NBA: Nothing Will Stop the Boston Celtics From Winning
Terry Rozier, Shane Larkin, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Greg Monroe; that was the crunch-time lineup the Boston Celtics used in Wednesday’s game against the red-hot Utah Jazz. Boston went on a 9-0 run in the final 2:10, and won 97-94.
Here's your Jaylen Brown game winner. Celtics win 97-94 pic.twitter.com/0SXynn1H9O
— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) March 29, 2018
In terms of health, the month of March was far from forgiving for the Boston Celtics. First, Brown suffered a scary concussion in a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves. Then, Daniel Theis tore his meniscus and needed season-ending surgery. After that, doctors decided that Marcus Smart’s thumb injury would need surgery, likely ruling him out for the first few rounds of the playoffs.
During this time, Kyrie Irving was also battling knee soreness. After it became clear his knee wasn’t progressing, Irving had a minimally invasive surgery, which will keep him sidelined for another 3-6 weeks. In addition, Al Horford and Marcus Morris have missed several games, including the team’s most recent one against the Jazz.
So to recap March so far for the Celtics:
3/3: Brad says Gordon’s not playing; Kyrie 1st knee soreness
3/8: Jaylen concussion
3/11: Theis tears meniscus; Smart tears tendon in thumb; Kyrie knee forces him out
3/15: Theis surgery
3/16: Smart surgery
3/24: Kyrie surgery
— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) March 23, 2018
Heading into Wednesday’s game, the Boston Celtics were without all of these players. The average NBA experience on the active roster was three years, and the only veterans were Aron Baynes and Greg Monroe. The leading minute-getter was Larkin, the leading point-scorer was the 21-year-old Brown, and Tatum — a recently turned 20-year-old led the team in field-goal attempts.
The Rise of Terry Rozier
Terry Rozier — who’s shown flashes of elite-level play throughout the season — has taken advantage of the circumstantial increase in minutes. In the month of March, Rozier is averaging 17 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists-per-game. Check out his recent highlights against the Sacramento Kings:
The third-year guard has become the primary playmaker on offense, and in the process has shown some shot-creating chops. Over the last 12 games, Rozier is shooting 52.7 percent on pull-up and step-back three-pointers. Although this is a small sample size (19 attempts), his recent effectiveness from range is no fluke. This season Rozier is averaging a career-high in both three-point percentage (38.9) and three-point attempts-per-game (5.0).
Rozier will have to keep working on his effectiveness inside — currently shooting 49 percent on shots in the restricted area — but his progression as an offensive player has been a bright spot in what was a rough month for the team.
Tatum Taking Advantage of His Larger Role
This recent run of injuries — and the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward — has allowed Jayson Tatum to spread his wings in a bigger offensive role. In March, Tatum is averaging 16 points and 49.0 percent shooting from the floor.
He is taking more threes and getting to the line more often, a good sign for the rookie forward. His three-point percentage has also spiked back-up to 41.5 percent in March after he shot 34 and 39 percent, respectively, in January and February.
Tatum started off the season scorching-hot — he nearly shot 50 percent from three in October and November — but then hit a rookie wall in the preceding months. Once his three-pointer stopped falling, he started to settle for a lot of deep twos, and other low-efficiency shots.
After a rough couple of weeks, he’s come around offensively and is more comfortable creating his own shots. On pull-ups, fadeaways, and step-backs, Tatum has shot 53.8 percent on a total of 39 attempts. Check out this shot he made Wednesday night. Here, Tatum is able to use his ball-handling to penetrate, and after reading the defense, he nails the step-back:
Although he’s settling for too many mid-range shots — a quarter of his shot attempts come from that range — Tatum has shown great improvement offensively.
Brad Stevens is the Coach of the Year
The solid play of Rozier and Tatum has been important to this recent run. Indeed, head coach Brad Stevens is mostly responsible. If he hadn’t already made a strong enough case for COTY, Stevens has certainly done so during this recent stretch.
Despite the injuries, the team has stayed on-par both offensively and defensively. In the month of March, the Celtics offensive (105.3) and defensive (101.9) ratings have been identical to their season averages (105.4 and 101.2). Boston has taken less threes-per-game in March (27.8) than any other month. Nonetheless, they’re also making them at the highest average rate (42.0 percent).
Stevens has proven to be a master at plugging the right guys into specified roles. Semi Ojeleye, for example, was substituted in for the final play against the Jazz. Although this seems like a strange sub for the situation — Ojeleye is shooting 30.6 percent on threes this season — the rookie forward delivered what was ultimately the game-winning assist.
The teams’ effectiveness with these lineups shouldn’t come as a surprise for die-hard Boston Celtics fans who’ve picked-up on Stevens’ tinkering earlier in the season. Often times the 41-year-old head coach will sporadically play certain role guys bigger minutes throughout the course of an 82-game season.
When Larkin was given a 24-minute workload in a random December game against the Charlotte Hornets, Stevens was likely using that as a building block for later in the season — in situations like the team is in now — when they need him to be confident.
Teams never know if they’ll need certain players on their bench to perform. Coach Stevens has become a master at keeping everyone ready. Especially for when he ultimately calls on them to fulfill a role.
The Boston Celtics must get healthy if they want a chance at advancing in the playoffs. However, this recent stretch of bad-luck may be an important growing experience for a young team.