It was anticipated that there would be a lot of opportunity for some of the younger players on the Boston Celtics to take advantage of entering this season.
Still, it was hard to imagine they’d be this shorthanded throughout the year, though.
So on Friday night against the Los Angeles Clippers, as the Celtics were without their defensive identity in Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown, there was plenty of opportunity for the guys usually on the end of Boston’s bench to have impact.
And they did.
Sure, it was Jayson Tatum’s 34 points or perhaps a clutch steal from Kemba Walker down the stretch that led the Celtics to a narrow 119-115 victory. But this game was also earned by Carsen Edwards, Semi Ojeleye and Grant Williams.
In his best offensive performance ever for the Celtics, Edwards had 16 points, four rebounds and two assists while shooting 3-of-5 from deep and drawing a 3-point foul in crunch time.
“Seeing that first shot go in is always a good feeling, and I feel like I’m trying to learn to get in a rhythm in other ways,” Edwards said after the game. “By getting stops, trying to get a rebound or something like that. But seeing a shot go in, it helps a lot. So, just kind of staying consistent, man. This was a good game for me, it was good to play and I just want to continue to build off this.”
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens certainly can appreciate the sophomore guard being ready to go and be an instant contributor on Friday.
“I think especially Carsen, last year was just hard to get minutes on that team. We were so deep at the wing and so interchangeable with that group that even when there were minutes available, you didn’t want to play small, you wanted to play more versatile,” Stevens said. “But he just kind of stayed with it, he’s had a really good couple of months and I thought his opportunity showed up a couple weeks ago in a game. And even when he’s playing he’s not getting down, he’s just staying ready. So you thought that he would play a role tonight but we don’t win without him. He changed the complexion of the game. That’s really encouraging.”
Ojeleye had five points off the bench with four rebounds and an assist. Most important, though, was his defensive assignment at the end of the game.
Subbed in late, Ojeleye guarded Kawhi Leonard as the NBA superstar missed some late jumpers that would have swayed the result the other way.
“Semi has been there, done that,” Stevens said. “He doesn’t get a lot of attention for what he does. It’s not the easiest role in the world to be subbed in with 32 seconds left and guard Kawhi Leonard 1-on-1 and in a week’s time he’s on LeBron (James) at the end of the game and Kawhi at the end of the game. That’s how teams work, right? We don’t need everyone to put on a cape we just need everybody to do their jobs well.”
As for Grant Williams, who typically gets more playing time than Edwards and Ojeleye anyways, still has shown steady improvement — especially shooting at the 3-point range — of late.
He had 11 points with four rebounds, two assists, and shot 3-of-4 from deep against Los Angeles.
“He started a little slower coming out of the gates but has really ramped up lately… His skill has grown over the last 18 months and I think his comfort level. And I think in the last month there’s a clear difference from the first month of the season.”
Here are a few other takeaways from Boston’s win over Los Angeles:
— Walker’s been slower to acclimate himself into the lineup after missing some time to start the season. The minutes restriction imposed on him hasn’t helped him get into a rhythm, either.
But the starting point guard was solid for the Celtics throughout the game, and actually played a pretty superb second half.
In addition to scoring a season-high 24 points with four assists, a steal, a block and a rebound, Walker also came up with a clutch steal down the stretch, hit a go-ahead jumper and nailed some game-securing free throws.
“He was terrific. He was really terrific the whole time,” Stevens said of Walker. “I thought he was good on the ball, off the ball, even the shots he missed in the first half — he was getting to his spots. Defensively, I thought he really fought and got in there and tapped some balls and kept some balls alive on rebounds. But he’s a competitor. I think that sometimes, guys like him they see that other guys are out, and they almost take it as a bigger challenge. We kind of saw that tonight.”
— Payton Pritchard returned to the lineup for Boston after two weeks with a sprained MCL, scoring eight points with two rebounds and two assists.
“To be honest, I thought he looked a little tentative,” Stevens said of the rookie’s return. “I had to tell him to shoot so the very next time he touched the ball he jacked one right in front of me. And he made it. So he’s a good listener, but I thought he looked timid in the first half and then I thought he was good in the second.”
— This is shaping up to be the season the “Hospital Celtics” really live up to their nickname.
Daniel Theis was ruled out in the third quarter against the Clippers as the team announced he’d miss the remainder of the game with soreness in his right knee.
“Popped up before the game, he was complaining about it a little bit,” Stevens said of Theis’ injury. “Got some extra treatment before the game. Went back and warmed up again, said he felt fine. I didn’t think he looked good in the first stint, put him back in in the second. I certainly thought he was a step slow, he did not feel good. And so at halftime it made sense for him to sit.”
Stevens doesn’t think the issue will be of serious concern, but with the team being on the tail end of this brutal stretch on the road, the team isn’t taking any chances.
“I don’t think it’s anything big,” Stevens admitted. “You know, he sat a couple of occasions last year for the same thing but this stretch is insane so we have to just make sure we’re smart about all these guys.”
— There are two games left on the road trip for Boston.
The Celtics travel to Phoenix next for a matinee against the Suns on Super Bowl Sunday at 1 p.m. ET. After that, they end the long stint in Utah against the Jazz on Tuesday.