Jayson Tatum had a ho-hum 34 points and outdueled Kawhi Leonard.
Kemba Walker shot himself out of a slump and finished with 24 points in arguably his best game since his return.
Without Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, and Daniel Theis (who left at halftime with a sore knee), those two starters needed to step up for the Celtics to have any chance of beating the one the best teams in the Western Conference on the road. They did, but it was Boston’s second unit, a group made up largely of unsung young players, that came up big in the 119-115 against the Clippers.
There was Tristan Thompson who continues to find his way back into game shape and more importantly, look like the physical presence he was in his Cleveland years. Thompson bully balled his way to 11 points and 7 rebounds and is averaging 13.7 points and 8.3 rebounds over the last three games on the road.
Threre was the return of Payton Pritchard after two weeks on the injury list with a sprained knee. “I had to tell him to shoot. So the very next time he touched the ball, he jacked one right in front of me and he made it,” Brad Stevens said of the rookie. “So, he’s a good listener.” Pritchard finished with eight points and looked solid in his first game back.
However, it was the play of more frequently used Carsen Edwards that really sparked the Celtics at Staples Center. After two DNP’s and only eight minutes in Sacramento on Wednesday night, Edwards stepped into the starting lineup at the beginning of the third quarter after Theis left with a sore knee.
The sophomore responded with confidence. He finished with sixteen points (3-for-5 from behind the arc), including making three free throws late in the clutch to give the Celtics a lead. After spending most of last season in Maine with the G-League Red Claws, the second round pick has persevered and is now making the most of his opportunity.
" We don't need everybody to put on a cape, we just need everybody to do their job well." -Brad Stevens discusses guys stepping up off the bench pic.twitter.com/KklgJaphIO— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) February 6, 2021
“You know, last year, it was hard getting minutes on that team. We were so deep at the wing, so interchangeable with that group that even when there were minutes available, you didn’t want to play small. You wanted to play more versatile,” Stevens said.
“But (Edwards) just stayed with it. He’s had a pretty good couple of months. I thought his opportunity showed up a couple of weeks ago in a game. And even when he’s not playing, he’s not getting down. He’s just staying ready. So, you thought he’d play a role tonight. We don’t win the game without him. He changed the complexion of the game. That’s really encouraging.”
Edwards didn’t seem fazed by his strong showing. “I have so much work to do,” Edwards said. That work has started to pay off for Edwards and is a microcosm of the team’s accelerated development over the last month and a half. With the team missing key players to injury, COVID-19 health and safety protocols affecting availability, and a condensed schedule testing the depth of the Celtics’ youthful roster, Edwards’ big game is indicative of Boston’s potential when May rolls around.
“Just play hard,” Edwards said. “Effort is the one thing I always know I can control,”