After Luke Kornet was seen in the same practice uniforms as the starters at the beginning of training camp, head coach Joe Mazzulla said it was "definitely something." An ankle injury derailed his preseason and he's seen little playing time early in the regular season.
However, after halftime against the Cleveland Cavaliers in a game that the Celtics were up 15 points in the second quarter, Mazzulla made a change and installed Kornet next to Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Al Horford. Boston had been running circles around the Cavaliers with their small ball lineups, but Mazzulla wanted to matchup better against Cleveland's twin towers of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley.
"Cleveland’s size and physicality was something we wanted to try and combat," Mazzulla said if the curious move. "I thought our ability to just be bigger gave us a different look."
Versatility has been a buzzword around Boston since early October. Injuries and suspensions have chipped away at the Celtics ability to play different ways, but Kornet’s sudden inclusion into the rotation illustrated just how quickly the team can switch gears.
After playing just 13 minutes scattered over the first four games of the season, Kornet doubled his playing time against the twin tower lineup of Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley, logging 26 minutes with a productive 4 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists.
Sure, he was posterized by Donovan Mitchell and the Celtics loss in overtime, but Kornet was a +7 on the floor. He even unveiled this defensive tactic where he attempts to block the view of the rim to perimeter shooters. “We’re visually-dependent people. If you can do it right, it can have some effect,” Kornet said after the game.
It’s a technique that the 7’2 center has been working on for the last two years and predominantly last season in the G-League. “I’ve been told it works. I came about it pretty organically,” Kornet said after a video went viral on social media during the game. “I’ve been told it makes a difference and in the amount of times I’ve used it, it seems to make a difference. If numbers start indicating otherwise, I’ll adjust.”
Friday night wasn’t exactly a coronation for Kornet. However, he showed enough effectiveness against the Cavaliers to warrant more playing time in the future. The Celtics face Kristaps Porzinigis and the Wizards on Sunday and then have rematches against the Cavaliers and bigger Bulls next week and it’s a good bet that Kornet and his eclipsing defense will see the floor.