Last night’s win felt like one of those “win the battle, but lose the war” games. The Celtics held off the Bulls 107-100, but they lost Jae Crowder in the process. Crowder will miss at least a week with an ankle sprain (the same ankle that hampered him at the end of last season), and Al Horford will miss today’s game in Cleveland. But hey, Amir Johnson is hitting three pointers now.
Bench scoring, where art thou? (Tim MacLean): The Celtics still need to figure out where their scoring is going to come from off the bench. Boston had a 14-point lead in the second quarter that vanished because the bench couldn't keep the offensive momentum going. This is especially true now that Jae Crowder might miss some time with the ankle sprain.
We have no food, we have no jobs, AMIR JOHNSON IS HITTING THREES! (Jared Weiss): Brook Lopez and Amir Johnson both hit four threes tonight. The KGB has infiltrated the NBA. The Illuminati controls everything.
Smart brought the defensive intensity back to Boston (Lachlan Marr): Smart's return from injury didn't see him stuff the stat sheet, but the Celtics simply looked tougher with Smart back on the roster. Like Horford, Smart is the type of player who makes everyone around him play better by forcing them to raise their game to meet his intensity.
While in their first few outings the Celtics gave up a bunch of buckets and at times looked lost on defense, they seemed a lot more locked in during this matchup with Chicago. Of course there were still some lapses—with Horford out and Crowder going down early, the Celtics defense was going to be tested. But there seemed to be an attitudinal adjustment across the whole roster to fight for every possession. The fact that this occurred in Smart’s return game is surely more than just a coincidence, as he yet again proved that his never-say-die attitude is central to the Celtics’ success.
The art of the offensive foul (Bill Sy): The reviews of Marcus Smart’s return were mixed. He played 33+ minutes and finished with 7 points on 2-for-8 shooting (1-for-6 from behind the arc) and five rebounds. His five assists were tempered by six turnovers while Smart got acclimated to the game speed of the NBA.
All things considered though, he was a +5 for the night and, as Lachlan suggests, served as the spark plug on the defensive end. Whether he was guarding Jimmy Butler or Dwyane Wade (both of whom combined for a dismal 13 for 34 from the field), Smart contributed on D.
Smart is a hard-nosed defender. He gets into players’ heads and interrupts their space and timing like a piece of beef jerky wedged between their teeth. It’s part talent and part tenacity, but there’s another element to Smart’s game that’s pure art. Love it or hate it, Marcus is an actor of the highest caliber when it comes to negotiating around a screen and selling the contact. It’s somewhere between a catcher framing a curve ball and a midfielder collapsing to the ground after a questionable tackle.
On Wednesday night, Smart put on an Oscar-worthy performance. He’s not the lead in the movie, because that would require him to be more measured over the course of the entire film. No, Smart is in that supporting-actor category, the kind of role where he’s encouraged to chew up scenery and sell it a little. OK, a lot. Last season, Smart came under some criticism over his theatrics. With the NBA putting more of an emphasis on “natural acts”, I’m curious and maybe a little worried how it might affect Smart in what could be his breakout season as a sixth man of the year candidate.
When bigs have to be small and smalls have to be big (Keith Smith): Without Al Horford, and with Kelly Olynyk still on the mend, the Celtics had to turn to some interesting lineups last night. Tyler Zeller drew the start and played pretty well. He was a team-high +10 in +/- and scored 11 points with some decent rim protection. The early thought was that Jordan Mickey would be a factor, and he drew some early minutes. On the whole, though, Mickey wasn't able to take advantage of those opportunities and never saw the court again.
The surprise? Amir Johnson and his Steph Curry-like 3rd quarter. He was 4-4 from deep in the quarter and helped the Celtics race out to a double-digit lead. Johnson also hit one of the craziest shots you'll ever see. He faced up Taj Gibson on the right side of the floor and drove to the hoop. It looked like he would try to finish with a reverse, but Gibson stayed on his hip and Robin Lopez came over to help. Amir then just let his momentum carry him and he threw up a fade-away hook shoot. When you are as hot as he was, you just throw it up sometimes and see what happens!
The plan was obviously to go small a lot with Jae Crowder logging minutes at the 4. Unfortunately, Crowder landed on Rajon Rondo's foot and rolled his left ankle late in the second quarter. He missed the rest of the night, which forced Brad Stevens to re-jigger his rotations for the night. For most of the second half, Boston played with just one true big (either Johnson or Zeller) surrounded by a bunch of guards. At different points in the game, Gerald Green and Marcus Smart were both playing the 4. The Celtics got away with it as Chicago played Nikola Mirotic big minutes, and he's not a post threat.
Presumably without Crowder and Horford tonight in Cleveland, Stevens will have to piece together a rotation to make life tough on the champs. Without great options inside. the Celtics’ best bet might be to go super small and just push the pace all night. If they can turn it into a track meet, they might have a chance. One thing we've all learned over the past few years is to never count out this team's heart, grit and hustle. They'll battle no matter who is there and what the circumstances are.