Challenges big and small for Celtics tonight

Challenges big and small for Celtics tonight

BOSTON – In the NBA, some teams are built to play small ball with three guards as starters.

Others are constructed to go big with talented, high-impact big men.


And then there’s the New Orleans Pelicans, who seem to start games with both at the same time.

Dealing with New Orleans’ non-traditional starting lineup will be one of the many challenges awaiting the Celtics tonight.

While the Pelicans’ atypical starting five may not necessarily be ideal, there’s no arguing against its effectiveness.

New Orleans starts games with a three-guard lineup that includes 6-foot-1 Rajon Rondo with Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore who are both 6-4 guards. They are joined by the twin terrors – to opposing defenses at least – of 6-11 DeMarcus Cousins and 6-10 Anthony Davis.

They have been New Orleans’ most successful five-man unit, posting a 12-8 record this season. It’s one of the biggest reasons they are come in sixth in the Western Conference at 22-20, trailing Oklahoma City (24-20) by one game.

Boston has played its share of non-traditional lineups under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Like the Pelicans, the key for Boston to do so successfully lies in the versatility of their power forward.

For New Orleans, that would be Davis.

The Celtics rely on Al Horford to provide a similar element of versatility.

“Last year, we started Amir [Johnson, now with Philadelphia] with Al,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “Kelly [Olynyk, now in Miami] played a lot with Al. I think what Al allows you to do, is he gives you another guy that shoots like a traditional guard so he can play both spots and his ability to defend fours [power forwards] allows him to play with anybody.”

How Horford handles his rotating assignments defensively will be among the challenges Boston will contend with tonight.

Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep tabs on tonight:

We have seen this season how former Celtics return to the TD Garden to light up the Green Team, and tonight’s game is full of potential candidates to keep the tradition set by Olynyk and Jonas Jerebko (Utah) alive and well. Among the ex-Celtics on the Pelicans roster are E’Twaun Moore and Rajon Rondo who are both slated to start tonight. New Orleans roster also includes former Celtics Tony Allen (left fibula fracture) and Jameer Nelson (personal) who are both listed as out tonight.

You won’t ever mistake Horford for Cousins, but the two big men do have at least one thing in common: passing. While both have shown the ability to score (Cousins on a much grander, more consistent scale for sure), one of their biggest strengths is their ability to get teammates involved offensively. Horford averages 5.3 assists per game, which would be tops among all centers, but most of Horford’s playing time this season has come as a power forward. Still, 5.3 assists per game are impressive enough to rank fifth among all forwards this season. As for centers, Cousins’ 5.1 per game is indeed the pace-setter for the rest of the league’s centers.

With Davis’ size, athleticism and versatility, he is one of the select few players whose game has very few holes in it. And while he can score from just about any spot on the floor, keeping Davis in the mid-range zone offensively is key. According to nba.com, Davis is shooting 39.3 percent on mid-range shots this season. That’s not horrible, but it is a noticeable drop-off from what he does at the rim in the restricted area (75.8 percent), in the paint non-restricted area (50.8 percent) and on corner 3’s (54.5 percent).

Often the clearest indicator of Boston’s success lies in how well the Celtics rebound. In their current seven-game winning streak, rebounding – surprise, surprise – has been one of their strengths. In the past seven games, Boston has averaged 47.9 rebounds per game. The only team with a higher average in that span is the Los Angeles Lakers (49.3). In addition, Boston is grabbing 50.9 percent of available rebounds, which ranks ninth in the NBA during the seven-game winning streak.

As a rookie last season, Jaylen Brown logged 1,341 regular-season minutes, which was pretty good for a first-year player on a team pegged before his arrival as a playoff-caliber club. Fast forward to this season and another Celtics rookie Jayson Tatum. Despite having played in 44 games this season (Brown appeared in 78 games as a rookie last year), Tatum has literally played more than Brown, with 1,362 minutes already logged. The left knee stiffness that kept him out of practice Saturday was determined to not be an issue, but it’s worth monitoring his health as his impact – and minutes played – continue to rise.



Brad Stevens' shortened rotation pays off for Celtics

Brad Stevens' shortened rotation pays off for Celtics

CLEVELAND – Sometimes less really is more.

It certainly was for the Celtics in their 96-83 Game 5 win over Cleveland, a game in which Boston only used seven players before having a couple end-of-the-bench guys in Abdel Nader and Guerschon Yabusele step on the floor for the final 2:36 of play when the game was all but secured.

“There’s a lot that goes into it and I’ll leave it at that,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens when asked about the seven-man rotation.

The most notable absence from the game was for Boston was Semi Ojeleye, who registered his first DNP-CD (Did Not Play-Coaches Decision) of the playoffs. Ojeleye has been one of the team’s better defenders against LeBron James.

In the first four games, James shot 28.6 percent from the field when defended by Ojeleye, which was his lowest field-goal percentage against any Celtics player in this series. Only Marcus Morris (111 possessions through the first four games) and Jaylen Brown (62) defended James more than Ojeleye (47).

Ojeleye has learned in his time in Boston to be prepared for anything and everything.

“You never know when your numbers going to be called,” Ojeleye told NBC Sports Boston. “That’s why you always have to stay ready, which is what I try to do.”

Boston shortening its rotation appeared to have caught the Cavs off-guard, which was in part why we did not see Kyle Korver enter the game in the first quarter.

“Well, initially he’s [Stevens] been putting Ojeleye in, so that’s been kind of [Kyle Korver’s] matchup when he comes into the game,” said Cavs coach Tyronn Lue. “He didn’t play him [Ojeleye], so it kind of threw us for a loop.”

By starting Aron Baynes instead of Morris, it allowed Morris to enter the game without being burdened by or having to worry about early foul trouble.

It worked.

Just like he would not commit to a change to his starting lineup the last couple of games, there’s no guarantee or expectation that he will stick with a seven-man rotation in Game 6, either.

“It has nothing to do with the guys that didn’t play,” Stevens said of the shortened lineup. “All those guys are ready to help when called upon and have great attitudes and have been great teammates.”



No Celtics earn All-NBA honors

No Celtics earn All-NBA honors

The Celtics placed no one on the All-NBA teams announced Thursday.

Though they have eliminated from the playoffs two second-team selections (Giannis Antetokounmpo, Joel Embiid) and are a win away from eliminating a first-team pick (LeBron James). And they could be facing another first-teamer (Kevin Durant) and a third-teamer (Stephen Curry) in the NBA Finals.

Kyrie Irving and Al Horford of the Celtics missed out on the third team but placed high among others receiving votes.

James of the Cleveland Cavaliers, James Harden of the Houston Rockets, Anthony Davis of the New Orleans Pelicans, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers and Durant of the Golden State Warriors make up the first team.

The full All-NBA teams: