Celtics

Celtics-Bucks preview: Baynes, Morris give C's flexibility with starting lineup

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Celtics-Bucks preview: Baynes, Morris give C's flexibility with starting lineup

BOSTON – One of the first questions Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens is asked before every game involves his starting lineup.

That’s because for a team that has played with such consistency this season, the starting five has very much been a nightly game-time decision with head coach Brad Stevens having already used eight different starting lineups this season.

That trend will continue tonight as the Celtics (20-4) host the Milwaukee Bucks, a team that the Celtics have already played twice with each of the first two games featuring a different starting five for Boston.

Tonight’s game?

Make that three different starting lineups. 

With a healthy roster minus Gordon Hayward (ankle) who is out for the season, head coach Brad Stevens’ decision has often come down to Aron Baynes or Marcus Morris starting with the foursome of Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford.

Neither Baynes or Morris started in either of the first two games against the Bucks this season.

There are some Celtics fans who love the physical nature that 6-foot-10, 265-pound Baynes provides and want to see it with the first unit, which in many ways has helped Al Horford showcase his defensive versatility more than we saw last season. But there’s another segment of Boston’s fan base that loves the position-less basketball that the Celtics can play at an extremely high level with Morris, a 6-9 forward whose versatility at both ends of the floor has the makings of a potential mismatch in favor of the Celtics or could create one for another teammate.

No question, both players add value to the first unit.

And when you look at how the Celtics have fared with each in the starting lineup, it makes the decision on who to start even more of a toss-up.

They have been Boston’s two most popular lineups, with a starting five including Baynes posting a 9-1 record while the Celtics’ first unit with Morris in it has won six of their seven games this season.

Although both players have said they don’t give a ton of thought to starting or coming off the bench, there’s little doubt that Morris would much rather be with the first unit.

He was asked about starting recently and responded, “next question.”

When reminded of how special sixth men have been to the Celtics franchise historically, Morris with a grin said, “next question.”

Whether he’s starting or coming off the bench, there’s a certain amount of adapting he must do.

“Obviously, Kyrie’s our point guard. We play off of him,” Morris said. “The ball isn’t in my hands as much. I don’t have a problem with it. So, I adjust and try to spot up more and knock down open shots. And then when I get my chance with the second unit, I try to get my post-ups and stuff like that. “

When breaking down these two players and their impact on Boston’s starting five and winning, it really does feel like it comes down to which is more valuable at the start of games – better offense or better defense.

Because defensively, Boston has been appreciably better with Baynes who has a league-best 91.2 defensive rating. And the Celtics as a team have a defensive rating of 90.4 with Baynes, but that number balloons to 118.8 with Morris.

Morris has shot the ball better of late which comes at a time when the offense has shown clear growth. However, head coach Brad Stevens remains open-minded about which of the two will be in the starting lineup.  

“Starting or when they play doesn’t really matter,” Stevens said. “So, he’s still going to start when we feel like the matchups is … is right. And the good news is, is that you’re not as quick to pull him because of the … because of the minutes restriction as it’s been lifted or increased.”

Morris did not play in Boston’s first eight games of the season due to left knee soreness. Upon his return to the active roster, the Celtics have limited his minutes and restricted him from playing in back-to-back games.

But the past few games, there has been a slight bump in his minutes.

“You know, having 25-30 (minutes) is much different than 20-22 when you’re trying to manage a four-quarter game,” Stevens said. “So, you know, whether he starts, comes off the bench, that’s only six minutes of the game. So, it’s more important that we’re able to put our best foot forward against every opponent. And I like the fact that we have some flexibility; I mean, there are some teams you just can’t start big against, and some teams that it’s hard to start small against. So, it’s good that everybody is able to play well through that.”

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Kyrie Irving discusses why he has not committed to the Celtics long term

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NBC Sports Boston Breakfast Podcast: Kyrie Irving discusses why he has not committed to the Celtics long term

1:00 - Kyrie Irving talked with Jackie MacMullan and discussed everything from how his knee feels to why he hasn’t committed to Boston long term, Our Early Edition crew discusses what he had to say.

7:50 - Marc Bertrand and Phil Perry break down the Patriots-Lions match up on Sunday, and debate whether the Lions have any shot of doing what the Jaguars did to the Patriots.

14:30 - Steve Buckley joins BST to discuss Chris Sale’s performance against the Indians.

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Kyrie Irving's comments to ESPN suggest he's happy in Boston

Kyrie Irving's comments to ESPN suggest he's happy in Boston

In a sit-down interview with Jackie MacMullan on ESPN.com, Kyrie Irving touched on a variety of subjects, primarily his optimism for the next few years, his health, beating the Golden State Warriors monolith, and those persitent rumors connecting him and Jimmy Butler to the New York Knicks.

Asked by MacMullan if he'd be disappointed if the Celtics didn't come away with a championship in 2019, Irving got right to brass tacks: "Can we beat Golden State in a seven-game series? Yes.''

And why so declarative?

"Because of who we have,'' Irving told MacMullan, "and what we're establishing here, not just for this season, but for hopefully for the next few years, something that's pretty special."

For his part, the five-time NBA All-Star and former NBA champ told MacMullan he's aware of the rumors of a shared interest between him and the disgruntled Minnesota Timberwolves star of joining forces in New York, but that he hasn't talked with Butler at length since they were playing for USA Basketball in 2016.

"Who wouldn't be a part of this?" Irving told MacMullan, alluding to the Celtics' gleaming new practice facility in Brighton. "Who wouldn't want to be a part of Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and Al Horford and Gordon Hayward? People keep saying, 'Why won't he commit to Boston?'

"Well, there are financial implications involved.''

Irving hasn't signed an extension, and could be in for a substantial payday in the summer of 2019 if all goes well. Irving says he's fine with the seemingly round-the-clock speculation about his future, saying, "I'm accepting it's going to be a constant story."

There's more good stuff to unpack that should get Celtics fans excited about the 2018-19 season. For one, he believes he's been the healthiest and strongest he's been in three years, and says he has a confidence in his lower body now that was absent in the 2017-18 season, as knee issues flared up again in the spring that shut him down for the playoffs.

For another, Irving doesn't appear to be afraid of the defending champion Warriors, who got even stronger this offseason with the surprising clearance-rack addition of DeMarcus Cousins, saying, "I've seen them up close. I've played them so many times. We've gone in a seven-game series [when I was in Cleveland], so I know what it takes."

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