Keith Smith: After an incredible start to the season, including a 16-game win streak, the Celtics were bound to see some regression. Making that regression even more inevitable is the reliance on some very young players to play big minutes.
Tonight's game helps serve as a reminder that these kind of nights are going to happen when you rely on a 19 year old and a 21 year old in the starting five. And when the entire bench is made up of players with four or less years of service, there isn't much help coming there either.
Most nights, that kind of youth, and the energy that comes with it, is an asset. But sometimes the young players dig the holes too deep for the team's veterans to dig them out of. And missing Marcus Morris' scoring off the bench, despite his flaws, really hurts. All too often, when Kyrie Irving and Al Horford need a break, the offense goes completely stagnant.
The easy answer is to get Morris healthy and back in the lineup. The fun answer is to make a trade for a bench scorer. The realistic answer might be to move Marcus Smart into the starting lineup and bring Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum off the bench while Morris is out.
Making that kind of change would have a couple of benefits. The most obvious is to add a scorer to the bench units. The less obvious is that it could relieve a little pressure on Tatum or Brown by allowing them to go against lesser defenders on the opponent's second units.
Brad Stevens has already tweaked the rotation by bringing in Semi Ojeleye early in the first quarter for Tatum, then bringing back Tatum with the reserves. While Morris is out, it might be worth being even more drastic and bringing Tatum off the bench. Either way, expect Stevens to continue to mix and match for the next couple of weeks.
Bobby Manning: It’s becoming clear that Shane Larkin is a shoe-in for Brad Steven’s rotations. Stevens clearly loves his passing, court vision and prowess in the pace-and-space game. That nasty fall Larkin took earlier in the season shelved him for some time, but over the last week or two he’s been playing vital minutes on the ball through the third and fourth quarters. His stints on the ball have been a more methodical, reliable change of pace from Marcus Smart’s and definitely from Terry Rozier’s. It’s also a continuation of the trend of getting Kyrie Irving off the ball regularly. He picks his shots wisely too, tonight scoring more points (9) than Smart (6) with nine less shots. Larkin hasn’t posted assists at a high rate and his shooting is far from gaudy but Stevens is showing trust in him. “He’s changing tempo, he’s getting into guys full-court, he’s playing great offense,” Stevens said. It’s not enough to alter games, as tonight showed, but he’s a capable bench piece.