Celtics

Celtics' second unit delivers first-rate play to start the fourth quarter

Celtics' second unit delivers first-rate play to start the fourth quarter

INDIANAPOLIS -- The way Kyrie Irving has dismantled the Indiana Pacers in the fourth quarter has been a thing of beauty for Celtics Nation. 

He has been a point-producing assassin, locked and loaded on putting away the Blue and Gold Pacers with seemingly one dagger of a shot after another. 

Still, Irving’s late-game heroics have been fueled in part by his fourth-quarter set-up men whose play to start the quarter, has made things a lot easier for Irving to thrive in the role as closer. 

And Game 3 was the latest example of Boston’s strong play to start the fourth laying the groundwork for a forceful finish that has the Celtics on the cusp of moving on to the second round after Friday night’s 104-96 win over the Pacers. 

The Celtics lead the best-of-seven series 3-0 with a chance to close it out on Sunday and move on to play the winner of the Milwaukee-Detroit series. 

Irving, who finished with a double-double of 19 points and 10 assists, had six points and a pair of assists in the decisive fourth quarter. 

But as good as he was in closing the game out, his teammates once again delivered at the start of the fourth to ensure that Irving’s return to action in the fourth - he usually spends at least four or so minutes at the start of the fourth on the bench - wouldn’t require him to lead a comeback but instead continue with the already strong play of the team’s second unit players who by and large are on the floor to start the fourth. 

Starters Al Horford and Jayson Tatum were joined by Terry Rozier, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Morris to start the fourth quarter on Friday. 

They began the quarter with an 80-73 lead that, despite the Bankers Life Fieldhouse crowd being loud and rowdy, was still on solid ground when Irving returned with 8:49 to play and the lead stood at 84-78.

“Those guys have played in a lot of big games,” said Boston’s Brad Stevens. “We have a lot of faith in them.

Said Rozier: “We come into the game and we still play hard. It’s been a huge help for us.”

Morris echoed similar sentiments about the bench, which is a plus-9 in the three games at the start of the fourth quarter prior to Irving seeing his first action in the fourth. 

“We’re just trying to come out there and bring energy,” Morris told NBC Sports Boston of the second unit’s play to start the fourth. “We’re trying to impact the game every time we’re out there.”

Bench play has been among the strengths of the Celtics despite various players being in and out of the second unit for various reasons. 

Jaylen Brown, who has been one of the team’s more consistent reserves of late, has shifted to the starting lineup with Marcus Smart (torn oblique injury) being out for what’s likely to be at least another month. 

With the first unit, he went off for 23 points on 8-for-9 shooting in Game 3 in addition to grabbing seven rebounds. 

But even without Brown coming off the bench, Boston’s backups continue to make their presence felt in this series. 

“We have to go with the flow; it’s the playoffs,” Morris said. “We can’t sit and think about how everything has changed … the one thing we can do is go out and play hard and win the bench matchup because that’s big in the playoffs.”

“Guys being ready, doing what they do when they’re out on the court,” Hayward said. “We got a lot of guys that can play, do a lot of different things. We expect guys to step up in those moments.”

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Nicolas Batum on Celtics center Vincent Poirier: "It's a good pick-up for Boston for sure"

Nicolas Batum on Celtics center Vincent Poirier: "It's a good pick-up for Boston for sure"

Team USA didn't finish the FIBA World Cup as expected, but there were plenty of positives to take away from the tournament if you're a Celtics fan. 

Not only did Kemba Walker, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart contribute to Team USA and certainly took some lessons from playing under Gregg Popovich, but Daniel Theis (Germany) and newly signed Vincent Poirier (France) got invaluable experience they can carry into the 2019-20 NBA season. 

Poirier signed with the Celtics during free agency on a two-year contract and should have plenty of opportunities to earn playing time in a Celtics' frontcourt that hopes to replace Al Horford and Aron Baynes. 

Poirier's French teammate Nicolas Batum, who played with Walker in Charlotte over the last four years, dealt out some praise of the rookie center after France beat Australia for the FIBA bronze medal. 

"This guy, I think, just started basketball 5 years ago, so he's had a special career," Batum told John Schumann. "His energy was great. We can't count on Rudy (Gobert) every game... He was huge. He wasn't scared by Bogut & Baynes... He was amazing tonight."

France knocked the U.S. out of the knockout round by besting them in the quarterfinals. Poirier didn't play in that game, but has played a big role for France behind All-Star big man Rudy Gobert. 

"It's clear that he's a center that can block shots and control the paint," Batum said. "He's a terrific roller, can really catch a lob, and obviously has a lot of energy. It's a good pick-up for Boston, for sure."

The Celtics responded to Horford's departure and trading Baynes to Phoneix by signing Poirier and Enes Kanter to join Theis and Robert Williams at the center spot. Boston will probably have to solve their hole at that position by committee, but if Poirier can play consistent defense, rebound and protect the paint as Batum describes, he could earn himself backup minutes behind Kanter. 

Either way, it should be an interesting training camp to say the least for this new-look Celtics team. 

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One lesson each Celtics player can take away from World Cup

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One lesson each Celtics player can take away from World Cup

Team Shamrock’s FIBA adventures ended with a whimper Saturday as — under the cloak of East Coast darkness — three of the four Celtics on Team USA logged DNPs (eight points for Jaylen Brown) while the Americans claimed seventh place with an 87-74 win over Poland. Combine that with the fact that Daniel Theis got limited reps with Germany’s early exit and Daniel Poirier hasn’t played big minutes while backing up Rudy Gobert for France and the World Cup experience wasn’t quite as robust as it could have been for the six Celtics players involved.

Still, there were positives to pluck and experiences gained by everyone involved, not the least of which is that a third of Boston’s roster will show up to camp on Oct. 1 in game-ready shape. Still, regardless of Team USA’s medal-less finish and the limited reps for Theis and Poirier, there’s at least one item or lesson that every player can bring with them into the new season.