Next Man Up: C's Win Convincingly Despite Injuries
BOSTON – Amidst a three-game losing streak, Celtics’ coach Brad Stevens said at Saturday afternoon’s practice that he would consider tinkering with Boston’s rotation in an effort to break it out of its funk.
Little did he know at the time that he would be forced to mix things up Monday night, as two of Boston’s starters were sidelined with injuries when they hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves at TD Garden.
Amir Johnson (plantar fasciitis) and Jared Sullinger (back spasms) were unable to suit up, meaning the Celtics had to take a double dose of a “next man up” mentality in order to avoid their fourth straight loss.
Stevens inserted Kelly Olynyk into the starting lineup for the first time this season, with the hope that the 7-footer would deliver a scoring punch for the C’s.
Olynyk responded to that spot start with one of his most efficient scoring efforts of the season: He shot 7-of-10 from the field – including 3-of-3 from deep – for a team-high 19 points.
Olynyk’s hot hand also freed up space for his teammates, who all contributed to the well rounded, 113-99 win.
“He can space the floor, and so that assures you that he’s going to at least be defended out there,” Stevens said of Olynyk. “That opens up drives and opens up lanes for other people.”
The C’s collectively took full advantage of those wide-open lanes, shooting a 51.7 percent clip from the field.
Six Celtics logged double-digit scoring efforts. That included a 13-point, eight-rebound effort from David Lee, who started alongside Olynyk at the 4.
The absence of Johnson and Sullinger also opened doors for guys like Jonas Jerebko and Tyler Zeller, who haven’t seen a lot of playing time this season due to Boston’s frontcourt depth.
Zeller entered the Monday’s game averaging just 7.8 minutes per game, which is a huge decrease from last season’s average of 21.1 MPG.
That lack of playing time would be discouraging for most players, but Zeller is handling it like a true team player, according to Stevens.
“Surely it’s tough, he’s disappointed when he doesn’t play, but he doesn’t show it,” said Stevens. “He’s been a complete and total professional, and we already know that he’s a really good player.”
With an attitude like that, Zeller fully earned his spike of playing time Monday night, and he handled it brilliantly. He came off the bench and shot 7-of-10 from the field, notching 14 points and eight rebounds during 17 minutes of play.
“[I] try to be as ready as possible,” Zeller said of his daily approach. “With Sully and Amir out I knew I was gonna play; it wasn’t a surprise. I really just tried to be as mentally and physically ready as I could, and went out to play as hard as I could.”
Jerebko was also extremely effective coming off the bench. He fully bought into the next man up approach, hitting 4-of-7 field goal attempts for a tally of 12 points and seven boards.
“We have a lot of guys who can play basketball and we have a deep team,” said Jerebko. “Of course we missed [Johnson and Sullinger] today, but [that gave] other people and opportunity to step up and play well.”
Jerebko played particularly well from beyond the arc. He mirrored Olynyk’s perfection from deep, hitting 3-of-3 from long range.
And those two weren’t alone in their 3-point shooting prowess – the entire team performed well from long range, connecting on 12-of-25 total attempts from deep.
“Three-point shooting is probably the most contagious thing next to the flu,” Olynyk said after the game. “When one person makes them, they usually come in waves, so it’s good to get things going that way.”
Interestingly, one guy who did not really get things going scoring-wise was Boston’s top scorer.
Isaiah Thomas notched a season-low eight points on 3-of-9 shooting. He instead contributed as a distributor on one end and a ball hawk on the other, setting or tying game-highs with 12 assists and four steals.
Thomas placed seventh among Boston’s scorers Monday night, yet they won with enough ease to earn some Gino Time, to the delight of former Celtic Kevin Garnett on the opposing bench.
That type of well roundedness just proves how deep this Celtics roster is, and how fully capable they are in stepping up when key players go down with injuries.