Al Horford found himself in the NBA’s concussion protocol shortly after reportedly waking up with headaches after Monday’s game in Atlanta. Brad Stevens, as a result, had to get creative in matching the Lakers lengthy starting lineup. When asked prior to tip whether they’d miss Al more on the offensive or defensive end (where he’s currently ranked as the Leagues most efficient player) Stevens was unable to pick between the two.
The Celtics certainly suffered without him tonight, but they stretched their win streak to 10 games thanks in large part to a career night from the Aussie Hammer, Mr. Aron Baynes. He scored a new career high with 21 points in 23 minutes, and, for the first time in 6 NBA seasons, led his team in scoring for the night. The Celtics eventually beat the Lakers, 107-96.
The Game Flow
Stevens opted to roll with a variation of his “big” lineup to start the game – Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kyrie Irving. Daniel Theis would be subbed in later in Q1 and proved effective in protecting the rim while also answering the bell offensively with a couple of finishes at the basket (8 points & 5 rebs in 22 minutes on the night). In fact, one of the highlights of Q1 came when a driving Terry Rozier missed his layup but perfectly set Theis up to then finish on a tip-slam. Tito 3 Stacks was undoubtedly heated at himself after missing the layup, but he can rest assured he made up for it shortly thereafter as he drilled a buzzer beater 3 pointer to end the quarter- AND HE TOTALLY CALLED “BANK”.
The Celtics enjoyed a 9-0 run and made nearly half of their attempts during Q1 (46%FG). Why else were the Celtics so successful in Q1? 1) They shot nearly just as well from deep as they did from anywhere else on the floor, making 44% of their attempts. 2) Stevens’ starting lineup featuring Baynes and Morris flashed offensively. 3) On top of it all, Stevens’ Celtics received contributions from multiple guys that were either in college or the German League last year (Semi and Theis, for what it’s worth, both played WELL above their expectancy once again). This all factored into the Celtics bringing a 33-16 lead with them into the second quarter.
Things didn’t work quite as smoothly during Q2 and beyond.
First off, the Lakers stopped coughing it up as much. They had an incredible 9 turnovers in Q1 and followed that up with just 2 in Q2. As for the Celtics, they simply appeared to have hit a wall. They had a couple of cool/noteworthy plays, like Smart’s no-look pass to a cutting Semi Ojeleye who finished up and under PLUS the foul (highly suggest you watch this play- posted below). But then Semi missed the ensuing FT, and that play became a great representation of Q2 on the whole. The quarter had a lot of flash, such as Marcus Smart blocking Lonzo Ball at the rim (also HIGHLY suggest watching this one- posted below), but it lacked a true finish. Much like Semi, who made a pretty play but missed his attempted free throw, the Celtics initially built upon their Q1 score but then nearly blew a 21 point lead.
The Lakers’ Julius Randle entered and played 11 minutes during Q2 and in that short time managed to score 10 points, grab 7 rebounds, and dish 2 assists while nabbing a steal against our Celtics. Randle and Brandon Ingram seemed to be in the only Lakers interested in the game for much of the first half, in fact. But while one minute ESPN announcers are openly questioning the Lakers level of compete, the next minute Boston got sloppy and let LA back into the game. As a Celtics fan, you have to be used to this by now- you can never be too comfortable. No lead is safe with this team simply due to Stevens’ love for experimenting with lineups when he has a big lead. This may lead to success down the road and ultimately improve the team, but that doesn’t make it any easier to watch as a fan in the moment.
The only man that could stop the bleeding tonight was.. Aron Baynes. He and Kyrie Irving, who had a quiet first half overall but still razzle dazzled the home crowd with his handles at moments, both hit a couple timely shots at the end of quarter to ensure the Celtics were ahead going into the half. They entered the locker room with a dwindling yet respectable 61-52 lead.
It was clear the Lakers had started to try, it just took them a quarter or so to get going tonight. Lonzo Ball answered Marcus Smart’s earlier block with one of his own against the bulldog defender. Speaking of, it took a picture perfect round-the-world passing exercise facilitated by Kyrie to get Smart his first FG of the game (a shot from deep, of course), which occurred with 10 minutes left in Q3. Kyrie continued to dish, and Baynes continued to eat. He demonstrated beautiful footwork under the rim by scooping up rebound after rebound, particularly on the offensive end. Baynes finished the game with a new career high in 21 points and many of those can be attributed to the 5 offensive rebounds he grabbed tonight (8 total REB), including a nice tip-slam to put the team back up 8 points in Q3, then 76-68.
As for the Lakers, it was Brandon Ingram (18), Julius Randle (16), and Jordan Clarkson (18) that worked as the main offensive outputs for LA – though, notably, none of them cracked the 20 point mark on a night when the team so obviously needed an offensive leader. Julius Randle gave his best attempt at a takeover as he finished a play at the rim, plus the foul, to put his team within shouting distance before heading into the final frame; but the Celtics held on to their ever slimming lead, 87-81, after three quarters.
The fourth quarter’s lineup probably confused people considering guys like Shane Larkin and Daniel Theis were getting burn until about 7 minutes left in the game. The fact was, though, Horford’s injury (combined with Jayson Tatum unexpectedly leaving the game after half due to an apparent ankle injury) gave Stevens very little options in terms of defensive lineups. Larkin more than held his own, though, as he drew a charge in the waning minutes and later stonewalled Lonzo Ball around the 3 point arc, much to TD Garden’s delight.
But the Celtics couldn’t shoot there way out of a paper bag for much of tonight, and the Lakers were able to hang around because of it. Remember those awesome offensive Q1 numbers I shared with you? (They had shot 46% from the field).. Since then, keep in mind we’re talking halfway through Q4 now, the C’s had made just 28% of their attempts. That means they made roughly just 1 out of every 4 shots they had taken since the first quarter, and now the Lakers were officially knocking on their door – the Celtics led 91-88 with just under 8 minutes left in the game.
Luckily they have big shot Marcus on their team.
Although the team had started the game on fire by nailing 4 of 9 from deep in Q1, they had made just 2 of 16 since… then Marcus Smart received an assist from our other Marcus, Morris, and drilled a clutch 3 to stretch his team’s lead to 6 with just a few minutes remaining. The game came full circle for the Celtics as the team once again leaned on the men that were starting in place of the injured Horford, as well as their bench players who’ve continued to step up in big spots. Marcus Morris chipped in a timely baseline fall-away when he subbed in Q4, to go along with the aforementioned assist to Smart, and he finished with 18 points during a spot start in just his 3rd game back. Baynes, as previously stated, scored a career high and was continually fouled down the stretch- he made 5 of 8 free throws overall and assisted in icing the game for the Cs. Semi Ojeleye, who, as we’ve learned during his short stint here in Boston, always has a nose for the ball, tipped a Rozier miss out to Smart for an OREB with 3:30 left to go and the Celtics still clinging to a single digit lead. Kyrie’s handles secured the win for the Cs in the final minute.
Overall it was a great team win for the Celtics. Irving scored just 19 but chipped in 6 rebounds with 5 assists. Jaylen Brown only scored 9 points but made his impact on the boards by grabbing 11 rebounds. They each played 33 minutes and shot a combined 0 for 10 from deep tonight, but Boston still somehow pulled it off. It was a different kind of win then we may be used to seeing, but it was a win nonetheless. Now lets hope they bounce back and Tatum/Horford get healthy ASAP so we don’t have to rely on another career night from the Aussie Hammer anytime soon. Celtics win, 107-96.
The Hot and The Not
Hot: Aron Baynes! The Aussie Hammer! What a game for the man many of us (me) thought would be a disappointment to fans this year! Obviously those people (probably just me) are eating their words now and are ready to admit their mistakes (sorry guys) because they’re true believers now. Baynes shot 66% from the field (8 of 12) and scored a new career high while leading his team in points for the first time, as well, with 21 points. He also grabbed 8 rebounds on a night the Celtics needed all they could get from their big men.
Not: Has to be Lonzo Ball. My man went 4 from 15 from the field tonight including 1 of 5 from deep. He had 9 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists, so you’ll probably hear his dad talk about how he was on track to get a triple double but… he’s got a long way to go, to say the least.
What the Hell Just Happened?!
Speaking of Mr. Ball, I would LOVE to see the look on his face when this happened to his son. This post is in honor of the ESPN executives who thought “Lonzo Wednesday” should be a thing. Smart has something to say about that:
Because I wanted to make sure this was seen, this left ALL of the Lakers players wondering what the hell just happened and ALL of the Celtics fans tweeting-
It’s no accident Smart was involved in both of these; the man makes opposing players ask “what the hell just happened?” damn near every night. These are just a couple of great examples.