Let’s not jinx it, but the Celtics could be at full health today.
It’s been a while. Not since November 3rd in Orlando has Boston had its full complement of players. The following night, Jaylen Brown would go down with hamstring strain that would keep him out two-plus weeks and since his return, Dennis Schroder, Josh Richardson, and Robert Williams have all dealt with minor injuries or the flu.
But alas, Game #22 could see the Celtics whole again. Brown is officially listed as questionable tonight as he continues his comeback from an extended stay on the injury list, but head coach Ime Udoka sounded hopeful that he would have the full complement of key players available against the 76ers.
“Everybody is looking good. This could be one of the few times that we’ve got our squad back fully. Injury front-wise or with the flu, the guys that were out with that, are back and good to go as you saw with Josh and Rob is hopeful as well. Dennis with his ankle got a chance to rest,” Udoka said after Tuesday’s practice. “This has been our first two-day break since the start of the month so it’s been good for guys that have played heavy minutes as well as Jaylen and some guys coming off things. I’m looking forward to it.”
With Robert Williams coming back, Boston will again have a chance to run their double big starting lineup. It’s only been featured in six games so far — SIX — but the returns have been phenomenal. The starting five sports a ridiculous 21.1 net rating (108.4 offensive, 87.3 defensive). With that said, players have stepped up across the board, mainly Dennis Schroder and Grant Williams. With Marcus Smart, Al Horford, and Jayson Tatum, the pair have put up an 8.5 net rating (115.7 offensive, 107.2 defensive) with them.
With players out over the last twelve games, necessity has been the mother of invention and over the last twelve games, Enes Freedom has also filled in admirably, Romeo Langford has averaged 20 minutes a night and shot 40% from behind the arc, and Josh Richardson has regained his utility role as the team’s catch-all player. But now, with everybody available tonight against the visiting 76ers and the Celtics set to embark on a gauntlet of a five-game west coast trip, let’s reset what the possible rotation could be moving forward:
For what it’s worth, this model closely resembles the rotation pattern from that road blowout in Orlando a month ago. Keep in mind that Boston was down two at halftime. The key takeaways:
- Richardson bridging Brown/Tatum rest: After his best performance in green in Toronto, JRich said that he’s “kinda figured out how to find my role: see a hole, see where I can be helpful.” For the most part, that’s been subbing in when either of Boston’s All-Stars need a break. That could be playmaking duties. That could be secondary creation on the wing. Regardless, it’ll be rare to not see two of the three on the floor at the same time.
- Smart and Schroder will pass the baton at PG: There aren’t two other players on the team that have better embraced their roles than these two point guards. And as successful as they’ve been playing together when Brown was out, with everybody back, don’t expect that tandem back together too much.
- Grant Williams is the third big: After suffering through a sophomore slump, Williams has started 2021-2022 in a flurry. Even if you set aside the fact that he’s been fire from 3 (a blistering 43.1% on 3.4 attempts a game), he’s one of Boston’s most versatile defenders and one of their best weak side cutters. He’s firmly in the rotation, even if it gets cut down from 9 to 8.
- Spot minutes for Langford and Freedom: Against Joel Embiid tonight, we could see Freedom bang a bit on the block with the Philly center. He’s had success flustering him in the past. When the team heads out west, it could be Langford getting some run against smaller teams. That ninth man will be dictated by matchups and foul trouble, but rest assured, those minutes will go to someone that’s been solid over Boston’s November resurgence.
So, knock on wood, the Celtics are the Celtics tonight, not the Hospital Celtics or the “we could have won this game if” Celtics. They’ve put together a championship defense. The offense is a work in progress, but trending up of late. And finally, after a training camp that started with Udoka missing Media Day with COVID and ending with Brown and Horford in the league’s health and safety protocols, the team is healthy.