Boston's Youngsters Brew Confidence During Monday's Win in Chicago

Monday’s victory by the Boston Celtics was more than just a notch in the win column. It was a confidence booster for the entire roster, and the Celtics are better off because of it.

Boston controlled its matchup with the Bulls from start to finish and closed out with a 119-103 victory in Chicago. The win was made possible, in large part, by the play of a crop of reserves who badly needed an opportunity to contribute to a win – and contribute they did.

Rookie Aaron Nesmith and second-year guard Carsen Edwards provided their most impactful minutes of the season while combining for 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting from long range. This is after the duo combined for only 55 total points all season prior to Monday.

Grant Williams returned to form and scored eight points, including the most important basket of the game, while also providing four boards and strong defense. This is after he saw a significant decrease in his impact and his playing time during the previous week.

Javonte Green played 18 energetic minutes and canned a pair of 3-pointers during the win. Green hadn’t made a 3-pointer since Dec. 29, when he converted his one and only triple of the season during a game in Indiana.

Long story short, these guys desperately needed a night like Monday, and ironically, the Celtics needed them right back.

That’s because Boston was down two of its key rotational players in All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, who rested on the second night of a back-to-back, and guard Payton Pritchard, who is out with a right knee sprain. Additionally, Jayson Tatum returned to the lineup from a 16-day absence due to COVID-19, and there was no guarantee as to how effective he would be after such a long layoff.

Those circumstances spoke to Boston’s crop of young players, telling them that they were needed, and to be ready. That fact matters more than one might assume.

“I think that keeps people engaged,” Bead Stevens said of his back-end reserves knowing that they’d get an opportunity to play. “Guys are excited to be a part of it even more when they know that they might get their number called.”

Nesmith and Edwards, in particular, had rarely heard their number called this season prior to Monday. Nesmith had logged just 82 total minutes of action, while Edwards had played just 48. They hadn’t done much with those minutes either, as they had combined to shoot just 8-for-31 from long range despite their reputations as sharpshooters.

Nesmith admitted Monday night that being a rookie with an uncertain role on a contender has been far from an easy process for him.

“It’s been a journey,” he said. “It’s been tough at times, for sure.”

Yet throughout those difficult times he has remained “locked in,” as he called it, from the sideline, knowing that he needed to remain sharp mentally for a night like Monday. He was prepared for the moment, and he succeeded at both ends of the court.

Stevens commented after the game about the potential he sees in the 21-year-old rookie, while also noting that the public shouldn’t judge Nesmith on his sporadic minutes.

“I just think he has a chance to be a good defender and he’s worked really hard at learning that,” Stevens said. “And I think the game is slowing down a little bit at the other end, so that’s a good thing.”

It sure is, because the Celtics could certainly use sharpshooters like Nesmith and Edwards to space the floor around Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker.

Speaking of spacing the floor, that’s also an area in which the Celtics need Williams to succeed. He did so Monday night, connecting on two of his three 3-pointers. One of those shots arrived at the 3:37 mark of the fourth quarter, after Chicago had scored 11 straight points to claw back to within 10.

That 3-pointer was a bona fide knockout punch. A miss would have given Chicago an opportunity to cut its deficit to single-digits with more than three minutes left on the clock, and this game very well could have gone in a different direction.

Instead, Williams slammed the door on the Bulls, and this was after Williams did not play a second during the first three quarters of the game. That’s the definition of delivering when your number is called, and that surely felt great for the second-year forward.

The same can be said for Green, who has made an impact this season with his defense and energy but has struggled to find his shooting rhythm. Green, too, confidently stepped into a big 3-pointer during the fourth quarter, as his triple at the 8:48 mark of the final period bumped Boston’s lead from nine up to 12.

This hot shooting can be critical for each young player’s psyche moving forward. Tatum hasn’t been in their shoes during his career, but he fully understands what they’re going through.

“They don’t always necessarily know when their number’s going to get called,” Tatum said, “and that’s tough, because all of us were stars wherever we came from, in college, overseas, high school, and then to come and just have a different role than you’re used to and having to adapt is not easy.

“But (that’s) just being a professional and buying into the team, and that’s what those guys do every night. Especially when they get a chance and an opportunity and they play well, I couldn’t be happier.”

Tatum couldn’t be happier, and neither could this quartet of young Celtics. They got their shot Monday night and they took advantage of it.

Now they’re full of confidence, and the rest of the team is even more confident in them. There’s no doubt that Boston in better place following Monday’s victory than it was before tip-off.

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