Untouchable (Bill Sy): Lost in all the trade calculations for Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Serge Ibaka, and P.J. Tucker are the development of all the young players that the Celtics would have included in the deal and maybe more importantly, their current contributions to a team that is still the #2 seed in the East. Last night in an ugly win against the Pistons, it wasn’t Isaiah Thomas dominating the 4th quarter or Al Horford shaking his funk that put Detroit away. It was the kids.
We’ve said it again and again, but Marcus Smart just makes winning plays. He had a decent night scoring with 14 points, chipping in two assists, and playing defense on bigger small forwards, but it was 2 of his 4 offensive rebounds late in the game that ultimately helped seal the win for the Celtics.
Smart said after the game, “when I need to, I can go get the ball.” Up to that critical point, the Pistons had been punking the Celtics with numerous missed free throw offensive rebounds, but it was Smart—over and around the bigger Aron Baynes, Tobias Harris, and Marcus Morris—that grabbed the one that matter most. It was only three months ago that Smart had another offensive rebound in The Palace that set up an Al Horford game winner, too.
Terry Rozier also turned in another solid performance off the bench. He had thirteen points on 3-for-4 shooting from three and what was most impressive about Rozier is that he did so much off the ball. After an impressive summer league commanding the team from the point, everybody thought that that would translate into this season as Boston’s primary ball handler in the second unit. Smart has saddled most of that responsibility, but Rozier has been undeterred in his determination to crack the lineup and affect the game.
He’s always been a good rebounding guard and sound defender and this year, he’s used his quickness and spurtability to free himself when he’s not on the ball. He’s already improved his three-point shooting by 11 percentage points from his rookie year.
However, Jaylen Brown had probably the biggest shot of the game with his potential four point play that finally gave the Celtics a lead for good in the closing seconds.
After the game, he said, "I've worked on my shot because that's what people have been critiquing me on my whole life. And I think I've gotten better at it." He has. I used the same GIF from Friday night, but check out his jumper now:
It’s just so much smoother than it was earlier in the season and it’s translated into real production. He’s scored 13 points in both games since the All Star break and in his last twelve starts since replacing Avery Bradley, he’s averaging 9.2 points and 3.7 rebounds in just over 24 minutes a game. He’s shooting 40% from behind the arc, attacking the rim, and getting to the line. He’s become the aggressive swing man that we had hoped for coming out of the draft. The big question is, with Avery Bradley potentially coming back tonight against the Hawks, should he get his starting job back? He’ll most likely get eased in, but after missing two months and 21 games, it’s possible that Stevens doesn’t want to mess up the mojo of the team.
A game like last night is just one game in a season of eighty-two, but you can see why Ainge was hesitant to part with any of his young players for a quick fix. These guys are solid and getting better. Their names will probably be part of more rumors in the off-season, but for now, Smart, Rozier, Brown, and Kelly Olynyk are our bench. That’s the one thing I never understood about the win-now argument. Had Ainge put together a package for Butler or George, the Celtics would have entered the playoffs with diminished depth.
For the last four years, the Celtics have had two simultaneous rebuilds: a starting lineup constituted by trades and free agency and a bench incubating role players and potential stars from their draft picks. Last week, Ainge reportedly had chances to bring in another star or bolster the bench but had to gut his roster to do so. While some fans see Boston as the second seed in the conference and in win-now mode, Ainge opted to air on the side of caution and patience in order to build something more sustainable for the franchise.