Celtics

Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

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Celtics finding ways to win without Kyrie Irving

As expected, Kyrie Irving’s first regular season with the Boston Celtics is over following a procedure on his left knee Saturday that team officials described as being "minimally invasive," that will keep him sidelined until the playoffs.

Not having Irving for the final 10 games of the regular season is certainly disappointing for Boston, but it won’t have the kind of devastating impact one might expect a team to have to endure when the leading scorer is out for a significant chunk of time.

Friday’s 105-100 win over Portland was Boston’s fifth straight game without Irving, and 12th this season.

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There’s no question Boston is a better team when he is in the lineup.

But when he’s not, the Celtics have continued to find ways to win games which is evident in their 8-4 record when Irving has not played.

Victories over teams like the Blazers only validates the quality depth that the Celtics players speak of when they talk about their team. 

“We know what we have,” said Boston’s Al Horford. “It is encouraging for our group. And for us it’s to make sure we keep working and understand when we commit on the defensive end, we’re a tough team to beat.”

But Horford acknowledges the challenge to be successful becomes infinity greater when key players such as Irving are out.

“We can’t dwell on the guys who are not here, the guys who are injured,” Horford said. “It’s tough, but it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up and guys have really taken advantage of that opportunity. We’re trying to move forward. It’s hard but we don’t have an option.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 105-100 win at Portland on Friday night.

SHANE LARKIN’S PACE

The ability to not just run a team but do so in an effective, steady manner is what separated Shane Larkin from most of the guys who saw action last night. He made timely shots, kept the ball moving (he had seven assists and just one turnover) while playing at a really good tempo which was apparent as he finished with a pace of 95.97 which was tops among all Celtics players.

MONROE’S BOARD WORK

Greg Monroe could not have picked a better time to play his best basketball of the season. Against the Blazers, he came off the bench and tallied a double-double of 10 points and 10 rebounds. The 10 boards were particularly impressive with a team-best rebounding percentage of .303 and team-best usage percentage of .316 which speaks to how Boston made a point of going to Monroe early and often when he was on the floor.

EFFICIENT MARCUS MORRIS

It was another big-time scoring night for Marcus Morris who led all scorers with 30 points, easily becoming a fixture as Boston’s go-to guy now that Kyrie Irving (left knee) will miss the rest of the regular season. And like Irving, Morris is doing it in an extremely efficient manner. Against the Blazers, the 6-foot-8 forward was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) shooting from the field with an effective field goal percentage eFG% of .885.

FOURTH QUARTER TATUM

For most of Friday’s game, Jayson Tatum was not having a good game offensively with three points through three quarters of play. But Tatum, one of the NBA’s better fourth quarter players, was once again saving his best for last. He would go on to lead the Celtics with 10 points in the fourth quarter, which was a huge factor in Boston’s comeback victory.

BACKUP POWER

The Celtics’ second unit looks a little different, but the production and overall impact remains strong as ever. Boston’s backups outscored their Portland brethren 26-10. But more than the points, Boston’s backups individually came up with big plays. Greg Monroe’s 10-point, 10-rebound performance stood out for obvious reasons. But the floor leadership of Shane Larkin and timely contributions from Guerschon Yabusele was also important in the win.

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Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Has Brad Stevens finally found his 'microwave' in Celtics rookie Carsen Edwards?

Maybe fellow rookie Tremont Waters best summed up what it was like to watch Carsen Edwards erupt for eight third-quarter 3-pointers in the Celtics' exhibition finale Tuesday night in Cleveland.

“I didn’t want to get burnt, so I tried to stay away from him,” Waters (half-) joked to reporters.

Edwards scored 26 third-quarter points behind his 3-point barrage, all of which came in little more than a five-minute span. Maybe more staggering was the distance of his 3-point makes in the quarter, including four of 30-plus feet and an average distance of 29.1 feet on the eight makes.

Edwards nearly matched Klay Thompson’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a quarter. He did match Boston’s regular-season record of nine 3-pointers in a game, a feat accomplished by both Isaiah Thomas and Antoine Walker.

Celtics coach Brad Stevens was present for Thomas’ outburst and Edwards’ offensive explosion still left him searching for the right words.

"I don't know if I've ever seen anything like that,” Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. "Those were deep, hard 3s. And how many? Eight? In like five minutes? I've never seen anything like that. I don't know that I have any reference points. He was pretty special.”

For his part, Edward shrugged off his part. He credited his teammates with finding him open shots. He suggested that he slipped into a similar shooting zone against top-seeded Virginia during the NCAA Tournament (that day, Edwards scored 42 points on 14-of-25 shooting with ten 3-pointers as Purdue nearly produced the upset).

What Stevens liked best was how Edwards, who took a hard shot to the nose in the opening minutes of the game, shook off an uneven first half to erupt in the second.

"I think the most encouraging part of the whole performance was I didn't think he was very good in the first half. And for him to be able to recenter and play and come out of the gates like that in the second, that's a great thing for a coach to learn about somebody,” Stevens told reporters. "Sometimes guys don't have it on a given night ... but you always know that he's probably one time from hitting the net away from getting hot.

"He lives on heat checks.”

The bigger picture here for the Celtics is that, in summer league and the preseason, Edwards has shown that his scoring skills should translate to the NBA. He might just be the microwave bench scoring option that the team has long coveted in the Stevens era.

It’s fair to want to see it in regular-season play. But it would also seem logical that Edwards might see even easier shots if he’s got talents such as Jayson Tatum or Gordon Hayward on the court and opposing teams can’t send their best defenders at him.

Not that it would deter him, anyhow. In the preseason, 31 of Edwards’ 43 field goal attempts came beyond the arc. He shot 45.2 percent from 3-point land and 51.2 percent overall. He scored 61 points in 73 minutes and the Celtics had an offensive rating of 112.6 when he was on the court.

Edwards’ usage percentage was 28.8 percent this preseason, a number driven slightly higher by his six turnovers. Still, he accounted for a staggering 34.1 percent of Boston’s points in his floor time.

This suggests that he won’t be particularly bashful when Stevens puts him into regular-season games. There’s backup guard minutes to be had with the departure of Terry Rozier and Edwards will get plenty of reps if he shoots like he has since arriving in Boston.

It’s a good sign for Boston if players like Waters need a bit of zinc oxide to combat any burns they get from being too close to Edwards moving forward.

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Injury bug (concussion-like symptoms) bites Celtics' Robert Williams at worst time again

Injury bug (concussion-like symptoms) bites Celtics' Robert Williams at worst time again

Boston Celtics second-year center Robert Williams displayed concussion-like symptoms after taking an inadvertent elbow to the face in the first quarter of Tuesday’s preseason finale against the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Cavaliers forward Kevin Love smacked Williams with an elbow as the two chased a rebound and Williams hit the ground hard, where he remained while play continued back up the court.

The team announced Williams will be re-evaluated on Wednesday in Boston.

"Robert was diagnosed with concussion-like symptoms,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told reporters in Cleveland. "I don't know what that means. Obviously, we're concerned about his health. He’ll get with the doctors one more time before we take off here.”

Williams was getting his second start of the preseason but played only 3 scoreless minutes. In a new-look frontcourt, Williams had a chance this preseason to really state his case for available playing time, this after a summer in which coaches raved about his progress, but the injury derailed his best chance to assert himself.

It continues a trend from last season where minor ailments seemed to prevent Williams from having a chance to pounce on available minutes.

Williams registered 10 points, eight rebounds and five blocks in 33 preseason minutes. He looked overly amped in his first start against Charlotte and played in only small bursts while coming off the bench in the two games that followed.

It would seem Daniel Theis best positioned himself for starter minutes if the Celtics ultimately elect to utilize Enes Kanter off the bench. A healthy Williams can distinguish himself with not only his raw athleticism but his passing abilities. Rookie Vincent Poirer, a French import this summer, logged some quality defensive minutes this preseason that could help his case for immediate floor time.

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