Celtics-Pacers Preview: the latest installment of next man up

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Celtics-Pacers Preview: the latest installment of next man up

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.”


NBA rumors: Should Celtics be interested in a trade for Pacers' Domantas Sabonis?

NBA rumors: Should Celtics be interested in a trade for Pacers' Domantas Sabonis?

An intriguing young big man is reportedly available on the trade market and, given the question marks in the Celtics’ frontcourt entering the 2019-20 season, it begs the question whether Boston should be intrigued.

The Athletic reported Friday that the Pacers have engaged in trade talks involving 23-year-old big man Domantas Sabonis with the sides far apart in negotiations on a rookie extension in advance of Monday’s deadline.

Sabonis’ name was one that Celtics fans repeatedly invoked this summer after the departures of Al Horford and Aron Baynes. The Pacers last season struggled to find ways for Sabonis and center Myles Turner to coexist. Given Boston’s glut of wings, the two sides seemed like potential trade partners.

Now, it appears the Pacers are motivated and Boston still has an obvious need for a frontcourt upgrade entering the season. The trouble in finding a deal: Indiana’s asking price might simply be more than Boston is willing to pay, especially knowing they will have to pay a high price tag to retain the player after the season.

If the Pacers are simply not committed to try and make the Sabonis/Turner combination work then their leverage in the trade market is weakened. The Athletic’s report noted the Pacers’ asking price, however, has been too high.

The Celtics would not be immediately interested in putting Jaylen Brown into a potential package. The team has been engaged in extension negotiations with Brown and is intrigued to see the strides that he makes this season when Brown’s role won’t be as muddy as it was last season.

Maybe their willingness to move Brown — or another wing — will elevate as the season progresses but the team is eager to see how its youngest stars like Brown and Jayson Tatum perform outside the shadows of Kyrie Irving.

Trying to build a trade package that might interest the Pacers without Brown is a bit more daunting. Celtics first-round pick Romeo Langford, an Indiana native who played at Indiana University and was the state’s Mr. Basketball in 2018, would seemingly intrigue the Pacers and makes the money work in a deal. Still, the Pacers would seemingly be seeking an immediate impact player and/or some of Boston’s future first-round picks, which might be more than Boston is willing to pay given the commitment it would take to maintain Sabonis.

Sabonis has no shortage of potential in a bigger role. He averaged 14.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.9 assists over just 24.8 minutes per game last season while utilized almost exclusively as a reserve (five starts in 74 appearances). Sabonis is an excellent rebounder, ranking 10th in the NBA in defensive rebound percentage (26.9) and 12th in total rebound percentage (18.4).

Defensively, he’s not quite the Joel Embiid/Giannis Antetokounmpo stopper that the Celtics so clearly need to truly contend in the Eas,t but Indiana’s defensive numbers with Sabonis on the court last season were encouraging. The Pacers limited opponents to 103.8 points per 100 possessions with Sabonis on the floor over 1,811 minutes and that number spiked to 106.1 in the 2,082 minutes that Sabonis was on the bench.

Sabonis’ defensive stats were aided by Turner’s presence as Indiana’s defensive rating dropping to 99.2 in the 434 minutes the duo shared the court. And the more noticeable spike with Sabonis on the court without Turner was on the offensive end as Indiana’s offensive rating shot to 109.4 but it was negated slightly by the defensive rating spiking to 104.

Ultimately, the Pacers might simply be gauging Sabonis’ trade value in advance of the tough decision about how to proceed with their bigs. The Celtics should be intrigued but also do not need to rush into a deal before getting a glimpse of how all their new bigs look at the start of the season.

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Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Celtics Talk Podcast: Season preview; breaking down the opener vs. 76ers

Our crew that covers the Celtics has you covered as we preview the season and look ahead to Wednesday's opener in Philly against the Sixers.

2:00 - Kyle Draper, Chris Forsberg, A. Sherrod Blakely, and Brian Scalabrine give their expectations for the Boston Celtics this season. 

6:00 - How big of a year is this for Jaylen Brown? What do we see happening with his contract? 

9:00 - What expectations do we have for Jayson Tatum?

12:00 - What level can we expect Gordon Hayward to return to?

14:00 - Abby Chin hosts ‘Rookie Watch’. Where our crew debates which rookie will have the biggest impact for the Celtics this season. 

19:30 - Paul Hudrick covers the Sixers for NBC Sports Philadelphia. He joins the crew to preview the Celtics-76ers opening night matchup. (21:00) How does Al Horford fit into the mix with the 76ers? (22:00) How much pressure is on Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid? (27:00) How do people in Philadelphia feel about the Boston Celtics this season?