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Who do you think becomes the Celtics’ go-to guy in the playoffs with Irving is out?
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Steve Aschburner: One thing we can’t really do is base this answer on last spring’s performances. Of Boston’s top seven scorers in its 18 playoff games in 2017, only Al Horford still is on the roster and/or healthy. Horford is a logical answer here, a pillar of stability for the Celtics. But I’m more interested in how guard Terry Rozier steps up in Irving’s absence. Danny Ainge’s favorite Celtic only averaged 16.3 minutes and 5.6 points in the playoffs a year ago, but he took on a bigger role this regular season. His minutes with Irving out should double what they were in 2017, and I’d expect his scoring and assists to triple. Rozier is explosive enough to create some havoc on the court and in the opponents’ game plan. Stability is big but Boston is going to need a serious X-factor going forward.
Shaun Powell: The Celtics won't have a designated lead singer without Kyrie Irving because nobody has that qualification or experience in the NBA and some didn't even have it in college. If we must nominate someone, then the obvious answer is Jayson Tatum, whose shot attempts and crunch-time role have expanded lately. But again, as a rookie, Tatum has never played this deep into the basketball season or knows what playoff intensity is like. Boston's blueprint without Kyrie must be the "by committee" approach; anything else will prove deadly to the Celtics' chances of lasting very long.
John Schuhmann: First of all, lets marvel at the fact that Irving has attempted twice as many shots (101) in the clutch (score within five points in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime) as any teammate (Jayson Tatum is next with 51). But the answer is "Everybody." The Celtics will ask Terry Rozier and (to a lesser extent) Tatum to create off the dribble, and they will work through multiple guys (Greg Monroe, Al Horford and Marcus Morris) in the post. If you look at the last 11 games (since Irving last played), usage rate has been pretty balanced, though their assist percentage (AST/FGM) has been lower (56 percent, 24th in the league) than it was prior (58 percent, 18th). Morris has stepped up offensively, averaging 21 points on an effective field goal percentage of 55 percent in the nine games he's played, and Tatum, Rozier and Morris have shared clutch shots pretty evenly.
Sekou Smith: The leadership of this group has been handled all season by All-Star big man Al Horford, who has always been one of the league's best (and perhaps most underrated) in that department. But the Celtics will need a wild card in these playoffs, someone whose contributions will need to rise above the expectation of what he would normally be counted on to provide. Jaylen Brown's shown a penchant for stepping up and into the void when the Celtics have needed it this season and he's the guy I suspect will do the same in these playoffs. He's physically capable of holding his own at a couple of positions and will serve as the primary defender on the opposition's best perimeter offensive player. He'll have to tote more of a load this time around than you might be comfortable with for a second-year player. But I think he's more than up to the task and eager for the challenge.
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