Top-to-Bottom Effort? The Celtics Needed That

LOS ANGELES – Brad Stevens said late Wednesday night that he doesn’t believe in exhaling after a win. Be that as it may, the Celtics should breathe a sigh of relief following their 113-102 victory over the LA Clippers.

This was a “needed that” win for Boston, in so many ways.

After losing no more than two consecutive games all season long leading up to the last week of play, the Celtics dropped four in a row heading into Wednesday night. Boston was set to play on the second night of a back-to-back, without Al Horford (rest) and Marcus Smart (hand injury), and against a Clippers team that had won six of its last eight games.

The odds of the C’s coming out on top were not exactly overwhelming.

Boston’s effort, however, was.

The Celtics played from ahead nearly all night long while displaying an electric and balanced offense that was bolstered by a strong defense. Five C’s scored at least 12 points, led by Kyrie Irving’s 20, and every member of the team who saw significant playing time made a positive impact on the game.

“We played really well together,” Stevens said after the win. “We moved the ball, shared it all night, played with a purpose.”

The Celtics needed that.

They couldn’t have done it without receiving contributions from everyone up and down the roster. Need proof of that concept? Kyrie Irving averaged 36.5 points per game during Boston’s previous two games, and the C’s lost both of them. Wednesday night, Irving scored 20, and the Celtics won by 11.

“It was good for us to just play hard and take a lot of weight off [Irving’s] shoulders,” said Terry Rozier.

Rozier was one of the players who stepped up in the absence of Smart and Horford. The third-year point guard had scored in single-digits during each of the previous six games, but he played with aggression Wednesday night and finished with 15 points that were highlighted by a 6-for-6 effort from the free-throw line.

Alongside Rozier for much of his night was fellow reserve guard Shane Larkin, who tallied five points and four assists. Those numbers may not ring loud, but Larkin and Rozier made a significant impact as a duo for the first time in a long time.

“I thought that Terry and Shane were really hard to guard,” Stevens said, “with their speed and their ability to get into the paint and make plays, and then Terry obviously finished a couple. I thought that we just had a good rhythm with that group.”

That rhythm breathed its way into rookie Semi Ojeleye.

Ojeleye had not scored a point since Dec. 23. He did not make a single shot for more than a month, and he had fallen out of Boston’s rotation.

“It’s my first year, and there’s going to be ups and downs, and I knew that coming in,” Ojeleye told Wednesday night, “but when you’re in a down, it’s like, ‘I’m never going to get out.’”

Yet Ojeleye climbed his way out Wednesday night, as he returned to his early-season ways that screamed of 3-and-D potential. Ojeleye made two of his three 3-pointers and three of his five field goals overall while tallying eight points and five rebounds during 18 minutes of action.

The rookie had been waiting for a night like this for all too long. He needed it.

“I just thank God, really,” he said with a big smile as he recalled seeing his shot finally drop through the basket.

There were more Celtics who were smiling after their performances. Aron Baynes hadn’t made more than five field goals in a game since Dec. 16. He shot 6-for-8 Wednesday night and also grabbed six boards.

Jayson Tatum hadn’t made more than four field goals in a game since he was in London. He made seven Wednesday night and totaled 18 points.

Daniel Theis played well, Marcus Morris played well, and really, the list goes right on down to every member of the team who played more than five minutes.

Yes, Irving is great, and Horford is an All-Star as well, but the Celtics won’t be successful team without these types of contributions from the ‘other guys’ on this team. Stevens admitted as much after the win, saying, “We need all of those guys.”

They were there to deliver the goods Wednesday night. Every Celtic was.

That deserves a sigh of relief following a four-game losing streak that no one saw coming.

But don’t exhale for too long – the Golden State Warriors are next.