Celtics-Blazers preview: Bench will be counted on

953103.jpg

Celtics-Blazers preview: Bench will be counted on

BOSTON With Rajon Rondo serving the first of his two-game suspension for fighting Brooklyn's Kris Humphries tonight, Boston has no choice but to turn to its bench.

Against the Portland Trail Blazers, that can be a good thing ... a very good thing.

The Blazers (6-9) come into tonight's game on a three-game losing skid that includes a loss to then-winless Washington.

Portland's struggles are in large part due to an ineffective bench which is averaging a league-low 12.3 points per game.

Boston's second unit is averaging 30.7 points per game which ranks 21st in the NBA.

However, the C's reserves will not be at full strength - and some might not even play tonight.

Chris Wilcox has been under the weather and was unable to finish Wednesday's loss to Brooklyn. Also, Jeff Green has a sprained right knee injury that may sideline him as well.

"I don't care who doesn't play," said Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. "The guys that play have to be ready to play and ready to win."

Bench play will indeed play a prominent role in tonight's matchup. Here are some other keys as the Celtics look to snap a two-game losing skid and avoid falling below-.500 at home this season.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR:  Boston and Portland are the two most rebounding-challenged teams in the NBA. The C's are dead-last (out of 30 teams) at 37.1 boards per game while the Blazers are just ahead of them at No. 29, bringing in just 39.4 boards per game.

MATCHUP TO WATCH:  Kevin Garnett vs. LaMarcus Aldridge: Garnett's ability to stretch the floor won't do him much good against Aldridge who brings that same skillset to the floor. Both have strong all-around games, although Garnett's defense is better.

PLAYER TO WATCH:  Without Rondo, Courtney Lee will have more opportunities to score. That's exactly how things played out in the lone game Rondo missed this season. Lee had a season-high 13 points which is his only double-digit scoring game this season.

STAT TO TRACK: The second quarter has seen the Celtics at their worst far too often. They average an NBA-low 21.9 points per game in the quarter. That wouldn't be that big a deal if opponents weren't scoring an average of 24.8 points per game.

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

With Thomas drawing attention, Stevens turns to Rozier in big moment

BOSTON – Prior to Saturday’s game, Terry Rozier talked to CSNNE.com about the importance of staying ready always, because “you never know when your name or number is going to be called.”

Like when trailing by three points in the fourth quarter with less than 10 seconds to play?

Yes, Rozier was on the floor in that scenario and the second-year guard delivered when his team needed it.

MORE:

But Rozier’s fourth quarter heroics which forced overtime against Portland, did not provide that much-needed jolt that Boston needed as the Blazers managed to fend off the Celtics in overtime, 127-123.

For Rozier’s part, he had 15 points on 6-for-13 shooting.

The 15 points scored for Rozier was the most for him since he tallied 16 in a 30-point Celtics win at Orlando on Dec. 7.

But more than the points, the decision by head coach Brad Stevens to draw up a play for him in that moment, a time when most of what Boston does revolves around the shooting of Isaiah Thomas who has been among the top-3 scorers in the fourth quarter most of this season, was surprising to many.

And at that point in the game, Thomas already had 13 fourth-quarter points.

Stevens confirmed after the game that the last shot in the fourth was indeed for Rozier, but Thomas’ presence on the floor was important to its execution.

“He (Thomas) also draws a lot of attention,” Stevens said. “So I think you just weigh kind of … what kind of shot you’re going to get, depending on who it is.”

Rozier had initially screened for Thomas, and Thomas came back and screened for him.

“I was open as soon as I caught … and I let it fly,” Rozier said. “Coach drew up a play for me and it felt good to see the ball go in.”

Being on the floor at that time, win or lose, was a victory of sorts for Rozier.

He has seen first-hand how quickly the tide can change in the NBA for a young player.

After a strong summer league showing and a solid training camp, Rozier had earned himself a firm spot in the team’s regular rotation.

But a series of not-so-great games coupled with Gerald Green’s breakout night on Christmas Day, led to his playing time since then becoming more sporadic.

Rozier, in an interview with CSNNE.com, acknowledged it hasn’t been easy going from playing regular minutes to not being sure how much court time, if any, he would receive.

But he says the veterans on the team have been good about keeping his spirits up, and one in particular – Avery Bradley – has been especially helpful.

Like Rozier, Bradley’s first couple of years saw his playing time go from non-existent to inconsistent. But Bradley stayed the course and listened to the team’s veterans who continued to tell him that his hard work would pay off sooner or later.

Those same words of wisdom Bradley received in his early days, he passes on to Rozier.

“It’s big,” Rozier told CSNNE.com. “He (Bradley) tells me things like that. I felt I was ready for this (inconsistent minutes) after all that he told me. It’s big to have a guy like him that has been through it all with a championship team, been around this organization for a while; have him talk to you is big. It’s always good. That’s why I stay positive, and be ready.”

Which is part of the reason why Stevens didn’t hesitate to call up a play for the second-year guard despite him being a 33.3 percent shooter from 3-point range this season – that ranks eighth on this team, mind you.

“He’s a really good shooter,” Stevens said of Rozier. “I think with more opportunity that will show itself true, but he made some big ones in the fourth quarter. We went to him a few different times out of time-outs, and felt good about him making that one.”

And to know that Stevens will turn to him not just to spell Thomas or one of the team’s other guards, but to actually make a game-altering play in the final seconds … that’s major.

“It helps tremendously,” said Rozier who added that his confidence is through “the roof. It makes me want to do everything. You know defense, all of that. It’s great, especially to have a guy like Brad trust you."