Short-Handed Celtics Survive in Cleveland

The Celtics starting lineup Wednesday night was Brad Wanamaker, Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Grant Williams and Daniel Theis. No, I’m not making that up. Being down three starters, Jayson Tatum was expected to carry the load offensively against the Cavaliers, and boy did he do just that. He ended the night with 32 points, 9 boards and 6 assists in the 112-106 win. This was his fifth straight game with 32+ points, and as needed as that production was, I thought this was the best he’s been passing the ball. Yes, he only ended up with 6 assists, but he seemed to always make the right read to find the open man instead of forcing up terrible shots. If he can consistently start putting up better passing numbers, he’ll truly be unstoppable.

Obviously, Tatum can’t score every point, so it was really all about who would be the number two scorer. If you say you knew it’d be Semi Ojeleye, you’re lying. Semi played the best game of his Celtic career Wednesday night. He put up 22 points on 8-11 shooting, including 5-8 from three point land and added 6 boards and 2 assists. This was a HUGE boost, especially for a Celtics bench that always seems to have trouble scoring. Because the Celtics were so short-handed, this game was full of weird minutes and rotations, so Tatum and Semi were the only ones to really put up big numbers. It was a great chance to see what the young guys on the team were capable of and if they’d be worthy of any playoff minutes. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Robert Williams needs some of those minutes. In 14 minutes of play, Williams had 6 points, 5 boards, 3 blocks and a steal. These aren’t numbers that will blow you away, but he’s smart with his shots and always active defensively. I won’t be surprised if he takes some minutes away from Kanter in the postseason.

Romeo Langford was another guy I was really excited to see get some extended minutes. Unfortunately, he didn’t play in the second half, but he was able to do some good things in his limited playing time. He played the best on-ball defense of any Celtic and grabbed 3 offensive boards. If he can get more consistent playing time to find his shot, he could be a nice role player for this team. Grant Williams was another young guy with some quality minutes on Wednesday night. He gave the Celtics 8 points and 5 boards on a steady 4-6 shooting and was able to end a couple of impressive Cleveland runs.

As valiant an effort as this was and considering the blown lead the night before, I can’t only gush. Marcus Smart was terrible on Wednesday. He looked completely checked out for the first 46 and a half minutes of the game. He struggled shooting the ball going 5-15, including 0-5 from three. Normally, we can count on Marcus for awesome defensive efforts, but even those weren’t there Wednesday. But, as I said, that was during the first 46 and a half minutes. Once there was about a minute and a half left, we got the Marcus Smart we know and love. He was making hustle plays, getting to the line in crunch time and just doing what you need to do with the game on the line.

And I’ll give my proper credit to Cavs. They just never went away, and that’s thanks to Collin Sexton. He’s been unreal lately and that trend continued on Wednesday as he finished with 41 points on 17-30 shooting. Kevin Love added another 26 points and 14 boards along with Larry Nance Jr.’s 19 points and 15 boards. At 17-45, this Cavaliers team has nothing to play for, but they’ve played much harder since John Beilein resigned during the All-Star break.

The Hospital Celtics came away with the win, but I hope I never have to see this again. Things should get back to normal, at least a little bit, Friday night against the Jazz. You have to figure Hayward’s bruise will be healed, and a rehabbing Kemba should be ready to go. But, we really just can’t have nice things because the Celts will be without Jaylen Brown for the next week, at least, after he tweaked his hamstring against Brooklyn. This is a tough stretch for this to happen, too. This is what the next week looks like for Boston:

  • Friday: Utah
  • Sunday: Oklahoma City
  • Tuesday: @ Indiana
  • Thursday: @ Milwaukee

I just want a completely healthy top 7 on this Celtics team, is that too much to ask?

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