C’s Youth Rises Up, Grabs 'W' Despite IT’s Absence

ORLANDO – The Boston Celtics could have easily wilted Wednesday night when they took on the Orlando Magic without the guidance of leading scorer and playmaker Isaiah Thomas.

Boston’s youth, however, saw it as an opportunity to step up. And they seized it by energizing the Celtics to their largest win of the season despite the absence of their injured All-Star point guard.

“We just wanted to hold it down for Isaiah,” said Jaylen Brown, who dropped 13 points off the bench during Boston’s 117-87 at Amway Center. “That’s a big piece missing from our team, so we had to come out, really share the ball and make an emphasis on playing the game the right way. And I think we did tonight.”

Brown, Terry Rozier and fill-in starter Marcus Smart, all helped to fill Thomas’ offensive void by combining for 42 points against a defensively gifted Orlando squad. The young threesome also contributed strongly on the defensive end, as the C’s outscored Orlando 68-37 during the second half.

“They played with a lot of confidence,” commented veteran Al Horford on the play of Boston’s youth. “They looked really comfortable. And the thing I was most proud of was they played really hard on the defensive end, and on offense took good shots and didn’t force anything.”

Rozier delivered the most promising performance of the night, as he scored a career-high 16 points and served as a primary playmaker for the C’s. The second-year point guard said after the game that it was the most comfortable he’d felt running an offense since his college days at Louisville.

“We drew up some plays that I got to work with,” said Rozier, who also tallied five rebounds, a pair of assists and did not turn the ball over once during 26 minutes of action. “I had a lot of space and I just felt like I got the opportunity. Guys were screaming for me, they were going under, so I got to work with a lot of room and just play my game.”

Another Celtic who got to show off his game was Brown, who electrified the offense, particularly during the second quarter when he threw down a posterizing dunk over 7-foot center Nikola Vucevic.

The rookie forward earned 22 minutes off the bench for Boston, marking the third consecutive game in which he’s seen 15-plus minutes of action.

“I feel like my teammates are trusting me more and I’m getting more trust from the coaching staff,” said Brown. “I’m just coming out, trying to make plays, be in the right spots and just play some good basketball.”

And when Brown and Rozier were on the floor together Wednesday night, they played some great basketball.

Their endless motors and uncanny athleticism was too much for the Magic to handle, as the pair fed off of each other’s energy and strong communication.

“When me and Terry get in, we talk to each other,” said Brown. “We say, ‘We just gotta run.’ That’s our focus. We’re young and we try to get up and down the floor. It makes the game a little bit easier for us and we get good shots out of it.”

No one enjoyed witnessing Brown and Rozier’s success more than Avery Bradley, who has worked closely with the pair over the last few months.

“I’m so happy for them,” said Bradley, who scored a game-high 23 points. “I’m so happy for a guy like Terry that I work out with every single day, and to work on all those things and to have it translate to the game.

“And Jaylen – we spent time together yesterday and I told him, ‘Don’t think, just go out there and play basketball.’ So for him to go out there and have the game that he had tonight, I’m happy for him. And I hope they can continue to keep playing basketball at that level.”

The youth’s stellar effort Wednesday night served as a reminder of Boston’s incredible depth and the bright future that’s in store for the franchise.

It also proved that the C’s can step up and tackle difficult obstacles that are thrown their way.

If Thomas’ groin injury keeps him sidelined, Boston could face another hurdle Friday night when it takes on the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors at TD Garden.

But if that’s the case, the Celtics’ youth will be ready to rise to the occasion again.

“You gotta fight adversity,” said Rozier. “You’re not always going to have your best player playing with you and you have to work with what you have to work with. But we got the job done tonight offensively and defensively. We’re feeling special, so we just gotta carry it over to Friday night.”

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