Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
The Celtics have had nice moments sandwiched in between their struggles this season, like the win over the Toronto Raptors at the TD Garden, or the Opening Night win over the Philadelphia 76ers. This isn’t the first time the Celtics have looked like a really good team, despite what is now a 12-10 record.
But it was the first time the Celtics looked like a very good playoff team against a truly bad team. Even against the Atlanta Hawks, the Celtics were iffy at times and good at others. Losses to the New York Knicks and Orlando Magic in Boston highlighted the Celtics’ inconsistencies.
On Friday, even when Cleveland was making shots, the Celtics looked unquestionably like the better team. Getting a comfortable wall-to-wall win over a bad team is frankly an encouraging sign.
While the Celtics spent the first month of the season frustrated by inconsistent play, several times losing to teams with far less talent, many fans adopted the position: “They’ll be fine. They’ll figure it out.”
Maybe they finally have.
Boston’s 12-10 record still isn’t much to be happy about, but the way they won their last two games is. The Cs scored 124 at New Orleans and 128 last night, leading all the way vs. the Pelicans and pulling away from the Cavs late in the first half. Those commanding performances are what most Celtics fans envisioned coming into this season.
Do the Celtics finally have some momentum? We’ll know better after tonight, when they play a Timberwolves team that has also bounced back recently. Minnesota is 11-11, having won four straight in which they allowed just 95.5 points per game. In those wins, the Wolves had an offensive rating of 115.6 and a defensive rating of 97.2, for net 18.4. They’ve apparently moved on from the Jimmy Butler fiasco.
Minnesota also hasn’t played since Wednesday, while the Celts face a back-to-back on the road. In the normal flow of a regular season, a defeat in those circumstances might be shrugged off as a “schedule loss.” But these Celtics don’t have that luxury. If they really have it figured out, if they’re finally fine, tonight is a must-win.
On Page 2: What happens next with Jaylen?
“I have low-back tightness in general but never to this kind of level,” he said.
The injury interrupts a promising stretch for the third-year wing, who was starting to find his groove after rather flat start to the season. Brown called injuries “frustrating” in general, but “if there [were] a list of injuries that everybody is dealing with in the NBA, [he’d] probably pick [his] over a lot of the other ones.”
Before tip-off, Brown was spotted on the court going through various stretching exercises and shooting drills. He said Saturday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves is still a “possibility” but noted he’ll have more clarity when he goes through his routine that day.
Boston.com: Jaylen Brown shares an update on his back
In his absence, the Celtics seemed to find a starting lineup that works well — sliding Marcus Smart into his spot with the first rotation. So how would Brown feel about potentially coming off the bench, if the need arose?
“Whatever it is that needs to be done to figure it out,” Brown said, prior to Friday’s game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. “Everybody has talent, everybody has ability, but, obviously, we have to make something work here. We don’t want to be looking down the line and trying to figure out, ‘What if?’ or ‘Woulda, coulda,’ whatever. Whatever it is that we can make it work now, I’m totally happy with that. Winning answers everyone’s questions and figures everything out. If we win, everything else will be fine.”
But Hayward’s biggest contribution as he searches for what he dubbed, “Old G,” was his selflessness in moving to a bench role earlier this month. When Hayward — and his $31.2 million salary — accepted a move to the second unit, it sent a message to the rest of the team about sacrifice. And even if it was obvious that Hayward might benefit from some time with reserve lineups while working his way back from a fractured ankle, the move ensured that younger players had to fall in line should their rotation role change.
In a quieter way, fellow veteran Marcus Morris had done the same coming into the season. Morris sometimes grumbled last year about desiring a starting role. But he showed up to camp this year — in a contract year, no less — devoid of demands and willing to accept whatever role Stevens asked of him. Told to spearhead the bench, Morris went so far as to create the “BWA” — Bench With Attitude — aimed at getting Boston’s backups on board with the notion of impacting the game with grit while coming off the bench.
Even as he’s elevated to a starting role the last two games, Morris has said he’s on board with however Stevens chooses to ultimately deploy his talent.
NBC Sports Boston: Jaylen Brown offers to sacrifice as Celtics prioritize team over individuals
In many situations, a young player who averaged 32 minutes and 18 points per game during the last playoffs might feel entitled to his starting spot this season.
Being on the Celtics is not “many situations.”
Deep down, sure, it’s possible that Jaylen does feel like he’s getting a raw deal here, but he’s smart enough and team-oriented enough to bury that feeling. Whether it’s Jaylen or Hayward or Rozier, no one has complained about playing time – or anything else, actually. It’s a sign of professionalism during a period when it would’ve been very easy for players to start pointing fingers. It’s like the Celtics are the anti-Wizards.
Some of that, of course, stems from Brad. It didn’t look good that the Celtics, with so much talent now and high expectations, failed to win immediately. Brad has appeared mortal for the first time, and some Boston fans and media have jumped on him for it. But his strong leadership has helped the Cs keep perspective and place team goals ahead of personal desires.
I bet Jaylen would agree.
Related – Globe: Jaylen Brown rests back, assesses role
Robert Williams played only the final 7:50 of the Celtics’ rout of Cleveland, but it was a loud 7:50.
Williams had just two points in the contest, getting high up for an alley-oop after a lob from Brad Wanamaker, but also showed off his freak athleticism pulling down two rebounds and recording two blocks.
“Sheesh. The block was nice, but the dunk from sitting the entire game — that’s crazy,” Morris said.
After that dunk, Timelord was 6-6 (all slams) for the season, although perfection ended when he missed his next two attempts. One of them was a 15-foot jumper, which proved Williams is not a coward.
The Cult of Timelord can only hope that Williams continues to impress enough so that Brad will use him during meaningful minutes (although seeing the rookie in garbage time is fun too).
In a related note, another potential folk hero arose late in the fourth quarter. P.J. Dozier, who is on a two-way contract, was called to Boston from the Maine Red Claws and saw his first minutes in green. Dozier scored seven points on a tip dunk, a driving slam, and a smooth three-pointer. It was a feel-good moment as the young man got his chance and delivered.
The Rest of the Links:
NBC Sports Boston: Here’s what happened in the Celtics’ 128-95 win over the Cavaliers | Kyrie Irving takes Collin Sexton to school, leads Celtics to dominant victory over Cavaliers | Celtics steamroll Cavaliers in blowout win