BOSTON – Tonight’s game will be the latest installment of the “Next Man Up” series that has been a season-long drama for the Boston Celtics.
Jaylen Brown is in the NBA’s concussion protocol program after taking a hard fall in Thursday’s 117-109 win at Minnesota.
His absence means someone else will get a chance to fill his void in the starting lineup.
But balancing that need with keeping the Celtics’ high-powered bench intact, is why Brown’s replacement may not necessarily be one of the first guards off the bench.
That was the strategy in Boston’s win at Chicago last week, a game in which the Celtics had Shane Larkin filling in for an injured Kyrie Irving.
Considering Boston (46-20) has won six of its last seven games, clinched a playoff berth quicker than any Stevens-coached team, you can understand why he wants to keep his roster and rotations as status quo as possible.
Boston’s second unit has been an elite scoring unit since the all-star break, averaging a league-best 52.4 points since coming back from the all-star break.
And keeping that unit intact is viewed as vital to Boston’s goals of continued success.
“He has an unwavering belief in that,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “I think you need that as a coach, to really echo confidence in the guys playing on that second unit. So, I’m with him all the way. They play extremely well together; coming in and change the game. That’s what we need from them.”
It’ll be particularly important tonight against an Indiana team that’s playing some of the best basketball in the NBA right now.
The Pacers (38-28) have won seven of their last 10 games and are just a half-game behind Cleveland (38-27) for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference.
“(Bojan) Bogdonovic has been great all year,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “The addition of (Trevor) Booker gives them a guy that can play a lot like Thaddeus Young when Thaddeus isn’t in the game. Very quick, posts, rolls, dunks, shoots the 3, not a high volume 3-point shooter but certainly can, so they get to play the same way with the first unit.”
Indiana’s depth in the frontcourt is so deep, former Celtic big man Al Jefferson is now the team’s fifth big man behind Young, Booker, Myles Turner and Domantis Sabonis.
“They’ve had a good year and I’m really impressed in watching the Pacers,” Stevens said. “They’ve done a great job.
Stevens added, “at the end of the day, those guys play hard and they play the right way. I have a lot of respect for them.”