot go down and … then to make a steal and to make some plays in there. And then Guerschon, I thought, did a good job of kind of playing through him. We need to be able to play through him (Yabusele) in the high post and top of the key, kind of like we do Al (Horford) when he’s in the game, and I thought he did a pretty good job of that.”

During the Celtics’ shoot-around prior to the game, one of the main topics discussed was the importance of all 11 players in uniform, being ready to play and play well.

“We always have to have that 'next man up' mentality,” said Terry Rozier who had 12 points and nine rebounds off the bench. “We’re just covering for one another; we’re a team. We’re pros for a reason. You put in all this hard work, you have to be ready.”

Al Horford was pleased with the Celtics’ backups remaining professional and staying ready when their opportunity to play came.

“Those guys are working harder than pretty much any of us every day, because they’re in the gym getting extra shots, extra conditioning,” said Horford who had 17 points to go with eight rebounds and eight assists. “It’s good to see them get rewarded. I was happy to see our bench guys able to get some minutes.”

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Blakely: High expectations now make a rare blowout worse

Blakely: High expectations now make a rare blowout worse

BOSTON – As I watched the Celtics melt into a big old puddle of who-knows-what-the-hell-that-was last night at Chicago, I was angry.

This should not be happening.

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Sure, it’s just one of 82 games.

But there is no way they should be getting throttled like this to Chicago, the team with the worst record in the NBA (now 6-20) for whom, let’s be honest...losing advances the Bulls' goal this season, which is to be in the best position possible to land one of the top picks in the draft.

The more I thought about it, the loss wasn’t what upset me the most.

I was pissed off mainly because they got beat down by a bad team, which says more about my expectations for this team and the expectations of most Celtics fans, than anything else.

Those expectations are sky high these days, and for good reason.

Boston (23-6) has the best record in the Eastern Conference after owning the league’s best record overall following a historic 16 consecutive wins, which is the fourth-longest winning streak in franchise history. 

Kyrie Irving has been a one-man highlight reel all season. Jayson Tatum has been better than anyone predicted. Jaylen Brown is a more rounded offensive player, Aron Baynes has been awesome, Daniel Theis...the list of reasons why optimism for this team is so high is a long one.

That kind of success, with such a young core of players, is rare.

So, to see them get thumped 108-85 by the Bulls was jarring to say the least.

But as I skimmed the calendar to see how many more days could I blow off Christmas shopping before rush delivery wouldn’t get to places in time, I was reminded that the Celtics season is more than a third of the way complete.

And we’re talking about their first blowout loss of the season?

It was disappointing for all involved, for sure.

But the fact that we’re this far down the road in this season before having to overreact to a bad loss, speaks to the growth of this team under Brad Stevens.

Let’s put it this way.

Boston’s first beatdown this season came in Game No. 29 if you’re keeping track at home.

The latest the Celtics’ first loss by 15 or more came under Stevens prior to this season? Game No. 14 in the 2015-16 season.

They got crushed 121-97 in that game by an Atlanta Hawks team led by some dude named Al Horford.

If there’s one characteristic of Stevens teams that has carried on from one team to the next in his five seasons in Boston, it's their competitive spirit.

They may not have been the most talented teams, but you knew his guys were going to scrap and claw while suffering through a few setbacks – some worse than others - along the way.

But this season is different.

Even with Gordon Hayward going down with a season-ending (we think) left ankle injury, Boston has shown itself to be a resilient bunch by winning at a ridiculously high clip.

And in doing so, their success being undermanned has created a set of expectations that they can come back from any deficit and find victory.

But the real comeback for fans was the sobering back-to-earth reality of Monday’s loss, a game in which a team that has been as successful as the Celtics this season can lose if they’re not careful.

Still, we’re talking about the team with the best record in the East getting handed its first blowout loss of the season - in December.

Since 2008, only three other Celtics teams went this deep into the season before suffering their first loss by 15 or more points.

And of those three teams, two of them (2008 and 2010) went on to the NBA Finals.

Disappointed with the loss to the Bulls still?

I am.

But knowing how the Celtics have finished in recent years when they’ve avoided the big beatdown for as long as they have this season, it’s a little easier to move on from whatever-the-hell-that-was we saw last night in Chicago.

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Horford out, Irving probable for Wednesday's game vs Nuggets

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Horford out, Irving probable for Wednesday's game vs Nuggets

BOSTON – The days of playing short-handed continue for the Boston Celtics who will be without at least one all-star when they host the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday. 

The Celtics announced on Tuesday that Al Horford (rest) will not play. A knee collision with Detroit’s Anthony Tolliver on Sunday made Horford a game-time decision prior to Boston’s 108-85 loss at Chicago on Monday. Horford played but like most of his teammates, didn’t play as well as he would have liked before finishing with 15 points, four rebounds and five assists which included him missing all four of his 3-point attempts. 

Kyrie Irving is probable with a quad injury that kept him out of the Bulls loss. 

Marcus Morris (left knee) will miss his third straight game (14th this season) and remains out indefinitely. Also, Gordon Hayward (left ankle fracture) remains out although he may get some good news tomorrow.

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