Five Takeaways

Celtics aim to get back on track with short-handed lineup vs Bulls

Celtics aim to get back on track with short-handed lineup vs Bulls

BOSTON – By no means are the Boston Celtics in exclusive company when it comes to dealing with injuries.

But unlike most of the teams that have been without key players for long stretches, the Celtics have managed to not let the absence of core guys bog them down.

The Bulls have not been quite as fortunate.

They too have had their share of injuries to key players and like the Celtics, will close out the regular season with a roster that’s far from being at full strength.

Zach LaVine (left patellar tendinitis), former Providence College star Kris Dunn (right toe sprain), Denzel Valentine (left knee arthroscopy), Paul Zipser (left foot) and Haverhill, Mass. native Noah Vonleh (left calf) are all out tonight for Chicago.

“The biggest thing is just to get them to go out and compete every night. Brad has done an unbelievable job with that,” Hoiberg said. “Going back to opening night when (Gordon) Hayward had the (ankle) injury, to have to deal with your prized summer free agent, to have to deal with that is difficult. But he did such a geat job of getting guys to go out there and believe and buy in and play to the system. He’s handled an adverse situation as well as any I’ve ever seen.”

And most recently, the Celtics have come to grips with not having Kyrie Irving for the rest of the season and all of the playoffs. He will undergo a second procedure in less than two weeks on his left knee that will address the infection that pathology tests showed was present on the tension wire hardware that was removed from his knee on March 24.

“You look all across the board with what they’ve had to deal with, and for them to still be in the position they’re in, it says all you need to know about Brad Stevens. It’s an unbelievable job he’s done with this team this year.”

Here are five under-the-radar storylines to keep an eye on as the Boston Celtics look to get back on a winning track after two straight losses, against the Chicago Bulls tonight.


There was an unfamiliar name on the Boston Celtics injury/inactive list prior to tonight’s game. It was Jayson Tatum (rest) who will miss his first game of the season. The Celtics are also giving Al Horford (rest) the night off.


The Bulls have been bad all season, but that doesn’t diminish from the season that Portis has put together coming off the Chicago bench. He’s averaging 13.3 points and 6.8 rebounds per game and has tallied a league-best 10 double-doubles off the bench this season.


The former first-round pick from Haverhill, Mass. has been in search of a basketball home ever since he entered the NBA. Now in Chicago, Vonleh is with his third team in four years. For the Bulls, Vonleh has appeared in 21 games this season while averaging 6.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He is listed as not playing tonight due to a left calf injury.


Among the more notable problems for the Bulls this season has been their inability to get to the free throw line. They come into tonight’s game averaging 19.3 attempts which ranks 26th in free throw attempts per game.


It’ll be interesting to see which of these two do more damage inside the paint, because they both rank among the bottom-five with the Celtics and their 39.3 points in the paint coming in at No. 29, while the Bulls are slightly better with 41.8 points which ranks 25th.


Including the playoffs last year, Boston has won six of the last seven meetings against the Bulls. … the home team has won nine of the last 10 matchups.


Terry Rozier's clutch outing shouldn't be overlooked

AP Photo

Terry Rozier's clutch outing shouldn't be overlooked

BOSTON – As the Boston Celtics’ training camp drew closer and closer to an end, the defense was clearly ahead of the game.

And when the regular season began, Boston’s defense continued to stand out for all the right reasons, as the Celtics have switched – literally – to what they’ve done in past seasons under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

Boston’s ability to seemingly switch at damn near every position, has been critical to the team’s ability to withstand an onslaught of injuries and yet still manage to keep up their winning ways.

“One of the things we noticed early on with our team was, that we had guys that could switch, play multiple positions. We have a lot of interchangeable parts when fully healthy,” Stevens said. “And we do a lot of late switching, so we try to take away the three-point line. It’s a big part of what we try to do.”

Stevens added, “I was surprised how advanced we were one or two weeks in, and defensively overall. We did a lot more switching than we have in the past, because we have a lot more length or positional versatility defensively.”

Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 97-94 win over Utah.


His emergence this season has been a huge factor in the Celtics winning as much as they have, with Rozier elevating his play in just about every statistical category this season. But down the stretch, Rozier has been one of the team’s best players when it matters most when he’s in the starting lineup.

As a starter, Rozier is sixth in the NBA in “clutch” scoring with his most recent game against Utah serving as a reminder. In Boston’s win over the Jazz, Rozier had 13 points, 11 of which came in the fourth quarter.


After missing six straight games while in the NBA’s concussion protocol program, Brown appears to have picked up right where he left off. He continues to expand his game in a multitude of ways, proving he’s more than just an athletic wing player. While he certainly made headlines with his game-winning 3-pointer at Utah, Brown had a strong game all night by mixing in drives to the basket, pull-up jumpers and post-ups that added up to a team-high 21 points.


Because Brad Stevens is, well, Brad Stevens, he’s always going to be in the conversation for Coach of the Year. But what he did during this four-game sweep out West may be just what puts him over the top for what would be his first NBA Coach of the Year award. We tend to reward coaches who do the most with the least. Missing five of your top seven players, on the road against a team that’s fighting for a playoff spot and is historically strong at home… it would be one thing if the Celtics did that every now and then. But they do this all the time, which is why it’s hard to imagine a scenario where Stevens doesn’t finish among the top-three vote-getters for the Coach of the Year award.


Injuries have left the Celtics no choice but to stick with a group of seldom-used role players who now find themselves in prominent roles and are being counted on to not just compete, but find ways to help the Celtics win games. Few would have envisioned the Celtics would be leaning on Semi Ojeleye, Abdel Nader and Shane Larkin to play key roles for them this late in the season. It says a lot about their ability to make the most of their opportunities to play.


The 20-year-old Tatum faced two of the best rookies in the NBA in Phoenix’s Josh Jackson and Utah’s Donovan Mitchell. Not only did Tatum play well in both games, but he also played a major role in Boston coming away with the victory in each game. And as good as he has been this season, the 6-foot-8 rookie is having his best month scoring (16.2 points) and assists (2.3) per game.





Celtics nearly hit a valley in the desert

Celtics nearly hit a valley in the desert

BOSTON -- You never want to turn your nose up to a win in the NBA, but let’s be real. 
Boston’s 102-94 win at Phoenix on Monday was an absolute stinker for the Celtics. 
They jumped on the Suns and led by 20 early in the second quarter, and then . . . they went away from all the good things they were doing to get the lead. 
The C's had a bad team down, doing what you’re supposed to do. And then they let up, gave them life and -- if not for another strong game from Jayson Tatum -- could have wound up losing to a team that hasn’t won a game all month. 
Seriously. The Suns are 0-for-March with Monday’s loss being their 12th this month in as many games. 
It was a game in which we saw coach Brad Stevens visibly upset, more so than we’ve seen at any other point this season.
“I was mad too,” Al Horford told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin. “I felt like we were walking around, thinking the game was going to fall in our lap. We really had to work for this one.”
And that is a shame, because the Suns are only working towards best positioning themselves for the top overall pick in June’s NBA draft right now. Injuries to Devin Booker (hand) and T.J. Warren (knee), their top two scorers this season, kept both out of the lineup against Boston. 
Booker knows the timing of the injuries will lead many to believe that the Suns have mailed it in on this season. Prior to the game, Booker talked about how hard things are now “because everyone thinks I’m faking [the injury], think we’re trying to tank. That’s not the case.”
Regardless, the Suns are, record-wise, the worst team in the NBA. And the Celtics needed a strong fourth quarter showing to put them away. 
“Whatever it takes, it’s a win on the road,” Horford said. 
Here are five takeaways from Boston’s 102-94 win over the Phoenix Suns:

Marcus Morris suffered a right ankle sprain for the second straight game (he didn’t play in Boston’s win at Sacramento because of the first ankle sprain). With so many core guys already out with injuries for extended periods of time, the Celtics need to think long and hard about possibly keeping Morris out until the playoffs. His value to this team could not be higher than it is right now, showcasing a big-time scoring skillset which has been huge in the C's finding ways to win without their best scorer (Kyrie Irving) and best defender (Marcus Smart) both out for the remainder of the regular season. 

It’s going to be awful hard for any Celtics fan to forget the five straight free throws he missed at New Orleans earlier this month, but he’s doing his part to move on and make the most of his shot at playing time. Nader was one of the unsung heroes in Boston’s win over the Suns, primarily with his defense and timely hustle. He needed a game like this and so did the Celtics, who were way off their game large stretches against Phoenix.


He has been one of the NBA’s best players in the fourth quarter this season, but the 20-year-old rookie seems ready to embrace the need for the fourth-quarter mentality to kick in at the start of games. And the need for him to become even more of a go-to guy may be on the horizon depending on what the Celtics decide to do with Marcus Morris.


It seems we’re always at this point with Brad Stevens around this time, huh? He’s a no-brainer to be on everyone’s top-five list. But what makes this year’s coaching job so impressive, is how he handled having so much elite talent disappear and re-appear over and over again. All he did was find different ways to position his players to win games to the point where he’s likely to once again win more games than the previous season. We often award the coach who does the most with the least amount of talent. But Stevens has done the most with the most amount of talent lost to injuries and that should be commended. 


With concern over Marcus Morris’ right ankle and Jayson Tatum (23 points) having a big night, lost in all that was a really strong game by Al Horford. He finished with a near double-double of 19 points and 9 rebounds while also dishing out seven assists. On a night when too many players were off their game, Boston needed someone to deliver a solid, stealth-like performance and Horford was definitely up to the challenge.