Boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. had plenty to laugh about Wednesday with good friend Isaiah Thomas. (Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports)
Brad Stevens said before Wednesday’s encounter with the Wizards that he doesn’t pay much attention to stats.
That’s a good thing because with no Avery Bradley, Jaylen Brown and Amir Johnson, the stats certainly weren’t in Boston’s favor as they squared off against the hottest backcourt in the East.
“No excuses from my standpoint,” Stevens said. “You’ve got games to play, let’s play.”
Isaiah Thomas certainly did – lighting it up again in the fourth quarter – scoring 20 of his game-high 38 points in the final period to lead the Celtics past the Wizards, 117-108, at TD Garden.
And on a night second-year forward Jordan Mickey was making his first NBA start and Floyd Mayweather was sitting courtside, they needed the knockout shot from their MVP-caliber point guard in the end.
The first half Wednesday was not one for Al Horford’s highlight reel. In over 16 minutes, he was 3-for-6 from the field for six points, didn’t get to the free throw line, committed two turnovers and was a minus-8. He did grab five rebounds and blocked two shots but looked out of sorts at times, playing the 5-spot with Mickey filling in for Johnson.
For a full recap and box score of Wednesday’s loss to the Wizards, click here.
Horford’s numbers this year have been very good (15.3 PPG, 6.8 rebounds, 4.9 assists). That cannot be disputed. But to Stevens point before the game, sometimes the stats don’t tell the story. And remember, some of this is also on the coaches, like earlier in the season when Stevens took responsibility for Horford not getting his shots.
Wednesday was not about the what but the when. The Celtics, without starters Bradley and Johnson and reserves Brown, James Young and Tyler Zeller, needed Horford to step up his game and take over in the paint. They needed an attitude.
On a night when the Celtics were playing a fast-riser in the East at home a night after a gut-punching loss in Toronto, they needed their big man to play big. Jason Smith outplayed Horford Wednesday night. Who you ask? You know, the ninth-year reserve out of Colorado State. With nine minutes left, Smith had 13 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes while Horford had 9 points and six rebounds in 25.
But by that time, the Celtics were close enough to let Isaiah Thomas do what he always does and that is dominate the fourth quarter. He scored 13 of Boston’s first 19 points in the final quarter and electrified the crowd, which included dapping with Mayweather courtside after one of his five threes on the night.
There were issues Wednesday, namely the Celtics committing 10 turnovers in the first half, offsetting the team’s 9-for-19 sharpshooting from 3-point range.
John Wall, fresh from his December Eastern Conference player of the month honor, entered the game averaging 23.2 points and 10.3 assists per game. Bradley Beal came to town averaging 22.1 points. Together, their 45.3 points per game were eight points higher than Isaiah Thomas (27.9) and Marcus Smart (10.2).
Of course, the Celtics were without the 18 points-per-game from Bradley, who was missing his third straight game with a sore right Achilles.
“Welcome to the NBA. It’s fun,” Stevens said, referring to playing the Wall-Beal combo a night after Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. The Celtics hung in there Tuesday against the Raptors before falling apart at the end. Stevens was asked how he thinks the Celtics match up with the elite backcourts when Bradley is healthy.
“I don’t really get caught up in ranking guys or looking at their stats or anything else,” Stevens added. “I really like our guys. I love the way they complement each other. I like what they do on the court. I love their will to prepare and compete. Certainly, as you get ready for games like this, you see the same things out of these backcourts. You’ve got to get ready for them. Wall and Beal are special talents. Wall the reining player of the month and Beal has really come on of late.
“I just think it’s continuity and getting used to each other from a staff standpoint, from a players standpoint. This team is way too talented and way too good not to be a major, major factor when it’s all said and done. They’re playing great. I think Scott’s done a great job of putting in things that really showcase Wall and Beal. And then Porter’s had a tremendous year. And their frontcourt has always given us issues.”
Before Wednesday’s game, Stevens also hinted at the difficult position that Horford and the Celtics’ frontcourt faced against Washington.
“I think I go into every game trying to think about the best way to get guys the appropriate amount of rest while still maintaining a good attack at all times on the court,” Stevens said. “We’re going to be a little bit smaller in a lot of ways. You’ve got Jae and Gerald but basically the rest of the guys are 4s and 1s and so you’ve got a unique, kind of position-less team. So we’re going to have to play in a very fluid, flow type-of-game with that type of group.”
Here are some other nuggets from Brad Stevens on Wednesday:
On Gerald Green’s production? “I thought he did a lot of good things [vs. Raptors] but he’s been pretty consistent with that ever since he started playing [recently]. Obviously, we’re not asking him to be the guy with the ball a ton but when he has it, to be a threat. And he’s always a threat, and he’s always a threat when he’s got the ball.”
Will an improvement in rebounding come from the current roster or from the outside?
“It’s a good question. I think that, from my standpoint, from my seat, I look at how can we block out a little bit better, how can we pursue the ball a little bit better? How can we rotate guys a little bit better to have better match-ups, whatever the case may be. Do we need to switch more, even though we’re switching a lot, because that keeps the ball in front of you and let’s you block out at the very least. But I’ve said it all year, we’re not going to win many rebounding battles. If we can manage it, then we have a chance to win.
“On nights like [Tuesday] night, those are just exponentially more difficult to overcome because of the level of guard play [in the league],” Stevens said. “I trust all 10 guys that are available. I trust them to help us win.”