BOSTON -- At this point in the season, playoff-bound teams like the Boston Celtics are trying to fine-tune their play in time to be in rhythm for the postseason.
A challenge in itself, it becomes even more difficult when key players are missing.
We’ve seen the Celtics play nine of their last 11 games without Jae Crowder who had a high right ankle sprain. Avery Bradley missed last Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Lakers due to personal reasons and now Evan Turner will miss his first game as a Celtic tonight because of a left eye abrasion suffered in the final seconds of Boston’s 107-100 win over the Lakers on Sunday.
While the Celtics are coming into tonight’s game with a less-than-ideal roster to work with, it has the potential to be yet another lesson in how to overcome adversity that could come in handy once the playoffs arrive.
“It’s a game. This is part of our journey getting ready to play our best basketball as we hit the home stretch,” Stevens said.
If history is an indicator, the Celtics are heading towards a strong finish to the season.
Last season, Boston’s run towards the seventh seed in the playoffs included victories in each of their last five games.
But Stevens, while consumed with his own roster and how to manage around the team’s injuries, is well aware that Boston is facing a New Orleans team that has been hit even harder by injuries.
The Pelicans announced last month that All-star big man Anthony Davis is out for the remainder the season due to a left knee injury. He joins a Pelicans roster that’s already depleted via injuries to Ryan Anderson (sports hernia), Quincy Pondexter (left knee), Tyreke Evans (right knee), Bryce Dejean-Jones (fractured right wrist), Eric Gordon (fractured right ring finger), Jrue Holiday (right inferior orbital wall fracture) and Alonzo Gee (right quad).
“They’ve really been hit by injuries in a big way,” Stevens said.
But they have shown a resilient spirit of late that has helped New Orleans (29-48) win three of its last five games.
“Guys are now getting opportunities and letting it fly,” Stevens said.
Among those players has been Tim Frazier, a former Celtics training camp invitee who also played for Boston’s Development League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
In his first season with the Red Claws, Frazier was a D-League All-Star as well as being named league MVP. After stints with Philadelphia and Portland, the 6-1 guard has found his niche with the Pelicans.
Frazier has played in 11 games with New Orleans and has averaged 13.5 points, 6.3 assists and 4.1 rebounds in 28.2 minutes off the bench while shooting 50 percent from the field and 47.4 percent on 3s.
“It’s about opportunity and confidence,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley. “That’s what he (Frazier) has right now.”
The same can be said for the Celtics who come into tonight’s game having won their last two which includes knocking off previously-undefeated Golden State at home. And to follow that up with a win over the Lakers has put Boston in position where if they win all of their remaining games they will be the No. 3 seed when the Eastern Conference playoffs begin later this month.
And that journey to close out the season with a flurry begins tonight in what will be the first game without Turner who has not missed a game as a Celtic since he signed with the club prior to the 2014-2015 season.
“We’re going to do it without Evan which is a challenge for our team,” Stevens admitted. “We’ll have to have other guys step up.”
Which serves as one of the many lessons this team has been taught, one that they have consistently put into practice which has been one of the many keys to their success in being one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams this season.