BOSTON – With the All-Star break quickly approaching, the Boston Celtics have caught the injury bug. Marcus Smart has missed 10 games in a row, Jaylen Brown has been out for two (and will likely be out for another couple of weeks), and both Malcolm Brogdon and Al Horford have been sporadically absent as well.
Heading into their Super Bowl Sunday matinee against the Memphis Grizzlies, they were missing Brown, Smart, and Brogdon. Boston needed their depth pieces to step up and deliver big-time performances.
“Credit to our locker room,” said head coach Joe Mazzulla. “When Mike [Muscala] came here, I told him, ‘cherish this because it may be one of the best locker rooms you have, and the group of guys that we have, and basketball players.’ So, their ability to just be a professional, regardless of their circumstances, it’s special. [I’m] fortunate to be around that.”
Of the nine different Celtics players who checked into the game against Memphis, eight put up double-digit scoring numbers. Boston’s impressive all-around production helped lift them to a 119-109 win over Memphis.
Jayson Tatum ended the night with just 16 points on 3-of-16 shooting from the field and 1-of-8 shooting from deep, but Mazzulla emphasized how important he’s been to the team regardless of his efficiency.
“Tatum’s not going to get enough credit for the way he’s played,” said Mazzulla. “He’s constantly being judged by his results, but I thought, you know, last game, he 41, he did a great job of scoring. [In] two of the last three games, he’s done an amazing job managing the game. Managing the game by continuing to play defense. Managing the game by involving himself but not looking to score [and] making the right play. Superstars don’t get the credit they deserve when they do that. And so, credit to him. I think that allows our guys to play with confidence and makes our team even harder to guard.”
In addition to his 16 points, Tatum added seven boards, three assists, two steals, and two blocks, making his presence felt on both sides of the ball, but his teammates picked up the slack around him in the scoring column.
Sam Hauser, who made his third career start (all in the past week) against Memphis, churned in yet another efficient shooting game.
“I feel like we have a couple of our top dogs out right now,” Hauser explained. “It’s just opportunities for guys to kind of showcase more of what they can do and try to fill that void of the guys who are out. They bring a lot to the table, so we just try to do our best to do whatever we can to help the team win. And we’ve been doing that pretty well. And the guys who don’t play as much, we get to play more in these types of games and just try to showcase us as a player.”
The second-year wing poured in 20 points against Memphis, marking the third 20-point game of his career and his first against a team not named the Detroit Pistons.
Hauser’s insertion into the starting lineup meant deep bench guys were propelled into larger roles. Payton Pritchard put up 12 points, and Muscala dropped 10.
“I think just trusting one another,” Hauser said when asked about the Celtics’ ability to step up with guys out. “We have a really good team from top to bottom, all the way down to the end of our bench. We have really good players and guys who have experience in this league, and I think everyone brings a different type of skill set to the table. And I think it’s unique, and it’s hard for teams to guard when we’re out there. I feel like we moved the ball really well. We were connected on defense, and guys [were] talking and communicating. So, all that added up together is, I think, a big reason why we’ve been winning without some of our guys.”
Meanwhile, Derrick White recorded his second-ever 20-points, 10-assist double-double, with the other coming on Friday against the Charlotte Hornets. Smart’s absence has thrust him into the starting point guard spot, and he has thrived.
After a mid-season shooting slump similar to the one Hauser went through, White has once again found a rhythm, and it’s paying major dividends for the Celtics.
“I tell myself just to have good energy,” White said. “I feel like when I have good energy, whether they’re [Boston’s injured players] in or not, I’m able to do some good things out there. So, I just tell myself that before every game just to bring the energy. And then, make shots, miss shots, just make the right play.”
Losing Smart and Brown for an extended period of time could have been a killer for the Celtics, but they’ve now won four games in a row with two contests remaining until the All-Star break.
Rather than letting the injuries affect them, Boston has adopted a next-man-up mentality with a focus on playing the right way regardless of the personnel on the court.
“I just liked our ability to move forward,” Mazzulla said when asked about Boston’s success despite having multiple absences. “Gameplan and execution [are] huge for our team. And so tonight, I thought we managed the game very, very well. And we really know that we have to manage the game with our offense because it puts us in a position to play great defense. And so, that’s something that we talked about a lot. And I like that our team [has] made a conscious decision to focus on the details.”