Celtics

Five takeaways: Matchup matters even more without Kyrie Irving

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Five takeaways: Matchup matters even more without Kyrie Irving

BOSTON – Kyrie Irving’s status being updated to “out-for-the-year” is an absolute bummer for the Boston Celtics. But as disappointed as they may be in not having their best scorer available for the playoffs, all is not lost for the Green Team.

The Celtics have been battling without key players for most of this season and will still manage to finish with one of the top two records in the Eastern Conference. But for them to find success in the postseason, it won’t be easy.

There are factors that have to come into play, the kind that will determine just how close they can come to having that magical season so many anticipated way back in training camp.

Here are five factors that will be instrumental in Boston’s postseason journey.

MATCHUP GAME

The Eastern Conference is once again all over the map when it comes to the last two or three teams to get playoff spots. Boston has been a solid No. 2 in the East, with their first-round foe looking about as predictable as a Wheel of Fortune spin. Right now, they are slated to play the Washington Wizards, who talent-wise, should be seeded much higher than a No. 7. Other possible first-round foes include Miami and Milwaukee, with the Indiana Pacers a possible but unlikely opponent considering they need to win just one of their last four games to finish with a playoff seeding no worse than No. 5.

HEALTHY TERRY ROZIER

The 6-foot-2 guard was back on the court in Boston’s 96-78 loss at Toronto after missing the previous game with a left ankle sprain. Boston needs good health across the board, but particularly when it comes to Rozier. He has shown flashes of being a big-time scorer – when healthy – and for the Celtics to have the kind of postseason they envision, they will need the third-year guard to be a major factor.

MARCUS MORRIS IN RHYTHM

As we’ve gotten deeper into this season, the impact of Morris on this Celtics team has grown. He has proven to be a walking mismatch for the Celtics most nights, and has really stepped his game up of late. In the month of March, he averaged 18.9 points and 5.6 rebounds while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from 3-point range. Delivering games along those lines in the playoffs will go a long way in Boston’s quest to shock the world with a deep playoff run.

LARKIN’S CHANGE OF PACE GAME

Shane Larkin has been among the Celtics players who have elevated their play with an increased role courtesy of injuries. March was indeed a good month for the 5-foot-10 guard, as he averaged 7.7 points, 2.9 rebounds and 3.1 assists while shooting 40.9 percent from the field and 48.0 percent from 3-point range. He has missed the last couple of games battling a flu virus, but he’s progressing and should be good to go when it matters most – the playoffs.

AGGRESSIVE AL HORFORD

Al Horford is often criticized for not being as assertive as fans would like when it comes to scoring. But all acknowledge his contributions to the team’s success, many of which don’t necessarily show up in the stat sheets. That said, Horford has to be one of Boston’s most impactful players whether it’s scoring, rebounding, defense or getting shots for his teammates. But at the end of the night, his presence has been undeniable.

Jayson Tatum on overhyped talk: 'I'll stick to my job'

Jayson Tatum on overhyped talk: 'I'll stick to my job'

A story earlier this week from Bleacher Report's Grant Hughes calling burgeoning young Celtics star Jayson Tatum one of the NBA's five most overrated players has expectedly ruffled some feathers in the Boston sports stratosphere. 

But Tatum himself is taking the high road. In a conversation with ESPN's Chris Forsberg centered around his recent workouts with future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant, the 20-year-old forward, who finished third in Rookie of the Year voting this past season, said he wasn't bothered by the article:

While Hughes acknowledged that Tatum could be a franchise player, his reasoning for inclusion on the list was that he could be a victim of the stacked team for which he plays, saying, "Kyrie has never been one to take a backseat, and with him back on the floor, it'll be much harder for Tatum to build on his postseason takeover."

As for the session with Kobe? Tatum clearly absorbed a lot:

Hughes also named Warriors center DeMarcus Cousins, Raptors forward Kawhi Leonard, Bulls foward Zach LaVine and Suns forward Josh Jackson in the company of overhyped players.

It's been quite a week for Tatum, the former No. 3 overall pick out of Duke University. Earlier in the week, the St. Louis native had his jersey number permanently retired at his high school alma mater.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Anything is Podable Episode Four: Building the Roster

Even with three All-Stars in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce, Danny Ainge and the Celtics knew that, in order to win a championship, the team needed a strong supporting cast of role players.

Episode Four of NBC Sports Boston’s “Anything is Podable” takes a look at how Ainge constructed the rest of the roster and how one word, “ubuntu,” set the tone for a memorable season.

Giving the team a shooter off the bench, as well as another veteran presence in the locker room, Eddie House was perfect for the 2008 Celtics.

“I remember going to a practice when he was a young player,” said Ainge regarding House. “Just watching him shoot, and shoot, and just amazed at what a great shooter this kid was.”

“I saw him have his 56 and 60 back-to-back point games in the Pac-10 and it was amazing.”

Long a fan of House, Ainge went out and got his guy, but he wasn’t finished yet.

James Posey, a veteran wing who had experience both starting and coming off the bench, was nearing a deal with the Nets, but one call changed everything.

“I actually told my agent, I’ll just go to New Jersey,” said Posey. “Then Eddie House called me.”

House convinced Posey to spurn the Nets in favor of the Celtics, giving Boston another veteran off the pine.

With the roster taking shape, what the team needed now was an identity.

Ubuntu.

Mentioned to Doc Rivers at a trustee meeting at Marquette University, the word that means “I am who I am because of you,” became the team’s mantra.

“I looked this word up and I spent, no exaggeration, hours and days on this word,” said Rivers. “Everything about the word epitomized what we had to be.”

Ubuntu was the rallying cry of the 2008 Celtics and it all started with a Board of Trustees meeting at Marquette.

Anything is Podable is a ten-part series diving into the story of the 2008 Celtics and their championship season, with exclusive, never-before-heard interviews with team executives, former players, and media members.

Narrated by Kyle Draper, it’s the perfect way for Celtics fans to pass time this offseason and get excited for 2018-19, a season in which the Celtics have as good a chance at raising their 18th championship banner as they’ve had since that magical 2008 season.

Fans can subscribe to the podcast through the link below and check out the other nine episodes for a look at this exclusive series.