BOSTON – You won’t find anyone connected with the Celtics that likes the idea of not having Kyrie Irving around.
Still, in the two games he has missed because of a right quadriceps injury, there has been an undeniable silver lining to his absence.
The play of Terry Rozier has stood out, obviously.
But a deeper dive reveals Rozier’s play speaks to a greater reality for this team, one where Rozier is just one of many young Celtics who are making the most of having a more prominent, impactful role.
“I just think when you’re young and you get the opportunity to play, it’s great experience when you have the responsibility of the game on your shoulders instead of just, you know, when you increase your minutes played,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Indeed, we have seen end-of-the-bench players such as Abdel Nader not only play more but make plays at both ends of the floor to key Celtics victories.
“Maybe Ab [Nader] hasn’t played as much in the middle of the flow of the game, where the swings with the second unit might determine the game,” Stevens said. “Terry hasn’t had as much on his plate where he’s playing four stints now, and that four-stint feels a lot different because you’ve already expended the energy in the first three, and he’s used to playing two. So, it’s just – it’s great experience, obviously, and hopefully, that bodes well, but we’ll see.”
Here are five other takeaways from Boston’s 119-110 win over the Atlanta Hawks that extended the winning streak to three:
Without Kyrie Irving, victories for Boston have to come by committee. That’s exactly what we saw on Friday night against Atlanta. The Celtics had all five starters reach double-figures scoring, four of whom had at least 17 points.
TATUM TEARIN’ IT UP
With nearly two-thirds of the regular season in the books now, that rookie wall you hear about all the time appears to have passed Jayson Tatum by Sure, he’s had a few up-and-down stretches of play, but nothing all that different than what his more seasoned teammates have experienced. The biggest adjustment you can see in Tatum’s game lately is how quickly he looks to go with a counter move when his initial approach isn’t readily available. On Friday, he kept the Hawks guessing all game before finishing with a career-high 27 points.
The Atlanta Hawks have been a bad team all season, but one thing they have been very good at is forcing turnovers. The Hawks force 15.8 turnovers per game which ranks second in the NBA. Those miscues generate a league-best 18.5 points for the Hawks. Boston kept its mistakes to a relative minimum against Atlanta, turning the ball over 11 times which led to 15 points for the Hawks.
For most of this season, Boston’s transition game has been in neutral. They average 9.7 fast-break points, which ranks 24th in the NBA. Against the Hawks, Boston got in transition to score 16 points - one of the many keys to victory for the Celtics.
It’s a four-quarter game, but the Celtics won this contest in large part due to a dominant third quarter in which they outscored the Hawks 41-20. This was a stretch in which Boston’s defense triggered easy scores at the other end of the floor. But strong defense is not unusual for the Celtics. Boston has been the league’s leader in defensive efficiency most of this season. They have been particularly good defensively in the third quarter with a league-best defensive rating in the third quarter of 97.8.