Tony Parker fires up jumpers pregame Friday at TD Garden. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)
It was pretty obvious what Brad Stevens was most thankful for on Thursday.
For the first time this season, his team is fully healthy and the result has been a spike in the win column.
For the last three games, Stevens has been able to fill out a starting lineup consisting of Avery Bradley, Isaiah Thomas, Al Horford, Jae Crowder and Amir Johnson. The result? A spotless 3-0 mark.
As a matter of fact, the Celtics are 5-1 this season when Horford starts. So for just the second time this year at home, Stevens was able to declare, “everybody’s good to go,” Friday morning in his pre-game update with reporters.
“I think we’ve seen a little bit of what that would be like the last couple of games,” Stevens said.
Indeed, with the projected starting lineup back, the Celtics have allowed 92, 93 and 93 points in three wins to improve to 9-6 on the season.
“Obviously, there’s times in each of the games where I played the bench a little bit more or a little bit less than you would,” the coach added. “But I feel pretty good about how we’re going to rotate as we continue to move forward. Obviously we’ve played a lot of numbers thus far, but I feel like if we have a better matchup or something we haven’t tried, I’ve got a lot of trust in those guys that have been playing to put them in there even if they haven’t played.
“Tyler [Zeller] being a good example in each of the last couple of games played less minutes than the other bigs, but came in and gave us great minutes in that third quarter against Brooklyn and kind of turned the game back towards our favor. That group turned the game back towards our favor.”
As for the early Black Friday matinee start of 1 p.m., Stevens said there should be no turkey hangover.
“It’s a 1 o’clock start and Thanksgiving for them, too. So there’s no excuses there,” Stevens said.
The Thanksgiving start shouldn’t be a problem but the 12-3 Spurs certainly are. They are again off to a machine-like start, like the Patriots in every sense. Bill Belichick’s close friend Gregg Popovich once again has the Spurs playing great basketball, ranking ninth in team defense at 98.3 points allowed per game. Leading the defensive charge is two-time defensive player of the year, Kawhi Leonard.
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“You’d know the numbers better than I would probably if you look through them, but I would say he’s a very unique player,” Stevens said. “One of the best in the league certainly. His ability to guard any number of positions 1 through 4 is very, very rare, and then his ability now to not only play in pick-and-roll and play facing the basket, but also post up if you have to go with smaller guys – he’s a handful. He’s a problem.”
The Spurs generate multiple mismatches with a starting lineup that is bigger than normal at the 2, 3 and 4 positions.
“They’re a really big team. And at the same time they do a lot of what some of the smaller teams do with switching a lot and keeping guys in front, and trying to keep people from taking threes,” Stevens said. “They’re great defending the 3-point line even with that size, and obviously it’s hard to score on the rim when they’re all converged on you. So they do a great job of making you take the shots they want you to take.”