Celtics' Youth Steps Up, Soars Past Hawks

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics were missing five veterans from their lineup Friday night, forcing them to take on the Atlanta Hawks with a 10-man roster consisting of six rookies, a sophomore and a third-year player. The scenario was far from ideal, yet somehow they made it work.

The Celtics were able to secure a 119-110 win without the services of Gordon Hayward, Kyrie Irving, Shane Larkin, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart. They successfully leaned on their youth, receiving 82 points from players aged 23 years or younger.

For the second straight game, Terry Rozier stepped into Irving’s starting point guard role and excelled. The 23-year-old guard followed up Wednesday night’s triple-double effort against the New York Knicks with a career-high 31-point performance Friday night against the Hawks. He shot 11-of-18 from the field, including 6-of-8 from 3-point range, while also corralling seven rebounds, dishing out two assists and snagging two steals.

Rookie Jayson Tatum turned his game up a notch as well, logging a career-high 27 points, along with four rebounds, three assists and a career-high-tying four steals.

“With so many guys not playing, a lot of points were missing,” said the 19-year-old forward. “So in order for us to win, guys had to do more.”

But it wasn’t just Tatum and Rozier carrying the load; the Celtics relied heavily upon rookies Abdel Nader, Semi Ojeleye and Daniel Theis, who all played at least 23 minutes apiece off the bench. Even two-way player Kadeem Allen enjoyed an eight-minute run with Boston’s second unit.

If the majority of Boston’s veterans had been playing in this game, there would have been no chance for all of those young players to receive significant minutes. But the depleted Celtics needed all the help they could get, and every player that was called upon took advantage of their respective opportunities, all while gaining vital experience toward their development.

“It’s great experience when you have the responsibility of the game on your shoulders,” said coach Brad Stevens. “Abdel hasn’t played as much in the middle of the flow of the game, where the swings with the second unit might determine the game. Terry hasn’t had as much on his plate where he’s playing four stints now, and that fourth stint feels a lot different because you’ve already expended the energy in the first three, and he’s used to playing two. So, it’s just great experience, and hopefully that bodes well.”

If anything, the experience should at least bode well for the collective confidence of Boston’s youth. The Celtics had to survive through the last two games without both the leaders of their first and second units in Irving and Smart. Both times, the team succeeded in phenomenal fashion.

Wednesday night, it was Boston’s defense that got the job done. The C’s held the New York Knicks to just 73 points, while scoring 103 of their own. It was Boston’s greatest defensive effort of the season, as well as its largest blowout win of the season.

Friday night, it was the Celtics’ offense that got it done. Without Irving, they were able to produce their second-highest scoring effort of the campaign, which was spearheaded by a season-best 41-point third-quarter effort.

“It speaks a lot out of the guys here,” said Al Horford, who was one of only two veterans to suit up for the C’s Friday night. “Everybody stayed focus. We just kind of came out here and found a way. Everybody stepped up and did their part.”

The Celtics will have to maintain their next-man-up mentality heading into Sunday’s contest as well. They are set to face off against a talented Portland team, and it’s uncertain if any of their five injured vets will be able to play.

With that being said, there appears to be no challenge that this young group of Celtics will back down from. As inexperienced as it may be, Boston keeps finding its way into the win column, and its collective confidence continues to climb with every victory.