The Celtics made it 10 straight last night at the Garden, taking down Lonzo Ball and the young LA Lakers.
The 107-96 final score doesn’t show just how tight the Lakers made this game. After jumping out to an early 21 point lead, the Lakers fought back with tough play and made it a close game before halftime. In the second half, the Lakers hung around before Boston finally put it away in the closing minutes. This was the definition of a “grind it out” type of game and the Celtics grinded just a bit harder than LA. Here are some major takeaways from Wednesday’s action:
1. The Celtics have that “next man up” mentality
This year’s team has been no stranger to facing adversity so far in the young season. When Hayward went down, Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum embraced their opportunities and have been balling out ever since. On Wednesday night, with Al Horford already inactive (concussion), Tatum left the game after halftime nursing an ankle injury.
In his first game at TD Garden wearing green, Marcus Morris stepped up and delivered 18 points with half of his points coming from deep. He wasn’t the only one to step up though, as Terry Rozier had an impressive game off the bench that included many big shots throughout. He had 14 points, while also cleaning up the glass with 8 boards.
The story of the night however was big man, Aron Baynes. Baynes was inserted in the starting lineup early in the season due to his gritty play, mainly on the defensive end, and hasn’t looked back. He continued that gritty play against the Lakers, fighting for every loose ball and also holding Brook Lopez to a subpar game. It wasn’t about the defense tonight for Baynes though; the story was his great play on offense. From burying a sweet hook shot in the face of Lopez to flying in for putback dunks, Baynes was everywhere tonight. He finished with a career high in points with 21 and also added 8 boards. Whenever the Lakers made a run, Aron seemed to be there ready to respond on the opposite end. This was key given that Kyrie struggled all game after starting out 5-8 from the field.
2. This Team NEEDS Al Horford
While this was a very impressive win from a circumstantial standpoint, I’m not sure the Celtics could have pulled this off against a better opponent. The Lakers are not only young and immature, but they are just not a good offensive team by any means. Yes, I believe the when Kyrie is on, he can put a team on his back and carry them to a win, but that wasn’t the case last night. He missed 11 of his last 13 shots and failed to get into a rhythm after his impressive first quarter.
The offensive seemed to fall flat at times and really lacked ball movement. They were saved by the determination that Baynes and Theis showed in the paint. Many of the points came off of rebounds and second chances. On a night like this, the Celtics missed Big Al. He is able to provide offense off the pick-and-roll whenever Kyrie is struggling as he was tonight. This is not to mention the fact that he is a great passer and his floor spacing provides many open looks for his teammates. Al doesn’t put up the most stellar numbers, but he is one of those players that does so much for a team and really is the engine that drives them. Let’s hope he is back soon.
3. The Celtics Need More Depth Down Low
As previously noted, Baynes and Theis played great and I was generally very pleased by their efforts on both sides of the court. With that said, this isn’t going to happen every night.
These are both defensive players that will occasionally struggle on offensive. When Al goes to the bench (or is hurt like tonight), the C’s need a big man that can still provide some offense down low; especially if Baynes remains in the starting lineup.
This is where two particular players come to mind: Greg Monroe and Jahlil Okafor. We will start with the latter. I’ve always been an advocate of Okafor and have said that he just needs a fresh start on a new team to bring him back to life. I will admit that, after watching his play in the 76ers-Jazz contest, he put my hopes to doubt.
He came in and immediately made an impact in a bad way. A lane violation on a free throw led to multiple fouls, which led to a travel on the offensive end and getting one of his shots swatted away. Not only did he play bad, but his body language looked awful. I know that it has to be hard for any player to come in and be solid when they never know if they are going to play or not, especially with so much drama swirling around. This is why I think that if anyone can tap into Okafor’s potential, it would be Brad Stevens. He is a master at getting young players to play team ball and buy in. I think he would do a great deal in reviving Okafor’s career. I also think he would fit this team very well, as long as he makes some improvements on the defensive game.
Greg Monroe is a different story. He’s a big man that has been around the block a few times and lets you know what you are going to get from him every night. His solid interior scoring, paired with his rebounding abilities, would prove to be very beneficial to this team coming off the bench. He was just traded to Pheonix after finishing the 2016-17 campaign with great play for the Milwaukee Bucks. He will most likely get bought out buy the Suns; a team in which his age will put him out of favor for playing time. If he becomes available for the veteran minimum, look for Danny Ainge to jump on the opportunity to add depth and address a need.